Throughout secondary school I was known as ‘the girl whose dad had died’. People may not have necessarily known my name, but they certainly knew that my dad had passed away.
My dad died when I was 12 years old and he was only 47. He was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour in 2006 and after three failed operations to remove it, and several courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he passed away in 2008. He actually passed away 5 days before my 13th birthday, and just to make it even worse, 4 years later, my Nan died on my birthday. Consequently I have always felt I have an extremely unlucky birthday. But anyway, that’s another story.
After the operations, the right side of his body was paralysed, which meant that he had to learn to walk again and gain the mobility in his right arm and hand. Then, as soon as we felt that he was finally getting better, we would have the call saying that the brain tumour had grown once more. My life became a series of making the trips to and from the hospital for his operations and treatments.
As I was so young when my dad was diagnosed, I don’t think I ever understood or grasped the seriousness of his condition. I just presumed that he would be ill for the rest of his life but in actual fact, the operations he had were only to prolong his life for a little bit longer, so he could spend more time with his family. The severity of his condition only really became apparent to me when we received the phone call from the surgeon informing us that there was nothing more that could be done. He was given three months left to live. It was devastating news for the whole of our family, to say the least.
I’ve always been very open about the fact that my dad passed away. In fact, I like to talk about him and what happened. Although it was an incredibly tough time in my life, it made me the person I am today. I did, however, feel like it defined me as who I was as a person. I wasn’t me. I was just the girl whose dad had passed away when she was young.
This definition also followed me through school, and into college, where people were saying to me “you’ve done very well considering what has happened to you”. It was as if I would have done better if my Dad hadn’t died and I was where I was as a result of my dad dying. I can remember when I was younger, it used to infuriate me when people would say that “considering my circumstances”, I was doing very well for myself, that “considering my circumstances”, it was amazing I had managed to avoid going off the rails. Soon, even I started to believe that it was my circumstances that defined who I was as a person. I thought that maybe if my dad hadn’t died I would be a different person and in a different place to where I am.
It was only until I came to university that I suddenly realised that I didn’t have to be defined as the girl who doesn’t have a dad anymore. That didn’t have to be the defining moment in my life that caused me to be who I am now. It was a part of me but not who I was. I could tell people I was comfortable with about my dad and anyone I didn’t feel comfortable telling – well – I didn’t have to tell them!
After his death, although my family unit had changed forever, we became stronger. We will never forget him and he will always be with us. Before he died, he gave me, my sister and my mum a locket each that had a special message from him engraved on the back. I think that was his way of always being with us and a part of our life even after he was gone. It is a constant reminder that he will always be with me, no matter what happens.
Looking back, I have so many happy and fond memories that I will hold dear to me for the rest of my life. He was, and still is, such a massive part of my life and I’ve come to learn that it’s okay to be sad that he’s gone. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be sad all the time, and that I can be happy when I look back and remember the time we spent together. I know that he would not have wanted me to mope about, but to go out and live my life to the fullest I can. My dad wasn’t the kind of person to let something get in the way of living his life, and that’s something he has passed onto me.
At one time, this may have defined me, but now, this is just a part of me: a part of my past, a part of who I am, and a part of where I am now. I know my dad would be proud of what and who I’ve become and where I am in my life.
Don’t let your past become and define who you are; it is not who you are, but a part of who you are.