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Sudden & Unexpected?

Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the (Virtual) Horizon
Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.
Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.

“I’m dying,” Dad said.

I was sitting in the arm chair of Dad’s boxy living room, watching as he peered at his reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t dying. At least, he didnt appear to be… Dad had experienced a brain haemorrhage at the age of twenty-six, and the operation that saved his life left him with severe epilepsy; but that was on the 23rd of December 1983, twenty years ago – a year before I was born. There were no later illnesses or diagnoses for Dad to be thinking that way. Regardless, my stomach dipped at the thought of losing our gentle giant.

He stared deeply into his dark brown eyes, a look of sorrow on his face matching my own. My heart sunk a little. Dad would often experience down days like today. He’d say seemingly strange things during those times; ‘Are you even real?’ was one question I remember him asking. It wasn’t aimed at me… or at anyone in particular for that matter – the words were just spoken out loud in the silence of the room – and then forgotten… That is, until after Dad’s death, at which point those words resurfaced many a time in the silence of my room.  Am I even real? Is any of this real?

Dad’s depression wasn’t always obvious – most of my memories of Dad are of him laughing, of him making us giggle and of his gentle, caring ways. But amidst those precious memories, I distinctly remember Dad’s darker days – day’s when Dad thought the world was conspiring against him. Once, he accused Mum of trying to poison him with a packet of ham (it was unopened at the time.) When I was about seven, Dad had to be hospitalised until he was able to recover. The doctors labelled Dad a ‘manic depressive’ – but to us he was our beautiful, strong Dad. And the most loving, gentle soul we have ever known. A man who, despite his setbacks and sufferings, was generous, selfless and giving. I still have the fluffy, yellow monkey Dad bought for me whilst he was in hospital – my sister got a cuddly penguin. When Mum told Dad she would be bringing us along on her next visit, he’d bought cuddly toys for us from the hospital staff. Even in Dad’s darkest hours he was thinking of us…

I don’t blame Dad for experiencing depression. Even the strongest of people would struggle to cope with going from a fit, strong, working male; to suddenly experiencing daily seizures, the loss of clear speech, the ability to walk long distances because of the pain, and being told that you can no longer work or drive because of the risk of an accident –  all before reaching the age of thirty. The daily medication Dad took to control his epilepsy also impacted his moods. He would try to stop taking the pills because they dampened his spirits, but then the seizures would come with even greater frequency and violence than before.

Yet despite all this, Dad always managed to bounce back – many a weekend we’d all be sitting in Mum’s living room and Dad would suddenly erupt in fits of giggles over something one of us said or at a funny memory – like the time Dad told off some boys for throwing litter into our garden and it turned out to be rose petals; or the time Mum egged Dad on the head in a toy fight, and he decided to embarrass her by announcing what she’d done over Christmas dinner to Gran and Granddad. We were in hysterics (made worse by the unamused look on Gran’s face.) Maybe our family was a bit bonkers, but Dad’s laugh was contagious and sooner or later we’d all be laughing uncontrollably with him. But not today.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a fistful of Cadbury’s Roses that I had taken from the staff room table. I knew how much Dad loved chocolates and gave him a handful. He sat in the other arm chair and we ate our chocolates in silence. rosesI looked around his living room; at the hand me down furniture Mum had given him after one of her moves; at the small electric fire hanging on the wall; at his stereo in the corner of the room where he’d play Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin; at his wooden television, which always seemed to be fuzzy no matter how much you wiggled the aerial; and my heart ached for the times when we all lived together, as a family – safely protected under one roof. Dad deserved a throne, not this isolation he found himself in. I tried to make light conversation, but I could tell Dad’s thoughts were elsewhere – and so after a while, I left.

Six months later Dad died. Of an epileptic seizure in his one bedroomed house. Alone. By that time I had returned to Spain from my four month visit home for the Christmas period. I’d left for Spain in the February, and in May I received the phone call from Mum.

The official term for what happened to Dad, and others who have lost their lives to epilepsy, is SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). It was sudden and unexpected – at least, it seemed that way at the time. But I often think back to that cold, December evening in Dad’s living room, of the way Dad looked at his reflection in the mirror and announced to me that he was dying. And I wonder – “Did Dad know all along?”

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5 thoughts on “Sudden & Unexpected?

  1. Dear Hayley, I cannot even pretend to know what it’s like to lose your Dad. I know how sad I would feel and I’m sorry that life handed this to you. I’m sure people have told you this but it’s true, even though you cannot see your Dad he truly is right there with you and at any time you want you can talk to him. He hears you, he sees you, he loves you and I know he’s so proud of you. Your writing is elegant, heartfelt, real and I love reading your posts. You keep right on writing them and if you feel that it helps you then all the better, but we are the true benefactors of your writing, we get to read them. Your posts, you and your Dad are all beautiful. 🙂

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    • Dear Deb, thank you so kindly for your words, they were beautiful, touching and comforting to me in so many ways. My posts have not yet revealed my later connection to my Dad’s spirit – I tend to write the emotion as I felt it at the time – and at that time I had yet to discover that sacred and infinite realm… My following post ‘found’ will reveal the light I discovered amidst my deepest despair. Thank you for reaching out and for being such a shining light – you truly are a gem xx

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      • Oh now you’ve done it…you’ve gone and made me cry… 😉 ! I cannot wait to read “found” and am beyond excited to hear that! There’s something about your spirit that draws me to you, you seem like such a sweet and innocent soul and I look forward to learning more about you and your journey. xo

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  2. Thank you Artman (you know – I should really ask your name.) I hope it wasn’t too dark a read – luckily I hold many fond memories of Dad in my heart – which I hope to be able to share along this journey… But it’s inevitable that those precious moments will, at times, be clouded by the darker memories. I too, wish I could have eased some of the suffering, wish I’d been there and done more… For now, I guess, we can at least take solace in the knowledge that our loved ones are at peace.

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  3. That was harrowing, and the final question gave me chills. I’m so sorry, not just for your loss, but for the little bits and pieces that seemed to be getting lost during moments like the one you described.

    Those times really bring home the idea that life is different than it used to be. But, while dark memories do tend to linger, I hope they are eventually overtaken by the good memories. For now, that’s still a process.

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