How being bereaved a child shaped my life

By Mike Clare

 

It was 8am on a Sunday, on 21 May 1967 that I was told my father had died. I was 12 years old. It’s amazing how you remember the details – who told me, how I was told and where I was when I was told. It goes straight into your memory forever. 

I didn’t go to my father’s funeral. I signed a card for the wreath and was given the day off school and everyone at school was told and my friends and teachers were all nice to me.

Although I knew he’d been ill, I thought he was going to get better, so it came as a shock to me when he died. I remember going to visit him in hospital one time and he was crying. Dad was my hero and as a young boy, I couldn’t get my head round why he was crying; but he and my Mum must have known at that time. I didn’t go to my father’s funeral. I signed a card for the wreath and was given the day off school and everyone at school was told and my friends and teachers were all nice to me. But I thought it was wrong that I didn’t go to my Dad’s funeral. I never had proper closure.

In 1999 my brother died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage – he was only 44 years old. It was hard to see my sister-in-law, nephew and niece going through what we’d gone through in my childhood and it brought up lots of memories and emotions. My mother died 6 months later and at her funeral they said she had died of a broken heart. Someone said to me ‘Mike, you’re an orphan now.’ You don’t think of an orphan as an adult in their forties, and it made me sit up and realise - you can be an orphan at any age.

One of the things I struggle with as an adult is not being able to access the collective family memory.

One of the things I struggle with as an adult is not being able to access the collective family memory. Christmas is difficult – if I want to talk about our childhood Christmases, remembering family traditions and how we used to decorate the tree with fairy lights – I have no-one to share that with, no-one else is left from our family nucleus. It’s a bit weird remembering my childhood without anyone else to reminisce with. 

It’s hard to know how losing my own father has impacted on me being a father now myself and what I might have done differently had my Dad not died. 

Now when I talk to my own children, if I say ‘I don’t have any of my family left,’ they say ‘We’re your family now.’ It’s hard to know how losing my own father has impacted on me being a father now myself and what I might have done differently had my Dad not died. 

If I could talk to my 12-year-old self I would say ‘In the end you’ll survive.’ 

I recall the day that my brother and I were told that Dad had died, my Mum said to him ‘You’re going to have to be the man of the house now.’ He was 2 years older than me and I remember thinking, ‘What about me?’. I wonder if that somehow spurred me on to be more competitive, independent and self-reliant. If I could talk to my 12-year-old self I would say ‘In the end you’ll survive.