So my father died. And my frontal lobes fired to fuck. Thursday 7th March, stuck in traffic on way home from work, caught up in my own stupid hippy dilemas. Singing to songs on the radio, sighing, smiling: I asked the universe for a sign. Got home, put the kettle on, texted a friend and got a phone call. My mothers voice, strangely hushed, shocked, stating facts. He’d collapsed, the paramedics were there. Back in the car, quick as you like looking out the window at that same universe, this time not knowing what to wish for. Same as when Dylan died, sentences scattered and unpunctuated storm-clouded my brain. And what sort of daughter am I that I didn’t beg on my knees for God to spare him? Ever the pragmatist, cooly composed I stared simply at the sky and stated i’d be able to handle whatever was for the best. And what does that even mean, ‘handling it’?
Life is shit and life is hard, so my dad died within minutes of us getting there. In the doorway, so we had to step over him. My aunty, the woman I always aspired to be, knew instinctively it was his feet that were upsetting me. She told me not to be afraid or worried because what lay there in our kitchen was not my father but simply his earth suit. And it stuck with me. A phrase coined and comforting and it’s sad to think that she’s had to think of these things in her life, in order to take some comfort.
In that moment, we moved into my mums. As my dad would have wanted and she had requested. The three of us. Looking after each other. And in many ways it feels as though i’ve been sent here to finish something that started in my teens. But what exactly that is, i’ll be fucked if I know.
I dont cry, generally speaking, I dont. Because grief is simply too complicated for that: sadness too intricate, like a network of veins. But I woke one day, from a 30 minute desperate sleep, thinking i’d heard his voice, singing, talking on his phone, in that language I now seldom use. And tears came flooding, sneaked in before my composure could send them packing. It shocks me when I cry, face contorted, head throbbing, because like a tango it comes: quick, quick, slow.
Today we went to see my dad and tomorrow we will bury him. In a tiny room he is the ‘once was’ man, now in a box. And I wont lie, it scared the shit out of me to see him like that. Becuase it’s like a bad horror movie and he might have suddenly moved or opened his eyes and my sanity would have cracked into a thousand tiny pieces like a boiled sweet dropped from a lazy mouth. But my mother, brave, gentle, loving: many things I am not, went over and touched him. Kissed him while my eyes found a sufficiently inane part of the wall to stare at. To see someone you love, legs so thin they could appear lame, skin ashtray grey, mouth set, is a reality sometimes too hard to bare. But in the same way that wriggling, spasming, noisy new born babies look derranged and freakish, the dead in all their warped stillness do too. So I chose not to fear it and to accept it instead: the last page of a book that from start to finish was enthralling and thought provoking in its wisdom.
Seeing your mother fall apart isn’t easy. Knowing she’s in pain is far harder than carrying the burden of your own sadness. And in truth, the whole thing fucks me up. Completely and utterly and imperceptibly. So i’ll quietly and calmly fall to pieces whilst simultaneously carrying on.
So my gangster, the one whose voice I will never hear again on the phone, the first man I ever knew, the funniest geezer to ever walk the earth, the original stoner, my favourite story teller, the guy who could carry volumes of poetry and songs in his head, the forever bad-boy who never had a proper job and once told me that God was big but the boat was small: he died. He no longer exists. He got invited to a party the rest of us aren’t old enough to go to. His heart finished it’s business. His stories now all told. His movie is over. His place on the sofa now vacant. His too-strong salami still in the fridge un-eaten. His absence will always be felt.
If all this death has taught me anything, it’s that life is precious and death unrelentingly and permanently sad. All this fucking grief strips you of the feelings you once held dear, and leaves you only with holes like a badly knitted jumper or a particular kind of cheese. Snatches your plans and your ideas, your delusions of permanence along with the shackles that once tied you to the spot. And what they dont tell you is that ‘bereft’ really means ‘alone’. Because the companionship you have through life is not permanent and although we have feelings for one another, those feelings will change and evolve and come to pass, like the gold of autumn at it’s finest. And it’s confusing, because this year’s love becomes last years joke and every so often you’ll surprise yourself and become someone new without even trying. And it slowly begins to occur to me that having to realise that death exists, is really just a tough and valuable lesson in learning to be alone. Re-defining. Fearless. Drink lots of tea, smoke and be thin. Scoff chips, get fat, grow your hair, run a marathon and wear high heels for no reason at all. Go to the supermarket in your pjs, piss in the garden and laugh when someone tells you a joke. Why? because you might-as-fucking-well.
Be kind, sure yeah, be kind. But just as importantly, be you.