It was a nice summer day, July 12th 1972. It was the month before my 9th birthday. I was staying with my granny for a couple of days during that holiday. I was still in bed that morning around 8:30 when my 13 year older sister came to tell me the news. Bad news. Very bad.
My dad had passed away. It was very sudden and unexpected, a heart attack. It all seemed very unreal to me. My sister took me home and there I realised it was very real. My mum had collapsed completely. The doctor had been called and he had given her medication to calm her down.
In fact, my mum was in such a bad state that she wasn't even able to attend the funeral a couple of days later. She was a complete wreck.
When we came out of the church after the funeral, the church bells seemed to sound 10 times louder than usual. It was like heaven was coming down on me. Suddenly I fully realised I wouldn't have a dad anymore for the rest of my life. I just wanted to leave the crowd and just run. But I was brave.
In Belgium, like in most countries I guess, it's a tradition that relatives and friends come together for coffee and something to eat after a funural. There were about 200 people there. You know how it goes. In the beginning it's quite civilised and quiet but after a while it gets noisier and noisier. I remember I was standing talking to my cousin who was only a couple of months older than me, when suddenly the door opened and I saw my mum entering the room. She spotted me immediately and came running to me in tears. She grabbed me and started to say in her crying, quite loud voice, "oh son, what are we going to do now?"
The crowd that had been quite loud a minute earlier suddenly was very quiet now. Complete silence. All eyes focused on me and my mum. I felt like running again. But again I was brave. I'm sure it all only took a minute but it felt like hours.
I was rescued by my granny who took my mum by the arm, led her to a chair and tried to calm her down.
I think I've never been as glad to be alone in my room as I was later that night, trying to digest it all. From that day on I was the man in the house. At the age of 8.
It's one of those days one never forgets.