On Sunday night, I cried myself to sleep for the 11th time. I can’t quite believe it’s been over a decade – I can still remember every last detail. The cardiac arrest took hold of him in the early hours, caused by a multitude of health issues that had plagued him for 20-odd years. You’d have thought this might have made that morning’s events a little less unexpected. The truth is he’d been so ill for so long with so many near misses that we’d become immune – it was a total shock when he actually died.
It’s funny where your mind goes when you get the call. My first thought was: oh my god – dad’s dead! Which was swiftly followed by: oh my god – how will we eat??!! : 0
Dad was the best chef in the world. Mum tried, to be fair, but he was the undisputed king of the kitchen. In the end, we just gave up – there really was no contest and he was more than happy to oblige. He made the kind of meals that took three days to create, what with all the prepping, soaking and marinating, and each one was a labour of love – you could taste it in every mouthful. On numerous occasions I’d creep downstairs in the middle of the night to fetch a glass of water, only to find him hunched over the countertop, massaging mysterious herbs and spices into a big bowl of meat.
When I think of his killer cook-ups, I can almost taste his exquisite oxtail and dumpling soup, his stupendous red snapper and callaloo, and the best cornmeal porridge known to man with extra nutmeg and vanilla – a firm childhood favourite. Even when he was so ill he could barely talk, he never stopped cooking. My biggest regret is that I never asked him to teach me – we just assumed he’d carry on cooking for us forever. By the time I took an interest it was too late – and all his culinary secrets went with him. What I’d give for one last supper.
I still remember the first time it really hit home – Sunday roast. I automatically set the table for four and almost called upstairs for him before the crushing realisation that I should have set the table for three.
You know when you step off a kerb you didn’t see coming, and for a moment, it feels like you’re falling? I felt like that for days – functioning, but not really connecting. I remember going to the undertakers and choosing hymns and printing up programmes and decorating them with little black bows – all the while forgetting to eat, sleep or bathe. The world had stopped, yet somehow all around me, life continued as if nothing had happened.
It was freezing cold on the big day and my toes went numb at the graveside. I remember looking down into that yawning, endless pit and fully grasping just how far away he was going to be taken from us – that once they gave the nod I’d never be able to see his face or hold his hand or smell his cologne ever again. The panic began to rise and I was suddenly gripped by a bizarre and completely irrational fear: it’s too deep – how’s he going to get out?! Imagine that. I guess my brain was still struggling to comprehend the fact that he was already long gone.
My mother arrived a widow on that frosty morning, but there isn’t actually a word for what I’d become – and yet I too had been changed immeasurably and forever by that loss. As I watched them gently lower his coffin all the way down into that cold, dark hole, part of me went with him, and never came back. In my youth, I remember asking: “Dad, when will I grow up?” He’d finally given me the answer.
Eleven years later, I’m still crying. I cry over fond memories – from bedtime stories and trips to the park, to chasing my first boyfriend out of the house so fast he forgot his shoes. I cry while we belt out his favourites at the Christmas carol service. I cry when I watch my friends being walked down the aisle on their wedding day. I cry because my children will never get to meet their granddad. I cry for all the things I shouldn’t have said, and all the things I never got to say. But most of all I cry because, even after all this time, I still miss him so, so much (especially at dinner time).