The death of a parent shakes your foundations, it tilts your world and throws you off balance. And here, the actor Emily Bevan intimately writes about her journey through the grief, the exhaustion and the heartbreak of losing her precious dad.


  • When I was 6 years old, we moved to a spectacularly located independent boys school where my father was taking up the top job (as it’s known in educational circles). On my first day at the local primary school I told everyone that ‘MY NAME IS EMILY BEVAN AND MY FATHER IS THE HEADMASTER OF SHIPLAKE COLLEGE.’ So proud was I. Dad and I were close and when he died on the 12th January 2014, it came as a huge shock to our family. Even though he was weak and had been steadily losing weight and energy by the day – nothing prepares you for that moment.

  • I can’t even remember the last words I said to him. I had left the hospital in a huff that night after Mum and I had had a petty falling out. We were both taut with stress and she had criticised me (understandably) for trying to put an ice cold flannel on his forehead. His temperature was soaring, he was thirsty and had spent the day crying out with an agonising pleural pain in his chest.

  • I had broken down in the chemist earlier in the day buying heat packs and some cream for a rash on his hand. I had asked for two tubes of cream but they would only sell me one. I wept on the pharmacy floor, impotently trying to form words, trying to explain that I just needed the cream. Please.

  • I decided that I needed to go home. I cried on one of the nurses in the visitor’s room and then jumped in the car and sped off, having no idea that I would never speak to him again. His last words to me echo still; ‘Em’s been brilliant’. If I had been truly brilliant, I would have stayed.

  • The death of a parent shakes the very core of your being; it destabilises you, shifts the fault lines, throws you off balance and brings so many feelings, old and new, up to the surface. It takes time to regain your sense of place.

  • Grief – in its newest, rawest form – was both adrenalising and utterly exhausting. A non-tangible, empty feeling that pervaded everything; a constant hum of anxiety under the surface, nervously filling the cracks in conversation. Small talk became torturous. There is nothing small about grief.

  • I struggled to be myself. I guess because ‘myself’ was inexorably changed . . . the new version still buffering. I needed to re-find my new identity in a Dad-less world.

  • For a long time, I found it hard to laugh. Or cry. I could feel strangely detached and dry-eyed in one moment, and then quite suddenly be overwhelmed by the most intense and devastating tsunami of grief that would take my breath away and leave me dishevelled, mascara running down each surprised cheek. And then in the next moment I would feel fine again.

  • My main coping mechanism, apart from listening to recordings of his voice, and burying my face in his sweaters (oh the agony when one of them accidentally found its way into the wash), was keeping busy. Occupying my days and propelling myself at life as energetically as I could somehow kept me in balance.

  • I’m an actor and I think in some ways I wasn’t coping at all, just performing at coping (all the painful work was still to come). But I was lucky to escape into a number of acting roles which absorbed my restless energy and kept me distracted.

  • It would be fair to say, however, that death and grief followed me wherever I went. I have since played a grieving daughter, a grieving sister, a grieving wife and a grieving mother. I have committed suicide, had a terminal illness, been stabbed, strangled (and stuffed as a scarecrow) and have also snogged a serial killer.

  • It can be quite hard to generate tears sometimes when you’re working, but on the set of one particular TV drama where I had to grieve my fictional dead father (who looked enough like Dad to truly send me over the edge), the challenge was to try and stop myself from having a full blown panic attack!

  • I’d say it took me two years, a new relationship and an additional four months of backpacking together around India (with nothing to think about apart from what to eat and where to sleep) until I was properly ready to engage with it. To look at the ugly bits, feel the stinging regrets and relive the difficult chapters in an honest and painful way.

  • Having wanted to run away, I felt a strong desire – a need, in fact – to pull down my notebooks and write them up, and in writing paragraph after paragraph, draft after draft, I felt like I was healing myself.

  • But I will never fully heal, and nor would I want to. The onion layers peel off to reveal fresh new hurts.

