I lost my father on the 30th of October last year. He would have turned 75 exactly two months after.
The construction of those dates was distressing in those early, not-entirely-compos-mentis days after his death. The asymmetry of 1s. 2s and 3s. Numbers, when neither he, nor I, had ever been people who went by them.
It was curious to be troubled by a random occurrence of digits, when I was mostly unfazed dealing with the logistics of him his death: funeral arrangements, helping my mother pack his clothing away, selling off his beloved fishing gear.
I expected to be immobilized by Dad’s death. I was close to my father. We had a lot in common as people, not only because we were parent and child. We didn’t see eye to eye half the time, but we were alike in many little, innocuous, no-one-can-possibly-know ways. It was a similarity I would recognize in my youngest nephew, when he came to spend some time alone with me, earlier this year. Dad would be pleased that I got to know Shane (who was named for his grandfather, I might add) well enough to notice. These small connections were important to him. He appreciated the way relationships evolved as people changed, how much it spoke of the strength of their foundation.
So I was thrown by my ability to function as if nothing had happened, after Dad’s heart stopped beating. I was numb and angry in turns for a long while afterwards (also a consequence of being in the motherland), but I never found myself in a state of disbelief at his passing.
In light of what the rest of my family has been going through, I often wonder why it’s been this easy for me to carry on. In vulnerable moments, I’ve wondered if the snippy comments were true, that it was because I didn’t really love my father. I watched funny movies and laughed. I continued travelling and enjoyed the hell out of it, especially those three months in the USA. I never cried uncontrollably. In fact, I’ve barely cried for Dad at all.
The two troublesome things that have happened to me since he died, have nothing to do with him: I lost my ability to write. The expressive part of my brain shorted out, and doesn’t appear to have recovered much… it’s been so difficult keeping this blog alive that I occasionally consider deleting it altogether. And that number fixation thing.
I have had people tell me that I’ve had an incredibly healthy attitude to my father’s loss. This floors me. I’ve never had a healthy attitude to anything, ever: I can generally be counted on to do it wrong.
And maybe this has been all wrong – understanding without struggle, the finality of his passing from the outset. Everyone else is mourning as they should. I end up telling Flemming funny stories about Dad’s astonishment at the Georgy-pug’s athleticism, when they brought the little fella home from the pound, travel mishaps that made Dad grumpy and the rest of us laugh, how he sang “wonderful wonderful Copenhagen” to me on the phone when I called from there. I am not saddened by these memories, even though they are all I have of Dad now.
Instead, they just make me laugh.
So, on a day which would have been his 76th birthday if he was still alive, I will share a memory. For those who knew him, and those who didn’t.
30 December is Dad’s Birthday.
This was the day that his wife, children and grandchildren – if we were all town – would conspire to throw him a “surprise” birthday party at home. He’d been through it numerous times: all the whispering and antics to keep him distracted while the cake came up, the sudden quieting and disappearance of a customarily noisy household into the kitchen while candles were being lit, all signs of Something Vaguely Birthday-ish being Afoot.
Mum would get him to the kitchen, and we’d hear him behind the sliding door saying “I know what you-all are doing already,” and he’d peer in with mock-exasperation at the fuss, and having to blow out candles like a small child.
But he never had birthday cakes and candles when he was a child.
There would be no hiding the pleasure on his face when he blew his candles out, especially when aided by a grandchild or two, and maybe a pug sitting on his foot.
Today, the almost-pattern of repeating numbers that have haunted me, is broken.