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My Dad Died


On Thursday 14th July 2022 at 10:15pm my dad died.

It might sound disrespectful to be so blunt, but please stay with me. All I did was state a fact. My dad did die. We didn’t “lose" him because we knew where he was (anyway that expression sounds like we took him to the shops and came home without him), he didn’t “pass on” (second hand clothes get passed on) and he certainly didn’t pass away (what does that even mean?!). We all die in the end and we cannot escape that!

This view on death really started for me when I sat in on palliative care meetings as a wet behind the ears GP trainee about 13 years ago. My colleague, an experienced GP who led the meeting corrected us all every single time we used a death related euphemism. At the time I thought “well what does it matter how we describe it?” I thought that the synonyms and euphemisms of death were polite things to say, so as not to offend or upset people. The longer I worked as a GP, the more I began to ponder death - you are touched by it one way or another on a daily basis. I began to realise the truth of that old adage that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Death comes to us all, I made it one of my roles in life to get people talking about the inevitable and from that day forward I vowed that no many how unpopular it made me, people would die as it is a universal truth.

My mom who has 30 years experience of working in a GP surgery understood where I was coming from, like me, there wasn’t a day that went by that death didn’t cross paths with her in her work – a letter about a new diagnosis of a terminal illness in a much loved patient, a call from a distraught relative asking for a GP to “go and verify” (confirm death had taken place). We talked about death and what each of us would want when the time came (I will tell you more about my mom's requests another day!) My dad however thought it was morbid, my husband slowly came round to the idea that we were so matter of fact about it. I continued my crusade to make the “D” word normal, getting involved with events to promote dying matters week and trying to show people the importance of planning ahead and making their wishes known.

On the 14th July this year our world fell apart when my dad died. It was all rather unexpected, the illness was sudden and short. We were told that dad was facing an uphill struggle with little hope of recovery on his 3rd day in hospital, but the treatment continued as there was still some hope. On the day dad died, day seven of the admission, the rug was finally pulled out from under us. We were told that there was really no chance of recovery, but they were going to continue treatment to see what happened. We thought dad would be that 1 in a million person miracle person to survive unscathed. In that moment you think that you and your family are somehow different and that despite the untenable situation your dad would prove everyone wrong. I think because once you lose hope you lose everything.

As you know, dad didn't prove them all wrong and this was the point at which the D word changed - it became personal.

Between close family I continued to say that my dad had died, when I called people to inform them I said he had died and I even managed it in company most of the time. My mom struggled, for days she couldn’t say the word, in fact I am pretty sure she couldn’t say it until after dad’s funeral. I think she felt that if she said it then it made it real and final, which of course we knew it was but it was still hard to accept. As per the usual traditions we had to make an announcement in the newspaper. My dad had lived round here all his life and was well known for playing darts in the local pub leagues for years. We needed to get the word out, and his contemporaries are of the generation who still grab the free paper every week and flick straight to the obituaries. The announcement was the one place I couldn't bring myself to use the word "died". I did ask my mom if we could use the word but she felt it was too blunt and not in keeping with what people do so in the local newspaper,to protect the feelings of his contemporaries and I suppose out of respect my dad didn't die, he passed away. He’d have preferred it that way, he was quite a traditional man.

Despite the personal experience I have gone through recently, I still prefer to use the word died as death is a universal truth, we can't escape it (have you seen final destination?!). So, listen up, whoever does my announcement in the paper (if newspapers still exist by then) better make sure that I die because mark my words, if I pass away, or pass on – you better get ghostbusters on speed dial because I will be coming back to haunt you!

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