I never cried when dad died. Not when I got the call, not at the funeral.
I remember mum dabbing at her eyes during the service in an ‘I can cope’ way, and my sister, red-eyed, keeping busy to get through the day.
My brother cried hardest. As the cortege passed through the cemetery gates, out of the solemn silence of our stately limousine came a deep wail, a pocket of grief broken free, cloaking us all. I still picture his anguished face and how mum put her arm round him, saying, ‘It’s all right, dear’ – like mums always do.
I thought that I too should be crying, and wondered if I didn’t care enough or whether others might think that. But in my heart I knew that not crying was okay. During his last years dad and I had learnt to laugh together, not weep. I could see him fading, and was sure that he too was reconciled. It wasn’t talked about much except by innuendo, but mum knew, and I knew, and with quiet dignity we all accepted what was happening.
I wanted more and more to greet him with a kiss, especially when he became sedentary then bed bound. He seemed to value this affection, pressing stubbled kisses along my cheek. His face would light up when I came in the room, and we’d chat easily, as much as you can with illness around you. Parting was never sad; we trusted how things were.
At the hospice one day, I found dad propped up neatly in bed. I held his hand and we talked a little, on and off, whatever came to mind. Suddenly he grabbed a banana from the table and peeled it with great deliberation. With a look that said, ‘Watch this, son!’ he gobbled it up in a few bites, as if to buy more time. He was eating very little by then, so it didn’t fool me. He lapsed into a misty state soon after, but we stayed looking into each other’s eyes in a way that would have felt awkward in ordinary times.
Before I left, I held his hand and kissed him tight on the forehead. As I drew back, his face lost its taut complexion, opening into a warm smile like an unexpected ray of evening sun. In silence, he gripped my hand tight as if to stop me leaving, and when finally he released me and I waved from the doorway, he still wore the same tender expression. That was the last time I saw him.
The hospice staff loved my dad and talked about him as though he was their only resident. He’d have liked that – pleasing those around him. I took a white rose for their scented garden; they invited me to come and see where it was planted, but I never went.
With the passing of time, mum is less sad. Photos of dad, from young soldier to wise old man, comfort her where she eats and sleeps. She keeps the grave tidy and gets on with life. Dealing with his loss.
As we all do – each in our own way.
Copyright Paul Costello © March 2014