Hannah & GEOFF
Victoria Park, Manchester
Could you start by telling me about the original photograph?
I'm Hannah, and the original photo was taken on my wedding day on 11th August 2012 outside St. Chrysostom's Church in Manchester. It was just before Dad walked me down the aisle. My sister was heavily pregnant, we were waiting for her to go to the loo before we could go in, so we got quite a few shots outside the church before going in.
My next question ordinarily would be to ask if you remember anything more about the day it was taken, but being your wedding day, it was obviously very significant!
So we had just arrived in the car together, the wedding car's picked us up from the hotel where we'd been getting ready and I was just in the car with dad all the way there. The driver had taken us on an interesting route and they were old rickety cars, so it had taken quite a long time. My dad was actually holding my hand all the way there, which was unusual, and at times I thought it was a little bit awkward, but it was a special day so I wanted to let him have his moment! Actually, in hindsight, I'm really glad, because it was special. It was a happy day!
Do you have any recollection of what you talked about in the car?
I don't really remember much of what we talked about to be honest! Probably because I was really nervous, I think he was a bit as well. I just remember him receiving a phone call from my auntie because her and my mum were lost on the way to the church! He was trying to play that down a bit, not to worry me!
So he was trying to keep everybody calm?
Yeah. Trying to direct them to Victoria Park, not Victoria Station.
Those are very different places! Could you describe the photograph for me?
Yeah, it's me and dad standing outside the church, linking arms and smiling.
That place, the church, is it a particularly special place? Is it somewhere you hold dearly now?
Yeah, we didn't know the church before we got married there. We only got married there because our church was being renovated. When I think back to it, I think about all the nice pictures that we have there, and obviously the very special moment of getting married there. We used to live in a flat around the corner from there, so as I was walking to and from work, when we were newly married, I did really enjoy walking past it and remembering our wedding day.
In that sense, it's somewhere that is familiar, but have you been back since the wedding?
No, not really. We don't really live near there and I don't have a reason to go back, because it's not our church, so no, I've not.
How did it feel to go back today? To go inside and look around?
A bit weird, but also a bit familiar. Nice to see it all again, because now I just see it in photos, but it was nice to remember parts and places where we did things like sign the register.
"It was hard, a huge shock. I can still remember exactly how that day went. I can remember the time on my phone when my mum rang me to tell me ... I haven't dwelt on not saying goodbye, it felt really hard that everything just suddenly stops. The relationship stops, things that you thought that you were going to do together, that's it, it's not going to happen, that's what I found hardest."
I know from my wedding day that were things in the pictures that I don't remember happening because everything just flashes by! Did it feel at all reminiscent, did you get any returning emotions from the day?
Yeah. Looking down the aisle at the altar was quite special, because we've got some really nice pictures of us standing there as the light was shining on us saying our vows. It brought back memories of the people, where they were sitting and what they were doing during the service.
How was your Dad for the rest of the day? Having photographed lots of weddings, I feel like sometimes you see people in a new light on an occasion like that. It was obviously a very special day for him as well as you. What was your dad like as a person?
He was incredibly outgoing, one of those people that lights up the room and you couldn't miss him. If he was in a congregation, then you knew, because his voice was booming, he was very enthusiastic in his worship, singing and playing music. Very enthusiastic about everything and full of life.
In a larger than life sense?
Was he like that with you?
Yeah, all the time! I quite like that you could pick him out in a congregation because he was so loud, because now when I'm singing in church, I can easily quite imagine him singing with us because he would have been singing so loudly, and dancing sometimes, but I quite like that.
Things like that, the characteristics of his, are there any things that you feel you've inherited or try to live out yourself?
He was an incredibly generous person, and I really really liked that about him, so I try and emulate that with other people. He was never shy about saying that he was proud of us or that he loved us, which, sometimes, people are a bit shy about doing because you don't always say those things to the people that you love even if you really do. Quite often I'd ring him on my way home from work if I'd had a bit of a tough day, telling him about it, he would always end the conversation by telling me he was proud of me, proud of what I was doing and I always found that really encouraging. So I'm quite conscious of that, that goes with me, so not only do I know that he was proud of me, but I want my kids to know that I'm really proud of them as well.
