Sky breaking over the Wind Tower, Canmore, January 2012
"Mourning: not diminished, not subject to erosion, to time.
Chaotic, erratic: moments (of distress, of love, of life) as fresh now as on the first day".
Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary.
My dad passed away exactly one year ago today. It was unexpected, in that although he was in hospital and had been suffering from myeloma for at least six years, the day before we'd heard that whatever was affecting his heart and liver was not amyloidosis! More intravenous chemo! they said. He'd be an outpatient again soon. And I'd see him again the next morning, that he wasn't waving goodbye to me for the last time. That I would speak to him again the next day, and he would answer me. Instead, I would be woken early to go stand over him after he was already gone, his head turned to the door, eyes partly open, and begin the long one-sided conversation of grieving.
That is the most difficult part. To never have an answer in words, in the only language you've ever used with him now utterly insufficient, completely useless. To want to share so deeply with him everything I am experiencing, and feel my heart burst every single time it happens and I remember it's not possible. It's happened so many times over the past year -- I live, feel joy and awe with the world, discover something, and want so deeply to tell him, because that is what he did with me. He shared so much of what he loved with me, and I can't even begin to explain this inheritance and how it has shaped me. If it was my mother who has taught me to love words and things you can do with them, it's my dad who helped me to really approach the world, to experience it profoundly and make me want to use those words for something. Ironic for someone who was never much for poetry, yes, but it's his, that quiet, ever-open eye and mind he helped to train in me, that I use when I capture the light, when I write.
There is such gratitude, thankfulness today, for him, because I am lucky to have him as a father, to have had him in my life. But there is still grief. There always will be. Such things can co-exist, even in the pain the grieving brings. I just wish that the society I live in could better openly acknowledge grief, and recognize that it is not just something to 'get over', that whatever way it works (in spirals, a tidal movement) it is anything but linear. There is no wound to heal over with the supposedly magical powers of time -- rather it is one that simply changes shape and form, but always remains susceptible to itching, re-opening, flarings, bleeding and acute, intense pain at any stage. Like, as one friend astutely noted, the fragments of glass embedded in skin after a car crash, that work their way up through the dermal layers for years, precipitating on the surface. Or the nematocysts injected into the body after a jellyfish sting (as I well know) that can become inflamed long after the initial encounter as they wriggle up out of the flesh. It never really gets better, only different.
The last few weeks I've been travelling, and a few days ago I started to cry at the remains of the Berlin Wall because I felt, once again, that this is how it will always be, for the rest of my life -- that I will always be experiencing things and wishing he could be there to share them, or at least for me to tell him about them, show him my photos that he always loved, Maybe I will come to feel that he is part of me, living through me in the way I feel my baba is absorbed into me, that she is within me. But right now the fact is I don't feel that, and that he just feels slightly out of reach, and I am straining, straining to reach out to him, without words, with such inexpressible futility. I simply miss him so acutely it makes me physically ill at times. And it is this loss of discourse in these human terms, the only ones I know, that hurts so much. I can talk to him, yes, but oh, death and its lack of responses, answers...
So I just remind myself that I am allowed to miss him, allowed to hurt, allowed to grieve, and most of all, allowed to express it. We may not be able to have dialogues (in our usual language-based human terms) with the dead, but if I had my way, we'd be living in a society that was a lot more comfortable having dialogues about grief and mourning and everything that will always be part of our experiences with death long after it happens to those we love.