It was September 2001. The world was in turmoil after the 9/11 events in USA and my dad was in hospital with end stage cancer.
Me and my (then) boyfriend (now husband) were on holiday in Spain as I got the call from my mum. “Dad is in a really bad state and you don’t have time to come back to Sweden.”, she said. I went completely cold, then paralysed with fear. I CAN’T BE ON HOLIDAY WHEN MY DAD IS DYING!
Somehow we managed to get to the airport in Malaga, get the last tickets on the flight to Madrid and onwards to Stockholm. I called my dad as we reached Madrid and he just thought I was being ridiculous for rushing home. During our last leg up to Stockholm, my dad got a lot worse and in order to stay conscious he got the phone book out and called ALL his friends and family to say good bye.
I can’t imagine how it must have felt for the people picking up the phone that day. I mean, what do you say when your friend calls to say goodbye FOREVER? But that was his way, his friends were so important to him and as he had decided that it indeed was the day to leave, he wanted to be nice (I guess) and let everyone have a chance to say their goodbyes.
We reached Arlanda Airport and rushed through the customs. All of a sudden I hear “Karin! HI!!”, and there was my father’s best (and oldest) friend’s daughter. She had been on the same flight as us, and ironically her father was the only person my dad didn’t manage to get hold of on the phone that day.
We stayed with my dad the whole night. I was lying beside him and we were telling stories, recalling memories, giggling and crying. All of a sudden I noticed a shift in his breathing. We gathered around the bed, said our goodbyes and he took his last breath.
My heart broke, like it’s never been broken before. He was my mentor and my guide, and now I had to navigate the world without him. It was odd (and frankly, scary as hell), because he had always been there. And now he wasn’t. I just couldn’t understand how the world could continue without him in it. I saw people going about their daily business, bewildered. How could anyone still think it was important to go grocery shopping, go partying, go to work?
I hurt for two whole years, existing in a burnout blur that no doctor or therapist could help me heal from. No one seemed to be able to put the pieces together – the fact that grief and burnout had very similar symptoms. It was only when an ad caught my eye on the train one day – the Grief Recovery Method – it said. one of those light bulb moments – OMG, it was GRIEF I was suffering from! I immediately bought the book at once, but when it arrived I didn’t dare to read it. So it went in to hiding in my book shelf.
Instead of getting more help, I brushed it off and started changing the outer issues of my life. I left my job, enrolled in a university program, started a summer café and managed to heal in the best way I could. The pain and sadness was pushed deep within, only to surface on special occasions like birthdays and seasonal holidays.
And that’s the thing with people we lose early. They are not only missed because of the past we share, they are also missed because of all the things they won’t be there with us to experience! That has been one of the hardest things for me to get over.
I remember our wedding day, the day of days you want your whole family to be there. My mum had asked my dad before he passed away what advice he had for us when it came to getting married; “Well, they shall walk with their husbands ‘to be’ down the aisle. They are not my property to give away, so I wouldn’t be doing that.”, he said. Now that I was standing there, knowing what he had said, I felt less burdened but yet tremendously sad that he wasn’t there in person.
He had also expressed a wish to have grandchildren one day, so when I got pregnant with Ingrid my heart started aching again. He wouldn’t be there to see his first grandchild being born. But after we got Ingrid’s terminal diagnosis I felt so relieved that my father would be there to greet her and take care of her when the time came for her to leave.