Bad news mushrooms

One day back in 1999, I was cutting up some mushrooms to add to a curry. The small apartment I lived in with a roommate was in Cardiff (UK); the smells of every previous tenant hung in the air like pungent ghosts just waiting to enter my soul through my nose.

Life wasn’t going too badly; I had a new girlfriend, was in a new job and didn’t really have much in my mind besides thinking about the movie we were going to see that Friday night.

The phone rang and it was my mum. She told me my dad had had a heart attack. As usual with bad news, I’m actually quite up-beat; there’s always room to stay calm and deal with a problem. I said “ok wow, is he ok” and she said “no, he’s dead”.

It’s funny now when I think back to that moment, it’s like when you jump high on a trampoline and right at the top of your arc, you’re so momentarily outside of time and space. All sounds evaporate, all focus is on the phone you’re holding, all plans revoked.

In that moment, I had 3 questions that have stayed with me until today:

  1. How do people ever get over this? Surely there is no going forward, how can I smile or be anything ever again now this hole is in my heart?
  2. How did I not see, until this exact moment, all the little amazing things my Dad did for me? All the long walks and chats and silly jokes.
  3. How hard must it be to tell your son that his Dad has died, over the phone, hundreds of miles away and unable to do anything? When you’ve just seen him die, when you tried to resuscitate him (my mom was an ER nurse)?

The obvious next month involved a funeral, a bizarre wake (that’s another post …) and then the obligatory return to work.

The office can be an odd place when in grief. Co-workers have a hard time navigating what to do with you; act normal? play the sympathy card? say inane helpful things like “if there’s anything I can do ….”? One co-worker had literally the weirdest, yet best, thing to say to me:

“well look at it this way .. at least it can’t happen again”

He probably didn’t realize the possible insensitivity in that comment, but right away I felt better, it was seriously the most important thing to think about, the one silver lining when anything bad happens — I had one Dad, now he’s dead .. ergo, can’t happen again!

Next time you’re around someone who has lost a loved one, don’t be afraid to reach for that silver lining, don’t fear that you’ll make them feel worse; believe me they already feel as bad as they can ever be. Have courage to be their friend and go with their flow.

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