2018 - the year everything stopped

As many of you will know, 2018 has not been an easy year for me. I should have known when I got ill within the first few days that it was a bad omen. I had three resolutions. 1) Earn more money. 2) Stop correcting people. 3) Spend more time with my dad. In a sense, I was about to get more than I bargained for.

In February of this year, my dad was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. He never said it to me, but we were already at the point of no return. Having no permanent job and with the world of freelancing not exactly banging down my door, it seemed like a no-brainer that I would be going back to Norwich. He had already asked me to come and look after him for a bit, but that was before we knew how serious it all was. Or at least before I knew. 

As soon as I got back it very quickly became clear that it was terminal. Soon after that, it became clear that I was not going back to London any time soon. If these were going to be the last months I had with my dad, I was going to spend them right by his side, every step of the way. 

Memories of this time pop into my head a lot. Every morning I would bring him some variety of fruit and vegetable juice, then sit on a tiny stool by his bed, chatting about this, that and the other. We made our way through two series of The Crown, all series of The Good Wife, and a bit of Desperate Housewives. There was a lot of Escape to the Country and How It’s Made. I got my ‘Papa’ tattoo and saw him cry - only one of three times ever. Made countless cups of tea. Went back and forth from the hospital because they seemed to always forget to give back his most important pain meds when they discharged him. Making all his food just so because otherwise he just couldn’t stomach it. 

On June 15th at around seven in the evening, it all came to an end. I’d slept on the chair in his room the night before and barely left his side that whole day. My neighbour Jeanine, my absolute rock during this time, was there too, holding his hand. He’d liked her a great deal, as I do. A stream of panic arose within me as I wept, for one of the first times in company during those months. Jeanine suggested a hard drink, so I downed some whiskey to calm my nerves. I hate whiskey.   

Things didn’t let up for a while. I planned the funeral, sorted various death admin bits and began to sort out the small house that he had lived in since the divorce and in which I had also spent a number of years. At this point, I was plum out of money and no longer receiving carer’s allowance. 

Unfortunately, my dad’s was not the last funeral I would attend this year. Nor was it the second last or third last. All in all, my aching heart endured four funerals - both of people I knew and in support of people my partner knew. It was a long summer for my boyfriend and I. We held each other up. 

About six weeks after dad’s death, and on the day that I packed a bunch of furniture into a van with my boyfriend, I had a pretty huge, relationship-ending argument with my sister. We haven’t spoken since. 

So I was back in London, moving into a new house with my partner and few other friends but with no job, no money and a new gaping hole in my heart. I must admit that I don’t know how to grieve but I didn’t really have time for all that because I needed work so desperately. After a few odds jobs here and there I finally got something a bit more steady. When that ended in November, I finally caught the break that I’d been waiting years to get. 

I’m ending 2018 on a high. I have had bountiful amounts of support from my incredible friends and partner; I’m in a steady financial position for the first time in a long time; my career is finally on the straight and narrow and I can hold my head up high and say that I did everything I could this year - everything I could for everyone I could. Including me. There’s very little left for me to do except to remember to look after myself as well - to learn how to grieve and remember without getting lost in despair. 

2018 felt in many ways like the year my life stopped - my heart certainly has a few times. May 2019 be the year it starts again. 

My Local Hero

Yesterday, on the 2nd July 2018, a very hot Monday afternoon, we said goodbye to the greatest man I’ve ever known - my Dad. I’ve decided to publish the tribute I wrote for him here so that friends, family and others can come here to read it when they’re feeling low. So here it is:

My very earliest memories of Dad are few but include waving goodbye at the window of Bensley Road, as he pulled away in his old green Volkswagen Golf and of him tucking us into bed at the totally unreasonable hour of 6 o’clock at night when he got home from work. Dad was very much, at this point, the patriarch and provider for the family and we knew him in an almost aloof, although loving, sense. It was only in our late childhood and teenage years, when our relationship with our mother grew more and more fraught, that we began to see a side of Dad that we hadn’t yet experienced.

