My Father died slightly less than a year ago, in New York, the city that inadvertently had become his home for approximately forty years. He has not yet, however, been laid to rest. That will happen next week.
His funeral was held shortly after his death, in the Queens neighbourhood where I grew up. After the ceremony, he was cremated, and his ashes stored until My Mother could decide where they should be placed. He had not wanted them returned to Nottingham, the hometown he had left in his twenties. He had variously spoken of having his remains scattered on Long Island Sound, where he had enjoyed sailing, or perhaps in the Swiss Alps, which he had grown to love. But he was not emphatic about any of these options; indeed, he seemed not to be too fussed about what happened.
Towards the end of last year, My Mother, who is Polish, decided that she would bury his ashes in her family grave in Warsaw. And so, after a few months of officialdom in both Poland and the US, Dad's remains are to be laid to rest next week. Tomorrow morning I leave Vancouver to join My Mother, who flew over from New York some two weeks ago.
Dearest Friends, I really have no idea how I feel about what has happened, of what is to come.
I have just re-read what I posted after his death. Back then I questioned the source of my relative calm and lack of despair. I wondered if I had, with remarkable ease, achieved acceptance of change and concomitant serenity. Or perhaps, I mused, I had buried my emotions deep within and risked them squirting out the sides at a later date.
Eleven months on, and my suspicion is that there is indeed stuff buried deep. Very deep. Deep in my core. It hasn't come gushing out in some sort of sulphuric, cathartic geyser, but I can feel it percolating, and I suspect it has been leaking into what I say, what I do, how I operate. Some of it I have identified, most of it I suspect I have not. For example, when I get strict with the children, I find myself using his turns of phrase -- "That is not acceptable" -- and it startles me. It annoys me. I get cross with myself, and therefore crosser with the children.
Though I have thought about Dad often, I have shied away from really cracking open my core to see the messy pulp of how I related and still relate to him, how I felt and how I still feel about him. This is in such stark contrast to my Dearest Mother-In-Law, who I still feel with and within me if not on a daily basis, then near as dammit. Not that long ago I was in Vancouver Kidsbooks, one of her favourite shops. I thought of her as I browsed the shelves, when out of nowhere tears welled up and I missed her so. That has never happened with Dad. I do realise that the connections I made with Veronica were of a very different sort than those I made with Dad. With him I find myself wishing that I had had more time to culture our adult relationship. But comparing my reactions leaves me feeling guilty. Traitorous. Disloyal. Unfilial.
And then there is My Mother. The pain of losing Her Husband of forty-seven is still fresh and strong. She has found it extremely difficult to cope, in particular with the bureaucracy of life. Pensions, insurance, gas bills, legal matters - Her Husband handled them all. But unfortunately she clutches that pain close to her, and uses it to feed anger and bitterness. Anger and bitterness which then flow out over those around her, especially me. And with those flows come accusations of selfishness, ingratitude, of heartlessness. Along with the occasional reminder that My Father was not happy about my move to Vancouver, followed by the observation that some research indicates cancer might well be caused by stress.
What I find most sorrowful is that this is an extension of a lifelong behaviour pattern, one that I have begun to see as born of affliction, rather than malevolence. My Mother has indeed had her share of suffering. She grew up in Poland during the Second World War, then exchanged life under Nazi occupation for one under a Communist regime. She had an unhappy first marriage. She lost her mother very suddenly to a heart attack. Her (second) Husband, My Father, was gravely ill soon after I came along. And she has never, ever gotten over any of these events. Indeed, she seems not to have been able to even try. Instead, out of them she has forged grudges, lifelong ones, and she holds each one close. Carrying their weight has made her tired and bitter. Her Husband's death is one more to add to the load.
Her Husband. HER Husband.
Ever since his death, she has never once asked me how I feel about having lost My Father. I don't know what I would answer, but I would be ever so grateful if she just asked.
And so I am off on this journey, feeling uncertain, ungrounded, and somewhat fearful. Wanting to be compassionate, while fearful of being cruel and arrogant, both to others and myself. But I will try to remember to be receptive to whatever the moment tries to teach me, and to open up, not shut down, during the difficult bits.
A few of you I will see in London as I pass through on my way to and fro. And I am greatly looking forward to that. I will see the rest of you upon my return in ten days or so.
Oysterband - Polish Plain (buy here or e-here)
The Church - The Unguarded Moment (buy here)
Nick Drake - Time of No Reply (buy here)