“Where do I start. My family, my life, has most definitely never been dull. And while this might sound incredibly contradictory with what you’re about to read, I am a very private, introverted person who does not ever really open up, even to those closest to me, but after the last few years, I’ve realized that at many times this has hindered me, made me lonely, and left me with things I so desperately wanted to say, but never got the chance. This is why now, I talk more, mainly for people to understand me, and also so they know I can be someone who’s there for them, listen, help, or offer (wanted/asked for) advice.
My dad, he spent the years before meeting my mom traveling the world as both a photographer and a croupier. He was taught how to work the tables in Las Vegas, and ended up settling as a manager of a casino in Kensington, London. He was so good, he wasn’t legally allowed to gamble in the UK as he was able to card count. He spent all his spare time going to watch as much live music he could; he would buy tickets to see Pink Floyd for five nights in a row. He lived for this fast, crazy life. There’s a lot of his early life I don’t know about, but also so many fascinating stories I did hear about. He lived a life of a man in his 20’s five times over.
My mom was a model, moving to London from a small quiet town. She wasn’t tall enough to do catwalk, but modeled frequently in magazines and kept that beauty for her life. She met her first husband and they had three children together, my siblings. They were the love of each other’s lives, however, he passed away in his early 30’s from a late cancer diagnosis, leaving behind a young wife, a 2,7 and 8 year old. This part of her and my siblings’ story isn’t mine to tell, as I wasn’t in the world yet.
My parents met through various connections, friends dating friends etc. I remember my mom saying ‘I hated him the minute I met him, he was full of himself and had a constant stream of women,’ and he said he used to call her ‘the hippy bag lady’ due to the clothes she wore [basically flowy skirts, rather than tight little dresses]. However somehow, they ended up falling in love. Complete opposites.
My dad was due to travel down the Amazon River when they first started dating with a best friend who was a travel writer as his photographer. He hated it, but when I look at the photos of the tribes and wildlife and read about him in the well published book and the newspaper snippets he kept from the book reviews, I learned so much about him. When he came home that was when, after years of saying he never wanted children, he wanted to marry my mom and have a baby. He said it was going to be a girl, and he wanted to call her Kate. He got his way, as always!
My childhood was what you could call picture perfect. We lived in this amazing house with a beautiful garden. It was never empty, filled with friends of my siblings (yes, they are my half siblings, but we have never used that term. When someone said it to my brother, he immediately corrected them and said ‘no, she’s my sister, end of’) and family friends. It was the place people went. My mom would cook mass meals for people who would just arrive there. It was perfect. My dad always had music playing throughout the house, an avid collector of records. I grew up on Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, and Eric Clapton. Music was the connection between my dad and I, as well as my love for photography. It always was and always will be. I felt so very lucky with all I had. All the love and fun a child could ask for.
However, as we all know, that never tends to last! The casino my dad was the manager of was sold and he was made redundant, and everything changed. He was never an easy man, but this sent him into a depression and he drank more than he drank before, refused to work, and all those difficult parts of him that I didn’t see when I was young became apparent.
We ended up having to move to a smaller house and life changed dramatically. I was a teenager and my relationship became tumultuous, to put it lightly, with my dad. I was your stereotypical difficult teenager – stealing alcohol, sneaking out, dating boys who I knew my parents would most definitely disapprove of, and having an answer for everything. During this time, my dad was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) due to that lifestyle he refused to give up. At first it wasn’t obvious, but we saw it develop quickly over the years.
At 18, I met Joe. And he changed everything. He was not my type. I didn’t want a boyfriend, I was having too much fun. But I fell in love. He was the calm to my storm. He was the one who slowly, subtly, repaired my relationship with my dad. They became close and, as my dad said in his father of the bride speech, ‘I have seen my daughter blossom, with total support from Joe, to the vivacious, vibrant and beautiful young woman you see today.’ It was true, and 17 years down the line, he’s still that person who keeps me going. To sound cliché, he is my rock.
By the time of my wedding in 2013, my dad already had countless hospital admissions due to his COPD, a few times we were told to say our goodbyes. We didn’t think he’d make it to the wedding after a month long stint a few weeks before, let alone walk me down the aisle. A memory I’ll never forget was when The Killers, All These Things That I’ve Done (his favorite song at the time) came on. He got up on the dance floor and danced with Joe and I.
A few months after getting married we found out I was pregnant, and welcomed our daughter Olive into the world. By this time my dad was really not well, he could not walk long distances, he didn’t leave home. But he loved her.
It was about three months before Olive turned 2 that I got a call. The same morning, I unknowingly sent him a video of her saying ‘Hello Grandad, I love you, bye bye.’ A video he never saw. The call was from my mom. He’d been rushed to hospital and they had no idea what was wrong. Three days later he died. He was 66. They never did properly confirm what it was, using COPD as a factor. A possible chest infection, sepsis or just his body shutting down. Something we’ll never know. I sat in that hospital room and felt numb. Yes, he was poorly, but was he THAT poorly?
I went to bed for two weeks. I felt empty, this wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t old enough to lose a parent, HE wasn’t old enough to just die like that, with no warning. Olive was too young to remember her grandad and any future children would never meet him. Due to it being the year I turned 30 along with a lot of my friends, I went to parties which I didn’t want to, but in hindsight, helped me through those stereotypical ‘stages’ of grief. I felt sad, but I felt I could look back and remember the good times but also the bad, because I am never one to put someone on a pedestal after they’ve died. He was hard, argumentative, rude, but he was a character, funny and unbelievably smart. At his funeral, people filled the room. I was shocked how many people turned up. It showed the impact he made on people’s lives.
