I've been thinking about death a lot lately and I want to make a YouTube video about it. So I though I'd write my rough script here in case anyone wants to read it.
When I was 7, my dad passed away from a heart attack. When I was 32, my mum passed away from cancer. Even though I'm 36 now, I still feel like a boy in an adult's body, so I guess I feel like an orphan. On top of all of that, around Christmas in 2021, my adopted kids biological mother and grandmother both passed away unexpectedly. To say I've been thinking about death a lot lately would be an understatement. The way TV shows portray dealing with death is so inaccurate and so I wanted to share my experience.
As I said, I was 7 when my dad died. The strangest thing about that is that the most vivid memory I have of my dad was him actually exiting my life. I was playing in the back yard with my cousins and we were digging a hole in an attempt to dig to the other side of the world. When I walked in, he was dead in his armchair. We were young and naive. But my naivety extended way past the back yard. I remember at the funeral my sister was crying while holding me and I truly can't say that I fully understood the implications of what had happened. My dad was somewhat a part of my life, but he worked a lot and spent a lot of time at pubs. My mum took care of me for the most part and she still existed at this point.
From my seven year old perspective, nothing really changed. My mum continued to take care of me, and my auntie Gina started to help by babysitting while my mum was at work. Though it is sad to say, in many ways my mum was probably better off without my dad. In other ways, not so much. It might well be my mum's effort that made life seem like it hadn't changed. I wonder how hard she had to work to compensate.
But even with things seemingly being no different, things were actually very different. At that point my entire life changed. My father figure (regardless of whether it was a good or bad one) was gone. My mum lost her partner. I don't know if they would have stayed together anyway, but death probably robbed her of that closure. There would be nights where I'd ball my eyes out and tell myself how much I missed my dad. And yet, strange as it was, I couldn't even remember my dad.
And I often wonder about this for others that lost a parent at a young age. For me, it's like my memory is segmented. I can remember pretty much nothing from before the age of 7. It's like life started then and no earlier. I'll remember little things like my mum and dad argued, which is an unfortunate memory. But then there'll be one of those memories like my dad wearing aftershave because he was going on a date with my mum. Those memories are the kind that are so bittersweet. I savor them for as long as I can before they ultimately sink into me leaving me feeling empty with intense despair.
All I really have to go by with my dad is the memories of others. And I relish in those memories. I have laughed and cried hearing what others had to say about him.
I think the strangest thing to come from all of this is my understanding of pride. When people have told me that they're proud of me or that they're proud of something I've accomplished, it has always seemed so alien to me. Like what kind of words are those? Why are you proud of what I have done? That's my work - not yours. And then one day I ended up at a psychic. Long story, but it wasn't for me and I wouldn't go again. But in the middle of this session the psychic turned to me and told me my dad was in the room. He told me that my dad died and that he had two heart attacks. This was accurate. And then he told me that my dad wanted me to know that he was proud of me. And I broke down. I don't think I had ever heard those words from my dad or my mum. It cut right through any hard exterior shell that I had.
I have realized since then that my children need to know that I am proud of them. That I need to recognize the challenges that they overcome. And when I tell them that I'm proud of something they've accomplished that I know they've been struggling with, I can see how deeply those words sink in for them.
And so fast forward to 2017 when my mum passed away. She was 64 years old and I was 32. I'll always remember because 64 is 2 times 32. She had cancer and it spread. Some people say the doctors should have done more, some people say she became complacent. I don't really care, I just know that I lost my mum, and it was somewhat unexpected and a bit on the rapid side.
But even then, my mum had been diagnosed with cancer years before that and the treatment had been going well. But when she was first diagnosed, I accepted then that there is probably limited time for my mum.
Unfortunately, the last time I saw her was in 2008. I kept telling myself I should fly back to England to visit her and we were trying to fly her to the US to visit us. But then it all went south.
My sister messaged me to tell me what was going on. She was taking care of mum at her house. It was just the six of us at this point. We rushed to get our passports and book tickets. It was so expensive. And then one morning my wife poked her head in the door and told me I needed to check my phone. My sister had messaged me and my mum had passed away. I just put my phone back door and laid on my bed. Later that day I went outside and cut the grass and I don't really know why but it seemed important to mention.
I didn't know how to feel. I'd like to say I felt numb but I'm not sure I even felt that. I couldn't work out what was going on inside my head. My mum had died but I didn't cry for a good few days. And I think this is because my mum wasn't really an immediate part of my life anymore nor would she have been any time in the future. I was disappointed that I hadn't got to see her and that she hadn't got to meet her grandchildren, but I think I had already accepted the fact that she would eventually leave us.
For the prior years I had tried to call her every now and then. We'd talk on the phone and catch up. I had Skype set up so I could call her land line. She'd always pick up and call me Steven which I allowed because she was my mum. I cherish the phone calls that we had. And every time Skype loads I see her number on there and I just feel deep disappointment again.
That was a rough year. I feel like it affected my siblings more so than it did me. However, I think that's probably because they saw her more. I've thought about it so much and realize that I should have just bitten the bullet and gone over there to surprise her. But, you can't change the past.
Now I'm 36 and time just keeps ticking. Next year I'm going to be 58. Just kidding.
When the adopted kids mother and grandmother both passed away in late 2021, it really dug up some feelings for me. I watched as they struggled to comprehend everything. And it made me realize that everything that everyone tells you about dealing with death is bullshit.
The whole "five stages of grief" thing is unhelpful. No one tells you that it's five stages of grief that can occur in any order and repetitively.
For these kids, they had plans of one day reuniting with their biological mother. Those plans were ripped out from beneath them. On one hand they felt happy because we went to the funeral and they got to see many family members they hadn't seen for a while, on the other hand they felt deep sadness at the loss they were experiencing. It was hard for them to understand that we were celebrating their mother and grandmother. And the questions they had about the funeral were probably some of the hardest I've ever tried to understand or answer myself.
And all of this to say, there is no right way to feel. When someone you love passes away there are so many feelings you can feel. Yes you are going to feel sad. But also, if you were taking care of them and that was a lot of work, then you might feel some level of relief. And because you feel relief, you will feel guilty because you're not allowed to feel relief because you're supposed to be sad. And now you feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
Death is just a spaghetti meal of emotions.
And it's also very lonely. I didn't feel like I had anyone I could talk to when my mum died. I didn't feel like anyone understood how I felt.
Over the past year of really evolving as a parent I have realized one thing. There's a whole side to my mum that I never got to know. As children we look at our parents and think their existance began when we were born. That nothing occurred before that time. As parents, we realize our parents have lived two lives and now they're living their third. I wish that I could sit down and talk to my mum now that I'm who I am today and see what kind of relationship we would have. Unfortunately, I'll never get that chance.
And while my mum never got to meet her first four grandchildren, she did leave an imprint in their hearts. Every year she'd send them a birthday card and would go to the post office to get a fresh $20 US bill to put inside the card. I still have the last birthday card she sent me and I cherish it.
She really knew how to show someone she loved them. I hope that I can love like she did.
That's all I have.