My Dad passed away two weeks ago.
People keep asking me how I’m going, as though they’re half expecting me to break in front of them.
I’m glad they ask.
I’ve realised it’s much nicer than not being asked.
How am I going?
I’m not sure.
Mostly I say, ‘as good as can be expected.’
I suppose that is true.
I’m not sure what the expectation is when you lose one of the most important, pivotal, beloved people in your life, but I feel like I’m doing as good as I can be – I’m waking up, and showering, and eating, and caring for my son, and driving my car, and running errands, and seeing family and friends, and cooking, and cleaning, and checking emails, and making phone calls, and planning, and doing all the little things people do that fill their days.
Some people don’t know what to say, which I somewhat understand, but here’s something else I’ve realised; it’s not that hard to say ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ or ‘I hope you are doing as good as can be expected’.
I have been showered in support, and love, and thoughts, and I feel them, wrapped around me. I am so appreciative of every single one of them.
But my Dad has died.
And my life is forever changed.
Everything is kind of the same, but paradoxically, absolutely nothing is the same.
Nothing will be the way it used to be, ever again.
I am mostly fine, except for when I am not. I am mostly ok, except for when I am not.
Sometimes it slowly creeps up on me, like a looming dread in the pit of my stomach, and sometimes it hits me, bang out of nowhere, and I catch myself clutching my breath.
I’m as good as can be expected, but I am angry.
I’ve got a simmering rage inside me that I’m containing, but boy does it bubble. I’ve had to remind myself, every day, to ‘let it go’, that ‘it’s not worth it’, to ‘calm down’.
I’m as good as can be expected, but I feel robbed.
Robbed that Dad didn’t get enough time, that I didn’t get enough time, that we all didn’t get enough time. Robbed for what he’ll miss, for what I’ll miss, for what we’ll all miss.
It’s true that we don’t know our own strength until we need to; people have commended me for mine, which is lovely, but also slightly odd.
I’m ‘strong’ because being anything less seems like a disservice to Dad; to his honour, and legacy. I’m ‘strong’ because I have a child to raise, and a family to love, and being anything less seems like a disservice to them.
People see strength as ‘getting on with it’ – helping organise a funeral, and saying a eulogy without falling apart, and running yourself into the ground with errands, and doing as good as can be expected, and they say, ‘Good on her, look how strong she is,’ like you’re a show dog at a competition.
That is not strength.
That is autopilot, running on adrenalin.
Do you want to know what strength is?
Strength is not snapping someone’s neck in rage.
Strength is not losing your shit at someone else’s incompetence.
Strength is repeating the same story, over and over, to sympathising guests, when all you want to do is lie down in bed with the doona well above your head.
Strength is choosing not to be negative; choosing life, and beauty, and adventure, and wonder.
My Dad may have died, but that doesn’t give me the right to act like a dick.
So I am being as strong as I can, in the way I know how: by not being an arsehole. The world has enough of those.
Death evokes all sorts of feelings and reactions in people, and they’re all ok. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, or empathise. For the most part, people use it as an opportunity to think about themselves. At the centre of their own universe, they think of how death affects them. I’ve discovered, in this fortnight that feels like a year, who is really there for me, and who is not, who my true friends are, and who are just people I know.
There’s one small thing I’ve found exceptionally difficult: how quickly ‘is’ and ‘are’ become ‘was’ and ‘were’.
The instant change in tense is jarring.
And, there’s another thing: how the world just keeps spinning.
My Dad may have died, but that doesn’t mean the world stops.
I get that.
That is the way it should be.
It’s just a little unnerving, how everything goes on, swiftly, at full tilt.
It’s all very surreal; that this has happened, that this is life now.
I’m not convinced that anyone can truly know what it feels like to lose a parent, until they have lost one. And the well-wishes are pleasant, and the thoughts are kindly, but the advice is inordinate and borders on offensive. You either know, or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re fortunate.
I’ve unwillingly become part of a club I don’t really want to be in but the other people are lovely, and they get it, and the biscuits are nice.
I’ve discovered there’s no real preparation for losing a loved one; whether it strikes you out of nowhere or you have a long lead-time – there’s no difference whatsoever. There’s only here or gone and until they are gone, they are here.
Predominantly, I understand there’s no right or wrong way to go about any of it. Being close to my family and friends has helped me, but some people might choose to shut off. I know that people mean well – and it’s better having people mean well than not having people at all. I recognise that, like with anything in life, there’s constant challenges and choices, and I get to choose my choices, and own them too. I acknowledge that grief is a bit like a wave, and I think I’ll be buoyed forever…
but I also know that I’ll still laugh
and that the thirty-two years I got were better than thirty, or twenty-five, or ten, or none at all
and that so much of who I am is because of him.
So much. Of who I am. Is because. Of him.