There are only a couple of things in my life that I’ve found it hard to prepare for, meaning I couldn’t project how it would feel in advance. Becoming a mother and losing a parent are at the top of the list.
Six weeks after losing my dad, I finally feel able to reflect a little, versus being in the initial flurry of activity and planning of his service; the foggy slump of returning home—5,000 miles from my family and anyone who knew my dad; the busy-ness of writing a tribute and obituaries. But with reflection comes fresh heartbreak and counting of losses.
Even though my dad had been declining for a few months, and there were a few days when we thought: “This is the day”, when I finally got the call from my brother in the early hours, it was just as awful as you think it would be. I literally lost my voice. Calling my dad’s brother, my godfather, in Hong Kong to tell him the sad news, my voice faded and cracked in and out across the Pacific.
The Loss of an Anchor
In those first few days it really hit me that although I have lived away from the UK for 21 years, and not been able to see my dad on a frequent basis—he was still an anchor point in my life. Being cut adrift from that anchor has felt really disorienting. Things feel lopsided and I feel a little bit in danger of just floating off into outer space. Of course, keeping some of the routines of daily life, prevent that from happening.
The Loss of Knowledge
We live in a world where it’s easy, as I am doing right now, to be a ‘creator’ and a ‘publisher’. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that what is being published is worthy of being consumed (present contribution included). Yet, this is a recent phenomenon. In the less than eight decades that my father’s life touched this earth, the ways we leave our mark on the world—our transfer of knowledge, talent, discoveries and the results of our curiosity— have changed dramatically due to digital innovation.
Yet for his generation, unless you wrote a book (he didn’t), created works of art (he did), or left some other tangible legacy, it’s all too easy for the world at large to miss out on your personal value. My dad has no ‘digital footprint’. If you google him, you find very little. In my somewhat frenzied attempt to have obituaries published on his behalf, I’ve been trying to create a more permanent record of his mark on the world.
The Loss of Love
Phone calls with my dad went like this…
Me: Hi Dad, it’s Alice, how are you?
Dad: Can you hear me?
Me: Yes Dad. I can hear you.
Dad: Oh okay. I have to go now.
Me: Okay, I love you.
Dad (occasionally): Love you too.
And that’s how it was. He was a man of few words, mostly. Especially on the phone. Over recent years he very occasionally would send me an email. Perhaps a silly joke. I was always happy to see his name in my inbox. I know that he loved me. It’s never easy to lose love.
The Loss of Routine
When you live far away from your family, your routines are a little different than if you live within driving distance. My routine was to call my dad whenever I was making the long commute into San Francisco. And of course, spend a few days with him when we visited the U.K.. A meal or two at the pub. Order an Indian takeaway. Cook a meal. Look through old photographs. Perhaps he would sit in the car in a parking lot while Monkey and I went for a walk.
The Loss of Motivation
Grief is a thief. A robber. A bandit. It takes away your energy. Your motivation. It tires you out. Jumps out at you from behind bushes, when you least expect it. I get that it’s an important part of the process of loss, but I wish it wouldn’t steal so much. The irony of all this, is that after my dad lost his wife eight years ago, this is what he went through. And I believe that grief really did take an awful lot from him.