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Those Old Familiar Strangers

It was the beginning of the new term, September 2006. I had just returned to Royal Holloway from one of the most difficult periods that my life will surely bear. My dad had died.

15th August 2006: I remember it vividly. I knew he was dying but I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see him alive. I entered the ward and he was asleep, curled up in the oversized hospital bed. He looked so vulnerable. I asked the patient in the bed next to him to say I had popped by when he woke. On that last time I didn’t even get to speak to him. Before I left I paused and looked. I can remember every exact detail; every intake of breath, his exact position in the bed. He looked so ill but he seemed so comfortable and peaceful, it is something I shall never forget. This is how I choose to remember him and not how I saw him a few days later, grey and motionless – dead. He was in hospital for seven days. Admitted on a Thursday, informed he was dying on the Monday, dead by the Thursday. I don’t know long it takes to prepare for death, but I do know seven days is not enough.

I didn’t comprehend it straight away. As I was registering his death, organizing the funeral and carrying on with my own life, the true gravity of it hadn’t struck me. In the weeks which followed I had an almost blasé demeanor. I returned to Holloway and casually shrugged it off and hid behind the old ‘stiff upper lip’. People get uncomfortable about death and don’t want to talk about it, university is meant to be fun, right? I tried to act as normally as possible and to be honest, it wasn’t too hard. It hadn’t ‘hit home’.

My mum cautioned that his death would one day hit me, and it finally did. It was the day before my twenty-first birthday a few weeks into term and I was opening some cards from my family. In a split second it hit me that I wasn’t going to get a card from my dad this year. I wasn’t going to get a card from him ever again. I could never speak to him again. I could never reconcile our differences. It hurt like I have never felt before. It was a pain where in a single second I realized that our past together was all too often painful, a land of wasted opportunities and a lack of love. The present felt like a perpetuating hell of loss and emptiness, and the future was going to be something that shall never be, not with him at least. My world imploded. I didn’t have a dad anymore. I didn’t feel like I had one when he was alive, but now it was absolute. It was a horrible realization of loss, emptiness, envy of people with dads, but also anger. I broke down. I was alone and hours away from the safety of home. The claustrophobia of Egham and campus melted away and there was no one there – and to be honest I didn’t want there to be. I was sitting alone, crying.

Later that day I went into Staines and visited the Cinema. It helped me clear my head and gave me some sense of normality after a very weird morning! I returned to the house that evening and just spent the evening alone in my room watching TV. The next day was better, as was the next, and the next. Eighteen months on and it still lingers in my mind each day. Will it go away? Who knows? All I know is I will be forever tainted by the knowledge that I didnÂ’t reconcile with my dad before he died. I didnÂ’t confront him about pain he caused me and my family. Some days this plays on my mind, and walking around campus I seem sad. Some days I donÂ’t think about it at all, and I have a good day, and seem happy.

Those old familiar strangers, the stories they could tell. Some days in heaven, some days in hell. We all walk around campus and see the same faces staring back at us. Sometimes these familiar strangers seem happy, and sometimes they seem sad. Each time, and with every face, there is a story to tell. This story is just one of mine. WhatÂ’s yours?

If you would like to contact the author of this article, please email sirchewson@yahoo.com.

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