I’ve been wrestling with writing this post for six weeks now. Six weeks ago, on 7th February 2018, it was the third anniversary of my Dad’s death. As is natural, I thought about Dad a lot around that date, and felt a whole mixture of feelings that I’m only just beginning to untangle, which is probably why it’s taken me so long to write about it. Sometimes I question whether I really need to write about it, and for how long will I keep documenting the yearly changes in the grief I feel? I guess the answer to that is that if it helps, it’s a good thing to do, and it’s ok to keep doing it until I don’t feel I need to any more.
It felt like the anniversary hit me really hard this year. More than last year for some reason, although this time I’ve not actually cried. Yet. The truth is, I’ve been trying not to cry. Trying to hold it all in because it felt like if I did let it go the floodgates would open and every single bit of sadness and grief I’ve ever felt about anything would pour out of me, unstoppable and overwhelming. Losing our boy, Pumpkin, at the end of last year. Tough days with my girls where I think to myself that I’m a terrible mother and they would be much happier if I just left. Rough times in my marriage. Disappointments with my work. It’s not true of course – holding it all in doesn’t help and crying is a good thing. I know that it’ll come eventually, probably at the most inopportune moment possible.
Still, it’s a strange concept isn’t it?
Holding on to the sadness for fear of letting it go.
Grief works in mysterious ways. It’s not linear. Or predictable.
It just is what it is.
I’m coming out the other side of this episode of it now I think, and with this tentative emergence has come a new sort of acceptance. An acceptance that there are still songs I can’t listen to and movies I can’t watch because they bring back too many memories that I’m not ready to face. Yet, anyway. And that that’s ok. An acceptance that sometimes I can remember him with fondness and joy whilst at other times it’s with devastation and anger. Again, that’s completely ok. An acceptance that part of me will always be grieving but that doesn’t mean that everything has to stop. That it’s ok to enjoy myself and look to the future with positivity and that doing that doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about him or losing him completely or dishonouring his memory.At the start of this year I made the decision to stop working in London. It was a big decision for many reasons, and, ultimately, the right one, but there were factors involved in my choice that I didn’t tell anyone else about. I know that Dad was immensely proud of me working in Harley Street. To me it was just an address, but to him, with his aspirational lifestyle, it represented success. Choosing to let that go brought about worries that I’d be letting him down, disappointing him in some way. And then I remembered that a/ he’s not here any more and b/ he would have just wanted me to be happy. And so I made the choice and let it go.
The girls talk about him often, asking me questions such as why did he have long hair and why did he like frogs so much and how did he die? Sometimes my voice breaks as I try and answer, especially if a question comes unexpectedly out of the blue. My stomach twists in the knowledge that he will never see them grow up into the amazing little humans that they’re becoming. But most of the time I can answer them honestly with a strong voice and love in my heart because although they only met him a few times (only one of which, the husband and I’s wedding day, that they actually remember), I want them to have at least a small space in their hearts for this complicated, gentle man they called Grandpa. They’re curious and I want them to know him. Even though, I’m learning, I didn’t really know him myself very well at all.
I collected some of his things from my stepmum several months ago. She was moving house, returning to where they were happiest together, and didn’t have the space to be able to take everything with her. Not wanting anything to be lost, I brought them home with me and they now sit in a box on my landing whilst I figure out why I wanted them and wonder what I’m going to do with them. Paintings and photo albums and stamp collections – little snippets of his life that I know nothing about. It’s left me with a thirst to find out more, a deep desire to know this man who was very much a mystery to me in so many ways (even though now, I’m beginnning to realise, we were probably more similar than I ever knew).
As I read back the post I wrote about him last year, I can see that I’ve made some progress. Reading it brought tears to my eyes that didn’t spill and I re-felt some of the pain from twelve months ago but it was somehow a little bit distant from me, like I was watching myself feel it.
In the lead up to his anniversary this year I went for a walk in the woods, seeking solace in the silence of the trees, in being outdoors. It’s the only place quiet enough for me to be able to conjure up his voice, his laugh, the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled. It was peaceful and the sun was warm even though it was early February. And in that moment of quiet, that stillpoint, I felt he was there with me.
I came across this quote the other day and it resonated with me so I’m sharing it now in order that I can remember it in the days, weeks, months and years to come:
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”
~ Jamie Anderson