You’ve lost all the feeling in your heart and soul
It’s not enough to cry
We all knew the end was coming.
In that respect, we were lucky. A friend of a friend’s dad had gone to play tennis and never came home; he’d died of a heart attack. On 11th September 2001, eight years after my dad died, firemen and passengers alike were killed in a terrorist attack, their children unable to escape from the horrible images on TV and in the press for days on end. On 15th April 1989, several kids in Liverpool waved goodbye to their fathers as they went off to watch a football match in Sheffield, never to return. Other children have had to wait for days, weeks, months, not knowing if their fathers are alive or dead, until the dreadful news finally comes. That was the one advantage we had; we knew. Mum and Dad were always honest with us. Unlike my best friend at the time, who only found out her mother was dying through overheard conversations, we were told everything. There was no bullshit, no whitewashing.
All we could do was wait.
We had had a false alarm at one point; it looked as though he was going to be OK. But from the beginning of 1993, he went into rapid decline and had to move in with my paternal gran in St Annes-on-Sea; he was in a nursing home for a bit, but it was pretty bad. He gained a load of weight on steroids and sent letters typed on Gran’s typewriter and – thank G-d – was around long enough to meet Laura, his new baby niece. In September, on the day Jack was supposed to start primary school and I was supposed to start Year 5. Instead, we found ourselves on a train to Lancashire. Jack explained that Dad was going to die any minute. Me not getting my priorities right, I was pissed off because I was worried about missing school. We spent a few days with Gran and Auntie Chris and her family, and said goodbye to Dad, who was in hospital by this time.
That was when I experienced death for the first time, the realisation that people you love won’t be around forever. For days, I couldn’t believe he’d gone. It must have been worse for Mum – just being surrounded by reminders of him everywhere, the ties he would never wear again, the CDs he would never play again, the empty space next to her in bed. No wonder she went crazy. My memories of the time are patchy, but I do recall going to a friend’s house the day after, presumably because Mum was too worn out with grief to pay much attention to us.
Why do I write about this so much? This was the event that pushed me over the edge. It’s not the only time a death in the family pushed me over the edge; my maternal gran’s death in 2005 was one of the things that led to me trying to kill myself. I acted up in school. I could never handle change, but this massive change had hit me, soon to be followed by another one when Mum decided she couldn’t stand living in Brighton anymore, and the bottom had dropped out of my world. Little things got to me, and still do. The Lion King still makes me and Jack cry (and if you’re a kid who’s lost a parent, watch it – it is a fantastic film for bereaved kids to see and it came out at the right time for us), as does Home Alone 2, the last film we saw at the cinema with Dad. The funeral was hell – I’m glad Jack and I went, as it gave us the chance to say goodbye, but seeing Gran collapse and have to be carried out of the chapel by two men, and the coffin going into the incinerator, and grown men and women crying – it was too much to take in.
We didn’t want to scatter the ashes, so Mum went alone one day while we were at school and threw them in the sea. Seeing my maternal gran’s ashes freaked me out enough, seeing what looked like something you’d scatter on your driveway and realising it used to be a person – I could not have handled that at nine years old.
The other massive change that came as a result of Dad’s death was what it did to Mum. She and Dad were always close; they never argued. They loved each other to pieces. Dad dying broke her. We went on holiday to Menorca in 1994 and she spent most of it in bed with stress-induced migraines, while Jack and I amused ourselves in the swimming pool. In April of that year, Mum used some of the money Dad had left us to take us to Australia to see Auntie Debby, Mum’s older sister, and her family. We spent nearly a month there. When it was time to return to England, Mum broke down at the airport. I was still getting accustomed to seeing her cry. Adults crying confused me. I thought it was something only kids did. I couldn’t get my head around why she was ill all the time. Seeing someone you’ve known all your life acting out of character throws you.
I talked before about strong emotions in Mister Psycho, and how for a lot of people with Aspergers, everything is intense. We love intensely and hate intensely. We see black and white, not grey. When we love someone, we put them on a pedestal and act like the sun shines out of their arse, and are surprised and disappointed when they show any kind of flaw. We cannot always find the words or means to deal with strong emotions. Maybe that was why Dad’s death broke me. He’d been a massive part of my life for nine years, and now he was gone, and the despair manifested itself through behaving badly at school, crying all the time, running out of class, skiving, hyperventilating, being unable to interact with large groups of people, and Mum didn’t know what the hell to do with me, and the rest is history.