Please note that this post contains details about death. Please do not read if you feel this could be upsetting to you.
It’s been just over a week since Dad died. I can write that, say that, with only a slight twinge in my chest; not because a week is sufficient time to process that information but because my head won’t believe it.
My chest, stomach, solar plexus – whatever – fully accepts that my Dad is gone. My heart is broken. I have a dull, heavy ache permanently. Actually, the only time that the sensation left was just after I saw Dad at the Chapel of Rest yesterday. He looked peaceful, asleep. Yes I cried when I saw him, the sense of missing him taking over. But driving away from the building, I felt peace. For a little while anyway. Last week I cried when I pulled his socks out of the drier. Last week I couldn’t breathe when I printed out my favourite picture of us.
Dad is part of my language. This is still Dad’s home as well as being my house. I am still referring to it as ‘Dad’s side of the house’; Dad’s living room etc etc, happy in my vocal denial of his end. My heart knows differently, and whispers, asking me when my language will change.
Today I washed his dressing gowns for the second time. In the last few months of his life, he wore them pretty permanently. In hospital we draped one over him as he felt perpetually cold no matter how many blankets we gave him. When he died, we asked that one was placed on him, along with his slippers.
At the Chapel of Rest, they have changed him into his favourite trousers and checked shirt. The ‘Greatest Dad’ t-shirt that we put on him the morning that we knew he was going to die… when he was so grateful for the three of us washing him, oblivious to what the day held… We asked for that to stay on under his checked shirt, and for them to keep his slippers on.
The pyjama bottoms have been disposed of, but we couldn’t face getting rid of his dressing gown. So this morning, I removed one out of the boot of my car; the one that I had brought home to wash when he was still alive, but never did. The other I removed from the bag given to me by the Funeral Directors. Both had tissues in the pocket and my mind fleetingly acknowledged that he was still alive when they were placed there, his rough hands always searching for a tissue as they patted the pockets of whatever he was wearing. Don’t worry, I didn’t keep them.
The first wash didn’t remove the smell. I don’t know what the smell is – hospital, perhaps of the thiamine drip he had repeatedly- whatever it is, I have washed them on intensive, long 40 washes with plenty of detergent and softener and the smell won’t go. So as I put them, still damp, into a black bin bag and then into the bin, all I could think was ‘Dad will be disappointed’. The smell made me feel sick.
The heaviness of grief is upon me but my head feels light and clear. I can talk about my Dad’s body, I can write the words ‘death’ and ‘dead’ because I feel like this is not true. The film will end soon. I will wake up from this nightmare. Dad will come home from hospital. Dad will walk in from outside. I know it has happened but my head is just going along with it, playing the game, fulfilling the role.
I’m dry-eyed writing this. Sure, that ache in my chest is heavy and squeezing, but I can’t cry. The Dad that has gone is the one in all the pictures I have placed around his living room. Dad when he shaved off his moustache temporarily when I was in my twenties. Dad with his goatee. Dad holding me as a small child. Dad drunk at Christmas one year. The man that fell in love, had children. The man who made a garden, made a home. These Dad’s have gone but then they have been gone a while. So my heart is still broken but my head happily pretends.
I can recount Dad’s passing as if telling the story of a film I’ve watched. My brain however (well the part of my brain that isn’t writing this as if I was telling you about going shopping) is doing an amazing job of blocking out the images and sounds his death. If they start to creep in, a small shake of my head dislodges their hold on my brain and they disappear back under the mental note called ‘denial’. For now, anyway.