The day my Dad died changed my life immeasurably without anything changing. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I will try and explain.
I moved to the south of England when I was just 18 and left my family in a remote part of the North. There I met my first husband, married, divorced, brought up two children, married again and then moved abroad. At first, money being the issue, it was difficult to keep returning and sometimes a couple of years would go past before I could make the journey to see my parents.
When my marriage broke up, I was on my own. Living in a different area with two small children made me more reliant on friends than family. I did see a little more of them as they would come down to London on occasion to see my sister and Dad loved going to the proms.
Eventually money became no object and I would make the journey north as often as I could, with the restraints of school timetables and work commitments.
Over the years, our best form of communication, was the telephone. Dad was a mine of information and if any of us kids needed an answer or advice, we would pick up the phone and dial his number. I always had a need to tell him everything good, but never mentioned anything I thought could hurt our relationship. If there was any possibility that I thought he would disapprove, it was never spoken about. I needed him to be proud of me.
He was not a demonstrative man and would never openly say that he loved any of us, but we knew he did. We were all incredibly proud of him too. He was an intensely private, artistic, highly intelligent man who was awed by the natural world around him. His knowledge of bird life and plants was immense and he was happy to impart it to anyone who asked. That was the key. You needed to ask. He would never presume to tell you his opinions nor say he knew the answer unless asked, so he was a humble man too. When you had the right question though, he completely opened up. You could see the passion for his subject in his eyes and you would get caught up in his enthusiasm. Our old neighbour still has one of the best gardens in the town after Dad taught him and it’s wonderful to see that garden and know my Dad still lives on in it.
I once called Dad from Spain, after seeing a pair of hoopoes flying around in my new garden, and in my excitement rang to tell him. The first thing he said was, “Upupa Epops.” I paused for a moment, wondering about his sanity before begging his pardon. He repeated, “Upupa epops.”
“Dad, are you ok?” I asked.
“That’s what it’s called. It’s latin name is Upupa Epops and you will never forget it.”
He was absolutely right. I never have.
He died of cancer at 1.15am and his loss still haunts me. I left my family that very morning and flew home as I had a gig that night. It was a surreal experience. I left a house full of grief and took my broken heart on a plane back to Spain, surrounded by passengers who had no clue that just 4 hours earlier I was watching undertakers remove my fathers body from his house. I stepped off a plane to sunshine and slept as soon as I got home, then dressed in all my finery and stepped on stage with a painted smile on my face and entertained people for 3 hours. I still have no idea how I did it, but if I had my time over, I would not do it again. My biggest regret was not staying to be with the people who needed me in their grief because I needed them. Time cannot change it though.
I returned home to a place my father had never been. Here, there were no memories. I have no recollection of him sitting on my furniture or in my garden. Unlike England, he never helped me design my garden or walk through the supermarket filling up my basket with all the naughty things he liked. We didn’t go to the pub here or drive in the countryside or go for dinner. He didn’t birdwatch from my terrace and inform me of all the species I can’t recognise. Here, in Spain, he never existed. I go about my life with no change. But the change is still immeasurable.
I never stop missing him. I never stop wanting to pick up the phone and talk to him. Everyday I see something beautiful and know he would have loved it and I want to share it with him. I see that little bird with a black cap and green wings and I feel robbed of his knowledge. I want to show him where I live and take him into the mountains. I need him in my garden. I know I can live without him as I have during most of my adult life. There is no change in that. The loss of his love, support, knowledge, advice and presence is a change that is immeasurable.