A year after the death of her father, Sophie White writes him a letter for Father's Day
Two words in and I already passionately hate this letter. I agreed to write it and I resolved to make it a tribute to you but in reality it is all about me. I guess this is because, in a way, I'm all that's left of you. I'm your only daughter. I look like you. During the time that you were dying, your body wasting, our faces somehow seemed to merge. The morning after your death I looked in the mirror and thought for a spilt second it was you. With the thought came first, relief and then pure sickening terror.
The relief was, of course. that you weren't gone after all. That when they'd stuffed your mouth with cotton and strapped your jaw and drew the sheet up over your head, it had all been a mistake. The relief that I could go and sit in the airless room – a room I thought I hated – where you had dwelled (I refuse to call it living) for years and sit by you again was so profound that for a moment I felt weightless. Then the terror swept through me, terror that you were back locked inside that dying head with not one single pleasure left in this world and all because I just wanted more time.
After a long illness everyone talks about the release of death. Well, f*ck that.
I suspected that writing to you would be a bit of a downer. I don't know why I signed up to it because the truth is that a year on I can barely think about you let alone talk or write about you, not without the death-grip of guilt tightening around my throat. It's gross and self-indulgent but every time I think of you, the guilt stirs and creeps back into my body polluting my every thought, even the thoughts of the happy days I spent with you.
I cannot bear to think of us together in the days before, when the word Alzheimer's was a distant thing, a thing that had nothing to do with us. It was for other people. Old people. You were neither other or old. You were my dad. My dad who wrote exclusively in pencil, loved dark chocolate and red wine, who could wear a hat like nobody else, who was devoted to working on his tan and owned every CD and record in existence.
You were tall and broad and left handed. You could dive well. You swam and read very very slowly. You could sing and play cards. You were silly, and good at accents, you held me when I was a baby. You taught me to eat, talk, laugh, walk, cycle, drive, cook, swim and appreciate a serious piece of cheese. You loved to entertain people but you also needed to be alone quite a lot. You were talented and you loved other people's talent. You were generous. You loved my mother and me.
I hate what became of us.
Sometimes, I try to visit the past. I think of a certain beach in a certain light, on a certain day. I love this place because it once contained you. I cannot go there too often though because it really hurts me. That's the thing, grief really, really hurts. I cannot go to this place or think of our happy days without the knowledge of what I will do to you in the years to come. The wall that I built to keep you out as you got sicker and sicker. I try to tell myself that it was self-preservation and it was, but it doesn't change the fact that I hate myself.
I love you. I didn't deserve you. I let you down and I truly, madly, deeply hate myself since you're gone.
I suppose with this letter I want to say I'm sorry.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
These were the last words I said to you on the day you died. All day long, whenever we were alone, I spoke them into your ears and whispered them to your hands. In the last moments of your life, I hugged you and called out these words, I shouted them, head buried in your chest, printing them indelibly on your heart. (I hope.)
I'm sorry. I love you, I miss you.
PS My younger baby looks just like you now and I love this. It is so fab to see your smile again.