I haven’t posted anything recently as my father-in-law died very suddenly a couple of weeks ago and we have all been left reeling. As you can imagine we are all trying our best to come to terms with it. My husband and his sister lost their mum 19 years ago, so a lot of the organisation and decisions have fallen on our shoulders. I, for one, have never felt more like an adult.
When I decided to write this post I wondered if it was perhaps too soon. But then I realised that I could not even contemplate writing anything else without acknowledging what has happened. I am also hoping, like some of the other more personal posts I have written, that it will be cathartic and help me to process some of my grief.
This is not the first time I have experienced loss. Most of the people who I have lost have been older and have been ill. The one exception was a very close friend of mine who passed away suddenly when she was 25. At the time I had never experienced pain like it. Night time was particularly bad, and I frequently cried myself to sleep. Even now, I catch myself wondering what she would be up to if she was still here. I try to hold on to the sound of her voice and her very infectious laugh. I still miss her 9 years later.
But this time it feels even worse. Because my tears are not only for myself. They are for my husband. They are for my sister-in-law. But mainly they are for my children and nephew. How do you fully explain and help your 2 year old to understand that she won’t see her much loved papa any more?
My father-in-law (pictured above with my husband’s mum and below with his grandchildren on our recent holiday) was an interesting man. He had been a joiner and worked on the QE2 when it was being built (a real legacy in my opinion). He loved documentaries, history and was a mine of information – some of it useful, some of it not – something he shares with his son. He had terrible taste in jokes (something also shared with his son) and loved nothing better that winding people up (especially me). He had mentioned a few times how much he would love me to knit him a jumper – never more so than on our recent holiday when I was working on the one for my husband – and I had just decided that I would do one for his birthday in December. I am sad that I never got to tell him that.
One thing he absolutely was though, was a fantastic papa. He did not shower my children with big or expensive gifts – I wouldn’t have liked it if he did – but there are so many thoughtful little things in our house that he gave to them: teething powders that he tracked down as all the chemists near us had run out, countless lovely little outfits and teddies, first toothbrushes (he gave one to my son a few days before he died as he had just got his first two teeth). Pictures of his grandchildren took pride of place around his fireplace at home. When I looked through my phone, there are so many messages from him asking how ‘my wee sweetie’ and ‘my boy’ are. He was never happier than when we asked him to come to see them and especially loved taking my daughter for a walk, which was a weekly arrangement when I was on maternity leave. He used to love the surprise visits from his daughter and grandson who live in Northern Ireland, and went over there a few times a year. When we asked him to come with us on holiday, he had booked his flights within the hour.
I think this is where so much of my grief is coming from. My own parents are wonderful grandparents but they have 5 children, 7 grandchildren and travel the world a lot (rightfully so – I would never begrudge them that as they have worked very hard and I am glad that they are enjoying their lives). But it does mean that there can be weeks between visits. Whereas they saw their papa nearly every week. And I know it is a cliche, but my heart is breaking a little bit that they, particularly my daughter, have lost someone to whom they meant the world. I am so sad that my son will never really know him. And that my daughter won’t remember him. I dread the time when she stops asking for him, or he stops being one of the people she tells you she loves. I can only imagine how much this will affect my husband, who was very close to his dad.
My husband deals with things very differently from me and I know that grief, especially, is a very personal thing. After my friend died, a supervisor of mine suggested that time itself is not a ‘great healer’, but rather it is what we do in that time that is, which is something that has always stuck with me. I deal with things by talking, and have shed my fair share of tears. When my friend died, I found a lot of comfort in music (particularly Kate Rusby’s No Names). But my husband is grieving differently from me. Whilst I want him to talk about it, and I hope that he does – especially as he is the one who found his dad – I am also trying to not push him into talking when he is not ready. I am sure that the next few weeks and months will be difficult. I think it will be the small things that he, particularly, will find hard: who to take the children to on a Saturday when he is giving me some time to myself, as he always took them to his dad’s; who to share pieces of trivia with that he would almost certainly have shared with his dad; who to phone on his way home from work for a blether. We will have to cope with these things the best way we can. I also hope my sister-in-law knows that she always has somewhere to call home, with us, when she visits Scotland.
We have been surrounded by so much love and support since it happened. My husband’s uncle (his dad’s only brother) and his wife have been extremely supportive, as have my family, especially my parents. Our next door neighbours have helped enormously with the children and we have countless friends who have sent cards, flowers or messages of support. It is definitely things like these that have made such a difficult situation that little bit easier. I plan to do a memory book for my children, which I will show them when they ask about him, and we are going to plant a tree in the garden for their papa.
I hope, wherever he is, that he is at peace.