How My Dad Died.

Originally written in April 2007

I was asked in comments to write a story about my dad here.

The way my mind is working at the moment, I can only think of negative and horirble stories, doused in alcohol and soaked with sickness.

I have very few specifically positive stories of my dad. Plenty of lovely memories, but they are fleeting, small events like him making us Toasted Toppers or his insistence that Graham Chapman deserved a better looking boyfriend than David Sherlock.

Wedding Day

I’d never been to a wedding as a Grown Up. Nor a reception or any suchlike thing. The first wedding I remember was that of my aunt and uncle, Anne and Brian. Anne is a blonde model who appeared in speeding adverts, I’ve seen her in a bridal gown only once before, and that was on an advert on Ulster Television- “40 miles an hour!” with blood rolling apologetically down her dress. She used to come back from filming in England (“You’ve been to England?” we’d gawk at her) with those fat red dummy rocks in clutches for us. My uncle Brian is a big nosed, fresh-faced lovable man who has raised his three children to have quiet country burrs which is somewhat exotic to me when he brings them begrudgingly to their aunt’s house.

At the time I was nine years old and wasn’t taken to the wedding. My granny Molloy looked after me that day, in the only time she had ever been to our house. I remember her with her red slim face, which always looked like a warning triangle, taking my hand and us walking to the Dairy Farm, a supermarket near my house, where she bought me a pink keyboard. Then we went to the library where I proceeded to be kicked out as I was too fascinated with my first ever musical instrument. I managed to retain my dignity and my Asterix books, whereupon I rechristened myself Cacophonix.

That day I seemed to inherit a new family. At the wedding my mum met some of her family, The Mallons. Edna had a sharp tongue and fast humour, then there were her three daughters- Angela, Ceri and Michelle. Their ages corresponded roughly with the ages of me and my older sister. Michelle was the youngest so we were expected to get on. We were utterly different people so were never close.

So one wedding created a new family. The next was the day after my 18th birthday, the wedding of my uncle Michael to a quite well-to-do middle class girl called Fiona. Her family were much more respectable than our rough West Belfast one.

My uncle Michael looked like Damon Albarn. My sister Paula and I used to boast to our school friends about this. His fiancée was a social worker, tiny, buxom, blonde and beautiful. I first met her at a bedside vigil for my granda. I’d never met her before and remember feeling insulted rather than touched that she had come here while my grandad was so sick. In that respect, I’m quite traditional. For all my running-off-to-London, I believe in the family and find “outsiders” intrusive sometimes.

The wedding was in Bangor, and my dad was determined that we weren’t taking a feckin’ train that day. We got a taxi, god forbid, all of us piled into one black cab. He wanted us to be stylish, just as good as them, he said. But he was brimming over with happiness, as he always did when we were all together.

We found ourselves outside the church with a half an hour to spare and a bit peckish. “There’s a reception on later, Da,” says Michelle. Imagines of vol-au-vents, quiche, delicately decorated salmon en croute filled our minds.

But it would be hours before we had the chance to eat.

In our new clothes, we went to KFC and smeared ourselves with greasy chips and microwaved gravy. We sipped flat coke out of enormous buckets and liberally ate cold chicken.

We went at breakneck speed to the fancy Gothic church, stinking of fast food, gravy on our lips and the odour of old plastic seats sticking to our arses.

Twenty minutes later my other uncle Brendan (sarcastic, amusing vegetarian, much beloved of Paula, much resented by me for wrecking my carefully constructed house of cards) shows up, late and distressed and bangs on the window, Graduate style, to be let in. The priest shook his head and we all froze in horror and laughed as he strained to watch his baby brother getting married through a window, occasionally letting loose a fly of words that made the choirboys blush as he batted unruly twigs away from his face.

I wish

I could end the story there and that it would be Full O’ Larks. But of course with my dad in tow the day turned ugly.

He got drunk, completely pissed, and refused to be told otherwise. He was loud, embarrassing, abusive and disruptive. We ended up having to look after him, pleading, begging and crying.

