A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is guest post written by Nicola Murray
Nic Murray is an ex-colleague of mine who I think the world of. Soon after my wife died she wrote to me to offer the best kind of reassurance that I could ask for – that it’s possible for a child to lose a parent and still grow up happy, secure and fulfilled. In this post Nic, 29 and currently living in Stoke Newington, bravely opens up about losing her dad to suicide at just nine years old. It would have been his birthday today and I’d really like to thank Nic for marking the date by sharing her story.
Today, 27th May, marks my dad’s 73rd birthday.
Sadly I don’t remember the last time I said ‘happy birthday’ to him as he passed away on 7th September 1993. I was nine, I’m now 29. The day my dad took his own life sticks in my head like nothing else. I can recall the moment I walked through the door from a regular school day with my mum and older brother (he was 14 at the time) at about 4pm that Tuesday. I remember seeing his body (through no wish of my mum’s), the police turning up, my brother in the street screaming his heart out, my mum shouting for help to cut the rope.
We stayed at my auntie’s for the following few days. Lying in my cousin’s bed that night I didn’t sleep. There were no curtains and through the window I saw this bright white light in the sky coming closer and then fading away. I believe this was my dad’s spirit leaving us.
Growing up I regularly went to church but as I moved up to secondary school and was forced into a sweaty classroom to learn R.E. for two hours a week, I started to question my faith. If God was this almighty ‘power‘ then why did He take my dad? Why did He let that happen? It might be a naive line of questioning but I’ve always asked it. I lost my religious beliefs but I would occasionally go to church, particularly at Christmas, as this would make my mum happy – and that’s all I’ve wanted to do. Just make mum happy. Growing up, I’ve experienced her pain and all I have ever wanted to do is take that away.
I don’t remember going back to school really. I know my buddies had been told so they were just smiles and hugs on my first day back after a month. A few did ask questions and I’ve since had that awkward conversation throughout life.
‘What does your dad do?’
‘Are your parents still together?’
I’ve always been proud of how open and honest I am about what happened to my dad. I could talk about it ’til the cows come home.
We had counselling sessions just after my dad died but they were so clinical. We had to visit a woman’s office, look at grey walls and sit on uncomfortable chairs. I took to it more than my brother but generally it wasn’t for us.
The main way I have dealt with dad’s death is accepting that I don’t really know any different. All I know is having Mum, not Mum and Dad.
I have a handful of memories, which I can recall: my dad taking me to Chessington for a father & daughter day out; a family holiday to Florida visiting all the theme parks and MINNIE MOUSE (!); the last family holiday we had in the south of France – my first memory of using a camera to take a photo of what would be the last ever family snapshot. Sometimes the emotion of growing up having lost my dad has got me through difficult moments but actually, sometimes it has been incredibly frustrating.
Sometimes I would think I’d seen him in the street. A guy just like him walking towards me, I’d start to shit myself and then he’d get closer and I’d realise it definitely wasn’t him. It barely happens these days but at school it happened quite regularly. Some mates would complain about their dads or tell me about arguments they’d had. During my teens and early twenties I’d scream inside, ‘At least you have a dad to argue with’. It was a big battle I had with myself. I didn’t want to think it but I couldn’t help it. Sometimes I’d be vocal about it, which didn’t help, other times I’d just keep it to myself and get over it. Now, I’m over it.
On the other hand, losing my dad has helped me. One thing I always remember is competing in cross-country at school – as I would get closer to the finish line I’d use a strength within me to push myself. In my head I’d say ‘do this bit and you’ll get to see him’. Of course I knew that wouldn’t happen but it helped.
My love for music also came from him…Johnny Cash, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, Blondie. He was into proper rock n’ roll and these days I often play his old vinyls. Little treasures like these make me feel much closer to him. There are also things that happen on anniversaries that I like to think are my dad watching over us or making himself known. A tree caught fire in our garden one year, an entire hurricane the next, a bloomed flower another. It take these all as little signals.
Mum still lives in our family home where my dad died. This sometimes shocks a people but it was her decision that we stayed there. Family photos line the walls and coffee tables so my dad still has a real presence. This has really helped keep his memory alive and despite usually having a terrible ability to remember, I could tell you what he looks like, the sound of his voice and how tall he was.
Now my brother and I are older and living our own lives, the time is getting closer for mum to consider selling. That day is going to break all our hearts but we’re prepared. In some ways it will be the start of a new chapter we never really had.
Mum has never had a new partner, another decision of hers. However, in recent years I felt she might be missing that side of life and I’d be up for her having a new fella. We’ve discussed it before though and she’s happy on her own. Besides, she is so independent and is so devoted to Harrods that no man could ever compete with her valuable shoe shopping time.
Only in recent years have I started to ask more questions about what my dad was like, how my parents met, where he grew up. When I was younger, Mum would sometimes tell me anecdotes but as a teenage girl I was more interested in boys and makeup than hearing her stories. This has changed in the last ten years or so as I’ve taken more of an interest.
I’ve been spending more time with my dad’s side of the family and getting the low down from them. That’s been pretty cool but has also offered some reality checks. My dad was depressed, that’s why he died. My dad’s mum took her own life too, depression runs in my family. I only ever met one grandparent growing up. Sadly they all died before I was born and my dad’s dad passed away when I was just seven.
I’ve always wanted to channel my experiences into a charity. This year I came across one called the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) (click link to view). Suicide is the biggest killer in young men and CALM exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. They offer support to men who feel shit or in a crisis.
As life goes on and my two nephews and niece grow up (they are between the ages of three and eight) it’s important to me that I continue to keep my dad’s memory alive for them. I don’t really know what I’m doing but it seems to be working. I’ll be there for them through the cycle of their questions and make sure they feel strong enough to talk about it open and honestly when their mates ask.
We’re a close family but not without our trials and tribulations. Some stemming from the loss of my dad, others being general family woes. What I can say is that growing up without a dad is hard, growing up without a dad because he killed himself is even harder. But with a loving family, and incredibly devoted mum, who is so strong it sometimes takes my breathe away, I can definitely get out of bed smiling and see the brighter side of life.
Happy Birthday Dad, I love you lots.
Love, your Nicolina x