I wish my dad was coming to my wedding.

I remember the first time I realised my dad wouldn’t walk me down the aisle. I was around 20. I can’t remember the date, the month, but I clearly remember that I was sitting on a bus, in the evening, leaning against the window with my fingers covering my eyes (the sunlight must have been weaving in and out of them, so it must have been summer). A woman got on, and held onto the pole, stared ahead, in that way you do. Something about her made me look. She reminded me of the girl in a Cancer Research advert at the time, one which was being broadcast with the wild abandon of supermarket commercials, between soaps, between documentaries, between seconds and minutes of days and weeks, and was unforgettable, and inescapable. And I had tried to escape it.

The girl in the advert was in her wedding dress. She looked every bit the cake-topper in her ordinary bedroom, in the oval of the mirror, with a painfully empty reflection behind her. She had tears running down her face, and she said, “My mum should be here”.

The advert, up until then, had annoyed me in the way that all cancer-saturation annoys me. I know that cancer is a horrific illness (my fiancé’s grandfather died of it on Boxing Day, the day we got engaged), I know the pain and despair it causes, I know it is awful and I know I am terrified of it, too. I know this because it is everywhere. Money is pumped into cancer charities, and cancer is the illness of bravery, of determination, of halo-dom. Automatic sainthood bestows upon the cancer patient, which, I believed, saccharined the reality of a terrible, destructive illness. All people who are ill are brave, because it requires bravery to live through any awful experience, through anything, really, through life. Whether in tears of laughter.

In my bleak little cocoon of grief (what is it like outside? I still don’t know), I felt resentment that people like me were not represented in these adverts. Or anywhere. No brave adverts for alcoholism and drug addiction, for mental illness, for the less glamourous, not-so-“blameless” (how horrible a concept) battles that steal our loved ones every day and which leave the children, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and friends silent under the weight of shame, of blame themselves (“couldn’t you stop him drinking? Put him into a hospital or something? Five children and it’s still not enough? What kind of children are you?”). The well-known by now turn-away of the face, the lowering of the gaze, not of death, but of a socially unacceptable death. One that does not proffer forth, “Ah, how brave they were! How wonderful. So much a life lived, and now the suffering is ended. They fought a battle”, but a defence, a, “But he was good. He was. I know he was. I remember it. Inside, he was good. He wasn’t himself- it wasn’t his fault”. The scrabbling for old memories, good ones. From childhood, maybe, or a glimpse, one day, in between drinks, of who he was, who you loved, who you would miss so desperately even when you hated them sometimes, and even when they so clearly hated you sometimes to, and even when you both said as much. And cancer patients are alcoholics too, have wasted, desperate lives, and die young. There is no sainthood, everyone is the same, everyone is human. A kind of death doesn’t make a kind of life. But so it is for the alcoholic, the drug addict, the mentally ill. Because they were so, then they must have been so.

And moreso than silent, invisible. I wanted, so desperately, to see someone represent my experience. To do it publicly. Please, please don’t let me be alone. I want to talk. I want someone to say something about what is happening to people and to the people left behind (My wonderful friend Brendan, who battled alcohol addiction too, died the year after my dad. He was the person who understood the most and I had wanted to shock him with my grief- it never works, it didn’t work with my dad, either. He saw people in his group die, and then he did anyway). It is why I wanted to write a book- not just one about mental illness (of which I have little to say about my own anymore) but about the experience of growing up with an alcoholic, with another who was mentally ill (It was like having half a parent most of the time. They ebbed and flowed, sometimes, one could be capable, one not, and vice versa. Sometimes they both were, and those were the best of times). Two parents who you love but who are flawed so deeply, but you love. Of not being a Jeremy Kyle caricature nor a placid professorly drinker, of being taught to read by someone who had misspelling on their gravestone, all too soon.

So this woman on the bus, her face like the advert girl. And I thought about it, her standing in front of the lonely mirror, and realised that my experience is there. It is there because I, my siblings and millions of people have lost a parent- forever and ever- and lost the futures we had in our hearts for ourselves, and for them. I had always imagined my dad walking me down the aisle (and probably getting drunk and ruining my wedding, but at least being by my side, genuinely proud and composed, for a few minutes. Like the childhood memories of making Toasted Toppers, it would be worth it for the rapidly fading memory of his true self), I had imagined smiling at him and getting one of my decade-kisses (only 3 times, not out of lack of love, but he was not that kind of man, he was shy) and then being released by him.

