Death of a parent
My Dad had a number of issues with his health over the last few years before he died. But in some ways he seemed indestructible, coming back each time from a near-miss with vigour and determination.
The day before he died he had bought a rare book item from an auction house; his faculties were very much intact. When the end came it was sudden and quick. As my amazing Mum sometimes reminds me this was the way he wanted to go and for that we are grateful, he didn’t know anything, he didn’t suffer.
I woke the morning after he died to multiple missed calls from my family. I knew instantly my Dad had died and that was the worst moment of my life.
Your parents know you more than anyone else has known you. They are the people who have probably loved you the most in your life. They are the first people to lay eyes on you when you are born. But now that person had died, my Dad was gone.
I didn’t get to hold his hand.
I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I didn’t get to say I love you.
I now belonged to a club that I didn’t want membership to.
Grief is patient
All of this culminated into what has been an incredibly painful and difficult journey for me over the last eighteen months. I have however had the most amazing support from my family and friends. Some of those individuals have very quietly kept their arm around me, allowing me to find my way through a difficult and sometimes tortuous journey.
A very wise friend said to me many years ago that ‘grief is patient’ and they are so right. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are no time scales and everyone is different. There were times when I just didn’t know ‘how to be’ and that is okay. Sometimes you just need to take it hour by hour, day by day.
There is a lot that I don’t remember about the first few days or even the first few months. A fog descended. That said I was able to function, I was able to look after my Mum, I was able to make funeral arrangements and most importantly we were able to give my Dad the most wonderful send-off, it was, without doubt, a ‘Celebration of Life.’ There was laughter and tears and our Celebrant made sure that there was a round of applause after every reading or dedication. As someone said to me afterwards, they had never been to a funeral quite like it, I loved that.
Death in the pandemic
Dad died six months before the start of the pandemic and in some respects, I am also grateful it happened when it did. As a family, we could be together in order to grieve and to process. We also had a funeral with over a hundred of his friends, family and colleagues. I know that many families were not able to be with their loved ones at the end over the last twelve months. They were not able to give them the funeral or celebration of life they deserved and for that, I am so sorry. I have no doubt however that when the time is right there are going to be wonderful memorials and celebrations for those families who wish to say goodbye properly when the time is right for them.
Celebrant – Celebration of life
Prior to my Dad’s death I had retrained as a Celebrant completing both my family and my funeral training. Until now I haven’t felt ready to focus on the funeral part of my business. That said with the passing of time I have now refocussed my efforts and I have launched a ‘Celebration of Life’ page on my website.
I feel ready to share and to support those who need me. I also feel passionately that families should have choice. I believe that they should not be pressured into saying goodbye in a short and allocated time slot and that they should be able to have the ceremony they want in order to say goodbye to their loved one.
I have also been overwhelmed and so heartened by the support that is available online, specifically during this pandemic.
Virtual grief support
For a while I have been following ‘The Good Grief Festival.’ – www.goodgrieffestival.com
I took the courage a few weeks ago to listen to Julia Samuel facilitate an online forum about the death of a parent. www.juliasamuel.co.uk
Julia is a British psychotherapist and paediatric counsellor. From the moment I started listening to her and her technique of questioning I knew she was someone who I wanted to engage with and to learn from. Her style is effortless and every question she took from the virtual audience was important to her. Julia understands grief, she understands pain.
I wrote pages and pages. For the first time in ages, I felt like I wasn’t alone in my grief or my suffering.
- The first task of grieving is finding a way to live with the reality
- Grief is a tiny word but is a firestorm of feelings
- Grief is invisible
- The love of others helps us to survive
My Dad was a rare book dealer and had worked in the profession for over 55 years, receiving his badge of seniority award five years before he passed. He was so very proud of his work and his profession. One of the most touching and poignant emails that I received at the time was from a gentleman called Giles who used to work for the British Library. He wrote these words to me about my Dad, ‘for decades he was one of the main sources enabling us to build up the collection of the 17th and 18th century British books. In a sense he will have a permanent memorial in the collection of the British Library.’ I am so very proud of my Dad.
Finally, I also wanted to write about a very dear friend of mine called Ceri. Ceri owns and runs a poetry business called ‘Autumn and Bloom.’ – www.autumnandbloom.com
I asked Ceri if she would write a eulogy poem for me for my Dads funeral and I will never forget her saying to me that she would write through the night for me. Ceri did me more than proud, she is a lifelong friend, a sister and someone who I love very much.
The poem is now printed and hangs in pride of my place in my kitchen and my Mums kitchen. When I am missing my Dad, or it’s a bad day I will often read parts or all of it just to remind me of what a spectacularly wonderful human being he was.
In Sneyd Park, Orchard House
Lived a beloved father, friend and spouse.
Anthony Richard Heath
The most wonderful man that you could meet.
Tony was tall, handsome, gentle and kind,
With an astute and inquisitive mind.
A gentle giant, you’ll all agree,
He was as calm as can be.
Charlotte was Tony’s rock and wife.
The absolute love of his life.
So very much in love were they,
Happy together in every way.
And Tara, who adored her dad
And is so grateful for the love they had.
An England cricket fan, his hub
Was the Old Bristolian Cricket Club.
And, apparently, it’s the truth,
He was a prolific bowler in his youth.
His favourite story from years ago
When he batted against Shane Warne you know,
At Knowle Cricket Club he claimed
He got a triumphant six off Shane.
MCC cricket club ensured
He was a frequent visitor at Lords.
He took part in wild cricket tours in his day,
To various parts of the UK.
But they also ventured further from home,
To places like Sierra Leone.
It’s true that Tony was a man
Who liked to sport a year-round tan.
It’s fair to say that he never bored
Of adventures travelling abroad.
Holidays he loved the most
Were Ireland and the Cornish coast.
St Ives and the Emerald Isle
Were places that always made him smile.
He was a chef who cooked with flair,
He was a jam making extraordinaire.
He also liked to take the time
To make curries that were sublime.
He proved his curry-love it could be said,
Ordering from his hospital bed.
His local take-away answered his wish,
Happily delivering his favourite dish.
Cakes and puddings were his other folly,
Tony couldn’t resist the dessert trolley.
Every night come rain or shine
He would go for a beer or wine,
At the Post Office Tavern in Westbury-on-Trym
It was a favourite place for him.
175ml, red or white,
He ordered the same every night.
A rare book dealer for 55 years
For Tony this was more than a career.
It was his life’s work and his leisure
He loved to unearth a treasure.
On finding a rare item, Tara will never forget
How excited and passionate he’d get.
He inspired family and friends
Working to the very end.
He was a rare book-finding inspiration,
At the Antiquarian Booksellers Association.
After 50 years his reward
Was a ‘Badge of Seniority’ award.
Fond memories of Dad I have
Cruising in his e-type jag,
Smoking a big cigar on his way
To a London Book Fair for the day.
Dad, you were one of a kind,
Just like the rare books you used to find.
Mum and I will miss you and together
We’ll keep you in our hearts forever.
For the kind words we have been sent
I can’t tell you much this has meant
At this sad time to Mum and I.
We have all lost a special guy.
I will leave you with some of Dad’s words,
Though these of course are not in verse.
This is what Dad had to say
During his speech to the ABA.
“I am so proud to be a part of a business which is so important to society for it’s contributions to the advancement of learning.”
Dad, we too are so proud of you. Goodbye Dad we will miss you so much.