In the early hours of Wednesday morning I left my parent’s house.
A week ago tonight my dad passed away. We were all expecting it. Four years fighting cancer doesn’t come without paying the ultimate price, but it was still a terrible shock when it happened. You think you’re mentally prepared for these events, but it turns out you’re not. I described it to someone as like being suddenly smacked across the face with a rusty shovel. A sharp and shocking ‘take that!’ from someone who doesn’t give two hoots for your feelings.
Is it worse to experience a sudden, unexpected death or is it worse to sit and watch someone fade in front of you? The grief is overwhelming no matter how it happens. I can confirm that. I’ve experienced both. We were all there at the end last week, surrounding him with love and barely-contained fear. Maybe the fear part was just me, but I don’t think so. Stay strong for dad was the unspoken motto, but no matter how strong we were, we couldn’t help him when he needed us most. The afterwards though was in many ways even worse.
One call to the funeral director unravelled a whole sequence of never-before considered events.
An on-call doctor confirmed the death. My dad’s GP will have the death certificate ready in the morning, she tells me, just like that. She’s quiet and respectful but very matter of fact. Formal. Efficient. She has living people she must attend to after she leaves.
The next day I picked up the death certificate made out in my dad’s name from over the counter of the GP practice. “Sorry for your loss,” mumbled the girl awkwardly. We know one another, but not that well, so it was uncomfortable for the both of us. She went back to her typing and filing. I went back to the car and stared at the certificate for a good 10 minutes, focusing on my dad’s name at the top, unable to drive for tears.
The following day we go to register his death, armed with a handful of yellowing paperwork; birth certificates, marriage certificates, pension info, all manner of documentation that triggers a wave of bureauocratic activity. As I type, admin assistants in offices around the country will also be typing, updating their records.
Deceased. Dead. Delete.
Just like that.
For the past year or so my dad held a blue badge, allowing him to park in disabled spaces. The woman opposite tosses it to the side. Just like that. The full death certificate prints and I’m handed a fountain pen with which to sign it. I’ve just registered my dad’s death. Just like that.
It’s numbing. Shocking. Final.
There have been upbeat moments though. The day after he passed we were in the kitchen sharing stories. I told a good one about the time we went to see Scotland v Spain a few years ago. It was another of our football team’s failed attempts at qualifying for a big tournament (the Euros, I think). My dad was so busy watching the Spanish substitutes warm up at half time that he failed to notice the girl sitting right next to me turn round and bare her breasts for all to see. “Did you see that?!?” he enquired excitedly. “The way that pass bent across the pitch…fantastic!” He had no idea what he’d really missed though.
As we’re laughing and relaxed, momentarily forgetting dad is in the past and not the present, the doorbell rings again. It’s the umpteenth time already that day. An old neighbour pops in to say he’d heard the sad news. Every one of us in the room, the ones who’d been laughing and joking moments before revert to downbeat, sad stereotypes. We must be sad at this time. We are all sad at this time. It’s quite funny if you stop to ponder it.
I put together the Order Of Service for his funeral last night. He’d planned it all himself. Dictated his wishes while we’d written it all down. It wasn’t hard to put together but it was hard keeping it together. Typing in my dad’s birth and death dates was another of those shocking, final moments. The big final moment is this Friday, after which everyone who’s been through this tells you it starts to get better. I’m sure it does. You’ll be able to tell, as the music posts will begin again in earnest.
Social media is full today of tributes to Tom Petty. It’s always terrible when a favourite musician dies. A tiny piece of your own fabric dies with them; the memory of buying a record or going to a gig, entwined with the times in which you first experienced their music. It’s a powerful thing when they go. But it’s nothing compared to losing your dad. Nothing. There’s a pun just begging to be written here about Petty/petty but I’ll leave that to someone else.