My mum struggled. Who wouldn’t losing two husbands by the age of 64.
We were close, we always had been. She was the mom who let me have boys stay over because she knew it meant I’d be safe. I was always open and honest with her. We became best friends as well as mother and daughter. She was there for the birth of both my children, she was there along with Joe, looking after Olive after my first spinal surgery, and again when I had emergency spinal surgery 10 months after having my son, Art. She was the first person outside of our house who he recognized. She was the one who knew by the tone of my voice on the phone when I was about to have an anxiety attack. She was the person who knew me the most.
In 2019, she was diagnosed with cancer. Not just one, but two – bowel and pancreatic. It turns out she had symptoms for a few months but never told me. And here I admit, my behavior to this was awful. I refused to believe it was true, told her she needed a second opinion. I didn’t even tell my friends. barring one or two. I kept it and the whole process like some kind of secret. But it was true. We had a family holiday booked and her consultant told her to go in a tone that said ‘because you won’t get that chance again.’ When we got back, she went through surgery, radiotherapy and then chemotherapy. She was told it was working. Again, I avoided talking about it, got frustrated. I was in complete denial, especially as she didn’t lose her hair. I was convinced in my head it wasn’t happening, or it would be fixed.
Then a week into the first UK lockdown, she got a call to say that it hadn’t worked. She was given a prognosis of 8-12 weeks. Again, I refused to believe it, she looked well. However, I cannot describe the shock of watching her deteriorate at such speed. She lasted seven weeks. My siblings and I isolated so we were there with her for the last week. A week I see in my head every day. It was incredibly traumatic. Watching this person who made you, who you loved more than most, who knew you more than anyone, just wither in front of you. To say I was grateful to have my siblings with me was an understatement. And then she went. At 68. We were all there and that was it. I’d lost both my parents. I was 34. I didn’t think at this age I’d have to think about where to hide when they came to remove her body from her home for the last time. You never have those thoughts enter your mind unless it happens to you. My siblings made a human fort around me. I can’t even describe the days and weeks after, I can barely remember them. I went into organizing mode to avoid really thinking about the massive loss myself and siblings had just been through.
A year later, I feel so different to how I did after losing my dad. The pandemic obviously has been a huge part of this and I’ve had the perfect excuse to hide away. I feel like I lost her last month. It took a long time to take away the bitterness that my husband, who felt her to be a second mom to him, and especially Olive who was very close to her couldn’t see her, even at the beginning of her prognosis when she didn’t look so poorly and that they couldn’t say goodbye due to restrictions. I still can’t read her texts. I can’t get used to not being able to send her photos of the children, or call her when I come down after they’ve gone to bed, and I struggle to talk to people about her.
However, it’s made me revaluate a lot of aspects of my life, such as who really is my friend and cares, the people who now avoid me and also, most importantly, that talking openly about my feelings won’t make the world end. I’ve stopped being shy about these things. If people feel awkward about MY loss then they aren’t worth it. I’ve had people I never expected disappear, and others who have become some of my closest friends due to how they’ve reacted to my situation. I’ve also learned that crying isn’t a weakness. In the nearly 20 years Joe and I have been together, before she died, he’d seen me cry a handful of times. Now, I let myself do it and don’t try and hold in the sadness. People who have not lost a parent, a child, someone very close to them find it hard to understand that you’re not ‘over it’ or ‘moved on’ yet. But grief has no time limit. And that’s ok. My parents were in my life for over 30 years, you can’t get over that. The grief will always be there. I can now look back at memories, photos, and messages from my dad and remember the happy parts. But that’s taken me nearly five years. So remember, your grieving friend, who may have lost someone 18 months/two years ago might still really be struggling and feel forgotten because to everyone else it seems so long ago.
While I have lost both my parents, I know from experience that I will never give advice, unless asked, to someone who has been through this, even if it was exactly the same circumstances, because most of us don’t want that, we want to hear, ‘I don’t know what to say, it’s cr*p, I don’t know how you feel, but I’m here, to talk about it or talk about the latest celebrity gossip, or just sit and be there.’ That’s so much better than offering to be there and not be, or just not contacting you at all as they feel awkward. Because of how fragile your mind is, you feel like you are being punished and forgotten about while dealing with the hardest thing you’ve ever been through.
Suddenly realizing you are an ‘adult orphan’ is a strange place to be. It’s lonely, you don’t meet many people my age who are in the same situation. To help I do little things to honor them, I wear my mom’s wedding ring ever day and a locket with a photo of them both. I always have lilies in the house as they were her favorite, pink ones though, not white, she hated white lilies! I play my dad’s songs that I remember he used to put on as loud as possible in the car with me. For the last six months, I’ve seen two robins every day in our garden and while I’m not one for believing lots of things, but the fact there are two, I tell myself it’s them, checking on me and my babies.
My ending point, due to our rule that we are always honest and open with Olive, as we want her to be able to trust us always as my parents always were with me, while this was so painful for her, she was prepared and supported. A week after mom died, Olive said to me, ‘I’m sorry mom, you’re very young to have no mom and dad, but that’s life. But I’m here whenever you feel sad and need a cuddle’. For a 7 year old, that’s the thing I needed to hear.
So, for people who are in the position I am, I just want to let you know, you don’t have to pretend to be ok, you don’t have to put on a brave face and say you’re fine. Whether it was a month ago or ten years ago, it’s ok to still feel that grief and loss. It’s ok to cry and feel that raw pain like it was yesterday. You’ll never get over it, you’ll just find a way to live with this change in your life and that’s ok.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kate by Surrey, UK. Follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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