Dad was brought back home from the hospital a couple of days later. We were all glad to have him sitting and resting at home. Although the circulation in his hands and fingers were still badly affected from the hypothermia, it was lovely to have him around – reunited as a family again. Dad was very low and depressed and took time off with stress but his work colleagues were very supportive and sent him get well cards. ‘Dad, you have so many cards and messages!’ I said. He was so popular, my dad. I remember him holding my hand when I was little and introducing me to his colleagues saying how proud he was of his kids.
One evening, mum was in the kitchen preparing dinner. While she was waiting for it to be ready, she took a break and sat down. I walked in and started having a chat with her. Max also walked in and joined the conversation. We started having a laugh and a giggle about the past when we noticed dad get up suddenly from his chair in the living room, and storm into the kitchen yelling at us unexpectedly, ‘ What the hell are you laughing at?’ He gave us a an intense, dark glare which really frightened us all. ‘Tim, stop it! You’re upsetting the kids!’ mum warned him. ‘ We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re only having a laugh!’ ‘No you weren’t! You were all talking about me and laughing behind my back’, he snapped. He disappeared back into the room and all three of us looked at each other with shock and confusion. Mum kindly told us to go into our rooms while she talked with dad alone. I could hear a lot of arguing in the room and I couldn’t help but listen at the door – it was very hard hearing them rowing at one another, my stomach flipping with anxiety.
Later that evening, dad came over and apologised to us. But it didn’t seem like a sincere apology, it felt forced. Maybe it was because of his state of mind he was in. A few weeks later, mum got a call from our gran’s house – it was our Uncle Phil speaking to her on the phone incoherently. Our uncle had Down’s syndrome and it was very hard trying to understand him at times. But this time, my mum could sense that something wasn’t quite right in his tone of voice- he seemed in distress. Later on, we found out that gran had passed away suddenly. She had been ill for a very long time and had to look after Phil at the same time which really exhausted her as he could be a handful. Back in the 50’s, she had an awful time and suffered verbal abuse in the streets. People would approach her and stare at Phil in the pram and make cruel remarks saying, ‘ He looks like a pig! Can you catch Down’s syndrome?’ I’m not letting my kids go near that thing!’ She would just give them a disgusted look and walk straight on by. But deep down she was so hurt and upset. How can people be so ignorant and cruel?
Mum was so low and trying to hold everything together while dealing with dad’s depression at the same time. I could see the look of pain , exhaustion and sorrow on her face. I gave her a cuddle and kissed her on the cheek and said, ‘Nan is very proud of you, mum. You’re amazing!’
The funeral was arranged a week later and we were getting ready to go. ‘ I’m just popping out to get some fags, Tree’, Dad called out. ‘ Alright’, Mum replied. ‘But hurry up back, I really need you with me’. We got into the cars that morning and made a slow drive to the service. Everyone sat down and we listened to the minister make a gentle, comforting speech. I was looking around and noticed dad hadn’t arrived yet. ‘Where’s dad, mum?’ I asked quietly. Mum was silent for a moment and then looked at me with concern. ‘ I don’t know, I’m really annoyed at him. This is a time where I need him the most, where the hell is he?’ Max was very quiet and I could tell he was trying to put a brave face on for mum. But he looked at mum and held her hand. ‘He’s probably gone for a quick walk mum, he will be here soon’, he smiled.
After an emotional morning, we headed back home and mum’s other brother, Frances and Auntie Yvonne came back with us to drop us off. ‘ Your husband is being very selfish, Tree’. Frank said in the car. ‘He knows how important this day is for you and all he does is walk off!’ Frank said in a disappointing tone. ‘ Frank, I know you’re trying to help but I don’t need this right now! Mum said angrily. ‘ Frank, pack it in! Yvonne snapped. ‘Just leave it!’ Max and I sat quietly in the car and chose to ignore him. It was an awkward moment of silence. After we got home, Frank and Yvonne stayed for a cup of tea and made their way back home themselves. I tried to put a brave face on for mum but worrying thoughts came to mind. ‘ I hope he hasn’t run off again..’ I wondered to myself. The thought made me feel sick.
He still hadn’t returned by the evening and we were out of our minds with worry. I kept looking out the window hoping for his car to turn up outside on the drive but there was no sign. James was pacing up and down the hallway like a lion in a cage and it was really starting to irritate me. But I didn’t have the energy to argue and moan at him. Mum rang the police and they later came over to ask us questions. We explained to the two officers the situation and thought of all the possible places where he would go to spend time alone and reflect. ‘ Dunstable Downs?’, I suggested. ‘He said to me once that it is a good place to get some breathing space and think things through. ‘ Okay, everyone. We’ll have a look’, they said. They left the flat to start searching and kept us informed every hour or so.
A whole 24 hours had passed and still heard nothing. Mum was up for most of the night stood still by the kitchen window. Suddenly, there was a loud knock. It was the police. Mum invited them in and we all asked at the same time, ‘You’ve found him?’ ‘ I think you all better sit down’, they both said gently. The look on their faces told the truth and we looked at them with horror. ‘ No! please? Mum begged. Don’t tell me he’s…’ ‘We’re terribly sorry’.
I heard my mum let out the most heart – wrenching scream which I would never forget. Inconsolable. I froze. Numb. I couldn’t breathe and collapsed on my knees and wailed.