How To Say Goodbye: The Day Everything Changed
I’ve posted on here before about blog posts I never expected to write but this one is so utterly unreal I’m not sure how to even begin…
On November 15, 2017, my dad, Colin, was looking after Everleigh so I could try to wrestle book five into shape. He was going to take her for a walk, to the shops, and to a singing story time at the local library. I gave him an extra big hug as I left telling him I’d see them both later and thanking him for his help; I don’t know what I would do without him.
Just after lunch I had a call from my auntie saying dad had fallen ill, no-one had any idea what had happened or where my baby was. Rushing to his house for signs of paramedics, and Everleigh, but no-one was there. I was convinced he’d maybe had a fall or suffered a bad panic attack and that I’d be kindly telling him off later for giving us a scare and forcing him to take it easy.
After a tangled, confused, web of calls to hospitals and the police we learnt that he’d fallen in the park pushing her in her pushchair home, and that she was safe at the police station, but there was still no news on his condition or what exactly had happened.
Luckily John was at home so rushed to pick up Everleigh, desperate to make sure she was okay and hoping to find answers.
Then everything changed.
A policewoman with big ugly boots and sad eyes arrived with John and uttered those immortal words: ‘Katy, we need you to sit down.’ I flicked my eyes between her and John, whose pale nodding face told me all I needed to know but couldn’t believe. My dad had died.
He’d had a massive heart attack just yards from his front door. Despite kind strangers rushing to his aid and picking my baby up off the floor where she’d fallen out of the pram, a defibrillator from the nearby sports centre being used and an ambulance – and air ambulance – appearing in minutes, no-one could save him.
He was gone.
I heard this animalistic, painful cry and realised it was me; sobbing on the hall floor, desperate for this to be a sick joke. I’d only seen him five hours earlier, laughing at the baby burping, showering her with kisses and hugging me in his kitchen. How would I never see him, or hold him, or smell his smell again?
The following hours, days and weeks became a blur of tears, phone calls, hearing words like ‘coroner’s reports’, ‘cremation’, ‘probate report’, decisions to be made and well-meaning messages of support from shocked relatives. My brother and I clung to each other in the minefield of grown-up decisions. It was the most adult I’ve ever felt.
How do you even begin to plan a funeral for someone who you can’t believe is never coming back? Who was the healthiest and happiest he’d been in years? We should be planning his first Christmas as a grandad, we should be looking at family holidays for next year, we should be visiting Santa and filling his recent retirement with new wonderful memories – not deciding if we go for the light oak wood coffin or what clothes the undertakers should dress him in.
But I also had a six-month-old baby who needed bath time, regular feeds, cuddles to sleep and routine. I still have to keep her alive and she will, in turn, keep me alive. I was on autopilot being a mum and a shocked, grieving daughter, doing neither particularly well.
During this time I was waiting for the shock to pass and the unimaginable grief to hit. I pictured myself at sea and every so often a large choppy wave would smash at my face and pull me under for a second – yet most of the time I was treading water and coping. I knew that somewhere on the horizon a tsunami of emotion, sadness, anger and pain was waiting to drag me under for God knows how long but I’m still swimming, still treading water.
I finally felt brave enough to share the news of dad’s passing on my Instagram on the day of his funeral, desperate for support from you. I’ve been so lucky to have amazing friends in real life and online who have been with me on my journey since the beginning, but now was the time I needed to know I wasn’t alone. My heart ached reading messages of lost loved ones, others taken before their time and the blanket of grief that will cover us all.
I don’t know what life is going to be like without my lovely, kind, generous and funny dad in it.
He inspired my love of reading, read all my novels and blog posts, supported me in everything I did, adored John and found a new best mate in my husband over football and calvados. We all hung out at least three times a week, and in summer 2016 drove round Ireland on a dad and daughter road trip. Dad and even came to antenatal appointments with me – his eyes shooting out when he heard Everleigh’s heartbeat for the first time!
The man who once had to be rescued by a pregnant lady on a pedalo as his failed windsurfing attempt on holiday, who was learning to speak Italian but could only remember pointless phrases such as ‘my duck is ready’, who travelled round Ireland with me, who was the life and soul of my wedding changing the words to ‘Call Me Al’ – to ‘Call Me Col!’ as he dominated the dancefloor.
A dad who bought me magazines and chocolates when I had my first period, despite neither of us mentioning the changes in my body from girl to woman; who took me to the hairdressers when I had an unfortunate incident with sun-in hair dye; who would watch my brother and I perform ‘shows’ with a patience I hope to inherit.
The many memories I have are so silly, so normal but so desperately precious.
Everleigh will grow up never knowing just how much she was the apple of his eye despite only having six months together. A snapshot in a life. She’s too little to remember anything from that day but I desperately never want to forget how both their faces lit up when they were together and how he was her best friend and was with her at the end.
He is such a huge part of How To Say Goodbye, even if he doesn’t know it. The novel is dedicated to him. He is there on every page. It just breaks my heart that he will never get to read it as I think he would rather like it.
You can pre-order a copy for your Kindle for a promo price of just £2.99; it’s also available in paperback and audiobook.
The little lump of loveliness who has changed my world forever. My daughter, Everleigh Gray.
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