I’ve just come home from a week at my Mom and Dad’s place. Yes, you read that correctly, my Mom and Dad’s place. Just because my Dad is no longer with us in the physical world, does not mean that it’s no longer his home. Just like the cellphone number that is still in my contacts list 18 months later is still his. I will never delete it. I can’t use it anymore, but I will never delete it.
After he died (I hate it when people say “passed away”, there was no gentle passing involved), I was able to be so clinical. Somebody had to do it, and I was the eldest daughter, so I took it on myself. That’s not to say that my sisters and mom weren’t strong and tough, we all were. But I made a career of it. My sister, her boyfriend, my DH and I identified his body in the mortuary, then I pulled the Pathologist’s assistant aside and made her email me the autopsy report (apparently we received it weeks before the police did). Seeing what used to be your Dad lying on a metal table behind a window, it’s truly something that never leaves you. Especially when it’s in a third world mortuary, where they haven’t quite taken as much care in preparing the body for the relatives as they might have in other countries.
We took the report to the GP and made him explain it to us. I hassled the police, until I got the ballistics report, and then I made the guys that I work with explain everything to me about guns (they had been in the army, in those days everyone had to go). And after a few days of reading that ballistics report, I pointed out to the police that there was a serial number on a gun that they had failed to trace. “Which serial number would that be?” “The one on page seven, half way down”. Silence. “Oh I see.” (sounding surprised) “There is a serial number to be traced.” I contacted a private investigator and went over the crime scene with him, and together we reconstructed the events that took place. And all of these things, I could do as if I was filling in my tax form (OK, the mortuary scene did cause a shriek and a momentary collapse to the ground, with some hyperventilating before being helped back onto my feet). It’s just the way I chose to deal with these things, because they had to be done.
Last weekend, as I arrived at my parents’ home, my mother (who also had other guests) put DH and I in her bedroom. And she’d made a little bit of space in my Dad’s cupboard for us. And it broke me. I can’t put it any other way. Here was this man, who had life. He had all these clothes, boots for walking in the bushveld, a hat for the sun. And all those things are still here, and he isn’t. How on earth can these arbitrary material goods still be around when he isn’t? How can the atoms in a piece of clothing still exist as if nothing happened, but his body is gone?
It might strike you as strange that 18 months later, his clothes are still in his cupboard, but it is these physical things that actually take such a toll on the people left behind. My friend’s mom was able to clear her husband’s cupboard a week after he died, and that’s OK too. Everyone deals with it differently. But for my mom, putting away his razor, just into the bathroom cupboard, was almost more than she could bear. That was the first thing she moved. And each time she has a bit of strength to cope with it, she moves another little thing.
But because I only visit her every few months, there’s more of him missing each time. I sobbed for a night and a day, on and off. Of course it’s not the first time I’ve cried, really, I’ve cried buckets, but it still catches me by surprise when the Grief Monster taps me on the shoulder. Eventually, after a day or so, I pulled myself together enough to hang some of our clothes in that sacred space, my daddy’s cupboard. And life carried on again, I could eat and sleep and breathe again.