It struck me with shuddering, sickening force that it wouldn’t happen. It would never happen, it was gone, gone and could never be taken back. I had a new future and it was one without my dad. Without my children having him as a grandad, without my future husband meeting him (he did, when he was 18, and my dad baldly asked him, “Do you love her?”, to which my future husband replied, “Yes”), without arguments, without tense Christmasses, without shouting, without anything at all. He was gone. Was he even my dad anymore? Do they exist as parents, if they are dead? When they are 47 and I have friends older than that, who are alive?

I wanted to be sick. I shoved my head against the window and let tears roll down my face, too immobilised by shock and grief to even move, to get off the bus, to spare myself the embarrassment. When I finally did it was with fingers clenched in and drenched. I walked, I don’t even remember where- nowhere dramatic, probably home- trying to push the thought out of my mind, as I had done so many times before. But it wouldn’t go, it kept floating back, the awful reality of what had happened, that I had to accept and couldn’t bear to.

And now it is almost six years later. I’m getting married in August without my dad. Hopefully my mum will come, hopefully Robert’s dad will come, too. My little brother is giving me away. We’re having alcohol and I wonder if that’s like putting out lines of coke for the drug addict funeral. Should I raise a toast to my dad? Is that like saluting the Grim Reaper with a scythe?

But I know alcohol didn’t kill my dad, and that alcoholism did.

My dad should be here.

It Pours

I had a post to write, but it’s been kind of blown out of the water by the news that my granny Kane has just died.  No, not even this granny, Granny Molloy, who is hanging on.  The other one, which was somewhat unexpected to me as I didn’t know the extent of how ill she was in hospital.

I wasn’t close to her, but I didn’t dislike her.  I was far closer to my Granda Kane, her husband, who died last year.   And aside from my uncle Brian, I despise everybody in my mum’s family because they are poisonous, manipulative, loathsome human beings.

I’m still saddened by her death because it feels like my family is being wiped out.  And so last Christmas was, well, the last, and will end a tradition of a lifetime.

Mostly, however, I’m just worried about my mum.  She’s not really well (mentally) and has been looking after my granny almost since my dad died.   I worry that this might be a catalyst for madness, and I don’t want to lose her.  On the other hand, I’m hoping it gets her away from her ridiculous siblings and she begins, maybe, to live her own life. 

I’m not going to be able to attend the funeral due to my current benefits-what? situation, and also that one of my best friend’s weddings is on Saturday and I have already shelled out for train tickets, so I’m too broke.  I feel guilty about it (she deserves to have her grandchildren there, and I want to be there for my mum), but also slightly relieved, as I’m exhausted by funerals, exhausted by death.  I have watched too many people go into the ground in the past few years.  It isn’t how I want to remember them.

My granny wanted to go, though, and did so in her sleep.  She has been heartbroken since granda died.  They really loved each other.  So I am happy, in one sense, that she’s no longer in pain.

There goes the plateau of calm and peace I had reached today, anyway. Ah, what a sodding mess my life is right now.  Alas.

Granny Molloy

A bit of a shit start to the week.  My sister called my landline yesterday.  I know well enough that that’s the international call of distress.  So I immediately asked her what was wrong.

I wrote this in December:

There was only a sparse smattering of my family there, but it was good nonetheless.  My uncle Brendan was there, and he is my favourite family member due to his endless sarcasm.  His daughter, my cousin, who is now not so new yet feels so to me, was practising for the acting career that doubtless awaits her by sprinting around the house and roping us all into playing hide and seek.  I spent most of the time skulking in the kitchen with my cousins and siblings, smoking a faaaaaaaaaag and sneaking Kimberly Mikados when no one was looking.  My cousins Brendan, Ciaran and Eibhlinn were there as well sipping Tennants and white wine that my granny insisted we have.

My granny is a wonderful woman; if I had a role model it would be her.  She’s self deprecating, independent, eccentric and straightforward.  When we sat by my dad’s grave she told me that she didn’t believe in god (an admission that Catholic grandmothers are not renowned for…) but still hoped there was a hell so Ian Paisley could burn in it.  (She is, unsurprisingly, also a staunch Irish Republican, along with the rest of my family.  We have the 1916 Proclamation of an Irish Republic in our house).

