Losing my dad changed how I saw the people around me

The death of my dad – Phil Raymond – in March 2018 was sudden and unexpected. 

He had initially developed flu-like symptoms, but a week or so later, we found out it was Group A streptococcus and that resulted in lung abscess, bronchopneumonia and severe sepsis.

These symptoms emerged on a night where the ambulance service was ‘exceptionally busy’, meaning he waited seven and a half hours for one to arrive. 

He died within 24 hours of reaching the hospital.

This was just weeks before his 60th birthday and retirement, and only a year since he had lost his own father, my grandpa, who was almost 90 when he passed.  

Dad’s death changed my family’s life in an instant, as well as mine. The days that followed were surreal as I dealt with a tornado of emotions including shock, disbelief and anger, which ran parallel to breaking the news to horrified relatives and friends, which was so hard. 

Public health also advised us not to see other people until it was ruled out that we didn’t have streptococcus ourselves. We had to start turning people away from the house until this was cleared. On the way to the doctor’s surgery to pick up blood test forms, I broke down, screaming and crying at the wheel. 

Losing dad way before his time was harder due to the brilliant relationship we had. We went to gigs together, football matches, bonded over sitcoms and stupid videos. 

One Christmas, at the height of my music fandom, I opened an Oasis biography and my eyes lit up at two signatures on the inside cover: ‘All the best mate, from Liam’ and ‘Have a good one, Noel’. I then looked up to see dad giving me the biggest grin.  

It doesn’t feel like there are enough superlatives in the English language to do justice to the man who was an incredible father and friend to such a diverse range of people, all of whom were utterly crestfallen to hear the news. 

But with his loss came an outpouring of support. The gestures family and friends made when my dad died brought so much comfort, strength and happiness too – and this National Grief Awareness Week, I’m choosing to remember those who really came through for my family.  

For instance: Dad’s motorbike mates accompanied him on his ‘final ride’ – an unforgettable, roaring, two-wheeled entourage flanking the funeral cars’ journey to the crematorium. This show of love and support felt protective, of him and of us, as we headed to such a significant event. 

Until then, my most vivid memory of Dad and his motorbike was less about the vehicle itself, and more about the people he befriended through it. Once, we were out for a family meal at a restaurant by a local beauty spot, which also happened to be a location where sometimes hundreds of bikers congregated on weekends.

As soon as his group spotted us, they were cheering, hugging him, hugging us (this being the first time my mum and I had met a lot of them) – such warmth and respect between everyone. Dad often talked of the fierce loyalty among ‘the bikers’. 

The group later produced bespoke ‘Riding for Phil 2018’ patches, now sewn onto the jackets of other friends and family, too. 

Many people in my Dad’s life found incredibly sentimental ways to honour his memory through the things he loved and adored. 

A family friend, Callum, was writing a dissertation on marine biology and knew my dad enjoyed going fishing with his father. Callum placed an ‘in memory’ dedication at the beginning, as he knew it was a subject matter Dad would have appreciated.

I was so touched by this thoughtful gesture and it took me down memory lane, including a time years ago when our dads took us fishing on New Year’s Eve – we had to find part of the canal that wasn’t frozen over! 

One of my favourite things to do with Dad was spend weekends at a mountain hut in the Lake District, for which a close friend of Dad’s is still a keyholder. Often it would be a group of lads from my primary school and our fathers, exploring and camping overnight.

The pamphlet from the funeral was laminated and placed on the inner wall of ‘The Hut’ – another nod to my dad and times we shared.  

In the midst of a particularly difficult year for many, I’ve been thinking more about why people make such heartfelt displays of affection and really go the extra mile. One obvious element is wanting to pay personal tribute to someone they cared about and will deeply miss. 

Beyond motorbikes and the great outdoors, my dad also loved music. He always played the guitar, listened to records and would go to live gigs. One of the bands he became obsessed with in 2012 – and proceeded to follow around the country – was The Pretty Things.  

In a strangely fitting way, later in 2018 – nine months after dad’s passing – they played their final live electric performance after 55 years of touring. A group of us went down to London to watch, which was particularly poignant as this was a gig dad would undoubtedly have been at, had he still been with us.  

His friend, Brendan, then produced a film based around this band, and dedicated it to Dad, a ‘friend and fellow Pretty Things Fan’. Their adoration of the music created an ‘everlasting bond’ and Brendan has since created two more films, relating to other favourite of Dad’s favourite bands. 

All of this has made me reflect a lot on death, mortality and being remembered. It still occupies my mind a lot now. I wish Dad could have seen all this for himself and I hope he already knew just how loved he was.  

I think another reason for these above-and-beyond gestures was that they provide a way to help us, Dad’s close family. Loss is such an ultimate thing that friends can’t help us solve – and with grief, there are many things that are out of our control. But these are things people can take action on, and it really has helped.

It just shows that there can be flashes of light, even in the darkest of times and that the absolute worst experiences in life can bring out the absolute best in people.

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