The impossibility of that which should have been

I really miss Dad tonight. It’s a new kind of grief. I’ve been so caught up in mourning what was, I hadn’t considered the loss of what should have been.

The Boy will never know him. He probably won’t even remember him as a real human being. Dad will never sing ‘Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer Katsenellenbogen-by-the-Sea’ to him. My boy will never hear Dad sing anything, in fact, see him perform on stage, or an acoustic number in his living room. All of that future is gone.

Dad promised to buy his first guitar. That won’t happen now. And yes, of course I could use some of the inheritance to buy one in his memory and that would be a Very Nice Thing, but that’s not the point. Dad would have taught him to play it.

That’s the biggie. My boy has lost a grandparent. He’s too little to understand this, so I have to do the mourning for him.

And I will never hear more of Dad’s stories. Flesh him out. My parents divorced when I was 6-months old and I wasn’t close to Dad as a child. Wasn’t especially close to him as an adult really, until the birth of my son. (God, he was a proud Grandad. He loved The Boy. His first grandson…)

And of course I feel so horribly guilty about this, but it was a two-way thing. I am determined not to let it eat me up. It just meant we had some catching up to do. And that’s not finished. I haven’t finished getting to know my Dad properly, and now I never will. My memories of him are scant. The plan was to create new ones.

The last time I saw him, that was a good one. Just a rainy day around the house with The Boy. There should have been more of those.

The impossibility of that which should have been has only just hit me.


The very polite mourner

I drove back to my hometown today to put a wreath on my Dad’s grave. It made me feel about a million years old. OLD people put wreaths on their parents’ graves. 32-year olds still borrow their Dads’ cars and ring them crying on New Year’s Day because no-one loves them. Anyway.

I went to the cemetery – it was freezing fucking cold, drizzling and the light was fading. Perfect putting-on-wreath weather, if you’re of a Gothic bent. Before I drove up to Dad, I stopped at the flower stall by the gate to choose a wreath.

They had loads. I chose one made of silver baubles. It was really pretty and sparkly. Thought it might brighten the place up a bit. I handed it to the man and rummaged for my purse.

“Are you taking this up to a grave, love?”


“Only, it’s meant for a door…”

Stickler for the rules that I am, I put it back. Who knew there were wreath rules? And obviously, something that’s meant to hang outside on a door is totally unsuited to hanging outside on a grave. Whatever.

The man showed me the grave wreaths. Not what I was looking for at all. Evergreen, ivy and holly base – lovely – with summer/tropical flowers threaded through them – weird. I wanted something Christmassy. Or at least wintery. These were schizophrenic. But he was holding some nude ones in his hand, green wreaths that hadn’t mated with summer yet, and they were nice.

“Can I have one of those?”

“These love? I haven’t finished these…”

“That’s OK. I like them like that.”

He went back into his little hut, and put one of the bare wreaths on the counter.

“Would you like a bow on it? It doesn’t cost more..”

My Dad was a very thrifty man. He would have appreciated that.

“Yes, please.”

“What colour?”

“Red, if you have it.”

The man tied an ornate red bow and placed it in the middle of my wreath.

“Would you like some extra holly berries? Won’t cost you…”

“Oh yes, that would be lovely…”

“It’ll be £9.50 love – go and wait in your car, it’s freezing out. I’ll bring it across…”

What a lovely man! I retreated gratefully to my car and waited. And waited. And he bought the wreath across.

The berries were nice. But it had carnations threaded into it. Red ones – fair enough, I suppose – and pink ones and yellow ones too. What the fuck? What’s Christmassy about that? And I fucking hate carnations.

“I prettied it up for you, love. Won’t cost you extra…”

He was very pleased with himself, so I handed over my money, thanked him nicely, put it in the footwell of the passenger seat, and drove up to see Dad.

“Merry Christmas, Dad. Sleep well. And sorry about the wreath. It wasn’t what I wanted. But then, neither was this. See you in the New Year…”

And then I came home.

I see dead people

Last night I dreamed I was walking under a bridge with my Dad. We were chatting away – I don’t know what about, I can’t remember – and then I stopped.

‘How are we even having this conversation, Dad? You’re dead…’

‘I know. It’s OK. I still care about you…’

And then I woke up. It was too much. My logical brain took over. But I really wish it hadn’t. I really wish I could have held on to the dream.

Because it was nice, chatting away with him. Even if I can’t remember what we were chatting about. I’d like more chats with him. And you know, he seemed OK with being dead, which is nice.

But what if it was actually my Dad and not a construct of my imagination, talking to me while I sleep, trying to let me know he still loves me? What if the people we lose visit us in our dreams, when our minds are at their most relaxed and receptive? What if he came to see me, travelled all the way from wherever into my subconscious, and I booted him out without giving him a chance to say what he wanted to?

What if. Dangerous words.

I don’t know if I believe in ghosts or spirits or ‘the other side’. But I want to. I really want to. I really want to spend more time with my Dad. Real time, imaginary time, dream time… The kind of time doesn’t matter. He was real last night, in my dream. He was real and he was talking to me and it was so good to see him, and that’s good enough for me.

People say ‘I’d do anything to see so-and-so again, just once.’ I’ve never really understood it until now. I’ve never understood the power of regret. I really would do anything to be able to say all of the things I didn’t, to make sure Dad knows that I love him, to let him know how fucking proud I am of him. That’s the biggie. I think he knew I loved him, but I’m not sure he knew how amazing I thought he was. Think he is. He was a rock and roll star! In a band! And so many people loved him. So very many.