There were days when mum was in such a state when she picked us up from school that we didn’t want to be alone in the house with her. I’d ring Dad at work. ‘I’ll be home in 20 minutes’, was the usual inevitable answer, as he was quite happy most of the time to drop everything for us. In an environment that often invited chaos and tension, Dad brought understanding, calm and protection. I would be lying if I said that he didn’t sometimes cross the line into overprotective, but I knew that it came from a good place.  

Overall, Michael Bridgman was an unstoppable force of good in this world and to us kids, he was an unshakeable tower of support. He was bountifully kind, generous and good-humoured. He was diplomatic to a fault. He loved to laugh and make others laugh. He was the epitome of Dad puns. Even until the very end, he would be cracking jokes with the nurses, pulling faces at the healthcare assistants and skipping around the hospice trying to entertain people. He gave so much of himself away and barely asked for anything in return. I am sad now that my dad couldn’t have asked more of me sooner, shared more with me and taken anywhere near as much as he’d given in life.

But Dad firmly believed in finding the positive in a situation and would always scold me as soon as he sensed anything that looked, smelled or sounded remotely like cynicism. I think this was because he knew in his heart that, like him, I was a bit of a dreamer. ‘Dolly day-dreamer’, they called me. I recall a birthday card he wrote to me a few years ago that said ‘Never give up and always have a dream’. He believed in justice, hope and love and I believe his career as a social worker was an end to these beliefs.

I remember a time when someone bitter said to me, ‘he loves those kids more than he loves you’. Now, I don’t believe that for a second, but in that moment I realised how grateful I was to have a Dad whose love could reach beyond his own treasured family and out into the community to children who really needed it. I had so much love in my life already, if Dad had a bit extra to go around, then it made me incredibly proud.    

I am so privileged to have had such a father. I must confess that the world feels emptier without him, but having had him in our lives has been a blessing beyond words. This sentiment brings me to a short quote from Khalil Gibran:

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

If there was anyone who could find the silver lining on even the darkest cloud, it was Dad. That is how I intend to live my life in his absence and how I would encourage those who loved him to live out his legacy. He was my protector, my tower of support, my local hero. We will miss him every day.

Thank Yous

Whilst we’re here I would like to say a few thank yous to people to have helped us over the last few months. First of all to Laura, who was first on the scene and without whose constant devotion, support and avid research we could not have gotten through. To Jenny and Tessa, who gave up their time to come down to Norwich to help me out and have been so valuable in many other big and little ways. To Mark, whose help and support was always there when needed. To Tom, Tracy and Rupert, who cooked food, brought entertainment, cleared the garden so Dad could get his chair out and various other invaluable pieces of help. To all the staff at Trinity Street Surgery and Priscilla Bacon Lodge whose kindness and devotion to our NHS fills me with hope for the future. To my hoards of beloved friends who are here today and my boyfriend Kilo - I can’t even tell you how incredibly wonderful they are and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without their support. And lastly, to Jeanine Burks, who was there with me until the very end and who has provided an unbelievable and invaluable amount of advice and support at all hours of the day, as well as pulling strings when we needed it. You bring new meaning to the term ‘love thy neighbour’ and I cannot thank you enough.

Going freelance: a gut-wrenching leap

After a couple of years out of university, I’ve made the terrifying, gut-wrenching decision to go freelance. 

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, the catalyst having been a talk on freelancing by made journalist Rosie Spinks at a workshop for women trying to find jobs by the organisation Chayn (for whom I was photographing the event). She explained that the highs are really high but equally the lows are so low. It’s not stable - and so some have pointedly told me. It’s terrifying.

I recently went to see the much-lauded La La Land after plans to see a free screening of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge fell through, and I found myself experiencing that renewed lease of life that only a great film can conjure. It’s so easy to come out of university and be so desperate to get into work that you forget what it is you actually want in the first place. When your dreams are so ‘pipe’ that people seem to be constantly eye-rolling at you, it’s so easy to fall into something else and tell yourself you’ll pick it up later. 

But as cliched as it sounds, there is no later. There is only now and what you want and what you love. You gotta do this life right, now matter how scary it is. Wish me luck. 

If you have any photography or video needs, please don’t hesitate to contact me at info@catherinebridgman.co.uk.

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