On Loneliness and Grieving.

Seven summers ago I sat shiva. It changes you. People say I have a strange relationship with death; they’re usually people who thankfully haven’t had any relationship with it at all. But I don’t think that comes from losing a parent. I think I was always aware of the idea that people might not be there the next day. That trust was a hard gift to give when you considered the likelihood of being left alone at any minute without warning.

So when, indeed without warning, a matter of hours after happily hanging up the phone on one of several daily calls to my father, I was summoned almost wordlessly to his already dead body, no chance to say goodbye, I can’t remember feeling shocked. The often quoted feeling of  ‘this cant be happening to me’  never even crossed my mind. It almost made sense, somehow.

Back then, for whatever reason, I chose to focus on the positive in the situation for the most part. I felt grief, I tore my clothes, I cried what must have been buckets of real tears, don’t get me wrong. It was probably the saddest and most difficult period in my life. But I’m not sure I ever complained. I’m not sure I ever shouted and raved about how unfair it was. Anger didn’t come into the equation for me.

Not then anyway.

I’m angry today. With a lot of people. I’m angry that you didn’t phone me, even though I told you in advance what day it is. I’m angry that I had to tell you what day it is in the first place, and that I have to explain (even though you’ll never understand) why it’s important to me. I’m angry that you are allowed the immense privilege of not understanding, and I have to go through this, distancing me from everyone un-scarred and whole in my life.

I’m angry with you too. I can’t understand how you can let this slip your mind. How you can marry someone and have a child together, and never think she might end up in this position. And I’m so frustrated that now I’m here dealing with it, you can’t remember something as important as today and phone me up and see how I am. How can you tell me that this is all harder for you than me, if this day hasn’t even crossed your mind, in a fraction of the way it’s taken camp in my own these last few weeks?

I’m even annoyed at my family. For reaching milestones that he never will, for taking for granted relationships he will never experience, simply for not being his sons, his wife, his nephews, nieces, parents, siblings. Mostly for leaving me the only one who feels this, and giving me no outlet to satisfactorily share it, and in most cases for hardly trying. I can’t pick up the phone and ask for a memory that’s slipped just out of reach, because no one else shares it, or worse still, because the risk of blank faces is just too frighteningly painful. I just have to wait while it fades further out of mind, losing the very puzzle pieces that made up a man’s life. I can’t pop round anywhere to reminisce, because no one shared our relationship.
Ironically, this was the very fact I so eagerly clung to while I sat shiva at 19.

It was only me. I was so proud to alone walk my Dad out of this world with dignity, to do the customs and laws that a family member does according to Jewish law, all on my own. I felt I was really making a difference, really proving that our relationship had always been him and me, and that was no different in his death, no intrusions. It was almost sacred- just the two of us.

But now it’s the one of me.

So I’m angry with You most of all. Not for taking him away from me, that’s too easy, although as I grow up I realise just how cut short his years were, taken at 63. But it’s the way of the world after all, a child losing a parent. But mainly for the way You left me here.
My mother wasn’t his wife, my brothers weren’t his sons. My husband and my son never knew him, I have no uncles or aunts, no grandparents. To make things slightly crueller, there could have been a lifetime companion to share this grief with, miscarried at seven weeks. At one year old, I was destined to be entirely alone in this, and I didn’t even know it.

So I sit here, writing mainly to myself, the only person who has been feeling this day approach with a heavy heart, and the only one who woke up this morning remembering, and wondering what might have been.

Today would have been my Daddy’s 70th birthday. Not old, not really, but seven long years gone. My life is truly so changed since he knew it, that I wonder if he would recognise me at all. And yet the people in my life now, have moved on from even the memory of ‘him and me’ to the point where they can’t remember the importance of today even when I’ve told them directly, let alone out of care of me. It’s not their fault, why should they? It’s only me who is stuck in both times. Missing and living simultaneously. Both getting on with life, and coping with death.

Still, I cant help but wonder whether the burden would be lighter to bear if there were anyone else to share the load.

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Six Moments For Six Years

Tonight is six long years since my father passed away. I set aside from nightfall tonight until tomorrow night to remember him and all he gave me, and to learn in his memory.

Here are six moments in time I would love to have with you if I could.

1. Invite you for Shabbat at my house, the way I so often came to you. I’d cook, and plan, and worry about the food, and be so excited to welcome you into my own home. We would sing, and tell stories, and the time would run away from us, and I’d stay up all night asking the questions I never thought I wouldn’t get to ask.

2. Have a hug. As simple as it sounds, after it’s gone you never get the same kind of touch again that you receive from a parent. When the relationship is good, they know you, they empathise with you, they love you in an unconditional way, and that kind of emotion cant be transferred any better than through touch. Better than wishing for an entire day to sit and talk, I would love a chance to hear you call me sweetheart, and feel safe and loved in your arms again just for those few seconds.

3. Play with R. I’d sit back and watch the two of you spend effortless time together, him jabbering nonsense and you answering with pride. Reading him books, sitting him on your knee, looking into each other’s identical eyes, and singing him the same songs you once sang to me. Every day I hope that I can make up for the fact that he wont know his Zeida, and I’d love to see you with your grandson, just once.

4. Watch some Sci-Fi, play some board games, read silently next to each other, and pretend that the time isn’t precious and irreplaceable, and that we could do this every day if we wanted to, and that the choice to just exist together hasn’t been taken away forever.

5. Send you out with C, on a ‘male bonding’ outing. Who knows where you would go, and you’d probably both come back so very awkward, and to my annoyance, neither of you would remember what you even talked about or did. I’d just be so glad you got a chance to get to know each other, even in a small way, because my mind still finds it impossible to comprehend the two men in my life existing for me without true knowledge of the other. So yes, I’d gladly give up one of my nuggets of time with you, to know you got to meet him as my husband, even just that once.

6. Show you my world. How bitter-sweet to think of the amazing way my life turned out over the last six years, and yet how little of it you would recognise. You were always so unconditionally proud of me. Back then, I had just finished high school, now I have a degree and my own business. Like all 18 year olds, I worried I would never find ‘The One’, and now I proudly share my life with my best friend. The idea of kids didn’t cross my mind more than fleetingly, now my son is never out of my thoughts and yet somehow a complete stranger to you. These have been the years of my life that I’m likely to change the most. I’m simply a different person.

Six years on, would you even know me? And Daddy, would you still be proud?