Funny old thing
Grief … it’s a funny old thing … all the clichés and none …
it overwhelms you sometimes, when you’re unprepared; sneaks up and swamps you and then recedes leaving you washed up, wiped out and weary.
I think of my father so often, I go and talk to him sometimes; sit beside his graveside and tell him about my world. I took Hope to meet him when she was tiny, we have always been to see him on his birthday or on the ‘anniversary’ of his death. We have a swig of whisky and give him the rest, leave flowers and sometimes a few tear drops. It’s kind of a calming experience (and no, not because of the whisky, that’s only on special occasions). I feel closer to him, feel that I have shared moments with him and feel relaxed there, pulling up the odd weed, patting the soil around the plants, brushing moss away from the base of the headstone.
This year was the first year since he died that I didn’t go and see him, the first time my Mother and I haven’t been together on this day, and this year for the first time I felt quite literally crippled by the pain of his death.
We’d been to church, Hope and I and her Godmother, to a church that with a band, and free donuts. It didn’t touch the sides somehow (nor did the 3 donuts I ate in numb succession … I know I know), it wasn’t church the way I wanted it to be, not the way it was when we went as a family, it was church (a very lovely and very warm and welcoming church) the American way and I came home feeling tired and a little dazed. Hope was asleep and I thought I’d spend a little time on myself, not working, not writing, not tidying up or cooking, just lolling in the balmy Californian sunshine on a beautiful blue skied Sunday. She woke up, and she woke up loud and rambunctious and she woke up cross that she was awake but determined not to go back to sleep. My ‘me time’ receded into a dream and I made my way upstairs following her to change her nappy and try to resettle her, she stopped on the stairs and started to head back down them, and that’s when it pounced on me. Grief, it had been lurking on the backstreets and burst forth guns blazing, I nearly collapsed beside Hope on the stairs, sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe. She looked up at me confused and concerned and said, “Mummi?” and then patted the floor next to where she was sitting, that made me cry even more. I picked her up and went to our room where I held her and sobbed those horrible choking painful sobs, i felt like some kind of animal, I wanted to howl like a wolf, to lie on the floor and give myself over to the utterly overwhelming pain I felt thinking about my father’s death. “Mummi?” came the little voice again, and she stroked my leg and then suddenly wriggled down onto the carpet and said, “sticker book” and trotted off to fetch her battered and torn pink sticker book. She handed it to me very insistently and stood there expectantly waiting for me to give it back. My sweet girl was comforting me in her own Hopeish way, bless her, and it worked, my sobs ebbed away and I was left with quiet tears. She patted my knee in a ‘job done’ kind of a way and went to attend to the needs of Teddy and Tiger.
I sat there for about 20 minutes wondering what Daddy would have made of her, he’d have been hugely proud of course, he’d have been a bit bemused by her approach to eating and the sudden shouts and cheers she comes out with, but he would have been delighted, enchanted, not I don’t think at her beauty, but her attention to detail, the way that she analyses everything, by her scientific mind and her singing. I wish he could have met her, could have held her or taken her for a walk to the stile at the end of the lane and shown her the stars like he did me, but it’s not to be.
I’m a Christian, I believe that we will be reunited someday, and that he is with me and knows of my joy and the marvel that is my girl, but today I ached and shed bitter tears that she won’t be familiar with his gentle hands, or be able to watch him pottering in the garden, cycling up the lane or doing the crossword, and that I can’t see them together.
I got through the day, of course I did, I have a little girl to help see to that, and her wonderful Godmother who gave me time and space this afternoon to grieve and a vodka and tonic before driving me an hour away to put my feet in the ocean just along the street from where he lived for a short time and then to see some very dear distant cousins and eat Mexican food, and help me to shove sneaky old grief back in its box with the lid glued down with margarita, guacamole and love.
Now I feel almost numb, I put her to bed and, exhausted though I am, now I feel the need just to sit and reflect on what a wonderful man he was, and on how I can keep him alive for Hope, so she too can get to know her Grandfather and love his memory.
RIght now, I’m a long way from that peaceful graveside, but I’m somewhere he knew and enjoyed many many years ago. I didn’t toast him today with whisky, but I did this evening, with an old friend and a new one and a small glass of wine before I put his Granddaughter to bed and sang her Baa Baa Black Sheep, not one of his songs, but the one she asked for, that would have made him smile.
Funny old thing grief, it swallows you, chews you up and spits you out, it makes you feel broken and bruised, but, tonight, still back in its box it was banished back out to the badlands by the Black Sheep selling its wool and there it can stay.
RIP Pa, I miss you.