Rebecca’s story

For Tom Ellis, who always thought my writing was funny. Are we ravinnnn.

Before the age of 21 my only knowledge of ‘losing a parent’ was being stood in Asda in sheer panic looking for Mum or Dad down each aisle. Unfortunately I now know the true and the worst extent of losing a parent. My dear Papa passed away on the 30th September after 4 and a half years of staring cancer bravely in the face. (and a lot of the time laughing at it, flipping it the bird and calling it a stupid bastard)

If you knew or had met my Dad then what a lucky bugger you are, he was such a big character. He had hands bigger than spades and a heart to match. He was a manual man, a fixer, a tinkerer, a welder, a woodworker, a steelworker and an amazing artist. He loved nature, he has loads of books on trees, butterflies, birds and he was an avid protector of the bee community. I loved spending time with Dad, we never had a boring day out and usually spent our time making fun of people, pushing each other into people and him farting loudly in inappropriate places. (This being said, I don’t want to paint him inaccurately as a saint – he was super grumpy sometimes and sometimes irrational; but you can’t all be perfect like me can ya!?) If you lose someone close you to I read somewhere that you HAVE to remember the full picture of someone; if you only remember the good bits they’ll become a martyr and to remember ALL of their character keeps them nice and real in your memory. No Dad is complete without a tendency to moan about the washing up.

I’d like to give a little background of our story but I won’t go into loads of details it’s still very painful for me. Also, I think trauma has this innate ability to give you amnesia, there is so much of Dad’s journey that’s a total blur – I reckon our brains have a wonderful way of blocking out the bad bits (same reason I can’t remember some past relationships I’ve had.. or some questionable nights out back in me younger years).

In 2014 – a few days after my 21st birthday, we found out that Papa had bowel cancer. The tectonic plates of the earth underneath Frimley Park Hospital shifted and the world changed just by the use of a few words from a consultant we didn’t yet know. Worth noting: Dad’s consultant went on to look after Dad the whole way through his journey and they had a really special connection. Papa didn’t ever really get the difference between really high up people and us, so just talked to everyone like his mate. (A bit like I do).

On the 2nd March 2014 Papa was diagnosed and following this there were years of chemo, radiotherapy, operations, all clears, scans, admissions, discharges, intensive care trips, infections, ups, downs, side effects, anxiety, fear, depression, laughs, cries. You name it, we did it. Throughout this time I did all I could to support my Mum and Dad, sometimes this is the only thing you can do. Dad always got tearful about the time I came to see him at Frimley straight from landing from New York, when he opened his eyes from his sleep I was there and that’s something he was always grateful for. All of the time that I spent with him not only made me feel like I had purpose but it also gave him a little bit of light in his life. I have no guilt or regret because I know I was there every waking moment for my Dad. I sometimes remember all of the times that I found excuses not to walk Poppy with Dad because I couldn’t be bothered, I would do ANYTHING on Earth to go for a walk with him again now. (Karma got me in the end because I have to walk the old girl all the time now anyway). My message is I suppose to not waste any precious time with loved ones because you just do not know when the sand timer is going to run out for any of us.

I don’t want to cover the last few months of Dad’s life, because my heart broken 100000 times every day for different reasons, I’ll have you all calling Samaritan’s in your next tea break if I start talking about that. If you’ve witnessed terminal illness before you will know all about it, and if you don’t then allow yourself to be naïve to it all.

I remember sitting at the end of the garden with Dad one day and him saying he didn’t want to die and he wanted to have his life back, he wanted to go away with mum – nowhere wild just to the coast, to be able to go fishing, to be able to eat nice food. He said to me ‘Will I get better Becca Rose?’ I remember sitting there and promising him that he’d be able to do all of these things and he’d be healthy again even though I knew deep down it wasn’t looking great.  If you’ve lost a parent to cancer I’m sure you’ve heard and seen the most awful and heartwrenching things too, but you have to learn to release these memories. If you don’t you’ll end up some battered looking middle aged person screaming abuse at pigeons in the town centre and I reckon we all deserve more out of life than that.

