It was May, we'd just had shepherd's pie for dinner, all of us sitting around the table, all of us laughing at a story from work my mother was telling us. Well, nearly all of us. Even before he died, my father was absent in my life. Confined to his bed, his energy drained by the chemotherapy. Being as busy as an eight year old could get I only really saw him in the hour or so between dinnertime and bedtime. Every night I would pick one of the books off of the shelf in my room and I would curl up next to him and read to him. I have often wondered whether my mother knew that night -when we had the Shepherd's pie- would be my father's last for instead letting me pick a book that night, she gave me one to read to him. It was entitled, 'The Waterbugs and The Dragonflies'. I realised a few years later that it was in fact a book about death. Every so often a waterbug would climb the stalk of a lillypad and wouldn't return because he would change into a dragonfly and be stuck above the water. It was a child bereavement book, the waterbugs representing us, the mortals, on earth and how eventually we all would leave the world we knew and become an angel in the world above. I read the book to my father, not knowing that this would be the last story I would read to him. If I had known, I certainly would've picked a more cheerful book, one of his favorites perhaps, or maybe I would have made up a story for him as I sometimes did when we were at the hospital and I didn't have access to my library. I might have told him of dragons and faraway kingdoms or Jungles full of the most exotic flowers and the most terrifying animals. But I didn't know, so I didn't tell him of those things. Instead, I told him that I thought he was a waterbug. Probably not a comforting thought when you think of my then distaste for all insects that weren't butterflies or ladybirds. I went to bed after reading the story, as I had every night for the two years that he'd been fighting the cancer. It seemed like only seconds later when my mother was shaking me awake and pulling me, half asleep, from the fortress of my bed.
"It's time to say goodbye, sweetheart" She whispered as she carried me to my parents room. My two older sisters were already stood at the side of the bed. Holding the hands of the body that had once belonged to my father.
"Put me down" I told her and she did so. I didn't want to go in there and hold a dead hand. Kiss a dead cheek. Say goodbye to a corpse.
"Sweetheart, it's really time to say goodbye. This is your only chance" My mother told me, taking my hand and trying to pull me into the room, she was barely holding herself together and i knew that at any minute she would break down.
"My chance is gone" I told her "Everything that makes daddy, daddy is gone. He's gone to join the dragonflies"
That was the moment when I grew up.
I still remember the sight of the two paramedics carrying his body out of the front door, covered in a white sheet. I still remember the site of his coffin being shoved into a furnace for his cremation. I still remember burying his ashes in the graveyard. I remember the months and months of feeling isolated from my family because they were all able to cry over his death. I remember the moment three years later when I found again that book about the waterbugs and the dragonflies. I remember the moment I finally cried over my father's death, the moment I finally realised that my last words to him had been about insects and I could do nothing to change that. But i'm trying, whenever I can I'll go and sit in that graveyard and I'll make up a story for him, like I wish I had all those years ago. Maybe he can hear them up in heaven, maybe he smiles at the funny bits and frowns when something goes wrong or I can't think of another twist to the plotline.
The absence of my father forced me to grow up quickly, maybe too quickly. My sister's weren't much use after his death, I had to look after my mother so that she could look after us.
I can scarcely remember my father, I was too young when he died and I didn't know how important it was to hold onto those memories until I absolutely couldn't forget him. I think that however old I may live to be, the biggest regret of my life would be allowing myself to forget my father. The only thing I want out of this life is to see him again but I have to wait until many years from now, when I become a dragonfly too.