I know you’ll all excuse these more introspective posts, and hopefully you’ll forgive me as I repeat knowledge that is mostly already known but sometimes, when such things fall newly into your world they take on a new light, and are all the more vivid and vital for it.
I don’t remember my Dad’s parents. His father passed away before I was born, and I was maybe four years old when Nana passed so she lives in fuzzy memories that are mostly about her box of costume jewellery and a particularly colourful necklace. I have few real memories of the woman herself. I don’t remember if I was sad or upset when she passed away.
The next time I was faced with grief was ten years later when my Mum’s father passed. He’d spent most of the time that I knew him declining after a number of strokes so my interactions with him were always from a bit of a distance. As an early teenager I wasn’t really sure how to process what I was feeling when he died, and all I really remember about his funeral was seeing my Aunt Anne there and suddenly sobbing on her shoulder.
Another ten or so years down the line my Grandma was next after a long slow slide into her latter years. It was time for her to go, the grieving was hard but inevitable and that softened the blow. I loved my Grandma dearly, I spent many weekends staying with her and Grandpa, and as the first grandchild I was spoiled rotten. But towards the end she deteriotated to the point where a final peaceful slipping away was a mercy.
My mother-in-law was the next one to leave us. It was sudden and painful. She was a wonderful, cheeky, caring woman who made me feel so welcomed into her family. I really did get on well with my in-laws. They had moved to a small town on the coast of Spain when they had retired a couple of years beforehand, and I’ll always have fond memories of visiting them there. When Grace passed, we all flew out to be there and I busied myself looking after my wife, my nieces and nephews, and generally trying to hold things together so her direct family could grieve.
But I can still remember realising that I needed a little time to process things too and so I took a longer walk back from the shop one evening, wandered down to the beach, left the shopping bag on the shore and waded a little way into the rolling surf. The sun was setting and I stood there and marvelled at the view, the cold water ebbing and flowing round my feet as the day ended. I sobbed, my salt water tears falling to the sea.
I read an article a while back about the stages of grief, it suggested there isn’t really any defined stages that you move to and from, rather it’s a constant flux of emotions that catch you off-guard. You’ll go from denial to acceptance to bargaining and back again in minutes.
Which sounds about right; I’ve gone from laughing at a daft video on Facebook to an ugly crying mess a few seconds later; the other day I just sat on the bed and tears started rolling down my face. Recently I’ve caught myself living a ‘normal’ life and had odd misgivings because I was out in the world, enjoying a good coffee, and laughing and joking, shouldn’t I be home in a dark room somewhere?
It’s weird, is what I’m saying.
I’m coping though, quite simply by letting the emotions happen, accepting that my moods will be what they are and, whenever I feel like crying I’m doing just that.
OK, I’ll confess, this is all apropos of nothing whatsoever except to say that I’ve been crying more than usual.
And that’s ok. Mind you, even if I wasn’t processing my grief it would still be ok because, as I’ve said before, I’m a bit of a cryer at the best of times.
Then so was Dad so I know where I get it from, this tendency to tear up at the slightest, daftest little thing.
I’m a big one for a good greet at the best of times. As friends will attest I’m prone to crying at gigs, and not always because I’m sad. When I saw LCD Soundsystem at the Barrowlands a few years back, I can remember feeling such an elated high that I stood in the middle of the crowd, arms raised to the sky like a preacher, joyful tears streaming down my face, I was elated and happy, it was glorious.
It wasn’t always this way though. For a long time I denied this part of me as I was tried to fit in, to be the model type of man that society suggested I should be; I struggled for a long time with how to make my peace with the simple fact that I am not that type of person. I don’t choke back my tears, I have no stiff upper lip, and yes I’ve told all my friends I love them because I do (luckily they’ve all said it back to me too, phew!).
Back then I did what every young person does and pushed away any thoughts of the traits I’d inherited from my parents, denying them space in my life. I think I was so hell bent on NOT being my parents I forgot I was supposed to be figuring out who I was. It’s so easy to get caught up in defining a negative that, when someone points this out, it’s a little startling.