The day we found out Dad was terminally ill my heart was shattered, he was so very poorly at this stage but I always hoped we’d have a little miracle, hearing this prognosis confirmed there were no miracles available, it was very difficult to come to terms with. Dad’s immediate response was: ‘What am I gonna tell Poppy?!?!’ (our dog – typical Dad). We were told that he had 2-4 weeks to live. The very next day we had a surreal visit from the Phyllis Tuckwell nurses to discuss a plan for him. We had just found out the news so having to have conversations about whether or not to resuscitate/ where Dad wanted to die etc was just a little bit too much. My Papa dealt with it all with bravery and humour, in true Ellis style. His response to the lady was ‘If I die at home at least then you can just chuck me to the curb’ I said to him ‘Why would we do that?!’ and he replied ‘So the council can come and take me away for free, like roadkill’ this was the essence of my Dad, creating an inappropriate joke out of every situation.

A couple of days later my Papa slipped away with his ‘Me Julie’ and his Mum by his side. The way I like to imagine the process of death is a bit like the song ‘Comfortably Numb’, have a listen to it; it might make sense. Or you might want to put me forward for a little holiday to the Priory, either way. The window in the side room at Frimley Park was opened, and off my Papa went, his magical soul leaving his tired body and going off to fly free in the universe.

I think when you lose someone very close and very special to you it’s good to have your own idea of where they’ve gone. Me and the big guy in the sky (God) don’t sit too well with each other so I prefer to have a more humanitarian view of things. I think our bodies are just vehicles to carry our soul and our ‘usness’ around, and when we die we leave our knackered old vessel and go back to the universe. I like to imagine that our spirit is like an iridescent little blob that flies around freely. I went through this phase after Dad passed away of thinking that he might be reincarnated as an animal. I had a long old chat with a Bluebottle fly sat in my bedroom once and found myself saying ‘Dad??!?! Is that you?!’ to any bird that looked at me for more than half a second. I mean I still do this. But whatever works for you honey.

When the horror and the realisation hits you that you’ve lost your loved one forever you get struck with grief. Grief is the most heavy, painful, disgusting feeling to carry around with you. I wouldn’t even call it a feeling, it is such a physical thing. It’s like wearing a really heavy, black, achey hat all the time. My grief is no smaller now than it was in September, it never will shrink, but the good news is that your life gets bigger around the grief. Over time, the feeling should no longer overwhelm your life so much because your life grows much bigger. Those immediate stabs of pain when you think about the person you’ve lost should decrease as you create more happy memories, meet new and inspiring people, go on holidays and do all those other things that give you a little sparkle.

Grief and loss bring with them a whole array of weird and shite emotions. I felt and still occasionally feel this overwhelming bitterness towards everyone. I was annoyed at the elderly for making it to an old age when Dad didn’t. I was annoyed at anyone my age for having such an easy life and not having to go through so much at a young age and being damaged like me. I was annoyed at anyone that moaned about anything at all (that God awful ‘Well at least you’re not me’ mentality). I felt as though I was just waiting for someone to say something out of turn to me so that I could be justified in lumping them one. These feelings are obviously totally irrational but also totally normal in a grieving person. Acknowledge these feelings, note to yourself why you are feeling them and don’t let them take hold because you’ll end up doing something that warrants your arrest.

The interesting thing I’ve found since Papabear died is that the anxiety is gone. That deep rooted fear has gone, I spent years feeling sick to my stomach with dread about the results of the next scan, or whether Dad was going to get better, or what his new little pain meant. I’m glad to see the back of that Dad Fear, sadness hurts horribly but anxiety is debilitating.

The future

Watching Papa deteriorate and eventually losing him has really made me question my own mortality. I’ve never been phased by having Crohn’s (have always seen it as my little niche and an excuse for pooing myself occasionally) but now I have this awful health ‘anxiety’. Pair Crohn’s with a couple of dodgy smears and I’m totally convinced that I’m going to get cancer. (I use the term ‘Anxiety’ loosely, as normal anxiety is a very different ball game – I don’t want to take anything away from all the sufferers out there! Mine is more of a niggling worry). This is something that I’m working on so don’t worry about me just yet, but I just want to mention it in case any of you have had a similar worry (nice to know you’re not the only batshit one sometimes). I read a book that I aaaalways go on about to people called ‘You can heal your life’ by Louise Hay. Reading this confirmed my belief that our mind, emotions and mental wellbeing are totally in tune with our health. I think that I have the power to worry so much about becoming ill that I could probably create a cancer in my body. And I think I’ve seen enough cancer for now, so I’m working very hard on my brain health.

