I’ve written quite a lot about the old friends lately. I think it has to do with motoring towards fifty. I shall be forty-eight at the end of this month and there is a feeling of taking stock and counting the years. The love for the old friends hums in me, and there is a sweet comfort in all the history we have together.
I love them all in different ways, and they bring out different parts of me. One of them is a very dear man with whom I have always had a very straightforward relationship. We’ve never had a cross word or a falling out. We smile and laugh when we see each other. The ineffable fondness pours out, like starlight. I’m in Scotland now and he has done dazzlingly well in his chosen profession and is often travelling for his work, so we don’t see each other for long stretches of time. But we pick up just where we left off, beaming at each other in delight. It’s a friendship of absolute ease.
Today, I got an email from him telling me that his mother had died. I wrote back, a long, winding essay, all about that profound and shocking grief when a parent goes. It is like nothing else. I told him of my feelings for my father, when he died, and how I could not make sense of the world and how I had to lie down on the Scottish grass and hold onto the earth because I feared I might just fly off into space. I hoped that knowing he was not alone might help, although I am keenly aware that words are paltry things in the face of such oceanic sorrow. I have to write them, but I feel inadequate in every line.
In the end, after all the scribbling, I just sent love. Call if you need to talk, I wrote.
I thought of the long process of grieving. It is a process and it has to be done. You can’t cheat it or skip it or find a shortcut. You have to plunge into it and damn well do it. I kept thinking I was done, with my dad, and then I would find myself on the floor, weeping Railway Children tears.
I feel now the sharp serpent’s tooth of loss. I am sorrowing for my dear friend and his adored mother and his broken heart. As I do that, I remember all over again that tearing loss, that awful realisation that my father, that vivid, laughing titan, that man who risked his very life over huge fences (the docs told him to stop; he ignored them) no longer existed in the world.
I was talking to another of the old friends, a few weeks ago. She too is one of the most straightforward, love and admiration and affection growing between us like flowers in springtime. I said, rather out of the blue: ‘I’ve found a place to put Dad.’
It’s taken three years. He exists now, safely, in my heart. He lives with me. I think of him every day. I write about him quite a lot, here, on the Facebook page, in my Twitter feed, where there are many racing people who still remember him. He is with me every time I put on an improbable bet (the unlikely accumulator was one of his trademarks) and every time I go down to my mare. I did not realise it at the time, but I bought that mare to be closer to him, because he was a horseman to his bones.
Reading of my lovely compadre’s bereavement makes me think of the vastness of grief. Every ordinary human has to go through it, and, at this age, one starts to face more funerals than weddings. It is part of life; it has to be woven in. It is ultimately expected and natural and yet it feels as if it tears apart the very fabric of being. The missing never goes. You just have to find a way of folding it into yourself, so that it does not overwhelm you. I’m still not quite sure how I did that. I’d love to say I was very clever about it, and that the whole process was seamless. It was not. It was messy and painful and I got it wrong quite a lot of the time.
But in the end, I did find a place for him, my darling old dad. The really lovely thing is that I get the very best of him. That is what is left, it turns out. He was incredibly funny and charismatic and brave. People’s faces lit up when he entered a room. He had the happy gift of making people feel that the world was a slightly brighter place when he was in it. But he was also very naughty and irresponsible. As a father, he could not be relied on. He hurt, without even knowing that what he did was sometimes painful. Yet all that has flown away. I don’t even have to forgive it. It does not factor. I am left with him in all his glory – the idiosyncratic, beloved, mighty man, who threw his heart over a fence and whose horses would follow him to the ends of the earth.
Loss is loss, my sister once said to me. I was having trouble grieving for my dog, finding it hard to make sense of the depth of heartbreak for an animal when humans had been buried not long before. Loss is loss, and must be honoured. I miss my Dear Departeds, and that never goes away. But they exist within me, stitched into my heart; antic, shining and curiously alive.
No camera today. There was snow and sleet and gales when I went out this morning. These are from a Bobby Dazzler a few days ago: