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The head of the family

by Matthew Grantham about a month ago in parents
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And the heart

The head of the family
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

It’s 2006 and 6 months before my dad dies. I obviously didn’t realise it at the time but valuable lessons were learnt in these 6 months and I wish I’d have recognised them when they were happening but the nice thing is that I often look back and think about how they made me who I am today and that’s the lasting effect of memories, cherish or dismissed.

My dad died of an aneurysm which in my head is a cross between a blood clot and a tumour. It’s a growth that starts in the wall of a vein (or is it an artery?) and gets bigger – this what I got when I was younger and how I see it now, unlikely very true but it killed him so what is there to know, can’t avoid them I don’t think so I look forward to mine – they don’t operate on many and I remember that when they found my dads it was pretty much a death sentence. I was young when it was found and the doctor said that on average, they get to the size of 5mm and then they burst and fill the cavity up with blood. Imagine that? I didn’t, luckily, at the time I was told and in honesty, I didn’t know what a cavity was in this context as I thought it was a hole in the tooth but for those who want to know the cavity here was his torso.

The aneurysm surpassed 5mm, I remember when it got to about 6 – 6.5mm and he came home to tell my mum that the doctor said it was a miracle he was alive! At that point I realised my dad was strong. Stubborn but strong. He was likely in constant pain as he had other things wrong with him too but he didn’t complain as much as he probably wanted to. Granted, he complained a lot but I think back and can only imagine what he could have complained about. I bet being told that it was a miracle he was still standing was a great feeling and he lasted long past this.

We didn’t go on any holidays that needed a plane to get there. Accidently this caused a fear of planes for which an 8 consecutive plane journey across the world and back didn’t cure but #childhoodtraumua. I didn’t really think much of it when I was younger as I was from a small town where families didn’t have much money to send themselves on holiday abroad but there were a couple of fancy families that could afford it and I was jealous during my angsty teenagers years but I enjoyed the car trips at the time (again something that I hate now so maybe I just dislike travelling…) and the car trips took us to some nice places over the years but only until I was old enough to have that candid conversation with my mum did I find out that my dad had always had heart conditions and when he was diagnosed with the aneurysm, they recommend not flying as it could cause stress on the heart. Even with someone without a heart condition and / or aneurysm, flying isn’t the easiest so well done on him for taking doctors advice, no wonder he lived so long.

I was 17 when he died, a tender age for a closeted, homophobic, homosexual trying to figure out his sexuality, his friendship group, his relationship with his family and trying to understand the mortality of his father. None of these were accomplished until later and really, not fully. He died 3 months after my brother died and I truly believe he died of a broken heart.

The aneurysm got to 9mm, that’s nearly double the average so kudos to him and his strong / stubborn nature – something I hope I have as I will likely inherit his health issues along with my mother’s…! – he didn’t really hold back on life either. Towards the end maybe but he was a big advocate for family and enjoying your life and doing what you want and caring for others and being kind and doing the right thing, the list goes on.

Something I should have led with was that me and dad didn’t get on. I look back now and see the greatness that could have been and suffer regret for not seizing the opportunity when it was there but another lesson there to be made. The reason we didn’t get on was because me and my dad were pretty much the same person – both stubborn, both highly emotional / irate, both arrogant and wanting their own way as it was the only way and the best way. My poor mother was stuck between the two of us and that was our life, break ups to make ups to break ups again. A lot of the time we were fighting on the same side, just in different ways but hinds’ sight is a wonderful thing.

The day of his death is quite clear in my mind. We were all sat around the TV, as families do on a weekday evening. It was a Thursday and Holby City was on – or casualty, only mum knew the different in the two of them – and he was complaining of pain, something he did often to be honest and so mum suggested taking some pain killers. This had been ongoing pain for a couple of hours now and had already taken some pain killers and couldn’t take many more. I remember that I looked at him and to my mum he said, ‘honestly, something isn’t right here’ and that’s when I knew it was bad, he wasn’t one to over exaggerate, and so mum called an ambulance (again, something that happened a few times towards the end) and I went up stairs to turn my laptop off.

I remember moaning as mum insisted that I go this time. Something had clearly been said, without words, between the two on them at some point that I wasn’t aware of. A stair lift was installed in our house for as long as I can remember and I heard it coming upstairs, assuming dad was on it and he was. From my bed I could see who was coming in my room by the mirror on the wall opposite, and I remember seeing my dad leaning against the doorframe from the corner of my eye. I look up and he seems to be weeping whilst staring right at me, I had only seen him cry once and that was when my brother died so I just rolled my eyes and look back to my laptop and finished what I was doing, before I joined them downstairs, ready to turn it off.

That was the last time I saw my dad alive.

Not long after the ambulance came and was outside our house for a while. Mum was asked to join my dad and the ambulance crew after some time and I was left alone to sit on the bottom of the stairs wondering what was happening. I hear another car and my brother arrives and he comes in with my mum to tell me that I will be driving to the hospital with him and mum is to go with dad in the ambulance.

It turned out that he died whilst in the ambulance outside our house, hence my brother coming to pick me up as 1, there was no space in the ambulance but 2, because the hospital had a morgue that he was to be held in. Seeing anyone dead is harrowing but seeing someone that you live with, someone who was alive only an hour ago, someone who has been in your life all your life, dead, is intense. I didn’t see my brother’s body, nor my grandma’s but one is enough.

10 years it took me to recognise the effect this had on me. Why I was the way I was, the way I acted and reacted, the way I talked, how I talked and why I was saying what I was, why I was doing what I was doing, it was because of him and how he brought me up. He played a big part of my life, something that I seem to have rejected whilst it was happening but is now something I look back with pride, knowing that I was loved and cared for.

In the last 6 month of his life, an unspoken truce was set and we decreased our usual level of animosity, unknowingly really, and we got to know each other more. I looked after him whilst mum was working and I did what was necessary of me without asking why. We reminisced about the good times and he would share his stories of times before and what lessons he learnt and asked me to take on those same insights. He passed on what he knew and hoped I would take up the mantle, I guess. In some ways I have and others I haven’t.

It was an odd relationship we had, dad and I, something I wish I could recognise and alter at the time but look back and wouldn’t want it any other way. I am who I am today because of him – some even say I look just like him and others say I act just like him – and they are both a huge honour to take on. I think about him often and thank him for everything he did.

Cherish what you have and understand what they mean to you when they are about. Take care in yourself and others around you and ask questions, listen to answers, challenge and observe and be kind, thoughtful and know where you stand. Give and take and reap the rewards.

parents

About the author

Matthew Grantham

An aspiring writer from the UK

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