At 3pm on Tuesday 12th May in 1992 a teacher came to my classroom to tell me my mother had requested that I go home urgently. I will never forget that heart sinking feeling and the thought that something terrible had happened. I arrived home to be greeted by police cars and the sound of my sister crying in the living room. The sound of my sister crying will stay with me forever. My mother took me upstairs to one of the bedrooms and told me my father had died that morning. Never in all my life have I ever held my mother so tightly. My initial thoughts were that I would never see my Dad again; I would never play football with him again and I would never hold his hand again. I was 12 years old.
As I write this article nearly twenty-five years later, the overwhelming sense of loss is still great. My initial thoughts were that he had been killed in a car accident. After I was told that my father had died I left my house, got on my bike, and went back to school to see one of my closest friends, who’s father had died when she was young. It was at that moment that it hit me, my father had died and I would never see him again. I remember collapsing to the floor and bursting into tears. It was not until I arrived home that evening, that my uncle sat me down to tell me that my Dad had been stabbed to death by another man, in a jealous rage. The man turned on his wife and stabbed her twice, thankfully she survived. When you love something so much, to have it so cruelly taken away, leaves a hole in your heart that will never be filled.
For many years I wouldn’t talk about what happened to my father, I had locked the memories away in the corner of my mind. Throughout my teenage years my grief had turned to anger and frustration – ‘Why had this happened to me?’ I thought. As expected for a young boy who had just lost his father so tragically, the last thing on my mind was to leave school with good grades. I was extremely fortunate to have a support network that kept me on the right path. I had an incredible mother who loved me and accepted that things would be okay in time, my friends were also extremely supportive and understanding. I have always believed that I’ve been guided subconsciously by something; perhaps my father has been helping me along the way.
The grieving process is strange. No matter how you experience it; one day you are fine and the next it hits you like a sledgehammer. I still remember my father’s funeral as if it were yesterday. I was standing outside the church when one of my father’s friends approached me to say - 'You are now the man of the family'. As a 12year old boy that had just lost his role model, this was quite a burden to undertake at such a young age. I was now responsible for looking after my mother and two sisters.
On the 17th April 2011 at 4.40am I became a father for the first time. I was a Dad to a baby boy, Otis. As any parent out there knows, to hold your child for the first time is a magical moment, but for me personally it felt extra special. All of my emotions and heartache had washed away at that moment, and all I felt was love for this small child. I have never really thought about the emotional legacy of my father’s murder until writing this article. How has this traumatic event made me the parent I am today?
Losing a role model at such a young age left me without a male figure to go to for advice. If there is one hero in this tragic event, it’s my Mum. The strength she must have had to carry on with three children is incredible and I will never understand how she kept so strong throughout the loss of her friend and husband.
If there is one thing that the last six-years has taught me as a parent, it’s to be patient and take the time to listen to what your child has to say. My father worked long hours and I would only get to see him in the morning or late at night, so it’s important that I spend as much time as possible with Otis and Thea during the early years.
Since becoming a Dad I have always known that the time will come when I will have to sit down with Otis to tell him what happened to Grandpa (as I call him). Otis has recently been asking me questions about where Grandpa is and why he isn’t alive anymore. I guess it’s about dealing with it in stages throughout his life. But the time will come eventually.
It might sound cheesy but becoming a parent has brought me closer to Simone. We’ve always taken turns with putting the children to bed and making sure that it’s a balanced parenting relationship. Don’t get me wrong, like all couples we have our moments, but as long as we’re talking it out together then things work fine. I think the greatest challenge you can face, as a father, is ensuring that your kids are healthy, happy and loving life. This is my main focus as a Dad.
With Mental Health Awareness week soon approaching this month, it feels like the perfect time to write about a subject which many people across the UK are currently experiencing. When my father died, I was supported by the bereavement charity, Cruse.
Cruse, were great at offering support and a place to talk about how I was feeling. It was not until my mid-twenties that I properly looked for help. Talking is extremely important when dealing with mental health. The greatest challenge for anyone struggling with mental health is to open up and be brave enough to talk about how you are feeling.
By speaking about this subject so publicly, my hope is that in someway I can help a young person experiencing a similar loss. Perhaps in someway, I can let them know that there is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel.
Fantastic charities like Winston's Wish and Cruse understand the impact of bereavement at a young age and have developed a range of practical support and guidance for children, their families and professionals via a national helpline and publications for all ages. They offer specialist support programmes for children affected by deaths related to murder, manslaughter, suicide or the military community.
Writing about something so personal has been hard, but strangely cathartic. Four words have always stuck with me, ‘time is my healer’. I hope that in some way my experience has taught me to enjoy life and love my family even more.