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Monday, 12 November 2012

ten years ago

i am the eldest of three children. my brother lives in london, my sister round the corner from me in manchester. this morning my alarm went off at 5am. i got out of the bed in the spare room at my brothers house and drove the 197 miles to my house. all before work. ten years ago it was different. ten years ago i answered a phone call around 6am. my brothers voice cracking with emotion simply said "em, dads dead". it was a heart attack. he was 57. 

numb i clung to my boyfriend who held me while i reeled from the shock sobbing. he not only went with me to work that morning (i insisted i needed to go in for an hour clinging to the daily normality, blissfully unaware how unrealistic that was) but he drove us to the airport. dad lived in spain. none of us were with him when he died. now all three of us started our journey heading only towards saying goodbye.

by nightfall all of us had congregated at his home. dad was still there. no longer in his bed but in a box at the foot of it. it's a cliche to say but he really did look like he was sleeping. he had been dressed in clothes i had never seen him wear before but i was assured that was what he would wear to relax around the house. i realised i was more used to seeing him in a suit not the relaxed moroccan inspired get up he was now heading to eternity in. i stood and stared trying to take in the enormity of it all. finally left alone, i talked to him. i honestly can't remember what i said. the following morning each of us went in to say our goodbyes. that was when i told him how i felt about him, how much i loved him and would miss him. how sorry i was that we had never got to do some of the momentous father daughter things together like walking down the aisle. i told him i would miss never hearing his father of the bride speech. a mercedes arrived to take him to the funeral home. a brand new car, he was the first one to ride in it, we decided he would have liked that. 

the next few days were a whirl of arrangements. each of us wanting to contribute to the farewell that would be the funeral. i contributed a poem that was writen on a folded piece of paper that i picked up when i grabbed my passport that fateful morning. we busied ourselves with making the order of service, talking through stories for the eulogy, meeting with the clergy that would preside at the service, buying clothes to wear (in our haste to arrive in a different county none of us had thought to pack our sunday best). we made arrangements for cars, flowers and food. we made phone calls and gave directions. we stood tall and gave him a send off he would have loved, one that we thought was fitting. we said our goodbyes and drank our toasts until the early hours of the morning.  

a week after i received the phone call i arrived back home. the whirl of activity giving way to the silence of my own home. in the space of a month we had celebrated our mum re-marrying and buried our dad. it was all a little too much to take in. i spent a week at home before heading back to the working routine.  the words that spoke to me were uttered when i went back to work. spoken to me over the phone by the wife of a work colleague. she told me "life will never be the same again but you can decide if it defines you or if you go on with life". she was right. life never would be the same again. her words echoed into me as i went about my daily tasks. around the six month mark i decided that i had to try and go on with my life, that dad would not have wanted his death to define me, he would have wanted me to live my life.

you see dad lived his life. at times to me it felt as if he was larger than life. he was 6'2" tall, to me a man of imposing stature and impressive looking. he is the only man i know who would have thought about wearing yellow "rupert the bear" style trousers with a red shirt, he got away with it, just. he loved to laugh and would often start conversations with us by asking "do you know any jokes?" he was thrilled when we did but if we didn't he would have a new one to tell us before he would launch into "have i told you one about?" and dig into his story repertoire. most storytelling nights were accompanied with a glass of something, many a night that glass would turn into another and another. some of my most cherished memories are of dad with his brother and their kids playing games (usually snooker), telling stories and the laughter becoming louder and louder. there was the routine to life too. swimming every saturday and church every sunday. dad's storytelling would come to the fore there too. i remember him standing in our childhood church silhouetted by a large window, holding open his black leather bound bible and telling the story of a young girl who asked her mother why her hands were so gnarled and ugly. he eloquently described a mothers love for her daughter; the story of how in a house fire the little girls crib had caught fire and she put her hands into the flames to rescue her daughter. the little girl examining her mothers hands with new eyes exclaimed "mother what beautiful hands you have". our parents shared their faith with us. through that example i found my faith. they separated when i was eleven, my brother ten and my sister two. for a while relations were not quite as convivial as they once were with dad. as we grew older we appreciated each other more. there is a history of men dying young on my dads side of the family (pete and jimmy we still miss you too). as each funeral was attended we could no longer justify the rift that had appeared. dad often remarked that if he had known that all he had to do was to retire and live in spain to get all his kids visit him at once he would have done it years ago. we shared many a happy time there all together. 

i don't have children of my own but my brother and sister do. they have spoken in the past of their sadness that dad did not meet his grandchildren. many a day i see him in them. i see him in lola's concentration and determination. i see him in betsy's athletic ability. i see him in fleur's ability to put together a brightly coloured outfit, just so. i see him in gloria's need to sit away from the crowd for a little with her own thoughts before she rejoins the fun. i see him in finlay. well, when we call fin "mini richard" we are referring to my brother but really he is dad's mini me too. lenny is only ten months old but judging by his infectious giggle i think he might grow into that large laugh. lets hope he becomes a storyteller too.

and what about his kids? dad was a hardworking, ambitious man. he was quick to encourage whether it be on the football pitch or sat down quietly drawing. he loved music, he played his organ by ear having only had minimal lessons when he was young. the advice that he gave was insightful and knowledgeable. he wanted the best in life and he showed us he was not afraid to go out and get it. he was a large character with a sometimes quick temper but who also needed to sit quietly and ponder. i think he would be proud of us all. we each embody parts of his character. my brother has his own company, my sister designs, makes and sells handbag sized solutions for keeping kids occupied and i show off my images and write in this space. i think he would have loved our creativity. i know all of us would love for him still to be around for us to share all that has happened these last ten years.

there is no grave in the uk for us to visit. no physical place for us to go to meet dad and have a chat on a day like today or on any other day. i may not have got to say goodbye to him but i know through the faith we both shared i will get to see him again someday and i know he is going to have some great new stories to tell. i can't wait.

Richard Robertson Trail Buchanan
16.12.1944 - 12.11.2002


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