My granny, in her pimping "Elizabeth" necklace

She’s eighty three but will probably live forever.  My granny fell over washing her feet in the kitchen sink, for reasons unknown to me.  The kitchen sink in my granny’s house is strangely a place that makes me smile; with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, I used to delight in standing on the chair doing the dishes.  I resent doing my own. I checked out the cupboard in the kitchen that used to house coal and, once, a dead, spindly legged turkey, but this year there was no coal, nor deceased birds.

I was wearing my white coat, made from real Teddy Bear fur, and my granny told me she had a coat upstairs I’d like.  She took me into her bedroom and pulled a long, black (fake) fur coat out of her wardrobe and handed it to me.  She said my dad had bought it for her twenty years ago.  I smelled it, as you do with old things in the hope for that intoxicating fragrance that second hand bookshops are the church of, and it didn’t smell of age, it smelled like perfume.   I tried it on, and aside from being long in the arms, it fitted me.    I gave her a hug and thanked her.  It’s nice to own something that my dad had touched, he feels so far away sometimes.  Before I left with it, though, my granny tried it on and it drowned her, which was strange.  I still think of her as a tall woman.

She’s been in hospital for a little while due to an overdose of painkillers.  No, not intentional; her arm was hurting and she was popping painkillers to asuage the pain.  Her liver protested, and there she was.  She also had gallstones, and she didn’t know it.  How someone doesn’t know they have gallstones is lost upon me.  From the frenzied whispers on the grapevine the pain is akin to passing a calcified child.

What she also has is inoperable stomach cancer.  So apparently she won’t live forever.

According to my sister Paula (who I want to win the lottery for, though I should probably start playing it), my granny is fine, just pissed off that there was nothing wrong with her before she entered hospital and now there’s a lot of things that are wrong with her.

The doctors are talking to the family on Friday to see what, if anything, can be done.   She’s old, though.  Granny is old, which should be the most obvious statement ever, but it isn’t.

I’m one of those lucky people who has had grandparents into my twenties, so I know them, as people.  They haven’t just been the people who’ve given us sweet money over the years.   I was close to my granda Kane, who died last year, and I adore my granny Molloy, we all do, in fact.  She’s my dad’s mum.  It always bothers me when it’s said that the tragedy of dying, of illness, is its youth.   I guess that’s because old people die of natural causes and have lived their lives but it is still a tragedy, still a life coming to an end.   My granny’s talked about dying before, and I think she’s okay with it, but I never have been!  I just didn’t anticipate an end for her, I thought she’d be here for ages.  Hopefully, she still will be.   So many of our childhood years in her house.  All our Christmasses.

When you know someone, it’s easy to put yourself in their shoes, and if you do that when they’re ill, or might die, it’s unbearable- selfish but unbearable.  I know I feel a different way to my granny but I don’t want her to be scared.

At times like this I hate living in London.  It’s difficult when these things happen to not have the means (especially in the midst of moving and being fleeced)  just to drop everything and go home.   I am crossing my fingers that nothing sudden happens anytime soon.  I never got the chance to say goodbye to my grandads, didn’t really get the chance to say goodbye to my dad.

(My family have always said that they were grateful that I called the ambulance, because it meant we got to say goodbye.  Otherwise, one of us would have found him dead at home.  But by the time I got there, he was dying.  I thought it would be days, and it was hours.  I don’t even know if he knew I was with him).

Then there was Brendan, not a family member but best friend, and of course, he just died and there was the reminiscent act of deciding to call the police.  Just-no more.

I might be being premature.  She does seem fine at the moment.  I just wish I could be there, if even to support my family.  I feel helpless over here.

I’m just sad.  My granny is a completely wonderful woman that I don’t think any of us are ready to lose.

The Motherland

Hello.  I’ve returned from the Motherland.  How I wish it were the Fatherland.

Belfast was great.  It was lovely to have us (my siblings, anyway) all together for Orlaigh’s sixteenth, which I still refuse to believe has come to pass.  I spent not as much time as I would have liked to with my siblings since I also wanted to briefly catch up with my three remaining friends there.  On Friday, I nabbed free food at Paula’s work and spent the rest of the day watching rubbish TV with her (which always makes me happy) and playing with her black Tonkinese cat, imaginatively called “Cat”.  Given that my cats are called “Boy Cat” and “Girl Cat” (and Hobbes, who lives with Rob), you can see the poverty of original thought that exists in my family.

