Today, if my father were alive, he would have turned 69yo. It’s just a skerrick* over five years since he died; five days short of his 64th birthday. It was only last year that my mother could bear to let him go. We had a little ceremony where we sprinkled his ashes.
I haven’t cried about his death for a few months now, and then only occasionally, when the realisation hits you hard, when you try to do something your dad taught you and you realise you’ve forgotten bits and he’s not there to gently remind you or to call for that quick preparatory talk. It’s a complicated thing, this grief for a man who, sometimes, was not the best father to me. There were actions he took that have left their mental scars; wounds that are always there to be tended to, cared for, edged around.
But to paint that man with just that brush would be to leave out all the complexity of him; his delight in slapstick, word play and dark humour could never quite stretch to watching a full episode of Fawlty Towers, his search for knowledge, skill with leadership and longing for adventure only went as far as leading a scout troop and eventually the scout leaders, his belief in justice and equality are a forming force behind my own work in social justice but he spent a lifetime wavering between agnosticism and atheism. All these things make up part of him. He was clever with his hands, sharp of mind, compassionate to animals, quick of wit, private and introspective, a stalwart friend, an unerringly true mirror, a strong debater and a man who encouraged all his children to strive for the very best for themselves while looking out for others.
My mother still cries almost every day. They had been married for 41 years, he was her first love, her only love, and they created four children together and a new life for their family halfway around the world, away from all of their own familial supports (some of the others came along later). In the last years of his life he and my mother had worked together, side by side, in their own business. His death was a cruel blow for my mother and I saw a woman who I had mostly considered strong become something I didn’t recognise. Her strength is returning. Her belief in her power to control her own life is reasserting itself. Grief has taken it’s toll on my feisty mother and I’m only just starting to see her return, it is a blessing, to see her coming back.
I’ve not much more to say tonight. I’ll leave you with one of his favourite songs and one that we played at his funeral as they carried him out.
The Galaxy Song – Monty Python
Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.
*an immeasurably small quantity (Australian idiom)