It seems hard to believe that April 2013 marks two very sad milestones for me and my family. This month will see us celebrating my dad’s birthday for the first time without him here. Less than two weeks later, it will be the first anniversary of his passing.
We often say how ‘time flies’ – well the first year without my dad has vanished in tears, memories, hopes, ambitions, achievements and still an almost overwhelming sadness that he isn’t here to share in my life. Without my dad’s courage, strength, love, determination and inspiration I wouldn’t be writing, blogging, speaking, advising and campaigning in the way that I am.
I’ve written before about my dad’s legacy. My desire to share his story – our story – and use the experiences we had together to try and make things better for the many families who are supporting a loved one with dementia. More than anything I wish you could all have met my dad – although I doubt he would agree, since he was generally a very private man who never sought the limelight. To me he was an example of dignity, grace, humour, kindness and insight into what living with dementia means that no words I could choose will ever accurately sum up. You just had to have known him, and I was very privileged to call him my dad.
I would like to think that the dates we will mark this month as a family will be more about happy memories and reflections on good times than dwelling on what we were going through this time last year, which still haunts my dreams and brings tears to my eyes. In truth, however, I really don’t know how we will feel and how the emotions will affect us. Bereavement is a strange beast – it can allow you to live in relative happiness one minute, then plunge you back into deep sorrow, longing for the person you have lost and taunting you with that precious wish for just one more day with your loved one.
I have thought long and hard about what losing a parent means, and how you can possibly move forward after that. When half of the partnership that created you, dictated your DNA, and in my case gave me a happy, stable and loving childhood filled with cherished memories, is taken from you, my view is that it breaks a bond that can never be replicated or replaced. The love you feel cannot be transferred to someone else. Losing a parent leaves you with an emptiness in your life that you will never fill.
As anyone who has had a good relationship with their parents will know, from an early age you come to rely on their guidance and wisdom, the care they show you, the support they give you and the unconditional love they surround you with. No one else celebrates your successes like a proud parent, and no one is ready to pick up the pieces when you make mistakes like a loving mum or dad.
I feel immensely sad that my dad won’t be by my side to see me make my way in the world, develop my career, maybe get married. If I ever become a parent, he will never know the joy of being a grandparent, and sadly for any child I may have they will only be able to learn about my amazing dad from me, rather than having their own relationship with him.
What dad’s passing will never take away, however, is the memories I have of him, including the many happy times we had together during his dementia. It cannot take away all of his qualities as a human being that he shared with me through his parenting, and it will never take away my pride in him and in being able to call him my dad. His honesty, integrity, desire to help humans and animals alike, care and compassion is something the world needs far more of than it currently has.
They say only the good die young. Well my dad was 85, to me just a number since he certainly didn’t look it. Without the toll dementia took on his body I am certain he would have lived far longer, so in my mind he was a mere spring chicken at 85 years young. Surprisingly, maybe, I am not angry or bitter at his passing – I honestly believe that he felt he had given me everything I needed to go on in my life, represent and share his values and make him proud, and so he was able to take his rest.
Having dementia often meant huge struggles for my dad, and I will never truly understand how he bore them with such resilience and good humour. I would like to think that one of his coping methods was the hope that he had managed to inspire his youngest daughter to make sure that his experiences were not in vain. The promises I made to him in the days before his passing should have reassured him of that.
Although my dad was the catalyst for what I do, the beneficiaries are all of us. I hope that my dad’s gift to society will be greater understanding, support, insight, and ultimately improvement in the lives of everyone who he has left behind.
Until next time…