Father's Day for the fatherless

Amanda Cassidy on love and loss this Father's Day.


The last Christmas we spent together was like all those that came before it. We bickered over the Milk Tray, we teased my sister about her love life and we all got slippers for dad, again. We stretched out on the couch in front of the fire, full of turkey and cheese and joy and just enjoyed being together – in our own quirky, chaotic way.

Later, the same night, my sister got engaged. Four nights later, my father died.

The shock of death is a very strange thing. The shock of death that comes just after extreme joy is even more tumultuous. In the fog of sleep, the shouts in the night for an ambulance are quite similar to the shouts of happy revellers. But the party was over. My sister’s ring sparkled spitefully as she pumped my father’s chest in vain. The paramedics sliced the decorative holly that wound up the stairs in order to get the plastic stretcher down. I remember the sadness on their faces.

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"I welcome the chance to feel sad about all the things he didn’t get to do. All the songs he didn't get to sing."

We buried him on a wet New Year’s day under a rainbow. I wondered if he was the only one in the graveyard wearing Rudolf slippers.

Father’s day is bittersweet. A reminder of what you don’t have. I throw myself into helping the children make cards for their own dad. Glitter and paper hearts, sticky glue and millions of pencil smudged kisses. I spent time telling them stories of their granddad and how he loved to sing. I hum his song. Yes, the tears still spring up. Good. It is many years since he died but the grief still comes easy. I welcome the chance to feel sad about all the things he didn’t get to do, the little faces who would have loved him so much.

After the rain

Anger comes too. It is underrated when it comes to grief. My father dead at 59 made me furious. I knew, too, that he would be angry at himself for dying – upset that brothers had to walk sisters down aisles. Anger is an easier one to deal with than the piercing ache of sadness.

So we spent our first few father’s day and birthdays without dad, seething with the unfairness of the world. Naturally, that level of rage is hard to maintain, but I flogged it along until two things happened. The first was the birth of the first grandchild – my sister’s daughter, my niece. It is a cliché to say that the joy of birth heals the pain of death, but it is often the truth.

This tiny scrumptious scrap reminded us that the world isn’t always a class-A bitch that steals joy. Sometimes it can be quite unpredictably lovely. Sometimes it can belch out a mewling beauty with warm velvety hands that reach for your face.

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More importantly, her birth reminded us to be happy again.

The second wasn’t as romantic. Sometimes there are worse things than death, and in our case, we had to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start to help someone who wasn’t doing too good. Fresh worry replaced anger and self-pity, and as unpleasant as that was, sometimes you need a less-than-glorious reminder that life goes on.

Slowly, life evolved. It went from leaving an empty seat at the table to honour my father, to a sticky toddler stashing carrots under his cushion. Then some more tiny humans joined our family, some of them even mine.

Paper hearts

Now we were no longer children grieving for our father, we were mothers and fathers determined to give our little ones the best memories possible. Father’s day is now about them faceplanting on their dad in bed on a Sunday morning in June with hand-picked flowers, paper cards and tight hugs.

I recreate the good things and I hold close the not-so-good things because that’s part of my life. Instead of being haunted by Father's Day and other special dad-shaped times, I treasure the memories, I hum his song.

Every year around now, I still allow myself to feel desperately sad that he missed out on so much – all the weddings, all the births, all the Father's days, and most of all, his grandchildren who proudly don their Christmas slippers all year round and who shout ‘hi Grandad’ at rainbows.

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