Three months on

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.

*

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14 thoughts on “Three months on

  1. Beautiful post. Your fifth paragraph is interesting and opens a huge window of speculation. Beethoven is quoted as having said, “I only mourned the death of two people–my mother and myself.”

    The tree is doing great!

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  2. You are progressing along in your introspection and inspection of your worlds. As you have experienced, they are never the same after the loss of a beloved parent like your dad.

    If his loss and what he left behind (physical and emotional) pushes you toward the significance of each day (with some regressions), then his death will take on powerful meaning.

    After only three months, though, the grief is raw. You will let it out in your own good time, Narelle.

    But it never fully goes away. As I was driving (on Thursday by myself, as Judge Blah didn’t arrive until the next day) to the White Sands Missile Base, where I shared precious little -girl memories with my Army officer father, and I saw the jagged and stunning, Organ Mountains, I took myself back to that safe and naive time in my life when I was the apple of my father’s eye.

    I visualized my parents at ages 27 and 23, so vibrant here in the high desert, thought of my dad’s death and my mother’s frailty and I cried all the way back to the hotel.

    We never stop missing those who have gone ahead of us.

    But the secret is the knowledge that we are right behind them, so to enjoy each day as that gift that it is.

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    • So true all you say, about being right behind them and the world not being the same. I too was the apple of my dad’s eye, and I think this is what I’m mourning also, that I’m no longer anyone’s apple. Shades of Jenny’s/Sir Andrew’s “I was adored once.”

      You know, it really helps to have you sharing your experience and your memories so generously. Thank you, Cheri xxx

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  3. Ah, darling D, you are a true and lovely spirit. Thank you for your understanding and comforting words. I hadn’t thought about fear and sadness not existing in the same space before. Which is the lesser? At the moment, I’d gladly swap my fear for sadness I think. But I don’t seem to be running this show.

    Thanks for the apple … I treasure it Nxx

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  4. Whether you find a husband, a significant other, boyfriend or whomever, you are never the same as being the apple of your father’s eye.

    Once I accepted that, all relationships seemed better.

    Just my hit.

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  5. Here is a Seamus Heaney poem about his mother. It helps me, and I pass it along to others:

    The cool that came off sheets just off the line
    Made me think the damp must still be in them
    But when I took my corners of the linen
    And pulled against her, first straight down the hem
    And then diagonally, then flapped and shook
    The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind,
    They made a dried-out undulating thwack.
    So we’d stretch and fold and end up hand to hand
    For a split second as if nothing had happened
    For nothing had that had not always happened
    Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go,
    Coming close again by holding back
    In moves where I was x and she was o
    Inscribed in sheets she’d sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.

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  6. I’m not sure what those words mean, SGC. But it does appear that the holding back is in the moves “where I was x and she was o”, and there is good reason to hold back in that game–otherwise it is over so damned quickly, like life itself.

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    • Right, yes, holding back as in prolonging their game, their dance. Wonderful. And like life, our ability to hold back is only an illusion. The game has its own speed and demands an x or an o which we either give or not.

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  7. I see this post is almost four years old. I enjoyed reading your memories. Although it was sad I clicked ‘like.’ Four years is still not a long time when this happens. But hopefully the shock has worn off to some degree. My parents are utterly gone and there is no question. With my brother I still can’t believe it. The disbelief I think too is part of grief.

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    • Thanks, Steven. I appreciate the “like” even though it’s incongruous to say like to the subject. The shock has worn off and most times I like thinking about my dad as he was a really loving, special person. Sometimes, it’s still sad. I’m sorry you’ve lost your parents and your brother too. Hard to believe when it’s so much earlier than expected. xx

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