One Year On

Dad and Bugwoman on her wedding day in 2001.

Dear Readers, on Wednesday it will be a year since my father died ,and as those of you who have been through a bereavement know, the ‘firsts’ are hard. The first Father’s Day, the first birthday, the first Christmas are all filled with memories of the person who isn’t there any more. Sometimes I sit in my living room and look at the space in the bay window where Dad used to lay in his reclining chair, and I can almost hear him snoring away gently. Or I remember him tapping along to the radio, or noticing some bird on the cherry tree, just visible through the French doors. At these times I feel that he is there, just  outside my peripheral vision, and if I turn around fast enough I’ll catch a glimpse of him. But at other times it’s clear to me that he is absolutely gone in any meaningful way, and so is Mum.

I had a dream where the two of them were tottering along the garden path towards the car, and I was watching them from the house. They were bickering as usual – Dad wanted to hold Mum’s hand because she was unsteady on her feet, but she thought that Dad would fall over too if she tripped and he was holding her. But then Dad snatched her hand anyway, and they headed remorselessly away from me. I so wanted them to turn and wave but they were very focused on where they were going. The dream flavoured the whole of my day. At the age of 60 I felt as abandoned as a small child lost in a supermarket.

All around me people are wiping the dust off their garden tables and sorting out their wineglasses in preparation for the first step out of lockdown tomorrow. It’s going to be glorious weather, and I expect my neighbours will be having a whole gaggle of garden-based events, meeting up with family that they haven’t been able to see properly for months. I’m pleased for them, but at the same time it just reminds me that most of my close family are dead. Lockdown has been a kind of protection because everything has been so strange. When Mum died I couldn’t somehow believe that people were going about their lives, laughing and joking and worrying about trivialities. I am reminded of the famous Auden poem about stopping the clocks because someone has died. But then, I too have been that person, laughing and joking and worrying about trivialities, and indeed a lot of the time I still am. Perhaps part of the wonderful thing about life is that it drags you on, even when you don’t want to go.

Someone compared grief to a bookshelf. In the beginning, the only book is the one about sorrow. That book is always there, but gradually other books appear, about different subjects, until life fills out again, and we can go moments, then hours, then maybe even days without thinking about the person who is gone. But this I have learned: losing someone that you love, however old they were, however predictable the event was, is like having a door slam shut behind you. You can never be the person that you were before, because now you know, in your bones, that nothing is forever. Death is no longer some abstract notion, but a bitter fact that you are going to have to learn to live with and incorporate into your daily life.

The nature of grief changes though, and that is a blessing.  I find myself thinking about how mischievous Dad was, how determined to get his own way. I remember that he loved to make people laugh, how kind and gentlemanly he was towards women, how he hated a direct fight but was a master of the sneaky move.  I find myself remembering all the times that we’d sit in the living room watching Countdown, pretending not to be competitive. Even after his dementia, Dad was always the one who could win at a quiz. In short, he is coming back to me, and he’s coming back whole, all of him, with a big grin on his face.

When Dad’s dementia took hold, it was clear that he had become a master of paradox. He could believe that his parents were coming to visit him at Christmas, even though they had been dead for years. He could believe simultaneously that Mum was dead, that she was living somewhere else and wasn’t speaking to him because he’d upset her, and that he wasn’t old enough to be married. And it isn’t so different for me. I know that Dad is utterly, absolutely, completely gone, never to return, and that I’ll never hold his hand again. And yet, I also sense him moving through me every time I make a decision about the garden, or put a slice of lime into a gin and tonic, or get a question right on Mastermind. He is here but not here, present but absent. I miss him more than I can express, but I am  having trouble remembering his face.

I will never ‘get over it’, and yet I am moving on, regardless.

Thomas Reginald Palmer (5.12.35 to 31.3.20)

12 thoughts on “One Year On

  1. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    Yes things do get easier as time goes by. Our parents come up in our conversations every day even though it’s 17 years since our mother passed and 9 years our father. Our father is the main reason we’re such early risers, when we were children if you were in bed he would bang the pillow with his hand saying ‘nobody sleeps while i’m around’ it still brings a smile to our faces. 🙂 Thinking of you x

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks, Fran and Bobby. My Dad used to get up at 4 a.m. to go to work, but sadly the habit didn’t rub off on me – that was a great gift that your Dad gave you. What my Dad did insist on was being early for things like flights and trains, and that has really stood me in good stead over the years…

  2. Liz Norbury

    Thank you so much for this, Viv – it has moved me to tears. My mum died unexpectedly last Sunday, 21st March, and I am living in a strange, changed world. The last week has been a flurry of activity for my sister ad me – contacting her many friends, making arrangements for her funeral, dealing with official paperwork – and yet now, on this quiet Monday morning, none of that seems real. Somewhere in my mind, I still think I’ll be visiting her at her lovely care home as usual this afternoon, and chatting to her from the garden. I’ll be thinking of you on Wednesday, on the anniversary of your dad’s death. .

  3. Anne

    My thoughts are with you. Our parents were so much part of our lives that we cannot forget them. I am pleased for you that the happier memories are coming to the fore – that is part of the healing process. I still, many decades on, find myself thinking about – and even talking to in my head. one or other of my parents. You were loved and are loved in return.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you, Anne. I find I’m often chatting to them in my head too, and wondering what they’d do when the scone mix looks a bit peculiar, say, or one of the plants in the garden looks unhappy .

  4. Mary Gillender

    Wow. That’s an amazing and vivid bit of writing with a powerful punch.

    And can I just say that your wedding outfit is really glorious.

  5. Andrea Stephenson

    I’ve been thinking about ‘firsts’ too, but in a different way. That first year is very difficult and unfortunately you often find out that you’re more alone than you thought. My dad has been gone now for 20 years and although I still miss him and wish he was around, I now tend to just think of him with a smile, forgetting the bad things surrounding his illness and death. My relationship with my mother was more complicated, so the way I feel about her can still change twelve years on.

  6. Ann Bronkhorst

    “Here but not here” is simply put and exactly right. It’s good that you have such vivid memories of both of them, and objects and surroundings as reminders. Pain but a good pain.

  7. Ringgi

    That is a very thoughtful, insightful piece of writing. Thank you.
    I like the metaphor of a bookshelf. You’re right, the book of grief is the first book there. It never gets lost and you can’t give it away or sell it. You come to treasure it even though it is painful. Pain with love is far better than no pain.

  8. Bobbie Jean

    Anniversaries are hard. The good memories make them bearable. I am glad you are able to find solace in yours.

    Be well.


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