“The weird, weird thing about devastating loss is that life actually goes on. When you’re faced with a tragedy, a loss so huge that you have no idea how you can live through it, somehow, the world keeps turning, the seconds keep ticking.”
― James Patterson
I haven’t written for a while and I know why. I’m caught. Caught between needing to deal with the expectations of a continuing life, and the heart-wrecking pain I carry within every breath of me upon losing my beloved father to a sudden heart attack a little more than four months ago.
I change my bedding, I wash the dishes, I put make-up on, I dress, I go to the office or on birthday parties and baby showers. I have guests from far away cities and watch the latest Lars von Trier- movie and discuss it with my friends. I flirt, I record music, I plan holidays, I do what I expect one has to do – I have to do – to become a person again. A person, not only a girl whose father has died. Daddy’s death is with me like the sky, it never stops being above me, wherever I go. Just that sometimes I’m indoors and know it is still there, and sometimes I’m outside and I see it clearly, right above me, big and grey and full of rain, showering me whenever it wants to. I can’t make the rain stop when it comes – I can flee inside, but I’ll be wet and shivering and I will know that it is out there, above me, the cold, heavy rain and the grey sky. There is no escaping from grief. There’s just roofs of distraction, beds to fall asleep in, laps to cry on, pillows to squeeze, books and movies to distract myself with.
Daddy’s death is most violent and raw in the morning, when I start to gain consciousness; when the sweet blur and dizziness of sleep is pushed away like a cloud by the harsh wind of a new day, raining on my face, bitter, desperate tears of longing for my father. What to do next? Sometimes I just cry, bitterly and loudly, I sit in my bed, like a human, slightly out-of-place L-shaped thing, and I cry like a baby. I look at my dad’s picture, a picture of him and me on a sailing boat in Turkey, smiling into the camera tanned and relaxed, like there is no death to us and there never will be. I look at it and feel the despair clocking my lungs and colonising my arteries until finally I look away, wishing his death away so pathetically that for a tiny fraction of a second I imagine how it would feel for him not to be dead and me just being a normal 28-year old young woman sitting awkwardly on her bed. But then it comes back. He really did die. The shocks never seem to become less horrifying. They are a surprise, every single time. He went away and I have no way of finding out where he went to, whether he just disappeared for good, or whether he still loves me; whether he still receives my love, whether he can see me, or whether I will ever see him again. He’s just gone, for good, for real. It does not stop hitting me by surprise. So I am sitting in my bed, crying out loud, my hands covering my face like it needs to be held in order to not fall apart. What next? Do I stay in bed and sit in this despair all day? Well, sometimes, at least for a few more hours, that’s what happens out of lack of other impulses that manage to come through to me. This state is so exhausting, so unfathomably painful and, to be honest, seems so unpractical after a certain point, that on many mornings I decide to brush the feelings away, as good as I can, avoid looking at the picture of me and my dad, and think of the last episode of West Wing that I saw, or about how the little crack in the ceiling keeps annoying me and that I should fix it. On these kind of mornings the dizziness of sleep leaves, the reality of pain and despair creep in my consciousness like hundreds of black, shiny ants crawling uncontrollably into a whole in the earth. I salute them, yet turn away from them, turn to my phone, check my e-mails, get up, make coffee, carry my unwilling body to the shower, brush my teeth, put make-up on, and most of the times, get out there to distract myself with the life that has been continuing while I was gone. I pay bills, I call back people whose calls I missed, I shake myself like a wet dog and run into the streets, offices, bars, shops and relationships that populate the landscape of life. I am aware that people get bored with sadness and brokenness, that they expect you to be positive, to “move on”, to “get over it”. And I myself am one of these people. I expect myself to be as positive as I am capable of being, to return to a normal and happy life in “due time”, to not dwell on my feelings of loss any longer than is healthy. C. S. Lewis once said:
“I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
So while I am feeling my grief and am thinking about it, I wonder: What is a healthy time to grief? When should I stop? Will it just stop by itself? When? I really am a fan of running through the forest of razor blades that is the grieving of a loved one’s death instead of attempting to take a detour around it; detours come back and bite you in your ass, like monsters that you thought you had hidden in the cupboard forever. They come back and bite you in your feet at night. Well at least that’s what they would do if they existed – so I try to keep my cupboard clean of monsters, which sometimes means struggling with them really hard. So I grief and think about me grieving and wonder: Will the morning ever feel okay again and when will the silence stop suffocating me at night? Or is it all plain wrong and one just has to suck it up and distract oneself with life until one day one just feels more alive then dead? I have no clue. One told us that we would grief, but no one gave us a roadmap to show us where to go and what to do when it happens. You just have to figure it out as you go, with fucking razor blades stabbing in your feet.
I’m caught in between. I certainly think smiling, laughing, hugging, meeting friends, dancing, writing, making music and reading helps; it doesn’t take away that I wake to the feeling I had when I stood by my father’s grave for the first time and wanted to dissolve like his body would, too. I still get a wave of pain, pulsating through my body from head to toe like an electric shock, when I see people who are as old my father was when he died – 54 – or older, because I can’t help but wonder why the hell my father isn’t amongst them. The more I experience in the other world (the one where I smile and dance and do stuff), the more I accumulate things that I want to share with my father, that I want to ask him about, that I want to laugh about with him. These feelings, like a letter whose recipient has forever moved away, rot inside me, sometimes silently and sometimes loudly and with a heavy sour smell. Yet: I have also cried from laughing too hard again, and I’ve already felt excitement about a travel plan or a conference or even about a stupid party. I’m in between. I want to be happy again, and I am doing things to promote it. I am incredibly grateful to my friends, colleagues, past students, and family because they, patient, loving, funny, wise, and forgiving as they are, are a big part of why I get up in the morning instead of sitting in bed for hours and weep.
I am in between. I can’t believe it hasn’t been more than half a year ago when my dad and I were drinking a crisp, cold, dry, delicious white wine at the coast of Portofino. He was so happy and handsome, and I remember being the happiest girl in the world, because I was so loved by my father, because I loved him so much, and because we were there, together, in beautiful Portofino. I remember being grateful and feeling incredibly lucky, so much that my stomach prickled from little bits of fear of losing this happiness. I still smell the mixture of warm earth, sea salt, alcohol, daddy’s ‘Chanel Bleu’ perfume, the rental car, with which we took the very last road trip of his life. He had bought an overpriced air pump in Genova – an amusing and slightly silly, but insignificant little detail of the trip. Yet, two months later, it was this very air pump that he searched for for hours, that he finally found, that he used to pump up his basketball, the basketball that he threw three, four times before collapsing to the ground, his heart aching in his beautiful chest, ready to stop forever. Back there in Italy I kissed and hugged my daddy goodbye, as he was going to leave for Istanbul and I was going back to Hamburg the next morning. It was a warm late summer night in the heart of Genova. I remember my eyes following him until he disappeared around the corner, trying to keep his sight for as long as possible. The bass player of the band I had been giving concerts with for the past few days stood next to me and said: “I don’t think you know how incredibly lucky you are to have a father like that.” And I said: “Oh, I think I am. At least I hope I am grateful enough.” In my stomach were those needles of fear again, fear of this luck being taken away from me. That was the last time I ever saw my father. Back then I did not know how much my life would change, how much I would change in just two month’s time.
I am in between. The bathroom needs a good cleaning. I need to write a paper, a deadline is approaching. And I need milk.