I’ve been thinking a lot about my father recently. More, probably, than when he was alive. The fourth anniversary of his death was a few weeks ago and I guess that leads my thoughts to him, although I don’t see why. If someone was important to your life a date doesn’t make any difference.
It was 4am when my brother called to tell me our father had died. I got dressed and drove to the care home he’d been in for the last few weeks of his life. I arrived with the dawn chorus. My mother insisted I look at his corpse, I don’t know why. I didn’t want to. My mother is insane. She’s become more so without him. Insaner. Some baby rabbits hopped around outside the window. My father’s nickname, Krulik, is the Polish for rabbit, because he could run quickly when he was young. My sister-in-law insisted they were a sign from him. Maybe from Him. Maybe she meant that my father had been reincarnated as one of those rabbits, I don’t know. People, let me tell you, can behave oddly around death. My older brother gave me evils, which has continued to this day. His wife found a feather and told everyone it was from an angel’s wing. Jesus. I promise, this is going to get funnier, bear with me. Well, I can’t promise funny. It becomes more surprising, maybe. To me, anyway. I wasn’t expecting this.
I drove home, went for a fry up, changed into more formal clothes, and returned for the funeral. Jewish people are buried the same day, if possible, as they die. My father was a garrulous man. I’ve written more about him here. He led a sociable life and was very popular. Two hundred people came that day. His friends, in their eighties, had been his family since his parents and sister were murdered during the Second World War. His friends are my family, too. I don’t see them very often. Ziggy and Jan and Ben and the rest. Ben’s wife, Arza, continued a conversation I’d had with her on the phone a couple of days earlier about how she would have cared for my father differently. She reminded me she was right and I wasn’t. She was trying to be kind, I think.
It was all, as I’m sure you can imagine, intense. I carried on shaking peoples’ hands. There was lots of hugging. It was good. A man, early thirties, who I didn’t recognise, approached and took my hand. And held on to it. He was pudgy, soft as unbaked bread. His goatee was neat and the same pinky-beige as his skin. His hand was damp. He put his other clammy paw on top of mine and left that there, too. He looked into my eyes like Kaa. His sister, who looked exactly like him but without a goatee, stood behind, watching over his shoulder: Wednesday Addams. They both wore black trench coats. They were a matching pair.
He introduced himself. He was the son of people I’d met only once, many years earlier. He continued to talk, in a low murmur. I felt a nervous panic rise in my throat. What’s going on, I wondered. But I was off my guard. I was all over the place, really. He told me he’d see me later and disappeared. Well, that’s over fanciful. That day was dramatic enough not to invent things. He moved away and someone else came and took my hand, said something kind.
There was a service, then more prayers at the graveside. I threw a handful of earth onto my father’s coffin and I can still hear the dull thud as it landed. This may sound slightly bloodless, but I understood what was going on, why I felt overwhelmed. It was ok to be emotional. I didn’t feel embarrassed to cry. It felt normal. People tried to comfort me, but comfort wasn’t what I needed or wanted. It was a time, one of the few in my life, to let down my defences and not hide what I was feeling. If you can’t cry at your father’s funeral, when can you?
I walked away from my father’s graveside, gathering my thoughts, wanting a moment by myself. I felt a hand on my shoulder. My new friend had caught up with me. People streamed past us, salmon around a rock. He paused, made me stop. He turned me to look at him. His pinhead eyes looked into mine. His sister was there, watching, three feet behind. I was prepared for some words of sympathy. I spent the week saying thank you, so kind. He took a breath. So, he asked, do you live nearby? And that’s why I love sympathy.
ps. I struggled with the title of this. What else could I call it? …Funerals? …Mourning? …Inappropriate passes? I want this blog to be, essentially, positive. It was …Sympathy for a while but no one wanted to read it. So it’s now …Love (II), with a new picture, because there’s a …Love which I hope you’ll like, too (II).