Good Grief! How I Used Dad's Death to Get What I Want

Back at school I was given a small yellow card that meant I could get out of class if I felt I was struggling emotionally in a lesson. Soon enough I was walking in and out of classrooms whenever I liked, whether I was sad or not.

Monday 6 October 2008.

Woke up at 9am. Today is my mock GCSE History exam and I have the ultimate get-out excuse. Dad's funeral.

Sat on the front row at the crematorium - I'm wearing a blue bomber jacket, an M.I.A. t-shirt and some Reebok Ex-O-Fit hi-tops. Dad wouldn't want us in suits. His death has been sudden - diagnosed with cancer only ten days before passing aged 55.

He said he wanted a FUN-4-ALL not a funeral, so that's what we're giving him - complete with 700-person guestlist, compulsory double denim dress code and his wish of making every funeral-goer endure the 19-minute long version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird - his final bad joke to the world. Dad was a master of telling bad jokes, ones so awkward and cringey you felt compelled to slightly smirk.

Back at home in Chorleywood (a place just outside Watford that thinks it's a bit posh), the biscuit tin is passed around the living room like a teenagers first spliff, everyone cautious not to take too long with it. So far the family has dunked nearly four ASDA biscuit multipacks into puke-warm tea. The kitchen table has the local newspaper of the day strewn across it and today's headline is 'Chorleywood Voted The Happiest Place To Live In Britain.'

Me and mum look at each other and laugh. That headline was the ultimate bad joke, which to me meant that somehow, somewhere - Dad was still with us.

The morning after the funeral, the realisation of the day before set in. I woke up with my head glued to the pillow. I didn't leave Dad's bedroom for days.

Being 15, borderline obese and the boy whose dad died wasn't the easiest role to play in the happiest town in Britain. I soon found that grief was full of people crossing the road to avoid me, or telling me they knew what I was going through because their elderly gran/dog/parakeet had passed away peacefully the year before.

Cue The X Factor sob story music - I was depressed. At the worst point I thought that if there is an "afterlife" where Dad is, maybe I want to be there too. However in the pits of depression, a skint bank balance and an additional three stone in weight - somehow grief kept throwing me funny moments.

It began with neighbours hesitantly ringing our doorbell, whilst hurriedly running back to their own driveways after leaving a lasagne or similar baked dish on the doorstep for our discovery. Most came with sympathy letters, loving tokens of "we're here for you!" or "heat for 45 minutes at 180 and let us know if you need anything."

Soon enough me and mum had 17 lasagnes, 4 shepherds pies and a sticky toffee pudding in the kitchen. We decided to start our own competition whereby we'd competitively judge our neighbours lasagnes by scoring them out of 10 for taste, appearance and the level of genuine sincerity in their sympathy note. It was like bake off - for lasagnes.

Back at school I was given a small yellow card that meant I could get out of class if I felt I was struggling emotionally in a lesson. Soon enough I was walking in and out of classrooms whenever I liked, whether I was sad or not.

Grief gave me a weird sense of power. If I wanted to sit in the front seat of a car, that spot was mine. If I wanted five sugars in my tea, no one would bat an eyelid. I'm sure if I wanted someone's iPhone, they'd hand it over promptly and run away. Gradually I was using grief to do whatever I wanted, without ever having to share how I was actually feeling.

My excessive weight gain and truancy made Mum put her foot down and arrange a bereavement counsellor to come to our home. She was an older lady, who I remember distinctly smelt like dusty curtains, cherry strepsils and Deep Heat. In our first session she asked a series of cliché questions that had obvious answers like, "Jack, tell me, do you miss your father?"

Mid-way through our conversation she left her chair to walk towards a photograph of dad on the sideboard and suddenly, she farted. Our counsellor let the smelliest flatulence rip right out of her in the middle of our first session. Me and mum clenched our jaws, struggling to contain a belly laugh of disbelief.

The counsellor left our house pretty swiftly with an "upset stomach", and as soon as the front door closed me and mum were howling with laughter. Laughter which turned into talking. Talking which turned into crying. Tears that eventually made me feel a lot better about my loss. We realised that my binge eating and mis-use of my get out of class card, wasn't just me bunking or being greedy, it was the only thing I had any control over in my life.

A lack of control is something that affects many people with depression. It leads to negative behaviours that make it even harder to overcome tough times. For me, I found that sharing how I felt and having an outlet for those experiences, were crucial in finding a positive mental outlook.

Sunday 20 June 2014, Fathers Day.

Me and my 85-year-old Nan sat in her council flat in Uxbridge recording hours of us chatting about losing dad as part of my debut comedy-theatre show Good Grief. We spoke about how she felt as an elderly person, an expectation that she should be somewhat desensitised to death and how people ask her about an elderly friend who has died but not her son - and actually she really wants to remember him.

Even I was anxious to talk about Dad in front of Nan in fear of upsetting her, however regardless of the age difference I saw that sharing was ultimately what was important. We laughed about the awkward moments of grief, the time she told a lady in the post office to "piss off" when she was complaining about treading her ugg boots in a puddle. It was brilliant to laugh and share experiences with a woman who had been through one of the worst losses imaginable. And then in typical Nan style, she came out with the wisest words I've ever heard: "Laughter is a medicine but talking is the cure."

Jack's debut show Good Grief returns for a second run at London's Soho Theatre, 4-9 April. He will be speaking in a panel discussion on Laughter's the Best Medicine as part of Changing Minds, a new festival exploring mental health and the arts at Southbank Centre, 6-7 February that The Huffington Post UK is partnering.

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