It wasn’t “family” anymore, “family” had changed.
I’d like to tell you that after a year, grief gets easier, except that it really doesn’t, not when you really love someone. At 7pm on Saturday, all I could think was that this time last year, he was alive, my Dad was alive. Barely and definitely not with any quality of life, but he was. I wished I was there, I wished I had been there, I wished I had been (wo)man enough to manage it.
But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and that’s now my burden to live with.
“To be honest, sis, I’m glad you weren’t.” Those were some words of reassurance from my brother. A good effort, but they hadn’t offered all that much, at least nothing that could quell the critic deep within,
You failed him. You failed. You’re a failure.
Perhaps fortunately, a lot of the internal anger has now been quelled and replaced, perhaps, by anxiety again. What is there after life, apart from death? Do we just.. cease to exist? Humans seemed far too complicated to simply stop existing. When will my clock stop ticking? Will I die alone? I don’t want to die alone. So much anxiety!
This time of year is always so hard for me. Winter in Britain is only ever typical cold, rainy and grey and I crave to see the sun again. Even my Emotional First Aid Kit is more of a Painful Reminders Box right now, with the faded, scentless lavender candle that my Dad gave me on the first year that I fought with SAD. For me, SAD comes with several symptoms including anxiety, intrusive thoughts, brain fog and digestive issues. I remember only two years ago driving through the streets with tears streaming down my face and the orange lights lighting up the road. He didn’t say much, Dad was a man of few words, but there was a small comfort just knowing that he was there.
I rang Mum at 7:20pm on Saturday. I wasn’t sure if she’d be alone or if she’d have company, but one thing was for sure, if she was alone, then I didn’t want her to be. After four rings, she picked up the phone.
“Hi love,” she said, I could tell in her voice that she had been crying. Like mother, like daughter, we’re the kind of people who will tell you we’re fine, even when we’re dying inside. We could see a sad person and help them in a heartbeat, but we’d never admit our own pains.
Mum and I spent a while talking, we cried a bit and then laughed a bit, we laughed most about the man who had been and stolen a metal bin from outside my door, at 2pm on a Saturday and in broad daylight. What was funny for us (and unfortunate for him) was what the bin had been used for – until last week, it was my dog poo bin.
“Dad would have bloody loved that!” Mum laughed.
“Yeah, I know,” I said softly, half smiling, half crying.
If only I could tell him.
One of the hardest parts still has come in accepting my family, my new family, my mother, my brother, my husband and my father-in-law. When I was invited out for dinner on Wednesday, I felt the same uncomfortable pang that I felt on Christmas day. It was a family outing, except that it wasn’t.
It wasn’t “family” anymore, “family” had changed. “Family” is what we had two years ago. This is something else, something that I haven’t identified with yet.
One of the biggest challenges that I now face is watching Mum moving on. She’s not dating per se, but she is talking to and meeting other men. It does worry me – there are some decent people out there, but there are some real weirdos, too.
I try so hard to be happy for Mum, and somewhere deep inside I know that I have to be, and I am, but there is also this feeling that she is trying to replace my Dad. Of course she’s not, and I know she’s not (she’s even said herself that she can’t), but the thought of a potential stepfather at 31 is nothing if short of daunting. He would need to know the boundaries. He may be my mother’s partner, but he will never be “Dad” to me.
As Spring rolls in, the garden is the next thing on my mind. I looked out at the weeds yesterday and all of the hours of work that I need to do to pick up again. Without warning, another pang of sadness creeps in. Two years ago, he was sat in my garden for a barbeque. He was in pain, but we just thought it was a trapped nerve in his neck. Terminal cancer, who would have thunk it?
Dad loved his garden, and I guess because of his love for his garden, I love mine. The patio table has been upended and pieces of our barbeque have been strewn across the garden by high winds, but I know that order can be restored again. Tomorrow, I’ll be receiving my new pair of purple gardening gloves, ready to pull up all of the weeds. He won’t be there in person, but I know that Dad is always here in spirit. He’ll be way up high above the clouds, watching me, guiding me and smiling.