It seems strange writing that.
It's been so long since you passed that I suppose I've got accustomed to not having a father.
It's not that I don't think of you - as you'll see, I think about you a lot. But, at the same time, I guess I've been fatherless for so long that I feel as if I never had you at all.
Does that make sense? That idea of being there but not? As if you're an echo - I can hear you but not see you. Not feel you.
An echo - I like that.
An echo that's grown louder over the last few years.
Anyway, seeing that word - 'Dad' - reminds me that I once did have you. Makes you feel more 'real' again. Tangible. Solid…
I'm going to stop for a minute.
I'm back. Apologies - I needed to take a moment there.
Let me begin.
At least, let me try to begin. Not sure I'm going to be able to nail this. But, what's new, huh? Me and you not being to communicate?
Sorry. That was a bad joke. I was trying to introduce a note of levity. I think I just came across as petty.
That was unfair.
And I suppose that segues neatly into why I'm writing. Writing…
You can't read this.
Is writing the correct term for this?
Well, I am physically writing but surely, in order to have any meaning, the act of writing something requires someone - at a later point - to actually read that very same thing. You're not going to. You can't. So, what is this? Some form of paranormal journalling? Am I hoping…?
That word - unfair. That's why I'm doing whatever it is I'm currently doing.
Big picture overview: A few years ago, I got very ill. Actually, that's probably the biggest understatement I've ever made. I wasn't ill - I broke.
I was admitted to a psychiatric ward. That was an eye-opening experience. A few people have said how different I am nowadays. All I can say is that going to a place where people have to check on you every fifteen minutes to make sure you haven't killed yourself does tend to alter one's self. It's impossible to be the same person afterwards.
When I left the ward, we all endured something called 'Covid.' I won't bore you with the details. The upshot is that we all bought a lot of toilet rolls, wore sweatpants a lot, and the stock price of Netflix soared. It was a weird time for us all. Everyone suffered. I don't want to make it all about me but it wasn't the ideal circumstances to recover from admission to a psychiatric unit.
Mental health provision shut down - the National Health Service was overburdened so lunatics like me got pushed to the sidelines. I eventually got some help - I worked with a great counsellor. You wouldn't have liked him - he didn't like David Bowie. But he helped me.
As did my friends. Boy, were they there for me.
However, I sort of did it on my own. I'm proud of that. I hope you are too.
You helped. Weird, but you did.
I think about your final weeks a lot. When you knew the end was approaching.
You were going to die. You must have been terrified. Yet…
You didn't show it.
You became the very best version of yourself.
You were funny. No surprise - you always were. But, in the hospice, you smiled a lot. Made jokes.
You tried to talk to us all. The stroke you'd endured eighteen months earlier made communication difficult but you still tried.
You were relentlessly persistent about tying up all loose ends - making sure we wouldn't have to deal with unnecessary distractions once you'd gone.
You faced the end with humour and stoicism. It was the bravest thing I've ever encountered.
Stroke-addled and now riddled with cancer but you faced the end of your life with courage and dignity that leaves me speechless.
I've tried to channel that, copy you.
It's now been fifteen months since my last depressive episode. Fifteen months.
I can still feel 'him' - my 'dark passenger.' I've got better at telling him to shut up but he still grumbles away. Especially at night.
But I've kept him at bay for fifteen months. Impressive huh? And you've helped. Those images of your last days propel me forward. I needed to impersonate my dad and face my battle with the same courage you did.
As for the rest of it? Oh, it's not magic. To tell you the truth, it's quite boring. I sleep well, eat less junk, go to the gym, meditate… It's dozens of tiny things, most of which are quite mundane. But they work.
I wish you had tried them.
Just a few.
Would they have helped? I don't know. It's forever the road not taken.
I'm being circuitous.
I'm avoiding the elephant in the room.
I know I am.
And that elephant is...?
I see that now.
I didn't before. I thought it was me. But I was younger then with a child's natural inclination to place myself at the centre of the universe. It never occurred to me that it wasn't me. That there might be something else in play.
It wasn't until I started to take to my bed, not moving for days on end, that I began to see they might be another reason why you often retreated under your duvet too.
Shutting down, going quiet for long stretches… yeah, me too.
That constant quest to unearth the real me, an identity that seems to wax and wane like the setting and rising of the Moon? I'm guessing you know what's that like.
But, it's the dichotomy; it's hard, isn't it? Knowing that you do all those things, understanding that shutting down and hiding is just easier sometimes, yet - when we're on song - by God, we can work a room can't we? And it confuses people. One day, we're the kindest, funniest companion you could have - the next, you don't exist. It's hard for people to adjust to us - which version are they going get today? To protect themselves, they drift away.
As I did. Because I thought it was me.
In my defence, there was no way I was ever going to understand all that a kid. Mental illness? How could I grasp any of that as a teenager?
I do now.
Your battles were yours - it's not my place to psychoanalyse you from beyond the grave and belittle them. Or to clumsily project my illness onto you.
All I want to say is that I understand.
I'm sorry I didn't.
If it's any consolation, it's made me kinder, more patient. We're all fighting a war no one else knows about - I never took up arms to help you fight yours, so I make a point of being more tolerant towards others when they are in the trenches. To not take it personally, to not just simply make it about me as I did with you. To see them.
I'm sorry we never got the chance to talk about any of this. I think we could have helped each other. Ironic, isn't it? The very person who'd understand the most is the one I can never talk to again.
I wish we had that chance.
I'll still keep thinking of you - your final days have given me a model of bravery I'm going to need. Things are better now but there's still some rough terrain to cross ahead. I'll carry you within me as I make that journey.
And I hope I'll make you proud.