My Worst Day Ever
I’m no spring chicken anymore, so I have experienced plenty of days. 10 253 to be presice. Some have been good days, some have been bad days, and much of the rest have been pretty mediocre days. I’ve had days when my computer has wiped all my coursework, or I’ve sat sweating through an exam with the most incomprehensible questions, or I’ve walked home in the snow to find I have left my keys in the office. I’ve had days full of laughter and nights of drunken dancing. I have felt the nervous elation of quitting a job that was bad for my soul, had the satisfaction of being awarded a degree and the felt the jubilation of reaching the summit of more than one mountain. I have even been lucky enough to experience the odd truly magical day when something so fantastic has happened that my whole world view has been utterly, irrevocably altered.
In this journey called life I have completed twenty seven revolutions of the sun, but from all of those days one above all stands out clearly as being the worst ever day . It was the first of February 1998. It was a Sunday. I was fourteen years old.
I generally regard this day as the day that I grew up. Before February 1998 I was a child and after I was an adult. The transition was not visible in my face, or my voice, or my taste in clothes, but it was there nonetheless. It was the day I first experienced grief. It was the day that both my family and my heart were broken.
We had just finished Sunday lunch and I was procrastinating, I can’t remeber what subject’s homework I had to do, all I remember is that there was a lot of it and I didn’t particulalrly fancy doing any of it.
The phone rang. I was nearest so I nonchalantly wandered over and picked it up.
It was Grandma. I registered the panic in her voice immediately. She thought I was my Mum. She gasped “He’s in his chair, come quick, he’s in his chair...”
I knew it was my Grandad and I knew that my worst fears might well be coming true, and then I was screaming for my Mum. She swung open the door to the bathroom, and in that instant that our eyes connected she understood, she could tell that it was her Dad and that he was very seriously ill. She came rushing and took the phone. My Dad joined her. Then they hung up and my Dad called the ambulance while my Mum got in the car to go to my Grandparents house.
I went to get my coat and met my sister at the top of the stairs. Nothing was said, but it all became too much for her. She was only twelve and the fear and panic were overwhelming. I was barely hanging on myself. She fell to the floor in fits of tears and screams, and I remember hugging her and telling her to hold it togther, for them, for him. And, bless her, she did. We were only two little girls that day and looking back we really were very brave.
My Mum had gone ahead and my Dad, my sister and I were to follow on in the other car. The journey was twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of frought anxiety. We are not a religious family but I certainly pleaded with God more than once on that journey. I imagined telling my Grandad how much of a scare he had given us all later in the hospital. I tried to remember the last thing I had said to my Grandad when I had seen him two weeks previously, but my mind was blank. I looked out the window at the rest of the world having a normal Sunday and wished I was one of them.
When we got to my grandparents house the ambulance, and my Mum, were already there. Grandad was on a stretcher and was being carried out of the house. He was semi-consious and white as a sheet, mumbling regret at having got everyone so worried. But the fact that he was speaking, that he was trying to talk gave me all the hope in the world. If this was a heart attack, then surely if he could still talk then it wasn’t so serious, and after a short stay in hospital he would get better and go home and we would all be together again.
We all went on to the hospital after the ambulance. My Grandma, Mum, Dad, sister and myself. I remember a lot of waiting. Hours. I can’t remember what we spoke about. What do families say in times of crisis? I think that we tried to be strong for Grandma. We made jokes about what we would tell grandad when he got better.
Eventually some nurses moved us into a ‘private room’. It was actually the cleaning store cupboard. We were in there with the hospital mops and buckets, and dirty shelves full of cleaning chemicals. Two chairs were procured and given to my Mum and Grandma. The nurse told us that Grandad had been awake and he knew that we were all there, waiting, and that he sent us all his love. He was asleep right now though and the doctors were with him. The wait continued. After a few more hours a new nurse came to find us and to move rooms. This time we were put in a proper family waiting room. It had lots of comfy seats, and curtains, and it was clean. We were given tea from a china tea set. Not plastic cups. China. Tea. Pot. It was at this point that we knew that his condition must have detiriorated. We were being prepared for bad news.
For the life of me I cannot remember what the doctor said. He must have told us it was a major heart attack, but I was still clinging onto the hope I had from when I had seen Grandad speaking. He was still alive and we got to see him, asleep in a bed surrounded by tubes and bleeping machines. We held his hands. We told him we loved him. He couldn’t hear us.
By this point it was getting late. We decided that there was nothing more for us to do but go home to sleep and come back the next morning. I remember feeling utterly helpless, useless.
I am a light sleeper at the best of times, so on this night I knew that attempting sleep was futile . I lay with my eyes shut and hoped with all of my little heart for the best. It was I who answered the phone call from the hospital at one the next morning, passed it to my Mum who went back to the hospital because he was rapidly detiriorating. I lay awake for the next few hours and jumped out of bed as soon as I heard the keys in the door at about five. It was my Mum. She looked at me and just said “I’m so sorry”, and that was it. He was gone. He was gone before she even got to the hospital. My Grandma, who had been married for fifty years to the man she was utterly in love with, was now a widow and my whole life was about to change forever.
That day, the worst day, was more than thirteen years ago now. I have experienced bereavement since then and doubtless I will experience it again in the future, but the first time is something I will never forget. Grief never leaves you, it becomes something that you carry with you for the rest of your days. Over time though, it softens, the raw pain fades and is replaced by wonderful memories of happy days.
I remember the same dodgy joke about the rhubarb, told repeatedly at family gatherings for more than half a century, with the same delight in each telling. I remember the super breed of runner beans that he was cultivating. I remember the stories about escaping bomb blasts while in the RAF in the second world war. I remember him teaching me the quadratic formula, which to this day I can rattle off without a moments thought. I wish he could have known that he did pass on the engineering blood, that it just skipped a generation. I wish he could have been at my MEng graduation. Perhaps he was - if not in actuality then at least in my heart.
I miss him.