Papa's Gone 😭😭😭
My Dad died on the 8th January. Or maybe it was the 7th – I can’t really remember.
I remember it being a Wednesday, and I remember I had the day off work. I was in Costa – a well-known Coffee chain – and I was doing some writing – a well-known form of transmitting and storing information. I was sipping on a medium-sized latte and my mum called me.
When my mum calls it means one of two things: that she needs to tell me one of my favourite celebrities has appeared on This Morning, or that my dad has died. Up to this point, she’d never played the dead dad card so I wasn’t expecting any big news.
“Hiya, how’s it going?” I said.
“Where are you?” She asked.
“I’m in Birmingham. Why?”
There was a pause, and I was a little confused at the question so I jumped into the silence. “What do you mean where am I? Is Karl Pilkington on This Morning right now?”
“I’m sorry but your Dad’s passed away.”
“Oh, right. Okay.”
I don’t remember how long the conversation went on after that, or if what I’ve just written was the exact exchange, but that was the gist of it. I put the phone down and sat there. I remember having the thought that this was a massive life-event so it was probably inappropriate for me to carry on writing jokes. I closed my laptop and sipped on my Latte.
When I finished, I walked out onto the high-street and meandered for a while. I texted my best friends Arnold and Joe about it.
I walked home and went up to my room and lay on my bed. I slept – a well-known method of recuperation – and woke up a few hours later, probably around 3pm.
I had a gig that evening in Nottingham. I thought I should maybe cancel it, but I was also looking forward to it. I had a few new jokes I wanted to slide into my set, and with some bigger gigs coming up later in the month, it was a good opportunity to try stuff out. Every gig has got the potential to make me better at stand-up – even if that’s just a fraction of a percent better – and I get mad at myself if I’m not gigging as much as I possibly can. My dad had died, but staying at home thinking about it wasn’t really gonna do anything, whereas working on a new joke about how there’s a massive gender pay gap when it comes to OnlyFans accounts could at least do something for my future.
I was supposed to get the train to the gig with my friend Sachin, who was also performing. This prospect worried me. Would I have to talk about my Dad? Would I have to tell him about how I’m an orphan now? Would he have to correct me on my definition of orphan? Would that be rude of him? It was too much to think about. But then it seemed weird to not bring it up. Surely when your dad dies you can’t just walk around the same day and not mention it? That’s insanity. But also, it’s not something you can slide easily into a conversation. “Hey man, my dad died today, so anyway how’s it going for you?”
It’s a bit too much on the other person. Normally I like to burden people with my emotions.
At least if you’re a burden it means people are still trying to lift you up; it’s a great sign. It’s when you ask people if you’re a burden and they assure you you’re not that you need to be worried.
“No Eric, you’re not a burden, this is barely impacting me at all actually.”
“I’ve just told you I’m suicidal mate, how is this not burdensome to you?”
Know what I mean? But the point is, I didn’t even feel like being a burden that day. Luckily for me, I missed the train we were supposed to meet on and I got the next one. After arriving at the gig late, I decided that mentioning my late father as well would just be adding insult to injury, so I kept quiet.
The gig went well, despite a few drunken hecklers I had to put down.
I didn’t think much of it, but then after my set members of the audience kept coming up to me and apologising on behalf of the dickheads and telling me how well I’d handled it. It was really kind, but every time someone came up to me I had the urge to say, “Yeah and what makes it more impressive is that my dad died today.” I decided to not make it awkward though.
I got the train back to Birmingham with Sachin. It was fine, though. We just talked about the gig and our sets. Also we shared this big bag of spicy crisps we bought at the train station and we didn’t buy anything to drink so our mouths were on fire for most of the journey.
The next few days were weird. I spoke to my friends Joe and Arnold and also my Mum about things, but I never really knew what to say.
My dad had been ill for a while. Years. When I was 15 he had a fall and injured his spine, causing him to be in hospital for a few months. After he came out, he was still mentally sound, but physically his movement was much more restricted. He could walk, but with difficulty. It was strange for him to become as suddenly physically vulnerable as he was. I think he took a lot of pride in being active and hard working. My memories of him when I was younger – before him and my mum split up – were of him always doing DIY and gardening. At the weekends, he’d be outside building a shed or something, working through his emotions with MDF and a saw. I was a bit too young, but if my older siblings weren’t helping out they’d get a bollocking for being bone idle. It was classic Dave Rushton.
I’m the second youngest in a big family (I have five brothers and two sisters) and by the time my dad had his injury, only me and my little brother were legally classified as “children” (kind of like adults, but smaller). We’d see my dad every other weekend, and his lack of mobility meant he’d be stuck inside all the time, like a little square. One time we were looking at films on his NOW TV box and it seemed like every film we looked at my dad had already seen, and would be able to tell us about it in so much detail that he’d probably seen it more than once. It made me sad how fucking bored he must’ve been. It’s an incredibly poignant moment when your once active father gives you his well thought-out take on Wreck-It Ralph.