That's amazing. Having that knowledge, has that helped you since he's gone?
Definitely. He was never one to shy away from what he thought about something, so I guess it's a blessing that I can imagine what he would be thinking or saying about something. That fact that he told me he was proud of me and what I was doing, I know that, especially if I'm struggling or having a bit of a tough time, that he'd be saying I was doing really well. I know that's the case for my siblings as well, that I can say to them if they're having a tough time that he'd be really proud of you.
Do you find yourself in situations and wondering what your Dad would think about it?
Yeah. Because I respected what he thought quite a lot, I think we all did, he was quite a wise guy, he was my go to man for a lot of things! Which is why I've found things, since he's passed away, like buying a car and buying a house so difficult, because in the past I definitely would have said 'Dad, how do you do this?'.
I can absolutely relate to that, I felt the same! If anything was ever wrong, if I needed anything, I'd pick up the phone to dad and he'd be there and he didn't always have the answer, but he'd always put my mind at ease and make me feel like I was about to make the right decision. In that sense, do you feel he's still a big influence on your life today?
Yeah, hugely. Particularly because he had such an incredible faith and relationship with God, so I carry that with me, I think about that quite a lot, especially when I'm at church and singing I can imagine him being with us.
Does his voice in your head, or his presence with you, does that as any sort of solace given that he's not around anymore?
I think so. There were certain times when you'd want to know what they were thinking or give them a call and you can't. So I guess it is comforting to feel like I still have him with me because although I can't ring up him anymore I can feel like he's still there and I've got a pretty good idea of what he would be thinking or saying, because he wasn't shy about coming forth with his opinions on things!
Did that ever get him into trouble?
Yes! A lot! We were on a train once, me, him and my husband, I think we were coming back from Manchester going down to Coventry, where I'm from. It was late at night and he was being quite loud, as he was, but he was only telling stories, he wasn't saying anything controversial, but a young lad took offence to him being so loud and started saying he was going to beat us up and stuff, so yeah.
That seems like quite a severe reaction to someone tell stories on a train!
It was quite, I think he might have been inebriated, but so my was my dad, hence him being quite loud!
How did your dad respond?
Not well. He told them to pipe down. I can't remember his exact words, but basically that.
So your dad didn't like being told what to do?
No, definitely not.
By drunk kids on trains at least.
Not by a lot of people!
You mentioned that you've got siblings.
One sister and one brother, they're both older than me.
Do you feel like you've responded in similar ways to losing dad?
The others have responded quite differently I think, in some ways. Me and my mum are both Christians, but my brother and sister aren't, so that inherently means that we're going to respond in a different way. Obviously it's a horrible thing to happen and it was a horrible time but me and my mum have faith that he is in heaven, that he's with Jesus and that he's where he always wanted to be, so that is a big comfort. That isn't there for my brother and sister, so they've dealt with it quite differently and don't necessarily understand how me and my mum have dealt with it. We have been able to support each other, we don't live anywhere near each other, so that's often from afar with a text or something, but yeah, we have quite a good relationship between the three of us.
From the conversations that I've had with other people, it's interesting because from the outside it feels like your loss is the same, you've lost the same person, but actually those relationships are all very different, not massively, but different enough...
Yeah, you do different things with that person don't you?
...and we're all unique beings, so we're all going to respond in our own way to that loss. Do you feel like you've had to learn how your brother and sister are going to react?
Definitely, yeah. I shared a love of gardening with my dad, so one of the things that I've done to remember him is to plant roses in the garden, because we both really liked roses and we had a conversation about that not that long before he passed away. For other members of my family, going to his grave was really important to them and I guess it helps them to remember him and it's somewhere that they go when they want to talk to him or whatever feels right. For me, I've been a few times, and I sometimes want to go if it's a special occasion and we happen to be in Coventry, but it's not something that I feel the need to do particularly. There's definitely been times when different family members have had to deal with the fact that we're all going to deal with it differently.
That takes quite a lot of maturity, because everyone's hurting in their own way. You alluded to it, but I wanted to ask about the ways in which you actively remember your dad, anniversaries, routines, places that you go?
