Dearly departed Dads


I have attended three funerals and a wedding in the past six weeks. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Four Weddings and a Funeral.

It’s a lot of sadness in a short space of time, a lot of pain, a lot of goodbyes. Sitting in cold churches bracing myself for the bravery of the eulogy and that heartbreaking moment when they carry the coffin out of the church. That’s when I lose it. I manage to hold it together until then but when I see the coffin being hoisted on to the shoulders of loved ones, bearing the weight of family and responsibility, as if they are physically accepting the transition of time and of generations, it’s too much for me. Sixteen years after the loss of my own father the grief is still so raw it’s hard to witness it on others. It’s been all the Dads recently. Saying goodbye to the man of the house. The women and children left bereft. A giant gash on the fabric of the family life.

Losing the father, it’s a loss so profound, on so many levels, it’s hard to articulate. It’s the loss of the physical energy of the man, the creator, the breadwinner, the protector. Feminism and equality aside, this is what the loss distills down to. You are cut adrift from the normalcy of family life. Now you are different. ‘Welcome to the one parent club’ someone said to me as I tried to cope with the enormity of it all.  Your mother is suddenly a widow. The house feels empty. For a long time your mind refuses to accept the loss and you rush home wanting to tell your Dad something only to remember he is not there. The realisation is crushing, every time, even years later. The family dynamic shifts. All eyes look to the children to take the lead. Adulthood is thrust upon you whether you want it or not.

The dads we said goodbye to these past few weeks were older than my father was when he died. The children are older than we were when we experienced that devastating, wrenching loss. But it’s still the same, no matter how old you are, in fact I wonder is it worse because you had them for longer ?

It’s the time of year too that’s making me reflect on this. October is a maudlin month. The threshold being crossed from light into dark, from life into death, the human world reflecting the patterns of the natural world. It’s the darkness – literal and figurative. And the way it descends. Creeping in slowly over the autumn weeks. Fooling you into thinking no, not winter yet but then before you know it, the clocks are going back and you are staring down the long corridor of winter.

Par contre as they say frequently in french, the wedding was pure sunshine. And that song with the words love is all around, never seemed more appropriate. Love was literally, in the air. But…the dad was in hospital. Even amongst the joy, there was deep sadness. Like an outline in a child’s colouring book. The joy contained within the lines. But once you cross that black outline you make a mess. So we partied within the boundary of the black line. No one dared set foot outside it. To meet reality. But it’s these celebrations, these pockets of joy that remind you there is beauty and love everywhere, sometimes it just takes longer to find it. You have to look for it. Push past the clutter and the noise. I guess this is what people mean when they talk about meditation. But really, all the current chatter about mindfulness and meditation, all the talk about taking ten minutes a day to sit quietly, it’s just about focus and appreciation. I learned that lesson early in life. Loss teaches you that lesson. It teaches you to catch the joy as it flies, as it whizzes past, to grab it, to hold it, even fleetingly, in your hands, before it turns to sorrow.


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