He got worse over the years, deteriorating so much that he spent the last few years of his life in a care home. He had multiple strokes and developed dementia, meaning he was able to watch Wreck-It Ralph with a fresh pair of eyes again, but unable to recognise his own children – a difficult trade-off.
I didn’t visit much in the last couple of years of his life. I’ve always been confused as to how close we were. I don’t really have memories of doing much together one-on-one with him. Me being his seventh kid is probably a factor in that. When you’re on your seventh child the novelty has got to wear off a bit. I have the same feeling with FIFA. I love it but it’s basically the same game every year, sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a bit better – but never as special as the first one you had. Even if I did have an updated career mode, and a vastly improved Ultimate Team, by the time he was in that care home it was too late to show him – he was gone. Then when he died he was properly gone.
There was a long wait for the funeral. We buried him at the start of February, almost a month after he died. I had no idea it took that long to find a hole in the ground these days.
It made me have a new perspective on how lucky people who are buried alive are. Stop screaming down there, lads. People have to wait ages to get buried and you’ve found a spot before you’re even dead – count your blessings.
In that month, I kept myself quite busy with gigs and writing. I felt weird that very few people knew about my dad dying. I guess in this age we feel like everyone should know everything about us. Our lives are like TV shows – we’re the writer and director and star and we need to make sure the audience knows all the major plot points and character development. You should be able to spin at least two or three episodes out of a dead-parent – maybe even a full series-arc.
I thought I should do a Facebook post. I thought it might even help with the processing of grief – if I could quantify it with sad-face and love-heart reactions, then maybe I could feel it properly. The dead-parent Facebook post is a tricky one – it’s guaranteed likes, but you don’t wanna be hacky. I’ve seen ones in the past where I’ve been like, “I’m glad your Dad’s not around to see how clichéd your post is mate – he would not be proud of this”. In hindsight, it was a cruel thing to comment, but people have got to learn.
Then I had a great idea. I’ve been posting lots of clips of myself doing crowdwork on my Facebook, and I still had the video of me in Nottingham talking to the hecklers. I could combine the two – talk about how my dad died in the caption, and share the video. My grief would be quantified and it would help get my content out there.
It was a sneaky bit of clickbait, but by Jove did it get the job done. The video was the most watched clip I’d put on Facebook, getting thousands of views and causing my dopamine levels to go crazy. But once I’d calmed down I realised it hadn’t helped with the grief at all, I was just buzzing off the attention. In fact, a reaction on the post meant much more to me than a private message of condolence, which certainly wasn’t healthy. Some people would message me to say they were thinking of me and I’d get really annoyed if they hadn’t liked the post. I just kept thinking, There’s an in-built mechanism on the post for you to show your support mate, can you please use it.
Eventually the funeral came around. It was in Radcliffe, near Manchester, where he was from. I stayed at my brother George’s in Manchester the night before.
“How you doing, man?” He asked as I walked through the door.
“Yeah, not too bad. You?”
“Yeah, alright.” And that was pretty much the extent of it.
When we woke up on the day of the funeral and got dressed and had breakfast, it almost felt like we were getting ready for a nice day-out – like we were just overdressed for Alton Towers or something.
My brother drove us to a social club called Dobbies, where the wake was to be held. The name was terrible and the place looked miserable – which helped a bit to prepare us for the gravity of things to come. It was like a starter before the main-course, getting our palates ready for some sweet sweet mourning.
We were supposed to wait at Dobbies to get picked up by the limo and taken to the church. The only problem was, we were early and Dobbies was closed, so we ended up walking round the garden-centre that was next door. Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I’d thought about the prospect of attending a parent’s funeral in the past, I never envisioned I’d spend any portion of the day looking at decking furniture.
The rest of my siblings arrived and then so did the limos and the car with the coffin in. Is that a limo too? I’m not sure if I’m getting any of the funeral jargon right here. Anyway, when we got in the limo there was a lot of silence. I sat up front with the driver and I was sipping on a take-out latte that I bought from the garden-centre café. I guess this was a moment where no one was expected to say anything but it still felt weird. I thought about asking the driver to put the radio on – a bit of Magic FM might’ve lightened the mood – but I decided against it.
We got to the church. Next job was to carry the coffin through to the altar, which my brothers and I had to do. It annoyed me a bit that my sisters were let off the hook here. It seemed like sexism. They’re both married, and when my dad was alive, he walked them down the aisle. It was time to repay the favour – they should be the ones carrying him down the aisle now he’s dead. Preferably, in their wedding dresses.