I don’t think, until that point, his family believed us when we said his alcoholism was severe. But as the evening progressed and his behaviour got worse, I think it finally clicked that for all those years, we had not been exaggerating. Michelle, Paula and me were just exhausted, exhausted, humiliated and depressed, wanting to be a Proper Family out at their uncle’s wedding, instead of three ringmasters in the arena of my dad’s illness.

I have a lot of guilt concerning my dad. Not just that everything we did didn’t stop him from dying. But for childish things.

My mum and dad had prolific and devastating fights almost every night. My dad would eventually stumble upstairs, screaming obsenties. And my sisters and I would huddle in their bedroom and talk about how if we pushed him downstairs, we wouldn’t have to put up with it anymore.

We had many comical scenerios as to how we’d get rid of my parents. And they were comical, we didn’t actually want them to die but craved silence.

My dad rang me up on my 16th birthday. It was one of the periods he wasn’t living at home and I had assumed he was calling to wish me a happy birthday. Instead, he told me he was going to kill himself.

Sometimes I wish he had done. There were times when I violently wished that something, anything would end his and our suffering. I knew always that alcoholism was a disease and an addiction but it’s scant comfort when you’re in the living room with your little brother and sister trying to block out the crockery breaking in the kitchen.

I wanted something quick and painless and it would be over.

I was outside work once. At the time, a friend of mine was suffering from serious depression and they had rang me earlier to tell me they were going to kill themselves. This was sometime during 2005. I took the phone outside and tried to talk them down but I was petrified and shaking.

When Vicky died, I prayed to whatever gods there were that I would never have to go through it again. The stark memory of sitting down on the chair being told she had hung herself, the starker memory of walking down the forest the same night, vision blurring with tears, standing on the roadside we had walked upon destroyed me.

I got off the phone to my friend and lay back against a wall with a cigarette.

Suddenly, the image of someone calling to tell me my dad had killed himself flew into my head and took my breath out. All those times I wished it had happened pulverised me and I felt like the worst person in the world. The reality, the already-grief of his dying laid me on a fold up chair in tears.

I had always believed he’d get better. I held that hope to my chest, to my heart, to every minute of the day. I believed that with our help and willpower, he would recover and live to say, “When I was an alcoholic”…

The Reality of it

When it happened, I didn’t know what to do.

My dad had been in hospital for two weeks or so. It started innocuously enough. I was on the phone to my brother when he made a joke about my dad looking like one of the Simpsons. I asked him what he meant and he said, “He’s bright yellow”.

That night was a Saturday and I was alone in my flat. And for some reason, I got my mum on the phone and said, “I think daddy has liver failure”.

She didn’t really take me seriously so I told her I was going to call NHS direct. I described my dad to the nuse on the phone. Jaundice. Alcoholism and, in the background, his slurred voice.

I rang my mum back and told her I was calling an ambulance. I rang them in London and asked them to transfer me to Belfast. Rang them up and sent them to the house.

I was on the phone when they came. I heard my daddy protesting that he had an appointment with the doctor in June (it was the end of April) and that he was fine. I told my mother to keep trying and spoke to the ambulance staff, telling them I think he’s very ill and please make sure he goes.

He didn’t. He refused the ambulance and my mum called someone else, I can’t remember who, I think it was psychiatrist services. He finally went.

A few weeks passed. Phone calls here and there. I didn’t go home as nothing sounded serious. He was filled with fluid and had acute liver failure. I assumed he would get a transplant.

I had a holiday to Belfast booked on the 18th of May to introduce Rob to my parents. It had been booked for a while. I had spoke to my daddy on the phone and he was looking forward to seeing me and Rob on the 18th. He sounded fine.

On the 16th of May, while I was in work, my sister Michelle sent me a text saying daddy was dying now, right now, and to get home.

I called her, then called my sister Paula who was in the airport on her way back to London. She didn’t want to make a fuss so I called the nurse to make sure Michelle wasn’t being hysterical.

