I turned in bed and so did she. In the direction I was facing, I could see my reflection in the warped mirror on the other side of the room, and that collage of photographs beside it: our faces, smiling, disappearing and reappearing as cars outside disrupted the orange glow of the street-lights that stood outside the window. Not much had happened that day – a Sunday that really felt like a Sunday – my girlfriend and I went shopping, relaxed, watched television and at some point I briefly spoke to my dad on the phone; I was thinking of all of these things as my eyes became heavy and sleep approached, until I got a call: it was my sister, telling me that our dad had had a heart attack and was being rushed into hospital.
Officially he died two days later, on Wednesday evening, when the machines were switched off.
He was just sixty and his massive heart attack – a Myocardial infarction – starved his brain of oxygen for far too long; he was rendered immensely brain damaged and so unable to wake up. To me, and, I suppose technically, he was dead that Sunday evening when I received the text.
Sixty years-old is not an age you attribute to heart attacks; sure, people get them at that age, people get them even younger – the British Heart Foundation state that there is a hospital visit due to a heart attack every three minutes – but for someone like my dad who seemed rather healthy on the outside, it came as a surprise, although, it turns out that that was all it was, healthy on the outside, not the inside: an apple rotten just in its core.
According to my mum, he had always been a heavy drinker – much in the vein of others of his generation – and as their relationship ran through its years, it became more intensive, and bouts of depression (which I’m sure were sometimes both caused and exacerbated by the drinking) led to their eventual separation.
For a while, my mum, sisters and I were homeless, until we were housed in a refuge.
I don’t remember much of my childhood up until the year we left our family home – that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, and I know had some of the most enjoyable years of my childhood in that house, but I can’t help but think that my brain underwent a major repression of almost all of my childhood memories because of all the arguments I heard in the house and the subsequent discomfort I must have felt.
My dad wasn’t an angry drunk, or an evil one, but rather a man victim to bouts of intense, debilitating mental issues that were easier for him to mask than to face head on; the alcohol altered his mind in ways that made us all the victim, although I will never know what actually went on in his head. On the other hand, what it would have done to his body is something I can know for sure. Alcohol irritates and inflames the lining of your stomach, which can lead to ulcers and profuse bleeding; it can quicken the rate at which your bones deteriorate and lose their strength; it can cause what are at first small benign tumors in the colon that can unfortunately develop into potentially pre-cancerous tumours. And, of course, the heart can be very heavily hit, and the raised blood pressure and lipids (fats) can lead to strokes and, to no surprise, heart attacks.
And so, unsurprisingly, his heart attack came; we were then a family rendered lost – gathered together, sure, we had our oars, but our boat remained directionless.
We had all the will in the world to go somewhere, but our somewhere was just that, totally indefinite, undecided. After a while, you begin to piece a life back together without the person you’ve lost. I’ve made made him sound much like an absentee drunk, which he wasn’t – he was only the latter half of that, but there are many stains on the tattered fabric of our lives caused by his behaviour that we just can’t seem to wash off. Nevertheless, almost eight years ago he sobered up and he and my mum remained close friends after what was presumably quite tiring but necessary reconciliations.
Whilst life after he sobered up remained quite inoffensive and pleasant, one couldn’t and still can’t ignore the immense slit of a wound across this family that had been open and exposed for so long, and our subsequent clambering to try to bandage it up – it bled then, still bleeds now, and the effect that his death had after everything we had gone through just made it haemorrhage. No more was this mess apparent than with my grandma, his mother, who was the one who found him comatose on the floor of her pastel-pink bathroom at around ten o’clock; the evening I received the call from my sister. He was his mum’s on-and-off carer (a task now befallen to his brother John) and was living with her to help her get through her days; the house he was raised in from birth was the house he died in.
For her, she was at once both debilitated by not just the tragic sadness of his death, but also by an anger, confused and vitriolic, aimed at God.
Her lifelong and so justly impenetrable faith had its defenses torn down and its walls scaled because her son’s death, which must have been a terrifying thing for her to acknowledge. I heard her more than once ask “why – why, God? Why have you done this?” He loved alcohol, or its effects at least, but his body and brain did not – the former took the real beating, and then just gave up; now we are paying the emotional and, in my grandma’s case, spiritual price.
Yet, regardless of everything, I loved and still love my dad immeasurably – he was one of the funniest, most charming and unique people in my life and easily the kindest person I will ever have the pleasure to know. But he had demons, a lot of them, all of which he kept bottled up in jars in his chest that rumbled and ruptured over and over again during his relatively short life; his treatment was unfortunately self-administered and came in the form of red wine.
Yes, I am still absolutely angry about his death, much more than I am upset, because it’s something that could have been avoided if he hadn’t had such a penchant for glugging poison.
Through everything, then and now, he was and is my dad, and I’m just his son, who, at times, is sad, confused and feeling lost at the thought that if I call his number, there won’t be an answer; and of the last words I heard him speak, over the phone on the day he died, “okay Patrick, I’ll see you soon.”