An unexpected phone call at work last Monday from my brother Eoin told me that my Dad had a heart attack. The paramedics were on their way.
'I think it's too late', he said.
I hang up and feel like vomiting. My work colleagues try to reassure me that he could pull through. I know that this is it too late, Dad has had too many chances. Another phone call a few minutes later confirms that my Dad, John Russell is dead. I compose myself to call my brother Derek in England for the second time. The call that no one wants to get when they are far from home. I'm glad that his wife is with him when I break the news. I am instantly comforted knowing that my father died at home, surrounded by family. Not many get that privilege.
I go into auto pilot and share a list of 'to-do's' with my work colleagues and refuse their kind offers to drive me home.
I want to disappear.
The busy streets of Newbridge, or the village in Athgarvan do not know that my father is dead. They continue on regardless. I drive home slowly and carefully. I automatically turn on the car radio and immediately feel disrespectful when chart music blares out of the speakers.
I go home and the house feels different. I've been at work all weekend and the place is a mess. I pack bags of clothes for myself and the children. Lots of options for the day of the funeral and not much else. Supplies of food and drinks for the two hour car journey. No pit stops today. It feels like I am a spectator, watching myself pack. I look over my shoulder and half expect to see myself standing there.
Then a warm feeling comes over me, that I can only describe as a feeling of euphoria. I last experienced this feeling eight years ago, just after my children were born and I was out of my head on what ever drugs I had been given during the C-section. Now, I had a strong feeling that my Dad was going to help me, more than he was able to do when he was alive. Warm, fat tears rolled down my face and it feels lovely. I can taste their saltiness.
I drive to the school and inform the school bus driver that my father has died. I stand and wait at the school entrance, avoiding eye contact where I can. The children rush out and my two are surprised to see me.
'What are you doing here Mam ?'
'Get in the car'. Please don't let me crack. Not here.
'No Mam, why ?' They persist.
We make it back to the car. The relief. I break the news and the children are very quiet. Some questions break the silence. 'What will happen Grandad's jeep ? Can Nana get married again ?' I laugh at my boys ever-practical questions. They would have made my father laugh too.
Although she is standing feet away from my car, I can't face the conversation and instead, text the children's teacher, informing her why they will be out of school for the next few days. The text message beeps as it sends and a feeling of horror comes over me.
'What if he ISN'T DEAD AFTER ALL ? Oh God, Oh God, I am going to sound crazy'.
I quickly check my phone and see the call records to my brothers and remind myself that THIS is REAL. I feel oddly relieved that my father is actually dead and laugh at the absurdity of it all.
I notice that I have no nail varnish on my nails and consider stopping to buy some. 'How bloody RIDICULOUS and vain', I tell myself, 'My father is dead. For fuck's sake'. I note my gratuitous cursing and consider it as an homage to my father.
The children fight in the back of the car and I beg them to stop. Instead of my usual threat to leave them on the side of the road, I shout 'Please be quiet because Grandad is dead' and it sound so final.
I burst into tears and the children, concerned for me now, ask, 'Are you STILL sad ?'. A fair question, I suppose. Grandad has been dead for hours now after all.
Driving through Navan, Wilkinstown, Nobber. Closer now. And finally the Glen. It looks so beautiful today, with the picnic area neatly strimmed and the autumnal leaves turning. But mostly, the Glen seems more pretty today because my father is dead.
Finally, finally, I drive in the back gate. I see his work boots in the hallway. They look fairly new. Lots more wear left in them. My heart.
And so it begins ...