On the anniversary of his death, we all try and do something nice, we're not often together, but within my own family, we go out and do something nice, that he would have appreciated or that we would have done with him. In the past we've been to Dunham Massey, the National Trust place, on the day, because we went there with him and my mum just two weeks before he died and that's where were appreciating the rose garden, talking about how we'd both like to grow more roses. So that's one of the reasons I've planted roses in the garden, to remember him. We have a photo of him just behind the sofa, sometimes if my daughter's looking at it I'll strike up a bit of conversation with her about him. He met one of his grandchildren, but there's been another five since then, and obviously they don't know him, so we try and have conversations with them about him, tell them what he's like.
I presume that's important for you to make sure your kids know who he was?
Definitely, and my husband knows that, because occasionally something will come up and he'll tell them that Grandad really liked doing this or enjoyed that.
I can relate to that, not that I have my own kids, but my niece, my dad never met her and so she'll never meet her grandad and if I'm fortunate enough to have kids one day, they'll miss out on meeting their grandad as well, so even though there might be ten years or so between my dad passing away and them coming into the world, I still feel it's important that they know who that person was and why we are like we are because of our parents.
As I was saying earlier, dad often said that he was proud of me, I feel like it's important that I tell my girls that he would be proud of them as well, because he definitely would have been, and he would have been besotted with them! I think it's important that we pass on how much he would have loved them and wanted to spend time with them.
You talked about the garden at Dunham Massey. Was that the last time you saw your dad?
So there was no chance to say goodbye?
No. It was hard, a huge shock. I can still remember exactly how that day went. I can remember the time on my phone when my mum rang me to tell me. I don't think I've dwelt too much on the fact that I didn't get to say goodbye, because none of us did, because it was sudden, but I'm just really really thankful for the fact that it just so happened that in the previous few weeks there were events that had meant we'd spent a lot of time together, happy times as a family. Although I haven't dwelt on not saying goodbye, it felt really hard that everything just suddenly stops. The relationship stops, things that you thought that you were going to do together, that's it, it's not going to happen, that's what I found hardest.
What sort of things?
It was less than a year since our wedding day when he died, it was not long before our first anniversary, so I never envisaged that we would spend our first anniversary and him not be around to celebrate with us, because he was somebody that really celebrated things. We've very fortunate that the list time we were with him, we were celebrating because my husband had just got a new job and it was something that dad had been praying for, for us, for a long time, so that last day together we were drinking champagne and stuff! That's a really nice memory to hold on to. One of the things I found most hard about it being so sudden was that there was no lead up to it, just, that's it, I'm not going to see him again or do any of these things together.
Some people know that people are going to pass away because they're ill for a long time, which is hard because you see someone deteriorate, and maybe that's hard and drawn out, and I'm not trying to compare the two things, but you do get to prepare yourself for someone suddenly not being around and having that gap, especially with someone who so larger than life and so present.
Yeah, very present. That was definitely one of the hardest things I found about that time.
Is the rose garden somewhere you've been back to? How does that feel?
When we visit the rose garden, it is bittersweet, because it's where I literally spent the last day with him, but I like it, because it was a really happy day, it was really sunny and I got some really nice pictures that day, not of us or us together, but of the roses. We've never really had a conversation like that before about out mutual appreciation of roses, so I really enjoyed that day with him and my mum. When I go back, I like to sit on the bench where we were sitting and appreciate the view. One of the roses that I have in my garden is from there.
Do you feel like it helps you relive and remember that day in a healthy way, or does it make you upset?
I definitely think it's healthy. I'm not the sort of person that wants to dwell on things in a way that makes me upset. He was a very positive person and I guess that's one of the traits I've got from him, so I like to dwell on the positives in things. When I go there, I want to have a nice day there and remember the happy times that we had together, not dwell on the fact that he's not there.
"My faith definitely helped me to see the ways in which we were blessed as well in that time, because we were, be it through the people that were around us, the things that they were doing for us. Even just the way things played out in the last couple of weeks of his life, we were hugely blessed in the fact that it was just after his 60th birthday, so he'd just had a party with people that he wouldn't have seen for years and everyone was together."
