The 4th of July marked the first anniversary of the death of my Father.
He died of cancer that started in the throat and spread to the lung.
For a year I had been visiting his grave and always wondering whether or not I was grieving. I didn’t feel grief. I would walk through the cemetery gates and stand staring at a wooden cross in a beautiful and quiet corner of Southern England expecting waves of grief to envelop me like I had seen in films and read about in novels. No tears. Nothing.
I started to worry that I had somehow suppressed my grief. Surely I had to feel something.
But over the last weekend on this first anniversary, I realised two things;
Firstly, that I had subconsciously carried out my grieving during the eighteen months that cancer increasingly washed over and through his body like an over-zealous Spring tide. Cancer will dish out unimaginable cruelty, yet there were moments of hope and even laughter.
It started in his throat leading to a tracheostomy which silenced his voice. As a result, he was given a board to write on as he eschewed a speaking tube. However, when friends would visit, they would write what they wanted to say on the board not realising it was for my father and not for them. They were just trying to do the right thing and that comedy of manners alone brightened the mood.
There were moments of great hope too when we thought we were winning the war. Of course we were only winning the odd battle or borderline skirmish. You can’t be a heavy drinker and smoker for decades and not expect the ammunition dump that’s been accumulating inside you to detonate.
When we all knew that the end was in sight, it felt like my parents and I were nervous flyers sitting in an airport departure lounge. We knew dad’s flight might be delayed for a bit but we had to make do with staring out and making nervous consoling small talk whilst watching other planes take off, bound for who knows where.
I was getting strangely comfortable with the idea of waiting and comforting at this new level of alertness. It was not dissimilar to the plateau of nervous calm before my ex-wife’s waters breaking. A life changing event was imminent. And then he died.
However, I did not feel grief. Cancer’s foot soldiers had invaded and slowly annexed their way to an inevitable victory but for my father the pain and tyranny was finally at an end. He was set free. We were all set free.
July 4th really was his Independence Day.
Secondly, last weekend I realised that as a result of this freedom from pain and tyranny, he’s never coming back.
Which is when I cried.