My dad’s name was Dave Baxter. He was 48 when he died of skin cancer. He was my best friend and I miss him every single day.
He was a happy and healthy man- a character of which I have never known since his passing in 2013. I would spend hours, days dumbfounded that a man so large in personality could be taken so young. It wasn’t fair. He had so many friends, so many people that loved him. No less so me. He was my hero and the only man I looked up to.
He taught me everything I know to be true today: to be polite, to always use first-names when talking to people; to laugh and to never be too serious; to always look after your own; to love; to be happy and positive- confident in my own abilities. I was 22 when Dad died, and I was scared and alone to the world ahead without him.
Dad spent a lot of his years in the gym. He was a bodybuilder, and at his heaviest he weighed 18-stone. My memories of him from childhood were that of someone looking up to a superhero. He once apprehended a thief with a trolley full of televisions in a Tesco-car park whilst I looked on in awe. I was fearless when I was around him. Nothing would scare or worry me in his company. He was my loving dad, bigger than a house. And when the cancer started to take hold, I watched as it stripped him of his size, personality and all dignity.
He returned from holiday with my lovely Mum in April, complaining of a pain in his stomach and having lost a bit of weight. It looked well on him, although he didn’t feel it. When I went to the hospital with him days later, the nurse had to ask which one of us was the patient!
The next 5/6 months are a blur and even now I struggle to recall much detail. My mind has protected itself over the years, and the evil and the horrors that we witnessed as a family are somewhat of a haze.
He died in September 2013. And that was the start of the life I know now.
Navigating my 20s without my dad has been impossible at times. I’m a young man and any young man needs the love and support of his dad. I made mistakes without him- big mistakes that have taken me to the brink. But I’ve learnt. I tried professional therapy. And I’ve always had the love of a wonderful family, a phenomenal mum and a lovely group of friends- but sometimes all I’ve needed is the loving reassurance of my dad: “Come on, Jacko. Everything will be OK, mate.”
I had spent a lot of time seeking the guidance and advice of peers older than me. People in their 50s who had also lost parents would tell me “it’s going to be OK.” But how did they know? They weren’t 22 when they suffered their loss. It had been an incredibly isolating experience.
Finding GOODGRIEF was absolutely the turning point of my journey.
I like to look to the positives in any situation- no matter how bad. And one thing I am able to cite as a good thing to come out of the loss of my dad is the amount of truly amazing people I now have in my life. I am a better man for my experiences, and without them I wouldn’t have met many of my closest friends.
Friends like Ben May and Matt Langdon- my brothers. They too lost their dads, months after I lost mine. Ben cuts my hair, and we connected on a level that is very rare when he revealed his dad, Steve, was dying of a brain tumour. The same can be said for Matt, who I met just before his dad, Rich, died suddenly having suffered a heart attack.
Ben and Matt understood my pain, my tears and my worries. Unlike others, they were young when their dads died. And together, we were able to support one and other through our darkest times.
We belonged to the club. A club built out of young people struggling through day-to-day life in grief. Once in that club, you quickly become aware of its other members. So we launched our GOODGRIEF meetings- to help give a platform to other grieving young people to join our conversation.
Together we were determined to connect those who have all experienced loss at a young age and are looking for others who understand. Since May 2018 we have met over 350 young people in London who have all acknowledged a desire to live their lives in spite of grief.
It’s difficult to believe that you can be happy again when you say goodbye to the most important people in your life. My dad is gone forever and there is nothing that makes that OK. But in GOODGRIEF, new friends, new love and a new normal- I am able to say that I am truly happy in loss.