You mentioned your faith earlier on, how do feel that's helped you understand your loss or come to terms with things?
The fact that I have a faith, it definitely helped me to see the blessings in things, certainly at the time, although it was a really horrible time and desperately sad. My faith definitely helped me to see the ways in which we were blessed as well in that time, because we were, be it through the people that were around us, the things that they were doing for us. Even just the way things played out in the last couple of weeks of his life, we were hugely blessed in the fact that it was just after his 60th birthday, so he'd just had a party with people that he wouldn't have seen for years and everyone was together. We'd just had a family holiday, which we hadn't done for years, where he was able to spend time with, at the time, his only grandchild. So, yeah, it definitely helped me to have the positive view of things even though it was a horrible time. My faith in God is definitely a rock in a really difficult time. The fact that he shared that faith with me was really helpful, because I know that that's what he would have wanted.
That's actually quite a counter intuitive way to look at or experience loss, to be in that moment, and I say moment because I don't want to classify it as a specific period of time, but to be in that moment and be thinking about the positives in that space, is not something that I imagine most people would feel like they had the strength or the mindset to do. I suppose I want to acknowledge to you that that faith brings a completely different outlook, as you're aware as you talked about with your siblings.
Yeah, I guess it's not something that a lot of people would understand, but for me, that was really helpful in helping me to deal with it.
Based on the notion that God will make good things out of the things that are hard?
Definitely. The fact that I knew God was with us, that he was working out good things through what was happening and that he's continuing to do that. Just recently, I have a friend who's lost someone very close to her in a similar scenario and one of my first thoughts was, if I can be a blessing to her and help her through this, then that is definitely something hugely positive to come out something sad.
Have you found that people have come to you if they've experienced something similar? Is it something you feel you're able to talk about with those around you, you're own experience of loss?
Yeah, it comes up from time to time, people will talk about my parents assuming that they're still both around and I have to say, 'Well, actually...' sometimes people apologise and don't want to talk about it, but I guess people are sometimes surprised by the fact that I am able to talk about it. Like I said with my friend who recently lost someone, I really wanted to just be able to say 'I know some of what you're going through, it's not the same, but it's horrible and I'm here and this is what I found helpful to know, this is what I found helpful to do, is there anything I can do to help you?'
I agree, that's the best thing you can do, there's no point in trying to presume how someone is feeling or what they're going through, it is a unique thing, there are so many different variables which make each experience of loss different to our own.
I guess that's one of the biggest things that I've learnt, that people deal with loss very differently and it's ok. You just have to let people deal with it how it feels best for them, it's a very personal thing.
With that notion in mind, I would say there isn't a set amount of time either?
No, definitely not. I think grief definitely comes in waves as well. There were times when it was easier, times when I think about him more or wish he was here more. Times when I wish he could help us, then it's harder.
What was it like when I asked you to find a photograph for the project?
I had a pretty good idea, because some of the ones from our wedding day of us are, well, because it was recent they were at the forefront of my mind and I'm really fond of those. In hindsight I'm really really glad that I have such beautiful pictures of him and me on my wedding day. It was just a question of picking which one really. There were other pictures that have surfaced recently. My brother spent some time going through old family photos, so there are other pictures of me and dad on holiday, but I don't have a clue where they were taken or they'd be very difficult to re-stage! So it was easy from that point. I also have probably my favourite one of me and him, in the wedding car just before we got out. It's really close up of our faces and we're both really happy. I really really like that one.
What was it like to go back today, to stand there and take it again?
It was very different to how it was on the day! Raining for a start, no beautiful sunshine! It was fine, it didn't make me too sad or anything, it's a nice place.
Have photos been important to you, you've mentioned the wedding photos and that you have one of dad up in the house, is important to have his picture around?
Yeah, I think so, not just from the point of view of being able to point him out to my girls and tell them about grandad, but also for me to remember him at various points in the day. I've just recently got pictures of me and him from the wedding printed that I want to put up somewhere fairly prominent in the house, I'd like to be able to see them more.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
I don't think so!