My eyes have been quietly leaking all day. Sometimes not so quietly, actually. I was sobbing in the loo within 3 minutes of arriving at work this morning. I wish I hadn’t woken up today. I really want my Dad.

Rumours: where two griefs collide

My Dad died in June. I could pussyfoot around the subject, introduce it delicately, but I am neither a pussyfooter nor especially delicate. My Dad died in June, unexpectedly, aged just 68, and it hurts like you wouldn’t believe.

Or maybe you would, but the ferocity of the grief certainly surprised me. I mean, obviously if I thought about it, which I didn’t much before he died, I expected losing a parent would hurt. But somewhat naively, I imagined it would be a ramped up version of the other griefs I’ve felt.  Like when my Nan died perhaps, only 10 times worse.

I know better now. Losing a parent is nothing like losing a grandparent. That’s like comparing frogs with tambourines. It feels like I’ve lost my core, my sense of who I am and why I’m here. It’s so much more than the absence of the person, so much more than simply missing him dreadfully.

I feel anchorless, adrift, like a chair with three legs – sort of functional if I carry myself carefully, but lean a certain way and I’m flat on my backside. Like getting out of the car, opening the boot to unload the Sainsbury’s shopping and seeing my neighbour wearing a fleece a bit like one Dad wore, and finding myself in floods of silent tears. It catches you off guard, throws you off balance.

Dad was a musician. Which means, as well as leaving my brother and I more guitars and harmonicas than we’ll ever know what to do with, he also left an epic CD collection. So last night, I chose three albums that remind me of my childhood from the box I’ve taken from Dad’s house: a Bonnie Raitt album, a Mary Chapin Carpenter album, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

Dad and I would listen to Bonnie and Mary on our long trips down to Plymouth every year.  I’d sit in the front seat of his Ford Capri, bare thighs stuck to the pleather, bare feet up on the dashboard, singing my little heart out.

Fleetwood Mac was a more grown-up affair – I was a teenager when he lent me his copy of Rumours, and it was the same copy that I played last night.

I was sitting doing a bit of work. The album was background music. The familiar melodies were comforting, Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar a particular joy on Never Going Back Again. It was a pleasantly nostalgic experience – until track 5.

“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do…”

My ears prick up and I start actually listening to the words.

“How can I ever change things that I feel?”

Exactly, Lindsey, exactly – how can I, huh? How can I possibly do that?

“If I could, baby I’d give you my world
How can I, when you won’t take it from me?”

Yes! That’s the very heart of the problem, the nub, the centre of it all. I am indeed offering him my world, for what it’s worth, and the stupid feckless fecking Pirate won’t fecking well take it, the ungrateful fecker.

And this is where two griefs collided. One man tragically absent, one comically present. So I started the album from scratch and properly listened, and of course Rumours is about more than the melodies, the harmonies, the drumming and the guitars.

It’s one of the best break-up albums ever written. Every song is about a complicated, doomed love affair. Every song could have been written for me. And then I remembered why Dad had lent it to me in the first place. I’d broken up with a boyfriend and he thought it might help.

So I sat listening to it on a loop, nodding sagely along to the lyrics like the heartsick puppy I am (how do the Mac know just how I’m feeling? HOW?! Surely I am the first person ever to feel the agony of doomed love?!). The soul-wrenching sobs began properly during Songbird:

“And I wish you all the love in the world
But most of all, I wish it from myself…”

I posted this as a Facebook status update in June, the day before I last saw my Dad. He liked it. I logged into my account and had a look. Yes. He still likes it, even though he’s gone. This set me off on a hunt for all of the interactions between me and Dad on Facebook.

Yes. Think twice before moaning about a friend or relative’s workaday, ploddy status updates. Every word is nectar when they’re gone, and Facebook becomes a kind of digital amber, perfectly preserving mundane memories forever. Which reminded me that I hadn’t deleted his last answerphone message from my phone. Yes, it’s still there. He sounds old, and tired. Oh Daddy… When did that happen? Why the fuck did you have to go now?

So I sat and cried my heart out last night, for my Dad and for myself. It was tremendously cathartic – and inspirational. A certain stalkerish air came over me during Silver Springs:

“Time casts a spell on you, but you won’t forget me
I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me
I’ll follow you down til’ the sound of my voice will haunt you
You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you”

I could go all Annie Wilkes on The Pirate’s ass! Yes!

And today? Today I’ve lost the urge to break his ankles and am trying very hard not to email The Pirate a link to Go Your Own Way:

“If I could, baby I’d give you my world
Open up, everything’s waiting for you.”

Trouble is, he knows my world comes complete with a nearly 3-year old, a neurotic terrier, 2 greedy guinea pigs and an ex-husband whose capacity for utterly twattish behaviour is apparently limitless – just when you think setting a date to marry his next wife before divorcing this one is as twatty as it gets, he tells you he’s going to instigate bankruptcy proceedings, leaving the Official Receiver free to claim the half of the house he has given me.

It is entirely possibly, then, and perhaps even likely, that offering The Pirate my world is less of a romantic gesture than Fleetwood Mac intended. In fact, it could conceivably be seen as some kind of punishment. Oh bollocks.