It would have been my Dads birthday today. It falls around Fathers Day every year so it’s a bit of a double whammy. I have been thinking about him a lot today so wanted to do a post about him and maybe write a bit about what it’s like to lose someone. Actually, forget that, I didn’t lose him. He died.
Having to give permission to turn of my Dads machine’s in intensive care is something I hope no one has to go through but unfortunately I know that some people will. I had gone from ‘about to go a work party’ to ‘saying goodbye’ to my Dad in 12 hours. Then afterwards collecting his belongings from the Hospital (he had a new suitcase packed, he’d only gone in for an operation, he didn’t know he was going to die), signing a death certificate, dealing with a will, getting a funeral together (thank you Auntie Margaret), choosing the music and readings and all those other practical things you have no idea about. Then later scattering the ashes, then even later still finding out that after a certain length of time the plaque you placed at the Crematorium has to be removed to make way for someone else. It feels very brutal but sadly it’s another part of the process that you would never even think about.
So this year, Spring I got sent the brass plaque my brothers and I had arranged for my Dads ‘place’ at the Crematorium. I couldn’t even remember what we had chosen to be written on it. But it had been 10 years since I scattered his ashes and it was time for the plaque to be either destroyed or kept by a family member. Of course I couldn’t allow it to be destroyed even though I had only been to the crematorium twice since he died. Once at the funeral in October 2006 and once to scatter the ashes a year later. (I’d put it off as I couldn’t bear the thought of it, but he couldn’t stay in a plastic jar forever). So I asked for the plaque to be sent to me.
The plaque that had been next to a rose bush in Upminster since 2006 ‘ In Loving Memory, John Henry Trustrum, 1937 – 2006, Our Dearest Dad & Friend’, for 10 years was now in my house. I can’t deny it, that was another strange experience. But in a way quite comforting.
Then in April this year my older brother was coming over from Sydney to stay so I thought it would be the right time to get the plaque on a wooden mount that we could plant with something in my garden. My older brother, his daughter from Sweden, my younger brother and his family from Essex and my Mum from Norwich (which was bonkers in itself) were all going to be here for lunch. But the thing about the plaque is that it arrived on it’s own. A piece of brass. No wooden stake to poke in the ground. And this is where the fun really starts.
One evening we were watching a Mel Brook’s documentary at home, my Dad loved Mel Brooks, we loved watching ‘Blazing Saddles’, and it prompted me to order a wooden stake online for the plaque for my brother’s arrival. I think it was a message from beyond the ashes to give me a swift kick up the arse. So I googled somewhere that did this kind of thing, again nothing I’d ever had to do before, measured the plaque and ordered the stake. I forgot about it until 2 days before my ‘family lunch / plaque planting session’ and realised the wooden mount still hadn’t arrived. I checked my emails and saw that the stake was not due to be despatched until 3 days after my brother had gone back to Sydney! So in a panic we cobbled one together out of some wood from B+Q and hoped for a sunny day.
Obviously, in true Trustrum style, it rained and rained and rained on the day of the lunch so after all my anxiety we left ‘my Dad’ propped up in the corner of the kitchen while we stood around snorting Doritos and downing Aldi Wine. Then about two weeks later the sun came out so I rushed outside alone and stuck him next to a young Magnolia tree planted buy the previous occupants.
But still the original, bespoke stake had not arrived. I contacted the Company and said it wasn’t here, and actually don’t worry about it as the moment had passed, I’ll just have a refund thank you very much. The stake Company apologised but said that as I hadn’t said anything sooner they could not refund me and would send the stake anyway. I said again, I didn’t want it, it was an emotional situation I’d rather move on from but they didn’t care. They would claim compensation from the courier company but would not cancel my order. Worst customer service ever. Then a month later, the stake arrived and is in my cupboard so if anyone needs one, let me know!
But now, with the plaque in my garden I feel like my Dad is home, which is stupid because this was never his home, it barely feels like my home, and his ashes are long gone in Upminster but it’s quite a nice feeling knowing now if I want to feel close to him, he is outside. I have in the last few weeks sat on the grass near the plaque and tonight, for his birthday I sat with him and had a glass of cheap Tesco Wine and a rollie. It’s what he would have wanted.
The thing about someone dying is that you do learn to live with it. I would never say you recover from it and you are certainly never the same person after going through an experience like that, but you do come to terms with a different life, over time. No one ever said this to me but, for me, it has been the case. I never said goodbye to my Dad, I never told him I was sorry for whatever I did to piss him off my whole life and I never got to tell him I understood how hard being a parent is, but he did teach me something in that hospital room at St Bart’s. I realised how precious time is. The greatest lesson he ever taught me. When you realise that time has gone and you can’t get it back that is a hard lesson. No amount of money can buy you time or turn back the clock. No amount of jobs or bonuses or late nights in the office trying to get the approval of your boss. You need to live NOW. I know that for my sanity and for my relationship with my son, we need to spend time together which is why in the last few years I have chosen him over my career, so maybe I am a better parent because of the relationship I had with my Dad. I have to take something from what happened and if that’s what it is, then that’s enough. I have never been confident about anything in my life but I think, so far, I can say I’m a good Mum, which I think means he was a good Dad.
So Happy birthday JT, under the Magnolia. Sorry about the plaque cock up. xx