The nurse told me to come home.

Paula turned round and went back to the hospital. I had no money whatsoever and couldn’t change my flights. Jo and my boss at work started printing out train and flight times. I appealed on Livejournal for someone to help me get home. A friend lent me the money, I booked my flight, kissed goodbye to Rob and flew home.

I met my friend Tracie at the airport. She had some ham sandwiches and a bar of chocolate for me. I was filled with dread. I couldn’t, would not think of my dad dying. We sped down the long, dark, 10pm roads. I laid my head against the passenger window and stared at the greyscale countryside.

I met my sisters in hospital. I was not prepared for what I saw.

My dad was so clearly and obviously dying. I burst into tears.

When my grandad died, my drunken, grieving father shouted that the next funeral we would be at would his own.

I had not believed him. And here it was, his dying.

He was so afraid of death and that’s mostly what was on my mind. Did he know? A nurse leant over his bed and told us it wouldn’t be long. I was horrified, what if my dad heard? Was he afraid?

He was yellow and ancient and couldn’t breathe- he couldn’t see or talk and he was so clearly dying. I started crying as soon as I saw him, held his hand and tried to tell him I was here but I don’t know if he knows I was. I thought at least he would be able to talk, there was so much to say. He looked so different and my sister assured me he had only become this bad within the past 24 hours. Before that, he was able to talk and I hate myself for not going home 24 hours earlier.

We stayed the whole night in the room, holding his hand, talking to each other, going to the smoking room and watching his monitors. I’d bought him the issue of Kettering- I had thought he would be conscious enough for me to read him to him, he had wanted to read my Neil Innes interview, because he was a fan and he was proud. He’d gone round telling everyone I was interviewing him. I had been so hopeful he would be conscious. I desperately wanted to speak to him. Wanted to hear him say my name.

Michelle left to sleep and Paula left to smoke and I tried to tell him that I love him, he made no sign he’d heard, just groaned and fiddled with his breathing mask.

He kept trying to take his mask off, and we kept putting it back on. A few times he’d clutch his head, like he had a headache, like something so normal, a headache. He tried to sit himself up a few times. He tried to sleep.

He must have known we were there. He kept holding Paula’s hand while I stood on the other side and stroked his hair. It made him sleep. In his sleep, he said our names. All our names, his five children.

He said. And he did say, although my sister denies it, “I don’t want to die”. It could have been a trick of the ears but I am sure he said it. And my heart cracked in two.

He was obviously in a lot of discomfort but the doctor said he wasn’t in pain. He kept pulling out his wires and tubes- he was so scared of ending up like my granda that Paula told me he’d been pulling them out since the beginning. He always believed he’d be going home and on some level, so did I. I thought this would be a lesson, he would stop drinking and get better. I thought he was brilliant because recently he’d been sober more, and he was going into rehab this month.

Hours passed of him taking off his mask, falling asleep, waking up. The morning came, we hardly knew. About eight am or so we called our mum and asked her to come take our place for an hour while we ate something. We didn’t want to leave, we agonised over it but we needed something to eat. We expected to be there days, we were getting ready for it.

Before we left, Paula stroked his arm and said she’d see him soon. I kissed his forehead and told him we’d be gone an hour but we’d be back.

At about 8am, our mum came and we went home to get some food.

A half an hour later, the nurse phoned and told us to come back. We tried to wake our little brother up but he wouldn’t wake up. After some exhausted, frustrated screaming at him, he got up and smashed the china set my dad had bought for my mum.

We got to the hospital. Liam went to the toilet and we went up to the ward. Tacked on the curtain was, “NO VISITORS”. And my dad had died there, without us at about 9am on 17th May, a day before Rob and I’s visit. Aged forty seven, a month before his 48th birthday.

We howled. I had to go and find Liam and tell him. He was in the corridor and I didn’t know what to do or say. I just had to tell him that his dad died. How do you tell a fifteen year old that?

