By Clodagh Ní Maonaigh
The ultimate fear.
It is always the worst-case scenario in any situation.
We fear our own death, and the death of our loved ones.
In 2012, my fears became reality.
My Dad was born on Christmas Day of 1952 to a working-class family in Dublin. He was one of twelve children and given a suited festive name; Noel.
He hated school and left at a young age. Because he was left-handed, the teachers would beat him to make him write with his right hand, going so far as to tie his left hand behind his back to force him to comply.
Leaving school so young didn’t stop him; he was the most intelligent person I ever knew. He was smart, witty and very well read. He could answer every curious question I had growing up. He was also a brilliant tradesman and could make anything by hand.
My dad was great craic. He was known for his sense of humour and could find it in any situation, cracking one liners and jokes all day long.
Music was his biggest inspiration. He would introduce me to Queen, Abba, The Beatles, Thin Lizzy, Alanis Morrisette, Joan Jett and he even had a soft spot for a bit of Avril Lavigne. He lived and breathed music. He knew all the trivia, the lyrics, the stories behind them and was the king of air guitar.
As I grew older and into my teens, I loved spending time with him. We watched TV (true crime was our fave), talked about music; he would even read to me. I could talk to him about anything. I was a true ‘daddy’s girl’. Everyone knew it. I was glued to his lap as a child.
When I was 8, my parents broke up. My dad was an alcoholic. He would binge on and off and I was always worried about him, even from a young age. Of course, back then I was ashamed of being the child of an alcoholic; I would hardly admit it to myself, never mind to anyone else but I would try to help.
When I was younger, I tried countless times to get him to stop smoking. There was one instance where I put a nicorette patch on his back as he slept but it was to no avail. As I got a bit older, I looked after him by buying him clothes, cleaning his house and making sure he got home safe. This included getting my Mam (his ex-wife), to pick him up from the pub and drop him home.
‘Parenting a parent’ is something many children of addiction are familiar with. It wasn’t because he was incapable or because no one else was privy to what was going on, it’s because I really cared for and loved my dad and I never wanted to see him in danger. I didn’t want him to die.
My parents remained friends after their divorce, they looked out for each other and always had each other to talk to. Every Christmas he came to stay with us, even after we lost our belief in Father Christmas. Those are some of my favourite memories.
Waking up at four in the morning and turning on Elf with him. Christmas Eve, just the two of us watching whatever quiz show Richard Adeoye was hosting as my Mam finished cooking. Saving my pocket money for weeks coming up to Christmas so that I could make sure he got two presents; one for his birthday and one for Christmas.
However, life isn’t always straightforward. I stopped speaking to my dad in early 2011 and for the first time, missed Christmas together that year.
In February 2012, I decided I wanted to visit him after chatting about it with my Mam over lunch. My Dad’s brother was ill, very ill and I knew that they were close. I wanted to be there for him as he faced a possible grief of his own. My Mam said she’d ring him and I would visit within a few days.
My Mam called his phone but never got an answer…
We didn’t know it at the time but my Dad had passed away. It was too late to make amends.
I live with that every day, knowing I never truly got to make peace before he died. I wanted to know how he had spent that final year but my Uncle was so ill and I didn’t want to upset him with questions.
I knew he’d know everything I needed answers to because he was the person my Dad spoke to about everything.
A few weeks later, my Uncle also passed away.
It’s been a difficult process to try to come to terms with not knowing about his final year; not being there for the final part of his life, not being able to talk my grievances out with my Dad. It’s meant I’ve had to make peace with myself instead. There’s still a lot of anger attached to it but since then I’ve always tried my best to make amends as soon as I can.
My Dad’s dependence on alcohol is something I’m still trying to really understand. Addiction and dependency usually stem from trauma. I often try to understand what caused his need for alcohol as a crutch.
Was it his upbringing? The abuse he suffered at school as a child? Was it just because it’s what he saw as the done thing to do by his own father?
The older I get, the more I miss having him in my life. I miss the conversations that we should be having and the moments that he’s missing. The world is a nasty place at the moment and I wish I had his wisdom and kind funny words as a solace when times are rough.
I regret that he’ll never meet Ryan, my boyfriend, the man I hope to wed someday. I know my dad would like him a lot. Even though my inner feminist despises the patriarchal rituals that come with weddings, I always tear up at Daddy/Daughter wedding scenes in films (or at, you know, actual weddings) because I know he’ll be missing the time my big day comes.
Grief is hard enough but when you add unresolved conflict to the mix, it becomes even more complicated.
When you go through any grief, your outlook on life changes. Your experience with life changes. You’re not who you were before. Once you’ve experienced grief, everything is put into perspective. Death becomes the worst-case scenario and anything else is manageable.
Clonagh is Editor and Founder of EMPWR.ie and an Intersectional Feminist who worships at the feet of Beyoncé. She’s also a Writer and a Body Positivity and Mental Health Advocate.
You can read Clodagh’s blog here.