I had made some epic plans for Friday 24th March 2006. My dad had given me the day off from school as I’d been bombarded with mock exams and coursework in the run-up to my GCSEs – something which I wasn’t going to take for granted as my dad NEVER let me have time off school. It never occurred to me that it might have been his way of showing his appreciation for the time I had spent running around the previous October when he’d been at death’s door in hospital after a nasty bout of bronchial pneumonia that was made even more complicated due to his COPD. Because of Mom’s disability, I’d done most of the legwork with phoning the hospital daily and talking to the nurses – I missed two weeks of school and put my own fears on the backburner while Dad recovered.
In the weeks running up to that Friday, Dad had been fending off a cold. He didn’t complain, just took paracetamol and decongestants – but Mom was worried. He’d been taking steroids for his asthma as well as generally taking it easy, but he seemed to be in a good mood despite it all. That Thursday night, he gave me the day off school and watched the football with my brother T, we ate cheese on toast and had a laugh. I planned to spend the whole of Friday doing NOTHING. I had recently started playing The Sims and thought of some amazing things to do to my little family’s home – they were based on me and First Ex, we had a beautiful baby who seemed smarter than us both and our house was haunted thanks to the cemetery I’d put in our back garden. Mom had stocked up on Pepsi and chocolate, so I was going on a sugar binge for the simple reason that I could.
I went to bed that night in a really good mood. I’d texted First Ex and made him jealous about my freely given day off, before saying goodnight to my parents and my brother. Dad gave me a big smile as I went upstairs and I fell asleep pretty quickly.
At 7:57am the next morning, my dad died. He had bronchial pneumonia that had been complicated by his COPD. As he was dying, he somehow managed to lock Shandy and Lady upstairs, called 999 and put on a nicotine patch. I think it finally hit him that there was no out-running death at that point, and yet he still tried.
I’ve told this story many times before, and I’ll probably tell it again – but not today, not like I normally would. Ten years ago, the weather was the same as it is today (grey and miserable, yay for British spring time!) and it was the single longest day of my life. One thing I remember vividly is sitting in my room alone at one point – there were relatives downstairs, my mom and my brother K were arguing and my friend John hadn’t long left me – and I was just scared. This huge change, the massive amount of uncertainty coupled with the fact that Dad was just gone. He wouldn’t be coming home this time, he was dead and I would never hear him speak, or kiss him goodnight, or even get told off by him ever again. There was no longer any point in anything, if all it would do was bring me one day closer to losing someone else I loved.
I didn’t even cry at this realisation, I just sat there on my bed with a blank face and let these thoughts whirl round and round in my head. And then, there was the one little voice that spoke the clearest of all. “You were supposed to be playing The Sims today.”
No-one really knew what to do with me. I was just quiet in contrast to my mom who was still trying to be the loudest voice in the room, keeping up the facade that she was okay when I knew she was most likely dying inside. All I really wanted was for someone to tell me that it was going to be okay – and actually mean it. I often talk about the things I would do if I could go back in time and visit my younger self. These trips usually involve hugging her and yelling at whoever had hurt her. If I could go back right now to this time ten years ago, when younger Claire was sitting on her bed and frightened for her life, I would put my arm around her and I would say;
“It’s going to be hell and you’re going to want to die. You won’t know what to do, but neither do the so-called adults. Right now, all you can do is survive each day and allow yourself to be sad. Please don’t stop yourself from being sad, because you have every fucking right to be. Your dad just died! For fuck’s sake, don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be strong, because you don’t. You don’t owe anyone shit, Claire Hayes. Let yourself grieve.”
“It’s going to be a tough decade, but in ten years time you’ll be writing about this very moment in your own home as your husband washes the dishes and your dog snores loudly on the bed behind you. You’re going to have faced worse hardships and people are constantly going to be asking you how you ever got through it all – and you’re going to shrug, because you have no idea yourself, you just did. You’ll stop hiding all the things that you’ve trained yourself to hide over your lifetime, instead you’ll write and talk openly because you’re not ashamed of who you are – and people will thank you for that. People will take something from that little bit of strength you put out there, and somehow that will make all this shit worth it. It will, I promise.”
“Now, while the adults implode downstairs, how about we play The Sims together?”