I remember standing by my brother and sisters and crying, I remember hugging my uncles, his brothers, and his mother, who had lost her sister two weeks ago and her husband seven months ago. It is not fair, I remember thinking that over and over.

A nurse came in and said, “Did he have a wedding ring on?” Nothing else- “NO” and then, “Did he have any gold teeth?” “NO” get out of my sight and she did and I hated her so much.

They took him away and kept hassling us saying they needed to do it now. We said wait because his brother isn’t here yet, my uncle Michael was on his way. Before they took him away we said our separate goodbyes and had our time with him. No-one will ever know what we all said, and I am glad.

They took him and we organised the wake at my grandmother’s. It was best to be there, it was his real home.

I slept after that and the next day Rob got here. We spent the next days at my grandmother’s. He met everyone in my family, except my dad. I wrote the obituary with my little sister and it appeared in the paper with many others, and flowers arrived and two big wreaths, “DAD” and “BROTHER”. I got away with much as a lot of my extended family and friends didn’t realise I was his daughter, so there weren’t many, “I’m sorry”s or tearful hugs. That hurt me slightly because I wanted some hugs but I had Rob, my sisters and uncles and brother and that’s all I needed, all we needed.

The coffin was in the room and they did a good job, he looked like my dad. I couldn’t understand why he was there, none of us could.

The priests came and went and on Friday night, Paula, Brendan my uncle and I stayed with him on his final night. We talked about a lot of things, not really my dad, and didn’t sleep. Everytime the automatic air freshener went off, we jumped.

The funeral was on Saturday and at first I didn’t think I could do it. My sister held my hand as we listened to the priest before they took him away. I couldn’t stop crying. I said goodbye again, I said I’m sorry.

My fifteen year old little brother had to carry his dad’s coffin.

On the way up to the church we noticed one of the men carrying the coffin had something written on his bald head and neck in green marker. He didn’t know he had it.

After the funeral, we went to the PD, a Republican bar my dad and our family went to often, and had a buffet and a drink. Since then, I’ve felt very little. I’d been sleeping in his bed and going through photographs, taking some and not taking others in the knowledge he’d kill me. But he isn’t here now and I can’t really understand how. As time wears on, the truth of it, the real truth of it, is beginning to dawn.

I don’t know what to do now. There’s years ahead without my dad but I still feel as though he’ll be back. I never want to remember him as that man I saw in the coffin. I hate Catholic services. I’m worried about the future for my mum and the kids. I’m worried about my granny. I don’t know what to do without my dad. He’s the one who understood us and helped us. He paid my rent once and bought our Christmas presents. He taught us how to read and ride our bikes and taught us how to write and taught us our history. He got me into comedy and music. I have all his David Bowie vinyls now, as promised.

The last time I saw him was Christmas 2005 and he had stayed sober, it was lovely. There is a photo of him in the bedroom, arms outstretched and smiling and you’d think he didn’t have a trouble in his heart until you notice his wrist, a huge gaping wound. He was not a happy man and that kills us. We tried. We love him so much.

My sisters joked we should put lots of IOUs in his coffin with him because he helped us with money when he got ourselves into scrapes. I wanted to put his comb in there with him. Paula could barely look at him but when she did it was to fix his hair. He would be mad at us if he’d known we didn’t shave his head for him.

30 Responses

  1. You break my fucking heart. You have NOTHING to be sorry for.
    Your dad would be so proud of you if he could read your stuff. His daughter, the writer.

  2. I keep returning to this post, trying to think of something to say, but everything seems clumsy in comparison. Never give up.

  3. I found this blog through Mental Nurse. They speak highly of you.

    I can’t think of the words to convey quite how reading this made me feel. You’re a star, I admire you a tremendous amount.

    Keep your chin up.

  4. oh wow. Oh man how I can feel your heart breaking in there.

    I’m so sorry.

  5. The writing was as beautiful as ever. You made me think about my own dad’s death: something I don’t do enough.

  6. you whored out your dad for a writing assignment you gave yourself.

