Should I feel bad?
Should I make a note in my diary to remind me?
Should I mark the anniversary in some way?
Death is a funny thing.
Not in a hahaha way, obviously.
But it’s one of those things that requires special treatment by the little people in our heads that are responsible for filtering our memories through the gauze of time, to enable us to experience the best bits of a person’s life without having to continually relive the gut-wrenching moment of loss when that life comes to an end.
In many ways, the unreal feeling of absence that comes with losing someone who has been integral to your life for so long becomes more unreal with the passage of time.
Initially, the shock, pain and sorrow that is part and parcel of loss seems like a comfort, almost as if the process of grieving is a defence in and of itself, a way of opening you up to any and all feelings you had for someone who is now gone.
This huge overload of emotion insulates you from the true horror of the situation, only letting you take in the full impact at a later date, when you’re better able to cope, more hardened to the terrible shape reality has taken.
The further you get from that awful point in time however, the less real it seems and, although you’ve known for years that they’ve gone and aren’t coming back, just occasionally something will generate a spark and that emotional tinderbox will suddenly burst into life, prompting a flood of nostalgia which can shock you all over again with the knowledge that you ran out of time years ago.
I got a message from my sister Kerry yesterday, saying it was 15 years since our father, Martin, died.
My first reaction was; “That can’t be right, it’s not as long as that”, but then I realised how long I’ve been living in Devon and that he became ill after I’d already been here nearly a year.
How time flies.
Dad and Ann, my mother.
As I have said before, my relationship with Dad was not the smoothest of rides, which explains why I moved away from home at 16 and subsequently, maybe why he didn’t really get to know who I was (i.e. not a smaller version of him) until it was nearly too late.
I think my spell of living in a coach was probably the thing that shocked him the most, possibly making him finally grasp the fact that I’d never have the ambitious, career-driven executive attitude I’m guessing he wanted me to aspire to.
I remember very clearly, after I made a rare visit home, he gave me a lift back to the apple farm on which our camp was pitched and dropping me at the gate, looked at the collection of ramshackle tents, bender
s and dilapidated vehicles and then looked at me with an expression that said; “Oh for God’s sake, what are you doing living here?”
How could I possibly explain to him, a respectable businessman, that what I was doing was having the absolute best time of my life, a period that taught me so much independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, about being who you are, and not taking too much notice of what others have in mind for you.
Of course, looking back, I can appreciate exactly what it must have seemed like to him, especially given the reputation that “travellers” had back then. He probably thought I was on a fast train to Junkie City, stopping only briefly at Unemployment Junction before continuing through Pariah Town to the end of the inevitable line.
Although I can’t help feeling slightly pleased that he must have by then fervently wished he’d been more enthusiastic about my desire to follow a career in the theatre.
If ever there was a lesser of two evils, grease paint beats fingerprint ink every time.
Where I was fortunate though, was that I had my very own reality filter working in my favour, my loyal sister, Kerry.
All through these years she had been slowly chipping away at Dad’s image of me, trying to persuade him I wasn’t the hopeless case he feared I’d become and in the end it finally paid off.
We did become more tolerant of each other’s personalities (which were, when all was said and done, the same) and reached an understanding of sorts.
I still recall the slightly surreal evening when Dad and I went out for a drink together at my local, The Wheatsheaf in Crowborough, not long before I moved away.
It was the first, and only, time that he and I went for a friendly pint (that being the intent on his part I believe, “a friendly pint”) and the suggestion touched and amused me in equal parts, bearing in mind the locals were rather more – how shall I put this? – colourful than they are nowadays.
There just so happened to be a wake going on that night, for one of the more conspicuous consumers in the pub’s recent history, featuring the intake of Herculean quantities of (insert your chosen poison here) and culminating in a cataclysmically loud impromptu firework display just outside.
To be fair, Dad took it in his stride, presumably thinking this was an average night at The ‘Sheaf and restricting himself to the odd comment, on the lines of; “You have some very,…um, interesting friends” for which I silently gave him credit and liked him that little bit more, because he had finally given up on moulding me and appeared to be content that I’d been finding my own way all along.
The saddest thing?
Probably that for the last few days in that hospital room in London, (where he’d gone after the treacherous cells in his body had finally won their battle to lay low this energetic, ambitious, driven and tireless man, a man who had lost his wife to the same merciless killer and not only brought up Kerry and I, but taken on a second family too) we were closer than at any time I can remember since I was very young, and I think we both recognised it too.
Too late to make anything meaningful from the realisation by then of course (and who’s to say whether or not it’s just those little people in my head, straining my memories through their gauzy soft filters?) and I’m sure everyone has those feelings that they shouldn’t have left things to the last minute, but I’m glad that we could look each other in the eye and know we had made that final connection, it’s what gives me the ability to look back and think; “Blimey, has it really been that long?” with a melancholy that is not sadness but the affection of absence.
With second wife, Sue, the year before he died.
So I don’t feel too guilty about not remembering the anniversary of his passing, just that we didn’t have enough time to further understand each other.
For good or for bad we were very alike, something for which I’m sometimes grateful, sometimes not so much, but if it wasn’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be me.
We owe you, big time.