My friend David is big and tall, strong and determined. He’s taken on governments, unions and businesses and he sets public opinion for a living.
Yet when his father died, many years after his mother, we walked along the cliff top over the beach and with tears in his eyes, he said he was adrift. He was an orphan, with no link to his past and no barrier to his own future mortality.
At the time, although I heard his words and felt his pain, I didn’t understand his orphaned state. Even when my mother died soon after, almost 5 years to the day after my father, I did not at first feel orphaned.
Grief is a funny thing— it is amorphous, elusive; it takes on shapes we don’t foresee, and hijacks us in forms we thought were friendly. The glimpse of a beautiful bush from a car brings pain because she used to grow it with pride.
At first, you think you’re surprisingly fine. You’re completely absorbed by the voyage you’ve accompanied them on, down into the passage of death, your fingertips touching theirs until, like wisps of mist, they dissolve.
Your parent still travels with you; your heart is inside them, taken with them, held close by them, as theirs is in you.
This love affair proceeds calmly for months. Their presence is everywhere. The weft of their love still bears you. At times, small obstacles cause disproportionate angst. Discomfort sits like a boil beneath the skin and is unexpectedly lanced in gushing outbursts by traffic jams and kind strangers.
Time passes, work continues, rituals close like water over their absence. But somehow, the fridge is hard to fill. Appointments are mysteriously forgotten. The car is a trial to drive. Films can’t be reached. In bed, you toss, your heart soggy with the pathos of their dreams, their life stories, their deep appreciation of life well lived, of sun and friends, garden and spouse, now all finished and gone, with them.
Then one day, you notice your hands - from slim and firm, they are becoming embryonic copies of mum's. Your thighs have the look of hers as you bathed her in those final months. You falter on a step because you’re too lazy to take your reading glasses off, and the grief takes your breath away, because she, blinded by macular, faltered too.