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. I 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?”