My outlook on life hasn’t totally changed since Papa died. I’ve definitely lost a lot of my Bex-ness, I don’t have as much love for the world. You naturally become a bit of a cynic about things when you’ve watched such horrible things happen to such great people. A positive is that I feel more passionate about not doing things that make me totally miserable, we spend so much of our precious little lives working, we’re really doing ourselves a disservice by staying in jobs we don’t like for as long as we do. Same goes for relationships, friendships, hobbies etc. My Mumma and Papa have always encouraged me to not care about what people think and to do what makes me happy. I am a very lucky little spud for this reason. If I feel like an outfit is too bright I picture my old man in his hawaaiin shirts being unapologetically himself. If I feel embarrassed I imagine Dad singing in public and not giving a shit. If I am upset by someone I imagine him saying ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down’. We will all be popping our clogs before you know it, just do whatever the jeff you want; the universe will work out the logistics for you

I wonder if other people that have lost a parent feeling this ‘lost’ feeling? I definitely do, it’s kind of like coming back from travelling. You see everyone living a normal life and you think HOW? How can you be so comfortable living so normally?! I feel the same way at the moment, but I know it’ll calm down as I get back into the swing of life. I think having someone to look after and worry about gave us structure and purpose for all those years, and now we’re redundant. Now I have the opportunity to focus on my career I think holy shit balls what do I want to do?! Seeing how short Dad lived I don’t want to be on my death bed reflecting on life thinking how good I was at administrative tasks and prioritising the workload?! On my darkest days I feel like ‘what’s the point?’ but there’s always a point.

I remember my Dad sitting on a ward opposite this fella who’d had his leg removed due to diabetes, Dad was so ill at this point. The man was saying to the nurse ‘I don’t want to live anymore, what’s the point, I have no purpose’ My Dad didn’t have much of a voice at this point but he said to this man ‘There’s always a purpose, you don’t want to die, you’ve always got a purpose. I’ve got my purpose right here (signalling us)’ I think seeing my Dad being so inspirational to this man will always give me the encouragement I need in life, my Papa accepted any intrusive thing or horrible procedure that they threw at him, and he did it all for us. What right do I have not to carry on? If you’re not crying by now you’re a sociopath by the way, I’ve set meself off.

I think it’s about time I stopped warbling on now. I don’t know if this bit of writing would have been of any benefit to anyone, but it has done me the world of good writing it. It feels like a form of therapy, and it’s given me the opportunity to remember some wonderful memories of Papa. I love my Dad more than the Earth and I miss him a 1000 times a day, but will always live through me. I am haunted by everything that has happened to us and will take a little while to be back to myself. Although I don’t have my magical Dad anymore I am beyond lucky to have the Mum that I do, she keeps the world spinning and has always been such a big inspiration to me. I’m lucky to be surrounded by very amazing friends and man friend, my support network has always been crucial to me.

I hope me going on about how short life is hasn’t given you all an urge to pop and choose your headstones just yet, I just think it does us good to see the bigger picture. All I can recommend is that you spend as much time with the special ones in your life as possible, spend less time looking at your blower and more time taking in your surroundings, dress like a twat if you want to, sing out loud if you want to, quit your job if you want to, cut a friend out of your life if you want to, dump ya twat of a boyfriend if you want to, DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY LITTLE SUNBEAMS.

If you’ve lost someone close to you then just know that I understand your pain, when you feel like the whole world doesn’t, just remember that little old Bexy shares a bit of her heart with you. I am open book (sometimes too open) and I’ve enough love for everyone in the universe, so if you ever need to chew an ear off, I’m here. For those lucky enough to have not lost someone very close to them I hope I’ve given you some insight into how it feels, maybe if you know anyone going through this you could share some sparkles with them. Not just straight after but for the months and years to follow.

All my love and sparkles, Bexy.

Tools to help you:

Guided Meditation on Youtube / apps like Headspace / Calm

‘How to Heal your life – Louise Hay’

Bereavement counselling

Long walks, being outside in the fresh air, going on little holidays

Reading, swimming, anything to take your mind off of things.