My little brother, Liam, was there before donning his rags (not so much “glad”, he’s a crusty punk with a pungent yet not unsettling aroma) and heading out.  I have never met someone who is so confident in his appearance as my little brother is.  He is, naturally, gorgeous, as are all my siblings.  He knows it, though, but it’s disarmingly charming rather than irritating.  He kept me up until five in the morning to show me photos of himself.  An actual quote from him was, “Stay out of that mirror, that mirror is all ME!” It was tongue in cheek, but only just. If I have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, my brother has some sort of inverse.

On Saturday I extracted myself from sleepiness in order to be a tourist in a warzone. I took my camera and my friend Stephen onto the Falls Road, my stomping ground when I was growing up, as I went to school there. The Falls Road is a working class, ostensibly left-wing Republican area, full of interesting political murals and daubings. My own politics- unsurprisingly, lie upon the far left, and I do correct those who refer to me as British, as I’m from Nationalist West Belfast and was raised with Republican ideology and the Irish language.

It felt quite strange taking photos of things that I used to see every day and think nothing of, but I always regret not doing so.  Here is an example; it’s one of the murals just past my school.

That mural depicts the Easter Rising (which is what Éirí Amach na Cásca translates to), and that building there is the GPO in Dublin, which was the site of the uprising against the British Army. It was unsuccessful, obviously, or else the “Troubles” would not have been.

For those interested in politics, murals, art, myself, Belfast and etc, I have uploaded a whole set of photographs that I took of murals, my old school grounds and my friend here at Flickr.  I am too tired at the moment but when I’m more awake I will write descriptions so you know what you’re looking at. For the extra nosey, I’ve uploaded two more sets- one of my sister’s birthday and one of photos of my old haunts in Belfast, featuring me holding some scones.  (I have been feeling especially hideous lately, but am putting these up for memory’s sake.  Please don’t poke the soft bits with sticks).

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“I’ll wish, and the thunder clouds will vanish”

You don’t have to read this, I’m mostly talking to myself here. It’s about my dad, and missing people, and feeling very sad because of it.

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The story of alcoholic liver failure

My dad’s death changed my life.

I had learned to live with his depression and alcoholism, but I am still struggling to learn to live without him. The memory I am clinging onto right now is Christmas 2005, the last time I really spent time with him, and the last Christmas my family shared with him. He didn’t drink the whole time, and it was wonderful. The last memory I have of him alive and well is sharing a taxi as I went to the airport to return to London. He could only go so long without drinking, and got out to go to the off-licence, paid for my taxi, and kissed me goodbye. I didn’t see him again until the last hours of his life.

He could be aggressive, angry, amazingly self pitying, violent, abusive, embarrassing, hilarious, political, sensitive, proud, loving, mad, silly. He was a deeply flawed, wonderful person.

I’m reading over old journal entries, starting from when my dad was admitted to hospital and ending the week after he died. That whole period lasted just over a month.
Masochistic, yes. But oddly comforting because he was still there, and for a while, I had dreadful hope. Sometimes I wonder how we actually got through that time as it was the most heartbreaking situation I’ve ever experienced, and I’m certain it was the same for my family. It is also reminding me how great my friends were when he was in hospital and of how brilliantly my family dealt with it. It was the one time my mum cut out her bullshit, and my big sister Paula, who was in hospital with him the most, was amazingly strong. Even my dad dealt with it with his customary cantankerous humour.

I found some photos I took on my camera phone on the day of his funeral.  In the PD (a pub) afterwards.  Actually having an alright time.  They put on a spread for us, for free, like they did when my granda died a few months before.

This is me- I had been plastered in make up that morning, and cried it all off.

Paula and her friend Adeline who came after the funeral:

Another of my sisters, Michelle:

I’m going to put the entries here, unedited, for the benefit of people who have been in that similar, not knowing what to believe or think situation. I’m also going to put normal entries here, that don’t mention him much, because that Life Goes On. I also want to put this here for my own bizarre reasons in that I like stamping my dad all over the world, no matter which way. It will be a very long entry.

If any of you manage to read this whole entry I will give you a prize.

What surprises me, but also doesn’t, is that a lot of the entries I wrote in that time were happy and hopeful because it was generally a nice time in my life, before it all kicked off. I liked my job, had a beautiful boyfriend and things, usual brain weirdness aside, were good. It wasn’t until the very end that I began to really believe I was going to lose my dad. The further down I read, the more I remember what that time felt like.

People ask me why I am so explicit and forthcoming with things like this. I don’t want my dad to be forgotten. And I blog like this because I want the stuff we went through to mean something, even if it’s just one person in the world who felt the same.

Anyway, click below.

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