The service began. The vicar was a middle-aged woman who looked very serious. She said, “We are gathered here today for the funeral of David Rushton” and I heard members of my family start to sob. I still couldn’t quite get the feelings out so I just took a sip of the latte that I still had from the garden-centre. We sang a hymn pretty early on, which is always the worst. It took me back to Church services at school. I tried to join in a bit, but I was mainly miming because I was self-conscious about my singing-voice. Then I looked at my little brother, Danny, and noticed he was miming too. It was the saddest lip-sync battle of all time.
The vicar then began the Eulogy, telling stories about my Dad that some of my family had sent to her. That’s a tough gig. As a comedian, that’s like performing at company’s Christmas party where you’ve been told to take the piss out of the boss. Only in this case the boss had just died after spending eight years ravaged by illness. I didn’t envy her.
But, to be fair to her, she smashed it. As she got into it, I realised she was actually a very warm, jolly person, and she only seemed serious at the start because of the whole it’s-a-funeral thing. She even got a big laugh from me at one point. She was telling a story about a time when my family were having a barbecue many years ago and our neighbours complained over the fence about the noise we were making, only for my dad to shout back, “Piss off you wankers.” Then she joked about how she was a vicar and she shouldn’t say those words. It was great stuff. My only regret was that there was no one from BBC Comedy in the room to take a look at her.
After she took the roof off the place, we headed for the cemetery (again, the brothers carrying the coffin ffs) and buried my dad. My mind drifted to thinking how weird it is we bury people when there’s so little space to do so. Eventually there’s gonna be too many bodies in the ground. Then I thought maybe in the future it would be better to attach the coffin to a hot-air balloon and send it up rather than down. I think by this point that was too late to suggest, so I kept my mouth shut. It was weird seeing the coffin lowered into the ground, but also it didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel like my dad was actually in there. Maybe in a way, he wasn’t. His dead body was, but that wasn’t him any more than the dead body of Keith Chegwin was Keith Chegwin. They were just two sets of decaying flesh and bones at this point.
The wake was back at Dobbies, and it wasn’t so much miserable as boring. The buffet was nice to be fair, but everything else just felt meh. I was like a depressed bride on her wedding day thinking, “this is supposed to be the happiest day of my life, why don’t I feel anything?” only this was supposed to be the saddest day of my life and I didn’t feel much.
My sister had made a big photo album of my dad. Someone passed it to me and I flicked through it and thought it was nice that she’d done that. Then I passed it to someone else.
After spending a couple of hours accepting condolences from extended family members and eating about five paper-plates full of buffet, I left and began the journey home. I had to get the tram into the centre of Manchester and then the train back to Birmingham.
“Do you need a lift to the tram,” George said.
I got into his car and we put the radio on. The journey was brief and quiet.
“Alright, see you man. Hope you get back alright.”
“Cool, see you in a bit,” I said.
I walked over to the tram platform and stood there waiting. It was pretty busy, but a strange set of comfort set in. The funeral was over, my family were going their separate ways and I was back in the familiar throng of strangers. I put in my earphones and Liam Gallagher’s latest banger came on.
I paused the song. Something inside me flared up. Emotions, possibly. There’s an episode of my favourite TV show, Seinfeld, where Jerry starts to cry and he complains of a “salty discharge” coming from his eyes because he doesn’t know what it is. I think I was starting to feel a salty discharge. I tried to resist it. I think maybe all day I’d been unconsciously resisting it, and now I was resisting it of my own volition. But then I looked at the people around me and thought fuck it.
I was crying. Grief – a well-known emotion that affects people going through a bereavement – was finally hitting me. I cried and cried and cried. I cried about the gap in my life that will now never be filled; I cried about all the things he’ll never see me do in my career, and all the things he’d already missed because he’d been too ill; I cried that I hadn’t been there when he died. All of it was too much. I got on the tram and people could see me bawling, but I didn’t care. Finally, I didn’t care. I cried and I stopped reasoning about the crying. It stopped mattering why I was crying; I didn’t need an explanation anymore. Nothing mattered in that moment except for the grief.
I suppose I find it easier to be vulnerable in front of strangers. It’s probably the same reason I like doing stand-up, and the same reason some people like going to sex parties full of strangers. Maybe I would’ve found it easier to cry at the funeral if more people were in gimp suits.
It might even be the same reason I’m able to write this. It’s been six months and I’ve still not spoken to any of my family about the way the day made me feel. It’s easier to write about it, turn it into comedy, to filter it through a persona that’s only half-me. You’ve got plausible deniability when you do that, the lines of fact and fiction are blurred. Like the sex party thing again, it’s probably easier to live with yourself if you’re playing a character while asking someone to lick your bum than if you’re actually yourself.
What’s difficult is telling people you love them when it really matters. Because they won’t always be around. I’m still working on getting better at that.
Anyway, that's about it.
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