Grief is a weird intangible thing to me. Heartache due to love or what I had mistaken in the past for it anyways, that I know, it feels familiar. An acute pain, difficulties breathing, the sinking sensation that reduces your own world to that sole focus, the absence or the void left by that fire that just got droused. I know that one. You can have several of these in your life and get out of them, claw your way back even though it seems impossible at the time. When I was younger and it happened, I thought I would never survive it, fought against it, pushed it back, won the other back at any price to make it stop. Then later on, I discovered that it does not get easier but instead drowned it in work and alcohol, punishing my body for the bruises of my mind. But I got out, got back on the horse even, bruised and scarred but like most of us, I pushed through.
In June 2015 my father passed away abruptly. I was the last person to hear him and that was him hanging up on me over the phone ‘cause I had woke him up late, calling to check up on him. I was worried already. I was living and working in Germany at the time and my father in Japan but was on a business trip in Paris staying at my mum’s. My mum had told me the same day that he had felt so bad on the street, she had had to come and pick him up and he had trouble walking, overstressed and tired we both thought, knowing he wasn’t in good health anyways. The talk was to wait until the next morning on doctor’s advice and if not better to check him in the hospital. I had listened and worried and even cried at the thought of losing him. I wrote my friends who were supposed to come and see me that weekend that I might have to cancel as my father was not in good shape and thought about taking a plane and visit him.
I went to bed, worried and sad that my father was not in good health. He had been this way for so long and still he didn’t stop pushing himself with all the work and back and forth across the globe for it. During my sleep I heard the phone ring. I did not want to wake up. It rang again. Perhaps three times and I knew. The dread I had been feeling right before going to bed, it fell on me like iron fist as if the roof was suddenly lower above my head and the air felt heavier. Against my will and because I knew my mother was on the other side probably on the verge of hysteria, I picked up the phone and answered. All hell broke lose and reality crashed into my half asleep mind. I wasn’t braced, I knew and had taken a breath but it was not enough, I wasn’t braced. That iron fist hit me in the stomach, folding me in two as my voice failed me and I couldn’t console my mother, desperate and alone on the other end with a dead person next to her.
I don’t remember the next minutes. I ended up telling her that I was taking the next flight home and to call a dear friend of mine whom I knew had a heart big enough to keep her company over the phone and listen to her because I couldn’t take her own terrible sadness on top of my… my what… I guess the word would be void. It wasn’t this acute cutting and tearing pain in the heart. It was a low very strong vibration in my stomach, a heavy and silent pain. I called up my boyfriend at the time, we didn’t know each other so well and this as well as the distance would rapidly end us but he came anyway at the time to spend the rest of the night with me. I was crying I think after the phone call but it stopped, focused on the plane ride and bracing myself to support my mother.
And so I did, the rest is a chain of events I organized to take care of what needed to be done, come back to work, continue working, fly back for the funerals, give speech and cry a little because of all the emotions contained in the room and because of the fatality of it, the definitive parting of ways but I contained it, not the moment to flail like a weakling. I thought to deal with it later.
Later came and went and I behaved as if my father was on a very long business trip. He was never very present in my life so I was used to not seeing him for long period of times, how was that different. I had refused to see his body before the cremation; I didn’t want it to be the last picture I had of him in my mind. That last was that Christmas of the year before I had visited both my mum and him in Japan and we were like a regular family as the rest of my life back in Germany was dictated by work and my heart a bloody ruin. It had helped me push through and I had thanks to them.
Then I went to my boss’ house for his house warming party. He had bought a huge house, a family house where his wife had created a nest of warmth and coziness. The type of place where you can host your children and their grandchildren and busy family reunions. I got out of that dinner party and into my car. I couldn’t turn on the engine, I had my hands on the wheel and absolute emptiness suddenly hit me. The recess before the wave of pain that flowed over me the next instant. Grief had caught me in its grip. The thought had been “my father will never meet my grandchildren”. It came and I let it be felt and breathed long breaths until the tears ran out and I could start the engine and go home.
Most of the time, I don’t think about it but sometimes, some detail, a song, an expression, an object, a special date will trigger this grief. It feels overwhelming but it doesn’t last long and I can go back to ignoring this large open wound in my stomach, this heavy silent pain that sits there. It’s like when I suddenly turn my attention to it, I realize that he is never coming back from that business trip. Grief is a weird thing, three years and it still hits fresh as it was the day after except in shorter times, from seconds to minutes perhaps and then it goes away.
It probably changed a few things in my personality, his passing away and mostly what happened afterwards, what I learned about the man he was and the realization that you can never really know your parents anyways.
But tonight, I had a trigger again, thinking with all that’s happened, there isn’t much left of him around me and when I move away from where I live now, his former place, there will be even less. Will he fade away, the less I own of him? Will the grief fade away too with his memory? Is it possible to forget a parent? I guess not.
When I was younger, I was in constant conflict with my parents and had this conception that friends were more important than family because you chose them and maybe because it was less likely that I would lose them as they were of age with me, did I realize that or was it unconscientiously that I pushed away from the expected devastating, yet so natural and frequent, pain of losing a parent?
Which lead me to the thought that prompted this article, our society tends to make everything replaceable, nothing is unique anymore and therefore nothing is so precious in a way. You can get several of any material things, you can be married as many times as you want and have tons of “best days of your life”, several loves of your life, several children even though there are not interchangeable. What we can only have a couple of though are parents. Your direct “raised you since you were little” parents. They are precious as they are not only unique but limited in number, always attached to your past, you’ve known them the longest in your life usually and that are the constant figures that shaped you as the person you are today.