My dad’s alcohol use got worse through my teens as he moved in with his partner, who herself was/became an alcoholic, and my relationship with him suffered badly. It’s hard to connect meaningfully with someone who is drunk whenever you interact, and he was drunk almost every time we stayed with him while we were in secondary school. On the odd occasion he was sober, I got along with him very well. We had similar senses of humour and enjoyed spending time together.
Generally spending time with them was horrible and their house was disgusting. My sister and I wouldn’t eat anything prepared there, use the toilet and eventually wouldn’t even sit down other than on our jackets/bags on the sofa. Living with an alcoholic parent is also embarrassing - any time spent with him/them and other people was always embarrassing as no one else ever behaved like they did. It was a real sign of his problem that he couldn’t contain his drinking to private situations or when he was at home.
After his death I was just in total shock. We never believed that this would happen, we had never even considered it. His decline between first being admitted to hospital in October and dying in March was so rapid we didn’t have time to get used to the idea. I still haven’t found the words to describe how I felt after that. Devastated probably comes closest but still doesn’t go anywhere near capturing it. Our uncle (dad’s brother) said he felt like a part of himself had been lost, which I think is quite a good description. When I think about what happened, I get a feeling that is sometimes so strong it feels like a real physical force in the room.
His funeral was 2 weeks after his death. It was a terribly sad day - I cried from the first moment of the service to the last - but also got some comfort as there were many special moments with family and friends brought together, despite it being such a sad occasion. Soon after the funeral I went back to uni as my exams started 6 weeks later. I channelled a lot of energy through studying and found throwing myself into studying helped me deal with how I was feeling.
The contribution of alcohol left me feeling angry, which is probably common. To not die, all he had to do was stop drinking but he wouldn’t. That’s such a frustrating thought and everyone who deals with a preventable bereavement probably experiences something similar. It’s also sad to think that he had demons or problems that were so hard to deal with that he didn’t feel like he could do anything but drink- the angry thoughts often turn to a sadness for him because of this. There’s also a huge amount of regret; regret that we didn’t know what would happen and that we didn’t do more to stop him drinking.
Family and friends were very important in dealing with the loss. A lot of people contacted us to offer support, often people we weren’t hugely close with, and their support and wishes made a massive difference. I really found kindness a great counter to the sadness. Some of these moments were truly special and ones I cherish.
A close bereavement is the biggest test of character many will have faced when losing their first parent and it’s impossible to know how you will deal with it. It was a such a sad time for all the family but I always felt like letting the death do damage that could be prevented would be one final blow to my dad, myself and our relationship. I wanted to deal with it as positively as possible and using that approach I just did the best I could. I think people are stronger than they give themselves credit for. The sadness doesn’t go away, but it definitely makes you stronger and with time you become more able to deal with it.
Having this kind of experience gives you an insight that other people don’t have, including many young people who are lucky enough to have two living parents. I have used my experience and insight to help friends who have suffered difficult circumstances since then, particularly bereavements but also depression. Every situation is different but there are some things in common that I’ve used to form really strong connections with people who are having tough times of their own. This has also helped me find some peace with his death.
The sadness itself hasn’t really changed after nearly four years. It still hurts and is just as painful. I still haven’t come to terms with how we (myself, himself and the rest of the family) let him drink to the extent he did. Thoughts of his death have decreased steadily and don’t dominate any more, which is a natural part of the grieving process. A sadness like this is obviously painful but it is so pure and simple that it is kind of beautiful in its own way. Sadness is also the best connection I have left with him, and I cherish it in a strange way. Another important thing to come from his life and death is the lesson we have all learned; alcohol is a very dangerous drug and society doesn’t treat it with enough respect. I am determined that I won’t let the same thing happen to any other friends or family members in the future.