On Death and Dissertations

By Mini Smith

My dad died this summer. After over a year spent sipping warm rosé on the banks of the Seine, I came home for a weekend to watch half of me disappear. It was sudden – not as sudden as a car crash, no crumple upon impact, but enough to go from scotch eggs in the front garden to untouched cold hospital tea two days later.

The night before it happened I’d been at a wedding in London, the most magical and colourful of which I had ever attended and my first without the companionship – and, let’s face it, wallets – of my family. I spent the evening attempting hilariously unflattering photo-booth montages and committing to the dance floor with three of my best friends. The next day, I woke up early to a faint aftertaste of gin, six missed calls from my mum and my friend telling me she was driving me back to Portsmouth: I had to get home.

Eurostar ticket ignored, I spent the day wandering deserted Sunday hospital floors and trying to get a mindless Demi Lovato song out my head while my father’s life began to slip away through cracks. When the time came, we were all there and then he wasn’t.

The days that followed were a cliched blur, each one dripping into the next, filled with bouquets and beach air and a foreign use of the past tense. Life continued to occur, essentially speaking, as we planned the funeral in between coffee dates and a trip to New York. A week after I touched down, this 6’2” man was reduced to ash and over 200 people dressed in garish attire crammed into the pub down the road to say goodbye. Two days later, I was in Cambridge.

After my mum left I burst into tears. I had a 7000-word essay to write, an exam in five days and not a clue how I was going to get through the year. I sat there in the room where just a few months before my wonderful college wife had lived, feeling immensely, unequivocally alone.

Friends soon arrived and the messy whirlwind that is Cambridge life began. I went from tutor to DoS to supervisor and to counselling, each one attempting to mitigate the pain while I attempted to keep my head up and answer “Fine!” to casual pub talk enquiries about my summer.

It has definitely got easier as time has somehow continued to move on. I did an exam! I took out books! I fixed my own damn bike – well, took it to the market to be fixed! I’m learning to start afresh in so many senses of the term, but if these past few weeks have taught me anything it’s that I probably, might, get there in the end. Because life is short, but it’s also drinking sickly caramel lattes with friends, getting microwave corn stuck in your teeth and hey, maybe even enjoying a part or two of your degree.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go and still 6019 words to write, but bear with me – I may not be the brightest or the best, or good at rotating daily accessory choices, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

See you at Senate House, pals.


Image: ‘Out of the Sunset’ by Paul Johnson (Flickr)

3 responses to “On Death and Dissertations”

  1. Meg Avatar

    Mini, this is wonderfully written!xx


  2. Jules Avatar

    Beautifully expressed – moving and funny- your dad would be most proud 🙂


  3. Andrea Avatar

    Oh Min, sutch a heartbreaking account.

    When the dust settles and reality hits you hard even you, the most bubbly, confident girl I know must be allowed to fall off your bike for a while. I know you have it in you to be a huge success and just like you, I was so proud to be his sister and I admired him enormously.
    Enjoy the lattes with friends and one day you’ll be peddling free again.

    Thinking and supporting you.


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