There’s still no easy way to say this, so here it is: on 8th March 2017, my beloved Dad passed away, with Mum and I by his side right to the very end.

It was a gentle, peaceful step over after a few traumatic days in hospital, and I will always be thankful that we were able to be with him – for his sake, and also for ours.

In the six and a half weeks since, I have learned things.

That grief is not linear.

That it is possible to be more devastated than you ever imagined, and somehow keep going day after day after day.

That losing someone you love is a physical, as well as an emotional, pain.

That six and a half weeks can feel like five minutes and several lifetimes simultaneously.

Chris and Carla in Luckenbach, Texas | carlalouise.com

In Luckenbach, Texas. March 2015

Writing and taking pictures have always previously been my saviour when bad things have happened, but this loss is too big to process.

I don’t know how to be me without Dad in my life. He has always been there, and has always been on my side. He and Mum and I have always been Team Watkins – and our trio is now two, and neither of us really know how to process that.

Though I am so thankful for Mum – she is also devastated, but in our grief we are at least together. And she understands more than anyone else does, which makes days spent with her easier than days spent anywhere else.

My Dad was rather special in lots of ways. I know I’m biased, but even with that. It’s impossible to get his whole life into a blog post, but over his 72 years on the planet, 45 with Mum and 31 with me, he packed in enough life experience as the next ten people you’re likely to meet.

I heard stories at his wake that I had never heard, and I have never been anywhere, not even at weddings, where so much love for one person suffused a place and imbued every tear, every laugh and every word with such joy for having known him.

Mum and I put everything we could into his funeral – though I had definite WTF moments and moments of not wanting to do it – not because I didn’t want to do the best for him, but for the simple fact that I didn’t and don’t want him to be dead.

We had an amazing celebrant, Roxanne, who helped us to capture his spirit in words (he would definitely have approved – words and stories were his thing), and a wonderful funeral director, Maxine, from Hunnaball. I think he’d have approved of that, too!

His coffin had our flowers and also our Cornish flag, his Stetson hat and a helicopter on it – it was perfectly Chris.

Flowers and mementoes at Dad's cremation | carlalouise.com

It was a sad but also wonderful send off – very personal, and very fitting for the amazing human that he was. And the wake was (to my surprise) joyful from start to finish. The pub we chose was packed out with people reminiscing, and looking at the photo boards we had put together, and celebrating his life and that we knew him.

I feel so many feelings at the moment, I’m exhausted just from feeling them. I’m told this is quite normal in the early stages of grief. First time I’ve ever felt normal and I don’t like it much!

Something I keep returning to is how lucky I am (relatively speaking, in the sense that we all have to pass on one day – clearly I would have preferred it not to be just yet in Dad’s case) to have been able to stay with him in hospital. How privileged Mum and I were to have 24 hours of peace with him at the end, where he was with us but sleeping, pain-free and calm. Those hours by his bedside were so precious, to be able to say everything we wanted to, to cry, to laugh remembering things we’ve done together, to read him messages from the many, many family and friends who wanted to say goodbye.

To wake up in the same room as him & Mum on the morning he died, incongruously giggly, because he was snoring and Mum was snoring, and I remember many a childhood holiday morning listening to them snore away merrily.

That little side room off the cardiac unit might have been a hospital room, but it was home in the truest sense of the word – it was bursting at the seams with love and the three of us, the most important people in each other’s lives, were there together, helping each other through the trauma of parting.

To sit with him right at the end, as he made his final journey and the step over to the big bar in the sky, as he always called it and I will forever think of it. To see with my own eyes that it was peaceful, and know that the two people who loved him most, and who he loved most, were with him right until the end.

To be able to tell him that I love him, will always love him, and am so proud to be his daughter – these things had been said frequently during our life, but it was still a privilege to be able to  tell him again, to know that he knew without a shadow of a doubt just how special he is to us.

To have been inspired by his courage and fortitude when the consultant told him he was dying – to have loved and been loved so much that his loss has sliced through the core of my being and Mum’s.

All of those things make me lucky despite losing him, and so immensely proud – and he always told me that grief is the price we pay for love. It feels like a price worth paying, to have had him in my life.

