A son grapples with his father’s death.
(To whom it may concern)
If I go mad, they will think it is because of you. It’s because of what happened to you, they will say, talking about both of us. Maybe because you died on a Thursday, maybe because you died in front of me, maybe because you died slowly over two-and-a-half days. I had never imagined you dying before. Not just literally but also as a possibility. I didn’t think you were invincible but I thought you had time.
At your funeral, people tell me about the person you were before you were my father. One of your friends quoted the speech I wrote about you. He said to himself, “father and son.” And the minute he said it I felt the enormity of the statement, I felt the sudden weight of what it means to be a son who has lost a father.
I think you know how I feel. I think, when I was lying next to your bed, your final hours, I accepted that you knew me. In life, I pushed you away for the same reasons I push you and everyone else away. And when I was sitting with you I thought I’d feel that as something else—I thought I would be terrified. Of time. Of what I would consider lost, of what I would change. I didn’t feel that.
I felt pain, I felt anger, I felt a lot of things for myself and mum and Jen and you.
As a son, I held your hand and felt another male role model fall away, disappear, evaporate. Your body stayed behind. We treated you with respect. I think you know that. I hope you do. That’s what we tried to do. We stayed with you, we slept next to you, we laid down to die beside you.
You didn’t tell me that boys don’t cry. I don’t think I heard you once talk about crying. But you and I were stereotypical men, we took the roles of robots, as unglazed physicians, there to help. We did our crying in private.
Minutes after you died I needed a break. There was no sound coming out of you or me. The silence was emotional, we were not. But I took a break. I went to the toilet. I cried alone in front of the sink. I wept and stopped. An abrupt violent end, only I knew it wasn’t the end, maybe that’s why I was crying to begin with. I wasn’t just crying for you and I know that is selfish.
You were accepting of death. You were ready. But you didn’t want to go because you didn’t think it was the right time. You were correct. It wasn’t the right time. Some days I’d accept it. Sixty-two-year-old men get cancer.
But it’s cruel. You knew it. I knew it. It was stolen time. You’d lived, you’d worked, you were ready to start the next part of your life with mum. The two of you. As you dreamed it. You were robbed of that. You were accepting in the end. I am still not. I don’t know when I will be.
People talk about time a lot, with regards to you. You’ll get over it with time, they say. Or, time is a healer, as if you’re the flu or a virus I need to flush out. Time will make you evaporate. Time will make me, me again.
The family have retreated back to their own lives. The nephews and cousins, sisters and friends. The funeral is over. Shiva is done. My grief is my own again. There was a united brotherhood around you. At one point I saw mum sitting at the table with your friends. I imagined what the table would be like with you. I imagined what the whole room would be like with you.
I try to think what it is that makes us unique. I try to think why we are different. I guess nobody knew our relationship. I don’t think I knew it myself, until the end. Until those months I spent examining myself, examining you.
I tried to know who you were again. I tried my best. I think what makes you and me unique is not some unemotional version of masculinity but an acceptance of who we are.
Beside you bed, I whispered, dad, you go, I’ve got it, it’s OK, you go. I think I know what you wanted. At least in those circumstances, those handed to us, dumped at our door like a bad parcel, our new property. But it was yours and ours. You were not alone but I did not steal it. Your pain is my pain but your pain still.
When I walk, walk away from the house you died in, when I abandon it for a few hours, it feels like you haven’t gone. You’re still here. Not in a physical soul-like sense. But that it feels you’re still alive. The house I have run from is littered with your clothes, your smell, your razor blades, hair, shampoo, pens, glasses, socks, shirts. The products of your ‘man drawer’, the drawer every child watches their father possess – broken batteries, old bank letters, screws, chargers, ancient phones, all your necessary personal junk. You are everywhere and I am waiting for you to come back. I am waiting on your return.
As I walk, I’m running away from you, drying up the pain for a few hours, forgetting who you and I are now. As I walk, I live in memory. As I walk you are not dead, you have evaporated and I’ll see you again. That feels like fact.