But now I see the wisdom and benefits of accepting those aspects of my parents personalities that I tried to shy away from and over the past few years I’ve embraced them and enjoyed realising just how much of who I am I owe to them. I am a good man. I am my father’s son.
So yes, I will cry during THOSE episodes of The West Wing, I will cry when we watch THAT scene in E.T., and I will cry when Elbow sing THAT song about my sister buzzing through the room leaving perfume in the air, and when I’m done crying I’ll wipe my tears away and find solace and happiness on the other side.
I will cry whenever I need to, wherever I am, because it’s just another emotion that needs to come out.
As ever part of me is writing all of this for myself as a way to process how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks, but equally there is a part of me is writing for anyone who reads it that is struggling with this too. It’s the same part of me that wants to reach out and shake the toxic masculinity out of some people (well, ALL people) as it serves no good purpose. No man is better because they push their emotions away. Believe me, I’ve tried it, it’s not good for you.
I’m lucky though, I acknowledge that. I have the love of my family, the willing strong arms of my amazing partner who holds me whenever I need it with no question of why, and the support and love of my friends who know the best way to put me at ease is to try and match my sarcasm (I should point out that my use of the word ‘try’ is, well, let’s just say charitable… at best).
My Dad was not one to dwell on things. He was a planner, for sure, but his laidback approach can roughly be translated into more modern terms of ‘living in the moment’ and so I find myself taking each day as it comes and doing my own planning for the future.
Which, given all the uncertainty in the world at the moment, seems as equally pointless as it is desirable; Remember Brexit, well we’ve still got that shitshow to get through, you know, whilst we continue to try and get a grip on the global pandemic, dismantle the current power systems in place, protest (again) about violence and prejudice against the BAME community (this is a white people issue that we need to fix!), and that’s just the currently newsworthy items. The MeToo movement still rolls rightly onwards and any notion of equality across genders remains frustratingly elusive.
Regardless, we are doing our best to cope, paddling hard against the current and, no matter which way we choose to go none of us have any idea what the future will truly hold. It sounds trite but it’s true.
Yet the joyous thing about being human is that as well as our struggles and trials, we also have hopes and dreams and so we act on those as best we can and take whatever life throws at us next. How else should we live?
You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.Albert Camus, Intuitions (1932)
As I recently posted, I find myself in a good place on the whole, despite all of the weirdness of the world and the sadness of recent personal events. Putting all that behind me where it belongs helps, and in a strange way it feels good to be moving forward again, to be headed in a definite direction, regardless of how we get there. I’ve no doubt there will be more tears in the future, although I hope there will be more happy ones than sad.
All of this is not to say that the past is forgotten, naturally it still bubbles up on occasion to meet me, and more and more it happens at the oddest of times.
It’s 10pm. I’ve got Dave (the dog) out for a final pee, he’s snuffling about the grass at my feet and I’m standing staring at the night sky. The clouds are scrolling casually, as the last embers of daylight glow out, tiny spots of light are appearing in fluffy gaps and the crescent of a moon is hazily rendered from afar.
I find myself staring up this way more and more often. It’s not a recent thing at all, but it feels more poignant to stare at the universe and contemplate my place in it. A small speck, a fleeting moment of time. I am nothing at all against the mind boggling scale of what’s out there. With that thought it’s easy to put all of this uncertainty, all of this pain, all of this happiness and joy into perspective. It feels almost to much of a cliche at times but it is what it is, we are here for the briefest of moments.
I don’t regret not spending more time with Dad before he passed. I am confident I was a good son, that he loved me as I loved him. But he is gone now, that won’t change and so we look forward at what life will bring us next, whilst standing and staring up into the outer reaches of space.
I feel a solitary tear roll down my face and tilt my head to let it fall to the grass below me. With a smile I turn and haul Dave back inside for the night for tomorrow is a new day and I need to live it.
P.S. For those who recognise the quote, no I’m not a big reader of philosophy, I am reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and to say it’s a timely read would be an understatement (it’s very good too!)