Good Grief

Mum and I stood in the aisle of the too-bright warehouse supermarket, you know the one, back then it was painted in ripe-banana yellow with no-nonsense black lettering on all its signage. It was eight o’clock or something close on a Monday evening. We were both exhausted by long hours at the hospital, sitting with my dad, whom I hadn’t seen conscious since two months before. I’d been back in town for a week. I’d held his hand more often and more tightly in those seven days than at any other time in our lives together.

When her phone rang and Mum answered in English, I knew it was the hospital. Her face blanched, ghostly and shocked. Beyond her greeting, she didn’t say another word. She thrust her tiny flip phone at me and I stared at her numbly as I spoke through stiff lips.

I was right. My dad had passed.

I know someone who fiercely detests euphemisms for death. She believes we should always and only say that someone died, not passed on, not passed away, not now beyond this vale of tears. While I admire her deep devotion to plain speaking, I don’t share her opinion nor her practice.

My dad passed on to his next life on May 15th, 2000.

I like to think his poor, tortured soul was reborn into a large, boisterous, loving family. I’m not sure I can say that he earned a better life, but that’s what I hope for him. Dad was a complicated man of long silences, with deep secrets and debilitating regrets. I never learned even a tenth about him before he died. He wanted it that way, I guess, or perhaps, he just never found the strength to share.

I don’t usually mark the date of Dad’s death. I don’t need to remember it.

I’ve always preferred to mark Dad’s birthday, though, naturally, that comes with its own entanglement of emotions. Remember what I said about his secrets? I didn’t discover my father’s true date of birth until I’d lived two decades with him.

But yesterday, during a lovely, long conversation with a beautiful, intelligent friend, we touched on grief and I suppose it rang the little bell inside my head. I woke up this morning thinking of Dad’s death. Or, maybe more accurately, with grief on my mind.

It’s happening all around us right now, in all the worst, most painfully personal ways and in all the worst, most painfully general ways. People are grieving anew. We’re grieving things that will never happen or exist. We’re grieving things we’ll never have again. We’re grieving loved ones and acquaintances and the end of some of our communities.

We’re all losing something now, aren’t we?

Nobody gets to tell you how to grieve. Nobody gets to tell you when to stopper your grief. It’s not a substance we concoct and then consume at will. It’s an ocean beneath us that sometimes surrounds us, getting into our mouths and up our noses and plugging our ears, stinging our eyes.


Grief lives in the spaces between and I’m grateful that it never leaves. I’m grateful to feel sorrow 20 years later. It’s not fresh, but it’s just as profound.