I left the shop a little after 9 last night. I drove back along quiet streets like an automaton, acting and reacting as I needed to but my brain in park. I stopped by the local supermarket near where I’m living to pick up something to eat. I got back to the house at about 9.40. It was dark, the street as quiet as I’m used to, but I was surprised to find my sister’s car wasn’t in the driveway.
The TV was on inside, but there was no-one about. That’s not unusual. I patted Rigby, put my things down, then heard my sister return.
She was in a state. There was something about her in disarray. She had gone down the shops with clothes pulled on over her night gear. She’d gone to buy a packet of cigarettes because she needed it. As she whispered to me she poured a glass of sherry for herself.
I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but whatever it was it was urgent. She was relieved to see me, that much I knew. Without knowing why I followed as she hustled me outside into the cool, dark night.
Her first words shocked me: “D is dead”. I stood letting that sink in. D was her ex-husband. It was shocking to realise that he was gone. I’d known him well obviously. He was younger than me. All that went in me, but while I was shocked I was somehow not surprised.
D had lived unhealthily ever since I knew him. He drank way too much too often. He smoked too much. He kept irregular habits. He was highly strung.
About 4 years ago – was it 5? – he left my sister and went to live with a woman he had met through Facebook. She lived in Sheffield. Everything had seemingly happened so quickly that I didn’t know it was to be the final time the last time I saw him. He had gone and never returned.
Last year he’d had a stroke that had left some of his speech affected. He could not articulate the same even to write. He had given up the binge drinking apparently, but the writing was there to be seen. Now it had happened – a massive coronary.
I was shocked, but of course my sister was much more deeply affected. We spoke of it a while as she sucked on a cigarette. She was as unsettled as I can ever remember her. What do I tell the kids, she wondered.
After some consultation she decided to tell the kids there and then. She gathered them into the family room. It was about 10.15. They knew something was up. This was unusual, and mum was acting strange. One even asked if his father was dead. That was disconcerting.
She told them as I sat there watching. She did it well. It’s not an easy conversation to have and the best and easiest for all is just to say it. She did, and went on as the kids reacted, filling the space with her voice as she said things and said them again rambling a little now, nervous with it, unsure, distraught, unwilling for the silence to permeate and wanting to support her children, to tell them how much he had loved them and how now he was in a better place and it was ok to be sad, let it out…
R my younger nephew, he who had asked the question buried his head in his hands and covered his ears. He bowed to the distress, feeling the size of it abruptly, uncertain it could be so but knowing it was. When he looked up his eyes were rimmed red.
My other nephew was still as if he was absorbing it. Gradually it began to leak out of him. He wanted to know, but his voice broke, and tears came to his eyes slowly.
Only my niece was unaffected, too young to remember her father or have any real conception what the loss meant.
I watched knowing it but feeling slightly apart from it. It made me remember how important things are, which is a prosaic but honest truth. I thought of the people I had known who had died, but looking at my young nephews knew it did not equate with losing a father so young, even one absent as he was. What a gaping hole that must suddenly appear.
I thought of my father then with a mixture of feelings, acknowledging him as that, as someone even though we are not close but immense still in the scheme of things. And briefly, regret that he was never the father I would truly mourn when he goes.
Finally and as the cliché goes I thought of myself in light of someone dying so young. It’s a reminder of the fragility of life. We were never mates, but we shared good times. We were different types, but I knew him well. He had his flaws, was fundamentally weak natured, but now he was gone, and it seemed like a sad and miserable end, a cautionary tale.
He was not father to me, or husband, but still all the same it’s a feeling knowing that someone you knew well for so many years, who was part of the fabric through that time, is now gone, never to be again.