In this blog, our guest writer Freddy Taylor talks about losing his dad, finding happy memories in a dark time, and the power of writing.
From as early as I can remember I had a feeling, almost like a premonition, that I would be one of those people whose dad would die young. A single small thought that never went away, a voice in the back of my head saying, “it’s going to happen”.
Growing up with that feeling, it couldn’t help but affect my behaviour. I thought about it every day. I began to create a ‘risk of death’ hierarchy for different modes of transport he took: trains being lowest, planes being by far the highest. I always picked up the phone and never flaked on a weekend. I would put stranger’s litter in bins as a trade to protect him. I saved texts from him on every phone I’ve had. I set reminders to resave voicemails he’d left. I took his photo. I worried, endlessly. I hugged him. I kissed him. And I told him I loved him.
So when I got a call from my stepmother at 8:45am on Friday 29th July 2011, explaining that Dad was being transported to the critical care unit in Seven Hills Mumbai hospital for emergency brain surgery after a suspected clot, it was as if my “feeling” was forcing its way into fact. Five days later my father was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour. I was 21.
The writer Saul Bellow once said ‘Losing a parent is like driving through a plate-glass window. You didn’t know it was there until it shattered, and then for years to come you’re picking up the pieces — down to the last glassy splinter.’
The difference for me is that I could see the glass window coming, brace as best I could and huddle together with my family, trying to live every moment before the glass shattered. Over the course of 25 months I witnessed a man I idolised and loved above all else, weaken, deteriorate and drift away.
Throughout that time I began writing down anecdotes, all the moments of hilarity and despair that occur at life’s pressure points. Memories that were too precious to forget. 7 years later I returned to those scribbles, reopened the wound and began expanding them into a chronology.
The result is ‘Don’t Put Yourself on Toast’, a mini memoire I wrote for myself. From shaving Hitler moustaches onto an incapacitated father and inappropriate wine gum tossing competitions in recovery wards, to the solace I found in empty churches and self loathing I felt from squandering precious time. It was my attempt to sculpt in metal a time that I never want to forget, and is a book that tries to capture all the light that shone in a very dark time.
Writing the book gave me so much more than a historical tribute. It was a place I allowed myself to be truly vulnerable, to confront parts of myself I hated. It forced me to recall things that were faint fragments and turn them into memories of hot, searing colour. It pieced parts of him back together. It helped me cope. It gave me permission to grieve years after.
Writing planted flags at places that meant something to me. And allowed me to turn glassy splinters into something wonderful.
So if you find yourself in need of a little help, start small. Pick up a pencil or open ‘Word’, and write down a favourite memory you have of that person. You never know how much help it might bring, or where it might lead.
You can buy Freddy’s book “Don’t Put Yourself On Toast” here: