Five years ago today my life changed forever. At about 8.10pm on Tuesday 24th May 2016, after watching EastEnders (which he did religiously), my Dad had a heart attack at home and passed away. Whilst he hadn’t been well for a couple of months – none of us expected him to go so suddenly. That said – looking back with hindsight at things that had happened in the weeks leading up to that moment – perhaps he knew.
The last time I saw my Dad was about a month earlier. I had been living in Devon and was on the cusp of moving here to Littlehampton. On this particular weekend my Aunt and Uncle were visiting from Canada and I wanted to see them. After an unexpectedly late night on the Friday (that’s a whole other story) I drove back to Warwickshire later than planned on the Saturday. That evening after dinner we (being my Mum, Dad, brother, sister in law and me) were sat in the living room when the conversation turned to music. Out of know where my Dad told us what song he wanted played at his funeral. Knowing he wanted to be cremated … we found his choice of Smoke gets in your eyes, sung by The Platters, to be most amusing and teased him about how smoke would be getting in more than just his eyes …
It was gone 11pm on that fateful Tuesday when my Mum rang me to tell me that my Dad had died. Although we believe he’d gone at home – an ambulance was called and he was taken into hospital. Mum had just got home and started to make the calls to update us all. After the first bout of tears subsided – the first thing I did was listen to that song. His wishes were fulfilled and he was taken into the chapel to this playing on the day of his funeral. Two years later when Michael Ball did my Family Album on his Radio 2 show for my 40th – this was also the first song played in honour of my Dad.
In the weeks and months that followed the passing of my Dad I struggled to see which way up was. At the time someone told me that the loss of a parent is one of the most traumatic experiences that you can go through – and my god, they weren’t kidding. None of it felt real – and still now I struggle to comprehend the notion that I’m not going to see my Dad again. At least not in this life anyway.
There are many things that I have to thank my Dad for – my love of gin is one. Another is my love of the natural world. Whilst at the time I probably moaned about it, I can remember sitting down to watch documentaries from the BBC Natural History Unit on the television with him when I was younger. Years later, I can remember how happy he was (or at least seemed to be) when I went to work for the wildlife film maker, Simon King (it had been Simon’s programmes that Dad and I had watched together years before!). It was that love of the natural world that lead me to start both the Global Wildlife Rescue Project and Eco Monkey.
My Dad’s favourite bird was a kingfisher. Back in the days when he worked – Dad used to come home everyday for his lunch. He’d always head back to the office with a little time to spare so he could stop by a bridge near the Mill at Old Milverton. He’d get out of the car to eat an apple and watch the comings and goings on the river – invariably that would include seeing a kingfisher. Years later, when I was living in Devon I used to go and sit by the river in Tavistock. If I was lucky I’d see the electric blue flash of a kingfisher (once I saw two!) – each time I’d always call home straight away to tell Dad I’d seen one. When I moved to Littlehampton I was told that there were some of the river here but it was only after my Dad passed that I got to see them for myself. Each time I see one now I believe it to be the spirit of my Dad checking in on me – I always greet them by saying hello Dad.
It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since my Dad went. Whilst I know he would have preferred his relatively quick exit from this world, I can’t help but wish we’d had a little more time. I wish I could have told him how much I love him, how grateful I am for everything thing that he did for me and I’d thank him for being my Dad.
Tonight I will raise a glass to my Dad – I hope you’ll join me too. Cheers Dad.