My father died
when I was 24 and I was furious with God. My sister looked more like his side of the family, I like my mother’s but inside (see annalog/outside and in) I was him and she was she and it only became more so as we grew older. I didn’t read anything about bereavement until years later but I recognised all the stages and the terrible impotence. Gone is gone. Except that my father had made me a promise.
Recently Wal described to me that the memories of his beloved long dead mother – indeed the visualisation of her hands – is one of the few things that holds him steady in a world he increasingly dislikes. I am sure he is not alone in that though he used a phrase when we were talking one evening which shook me.
“It’s the death of beauty” he said.
The perception of beauty is very personal, the word frequently misused and it means different things to different people. I shrank from the phrase which I could understand intellectually but my perception is that beauty is always there, the recognition of it is a strength and I have to find it – a bird’s feather, a child’s fingers, a particular quince, the sky at five. Still, he feels differently.
Wal is travelling to supervise the decoration of a wealthy client’s house in Washington DC which represents some upheaval. He will be away from Howard with whom he has lived for 25 years and their complementary vagaries, he will be away from his home which like most of us, he cherishes, away from his beloved dogs. “ And what do I do if I lose those hands ?” he said to me.
I assured him he won’t. “Are you sure ?” he asked. While we have great differences, we also have deep sympathies – in the true meaning of the word. “Yes” I said. “I am sure.” And he asked why.
I told him again (we repeat at intervals and make room for it, friends do) about when my father died and how bereft I was. “But he promised that he would never leave me. I must have looked at him puzzled and asked what he meant. “When you put your hands up in the air, above your head” he explained “that’s not just air. That’s me.” And no, I didn’t try it out. But I became aware of it. Your security is your security, and mine, thank you heaven, is mine.
I would be speaking somewhere and I would feel him near. He was a big man and he stood behind me, sometimes I could feel his breath on my hair, his forearms parallel with mine. I never turned round to check. If he said he was there, he was there.
And you can imagine the vividity of my recognition when I saw a man pushing around an elderly dog this week, watched, tried to leave it and then stood summoned and felt rather than heard my father’s voice (way down in the chest) speak in very much in my father’s terms out of my mouth -“Leave him alone, you bastard” I roared. “He’s old and he’s doing his best – and you’ll be old one day.” (Bastard pronounced as if with a double “s”, only when he was truly angry.)
And there was a moment of “Goodness, what was that ?”, mine and other people’s, and then I walked away, looking back at the angle of the dog’s head, wholly used to abuse. All you can pray for is that the dog dies peacefully in his sleep. But I crossed the road smiling, lovely to know after all these years that a promise is a promise.
A couple of days later, when a very gifted friend of mine arrived with her arms full of roses from the garden (I swear they grow in the snow for her) she told me that she had managed to mend fences
with her new daughter in law, after seeing a shade (her word) round her that she recognised – my friend’s punitive mother and her daughter in law’s ditto – and asking her about it. And out of that exchange, they managed to be open and move forward, good for both of them and everybody else concerned.