It was an otherwise normal Friday afternoon in September, grey clouds razoring the blue sky. I was working from my bed with my laptop balanced precariously on my stomach, nursing a hangover, when my phone pinged on the bedside table.
Looking back, I couldn’t have possibly known what was in that text. I couldn’t have known it was my aunt telling me I had to come to the hospital. I couldn’t have known my dad was about to die. But when I reflect on that moment, milliseconds before I opened the text, I remember that sick feeling in my stomach as it was flickered with fear.
The rest of that day is a blur, a vignette of memories haphazardly stitched together. The long trek across West London to the hospital. Having to get off the bus three stops early and sprinting to intensive care. My dad, no longer able to speak, reaching out to hold my hand. The look on his face as his breathing became increasingly laboured. How silent and cold the room became after he died.
Losing someone you love, suddenly and without any warning, leaves you burdened with a grief so dense, navigating through life feels like walking through a fog. But having time to sit through and process these complex emotions is a luxury that neither myself nor my brother were afforded. We were immediately thrown into this very adult world of finances and funeral planning, solicitors and surveyors; my dad’s entire life reduced to bank statements, pension plans and property portfolios.
We found photographs from our childhood kept in old shoeboxes in my dad’s study. There’s a picture of me where I’m about five, wearing an all-pink ensemble and giving a gap-toothed grin at the camera, clasping my dad’s hand as he takes me and my brother to a museum. There’s another shot of me, hair in pigtails and in a red raincoat by a riverbank, my dad steadying me by holding onto my shoulders as I try to feed the ducks.
As I look through these photos, which I have done several times over the last few weeks, I find my throat closing up and my eyes becoming teary, almost as if I’m having an allergic reaction to the memories. As the dust begins to settle following my dad’s funeral, I think of everything still to come in my life that he’ll miss. He’ll never see me own my own house. He won’t be there to walk me down the aisle when I get married. He’ll never meet his grandchildren – he’ll never take them to museums or to feed the ducks.
It's this final point that hits me harder than I ever thought it would. Throughout my childhood, I was incredibly close to my grandparents, particularly those on my mum’s side of the family. My granddad, a former Naval man with a penchant for cigarettes and old films, would buy me endless notepads and jotters, forever encouraging me to write down my stories to act out and perform. My nan was my best friend, picking me up from school every day, cooking me dinner, cuddling me close and stroking my hair when I was upset. She was my confidant, my ballast. When she died in 2016, aged 92, I felt my heart split cleanly in two. I don’t think it’s ever healed since.
My mum is 10 years older than my dad, and decided to have me aged 40. Before this year, it is something that has never bothered me. I could not have asked for a more amazing mother – selfless and dedicated, she had an impressive and seasoned career before she settled down to have children. I always thought she struck the right balance – she lived the life she wanted, ticked off enough of her aspirations, before starting a family. I thought I’d too leave having children until I was 40, where they could also have a mother they could be proud of.
But since my dad’s death, I am now left wondering whether I should bring forward my plans to have children, just so they can have their lives enriched by their grandmother in the same way mine was.
The average age women become first time mothers in the UK is now 30, a significant jump from the 1980 average of 25. For me, at 29, that’s just a year away – but I know I’m not in a position to have a child any time soon. I don’t have a partner for a start, having split with my boyfriend of five years back in the summer. I also don’t have the sufficient funds to bring a baby into the world; the average cost of raising a kid in the UK ranging between £150,000 to £200,000 over 18 years - a staggering amount of money, considering I nearly bankrupted myself buying a cheese toastie from Costa this morning.
But if I wait until I’m 40 to have my first child, my mum will be nearly 80, and may not be able to have the energetic, playful relationship with her grandchildren that she could have. The death of my father, aged just 60, has been a slow, painful realisation that I may be on borrowed time. For all the excuses I tell myself – I’m not ready, I can wait, I can freeze my eggs if I really want a baby – I am now terrified that I will deprive her of the opportunity to meet her grandchildren.
And while I’m still a long, long way off on where I feel I should be before having a child (still dedicating several weekends a month to the sesh and not yet where I’d like to be in my career), part of me is wondering if I should race through the next few years just to get to the bit where my mum is cooing at her grandchild in a pram.
But if the last five weeks have taught me anything, it’s that I need to slow down and savour the time I have. I can’t speed up time, I can’t change my situation and while I admire women who have children on their own, I know that’s not for me at this stage of my life. Women have so much pressure to deal with when it comes to whether or not to have kids: what age they might feel ready, whether they're certain that their partner is the person they want to start a family with, if their career has reached the point at which they’re comfortable taking a year out. My dad dying has unexpectedly added the grandparent fear to this list, too. Of course, none of us know how things will work out. All I can do is know that when I do have kids, my parents will be infused in every part of their lives, whether they are around to witness it or not.
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