Tears down the phone from a thousand miles away, the final call to tell of my dad’s death. The weird twilight hours afterwards, a quick flurry of phone calls, guilt for bearing bad news, the huge, safe embrace of my husband, endless nose-blowing on bits of kitchen roll. Then sleep, that dreamless sleep of exhaustion, the sleep at the end of a chapter when all that has come with it has gone.
I don’t know how I feel, yet. There’s a deep loss, somewhere in my heart, but it is familiar and sits alongside the one I’ve become used to every single day since he left our family years ago. A raw grief is smoothed by that familiar ache, and although this is final it doesn’t seem new. At arms length for years, and the same at the end.
I thought I’d feel a peace, where the years spent alongside that younger self that couldn’t understand why we weren’t good enough could start to be put to bed. But I hold it still, alongside the ‘should have, could haves’ a death brings to us all. I am glad, in the end, that he found his place, with love around him, community, new family. I know he loved us too, and maybe things could have been different, but maybe they could not. We visited last year, in a previous time of ill health, and it helped me begin to let go a little. It wasn’t my place, any more, as it hadn’t been for years. The visit helped me to realise that.
I can’t really sum up the last few decades, and it probably isn’t the best time to. Writing it out helps a little, to name those intangible feelings flitting around every part of my body. Acceptance of the stark fact that at the end, it was no longer our story. A resignation to that, and a squeeze of the hand to the part of me that tries too hard to please, to be heard.
Alongside those things that run deep, there are the weird little things that catch me off guard – I’ll miss the exchange of endless desert rain frog pictures, spherical animals and the occasional political meme. Childhood memories pop into my mind from simpler, happier times- being swung around and around on the cricket pitch, washing a car in our old cottage in a time where only a few cars parked on the steep road. Secretly eating ready brek dry out of the packet in the kitchen of that same cottage. Bopping his head on the lampshade every night after saying goodnight. A gaggle of kids in the back of a van with no seats, tumbling around corners.
In later years, being in the passenger seat of that same van, watching the road rush by through the hole in the floor. Him teaching me how to reverse hill-start at the golf club and nearly crashing into a golf buggy, going to the driving range and me being terrible but having great fun. The way we made fun of his finger twitching just before making a shot at pool. Frowning at me having a pint at the pub but being fine with having two half pints. Him borrowing his mate’s Alfa 156 and tearing up the local dual carriageway – and in later years, letting him drive my own Alfa round twisting Pennine roads at terrifying speeds.
Like my husband says, whilst placing a finger on my forehead – those memories live on, inside us. The good, the bad, the painful, the hopeful. All the ingredients that make a life. The next few weeks will be weird – a funeral in a different country. A distance, a closeness, and a distance again.
I’m not sure how to end this, and I’m not sure there is an end. But for now, words help, writing helps, keeping busy helps. I know that initial shock will settle and that time will continue to beat on. I sleep, and wake, and sleep again, and carry him in my mind. In this final distance, there is still closeness.
I saw a hummingbird hawk moth
but I did not take a picture
Instead I followed it, insides all squiggly
heart beating as fast as blurry wings
as it hovered near a vegetable patch and
dipped its tongue delicately
into a flower
then went about its day
and I went about mine
with excitement in my soul
Thank you hawk moth
The rain is warm, a rare treat in the UK, and falling hard, fat raindrops plopping into hastily formed puddles, battering against earth that a few moments ago was dry dust. That smell, petrichor, floating joyously through open windows, the sun and heat of the morning suddenly dark, suddenly grey. The rain hammers against the conservatory, a thousand drumbeats, loud and insistent. Come outside, warm rain says. Feel alive.
I dance through open doors and turn my face to the sky, a relief after this dry spell. With water butts running dry and just a few drizzly days over the last six weeks or so, the weather has broken and it’s time to celebrate, even in a small way. Plants seem joyous, water battering green leaves, finally. Rivulets rush from the steep lawn, over the driveway, onto the road – the earth is too dry to absorb this sudden river. I stand, with heavy rain hitting my scalp, soaking through my clothes, raising hands to the sky and laughing, laughing.
This morning, everything is greener, brighter, fresher. The day dawns with blues and pinks and those fluffy clouds that rush across the skies as though chasing each other. The breeze brings a coolness and trees stretch into themselves, lazily reaching to the sun, refreshed from the energy of just a few hours ago.
The UK is no stranger to rain, of course. But those big, swollen raindrops after a hot morning – where the skies are leaden but the downpour still has warmth – those are the rare days. We are used to freezing pinpricks, cold mizzle, slate grey and shivering. I feel alive in warm rain, I need to run out in it, be part of it, rather than hiding away. There’s something primal, freeing, standing in this suburban garden but feeling some ancient reminder – an echo, a shadow – of what it is to be a human, standing in a downpour, for no other reason than to feel alive. Water for life, water for the soul.