I’ve been thinking about how a death changes what we feel for those still here.
Some weeks after my dad died, my mum told me how neglected she’d felt through his illness, when my brother and I were wholly focused on him, when all of our free time was his. At first I was shocked that she would even question that, but when I think about it, we all want to be loved and cherished, terminally ill or not.
Whether we like it or not, the shadow of death drags the eye, like a television flickering at the edge of your vision. When someone is dying it is hard to find room for anyone else, to have time for anyone else when you know that right now might just be the last moment. I tried to keep a balance in my life, to hold something for myself and still have something left for others. I’m not sure how often I really achieved that balance when I was half chewed with grief and gnawed by fear of what was ahead.
Then bereavement comes. Suddenly it makes a space where there was none, but tugs the heart elsewhere. When I cry for my dad I don’t see what is around me. My eyes are in the past, in another place. It is easy to wear grief like blinkers that hide what is still here, what is still now.
Death distorts. We do not like to speak ill of the dead and people often seem to recast all those gone as squeaky clean angels. To tell the truth, I think my dad would’ve been more cheerful as a imp. Halos were just not his style. He was my hero, my role model, my friend but no template of perfection.
I try to keep him real in my memories; to remember his temper, the things he said that made me groan, how sickness made him impatient and impossible. I don’t want to swap my lovely messy flawed real dad for a fake, a yardstick everyone else will fail against.
I need to keep him real so that i don’t lose him, but also to keep room for other loves, other lives to bloom into something.
Knowing my dad was dying gave me time to say my goodbyes. I said them hundreds of times in the years of his illness, but never felt I was quite done. I feel pretty crappy now, but I often wonder how I’d be feeling if I hadn’t had that time to think about what I needed to say and to find the words and courage to say it.
Deep in grief and battling for breath, it is easy to turn in, to fixate on this one loss and pivot on this point of pain. It’s crushing to think that this blow will fall again and again. But of course this death is just one skirmish in a war that I am certain to lose. Everyone I love will die or I will die first. That thought makes me want to go back to bed and put a pillow over my head….. maybe two or three pillows actually.
But I need to talk tough with myself. I want to get this, to learn my lessons. In twelve months time I hope the pain will have eased but maybe these truths will have blurred back into the fabric of my life, leaving me no wiser.
Death will not always give me a heads up so I need to love better in the now. I need to recognise love whilst I have it. To speak it, glorious and untidy, so that I have no regrets when this moment, these people still here have passed into another grove of shade and darkness…
It is far too late to love the dead.