February 2017

27 Feb On Grief…

First published in “Your Weekend” 11.2.17


Last summer, I heard a man walking in our local bush reserve having a chat with himself. Not in a “railing against an invisible enemy” kind of way – just one of those times when you’re thinking deeply about something so big you forget the rules and unwittingly start speaking your thoughts out loud.


He looked stricken when he saw me – embarrassment draped over something sadder. I said soothing things about how we all think out loud sometimes, and what a lovely place this was for it, and then both of us scrambled off in our different directions. I’ve wondered since what it was he was trying to process. What his story was.


My father died and we had his funeral on Waitangi weekend. Right now, I could get caught talking to myself in the bush. I have certainly been caught not being able to remember the names of people I know well. And reaching for nouns. I am unable to imagine maps in my head – I can’t drive from one suburb to another without advice. It’s hard to make decisions. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a time when a lot of decisions need to be made.


I feel like I need to apologise to anyone who has lost a parent, for only showing them an ordinary amount of sympathy. I thought I understood grief, but this is different. I’ve lost close friends, grandparents, and other significant people. I grieved for a year for a 21 year old cat.


But I don’t know how to be in the world without my Dad. I’m sure I’ll find a way but this is new territory. I’ve never had to deal with this before. Almost all of us will.


Being a child is our first role, the first person we are in the world. While your parents are there – even when you’ve reached the place where you’re feeding them ice cream on a spoon – you can still escape to being their child, and rest your head on their shoulder.


At my father’s funeral, my brother and I found stories that made us children again. The ones I know from when he was a young man make me happy. My brother told a story from our childhood I had forgotten for more than 40 years. It made me laugh harder than you possibly should at a funeral. It was glorious.


There is a recording of the service. They do that automatically in case you want it. I couldn’t bear to hear it again. But I will replay it all in my head, and tell the story of all those stories to anyone who wants to hear them. And, for a while at least, possibly mutter to myself during peaceful walks in the bush.

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