Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Quite a lot of the time, I want to ask: is this normal? I do this, or feel that, and I wonder if it is just what other people do or feel too. There is a great deal of back and forth, in my mind. Sometimes I could not think of a worse thing than being normal. One must be singular, surely, follow one’s own drummer. At other times, when I want to teach the world to sing, I think: I just want to be like everyone else. (Also, I suspect there are things which seem perfectly normal to me which other people would consider quite peculiar.)
Sometimes I like to imagine myself a creature of mysterious quirks. Look at me, defying convention. I eat soup for breakfast. I sing to my horse. (Last night, it was The Rhythm of Life, which she seemed to enjoy very much.) At other times, I think myself unexceptional, prey to the exact same hopes and fears and sorrows that all flesh is heir to.
I’m not sure if there even is a normal. Normal is just a random construct; a set of mores invented by the culture. Not that long ago, it was considered not normal for women to be educated. It was thought that our poor delicate little brains would be sent mad by philosophy. Now, ladies fly fighter jets and go into space and lead entire countries.
All of which is a very long way of saying: I really miss my dad.
Tomorrow will be the day he died. All week, a shadow has been hanging over me. The weather does not help. It has been brown and low and bleak and cold for days. There is rain and smudge and cloud everywhere I look. Very occasionally, in the evening, a shaft of sun breaks through, but it is the kind of sun that may not be trusted. It arrives, for a moment, to tantalise; to remind me what light feels like; and then it buggers off again, laughing heartlessly.
I have gone back into a bit of a fugue state. I have become afraid of sleep again. This happened in the first weeks after he died. Grief is tiring, and the one thing I would say to everyone, apart from make soup and plant trees, is: get enough rest. But I resisted sleep, in a horrible, self-destructive way.
There were two reasons. The first was because it felt too much like death itself. The second was that, in those minutes when you are in bed, before oblivion comes, the mind has no defences. In the day, there is action and purpose; there may be sadness, but it is accompanied by work and food and walking the dog and doing the garden. In those still moments at night, waiting for sleep to come, any thoughts may arrive, untrammelled and uncontained. That can feel quite frightening. Sometimes, I would sleep with the radio on, just to hear the reassuring voices of the BBC World Service, reporters telling stories of a distant place, enough to divert me.
Funnily enough, today I thought: after tomorrow, it will be fine. It’s just the approach to the dread day itself. It should not mean so much, but it does. It has become freighted with far too much significance. Once I get past the significant day, and out the other side, then I may go back to regularity.
So, I wonder, in my battered old brain: is this normal? Is this what happens to everyone? A lovely woman I know, who makes beautiful gardens, and is one of those people whose hands are always mapped with earth, in the way that I admire (my thing for dirty hands is growing into a small obsession) lost her mother not long after I lost my dad. I saw her on the last trip to the south. She is struggling with it all, battling to keep her head above water.
We talked of our departed, in that relieved way that you do when you find someone in the same boat as you, paddling hard. She suddenly leaned forward, looked at me urgently. ‘But,’ she said, ‘I don’t understand. I mean, everyone loses their parents.’
I knew exactly what she meant. It is one of the conversations I have with myself. It is so very, very ordinary. It is one of the most expected things in life. And yet, even though one knows that rationally, there is a part of the heart which is astonished, affronted, shocked and startled. As time moves on, and this odd shock subsides, usual life reasserts itself. The new knowledge settles. And then, every so often, out of the blue, I am assailed again by the strangeness, the gap where this person used to be, the rip in the fabric of the universe. It is so very ordinary, and so very extraordinary, all at the same time.
My old friend The Expat emails, from her faraway coast. She lost both her parents, the year before mine. I have been more than a little deranged, she writes. But, she adds, it does get better. This is what we do; two steps forward one step back. Compare notes. Send the love across entire oceans (six thousand miles from her front door to mine, but the love gets there anyway). Make the soup, plant the trees, love the dog, sing to the horse. Normal, schmormal. Keep buggering on.
Despite the weather, I did actually take some pictures today. Here they are:
My two girls, in elegant black and white:
You can see here the true nature of the dreich; just smoky cloud where the hill should be: