Posted by: theoriginalmiss | November 3, 2013

On grief and losing my Dad

At first I thought that this post would have no place on my blog, supposedly devoted to art and the environment.  However, on reflection it is the perfect place: the family, and the central place it holds in our societies, is the back bone of our lived social environments and experience; yet death, the only certainty in life, seems very much pushed to the background.  Here I write about my father: it’s almost too painful, yet oddly cathartic.

On August 21st 2013, my Dad, Geoffrey Leonard Broom, passed away “peacefully in his sleep”: for which read drug induced torpor which counteracted the diabolical symptoms of the pancreatic cancer that took him 26 days after his diagnosis. I sound angry: I’m not. Perhaps I am still in shock at the speed with which the thing took him and ever feeling the void created by his absence.

Perhaps I had felt something inconceivable and horrid coming earlier in the year: I took the portrait (above) of him, almost a tribute to him, in January, after having spent virtually no time with him during our annual Christmas and New Year visit “home” to Devon. To be honest, Dad was really not up to socialising. His health appeared taken by coeliac’s disease, his mouth beset with dental problem after dental problem and his usual farmer’s resilience to the cold thwarted by what he called ‘old age’. He was 75. Now we know the truth, the deeper problem.

Going home to comfort him in what I thought were his final weeks or months, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The closer I got to the UK, the more emotional I became, until I was finally met at the railway station in Exeter by both my brothers, one of my nieces and my mother, some 20 years divorced from Dad, and married to another wonderful man. Being back in the bosom of close family carried me through that devastating period. The day I arrived he was moved into a hospice, and basically given 2 more days to live… he lasted 5. The staff, and particularly the nurses at the hospice were outstanding, empathetic and caring human beings: the care they offered Dad was second to none.  Whilst I am extremely grateful to have had any time with him at all before he passed, it must be said that those final moments were not exactly quality time.

Lack of exposure to death in our society in general, and my family in particular meant for me, that when faced with it, I felt completely ill equipped to deal with the situation. There still appear to me to be so many taboos around the subject of death and dying. Dad had become angry about people crying around him so I had to utterly contain myself emotionally in order not to upset him. No only was there never a moment on my own with him to talk about deeper issues, conversation with him was stilted anyway. The drugs had worked fast on him, rapidly diminishing his ability to articulate and concentrate until day three when he fell into a deep sleep from which he never awoke.

It was Dad who unwittingly inspired me to undertake post-graduate studies in environment. He was a typical Devonshire farmer: he left school early and devoted his life to the land. More recently, in the noughties, he had reinvented himself and diversified his practice to include environmental stewardship of his farmland through programs run through Natural England. Farming, and being on the land in general, were Dad’s life: he loved it. From him, I acquired a deep love of nature and subtle understanding of the balance found within it. In reality, the last quality time I spent with my father had been back in December 2012 when my children and I walked with him around his fields, sodden and soft underfoot from the unusually wet year experienced in the West Country, looking for the birds he had attracted through his stewardship activities, and discussing the wider repercussions of the badger setts that were destroying vast expanses of hedgerow there.

My brother told me my Dad was disappointed that I had moved to Australia. I cannot regret this decision, as 15 years is too long a period of one’s life to wish away. I am now however fully feeling the repercussions of not living near family, the sense of distance that will prolong my grieving as the triggers for it become more intermittent but intense. In my darkest moments, the loss seems unbearable. However, although my father has always been in my life, I feel the most for his widow, his soul mate Julie, with whom he did almost everything. Dad was a tenant farmer so it is Julie who has been left to sell the remaining livestock and machinery, and move on. I cannot imagine what she must be going through. The hardest bit for me will be returning to Devon to see the farm I grew up on being farmed by another, most traces of my father removed. For Julie, that chasm will be gaping and painful for a long time to come.

This intensive, emotional and surreal period of my life has revealed many things to me. In particular, I was astounded at the outpouring of people, both friends and strangers, as one navigates the harder parts of life, and the warmth and strength that I derived from that.   Indeed, both Julie and I felt immense solace in the condolences and cards received (well over a hundred) and the fact that the church was full to overcapacity for his funeral. It is this inexorable circle of life that binds us all, no matter who or where we are, and indeed what we have. Other people, and friends in particular, freely shared their experiences of losing a loved one, filling me with the feeling that this is the natural state of the world. It gave a whole new meaning to the catchphrase “sharing is caring”.

Another thing that surprised me was how much my creativity was stifled, and not immediately. During the shock of those first few weeks, I continued to take photographs, but back in Australia, in my normal life, the desire waned to the point of almost oblivion. Perhaps that was more due to the effort I had to put in to catch up on my Masters coursework; anyway I’m glad to report that it is returning, gradually.

Apparently, my father regretted that he would not live to see through a large project he was to undertake with the RSPB that involved raising awareness of the plight of birds on Britain’s farmlands. We had discussed that project on numerous occasions, and I had enjoyed being able to discuss his plans with him. From my father I learned that we love, we lose, we live, we die, but no matter how long a life, it is what we do with it that counts. And now, on the eve of my finishing five intense years of pursuing a Masters that has changed my worldview even more radically than it already was, it is my regret that my father is not here to share my greatest sense of achievement, and the ensuing adventures that are starting to eventuate from it.



  1. A beautiful and moving piece, Paula. I’m so sorry for your loss, but feel really uplifted by your words on the circle of life, and pleased that you were able to spend time with your Dad witnessing all his great ideas in action when you visited last winter. xx

    • Thank you so much, Bridget. It was devastating. Gerir lost her dad too recently and she was over for his funeral last week or week before. Bad year! Hope you and your family are well? I’ll visit your blog soon – busy tying loose ends up as my Masters officially draws to an end!!

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