It’s a month today since we buried my father. He was 94 years old and so we had good cause to celebrate his life. I have learned so much from his death and burial, but especially about how we can live a life to the fullest even in the final stages, and how grief is a reality we create for ourselves – it is not something imposed on us from outside.
I had wondered over the last few years how I would feel when Dad died. But of course we cannot know what the future holds, and I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out I only felt a little bit sad. Then I caught myself thinking that I was having to be strong for my step-mum and that maybe it would hit me later.
But it hasn’t hit me yet, and maybe it won’t. And why should it? I was very blessed to have Dad and my step-mum living close to me for the last three and a half years. I spent a lot of time with him. My sisters and cousins came to visit and so I saw more of them too. Dad was delighted to move to Bedford – he loved the river and the parks and all our beautiful trees. He only wished he’d come sooner.
And I have found so many reasons to celebrate his life. I have learned things in the last few months that I either never knew or had forgotten. My sister has posted lots of old family photos on Facebook and has started investigating our family tree (what a lot of surprises there are there!). There are so many funny stories about things Dad did when we were younger. He was very inventive and quite a maverick, with a zany sense of humour. So we have been mining a rich seam.
Then perhaps most important of all was that in the last year, Dad seemed to have decided that he wanted to really enjoy life, and that meant putting his anxiety to one side in order to get the most of every day. He was no longer able to walk more than a few steps, but he was happy to suffer the discomfort of being wheeled along Bedford’s bumpy paths and pavements in order to indulge his passion for coffee and watching the ducks and swans.
When he finally found himself in hospital with a broken leg he remained resolutely cheerful, enjoying the attention of the nurses and the stream of visitors. His only complaint was that lying in bed all day wasn’t really his kind of lifestyle.
The funeral was perhaps the best funeral I have ever attended. There were children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews and family friends. There was such a strong sense of love and connection with Dad’s presence at the centre of it.
So what I have learned from all this is that I haven’t truly “lost” my father – he lives on in all of those whose lives he touched. That it is possible to change even at the great age of 94. That each of us exists within a network of connection which supports and nurtures us – we just need to learn to tap into that network and enjoy what it brings. And perhaps most of all that I am living the reality that I create from the inside-out. And my reality is that this time grief can be gentle and restorative.