When Life Has Other Plans

In Body + Soul, Features, Life, Stories by Jessica Jane Sammut

It’s the one-year anniversary of my beautiful father leaving us earthside today. I cannot believe it is a year. It still feels like it happened yesterday, and I am nowhere near getting my head around it.

He was my everything, my incredible dad. For those of you who read my column last year when I lost him, you would have felt my pain. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer years before, yes, but he was well and active and fit, and it was not this that took him in the end.

Instead, we were blindsided by a bout of pneumonia that started off as a cold, turned into a flu and eventually ravaged his body so that he could not fight any longer. The cancer made the fight impossible. It all happened in the space of a matter of weeks. It was so fast, so sudden. I remember telling my mum when he was initially feeling like he had flu, ‘Make sure he keeps seeing the doctor, people die of this.’ Little did I know. Little did any of us know.

I am forever changed. A part of me died with you. And a part of you lives on in the new me.

What makes it harder to bear is that I didn’t get to say goodbye. When we were told he did not seem to be getting better, I left on a flight the next day for London (where I grew up), so I could be with him and perhaps help him convalesce. I had booked to be by his side for a month, but I knew that I might stay longer, depending on how he was. It never entered my mind that I would arrive, and it would be too late. But it was. And as my poor brother broke the news to me at the airport, that the man who was my hero had died four hours before I had landed, my world broke into a million pieces. I hadn’t been there. How was I going to cope without him? I wanted to speak to him again and tell him how much I loved him. I wanted so badly to hold his hand.

It was his time, perhaps. My dad had never wanted to live a life that he could not live to its fullest. He used to say, ‘Life is not about how long you live, but it is what you take from it that counts.’ I know he would not have wanted to have struggled through a long, drawn-out, protracted demise into cancer; he much would have preferred to go out with a bang. Which is what he did, on his own terms, proud and fierce as a lion to the end.

And whether it is an end, or whether he is watching down on me now in some other realm (I hope he is), there is nothing that can change what happened. They say when someone you love dies you go through a journey of emotions, starting with disbelief, and then moving on to sadness, anger and eventually acceptance. On any given day, I can feel all of these at once, so I am not sure how I am doing on the scale, but nor do I care. I don’t think losing him is something I will ever ‘get over’.

But I do love to remember him. The amazing memories are what keep me going. The laughter we had when I was a child, the mischief I got up to as a teenager, the fun, the family traditions, the look on his face when I made him proud, the courage he gave me, the late-night conversations. These are the things I cling to. These are the moments that make the pain more bearable, the deep sense of loss less jagged and the love live on.

As women, we often spend so much time worrying about things being perfect, but as life loves to remind us, it’s a myth to think we are in control. As I have learnt the hard way, it’s the things that come out of nowhere and turn our world upside down like an uncharted meteor, that have the most impact.

Which is why we must make the most of every day, let go of our fears and pay attention to the things that matter. Let’s not pretend we’ve got our sh*t together, because none of us do. All we have are the moments that soon become memories, and it is these that will fuel our fire (and those of our children) as the years pass. Let’s make sure we make this time count. 

Leslie Banks, The Ultimate Rebel