  7. I don’t see how writing about my dad is whoring him out. He’s the reason I write at all.

  8. My Dad died this week. Reading your words helped me in the very simple way of knowing that I’m not alone in my pain.

  9. Stefanie. I’m so sorry for your loss. Take care.

  10. I can completely understand so much of what you have shared in this post. I lost, we lost my uncle this past February due to his alcoholism and untreated mental suffering.

    He was suffering for almost his entire life and in the end he was out of controle, abusive to his mother (84 years old) whom he lived with because he could no longer work. And abusive to his duaghter (11 yrs) whom lived with him and my grandmother.

    It is a hard thing to face but the truth is that many times my older sister and I had thought; “if he just died all this suffering he is going thru and causeing others to go thru would be over. Grandma could get her life and her home back and charlote (his duaghter) could go live with her mother and learn what it is like to be a decent and saner person”.
    But of course we always hoped and tried to get him the tretament he needed. Hoping he could get better and not go out in such a bad way. He simply refused help though.

    When he died I had been expecting it, which somehow has served as a buffer from the pain. I saw it coming and there was nothing I could do except try every time I visited to talk him into going into detox and therapy. I guess I had been preparing myself for his passing, something I am sorry you did not have the ability to do yourself. Though it may have simply been worse to know this was coming. How we grieve and deal with death is different from person to person. My own experience is thatn an unexpected death is much harder to deal with. You are unprepaired and the shock can be incapacitating.

    I understand how hard it is to have no power to save the ones you love.

    sadly i believe my own mother is headed in the same direction as her brother. I will admit that in her case to, and maybe even more so in her case, my older sister and I have thought that when she finaly dies we will at least feel some relief along with the grief because her suffering will be ended.

    It is hard to face those sorts of twisted emotions. It is something that no one can understand unless they too have had someone they love who has lived so much of thier life in such emtional torment. And someone who can not help but lash out because of thier suffering.
    You would rather see them get better than get dead. They can be good people, they have done good things, but so much of the time it is the darkness that wins and the helplessness we feel makes us wonder if there is any other relief than death that they could find in life.
    You try and you try but nothing you do, none of the years you devote to the cause ever make a difference. You are stuck watching their constant descent into hell. You are stuck trying to hold onto the good moments for hope, however few and far between they may become at times.

    I hope that knowing that someone else out there besides you and your siblings has felt the sorts fo feelings you have helps alieviate any guilt you may be carrying over them.

    I am very sorry for your loss and I am very sorry that your father did not get better befor his passing.
    I believe from what you have written of him that he would be very proud of you for sharing the truth of you experience with others. I know for me reading your blog has helped me feel less alone and has put into words so many of my own internal experiences that I have not been able to get out “on paper”.

    thank you for sharing this experience. I hope that you can ignore the comments from people who do not know what they are talking about. You are doing all of us mentaly interesting people a great service by sharing yourself with such honesty and clarity.

    I also want to say that I am amazed at how well you can write even in the midst of all the fluctuating moods and on all the medications you are on.

    all the best -katielou82

  11. Beautiful writing; it’s a strange sort of comfort to know that there are other people out there who have lost a parent to alcoholism.

  12. My dad died 10 months ago due to complications of his years of chrinoc alcoholism. He was 67. I feel so much of what you wrote. I remember having the same thoughts about wishing he would just die so that we didn’t have to live with the pain and family destruction that his alcoholism created.

    Now he’s gone…what I didn’t know then was that even if he were to die, it wouldn’t take away the pain. What hurts me most is that I really did love him and I feel that I never really got a chance to tell him how I felt. He was so often clouded with alcohol, and when he wasn’t, I never had the courage to tell him.

    When he died, so did my hopes that he would somehow recover. It’s over and I’m having troubles accepting that. I spent so many years of my life so angry and disappointed with him and the way he lived his life. The instant I watched him die, the anger was gone – he paid the ultimate price for the choices he made. Unfortunately thos of us left behind have to find a way to sort out the mess that’s been made. I don’t know that I’ll ever be the same.

  13. Reading this has made me burst into tears…It reminds me off what my dad used to be like…It brings back all the feelings, reminds me of my brother and sister trying to sort thnigs out, my mum walking out and leaving us screaming trying to calm my dad down…And then it reminds me of the things i used to think and how i still have been thinking…How i wished he would die and things…He moved out for a while and i was so happy, my mum or sister told me not so long ago that when he wasn’t here he got really ill and was lucky he didn’t die…I wished he had done…He’s off the drink now and has been for a few years but every now and then he turns and snaps and acts just like he’s still on the drink and it really does scare the life out of me…

    Reading what you had to say about the pain and stuffs has made me rethink a little though…I guess i don’t wish he was dead…I just wish he wasn’t around and i didn’t have to see him…Because even though he does nice things for me/us now it still doesn’t change the way he acts now sometimes and also the past and the past will always haunt me.

    Reading this has showed me though that compaired to others i’ve been lucky and i should be so much more greatful for that than i have be.

    Thank you for sharing your story as i know that i’m not the only one that this has and will help.


  14. I understand your struggle re the death of your father. Its always harder too when one becomes an adult and realised such people were self medicating for the same stuff one has. If you can borrow it, take a look at Everyday Heaven, which is partly about how I dealt with his death. It may give you some peace.

    Donna *)

  15. […] was replaced with dysphoric mania, or mixed episodes and I lost all sense of stability. In 2006, my dad died. I was already fairly ill then, but in the next months, I went to hell. I suffered a severe mixed […]

  16. I was so little I barely remember, but one day my Mom came home, and told me my Dad had died, I didn’t believe her at first, but then I wondered why she would be joking about a thing like that …. I miss him alot but I wont see him until I go to heaven, and its not fair…

  17. A sad story. My dad is a recovering alcoholic. I am pleased to say he has been sober for 6 months. He has been sober before for 10 years but then re-lapsed in 2006. I understand what you wrote about the wedding and him getting drunk and your family getting embarassed. Thankfully my father is still alive. We have our problems but hopefully time will heal those. Good writing.

  18. I’m sitting here covered in tears by your story. I”m 24 yrs old and have a father that is a severe drinker refuses to get help is yellow ,purple legs, shakes, yellow eyes, hard time breathing, lost job etc…I just came across your story as I was looking up information on alcholics. It was very touching. I’m very sorry about your loss.

  19. […] cruel.  It doesn’t do anything.  I remember one September evening, a few months after my dad died, lying on the street with my back against the wall crying until I couldn’t move, thinking, […]

  20. […] on May 16, 2009 by Pole to Polar: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive Three years ago today, this happened.  My dad has been gone all that time and I could have used him to talk to so many times. […]

  21. my dad just recently died of alcoholism. it’s absolutely shocking how fast it can happen. my dad literally just dropped dead. his body finally had enough. i’m lost and numb, and i feel so robbed of a normal childhood, or anything family related. thank you so much for sharing your story… I’m sorry that you, too, have had to go through this but I’m glad we’re not alone.

  22. oh wow… this did make me cry… it’s really made me think about my dad and his alcoholism… 😦

  23. My dad died 8 days ago. He was 52 and an alcoholic. I knew he had fluid in his body but found out later he was also anemic, had low blood pressure and his liver wasn’t working. He’d had 5 blood transfusions shortly before he died. He was abusive when drunk but could be the best person in the world. I was a daddys girl and loved him so much. I still do love him but not with the same romanticism as I did as a child. Your story really helped me understand I am not alone. Thankyou for sharing your experience.

  24. What did that guy have written on the back of his head?

  25. […] My dad died six years ago, at the age of 47.  If you want to know how that happened, you can read this post.  […]

  26. […] My dad died six years ago, at the age of 47.  If you want to know how that happened, you can read this post.  […]

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