Dearly Beloved and Lost

Emily explains why this time of year, when her dad passed away, is still the hardest to get through.

Truth be told, I was dreading this time of year anyway. I used to love it: the slow realisation that winter is nearly over, evenings are getting lighter, and the first signs of spring start poking their brightly coloured heads above the frozen crusted earth all filled me with joy. It was a time of rebirth and renewal of life. But not for me anymore.

Not for the last ten years anyway. Ten years. It sounds like a long time, like I should be over it, but although my dad's death was a decade ago it changed our lives in an instant and forever.

The first trigger is the email reminder from synagogue of my dad's yahrzeit (the Jewish annual memorial remembering loved ones), which I have to forward to my mum and sister to confirm dates. It's without doubt, the worst email I send all year... "Dearest mum & b, sorry to send this but please see attached.. love u.." it's just awful.

Opening Pandora's Box

It opens a Pandora's Box of emotions that I normally keep tightly tucked away. Out comes the little dagger twisting in each of our hearts as we're reminded of that awful moment, then in swift succession, those awful moments, the phone call from my mum in tears, my frozen state in the taxi cab, his lifeless body and the subsequent body bag leaving our house with him inside, the cries of my then six year old nephew at the funeral as the coffin withdrew, the silent tears that fell down & splashed my new-born baby's face as I breastfed him in the midnight darkness and on and on.

The date was in March, beware the Ides of March as Shakespeare says, and it approaches each year like a looming black cloud. Most of the year my mum proclaims it's no different to any other day living without her deepest love but will invariably crumble on the day, my sister will work through it with silent tears and I will also cover up until the three of us can get together and huddle (Shakespeare's three witches springs to mind!), but we are simply the only three people in our world who truly understand each other's loss. The loss of our core family, the loss of naive uncomplicated happiness and the loss of laughter - my dad was a funny man full of joy and puns and, growing up, our home was filled with a lot of laughter - I miss that.

And then, as sure as night follows day, a few funny moments pop into my head. Some of his wittier (unprintable) comments, some of his features, his wonderful, kind smiling face, the mischievously twinkly eyes and smile lines, his shiny bald head and his wonderful strong arms always ready for a supportive hug.

Learning to Live with Grief

There's no 'cure' for grief but in my experience while you don't 'get over it', you do learn to live with it. There are few more annoying phrases than 'time is a healer' but that's possibly because it is, for the most part, true.

While the death of a loved one changes you and your world forever, by the sheer fact of night following day, you do end up learning to slowly pick up the pieces, pull your life back together and keep going - even if initially that's only for the sake of those around you. But I've also come to realise over the years that it is kind of comforting - and probably healthy - to really indulge in feeling the poignancy of that loss every so often and remember how great a contribution the people we've lost, made to our lives.

So for a tenth time, althought we cannot go to the yahrzeit this year, we will indulge in our grief and our memories on the day and reschedule the mention in the service for another time when we are allowed to go. It's the only public reminder and acknowledgement of my dad now, well that and the crematorium plaque which we will also visit that reads "most beloved and forever in our hearts." So that's where we three met while we were still allowed. Tears but no hugs. Social distancing at a crematorium. Strange times indeed.


If you'll allow me to indulge in my original metaphor one step further - as I feel it's particularly apt at this strange time - let's not forget that the last item of Pandora's Box was hope. As I delve into my memories and recall some of those precious moments that made life so wonderful with him, sad though they are, they start to make me smile. Similarly, we can only hope that once Coronavirus and the drastic life changes that this pandemic wreaks will also bring some silver linings to our world. Hopefully we will be able to smile and laugh together again before too long.

I leave you with three of my favourite memories of my dad - which I hope will make you smile too. I think we all need to smile right now.

1. My dad's happy face when sitting in the garden in the sun reading the papers, slathering Ambre Solaire on his bald head (It was a 70s thing)- and subsequently when it burnt, comedically sporting a white pate covered in Nivea.

2. My dad's decidedly iffy DIY efforts - from a rabbit hutch that my sister and I could both fit inside, to a home-made BBQ that he stoically continued to use long after he realised his mistake of building it at genital-burning height.

3. And his classic comment to me during my teenage years - "Darling, I don't need to know everything, but you can always tell me anything."