The absence of Martin…

13 Jul

Should I feel bad?
Should I make a note in my diary to remind me?
Should I mark the anniversary in some way?

Death is a funny thing.
Not in a hahaha way, obviously.
But it’s one of those things that requires special treatment by the little people in our heads that are responsible for filtering our memories through the gauze of time, to enable us to experience the best bits of a person’s life without having to continually relive the gut-wrenching moment of loss when that life comes to an end.

In many ways, the unreal feeling of absence that comes with losing someone who has been integral to your life for so long becomes more unreal with the passage of time.
Initially, the shock, pain and sorrow that is part and parcel of loss seems like a comfort, almost as if the process of grieving is a defence in and of itself, a way of opening you up to any and all feelings you had for someone who is now gone.
This huge overload of emotion insulates you from the true horror of the situation, only letting you take in the full impact at a later date, when you’re better able to cope, more hardened to the terrible shape reality has taken.

The further you get from that awful point in time however, the less real it seems and, although you’ve known for years that they’ve gone and aren’t coming back, just occasionally something will generate a spark and that emotional tinderbox will suddenly burst into life, prompting a flood of nostalgia which can shock you all over again with the knowledge that you ran out of time years ago.

I got a message from my sister Kerry yesterday, saying it was 15 years since our father, Martin, died.
My first reaction was; “That can’t be right, it’s not as long as that”, but then I realised how long I’ve been living in Devon and that he became ill after I’d already been here nearly a year.
How time flies.


Dad and Ann, my mother.

As I have said before, my relationship with Dad was not the smoothest of rides, which explains why I moved away from home at 16 and subsequently, maybe why he didn’t really get to know who I was (i.e. not a smaller version of him) until it was nearly too late.

I think my spell of living in a coach was probably the thing that shocked him the most, possibly making him finally grasp the fact that I’d never have the ambitious, career-driven executive attitude I’m guessing he wanted me to aspire to.
I remember very clearly, after I made a rare visit home, he gave me a lift back to the apple farm on which our camp was pitched and dropping me at the gate, looked at the collection of ramshackle tents, benders and dilapidated vehicles and then looked at me with an expression that said; “Oh for God’s sake, what are you doing living here?”
How could I possibly explain to him, a respectable businessman, that what I was doing was having the absolute best time of my life, a period that taught me so much independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, about being who you are, and not taking too much notice of what others have in mind for you.

Of course, looking back, I can appreciate exactly what it must have seemed like to him, especially given the reputation that “travellers” had back then. He probably thought I was on a fast train to Junkie City, stopping only briefly at Unemployment Junction before continuing through Pariah Town to the end of the inevitable line.
Although I can’t help feeling slightly pleased that he must have by then fervently wished he’d been more enthusiastic about my desire to follow a career in the theatre.
If ever there was a lesser of two evils, grease paint beats fingerprint ink every time.

Where I was fortunate though, was that I had my very own reality filter working in my favour, my loyal sister, Kerry.
All through these years she had been slowly chipping away at Dad’s image of me, trying to persuade him I wasn’t the hopeless case he feared I’d become and in the end it finally paid off.
We did become more tolerant of each other’s personalities (which were, when all was said and done, the same) and reached an understanding of sorts.

I still recall the slightly surreal evening when Dad and I went out for a drink together at my local, The Wheatsheaf in Crowborough, not long before I moved away.
It was the first, and only, time that he and I went for a friendly pint (that being the intent on his part I believe, “a friendly pint”) and the suggestion touched and amused me in equal parts, bearing in mind the locals were rather more – how shall I put this? – colourful than they are nowadays.

There just so happened to be a wake going on that night, for one of the more conspicuous consumers in the pub’s recent history, featuring the intake of Herculean quantities of (insert your chosen poison here) and culminating in a cataclysmically loud impromptu firework display just outside.
To be fair, Dad took it in his stride, presumably thinking this was an average night at The ‘Sheaf and restricting himself to the odd comment, on the lines of; “You have some very,…um, interesting friends” for which I silently gave him credit and liked him that little bit more, because he had finally given up on moulding me and appeared to be content that I’d been finding my own way all along.

The saddest thing?
Probably that for the last few days in that hospital room in London, (where he’d gone after the treacherous cells in his body had finally won their battle to lay low this energetic, ambitious, driven and tireless man, a man who had lost his wife to the same merciless killer and not only brought up Kerry and I, but taken on a second family too) we were closer than at any time I can remember since I was very young, and I think we both recognised it too.

Too late to make anything meaningful from the realisation by then of course (and who’s to say whether or not it’s just those little people in my head, straining my memories through their gauzy soft filters?) and I’m sure everyone has those feelings that they shouldn’t have left things to the last minute, but I’m glad that we could look each other in the eye and know we had made that final connection, it’s what gives me the ability to look back and think; “Blimey, has it really been that long?” with a melancholy that is not sadness but the affection of absence.


