One year ago, it was my Dad’s last day in this world.
A year is a long time. And not very long. It has gone quickly, and yet so much has happened it seems like forever ago.
My baby turned one. My eldest turned ten. We returned to home education after the eldest two had a year in school. We’ve had two holidays away as a family. I’ve lost weight and put it (and more) back on again. I’ve been to the gym probably two hundred times. We’ve celebrated a wedding and an engagement. We’ve grieved the news of cancer battles for extended family members. Ariadne had emergency plastic surgery on her finger. Josiah had stitches in his head. We passed the milestone of one year with no seizures.
We’ve laughed, cried, celebrated, mourned, fought, imagined, relaxed and shared. We’ve worked out (or maybe we’re still working out) what “family” looks like with one person missing. We’ve renegotiated celebrations, broken traditions, expanded our family and discovered who will stick by us and make the effort and who says their (hopefully) kind words and then walks away.
Personally, I’ve had to deal with people predicting the future (they were wrong), making accusations (they were wrong), questioning my motives (they were wrong), telling me I’m doing too well, telling me I’m not doing well enough. People assuming everything is okay when it’s not and people trying to force emotion out of me when there’s nothing there to give.
Grief is a complex thing. Everyone grieves in their own way. Some will grieve quickly, although life is never the same. Some people take years, or even decades, before the pain becomes less raw.
My Dad was never a big part of my life. For good or for bad, that’s the truth of it. He worked shift work through my first eight years, so he was pretty much asleep or at work. After that he worked a 9-5 job while studying at uni part time. For almost a decade. And as that decade passed he had longer hours at work, frequent overseas trips, and was still studying. He just wasn’t around.
He changed. He was more available to his family in the last ten to fifteen years of his life, than he was in the previous fifteen to twenty or so. But by that time, the time when he was more available, I was grown up. I was a young adult with university studies, three part time jobs and a boyfriend (who would soon be my husband). Then I had a young and quickly growing family.
Many people would tell me, in the months after his death, about the sort of man he was, the person they knew. The Paul they talked about wasn’t the Dad I knew. There were similarities of course, but the father I grew up with and the Paul of the last decade were two very different people.
Of course, your family are always intimately aware of your faults. Things you can hide from your friends, fellow parishioners, work colleagues and extended family, you can’t hide from the people you live with. It’s not just that. Dad changed and I never really got to know the new “Paul”.
The last day Dad was alive we chatted about the dress I was altering (in preparation for Ariadne’s dedication in three days time) and about the cricket. When we left, I don’t even know that I actually said goodbye. I certainly didn’t kiss him or hug him or anything like that. But, I don’t have regrets about that. It just wasn’t us, it wasn’t the relationship we had. There was never much in the way of physical affection, not in the last twenty years or so. And that’s ok. That’s who we were. I know he loved me and I know he knew I loved him. Even though I never said it much.
I still miss him, at odd moments. Thinking he’d be proud of my kids who sing along to his CDs we acquired after he died (Fleetwood Mac in particular). Thinking he’d be proud of my sense of direction and navigational skills I inherited from him, and used to find my way around an unfamiliar city, without a map. The bittersweet moment of thinking he’d be proud of Reuben for writing his first “Hello World” program then realising he then would have tempered his pride with some type of complaint about the programming language it was in.
What I have learned is that our society just doesn’t know how to handle “big feelings” like grief. The church isn’t any better. Especially if you don’t fit neatly into their tidy boxes of what they think should happen. Or if you’re not one of those people who it is easy to help. It’s not so easy to offer baby sitting to someone who has five children, just saying ;-).
I’ve learnt that some people will process everything through their own filter of hurt and being angry with the world, and won’t listen to anything you say to the contrary. I’ve learnt that some people want to impose their way of grieving on you, and get upset when you don’t follow their path. I’ve learnt that there are some people whom you just cannot trust to keep things private – your words get twisted and spread, your intentions questioned by all and sundry and there’s nothing you can do about it. I learnt that keeping quiet when someone else is wrong is harder than one might expect. I’ve learnt that some prefer peacekeeping at any cost, while others prefer brutal honesty. I’ve learnt that people have their own path to walk and their own burdens and most people aren’t going to look up from putting one foot in front of the other, to see how someone else is going.
We’ve learnt who our real friends are. We know who will stick by us when things get messy – and as sure as death and taxes, life does get messy. We know who will take on a handful of children, who will take meals to our extended family that they don’t know all that well, who will take a day off work or juggle their previous commitments to come to something important, who will just sit and chat over a cuppa and not be too worried about silences. I’ve also learnt to reach out, be vulnerable and make requests to friends. To say, we need help. I know who I can rely on and who is unreliable. Which friendships can survive long silences and which ones wither. And that even those who know you the best sometimes just don’t get it.
There are more hard times ahead for my immediate and our extended families. Some to do with grief, some entirely separate from Dad’s absence. We are still going to need prayer, support, comfort, friendship and practical help.
To those who have supported Mark, I and the kids, who have supported Rachael, Michael, Sarah, Mum, Andrew, Cinamon, Mark and Janis, thank you.<