Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A la recherche d'un père perdu

It seems fitting that I've been in perpetual Winter since Dad passed. October 19th 2010 was cold, and rainy, interspersed with sun bursts that threw rainbows over the garden and fields behind our house. They did little to warm us, but did remind us to hold on through the Winter: which was very cold, and very bleak.

Then Alex and I went to Armenia and Georgia for three months, during their snow season. The people, very friendly (and very excited that two Europeans were learning Armenian instead of Russian) told us: Welcome! It's wonderful that you're here. But why in Winter? Come instead in Summer. ("Amarra, amarra"). The cold was biting: Alex and I lay in hotels at night with no heating, watching our breath draw shadows on the cold, and didn't remove our ski trousers for weeks.

Then we came to Namibia in July - the beginning of the European summer (but where was it this year?!) and realised that here the seasons were reversed and we'd landed in the middle of Winter. I didn't remove my coat for the first four weeks and we slept in our sleeping bags underneath duvets.

I didn't really mind the cold though. It felt good to be as physically uncomfortable as I was emotionally.

And now? The first anniversary is drawing near, and I am now re-living that awful month last year when Dad was very ill. Tomorrow (12th October) will mark the year anniversary of my last conversation with him, before the tumour haemorrhaged and he fell into a coma overnight, not really to return to consciousness. The last time I spoke to him, just as my parents were settling for the night, he told me that he was very proud of me, and held his hand against my face and said "and you're musical." I replied that he'd inspired my love of languages and travel, and joked that from Mum I'd got all my practical skills like budgeting. "Charming!" Mum replied, "all the romantic stuff she gets from you and the boring bits from me". Dad laughed. I told him then that Alex and I were going to have children in the next five years and that he'd definitely be there to see them and meet them - that we were going to fight the cancer and we weren't going to let it win. The doctors were wrong about their timelines - what do they know anyway? He smiled and said "God I hope so!"

I felt like I'd betrayed him when the doctor told us the next day that he wasn't going to wake up, like I'd given him false hope. I see now that being positive is good for patients but at the time it was cold comfort. A month after losing Dad, we started getting calls and emails from well-wishers saying they hoped we were 'getting back to normal now'. 'F*&$ off' we thought, you have no idea. Alex and I discussed how as soon as you mention you've lost a parent or had cancer in the family, you can see people visibly recoiling from you, like you're tainted. It's opened my eyes, for sure. When Alex lost his father, I tried my best to support him, but it's only now that I really understand what it must have been like for him - and his experience has made him the most amazing support.

I feel almost angry now that the anniversary is near, like with the passing of the 1 year mark, I'll somehow have moved past my Dad. That it's disrespectful somehow to start feeling less raw. Alex reassured me on that one: a year after his father had passed, he moved on somewhat from his grief, but not from his father. It's never going to be something that he'll feel good about, and he's always aware of an extra dimension of happiness that he can't access, but that it doesn't stop him enjoying his life fully and absolutely. It's a strange thing, losing a parent. Who else in the world loves you absolutely, totally, unconditionally? Dad told me that he didn't want me to be sad, but how am I supposed to feel good about losing him?

So, nearly a year on, am I 'better'? No, of course not, though I can now cope with my grief and intellectualise it, and appreciate the time I did have with my father - and I really realise that not everyone has a great father. The children here at the shelter testify to that, as do the marks on their backs and faces. So I know how lucky I am to have had my parents present in my life, giving me a great childhood and supporting me throughout. Dad's advice often sustains me now, though every time something goes wrong with the car, Alex and I both say we wish we could send him a text or give him a call.

It's Spring now in Windhoek, and it's absolutely stunning. The flowers are in bloom and the weather is getting hotter every day. The sky is always immaculately, breathtakingly blue.

I still feel a little in the cold, but I'm sure I'll warm up soon.


  1. Beautifully written post Linda - I'm sitting here in the office with tears welling up but it's worth it. Thank you.

    I am sad to hear that you and Alex feel that people recoil from you when they learn of your loss. Perhaps it stems from a very British response when faced with unbearable tragedy - that awkward not really knowing what to say. The chances are, they do care a great deal but are bad - sometimes very bad - at showing it.

    With much love to you both - and with continuing fond memories of your dad,
    Tori xxx

  2. Hey Tori,

    Thanks for your comment, and it's always nice to hear that people have fond memories of Dad (dancing at the wedding being among the more memorable, I'm sure!). I think you could be right regarding British awkwardness and perhaps as a nation we need to feel less awkward about expressing emotion.

    Anyway, I hope to catch you soon over google chat again, hope the preparations are going well...!

    Much love,

    Linda xx