I was born in July. A summer baby, never crying, dimples pinched in every photo. Now, I cry daily. My parents were always, always working and many days were spent slouching with my brother glued to the TV, advised not to set foot out the flat's front door. When my Mom wasn't working, she was studying and from what I can recollect my Dad was never in the house. In later life I'm told he would work 12 hours a day, as I do now, only instead a rather intensive six days a week. I had no idea. I was always hesitant of my Father, always sheepish of his presence, always feeling like I didn't really know who he was and in many ways I still don't, now. Tip toeing around eggshells. I've never seen a family photo album, let alone heard his parents' names despite my repeated asking. It took a lot to make him crack a smile and when watching comedy on late-night TV I'd be lucky to glimpse a wry smirk while resting my head on his inflated beer belly. I think that was probably one of the happiest times in my entire life. In a deep snooze, his stomach would rise and fall, waking me from slumber, my head bobbing in Guinness like a toy sailboat. Blockbuster franchises were a pivotal part of my time spent with Dad. Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, Harrison Ford leaping through rugged terrain in the Indiana Jones series and endless repeats of Have I Got News For You, all viewed sideways. Sometimes, even though I wasn't supposed to, we'd watch more raunchy shows of the Noughties like The Royle Family and Gimme Gimme Gimme, and I felt like I'd been invited into the grown ups' club. An unbreakable bond he and I shared. TV and film was a formative foundation for our relationship. The Wizard of Oz was rewatched religiously, Casablanca was (and presumably still is) his all-time favourite film. In later life, he'd tell me of The Red Shoes, Midnight Cowboy and Vertigo. Every birthday and Christmas he'd lavish me with DVD box sets of Hammer Horrors and Hollywood classics. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Frankenstein. I was born in July, a Cancer. A summer baby, never crying. I'd sulk and sulk and sulk. I could contort my face into the ugliest of ways and on occasion I remember my Dad telling me "Be careful, the wind will change and your face will stick like it." I cry daily. Cancer is a disease best described as 'grizzly', it eats away at you from the inside out like a succubus until you are a shell of your former self. Somehow he still holds onto his long Black Sabbath locks. Whatever you envisage the most brutal effects of cancer to be - on friends, family and loved ones included - I beg you to multiply it by ten. Witnessing true horror, devoid of stage makeup, feels much more violent knowing there is no more to be done. No more scans, no more treatment, no more tablets can fix a person who is terminal. I have to admit that 'terminal' is a frightening word, with no reversal, and with that all realisations of mortality begin to sink in. TV is still a large part of our relationship, although now it's mostly Bargain Hunt, Flog It and Homes Under the Hammer. I used to make quips about poor purchases and funny contestants, although now I'm unsure whether he can hear me. His skin is cold to touch and while drinking my tea I often glance out of the corner of my eye to check that he continues to rise and fall, rise and fall. I'm thankful for these shared moments, no matter how traumatic, as I don't want to find myself feeling regretful for the things I could have or should have done. I do wish I'd asked more questions, about Ireland, about his first engagement, about his Doberman, about his life, but when men are stubborn there is only so much you can pull out of them before they shut down. If I can offer any modicum of advice, it would be to treasure your loved ones, as banal as that may seem. Nothing is too personal or too awkward, please, for the love of God shout it from the rooftops. Please say "I love you", please hold their hand, please offer a hug even if their bones can't bear the weight of it. As I write at 1am, I think of my Dad in front of that TV, with his life drawing to a close the way that mine really started. I wish that you could hear how much I love you.
Published in Grief (In Few Forms)