Thursday 24th March was the day our family was due to be setting off for little over six weeks of fun in the sun. We should have been driving out of the Eurotunnel, making our way across Germany in anticipation of the weeks ahead where we would be discovering new countries and experiencing new things.
Instead I found myself sitting alone by a pond I hadn’t visited for years. I could barely feel the chill touching my nose and my fingers which is quite unlike me, being one to feel the cold quickly. I was desperate to revisit days of my childhood when things were simpler, a time when things were fun, when they were safe. As I walked through the town in which I grew up, miles away from where I now live, I gave in to the urge to take a detour through the park that held so many memories for me. Memories of better days than the ones that had recently been occurring and of those that are certain to come in their droves for however long it takes.
My grandparents used to bring me to this park often when I was a very small child. I adored them more than words can explain and they loved me in return. They loved all their many grandchildren and were so very proud of their family – each and every one of us.
The park was only up the road from where they lived. It was the road my parents would move back to a few years after moving out of my grandparents’ home. We would visit in all weathers bringing a supply of bread with which to feed the ducks. I could clearly picture standing beside my Yiayia (Greek for nan) as she handed me the bread to toss into the water. I remembered her telling me not to stick my feet in through the railings in case they’d get stuck and me doing so just to tease her. Looking at the railings, I really don’t think my tiny feet would ever have got stuck and it was only then that I realised it was one of the many games we’d play to gently tease each other with. My Yiayia, she set the bar high as grandmothers go. I don’t think I’ll reach anywhere close.
I sat on the old bench beside the pond for a while and looked out across to the bridge on the other side. My father and I used to sit on the bridge for what seemed like ages, waiting quietly for the water rats to run out from under it and dart back in again.
The weeping willow that once stood majestically by our feeding spot was no longer there. It left a gaping space where I could still picture it. I loved watching how its branches swooped towards the water, its leaves dangling down as if they were trying to drink from the pond. I felt sad that something so grand was no longer there.
One thing that still remained was the wonderful dove cote that I used to run and run and run around, my Papu (grandad) chasing me from the other side. The mound that ran up alongside it seemed far higher to me back then. Then again, I was much smaller.
The playground that once sat over at the right of the green was gone. I don’t know how long for. I still remember it clearly – the swings, the roundabout and the fabulous wooden rocking horse that seated several at once. I loved that place! I remember my dad pushing me on the swing telling me to try and reach the trees with my feet. They seemed close enough to the high branches to me at the time. He said I did well to get them so near. I suspect he may have been humouring me.
To the left of the green was once a mini golf course. This would be a stopping off point before a quick visit to the local on the way home during the summer months. That was one of the first changes I remember, being removed years ago.
As we walked around the park we would pass this building. The best part for a child? The stairs, of course! I stood and stared at them a while. I could see myself running across them, up one way and across and down the other. I could still picture my Yiayia shouting out ‘prosehe!’ – a warning to ‘be careful!’ that I didn’t fall.
I took a breath before I stepped into the walled garden. I always loved this part of the park in particular. Its tall brick walls covered in vines reminded me of the book ‘The Secret Garden’. There used to be a pond in the centre where a young palm now stands instead. The flower beds were quite bare and sad looking but the brick path remained the same as I remembered. Crooked, sloping in places and cracked in others, I remember running up and down and back again as my Yiayia sat on the bench and watched me. I remember long summer evenings sitting here with the family – my parents and grandparents together and I loved it. I was no older than my twins perhaps are but I remember them so clearly and so well. Those days, I loved them.
But it wasn’t until I followed the path around, reliving my energetic childish footsteps as I walked, and reached the bench that it hit me.
Just a few days before, on Monday 21st March, we received confirmation of the news we had been trying so hard to hope would not come.
Please be mistake.
Please be something else.
But it wasn’t.
I accompanied my father to the hospital to receive the news nobody wants to hear. He has lung cancer and secondary cancer of the brain also. The prognosis is not good and he cannot be cured.
Much as you are aware of the tests to receive the diagnosis, I don’t think that anything can ever fully prepare you for hearing the news when it comes. It is devastating.
I desperately wanted to cry and let it all out but I couldn’t. Mike and I had already made the decision that should the news be the worst then we would cancel all travel plans so that I could accompany Dad to his appointments. Keeping busy in the days that followed was my coping mechanism. Accompanying Dad to his appointments, shopping for Stephanie (who I was staying with as she lives nearby), helping with baby Oscar. I wanted to cry but couldn’t.
Visiting that park brought back so much of my early childhood days. I didn’t know how complicated life was then. I was with the people I loved most in the whole world and I didn’t realise then how much it would hurt when they were no longer with me. My grandparents both died over a decade ago but there is not one single day when I don’t think of them or miss them. They say time heals but it doesn’t. There are days I hurt from missing them so much.
I desperately needed to cry. Not the small pity cry but the big, cry-until-your-belly-aches kind of sob-cry. I just couldn’t do it – until I reached ‘the bench’, that is.
Then it hit me.
I cried for so many reasons. I cried for my father, scared for what he was about to endure. I cried for my brother, battling his own war with leukaemia and unable to leave his hospital room. I cried for my children who either were too young to understand or too old to ignore the enormity and emotion of the situation. But the main reason I cried was quite selfishly because, to put it simply, I can’t imagine my life without my dad in it. I don’t want him to suffer. Or to deteriorate. Or to feel pain. But the selfishness remains and it always comes back to the fact that, even at the age of 41, I just am not ready to lose my Dad.
Life is changing.