Strange Grief: Memories of My Father

30102013. 30122013.

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.

Georgy oversees the packing up of his master's prized possessions
Georgy oversees the packing up of his master’s prized possessions. Photo: Flemming Bo Jensen

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.

The special "are you STILL taking pictures" look reserved for people with cameras
The special “are you STILL taking pictures” look reserved for people with cameras

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.

Dad's old coffee cup with the anger's prayer: "Lord give me grace to catch a fish SO BIG, that even when telling of it afterward.. may never need to lie"
Dad’s old coffee cup with the anger’s prayer: “Lord give me grace to catch a fish SO BIG, that even when telling of it afterward.. may never need to lie”

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.

My father was a dog person. He made friends with puppies everywhere. Pemberton, WA. Christmas 2011
My father was a dog person. He made friends with puppies everywhere. Pemberton, WA. Christmas 2011

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.


  1. Christina Winfred says:

    As always beautiful words.

    1. Charlene says:

      Thank you <3

  2. Charlie says:

    I think its healthy not to have your father’s death weigh you down like an anchor. You seem empowered by his life and thats rather wonderful.
    And don’t you dare stop writing..

    1. Charlene says:

      I guess the one thing that’s helped this along was that Dad and I didn’t have anything pressing unsaid between us. Ours was an easy relationship. I’m not saying it was perfect (what is?) but it wasn’t weighed down by expectation or resentment or whatever.

      As much as people tell me everyone grieves differently, it is strange to not feel any grief though. I am sad my father is gone, and I miss him more than I can say.

      But it is not what I imagined Grief to be… you know?

      1. Charlie says:

        I just like how you write about him. Maybe your laid back relationship has given you laid back grief?

    2. Charlene says:

      Also, re writing, no I can’t stop that even if I wanted to. Can’t delete the blog either… too much history!

    3. charlene says:

      Heh, you might be right about the laid back grief!

  3. greg g49 says:

    All grief is strange. Pray it never, for any of us, be otherwise. Yet I do not think one ought grieve like a flock of sheep grazing in a small pasture, pulling the joy of life out by the roots, leaving barren ground or worse in its place. And ask yourself this: if you hadn’t coped in the aftermath of your father’s death, who would have?

    Speaking as a father with a grown daughter, I think your Dad would love the sweetness that has come into your life over the last year or so and would surely hate the idea that his passing should rob you of any of it. So live fully, laugh, cry, love, travel, muse, try not to hurt yourself ;-) , and find the images that make meaning for you.

    As far as the writing thing goes, it’s hard to judge your own. I didn’t notice much fall off (in the blog) of quality as much as in quantity. And I think that changed again here recently, perhaps with the wedding or (says my more mystic side) maybe with the wolf, an animal that many tribes of native Americans thought was a sacred animal. That you were visited by a lone one might, by some, be deemed a significant spiritual event.

    Happy trails. Be well.

    1. Charlene says:

      Your comment has given me some food for thought Greg. I think Dad would definitely have loved that sweetness that has come into my life, and certainly would not have wanted me to miss out on it on his account.

      It was two things that got me back into it again, I think:
      1. New design – i refreshed this site’s design sometime in the northern summer, and not hating the way the site looks is synchronous with wanting to put more content in

      2. Getting to travel the USA for 3 whole months. It’s funny that you spoke about a spirit animal. I’ve always thought of the USA as my spiritual home, for little reason other than I’ve always wanted to live there so very very very badly.

      Many points in that journey (animals and all) had great significance to my history and hopefully, future.

      You might be right :)

  4. Mark says:

    Well done, Charlene. Thanks for sharing the words and photos. Keep after both..and the blog too.

    1. Charlene says:

      Thank you Mark. I certainly shall.

  5. Erin Wilson says:

    I don’t know…your two troublesome things not connected to your father seem directly connected to your father (to me). While your social self has continued on as before, the deeper part of you…the vulnerable part…where the words come from…became mute.

    Glad to see this post (again, open in my browser since you posted it). Trusting the words will continue to uncurl in time.

    Peace, to your beautiful self.

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