The day after Dad died, I sent a bcc’d email to my friends – the people who needed to know, the people who had been checking in on me. I spent some time considering the words. I made sure to say died, instead of passed away because Mum can’t stand the metaphors.
Technology feels inappropriate to deal with death, but I didn’t want to repeat the news too often and they are live-streaming funerals now, so email is acceptable.
We have been surprised by the ways grief has worked on us. We worry we aren’t doing it right. I long for a Victorian guide to appropriate mourning.
I’ve started reading Dad’s copy of Brideshead Revisited, which I first read as a teenager. I did my dissertation on it at my London arts college and dreamed of having the grades and inclination for Oxford. I remember talking about it with Dad. I remember the two father characters particularly vividly. I remember thinking it was Dad’s favourite book, then realising it wasn’t his, it was mine.
Mum asks if it is comforting to know that he held the book in his hands, to know that he turned over all the pages. And it is. I hold them gently. I do not fold the corners. I am careful not to crack the spine.
But the words are comforting too in their familiarity. I know the locations, the characters. I know what will be said, and what will remain unspoken. I know how and when it will end.
Waugh wrote Brideshead in the final years of World War II when, as now, existence was upside down. In Dad’s edition, there is a preface by the author explaining that the text is in some ways a memorialising of the pre-war years, written out of a grief that things could not possibly return to the way they were.
I tend to read it in the afternoon. At night I am too distracted. At night, I worry about the last things I said to him. The last time we spoke on the phone. The last text.
When Dad left home for the hospice, we thought (or maybe, hoped) that it would be a short stay. And as Mum greeted the paramedics at the door I took his hand and said, It will be ok. I said, I’ll see you when you get home.
But he never came home.
And it was not ok.
And things could not possibly return to the way they were.
A version of this post was sent by email on the 26th April 2020 as part of Internet Care Package – a weekly memoir project in the form of a newsletter. It also includes links to the best things I’ve found on the internet each week and occasional updates on my theatremaking. This blog is a select archive of those emails. Subscribe to get them right in your inbox.