The Death of My Dad – Grateful for Peace + Acceptance

On my father’s gravestone, the inscription begins:

‘With love we remember

David McDonald Smith

Builder, musician and sailor.’

Dad passed away two years ago this week so I have been thinking about him a lot.  And about IT ALL.

I’m so grateful that I can say today that he truly is remembered with love.  There were many times I didn’t think of him fondly when he was alive.

The Smith side of the family is renowned for the harshness of their lives and their longevity.  Dad’s great granny had 12 children, twice twins, lived in poverty and died aged 84.  His grandfather passed away at 86, after a hard life and fighting in both the Boer War and the First World War.  Dad’s mum, my granny died aged 99 and his dad had been 83.

Dad could have had a long and healthy life, but he chose not to.  His alcoholism robbed him of a ripe old age,  and in the final few years, had robbed him of his mind.

Dad died in a fall, at night, after drinking all evening as usual, alone in his chair.  There had been many accidents before: leaps from high windows, car crashes, being knocked over, fights and falls into the sea from his beloved boat. There were longstanding jokes about him having nine lives… in fact, he’d gone through many more than that.

But long before it finally killed him, Dad’s drinking had robbed his family of a husband, a father, a brother, a son; had robbed us all of a person we loved and longed to have in our lives, fully present.

And his drinking had made him mean, cruel, abusive, violent at times too.  All that had a catastrophic effect on all of us, but especially on my only brother.

Life is not black and white.  Dad could be fun, adventurous, charismatic; he was a very successful businessman.  He could be scary, aggressive, unpredictable, embarrassing, foul.

True forgiveness only came, for me, once Dad had dementia.  Until then, I still carried a hard kernal of fury deep inside.  Latterly, I wasn’t angry for myself at all (grateful for the years of therapy!), however fury remained for what had become of my brother, the waste, the pain.

Then, seeing Dad like a lost little boy, a gentle old man, made even that rage fragment and waste away.

‘When he lost his mind, we finally found our father,’ I said to a friend.

I saw Dad just once as a gentle old man, on a fast visit with my second son, the twins were only three and it had been too hard to leave them for several years.

When I said goodbye to Dad, I knew I wouldn’t see him again.  We all knew that he was dying.

In fact, his fall came only ten days after I got back to Sydney.

I am so, so grateful that I saw my dad at the end of his life, and that I was kind to him, spoke gently, made him cups of tea.

Nothing could ever have stopped my Dad’s drinking, believe me, everyone had tried their hardest.  Except Dad.

Dad died with his wife, brother and two daughters by his side.  The accident that killed him was a violent one, but death itself came peacefully.

Dad was buried in a beautiful graveyard in the rolling farmlands of East Lothian, in Scotland.   Peaceful now forever.

I’m linking this to Weekend Grateful over at Maxabella’s.  Thanks Maxabella for having this link, it encouraged me to get some of the words out of my head and written out.  And I have needed a good cry all week.

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  1. i have personal experience of this in my wider family so this post spoke to me. thank you. i’m glad you’ve found peace.

    • Thanks Georgi, addiction is a terrible thing and unfortunately it’s somewhere to be found in most families. Appreciate your comment.

  2. Seana, what a bittersweet memorial to your father. I have tears reading this. Your words “When he lost his mind, we finally found our father” particularly touched me. Oh, if only people could know these things when they are alive.

    Much love to you in memory of your father.


    • Thank you Maxabella, and thanks so much for the Grateful link, which inspires so many people to reflect on their lives and find those silver linings.

  3. I’m so sorry Seana. What a beautiful piece of writing and a memorial to your dad for all time. The Captain lost his dad earlier this year, he led a similar life to yours. Much love to you always xx

    • Must say that I have always found an immediate common bond with other children of problem drinkers. Love to you and the Captain.

  4. Jodi Gibson says:

    What a powerful post Seana, so raw and heartfelt at the same time. I am so glad that you found peace and forgiveness and were able to see and remember your Father as you should. Love to you and yours x

    • Thank you Jodi, it’s really heartwarming to know that people understand and are sympathetic. We’ve all got some areas in life where we need support, and it’s lovely to feel that from people.

  5. Denyse Whelan says:

    Ah Seana. Two years. It’s sad that your memories have been smothered in such recollections of a Dad whose life choices ( maybe not within his full control) took “him” from you. So, telling us that his latter years brought a kind of peace enabling you to have some sense of helping and conversing makes some good out of the bad.
    I feel for you…. And I am grateful that you had the chance, to finally work out the words.
    Peace and Forgiveness………….easy to write….. Harder to achieve.
    Love, Denyse x

    • Thanks Denyse, I feel so glad that he did live as long as he did, so I was older and wiser when he passed away.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this from your heart. Truly, thank you.

