My Daddy died when I was 21.
Death is not like it looks in the movies, there is no grace or elegance, there’s no breezy sigh or dramatic halt. Instead it’s counting seconds between breaths and watching screens for neon flickers. And all the while you know what’s coming; that the person you love is going to walk though a doorway, close it behind them and leave you. The dread is exhausting. The fear is lonely. The certainty is crushing.
Death is practically offensive by it’s invisibility.
It pays no heed to the soul it takes or the dignity it costs. In life my Dad was scathingly funny, scarily smart, slightly odd and loyal to a fault. He was a ferocious reader and wonderful writer. He was a great dad and a great friend. He was terrible with dates and perpetually late. He was a gentleman and a sailor.
He sported a marvellous moustache.
He had a capacity for kindness I’ve never encountered in another person and an ability to understand the complexities of our human condition which I thought came with age. He was courteous and cheerful, cheeky and chivalrous. He commanded respect because he gave it without hesitation. In death he was anonymous, merely human.
My Dad tried hard not to die. When the screens told us that my Dad had died my brother stood up, and in a dimly lit, airless hospital room that had held no hope or joy for what felt like years, led a cheer which swept all of our family and the surrounding staff into an applause. And for a very brief moment during the most agonising pain I’ve ever experienced there was joy again; a moment of joy in grief.
Joy that we had known and loved and been loved by a wonderful Dad. We applauded a man who once again had done his very best for the people he loved, my Dad died as he had lived – quietly trying hard to keep his family happy.
In a way my brother’s applause 8 years ago encapsulated the time that was to come, an uncomfortable mess of pain, regret, appreciation and love. It was a time during which I lived through the very worst experiences of my life. Yet on reflection I think death and grief are not fully deserving of their reputation – they are not wantonly destructive. It wasn’t a good time but it was a Time of Goodness.
Grief is a different type of love, it is your heart’s attempt to translate love from the present to the past, a way to make sense of an end that feels never ending. Grief is a love without a future, a love which will not be reciprocated but grief is not without growth.
Just like my dad’s life defined who I was then, his death defined who I would become. I can say with 100% certainty that I would not have made the choices that have lead me to today if he were still alive. Losing someone, or rather having the most important relationship in your life taken from you gives you a perspective for which you’ll eventually develop an uneasy gratitude; a moment of appreciation in grief.
My Dad loved yachts, Killiney Bay and his family but never got to spend enough time with either of these three. His life taught me many things about integrity, honour and patience and he remains my mentor.
Today I can say that his death taught me as much as his life, from death life can grow. His death taught me to love who you want, how you want and to be where you want. Life may be short but it’s the longest thing we’ll ever do so make sure you do it well.
There is a robin nested in the trees behind our house, a few times a day it comes to say hello. We have called this robin Mo, not because I believe it to be a spiritual messenger of my Dad but because a few times a day I get to think of my Dad and tell Alfie about the wonderful man he’ll never meet; a moment of looking forward through grief. Undoubtedly my Dad’s death left a void in me and every now and then it echoes.
It aches like a physical wound that I will never introduce Alfie to my Dad, that he never met my husband or saw the house I poured my heart into. It physically hurts and it’s not fucking fair. My Dad was a remarkable man and not just to his daughter, to everyone who knew him and I think the world still needs him. I still need him.
And that is why 8 years later, on a calm and quiet Tuesday when all is wonderful in your world you can be surprised to find yourself silently sobbing into the carpet of your son’s bedroom while you wait for him to sleep.
Because despite all the goodness that comes with it, grief never goes away. And love never dies.