So today is the first anniversary of the UK’s lockdown and a day to reflect and remember all we have lost to COVID-19. And of course, all I can think about is my truly wonderful Dad. The man whose voice I hear in my head a thousand times every day, whose dressing gown I wrap around me every evening and who’s presence I feel all the time. How he would laugh at me saying that.
I’m sharing an extract from my book, The Counsellor where I document the reality of losing him to this awful virus, just seven months after losing my darling brother.
I inherited two things from my dad: his daft sense of humour and his scepticism. Dad had witnessed some unexplainable things in his lifetime but if you tried to put anything down to the afterlife he’d tell you that you were a bloody fool. I felt the same way; when Claire had been desperately seeking some kind of sign that Danny was still around, I refused to accept it. Dad and I took the mickey and got a lot of enjoyment out of winding her up.
So when Dad said he’d nearly died in hospital and had seen Danny, I humoured him. When he said it the second time, I thought it must give him some comfort to believe that, and strength too; according to Dad, Danny had come to get him and he’d firmly told him, ‘No son, not yet.’
But after weeks of fighting and days of wearing a mask that forced his airways open, he told us he was ready to let Danny take him. At that point, it didn’t matter what I believed; it only mattered what he believed. If Dad said that Danny was coming for him, I wasn’t about to argue.
It had happened: he was ready to die.
We’re sitting in my mum’s garden, socially distanced, together but apart. Mum and Rachael had been able to spend a bit of time with him before he announced he was tired and an incredible nurse called Louise had taken over. ‘I’ll be here until the end,’ she told Mum.
And so we waited for the end; for the call that’d tell us our beloved, incredibly warm and witty husband and father had been reunited with his desperately missed son.
We watched as the sun sank over the horizon and the clouds receded from view. Beyond, twinkly stars flickered on in the dark, shining down on us. We were all looking for Danny. Without any one of us having said it out loud, we were searching the sky for him.
Rachael broke the silence. ‘Give us a sign, Danny.’
No sooner had the words left her mouth than our eyes were diverted to the kitchen window. The lights flickered: one, two, three, and then off.
I felt shivers run down my spine. The hairs on the back of my arms stood on end. We all looked at each other, open-mouthed.
A few moments later, I lifted my gaze back to the sky and noticed what I can only describe as a tunnel like a white cloud hanging directly over our heads.
‘Look.’ I pointed upwards and watched as my family’s gazes followed mine. We all went icy cold.
It’s happening, I thought. He is coming for you, Daddy.
And then, just like that, the worst happened. And he was gone.
When it came, when it was over, we let out now-familiar moans. Even though we knew a part of Dad had died when he lost his son, and even though we knew he’d been gravely ill and had suffered for long enough, it still tore through our hearts like a tornado.
Not Dad too. Not my dad.
Everything is so painfully familiar. We call Laura from the funeral home. We want Angela to deliver the service. I will write the eulogy. I’ll read it with Rachael. Claire will sing.
It’s like we all know what parts we need to play. We even know what coffin we want, where we’ll get our flowers from (‘Ooooh, they were lovely last time!’), and we know we’ll drink endless cups of tea and coffee, because what else do you do?
Except, this time, we’re mourning Dad, not Danny. Or maybe we’re mourning both of them. None of us know.
As the days pass, a picture of Dad in a stark white frame is placed next to the picture of Danny and I joke that I’m going to have to get some decent pictures taken before it’s my turn. It’s not a time for jokes, but I’m acutely aware that they are what’s missing. We no longer have Dad or Danny to lighten the mood.
I try to process all that has happened in the last month.
His breathing has dipped.
Not to worry, he’s better again.
They’re decreasing oxygen. He’s coming home.
He came home.
Oh, he’s going back in.
High dependency. Oxygen. More oxygen. CPAC. Ceiling of care.
And then, all at once, gone.
My wonderful dad. Gone.
Another beautiful light stubbed out.
You’d better look after him, Danny.
Learn more about Alison Kerwin’s book The Counsellor: A powerful true story about addiction, grief and love.