    I think we have lived similar lives Seana but I see you have gone before me. Knowing now what you know and what you have experienced has given me hope that maybe one day my Dad will be at peace within his emotional turmoil and there might be some space for me with him. You’ve given me hope. The way you described making him cups of tea. I’d love to do that for my dad instead of him refusing me.

    • It was so hard for so long, terribly painful when he had no interest in his grandchildren. Oh dear. It was easier to be here and far away from family for many, many years. It’s so much harder now. His dementia was pretty bad for the last three years of his life, poor old soul. And he was pretty physically disabled too.

      One day we’ll have a chat and share stories. And here’s hoping your dad might soften as he ages.

  7. What a touching post, very beautifully written.

  8. Life isn’t black and white is it? Addiction is so cruel.
    thnking of you…

    • That’s so true, addiction really is cruel… especially to the one who is in the thick of it, poor old Dad.

  9. Oh how sad, it’s awful to think someone can cause themselves so much grief. Nice that you got to reconnect even if in a fragile way.
    Glad you are at peace with it all now. Lovely post.

    • You’re so right, it was in a fragile way. It was so sad that I saw so little of him in the last three or four years, but my own family needed me here in Oz and that’s just what needed to take priority. And it’s so healing to be with new, fresh lives.

  10. What a raw, sad and beautifully written post. I am so glad that you have found peace and forgiveness and had some time, even with dementia, before he passed.
    xx B

    • Thanks Bron, it felt good to write this. I drive around with the kids a lot and words were whirling around in my head, it was so good to clarify my thoughts, give them a form.

  11. Oh seana – what a beautifully written and emotional post. I’m crying for me as I read it beacaus my dad died when I was 19. (Dad things always make me cry. ) How difficult your life must have been while he battled this. Sometimes life seems so heartless – but I guess it’s in overcoming this, as you seem to have done, that we get real peace. Thanks for sharing. Caz

    • So sad to lose your dad when you were so young and I’m sure he was too. Life is often just too, too cruel. And we all have some sort of issues in our lives, some pain and grief… it’s just that human condition isn’t it? Thanks Caz.

  12. Thank you Seana for sharing your story, for being so open and honest about feelings a lot of us choose to push down or hide away. Sometimes a good cry is the best medicine x

    • So true, and it’s hard to really connect with deep emotions and explore and feel them in the midst of school/preschool/working week. Also a firm believer in a good cry. Thanks Alison.

  13. Beautiful post. Has it really been 2 years? I remember being with you when you got the dreadful call from your sister, but at least you got to make your peace with him before he went. Forgiveness always helps; it doesn’t help anyone to hang on to the bitterness.
    I honestly believe that sober alcoholics, or anyone really who is able to resist the siren’s call of their addiction, are the bravest people in the world. It takes such incredible courage and determination. Sadly it was beyond your dad but we shouldn’t think less of him for that. xxx

    • That’s right Benison, and we can and do chose the remember the good bits. After his funeral, I cleaned out the booze cupboard in the sitting room, it was filthy, the glasses were manly and there were all sorts of old bottles in there. So I washed all the glasses, wiped the shelves and said: ‘That’s it, it’s all over now.’ It felt very meaningful to clean it up for my Mum, save her the grief of it.

  14. What a beautifully written and honest post. Life, family, it’s a complicated and often messy thing, and you have written about that here with great humanity. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much Naomi, I’m glad I wrote it, got it all out of my head and onto paper, shared it all with others.

  15. Thank you for a beautiful, timely post.
    I’m in the midst of trying to ‘save’ my alcoholic mother.
    How I ever thought coming home to her & Ireland for a mere 3 weeks was going to change anything, I don’t know.
    I brought her home from hospital after heart surgery last week and she immediately drank a bottle of wine and smoked cigarettes with an hour of being home.
    As tragic and cold as it is, this trip has shown me that I am completely powerless over this addiction.
    And it has robbed my family of the warm, funny woman I once knew and still love.
    Death is imminent, but this bitter, twisted life she lives is a foot in the grave already.
    Thank you. I’ve needed a good cry too.

    • Lets talk sometime. We are totally powerless and it’s a terrible feeling, a huge pain. Have you ever been to Al-Anon? I know that it’s helped our family a lot in that way especially. Thinking of you.

  16. Hi,I understand father is dying as i type these words & i have made my peace with him also.
    That’s all i can say at this time!
    Thankyou Seana.

  17. Beautiful well written words from the heart…a burden shared when ready is a burden halved….and wise to remember the beauty and not the blackness. Not always possible but better for the soul.
    Take care

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