Writing 101, Day Four: Serially Lost
Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.
What’s important is reflecting on this experience and what it meant for you — how it felt, why it happened, and what changed because of it.
I was working at a beach front bar in Alicante, Spain; a decision I’d made on a whim aged seventeen. My best friend had asked if I wanted to move away with him, so I dropped out of college and announced to my family that I was leaving. Mum never tried to stop me, she said that she wished she’d had the opportunity to travel when she was young. My sisters were insanely jealous. Dad cried. Everyone said I would be home in three weeks…three years later I was still living in Spain, only visiting home twice in that time, the most recent at Christmas. Back then, I felt I was living in paradise, a far cry from my dreary home town in Manchester. I had not a care in the world. That was, until my world as I knew it came crashing down around me.
It was a sunny day in May, I was outside on the terrace cleaning the tables when I heard the phone ring from inside the bar. Nothing unusual. My friend and colleague, Alina, answered. There was a pause – and then she called out my name. I strolled indoors, and casually took the receiver.
“Hello?” A long pause. Odd. “Hello…?” I repeated.
“…Hayley?” came the broken sound of my Mum’s voice from the other end. She sounded so far away. So…distant. I sensed that the distance had nothing to do with the miles between us… She choked, struggling to say the words. She didn’t have to, because in that moment I just knew – knew that my perpetual fear had become my reality.
My heart heaved in my chest as my world became a sudden vortex of emptiness. A vacuum of nothingness. All senses lost. Somewhere in the distance I could hear Mum crying as she struggled to tell me that Dad was dead. “It’s your Dad…he’s…gone.” And then sobs. “…Hayley? …Hayley?”
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. I dropped the receiver and somehow my legs carried me outside. Somewhere far in the distance, I heard an awful sound, a prolonged and painful moan which seemed half human, half animal. As Alina wrapped her arms around my shoulders, I realised that sound was coming from me. My knees buckled beneath the weight of the world and I dropped to the hard pavement, my heart wrenching as it shattered into irretrievable pieces. I trembled and shook as waves of uncontrollable sobs consumed me. I heard muffled voices approaching to see what the matter was. As my world violently tilted and turned, I was forced to stand before I was sick. I have to get out of here. But where do I go? I don’t belong here. I left. Alina called after me but she couldn’t leave the bar unattended. I walked. And walked and walked. I found a secluded spot on the beach, and there I sat, just staring out to sea.
I don’t know how long I sat there for. I don’t know what I felt, or what I thought, only that everything seemed so insignificant. So bland. So colourless. So…empty.
In the hours that followed I discovered the cause of Dad’s death – his epilepsy. I knew it would take him from me eventually. From the very moment I first witnessed Dad having an epileptic fit when I was aged five, I knew that his violent seizures – which caused him to plummet face first into concrete, to scold his skin as he landed, uncontrolled, on hot surfaces, to almost drown in the bath – would one day take his life. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I regularly had nightmares of losing him. Sometimes the dreams started off happy; Dad and I would be out, walking the woods or the canals. He would name the different birds we’d see and hear, and then, somehow, we’d become separated. I would call out after him. I could hear him calling out for me in the distance, but I could never quite reach him. Then he would be lost. Gone forever. I’d wake to tears streaming down my face. And now, my reoccurring nightmare had become my waking reality.
Despite knowing Dad’s epilepsy made him vulnerable, and that one day it could quite possibly take his life, I wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of his death…Parents aren’t supposed to die until they are old… Dad was only forty-seven – his hair hadn’t even turned grey yet…I never had the chance to say goodbye….Does he know I love him? When did I last tell him I loved him? Was he in pain? Oh I wish I had never said that when we fought. I’m so selfish. Why was I living here and not there? Spending those precious last moments with my Dad? Why didn’t I stay in Manchester when I went home for Christmas? Why was I so preoccupied with coming back here – to this empty place? Why did he have to leave so soon? So suddenly? And all alone? Was he in pain? Did he know he was dying? Dying alone… Did he call out for us? I should have been there. Does he forgive me for not being there? Was he hurting? I’ll never see his face again. Or feel his bear hugs. Who will walk me down the aisle when I marry? Who will my future children call Granddad? Is this it? Is this my life now? I don’t want this life. I want to turn back the clocks. Was he in pain? Oh – why did he have to be alone? These were the unanswered questions and thoughts that taunted and haunted me, left me racked with guilt and grief for the many, long, bleak months that followed.
Sorrows are our best educators. A man can see further through a tear than a telescope. Grief should be the instructor of the wise…
– Lord Byron
Without risk of this post becoming too long, or too depressing, I will omit the dark period that followed my Dad’s death. My grief continued for a long time afterwards, however, those feelings of utter emptiness and despair did, over time, subside. The pain of losing a loved one never truly leaves – but the dull ache and rawness eventually gave way to acceptance; with acceptance there came an understanding; understanding paved the way for peace, which, in time, allowed happiness to reside in my heart once more. It is true when they say – time heals. That’s not to say that time has healed the wound completely, but I have learnt to live with the scar of losing my Dad. There are still times when I am transported back to the moment of Dad’s death, and I am haunted with hindsight, guilt and grief. Yet, I understand that Dad’s love was so deep, so great, that he would never ever wish unhappiness on his family. Time has taught me that life is precious. Moments are to be cherished. Time has taught me that we should express our love and gratitude daily, because in doing so, we share our love with the world. I am thankful for the brief time I spent with my Dad, for the memories that we shared. Those spots of time in our existence will always remain, and however short-lived those moments were, however fleeting – the love I hold for him in my heart is infinitely endless.