The Death of a Loved One

dad, death, funeral, Wes Little

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As many of the readers of this blog will know, my dad (Wes) died earlier this year. 4 weeks ago tomorrow in fact. He was 61, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the bowel and liver, and the 2 years the doctors had estimated that he had left turned into 2 months. So it was a bit of a shock when he went so soon.

I want to share my reflections on my dad, death and the effect of grief, partly as it’s cathartic for me but also because I hope it will give some of you guys an insight into something you’ll go through at some point in life.

For me, the important thing through all this has been to look after my mum (and sisters). It’s a role I naturally took on when dad went so I’ve found it OK but you sometimes feel a little bit lonely being the only man left (although I do have 2 great brothers in law (well, one’s still pending)).

When we first found out that dad had cancer I think I fairly soon came to terms with the fact that my dad was gonna die. Sure, a miracle was possible, but being someone who tends to focus on the future rather than the past (I can’t remember much of my childhood at all), I found myself in places like the shower working out who would carry the coffin at his funeral. So when he died I accepted it fairly quickly – my coming to terms with him going being helped by the fact that he hadn’t really seemed himself anyway since he’d been diagnosed – he’d liven up when friends came round to visit or he was around church, but I guess we as a family saw him acting very quiet and exhausted, watched him getting so thin, and so there was an element of relief (for me anyway) when his passing brought an end to all the pain and tiredness he’d been enduring.

There are lots of stupid little things which keep setting me off crying again. Thinking of doing any DIY from now on without him. Having family meals without him sitting to my left, laughing at my jokes. Singing anything and not hearing his voice singing exactly the same part. The prospect of moving house again without having him gladly drive across the country to help me pack and load up.

Here’s a picture of a newborn me with my dad. Yes, he had mad sideburns.

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This is an important picture for me. You can see the glint in dad’s eye as he’s holding me. Later, when I grew up, he didn’t seem to be that affectionate with me. I think that was a lot to do with his dad having shown a similar restraint in showing emotion. And I know that a lot of people of my generation have experienced the same thing with their dad. So, I had a few things to actively work through in my relationship with him, but in the end I could say with conviction that I loved him and I knew he loved and was proud of me too. My relationship with dad was in no way bad, but the way God sorted things out is one of the reasons I believe in God so strongly. So, a little encouragement to all who have ‘issues’ with their dads (which I guess is most of you reading this): be proactive and do something about it. I’d count it a genuine privilege if you want to talk to me about it.

It’s been interesting to observe the range of my friend’s responses to the news of dad dying. I won’t mention any names here, but here are some of the responses and my reactions:

  • Some said that if I needed them, they’d drive across the country/get a plane to be with me. And I knew that they weren’t just saying that.
  • Some wrote cards to my mum (even though they don’t really know her) and some wrote cards to me with great messages inside (who I didn’t expect cards from)
  • My colleagues at one of the places I’ve worked with extremely briefly sent me a huge bunch of flowers the same day; whereas, bar 3 of my colleagues/friends, I’ve heard nothing from any of the people at one of the places I worked at for ages.
  • I’ve found out so much about my dad from people I’ve never met. So many of the comments we received in cards/Facebook/emails (there must have been about 250) highlighted similar things.

Seeing a dead body is weird. I saw dad’s twice – first in the hospital the day he died, and second, the day before the funeral at the undertakers’ chapel of rest. I’m a touchy-feely person and it didn’t feel weird to see and touch him the first time because he was still warm. The second time… well, I’d recommend you don’t touch someone who’s been dead for a few days unless you’ve got a good stomach. The icy coldness of their skin is quite a shock and leaves you feeling nauseous for the rest of the day. Sorry – that’s probably a little too much information.

The funeral day was truly excellent – I’ll remember it forever. It’s a little strange that other people probably cry more than you do even though it’s your family member. Carrying a coffin is odd. Having someone faint as the coffin disappears in the cremation lift is funny. Seeing Bromley hall packed so tightly that people are having to stand in the foyer is incredible. Hearing those hundreds of people all singing at their top of their voices is powerful. Hearing so many comments, all positive, about your dad gives you a lot of pride and gives you a great example to follow.

The first time I cried at the celebration service was when my little sister Janine was giving her tribute (I have this hard-wired reflex that makes me cry whenever someone else is getting upset). As I blew my nose with one of dad’s handkerchiefs, having forgotten that I’d turned my tie-clip microphone on for my own tribute, Janine was struggling to say that one of the little things she’d miss about him was his ‘extremely loud nose-blowing into his handkerchiefs’, and so the comic precision of the sound of me blowing my nose amplified through the PA system, and my subsequent look of genuine surprise, provided the perfect moment of relief for the hundreds of people there who were trying desperately to hold back the tears. My dad would have howled with laughter. If there was any moment of the service (even the last year) that I felt God’s presence, it was then.

