Rest not! Life is sweeping by … ~ Goethe
It’s almost three months since Dad died. Grieving hasn’t been what I thought it would be. Normally, I cry at the drop of a hat. But I’ve cried only once – when we arrived back at my parents’ home on the day of his death and I got out of the car and saw his garden, and the shed in which he dreamed and listened to foreign radio stations (he spoke only English) and mixed up his various fish bait recipes. Garlic chicken breast, it turns out, is beloved of black bream.
If I were to start crying, I’d have to feel the loss. And I fear that. So I keep putting off thinking about him and his death. But fear will not be denied. Blocked on one front, it finds another route.
For the first few weeks after his death it was fear for my mother, 10 years younger than my father, but suddenly at risk too. Death had now visited our neck of the woods; it would know its way back a second time.
Then that passed, and for the last couple of months the fear has transferred itself to my own life. So almost every night at 3 or 4am I’ve been waking up wondering what’s to become of me, imagining catastrophes like stroke and physical disability.
If ever I thought about grief before I thought of it as grief for the person lost. It’s not that or not wholly that. It’s grief for ourselves, for our loss, for our fate.
When I was about nine years old I went through a phase of magical thinking. Each night Dad hadn’t yet come home – usually from a fishing trip – I’d lie in bed and rehearse in my mind all the possible catastrophes that could befall him. I’d think of fire and drowning – one of my aunties had just died in a house fire and a neighbour had just drowned in a fishing accident – of car accidents and muggings and all kinds of disasters, the idea being that if I’d thought of the disaster first, it couldn’t possibly happen. It was my own childish version of lightning not striking twice. Once I’d gone through all the possibilities in my mind, I was free to go to sleep. Or else Dad had gotten home sometime during the whole ritual. If he’d gotten home it was all due to me, proof that my patented method of lifesaving worked.
When I think of this now I’m amazed at the extent of my eldest child syndrome; I was so … responsible. I’m also amazed how little I’ve changed. I see the doubts and regrets I’ve had about the last few days and hours of his life are versions of the question my nine-year-old self had presaged: what could I have done, but failed to do, to keep you alive?
I have his dimples and half his beautiful dancer’s posture, and I’m wearing his watch as I type this. It’s big and silver, with a clear face. About his watch he was very funny. My brother bought it for him from some exotic location, and it came in an exquisite box made of varnished wood with a satisfying closure. The watch box became one of Dad’s most prized possessions, and for the last few years of his life, whenever a visitor would arrive at my parents’ home, he’d get out the watch box to show them.
He was full of sweetnesses.