7 years ago today I lost my father to leukaemia.
I’ve wanted to write this for sometime. I’m not entirely sure why, I think catharsis is the goal, I also think misery loves company.
I don’t really remember much from the day my father passed away. Everything comes at me in blocks of memory, rather than one cohesive vision.
I remember it being a damp, wet Saturday, I was in my old Leeds studio with the band Blackwire. It was a small dusty, dark and unassuming place that cost me £15 a month to rent from a band. My mum called me, said I had to come to the hospital as soon as I could. After 18 months of fighting leukaemia, finally finding a marrow donor, and seeing how all of that had taken is very heavy toll on my dad, I knew that this visit to the hospital meant something else. It felt like I was about to walk into something I really didn’t want to be a part of.
I stalled, I finished my shoot, I went to Kwik Fit to get a new tyre put on my car. And finally, I made it to the hospital.
My dad had been lying in intensive care for the past five days, for the last 3 of which he’d being unconscious.
This week was supposed to be a new start for me. I had finally ditched the day job, gone full time as a photographer, and for the first time, the NME printed my name in the masthead. My dad got to see that the day before he fell asleep.
The nurse spoke to me and my mum, and various other family members -honestly, I can’t remember who was there. I barely remember anything from this moment. Like someone took Tipp-Ex to my mind.
The nurse explained something about my dad not ever being able to wake from his sleep. I tried to get my head around that. Not ever? Then she asked me and my mum if we’d allow them to switch off his life support.
The room seemed to spin. I didn’t believe this was happening to me. I thought I was in some shitty soap episode and that someone would yell CUT, and my dad would sit up, and laugh with me.
No, the room didn’t seem to spin, it was spinning, like I was laid out on a fucking roundabout with my head an inch from the ground, and that the ground was covered in shards of glass spiked into the concrete and it was scratching my eyes, and piercing my ears and tearing my flesh.
What do you say to a question like that? I think i fumbled around with some semblance of a question, like “Are you sure that’s all you can do?” Or some other worthless grasp at keeping him alive.
When they turned it off, they said he would live for 10, maybe 15 minutes. All the family had gathered by his bed. My wife, my dad’s 93 year old parents, his sister, my mum, her sister, my cousin, my estranged sister, my niece. All just stood, sat, watching his vitals slowly ebbing, fading, flowing away.
The nurse finally said, ‘I think this is it, Stewart’s pulse is slowing’.
I held my dad. I held him in my arms. I whispered the Lords Prayer to him, I really don’t know why… then I whispered how much I loved him, over and over again. I prayed he could hear me. I prayed my love would keep him alive. I held him tighter and tighter. I sobbed, my tears gently wetting his face. I can still feel his warmth against mine even now.
I didn’t want to let go. If I let go it would be real, if I let go he’d be dead. And he was. My father had passed away in my arms. To this day I don’t know if that was the right thing to do for me. It haunts me. Even now as I wipe away my tears whilst I write this, that moment, the moment I couldn’t save my dad’s life with love alone, weighs so heavy.