  • In my fourth month of being pregnant, on a work trip to Rome, I went into a deserted chapel to light a candle for Dad, and wept with the realisation that he would never meet my baby. That he would never do ‘this is the way the lady rides’ or ‘squeeze relax’ or make mazes for her in the sand.

  • Now that Romy is here I frequently burst into tears trying to explain to her that Grandpa Nick on the fridge is ‘Mummy’s daddy’. He would have loved her so much. And she him.

  • I don’t really allow myself to dwell on these thoughts too often as I fear I could trip and fall down a veritable landslide of feeling. My heart still reaches for him, as Romy reaches her arms for me. The aching loss is just a thought away.

  • But something that comforts me is the idea that in losing Dad in life, I gained someone on my team upstairs, pulling strings: a guiding hand.

  • As I was nervously walking to the read-through of Doc Martin in early 2015, at a riverside location in Hammersmith, I was practically knocked over by a boat that came out of the water just in front of me onto the towpath. The name on the side? Nick Bevan.

  • When I first met my husband Billy, there were so many strange coincidences around our coming together that I felt almost certain that Dad had played a part in arranging it.

  • Maybe this is just my way of dealing with the disappointment that the two were never able to meet. Or maybe it was fate, kismet? Maybe it doesn’t matter, if it helps, even just a bit, to try and find meaning where there is none.

  •  I do continue to feel that Dad is close, keeping a watchful eye over me (although he could perhaps up his game a bit in the parking-ticket department).

  • Likewise, Mum, seven years on, still feels that Dad is in her life. She is grateful and surprised that she still feels his presence so strongly, and the fulfilment and comfort that that brings. The memories are fresh. Right there. She can transport herself to the left-hand side of his hospital bed, where she is breaking into tears, and Dad is catching her eye, saying, ‘Don’t worry about me, I can cope’.

  • I recently attended the funeral of a dear friend’s father, and as I turned to see his coffin making its entrance into the chapel, a muscle memory crept into my body. A contraction at the back of the throat, a stinging of the eyes and a pressing of my tongue into bottom teeth.

  • Death casts a long shadow. I looked at my friend and I saw that her eyes were full of disbelief. She had planned every detail of this perfect farewell, yet she was still in shock as she watched it unfold. I saw her pain and I knew it. But it was also hers, and hers only, defined by the unique quality of her relationship with her father, a rich tapestry woven over their thirty-eight years.

  • When the curtain opened to take her father away, it held his coffin in a billowing embrace, the fabric lifting and falling. I couldn’t help imagining his final breaths.

  • I wished that there was a way to take her pain away. But I know that loving someone comes at a cost. It will hurt. I wish it didn’t, but it will, and she has to feel it, wade through it, a day at a time, being kind and gentle to herself, until she regains her footing and feels lighter again.

  • I hope that the love they shared will sustain her and that, one day, the memories of her father at the very end will soften, and the happier memories will start to break through the surface like new buds.

** ‘The Diary of Losing Dad’ by Emily Bevan is out now **



Mind (bereavement): mind.org.uk

The Good Grief Trust: thegoodgrieftrust.org




–  READ What Death Has Taught Me by Anna, who is an end of life doula and wants to improve the entire dialogue around death.

–  READ Afua Adom’s list Grieving My Father as she speaks about her deeply personal experience of losing her dad.

–  READ Stacey’s Heale’s intimate and unbearably painful list What I’m Thinking As My Husband Dies.

– READ This Is Grief, a list by Vikki Muston whose capacity for survival is unbelievable after she lost 10 people in two years. It’s full of helpful ideas and suggestions. 

– READ Sally Wyatt’s list Life After Mum Died whose account of losing her mum is devastating and incredibly brave.

–  LISTEN to to Griefcast host and comedian Cariad Lloyd on Honestly podcast as she opens up the conversation around death and dying. 





Find submission guidelines here.  All writers and topics are welcome.



** ‘But why don’t I feel happy all the time?’ ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ and “But why do adults drink beer and what does it do?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to order now  and also on audiobook.**

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