I was terrified of coming home that night. We went to Gran’s once we left the hospital, and  then eventually back to Mum & Dad’s, and then Mum very bravely sent me home to my kittens. She was right, in that if I’d stayed with her that night I may never have left, but I was so scared, and so emotionally done for I didn’t know how I’d react to being at home.

His spirit was everywhere at their house – his chair by the window, his cigarettes, his desk and his computer, his coat over his office chair. All the tiny things that you don’t even notice till someone has gone. But it felt very much like he had come home with us, and it was somehow less painful.

I walked through the door of my house, and sat on the floor and cried.

Because he is here, too. He built this house for me – we have spent the last 18 months on the project and he put my last shelves up in January this year. It was his last great legacy, and he is everywhere.

In the banisters that we waxed together, in the furniture that he built, in the garden he designed and the garage studio he insisted on converting in November, even though I was happy to leave that another year or so.

In the beautiful fence panels in the garden, the bar he and Mum bought me as a housewarming present, the much-loved BBQ he taught me to cook on when I was small, and which is now in pride of place in my garden.

He’s in my books and my technology, my sentimental jewellery and my beautiful kitchen. In my scotchguarded carpet and my curtain rails, and my decking we planned to turn into a pirate ship.

My whole home is a monument to his love for me – something I hadn’t fully appreciated until that evening.

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

He is physically gone, but he is very much still with us. There have been little signs – blackbirds and helicopters, a book I picked up by chance which had too many spooky similarities to be anything but a sign.

All sorts of things, but most of all just a general feeling that he is there, still. Just beyond sight, beyond that veil – but there, nonetheless. Keeping Mum and I safe as he has done all his life.

We are coping, day by day. I have survived this far with incredible family and friends, copious kitten cuddles, and the strategy of taking ten minutes at a time.

I miss him more than I thought possible, and there is a huge, gaping hole where he used to be. Nothing is ever going to fill that, but I hope in time I will get used to living with it.

We have so many happy memories – our travels and road trips stand out (especially the Alan Jackson trip in 2015 – a true once in a lifetime memory), but even our day to day life is a happy memory.

Fate works in mysterious ways, too – after being made redundant and then deciding against a job in the Gulf in 2008, I decided to stay in Essex and moved to Colchester where my parents followed me a couple of years later.

Geography means I have been able to pop in to them, and them to me, for all of that time – and when I bought my house, they were able to project manage the build for me without having to stay away from their own home. Which also led to lots of sundowners in the garden, and BBQ dinners when I got home from work. Mundane at the time, so very precious with hindsight.

I’ve stayed more or less single throughout my twenties & into my thirties – and while I’ve had various opinions about that during that time, I’m now more grateful than ever that I made that choice. I made it for my own happiness, but a side effect I hadn’t even considered is that I have had time and freedom to spend with Mum and Dad regularly. I see them most weeks unless I’m away, sometimes several times a week, and while the house project was in progress I saw them most days. That time, now, feels like a gift.

And so. Somehow or other, Mum and I have to learn to live without Dad. Or at least, without his physical presence.

It is the small things which are the hardest – when the cars play up, or the oven breaks – all the little things he would fix without batting an eyelid.

I hung all my pictures in my house over the Easter weekend – I think he’d be very proud, despite the fact that I will be needing blue tac to make sure they all stay hanging straight…!

The blog will, I suspect, be a big part of my recovery. I’ve missed it, but I wanted to post this before I resumed normal posts, and it is still so raw and I’ve found it very difficult to write. I’m sure more about Dad will find its way onto the blog as I remember it, discover it or rediscover it – but for now, I am going to post this, and then take away all “shoulds” and allow myself to blog, or not, as I feel like it.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are one of the incredible humans who has been there for me and with me during this time, thank you even more. I am told that one day I will feel like myself again. Until then, I’ll just take ten minutes at a time.

In memory of truly the best Dad a girl could ever wish for. I’ll try always to make you proud.

Chris Watkins

22 August 1944 – 8 March 2017

Dad and me on my 30th birthday | carlalouise.com

Dad’s chosen charity for donations in his memory is Devon Air Ambulance, with whom he worked for many years. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here: http://christopher.watkins.muchloved.com/

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