My son’s dad died two weeks ago.
I have really struggled with writing this post. Difficult does not begin to describe how hard it was. I still remember the call on that beautiful Thursday morning. It was the day before Good Friday. The call that turned my world a deep shade of grey. Everything after that call was mostly a blur. I remember being surrounded by people; probably a reaction to the deep animal like wail that I didn’t even realize was coming from me. I remember the outpouring of sympathy, with very few words said and just gentle squeezes; after all, what words could be said that could provide comfort at that time. Mostly I remember wondering over and over, what was I going to tell my son? How was I going to face him and tell him that his dad was gone?
We eventually told him that evening. Or rather, my partner told him and I tried to keep a brave face; failing miserably of course. My son took it surprisingly well, using logic and not emotion like we adults. He kept stealing these curious glances at me, almost like he could tell that this was a really sad occasion and eventually he came over and just wrapped his little arms around me and said “I’m sorry mum.” This of course opened up the floodgates as you would expect, because I never thought that my son would actually be stronger than me.
Over the next few days, the preparations for the final sendoff passed in a blur of texts, phone calls and sympathy messages. It was all so surreal to me; the outpouring of support is all that kept me grounded. I was assailed by memories, some recent but most of them from our past together and I kept telling myself that he just couldn’t be gone. He was larger than life after all. I remained in this state of denial, crying occasionally but simply refusing to accept the fact that he had left us.
There is something very final about a coffin. I still see the one they put him in clearly in my mind without even closing my eyes. When they rolled it out at the funeral home, I analyzed it in my usual critical manner – a simple understated deep brown pine box with gold encrusted handles along its length and a glass viewing pane on top. I stared at the people jostling to make a queue just so that they could peer into its contents and I remember wondering why they were so eager to make this real.
My feet remained rooted to the spot. In the deep recesses of my mind I knew that if I looked into that box then I would have to let go of my denial and accept what I was determined not to. I resolutely stood staring as the queue slowly began to move and the first of those who peered in began to shake and wail loudly as the truth hit them like a speeding train in a tunnel. Unfortunately for me at that point someone noticed me standing on the periphery and decided to take the decision out of my hands and literally created a space for me right at the front of the queue. Before my mind could react, there was the little peering glass, right in front of me and my curiosity got the better of me. I looked in. It was him, really him. And it hit me like a tonne of bricks. He was really gone.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of activity with several church services and lots of beautiful tributes about the kind of person he had been. All I could see was him in that pine box. Lifeless. Cold. Grey. Gone. Nothing could change that. No words could bring him back.
We took him to his rural home for an overnight stay in preparation for his final journey the following day. It was a rough night needless to say; a strange bed in a strange house but pure exhaustion finally knocked me out. His funeral service the following day bordered on a political rally which to me was both faintly amusing and irritating. When it was finally time to say goodbye, the skies (fittingly so) decided to open up and in the confusion, I nearly missed his final send off. I got to the grave just as the box carrying him had been lowered into the deep hole where he would finally rest.
As we were offered soil to throw onto the coffin, my mind was suddenly frantic. I had so many questions to ask him, so many things to say. I hadn’t even really said goodbye. I desperately wanted to freeze time just so that I could say what I needed to say but no one could hear my frantic mind chatter. As I watched the soil slowly pile on top of him, the only thing I could do was seek out my son and hold him close as we watched in surreal stillness. Sooner than I expected it was all over and the flowers had been placed and the mourners had drifted away. I stood there staring at the mound of soil and colorful flowers that now marked his resting place and I was overwhelmed by the memories of his time on earth.
For me, the hardest part was not knowing how I was supposed to react or behave. After all we had both moved on with our lives when things didn’t work out and had only become close again in the last one year when I was his life coach. I did not fit into any of the tick boxes – I wasn’t his wife, mother, sister…I was way more than a friend and certainly not just the mother of his only child. I felt like no one could understand the depth of my grief, me included.
I kept wondering why it had hit me so hard, without any warning and standing next to his grave that grey evening, I finally realized why. I was grieving not just for the memories but also for all that had happened between us while we were estranged. I was grieving not just for the happy times but also for the pain and bitterness and anger that I had buried deep inside me over the years. I was grieving because I had never had a chance to tell him what our separation had done to me, and now I never would.
From that moment at the graveside, till this very moment as I write this, I have consoled myself with thoughts that he is watching me from above, that he knows what is in my heart and that he knows that I finally forgave him. I don’t really know if I believe this but it’s all I have to hold on to because I never told him while he was still alive.
I look around me and it breaks my heart to see the pride with which people hold onto things that really don’t matter; never realizing that death could snatch that final decision from them. I see it in my own family, I see it among my close friends, I see it everywhere. Needless meaningless rifts created by human pride and finger pointing. After all, it’s never our fault, is it?
I don’t know how long I will grieve or how long it will hurt. I know that peering into that pine box opened up a floodgate of deeply buried and long forgotten pain inside of me and I have no choice but to deal with it. Hard as it may sound though, I am grateful for the chance to deal with it because not many get that opportunity.
For him the journey is now over but mine has probably just begun. His death has given me a whole new outlook on life and for that I will always be grateful. The brief time we shared will always form a part of my past, and an integral part of who I ultimately am today. Without him I would not be the person I am today.
Kip, this one is for you. For all the good times and the bad times. I treasure all in equal measure. Rest well my beloved friend. Till we meet again.