First of all, let me start this post by saying that I promise that not all of my posts from now on are going to be depressing!

Earlier this week, the 18th of March, was the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death. Rather like his death itself, it didn’t come completely out of nowhere, so it wasn’t a shock to the system as such. Combined with my ongoing separation from my partner of nearly ten years, however, it did get me thinking about grief, and specifically how I deal with it. I’m certainly no stranger to death or loss, but I do think that I’ve been ‘luckier’ than some in this regard.

I expect like most people, my first experience and memory of death came during my childhood – my “Nana”, my grandmother on my Mum’s side, died when I was 11 years old. Nana’s husband, known as Ganga to most of our family, had died long before I was born, and I remember visiting her house occasionally with my Mum. She had a housemate called Peggy who, if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, smoked like a chimney, and she always used to serve her cups of tea and coffee in those brown glass cups that seem to be coming back into fashion nowadays.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and a man standing in their front garden, the man is holding a small child.
Nana and Ganga, yesterday

I don’t remember going to her funeral, although I would assume that I did. I also don’t recall feeling any particular emotions about her death.

Within two weeks of Nana’s death, my Grandad (on my Dad’s side) passed away. My overriding memories of him are of him sat in his armchair at home, lighting up his pipe, and doing that thing that pipe smokers do where they move their bottom lip up and down to take puffs from the pipe. Oh, and memories of him sitting with my Dad at The Belvidere pub (which was right next door to the secondary school I ended up going to) every afternoon, in their usual spot. I would occasionally go there of a weekend or in the school holidays and sit with them.

A sepia-toned photograph of two people, a man and a woman, standing in front of a British public house called The Crown Inn.
Grandad, with his wife, Nora (Norn, to everyone else)

I don’t remember his funeral either, nor feeling anything in particular about his passing. Given the short time period between them, I expect that even if I did remember them they would bleed into each other.

My next experience of death was of the animal variety, with Odie, the family dog, being put to sleep while I was away from home with my College on a trip to Disneyland Paris in 2001. It was around the time of my Mum’s birthday, because I distinctly remember calling my Mum to wish her a happy birthday, and her breaking down in tears on the phone.

A photograph of a black and brown (almost tortoiseshell) dog, standing on grass.
Odie, my best friend as a kid

For the whole rest of the trip, I thought her tears were because I’d remembered to call her on her birthday, but when I got back Mum and Dad gave me the bad news. Odie had been suffering from a heart murmur for a little while, so it was the best thing for him, but I still wasn’t particularly upset about his passing. I was more upset at my Mum’s obvious discomfort.

It was at this point that I started to wonder if my response to death was… normal, for lack of a better word. Friends of mine had experienced deaths in their family and they were affected much more strongly by them, and I started to wonder if I was “right in the head”.

Changing things up a little bit, my next experience of grief was in 2005, when the relationship between me and my first wife, Emma, catastrophically imploded and I asked her to leave while I initiated a divorce. This was a different kind of grief, of course, and I felt more upset about this than I did about the deaths described above. I guess this makes sense, in hindsight. My divorce, by its very nature, was of a far more personal nature compared to the family bereavements of people that, in all honesty, I wasn’t that close to.

But even so, within a few weeks I was as right as rain, and back to wondering whether something was disconnected in my brain that made me process grief very differently to other people.

Since then, there have been numerous other deaths in the family.

Norn (my grandmother on my Dad’s side) died shortly after I got divorced (or before, I can’t actually remember!) and, as with Odie, I was more distressed at seeing my Dad upset than I was at her actual death. I think that was because my Dad very rarely showed any kind of emotion, so it was shocking to see him visibly break down. It was the first time I’d seen him do what ended up becoming his “tell” for being upset, his bottom lip would start to visibly quiver and he would try his best not to let it get the better of him, to varying degrees of success.

One of my cousins, Stephen, died at a tragically young age (early 40s I believe) and although I didn’t feel upset at his death, looking back on it at my current age (40!) it does rather bring into sharp focus the idea that you have no idea whether tomorrow will be your last day on this Earth. Carpe diem, and all of that.

Not too long after Stephen’s death, his mother Alwyn (my auntie, and my Dad’s sister) passed on. I was never particularly close to her (or Stephen for that matter) but I had fond memories of Alwyn (or, Auntie Oll as she was known) ‘babysitting’ me as a kid. On one particular occasion, I remember playing Alley Cat on their IBM PC. I don’t know which model it was, but the bright pink, blue and black graphics (EGA?) are indelibly burned into my brain.

A screenshot of the game Alley Cat from MS-DOS, with bright pink, blue and black graphics.
Alley Cat, on MS-DOS

Since getting together with Jem, I’ve experienced more death. When I first met her, I was the proud owner/parent of a British Shorthair cat, Nutmeg, and Jem was the equally proud owner/parent of three cats, Hex, Fudge and Crumble.

Of those four, only Crumble is still alive and kicking (and is nearly 15 years old!) and we’ve also seen other cats come and go during the tenure of our relationship: Pixel, Ozymandias and Luka, and multiple rabbits (Bramble, Peanut and Flopsy) and guinea pigs too (Spot and Stripe are two, I’m not very good at remembering the names of the others though)

None of these deaths particularly affected me and, as is a common theme by now, I was more perturbed by the upset of others (in this case Jem) than any upset that I felt myself. Even my vet, when they asked me to come in to their surgery to see Nutmeg one final time after she passed away under a general anaesthetic, was surprised at how unemotional I was about the whole affair.

And so we come to my Dad’s death, just over a year ago. As mentioned right at the start of this post, it didn’t come as a shock. He had been ill for some time, having had a stroke about 10 years ago. He was a heavy smoker right up to the end, a heavy drinker (although admittedly not as heavy towards the end, I think his body definitely started to rebel in the end!)

Since his stroke, and in fact even before then, he started to lose considerable weight. In his younger years, when I was a kid, I used to see Mel Smith on the TV and be reminded of my Dad:

My Dad, on a cable car

He’d been in and out of hospital numerous times over the past few years, and each time my brothers and I thought that this might be “the one”. Somehow he always battled through, but this final time, he just couldn’t.

I thought that his death would affect me harder. Particularly because I was in the room with him when he took his last breath. I wouldn’t say I was super-close to my Dad, but for obvious reasons I was closer to him than members of my family that were more “on the periphery” as it were, so I expected his passing to generate more emotion.

Alas, again, as happens every time, the majority of my emotion came from seeing other people upset, particularly my Mum when we broke the news to her.

I’ve recently started undergoing counselling with a therapist in Telford, ostensibly to talk about my impending separation and divorce, but to also try and get to the bottom of some of the lesser-desired aspects of my personality. This apparent inability to feel grief in the ‘usual’ way is one of them. I’ve often wondered if it is because of my Dad that I am this way, his stoicism in the face of pretty much everything life threw at him must have rubbed off on other people, right?

I guess I’ll find out over time if I become more emotionally charged towards death and other loss. Hopefully not something I have to experience too often, but as time marches ever forward and my own wick burns ever lower, it seems likely that I will.

Christ, I know this has been a depressing read, but what a depressing note to end on, eh, readers?