With second wife, Sue, the year before he died.

So I don’t feel too guilty about not remembering the anniversary of his passing, just that we didn’t have enough time to further understand each other.
For good or for bad we were very alike, something for which I’m sometimes grateful, sometimes not so much, but if it wasn’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be me.

Thanks Martin.
We owe you, big time.


Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Blogging, Personal anecdote


Tags: , , , ,

19 responses to “The absence of Martin…

  1. anfinsenart

    July 13, 2014 at 23:09

    We don’t choose our parents. They choose us, but rarely know who we will become. I have mixed emotions about my father, as well. I have finally come to terms with my feelings and experiences. I loved my dad and will always love him, not because he was a magnificent and perfect human being, but simply because he was my father. He was responsible for my birth. He made me strong!

    Your article was well done and very thought provoking. Good looking parents!

    • dalecooper57

      July 13, 2014 at 23:14

      Thank you, that’s very kind. I’m glad you relate to my experiences and that you understand that ambivalence we sometimes feel for those closest to us.

  2. Lisa Black

    July 14, 2014 at 13:55


  3. steph

    July 14, 2014 at 22:28

    Hmmm, this is quite a thoughtful piece. I’m not sure I agree the passing of time makes death seem less ‘real’ but there is something odd about the way loss and the way we continue to process it transforms over the years. It’s very touching how empathetic you are towards your father. I hope to achieve the same appreciation for certain members of my family one day too.

    • dalecooper57

      July 14, 2014 at 22:44

      Thank you Steph. I’m not sure I meant that death itself becomes less real, more that the actual event, the act of dying if you like, that’s what becomes more unreal in the memory.

  4. jerseylil

    July 17, 2014 at 08:04

    Such a thoughtful post, Dale, and I can relate in many ways. It’s a beautiful and fitting tribute to a man you clearly loved despite the road not always being a smooth ride. Your line about how something can suddenly generate a spark “prompting a flood of nostalgia which can shock you all over again with the knowledge that you ran out of time years ago,” caused me to pause and yes, I understand, having felt that way about my parents, both long gone now.

    Going out with your Dad for a drink together is the kind of memory you can smile about and cherish (it made me smile just reading about it). What you wrote about your father and the recognition you shared at the end in the hospital room was very moving. There is a meaning that transcends time in that type of moment of connection and realization. (I saw it with my own mother toward the end, and that was a difficult relationship in so many ways.)

    Nice photos and I especially like the one of your parents when they were young and happy; good looking couple. Btw, the way your sister, Kerry, acted as a filter in your relationship with your father in those early years, that’s pretty special.

    • dalecooper57

      July 17, 2014 at 10:04

      Thank you Lil, I’m sure a lot of people have had similar experiences

  5. restlessjo

    July 18, 2014 at 06:49

    He looks happy, in both portraits 🙂 I’m sure he was proud of you. It’s not easy being a parent sometimes (or a child!)

  6. menopausalmother

    July 19, 2014 at 05:57

    Everything here—so true. The emotions are raw right after the loss. We spend days hurting and weeping. And then we become numb. Lose all track of time. It just dawned on me tonight that I lost my sister almost five years ago. It doesn’t seem possible. I think of her every day but not in a mournful way. Only when I come across something of hers that I’d forgotten I had—those instances bring me to my knees. I still can’t read the blog post I wrote fro her without weeping. This is a beautiful post. XO

    • dalecooper57

      July 19, 2014 at 11:18

      Thank you Marcia, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.
      Memory is a strange thing and no mistake.

  7. Helena Fortissima

    July 22, 2014 at 14:13

    Loved it, Dale. I think so many of us can relate to the feelings of discord between us and our parents that you’ve described here. What’s helped me the most in coming to terms with my relationship with my mom is that she’s done the best she can. That’s all any of us can really do.

    • dalecooper57

      July 22, 2014 at 15:01

      Thank you Helena, I’m very pleased this post struck such a chord with so many people.

  8. LindaGHill

    November 10, 2016 at 00:18

    I’m glad you finally found a way to get along. It’s sad when parents and children become estranged. Lovely post, Guy. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your memories.

  9. Kristyna Landt

    June 21, 2020 at 10:49

    Reblogged this on The Dough Abides and commented:
    Beautifully written. I was telling my sons yesterday that had I known then what I didn’t know then, I probably would have been a much better mother to them. They disagreed. Parenting is something you just kind have to jump into headfirst and figure it out along the way. I think for most of us who had difficult relationships with a parent earlier in life, there comes a point where we realize that, like us, our parents are human. And that realization enables us to accept them and move past some of that inner turmoil. Happy Father’s Day!

    • dalecooper57

      June 21, 2020 at 12:13

      Thank you, Kris, it’s a strange set of conflicting emotions, to be sure.


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