Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I will always love you

In the final stages of his life, my father was brain-damaged. His last round of surgery to remove his brain tumours had failed and though he was still irrefutably himself, he was a simpler, milder version of his old character. The truth is, we got on better when he didn't have all of his faculties in tact. My memories of the last stages of his life are amongst my happiest with him. We'd had chance to sort things out.

I remember this moment like it was yesterday. We were in his kitchen. He was sitting in a high-backed chair with his wife behind him. He asked me, as he regularly did, if I loved him. It was on his mind, always, the distance that had been between us, his failings as a parent of a daughter who, though she shared so many of his characteristics, didn't fit his mould. And, feeling relaxed and happy, I held his hand and started warbling the words of Whitney Houston: and I-I will always love you-oo, I will always love you...... I can still picture him laughing with tears streaming down his face. It was my last good moment with him.

Fast forward a decade or so and I am walking the dog in the cemetery. I have been talking to your mum. She's asked me to write a poem that she can read as we scatter your ashes later on that day. I'm feeling grateful. I've just read it to her and she loves it. I am pleased that I have been able to do something to help her, to help you. I feel a momentary rightness. It happens from time to time, when everything feels aligned and clear, like sun shining through the fog. I pick up a feather from the pavement. Silly, maybe, but I do this when I notice them, when I am thinking of you. Most of the time, I am thinking of you. Some people believe that feathers are sent by spirits to comfort us. Do I? Do you?

On this day, I am thinking again about letting you go, this time in the physical sense. I have had a difficult week knowing that this moment is ahead. I have been crying a lot and shouting at the children. My whole being is screaming that I do not want to do it. I do not want to scatter your ashes and I do not want to let you go. I want to go back to the life that we were building together. I don't want to be here, being an angry single parent again, feeling lonely. I don't want to be spending my day writing poems for memorial ceremonies, finding new ways to say goodbye. I want to be living and loving and hoping. I want to spend my Saturday like we used to, gallivanting over the moors, laughing and loving and feeling alive. 'He replenishes you,' my friend once said. You do. You did. You topped up my tank with your love so that I had energy for the children in the week ahead. Now Saturdays are spent crying, leaving me tired when they return.

And you cannot return. And as I walk I acknowledge that maybe I am gradually moving into that mythical place called acceptance and that this is yet another kind of torture. Denial was easier. At least with denial I could imagine that we might still be together somehow. Acceptance means recognising that you cannot come back and that one day I might love someone else. And I don't want to love someone else. Nor do I want to be alone forever. I feel guilty for even considering a future with someone else, even though the someone else is only in my mind and not in my life or my heart. My mind is on a loop, on the fence, still wondering how to hold onto you, how to let you go. And then I hear a song playing. It is Whitney Houston. I stop and listen to the words, feeling that maybe you are speaking to me. It goes like this: 'I hope life treats you kind, and I hope you have all you dream of. And I wish you joy and happiness, but above all this, I wish you love. And I-I will always love you.' I look around to see where the music is playing from but there are no cars or houses with open windows. And then I realise that the song is coming from my bag. I reach down to my phone and it is playing from my iTunes. But I don't have Whitney Houston in my library (I don't even like Whitney Houston). I study it for a moment, trying to work out how it is playing and then I give up. Who cares? If ever there was a man who would send me a message in music, it is you, even if it is Whitney Houston. I remember my dad and I smile.

Later, I scatter your ashes with your family. Your mum reads my poem and we toss roses onto the ground. Bad planning and logistics mean that, after we've put part of you on the ground by the reservoir at Redmires, I have to run at great speed along the road to our spot with the rest of your ashes in the green, plastic container and leg it up the hill because I don't want to leave your mum out in the cold for long. I trail your ashes like I am Gretel trailing breadcrumbs, all the way up the hill, singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow between gasps of breath, until I reach our favourite spot, the spot where we first watched the sun set and I lay my final rose on the grass. And then I turn immediately, laughing with tears streaming as I gallop back down the hill over the heather and gorse saying to the clouds, 'do you remember? How we ran hand in hand down this hill, like we were kids?' And I know you do. And letting go of your ashes is fine after all. Because your ashes are not you. You are always with me and just at that moment, you are literally a part of me. In the wind your ashes have covered me so that my hair is stuck with particles of you, my eyelashes are crusted, my hands are grey and I am crunching you like sand in my teeth. And I am happy to merge with you again just for a moment.

You are gone. But you are not gone. The love continues but not in a physical sense.  I know that you would want me to be happy one day, if I can. You showed me what love is and the bar is high now. Wherever you are, I am sure that you still love me and, even if one day I love someone else, I will always love you.