Losing Dad

So I've not written for about 3 months now. I guess I've been finding it difficult for a number of reasons, firstly being that I was keeping it a secret that I'm now pregnant with our second baby. I should have know that all that tequila, and long days and nights spent with Sam would have lead to this. But in all seriousness, lockdown showed us that Nel would love a little buddy to play with, as much as we tried to be fun for her, we were not as fun as another little person, and I figured that now was the year to be pregnant. Pubs, as much as they would be reopening, would be lacking in soul, and quite dry, until social distancing becomes a thing of the past. There would be no wild trips to Ibiza, and no one would be going to get spangled out their faces at any music festivals. If I was going to have to be boring and steer clear of the pub , and rest up every night, at least I could do it in the knowledge that the whole of the nation is with me.

The first trimester was easy - barely any sickness, however, I felt beyond exhausted daily. Probably due to the fact that I was either working, or looking after Nel alone, day in day out.

The past few months have seen us be our busiest ever at the shops, with the tills reporting much higher figures than years previous. We can only attribute that to people finally being released from lockdown , not really holidaying abroad, and of course the continued hard work from ourselves and our team.

As I've written about recently, my dad was taken ill in hospital, where we all thought he was going to die, before being sent home, and seemingly making a full recovery (by his standards, although still bed bound). He was released but on the "pathway to the end of life", which I think we just ignored; especially as the weeks and months passed, and he seemed more himself than ever, communicating well, and requesting hefty meals such as fish and chips, regularly.

There was some feedback from his new (and wonderful) carer, Anabella, that he seemed to be getting more confused, but nothing too bad.

I'd booked flights for myself and Nel to travel down for a long weekend, and because of the situation with dad having multiple carers in and out the house, and my mum's severe Alzheimer's, I'd booked for us to stay at a BNB in nearby Dorchester, so that the stay would be a little more light hearted for Nel.

On the way to Dorset, I'd arranged to stop in with my sister Nicky, and her husband, Michael, for 2 nights in Winchester, before continuing down to Dorset.

The night before I flew, I got a call from my brother, Joe, to say that dad wasn't really responsive, and hadn't eaten or drank anything for a few days. Having received these calls multiple times over the past few years, but more so months, I took it on board, and tried not to worry. I felt as though I'd said my goodbyes on my last visit, however, remained quietly confident that this was just Dad, with one of his false alarms.

I caught my flight to Southampton, where I hired a car, and drove to Winchester with Nel. The next morning Joe called again, to tell me if I really wanted to say goodbye to Dad, then I should drive down now. Again, I had a feeling this was just dad, up to his old tricks.

I had an uneasy feeling I couldn't shake all morning, so I asked Nicky to call home, and speak with Anabella, to gain some clarity. She told Nicky, she had worked with a lot of patients of palliative care, and that she was sure he had only hours left, especially having not taken onboard any food or water for days, at the age of 95. Before he became unresponsive, Dad knew I'd be visiting this weekend, and Anabella said to Nicky, she thought part of his stubbornness could be that he was waiting to see me, before finally letting go. Having heard this, I knew it was time to go and see him.

So I got in the car and drove for 3 hours, in traffic jams, and on the hottest day of the year, with a screaming toddler who didn't want to be cooped up in a car, and felt like I was going to have a million melt downs the whole way, until I finally reached my parents house; my family home, in beautiful Dorset.

As soon as I went into the make shift hospital room, which had been Dad's bedroom for the past 4 years, I knew that this wasn't a false alarm. This time it was real.

Dad was laid on his back, eyes open a fraction, fixed on a point on the ceiling above him. His once jowly cheeks were now hollowed, his cheek bones protruding so far out. Where he had always had a rounded belly, it was now completely concave, and his rib cage was so pronounced, it almost looked like a pair of breasts under his loose hospital gown.

His skin was a mix of grey and yellow, his fingers freezing and blackened at the tips. His mouth was slack and open, stuck. His breathing was slow and laboured, until it stopped altogether for around 30 seconds at a time. It would feel like the moment had come and he had gone, and then all of a sudden he'd take a deep draw of breath, and pant as though he couldn't get enough. This breathing cycle would happen on repeat, every few minutes.

I sat with him for as long as I could, but Nel wasn't for not getting attention and not being played with. In hindsight, taking a toddler to my dying father's bedside for his final few days, was a huge mistake, however, I wasn't to know that this time, he wasn't kidding. This was really it.

I spent the next couple of days sitting with him during Nel's naps, or getting my brother to play with her for a bit so that I could hold his hand.

On Sunday 2nd August, Nel napped for 2 hours, and I pulled up his reclining chair that he'd spent so much time in over the past few years, and sat with him, speaking to him only a handful of times. I told him I loved him, I told him mum would be OK, and I told him that Sam and I were expecting another baby. He squeezed my hand that day.

I spent some of that time crying, because I was so angry and upset to see him like this; hollowed out and gasping for breaths. His throat was covered in white lumps where it was so dry. It had been 7 days without food or drink, and all the Marie Curie nurses were shocked at how he could still be hanging in there after so long, especially considering his age.

When Nel woke up, I wanted to stay longer, but she wasn't having any of it, so I decided to take her back to the hotel. I said a brief goodbye, and kissed him gently on the head, thinking I'd see him again in the morning, but just wanting to get Nel in the car and out to a park to burn off some energy.

