This piece is written by Amelia Carr, who is the sister of Joe who blogged for us back in November, writing ‘Losing my father for the second time.’ Amelia wanted to write her piece to show ‘even when you have similar experiences with the same alcoholic parent, it can take you down different routes.’
In April last year, I woke up at my university house in Leeds and could hear the familiar tone of my sister’s voice downstairs. I was confused and thought I was dreaming, as she lives a two-hour drive from me, but as I heard her voice get closer and closer to my bedroom door I realised it was real. Someone had died, and I knew who it was. It’s hard to describe that feeling of absolute dread you get in your stomach when you know your whole life is about to be flipped on its head and you are absolutely powerless to stop it. I sat up in bed as the door opened and her face appeared, she had obviously been crying. “Who’s died?” I asked, which looking back now seemed stupid because I knew what the answer was. I think I just needed to hear her say those words. She covered her mouth and I could see tears in her eyes.“Dad”
It came out like a whisper, like she couldn’t really admit that it was happening at all. “Dad’s died”. She said it again, this time with more force, I think she knew I needed her to. As she came towards me I recoiled.
I didn’t want to be touched and I didn’t want to cry because despite the fact that I felt sick and angry and sad, most of all I felt relieved. And I felt really embarrassed to admit that I felt that way.
I felt relieved because my dad was an alcoholic, and his death was a long time coming. It felt like we were being released from a prison of grief we had been trapped in for 16 years. In the days before his death we had found out he was living homeless on the streets in the city centre. My brother had walked past him on his way to work and spoken to him for a while, trying to get him back into the hostel where he had a room and a safe place to stay. We were all heartbroken. It was a fear we had harboured for as long as I could remember.
Of course, dad wasn’t always an alcoholic. He used to be loving, caring, charismatic and funny. Or so I am told. I don’t really remember him that way, which made his death even more difficult. In the days that followed when we planned his funeral, my older siblings were exchanging happy memories about the time dad dressed up to perform for the family party with my brothers, or when he turned up to the father’s race at sports day in his suit and still won the race.
I had only memories of arguments, him curled up on the bathroom floor screaming because my nana wouldn’t give him another drink, being held hostage with a gun, the tirade of never-ending abuse and neglect we used to get whilst staying with him. If I went through each story it would take a lifetime to tell of each individual time he let us down.
They were all flooding out of the little box I had put them in and I felt powerless to stop them. All of my positive memories were tainted with the fact that by the end of the day the games we started off happily playing would have turned into absolute chaos. They were all significantly older than me, and got to experience him in a way that I never had, and now never would. It broke me. I felt so much anger when they knew what song he wanted to play at his funeral, the way they knew him in a way I couldn’t. I felt angry at him, for robbing me of that. I felt angry at myself for not being able to remember, and most of all I felt SO jealous of them.
My mam tried to console me, when I refused to add any of my own memories into the eulogy, saying that she had lots of nice memories of him with me. Telling me that we used to get up every morning together and watch TV, curled up on the sofa. I can remember this. But the memory is turned sour, because once the alcohol had ensnared him in its grasp, he used these mornings (while nobody else was awake) to drink without any retribution. One morning, when I must have been about six, he got up to go ‘get another coffee’ and didn’t come back. After about ten minutes of searching the house for him, I found him passed out drunk in the kitchen. He was in only a dressing gown, bleeding from the head, and the blood from his wound had mixed in with the bowl of milk for the cat. I must have called for help but I can’t remember anything after that. It’s like a screenshot in my mind. It was a memory that will be etched into my head forever. I can remember knowing then that I had lost him, he was no longer mine, but that he belonged to something else.
As we all grieved, I realised my grief had taken an entirely different route to that of my siblings. I didn’t cry at the funeral, I didn’t want to write a letter to put in the coffin, I didn’t want to see his body, I didn’t want to go with them to spread his ashes, I didn’t want to discuss how happy a family we were in the beginning. Family and friends kept telling me what a great guy my dad had been, how much he loved us, how he was always life and soul of the party.
Even though I knew they were trying to be supportive, I wanted to scream at them.
Everyone around me was grieving for the man he was, separating the two identities – man before the alcohol and man after. But I couldn’t do that, because for me, he had always just been the man after. I felt so guilty and confused. They all seemed so united in their grief and I just didn’t feel the same way.
Grief is such an individual experience anyway, but once that is combined with the complex emotional background of being the child of an alcoholic – it can get even harder to navigate your way out of it.
It is of course a process, and I am now coming to terms with my dad’s death in my own way – accepting that it is so different for each of us, and that that’s ok.
My dad had so many issues that I will never understand, and it took his death for me to realise that so much of the anger I had towards him was misdirected, and some of it was completely understandable. He was mentally ill. I still struggle with all those feelings that I naively thought would disappear when he died – the guilt, the anger, the confusion. But now I feel more able to process those emotions and rationalise them. I can start making sense of all those puzzle pieces of my childhood and fitting them together to get a clearer picture of why I am the way I am, and why that’s ok.
I think the reason I have struggled with finding my own way through my grief is because as siblings, we had always been so united in every aspect of life. We had fought through every battle with dad together, safety in numbers, and here was something that I felt I couldn’t share with them.
Looking back, even as children we all took on an individual role to play and dealt with dad so differently. Joe was caregiver, Beth was warrior, Alex was his confidante and I took on whatever role I could at such a young age. As a child I knew that I could get him to calm down because I was little so he never got as angry with me as he did the others, so in the middle of huge arguments I used to go and calmly sit on his knee to try to get him to stop shouting. I can remember throwing my arms round his neck and holding on tightly because maybe then he wouldn’t stand up and get aggressive, maybe he would stay still and hug me back. It rarely worked, but I tried my hardest. My siblings and I experienced things together that nobody else will ever understand, and that always gave me a sense of safety. They were, and always will be, my safety blanket. They are the one thing I can thank my dad for giving me in life.