When my Dad died

Can you describe what happened to you?

It was just a normal morning. I was getting out of bed when the phone rang. I can't even remember now whether it was my mum or my sister on the phone, but they said that my dad had been taken into hospital suddenly with chest pains, and that they were working on him now. This had happened a couple of times before. The hospital would keep him in for a couple of days hooked up to some machines, "under observation" and then make some adjustments to his medication and let him out. That's what normally happened. I was scared, and I said a pretty desperate prayer for him that God would keep him safe and not let him die,

but I decided that it would probably be all right, the same as it had been before. It was maybe half an hour later when I got another phone call, saying that my dad had died. I was 24 and he was 59.

What impact did it have on you?

My first reactions were immensely practical. I called my husband, Tim, at work, and told him, and he came home. I was due to lead a bible study the next evening, so I wrote a note, and put the book of studies through someone's door. It surprised me how utterly calm and rational I was. Then Tim and I set off for a three hour drive, up to Lincoln, where my parents lived. As I recall it, we spent almost the whole three hours in silence, with the radio on. There didn't seem to be anything to say, and yet silence was unbearable.

It was only when I got to the hospital and went with my mum and sister to see Dad's body in the hospital chapel that I actually cried.

The time up until the funeral, we all spent together, all staying with my mum. It was a very odd time. . I found that it wasn't the big things that made me cry. I could think to myself "my dad is dead, I'll never see him again" with not much more than a twinge. It was things like "I'll never see him eating All Bran out of his special breakfast bowl" that would really shatter me.

To my surprise I found that we laughed a lot as well as cried. My Dad was a very funny man in a lot of ways, (though a lot of his jokes made you groan rather than laugh!) so many of our memories were coloured with laughter. There were a lot of practical details that needed to be dealt with, such as funeral arrangements, and though these were a chore, in some ways they were helpful because they gave us a focus, things we needed to get out of the house and achieve.

It was harder after the funeral, when we all went back to our "normal lives". There was no short term goal - getting through the funeral - just lots and lots of days stretching out in front of us, trying to get on with everyday things, even though everything was upside down.

I went through a long time of being angry at God, and freezing him out. I felt totally betrayed that he had let this happen. I can't remember now what made this start to soften, but in the end we got to be on speaking terms again, and people tell me that this is a normal reaction.

5 years on, my main emotion is gratitude - that my dad was such a good father to us for the time we had him, and I have so many happy memories and good principles that he left me with. My main sorrow is that my children will never know him. My father-in-law is a brilliant grandad to them, and I'm glad of that, but it makes me really sad to think that dad never saw my kids, and they'll never know him.

What would you say to someone facing the same experience?

Try not to have any expectations of yourself, as to what you will feel, or how long for. Give yourself plenty of time and space. I found I tended to compare myself to my sister. She seemed more upset than me, and to be finding it harder to cope, so I started to feel that maybe she had lovedDad more, and that I was somehow inadequate. This type of comparison really isn't helpful. Different people react in different ways and there's no way to measure and compare their reactions.

Don't be surprised if family relationships change. All sorts of things shift around. In our case I think we all ended up closer together, but I can imagine how tensions could arise. Be gentle with each other and don't expect that you will all react in the same way.

If friends and people around you say unhelpful things, or seem not to care, give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably mean to help, they just don't know how. If you do find people who are happy to let you talk, or who offer practical help, then make the most of it.

Don't discount the idea of counselling. I was already having some counselling as part of a course I was doing, when this happened, and found it a really valuable space just to look at my emotions gently and look at what was happening to my relationship with God.

What would you say to other people?

In the days just after Dad died we received a lot of cards from people. It was a bit overwhelming because there were so many of them, but they really helped. We treasured the feeling they gave us that Dad had been valued and appreciated by a lot of other people in the village and further afield. The cards that meant the most were the ones that mentioned specific things about Dad that they had appreciated, or recalled specific memories.

When my dad died a lot of my friends just didn't know how to cope with it. When they first saw me after they had heard, most of them sidled up to me and mumbled, "Sorry to hear about your Dad," and shuffled off again, but after that very few of them ever broached the subject again. This left me feeling very angry and uncared for. This was the biggest, most awful thing that had ever happened to me, and everyone just carried on as if nothing had happened.

In the end I tackled them about this directly. They said they didn't know what to say, and were embarrassed. They didn't want to mention my Dad dying in case it upset me. They did care, and wanted to help, but didn't know how. My reaction was that I was already upset - it was something I carried around with me everywhere I went, at the time. To have it mentioned out loud was unlikely to upset me even more, it would just make me feel as if someone cared, and was thinking about me. It didn't mean that every conversation had to be about death, I was happy for people to talk about other stuff, it just means that it would be good to have this acknowledged now and then.

What I did appreciated was people who asked me about Dad, and what had happened, no matter how awkward they obviously felt. Some people made a point of remembering difficult dates that happened a few months later on - things like the first Christmas, and the first Father's day. It can take a long, long time to come to terms with something like this, and I was glad when people recognised this and didn't expect it all to be "better" after a couple of months.

Are there any resources you would recommend?

Cruse, the bereavement care organisation, can offer a range of help for people who are coping with the death of someone close to them. They can provide information about practical and financial matters, or supporting a friend who is bereaved. They can also offer individual counselling from trained volunteers and groups where you can talk to people in a similar situation to your own.

Article written by Claire Cullingworth