I remember describing the worst summer of my life also being the best summer of my life.
I’d returned home after my first year at university with my boyfriend. The same evening we drove to a country pub for a bite to eat and a drink with my Mum and Dad. I remember thinking it was great my Dad had now become my friend, how close we were. I hold special memories of that evening.
The next morning, Friday, Mum and Dad left home to go on holiday with Nana and Grandad. On Saturday I went for a job interview for Summer Work, after which I returned home and suddenly felt glum. Luckily, that evening friends Kelly and Kellie came round before heading off on holiday themselves, we enjoyed raucous laughter and fun together.
Little did I know, that that was the last day of my life as a ‘child’.
At 7am on Sunday morning the phone rang. I rushed to the phone, to hear my Uncle’s voice. He had had a car accident the night before, whilst on holiday in Scotland, and wanted details of the insurance broker, which I shared.
At about 10am the doorbell rang. I rushed to the door saw my Mum’s Uncle and Aunt on the doorstep, with her cousin.
They told me that there had been a car accident. I responded that my Uncle had called me earlier in the morning. I remember someone saying ‘she knows’. But I didn’t know.
They were talking about another accident. I sat at the bottom of the stairs and heard that my dad had been killed in a car crash on the motorway in East Germany the previous afternoon. He had died instantly. Mum, Nana and Grandad were injured and taken to hospital, but ok and were staying in a hotel until they could get flights to return home.
My life changed. Shock took over, followed by strength.
That day, I had to tell my brother the news over the phone (he was staying with his girlfriend’s parents in the Lake District). It was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done and can still remember that call vividly. We arranged for family friends to collect him.
We had visitors from my Grandpa (Dad’s dad) to the Minister from Church (I saw the lighter side of life occasionally – giggling about saying ‘more tea vicar’?). It was the Wimbledon Tennis Final, which I couldn’t concentrate on, so we watched ‘The life of Brian’ as the remainder of the day was a waiting game, for my brother to return, and also my Uncle, who’d always been like an older brother to me.
I organised for messages to be left for my Uncle to urgently call me when he arrived back from Scotland later in the afternoon. He was the second person of our family I felt I had to break the news to, it was more tricky because I didn’t know when he would phone. We arranged to meet for dinner, although none of us had an appetite.
A giant hole had been created in my life. My father was my friend, my thesaurus, my sounding board, my rock. Not only did I miss the dry sense of humour, the logical brain, the perfectionist, the person who I aspired to be like, the pride he showed in me and how unassuming he was, I missed day to day life, our mini competitions, such as swapping cars to see who could get the best miles per gallon, his quirky way of getting me to learn. But most importantly I missed his resilience. I got through difficult times by feeling he was over my shoulder, so I could talk to him and ask him a question. Even now, I often think, ‘What would dad say?’
During that year I was resilient and found my inner strength, a future focus. At the beginning it was one day at a time. With the goal of completing university and support from different networks, student friends, school friends, family friends and most importantly family, luckily my ‘new normal’ day to day life could continue.
At the age of 19, I had had my eyes opened to death through an accident. The realisation of support from others became my strength. The knowledge that I was not alone, allowed me to become who I am now.
I learned not to think ‘What if.’
I learned to think how lucky we were my dad had died instantly without pain, and had not ended up with life changing brain injuries.
I learned to think, ‘What would Dad say/ want/ do?’
I learned to grieve.
I learned to cry.
I learned to share.
I learned how to be strong.
I learned how to be resilient.
I learned that having support from family and friends will buoy you, if you ever need support, ask for it.
That learning has never left me.
WORLD DAY OF REMEMBRANCE FOR ROAD TRAFFIC VICTIMS – 21st November 2021