It’s been six months since my Dad suddenly passed away. Since then I’ve been working through my grief and, somehow, stumbled across an Instagram account by Dr Laura Williams who shares writing prompts as one way to help people process their grief. It immediately struck a chord with me as my go-to method for dealing with things is to start writing. What follows is a suggestion from one of her prompts (sort of mish-mashed into a couple of others).
I’m sharing this with you all because grief is odd and weird, but maybe you’ve had similar thoughts to me about your grief and that’s ok. It’s also ok if you haven’t or are still figuring it out, no matter how long it’s been.
I’m writing you this letter in the hope that my grief will give you some solace. I’m writing you this letter although I know you will never read it. I’m writing you this letter to help myself because you aren’t able to anymore.
I still can’t quite believe it’s only six months since you left us. Six months since those final days in the hospital, six months since the last goodbye, six months since the phone call from the hospital telling us you were gone.
We’d only left you an hour or so before, looking calm and peaceful and already at rest as we told you how much we loved you, and stifled the worst of our tears. We left the hospital and drove back to your home, then the three of us sat together in the living room, waiting for the call. I answered my phone and repeated the awful words to Mum and Jennie.
We all paused as it sank in.
Then we all gathered around Mum and cried together, the depth of our love growing with each sob as reality tried to push in; but we weren’t ready for it yet, so we held each other close and pushed it away, a closed circle of quiet strength, it was just too awful to consider our lives without you in it.
This was the form my grief took for the first few days, a constant battle of pushing away the horrible truth, keeping it as far away as possible so as somehow to keep it from being true. It just wasn’t possible, you couldn’t be gone, not yet, not with so much more life to witness, so much more love and joy to give. It wasn’t fair.
It still isn’t.
Since then my grief has morphed and moulded into something else, a constant companion waiting in the wings to interrupt at random moments; it’s odd the things that trigger memories of you, of us, but I take comfort that they are all happy memories even though they are now tinged with the sadness of losing you.
I cry sometimes without warning and give myself willingly to those moments, whether they are just a few silent whimpers or deep anguished sobs. Sometimes a single tear is all there is to mark another day without you in my life.
My grief is not constant.
Sometimes I catch myself realising that I didn’t think about you at all the day before. Is it a good thing that the time passed without you in it? Does it signal a lessening of my grief? Or is it a bad thing, marking the beginning of your slow removal from my conscious thoughts? I ask you these questions even though I know you can’t answer, even though they aren’t the kind of thing we’d even have discussed before. Before.
It’s funny now to think of the clichés that I’ve read and seen repeated too many times to count, all rendered true by your passing. I didn’t spend enough time with you, that’s for sure, but such things are clichés for a reason, no-one ever spends enough time with their loved ones. I don’t regret that, I have nothing but fond memories, joyful moments shared, to look back on and they always bring me the solace I expect.
I always thought my grief would be a huge mess of emotions, days of surviving, of clinging on to any scrap of love or happiness to get me through this unthinkable event. Then at some point I’d move into the humdrum days of the life of the fatherless, crying would become less and less frequent, thoughts of you would start to dim, a slow fade to black, sands dropping through the timer until empty.
But it isn’t like that at all. I knew this, of course, I’ve read enough accounts of grief to know that there aren’t defined stages, that they don’t follow or loop or arrive in any order, nor do they stay distinct, and nor are they the same for everyone. It is one thing to read about grief, quite another to experience it so profoundly but please know that I’m finding living with it is both harder and happier than I imagined, more bearable than I thought possible.
It’s odd to be learning about something new when all I want to do is walk in to the living room and see you sitting in your chair.
I learned a lot from you, inherited other things. My curiosity, my love of books, my propensity for tears, my silly sense of humour, my kindness, my geekiness.
I find myself diving deeper into my grief at times, not to wallow in it but to better understand it. I get an odd comfort from dredging up long forgotten memories, and I can feel the relief of still having those available to me, the emotions washing over me despite the cold melancholy that accompanies them. These moments are not a wailing, sobbing, grief but a nurturing one, a balm on my rawest emotions, a salve of all the love you gave me whilst you were with us. It’s nice to still be able to feel that, to sense you and know and trust the love you had for me, to keep you with me that way.
It’s been six months but we are coping, we are learning how to live without you by, I think, keeping us with you. We talk about you still, laughing at some things, bemoaning others and it makes me understand, now more than ever before, just how much I am my your son. The realisation makes me smile and cry all at the same time.
This is my grief, these constant combinations of emotions, never distinct, always tumbling over each other for attention, a morass of frustrated glee and quiet discomforts. A few times I’ve embraced the sadness completely.
One day I was overcome by the fact that you weren’t here anymore. I can’t recall what triggered it but it overwhelmed me so deeply. I sat on the edge of my bed and waited for the tears to arrive, but grief cannot be forced, my eyes remained dry and the lump in my throat, the rock lodged there, refused to yield. Later that day, walking Dave in the evening gloom, a line from a song suddenly brings tears to my eyes. I walk on and let them fall willingly to the ground.
I miss you.
I’m still trying to understand how to deal with this grief and all the maelstrom of emotions it brings from day to day but that’s ok, I have so many wonderful memories of you to lean on that as terrible as it is that you are gone, I console myself knowing that my life would’ve been far worse without you as my Father. It’s a constant whirl, a raging hatred of the world that took you away from us, and a blessed calm that we knew you at all. How rich our lives are now, how poor we would have been.
In the midst of all this there are realities we face as well, we know your IBM was worsening and soon you’d lose the ability to walk, to care for yourself and, undoubtedly more importantly in your eyes, to care for Mum. We know you’d have hated relying on others, to have carers fuss over you, and ultimately we know your end would have been a miserable one as you slowly lost all muscle control. It is not a life I would wish for anyone let alone my own Father, and I think we all take some tiny comfort that whilst your death was too soon and too sudden, at least it spared you that ignominy.
I spoke at your funeral. The words came easily at the time and still hold true, but I wanted to say so much more than I did but that day wasn’t all about me, after all I was speaking to, and for, others. I hope you would’ve been proud of me, I think you would. It took a lot for me to stand there, a fatherless child, but I knew it was something I had to do for you, for me.
I will say these things again, I will say how proud I am to be your son and I know you were proud of me, proud of the man I have become. These recent years, with my own happiness something you commented on, a rare occurrence in itself which made the impact all the deeper, the richest of them all. I learned so much from you, have inherited your penchant for bad puns, questionable colour choices, and a trend towards silliness to make people smile. I have your warmth and care stored deep in my heart, I echo your curiosity for new things, and hope I have your light caring touch when needed.
The more of you I recognise in me the happier it makes me, yet I still remain sad that we can’t sit down and discuss these things, not that we ever would.
Returning to cliché then and I’ll say that I hope I can become half the man you were, and if I can manage that I’ll have done well. And no, no jokes about your height, not this time.
I still can’t look at a photo of you without bursting into tears, I don’t think that will ever change.
I hate that you won’t ever read these words.
I miss you so terribly.
Your boy, always.