I sang a song at the funeral, which seemed like the only way I could give dad my tribute. It finally came to me the day before. Here are the words:

The sky is grey, and the rain-clouds loom
I never thought you’d have to leave us quite so soon
I never got to say the half of things that I meant
So I hope that you can hear my heart and see my intent.
Life from now on will be bittersweet,
You’ll jump into my head when I’m just about to eat
And other normal things will make me recollect
But I’d rather hold onto my grief than try to forget:
You’re home, at rest
And God knows best
Cos you’re home, you’re home, you’re home
You were the glue that made us stick
The insides of the watch that makes the pieces all tick
So constant, never-changing from my moment of birth
So I’ll try and be a rock for your three angels on earth
I know you’re fine, cos you’re face to face
With the one who pours upon me his generous grace
Your pain is gone, you’re heartache free
But would you have a word, and send some healing for me?
You’re home, at peace
Where strivings cease
And you’re home, you’re home
You’re home, at rest
And God knows best
Cos you’re home, you’re home, you’re home.
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2 years

2 years, cancer, dad

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2 years is a good length of time. It’s the amount of time it takes to:

  • witness a baby learn to smile, laugh, walk, talk, and feed herself

  • pass 5 A-levels

  • explore the world, visiting all 193 member states of the United Nations spending at least 3 days in each

  • learn to speak a new language fluently

  • cook and eat 2,190 different meals

  • read 50 books

  • watch 100 films

  • listen to 175,000 audio tracks (assuming you sleep for 8hrs a day)

  • be a role model to a group of young people from your community, giving them over 60 hours of your time at a youth club

  • write 730 daily blog entries

  • do a PGCE and NQT year to become a teacher

  • lose weight, train to run a marathon and run at least 4 of them…

You get the picture.

Anyway, this week 2 years took on another meaning. It’s the amount of time a specialist has given my dad to live, on account of him having bowel cancer which has spread to the liver and despite the fact that he’ll be having chemotherapy.

Hmm… Obviously, this is very much a ballpark figure; 2 years could become 3 or 4, and I believe in a god who specialises in miracles. I am so grateful that our family is so close – both in terms of how well we get on and the fact that I am now living 10 minutes from both sisters and 40 minutes from my parents for at least the next two years. Funny that…

I must say how awesome friends and family have been – people’s kindness, good wishes and prayers have been (and are) very much appreciated.

Déjà Vu

brain, dad, déjà vu, mum, pondering

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noun

 

  1. Psychology the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.

  2. disagreeable familiarity or sameness: The new television season had a sense of déjà vu about it—the same old plots and characters with new names.

[Origin 1900–05 from French: literally ‘already seen’ ]

Déjà vu is a phenomenon that is extremely difficult to study because it’s a spontaneous occurrence and therefore can’t be objectively measured in a lab. There are over 40 theories but none can be proven. The most plausible hypothesis I’ve heard is that it occurs because nerve signals originating from the left and right eyes sometimes arrive in the area of the brain that deals with visual perception slightly out of sync – i.e. one signal is slightly faster – and so your brain registers that it has seen what it is now experiencing at some point before – and because the information hasn’t passed into long-term memory yet, there is just a vague feeling that it’s familiar. I’m not sure if this theory is totally watertight, however.

Yesterday my parents came round to help me sort a few things in my new house. About 5pm I was sitting in my lounge, admiring how clean and tidy it looked, my dad was sitting on the other sofa reading, and my mum asked me a question from the kitchen (where she was still cleaning something) where something was, and I experienced déjà vu.This scenario has never happened before (as I’ve only recently moved in), but the combination of me sitting and thinking, dad sitting and reading in the same room, and my mum busy doing something in the kitchen (when everyone else is fed up of housework) has undoubtedly happened before.

So I wonder whether the sense of déjà vu is merely a coming together of a certain collection of factors that when a very similar situation (though not identical) occurs, it ‘feels’ as though it has. i.e. it’s all about your brain making connections with the past rather than your brain temporarily functioning badly. In which case, I wonder how many factors need to be the same for déjà vu to occur?I thought I had something with that, but apparently as people age, the experience of déjà vu gets less frequent, not more (which you’d expect, as older people have made a lot more connections).

Anyway, do you think it’s true that more reflective, observant, perceptive people experience déjà vu more than others?