(I’m writing something every day for #100days. This is post 16/100.)
“It was a total realisation that she was actually dead,” he recalls. “A total realisation that I was never going to see her again. A total realisation she’s not going to walk down the stairs, that you’re not going to have breakfast with her, that she’s not going to steal your chocolate out of the fridge.”
‘What Happened When Hockey Golden Girl Lizzie Watkins Died’ is the story of a young woman who died in a freak accident playing hockey. And that quote is from her father.
“She’s not going to steal your chocolate out of the fridge.”
One of the surprising things about grief is how unexpected its triggers can be. My father died 11 years ago.
Some days I’ll be standing in the kitchen and I’ll lean over to open the just-finished dishwasher and the steam hitting my face will rush me back to the feeling of standing beside him in the kitchen of our childhood home.
I’ll be scraping the honey from the bottom of a near-empty jar, and the ring of the metal knife on glass suddenly transports me to a morning we spent together at a food market a few days before I started high school.
I’ll be riding my bike, and a diesel engine will go past, and suddenly I’m 14 again, in my bedroom, hearing him come down the driveway in his rusty, red Landrover.
And in the moment, I’m there, I’m with him. I can feel what it was like to be in his presence.
But he’s not there. And he hasn’t been for more than a decade. And he’ll never be there again.
And so you have to snap yourself back into the reality of your surrounds.
The scars do heal. But the sadness of that total realisation - that I’ll never see him again, never stand next to him, never try honey samples at a farmer’s market with him, never hear him come back down the driveway — it never really goes away.
“Before this is over you will long for it to end.”
That is the quote of a family counselor to a husband whose wife is dying of cancer.
Detailed in ‘How My Friend Saved Me When Death Took the Mother of My Children’, it’s about as raw an account as you can read of the grief of losing someone you love.
The worst thought you can have about someone who is alive, is that you wish they weren’t.
I had to confront that thought as I watched my Dad be consumed by cancer.
At some point, after months of going to sleep thinking, I wonder if today is the day Dad dies. After months of decline, where I’d think, well, this must be as bad as it gets, only for it to get worse.
I had that worst thought. This would be easier if it was over.
And I’ve made peace with that, ultimately. But I haven’t forgotten where it took my heart and my mind to have to consider it.
“After havoc recedes, the mind often lets the detail slip.
And that can be a mercy. But the body remembers.”
Tim Winton’s essay ‘Havoc’ is a reflection on the impact unanticipated events can have on you.
Tragedy is a bridge that you can only cross through experience.
If you have not experienced it, you cannot comprehend it.
You cannot comprehend it, because tragedy forces upon you so many states that you have no language for.
The havoc reflex, the strike of fear that hits you in the stomach every time the phone rings unexpectedly, never leaves you.
Like the Band of Horses line: “At every occasion, I’ll be ready for a funeral”, the incontrovertibility of death turns every new week, every new month, every new year into a relieving gift. You knew it was coming, but you couldn’t bank on it until it did.
“For many, certainty has become the new normal. But it’s an illusion… Each of us wades in the swamp of everyone else’s actions and intentions. We’ll forever be vulnerable to havoc.”
Death is havoc.
It’s coming for us at all times, at all angles. The variable is the speed, which stays unseen.
Death’s memories surprise you, leaping out at unexpected moments.
You never forget the internal compromises death forces you to confront.
And you never forget how much it means for death to leave you alone for even one day.
“Perhaps it’s morbid to view your life through the prism of violent events, to feel yourself shaped by accidents. Safety is a great gift. Maybe it’s disrespectful to feel the interruptions to it more vividly than the long and peaceful interludes in between.
But to be afraid is to be awake.
And to exist at all in this universe is to be caught up at the scene of an accident, perhaps the happiest accident of all. By now we know how that scene goes. We’re just not sure how it ends.”