Two hours later, Joe called to say he'd started breathing differently. It was called the Death Rattle. I could hear it in the background, and it sounded exactly like a loud coffee machine, peculating. It was horrible; not like any noise you'd expect to come from a human. I called my best friend, Abbey, and asked her to come and watch Nel in the hotel room, while I went to my Dad. Abbey arrived 10 minutes later. 1 minute before that, Joe had called me to say that Dad had died.

Even though I'd seen him that day, I felt so guilty. I didn't feel like I'd kissed him enough, hugged him hard enough, or told him how much I really did love him. I'd done all these things loads of times before, but I felt like I didn't do it enough for his last day. I felt guilty that I couldn't have been there for his actual death, and to hold his hand . It must've been so scary for him. I wanted to make him feel safe. But it was too late. No more false alarms, no more having everyone fooled into thinking this was the big goodbye. This time he as really gone.

Abbey stayed in the hotel room with a sleeping Nel, as I drove to my family home. Everyone was advising me not to, saying I was pregnant, tired, emotional....but I needed to see my dad. Over the past few years where his health was deteriorating, I was the one that kept coming back to stay and care for him, toilet him, clean him, feed him and brush his teeth, before we were in a position to have live in care. He was a proud man, whose last wish on earth would be for his daughter to be washing his private parts and wiping his bottom, but at the time, there was no other option, and honestly, it just made me love him even more. So the night he died, there was no one who was going to stop me from visiting him and hugging him whilst there still might have been the tiniest light of life still somewhere close to his body. I refused to wait until morning.

So I drove over, I sat with him for the shortest time, perhaps 10 minutes, and just nestled my face into his neck and held him. My frail, weak, and skinny dad; not the big broad man I'd always struggled to get my arms around. It was a weird feeling, he was looking much the same as he had been for the past few days, so it was like nothing had really changed. I thought I'd better get back to Nel in case she woke up and started crying, so I drove back to my hotel in Dorchester, relieved Abbey of her babysitting duties and just passed out next to my sleeping baby.

The next morning, myself and Nel drove back to my family home, where Abbey kindly agreed to come too, so that she could entertain Nel while myself and my brother organise the after life admin. Saying that, it was mainly Joe who did everything.

I kept going and sitting with dad's body, while we waited for the undertakers to come and collect him. Flies had started buzzing around his room, and kept landing on his open mouth. I just remember feeling so frustrated with these fucking flies, they were relentless and all over my dad's face. I sat there, shooing them away, feeling like my eyes were filling up with tears of frustration that these undertakers couldn't just hurry up and come and place my dad somewhere he could be at peace. Eventually they did. It was time to say my last every goodbye. I went back in and hugged his body for the last time, and as I leant onto him, the last remaining air must've been squeezed from his chest, and he made a croaking exhaling noise, which honestly, nearly made me shit myself. That was it though. The final bit of life, or sign of it, had left his body. We left his favourite clothes out for the undertakers to dress him in, and they put him in a body bag, zipped it up, then placed him onto a hand truck trolly, much like the ones Sam and I use for manoeuvring slabs of Diet Coke from our van into our shop, and put him in the back of their van. I watched from the window with my mum, who for the briefest moment seemed to display lucidity, as she just said "well I guess that's really him gone now, isn't it?". I pulled her in for a hug, but within seconds she had forgotten about it, and was wanting to know what everyone was up to for the rest of the day.

The one redeeming feature of the awful disease that is my mum's Alzheimer's, is that at least she was saved of the complete heartbreak she would have felt, if she'd fully been able to experience losing him. She loved my dad more than anything in the world, and in the times before she was ill, would always talk about if he were to go first, saying she'd never love again. And she was right. He was her everything. And she was his. My heart breaks for my dad, that he suffered, watching losing his wife for the past few years, even though he's the one who left this world first. I think that's why he hung on for so long. To make sure she would be OK.

After a little while longer, it was time to leave, and make our way back to Scotland. Dad had timed everything impeccably well, so much so that his death, and all the lose ends, were wrapped up in time for myself and Nel to catch our already booked flight home.

Nel slept the whole way back on the plane, and all the way back from Edinburgh Airport. We got to the house late, where Sam had ran me a bath and was ready to help me easily transfer Nel to her bed. She went straight to sleep, and I sat in the bath and sobbed. I let it all out. All the emotion that I had to hold onto whilst travelling from my house in Dorset, to Southampton Airport, on the plane, Edinburgh and then through my front door. I cried and cried. It was over. He was gone. There were pros and there were cons. He was old, he was at peace now. But he's still my dad, and I'll never see him again. He'll never see Nel get older, he'll never meet this new baby growing inside of me. It's hard when I think these thoughts about both of my parents. I feel robbed of experiences that, when I was growing up, I took for granted that I would have. As much as I loved my Las Vegas Wedding, I did it that way as I couldn't face a traditional wedding without my parents by my side. Instead, I had to make sure I detached any association with it being a family affair. Even Nel had to miss out. It had to strictly be a small group of friends only, lots of tequila and a right old laugh. I've sat holding Nel in my arms as a little baby, figuring out all the highs and lows of becoming a mother, struggling with sleepless nights and breastfeeding woes, without having my parents to fall back on to ask for help or advice. But I guess it's helped mould me into someone stronger and more independent that I would have otherwise been. And now I go into this next stage of motherhood, without my dad in any capacity, and a mum who's Alzheimer's is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, and I guess I just need to get on with it, and be thankful that they both gave me the best childhood anyone could ask for, and to just try and love my kids as much as my parents loved me.