In Twelve Months, In Twenty Years

One year ago my dad died. I sat, in a remarkably uncomfortable armchair, next to the hospital bed in our living room. Watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts and his breathing all night. Staring at a screen helped keep me awake and videos meant I didn’t need to let go of his hand. Around six in the morning something shifted and I finally felt the fact that I hadn’t slept in over 36 hours. By now dawn was breaking and we opened the curtains as I staggered over to join my sister on the sofa bed that had been constantly occupied by someone or other for the past few weeks and my mum took up watch in the uncomfy chair. She was with him at the very end, my sister and I a few feet away.

Afterwards, surprising absolutely nobody who knows me, the first thing I did was put the kettle on. It was one of the things we said over the next few days that in twenty years when we were looking back on that first week, whatever else happened at least we weren’t dehydrated.

Imagining how I’d look back on all of it in twenty years helped. I couldn’t think about what I wanted in the moment, because what I wanted was my dad back and healthy. But I only had once chance to bury your father so I got through it, because I had to. I didn’t want to go to the funeral parlour (who would?) but I’m glad I had that opportunity to be talked through what could happen by someone who does it a lot. The funeral director asked about the wording for the obituary and I am glad I got object to his suggestions (“Forever in our hearts, never to be forgotten sounds like something a funeral director would say, he’d hate it”. Still not really sorry about that Mr Funeral Director). Putting together a playlist for the coach ride from the church to the burial site, and then from the burial to the wake. Parts of it were for us, but mostly he’d have approved. We hit all the high notes: Disney, James Bond, The Beatles. Decorating the coffin with copies of a lifetime of photos, the priest called to see how we were coping only to be greeted with a coffin on the coffee table and a tea tray on top of that. (Well where else was it supposed to go?) We needed many cups of tea.

In twenty years I think I’ll still be happy with what we did, there’s nothing that in the last twelve months I have had regrets about not doing.

As a way of living it goes against a lot of the current trend of self help advice. Live in the moment, experience the now, be present. Being present was painful, the moment I was experiencing was excruciating.

So I let go of all that, I asked myself- with almost everything- what would I look back on and regret missing, what would I be glad I’d done. I didn’t do a reading or give an obituary at the funeral, I don’t do well at funerals and when I get upset Dad got upset. He did his best but female hysteria was always a source of abject terror. It would have been incredibly difficult for me, to try and hold it all together and I didn’t want that pressure. I gave myself permission to absolutely fall apart if I needed to. There were tears and snot, but there was also laughter.

The past twelve months have passed and I’m still using it as my touchstone, ‘in twenty years what will I wish I’d done in 2017?’ I’ve given myself permission to grieve, to ignore the voices telling me I’m letting opportunities slip by or wasting time. I know my own mental health well enough to know that I can’t rush it. 

In 2037 I highly doubt I’ll be telling people that I wish I’d spent less of the last twelve months being patient with myself, less time with my family, less time healing. 

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