(Song Dedication: Good Grief by Bastille)
It’s complicated isn’t it? When we lose someone from this physical plane. When they leave and we stay and no matter how often (or little) we physically saw them in this world, their absence is still felt like a phantom limb. They were there somewhere. Now they are not.
This sounds so black and white. But it feels very grey; cloudy, charcoal, slate, shadow, fog, smoke, pewter, wrought iron, coal, ebony, ash.
Today would have been John’s 73rd Birthday. A year ago today, my son spoke to his maternal Grandfather for the first time to exchange birthday wishes – their birthday’s being only a day apart. I remember how nervous he was sitting on the floor of his bedroom, hesitantly reaching for the phone to speak to a complete stranger, my biological Father who I, myself, had not spoken with since 2002, only sending occasional emails and old fashioned hand written letters over the previous 17 years, wondering if he had even received them at all.
It was an exciting time, we all knew that in a few more months we would be sitting together in the same Welsh living room, awkwardly trying to find some common ground in becoming reacquainted. Thank goodness for old photo albums. There was a lot of hope carrying us through to this brave endeavour we had committed to as a family. That I had vulnerably surrendered myself to, in order to give my son what was rightfully his to ask, to meet his Grandad John.
Sadly fewer than 3 months later, he was admitted to Hereford Hospital where he drew his final breath on June 29th. I will always remember the day of his passing, as we were driving south on a BC highway on a cloud covered day, we drove through a rogue patch of sunlight and I took pause with a deep knowing that he was gone.
I worked hard to compose myself during this time. In that place I found a space of stillness and peace within, knowing his suffering (a lifetime of suffering) had finally come to a close.
I eventually made the decision to return to the tiny town of Prestiegne, on the border of England and Wales to pay my respects at his funeral. This time I went alone. I had to summon all my courage to do this because…I had to.
Things didn’t go to plan, as things hardly ever do…most of the aforementioned is proof of that. But again I amalgamated the bravery, the stillness, the compassion and steadfastness I had been lovingly cultivating within and I stayed in it, until I didn’t, being violently ejected from this place of surrender.
As I wrote in my last post, I had to release myself from the days that were to follow his service. I felt uncertain and unsafe and my intuition would not allow me to travel north with my Uncle to spread my Father’s ashes. I had spent the previous day however, being driven all over the Welsh countryside with him, now in a box, in my lap. It was actually a bit horrifying that part. The back of the Jeep was filled with funeral flower arrangements and I didn’t want to just put him on the floor so I held him in my lap, the way he use to sit me as a toddler in his. Not something you can prepare yourself for or put in your itinerary…# 3 drive with Dad’s cremated remains in your lap while touring the Welsh backroads. That was definitely NOT on my list of to-do’s.
That day was actually meant for rest, knowing myself well enough, I had requested to my Uncle in advance of my arrival, that I have a quiet day of reflection to myself and later in the day go to John’s home to look through papers and perhaps find a few things to take home for my brother and my son to remember him by.
I was eventually allowed to do that last part, but was interrupted within 15 minutes of sifting through 3 decades of paperwork and possessions to have a sit down with dear old Uncle to go over legal matters of the my Father’s last Will and Testament. He expressed his concerns for the amount of work and advocacy he had provided for his brother this past year and how he should be fairly compensated monetarily for his efforts in addition to being “next of kin” which he felt entitled him to much more, again monetarily, than what his brother had actually communicated in his Will.
I now believe, in hindsight that this particular interaction was fundamental to removing me completely and utterly from the healthy grieving process I had begun before I had left Canada. Instead of being in it and with it, I was suddenly thrust into practical matters of material things, of owings and expectations, of persuasions to meet someone else’s interests. It felt misaligned and yet I went there. I allowed myself to be pulled from my grief, from my right as a human being who had lost a parent and began to engage both offensively and defensively…the farthest place from being there might just be.
This reality didn’t really resonate with me until many months later, when I was back home, but still playing his games and was expecting to take another round of his pressuring by phone call that morning. After disclosing what had been going on to a friend, who also lost her father tragically this year, she revealed to me her raw and contextual reaction to what had happened to me that day back in August. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and asked disbelievingly, “So, you didn’t get to scatter his ashes and gain closure from this part of the trip? You had to leave suddenly because your Uncle was pressuring you for money? Oh Sarah, I am so sorry this happened. You deserved to have good memories and closure.” And then she hugged me.
I have been so careful trying not to trigger her grief, always feeling a little worried I might do this to her, thinking she didn’t want to go there herself. I want to be there for her but not make her cry basically. So in that moment I reassured her, I was fine, it was okay, I made my own closure in my own way, I made the best of a bad situation, and I knew now who I was really dealing with. And some of my rationalized reassurances were true but her insight was truer. I did have something stolen from me.
I thought about it after we parted but mostly pushed that notion away because it just clouded my judgement and my con-artistry skills, which I have since realized are weak and pathetic (and a damn good thing to be weak and pathetic at!). It would be several weeks later before I was ready to see the whole picture in all it’s unsavoury parts.
But alas, it is here, completely unveiled for me to see and I can’t unsee it now. It’s like a loud Guernica-esque mural, breathtaking, sharp, angular grey-scale and it ain’t pretty.
After my son’s birthday party on Saturday, I climbed into bed bone-weary and in that stillness the damn burst. The pangs and stings of undulating sadness transformed into a rush of ache from my heart pouring throughout my body. Still I tried in the dark to conceal from my husband what at the time was a mysterious sorrow. My tears streaked my face and soaked my pillow and hair. I rose from the bed and excused myself modestly to the washroom to look myself in the eye and ask, What the Fuck is wrong, Sarah? I remembered having a similar experience well over a year ago, what could this moment and that possibly have in common? And then it came to me…Loss.
I’ve been busy. I’ve been doing and I’ve been thinking. Like a lot. And for a moment I guess I got too tired to do all of that and the message came through because I had finally freed up the line. It had been there all this time. It had been dialing. It had just been getting a busy signal.
This is what I heard when I connected myself to it. You have grief to still feel. This sadness will come and go. It will never just go and wander off to find another owner because it is yours whether you acknowledge this or not. You wonder if he ever even really loved you and if you knew this answer then you would know how much to grieve. This is not the question you need to wonder. What you must ask is how much you loved him. Did you think of him even if you weren’t with him? Did you worry about him and pray for his well being every night as a little girl? Did you wish you could have seen him more and known him better? Were you ready to try and fashion some new concept of relationship with him and your own family? You loved him and now you must grieve him. To release him and to release yourself.
Grief is good, if you let it.
Happy Birthday John. I miss you and I love you.