Grieving is a funny old process. You feel perfectly normal for hours on end and then, all of a sudden, you’re just submerged in sadness, and it might just last for five seconds or it might last for a lot longer and there seems to be no way of knowing which it’ll be.
Most of the time it’s fine I guess. And then sometimes it isn’t, and that’s how it’s meant to be.
The time I almost invariably start crying is in the shower. I suppose it’s the one time I don’t have background noise. I listen to podcasts while walking to the shower, and I turn them on again when I’m drying myself afterwards, but while I’m actually in the shower, it’s just me and my thoughts.
I cry for him and I cry for me. I cry that I won’t ever get to see him again, that I won’t ever say something that makes him laugh, or better, make him sit up in interest, because at the end of the day, I’m just a little boy who thinks his dad is the cleverest person he’s ever met and he just wants to please him. Death is very final. I already knew that, except I didn’t. I’ve known people who died before, but never anyone as close to me as my dad. I cry at the indignity of death, at the pain and powerlessness and discomfort of his last days. I cry because I know that I’ll die too. I cry because I didn’t say the goodbye I wanted to, and now I’ll never get the chance.
The last twice I saw my dad, I wanted to tell him two things.
My parents were both troubled by the fact that I’m not married and don’t have children and that I don’t have a mortgage. They wanted me not to be gay, and certainly not to live a gay life. But I remember my dad pleading with me when I came out to them not to allow it to be a barrier between me and them. I completely failed at that. I have a twenty-year habit of lying to my parents about my life and I’ve never really been able to break that habit. Back when I was twenty one, my dad asked me to talk to him more, not to let our relationship become the relationship that Gar has with his father in Philadelphia Here I Come. (Yes, my dad was the kind of person who referenced literature as a way to discuss emotion.) And ours was never as bad as the relationship Gar had with his father, but there was always a wall. A wall made of religion and sex. And I devastated my parents by doing a PhD and then not getting an academic job. They couldn’t understand why I went to Vietnam afterwards. They certainly couldn’t understand why I moved to my little house in Longford.
But I think Dad understood London. I was as honest as I could be with my parents. I told them I wanted to go and experience big city life and I wanted to write. Dad hadn’t approved of me leaving my job in Dublin so suddenly before I left for London, but he absolutely understood the desire to go to London and be a writer. He’d gone to London as a young man (among other adventures – I don’t know how many other young men from rural East Limerick went travelling around fascist Spain in the 1960s, but I’d bet he was one of the only ones.) He got it. He had nudge-nudge wink-wink conversations with me about how you could find anything you were interested in in a place like London. I don’t really know what he meant, but he was in favour of it.
And he understood wanted to go somewhere and write. He’d stopped in the last twenty-five years, but he used to write. I remember as a child my dad would shut himself in the spare bedroom with a typewriter. I don’t know what he wrote, other than that he sometimes sent radio plays off to the BBC. I don’t think anything ever came of them, but he liked the idea of me writing in London. I even told him that I was writing a book about walking the Camino and a young adult novel. My mother didn’t think much of either of these. I don’t think she’d consider either to be real writing, but my dad did, and every time we spoke, he’d ask “How’s the scribbling?” He was invested in this more than in anything I’d done since the 1990s. I even nursed the dream that maybe someday he could read something I’d written and maybe he would understand me a bit better and the wall between us might come down a bit.
He didn’t. The last twice I met my dad, I wanted to tell him two things. I wanted to tell him (1) I was happy in London and (2) that I was writing. I sat in the Mercy Hospital next to him as he was getting chemo the second last time I saw him. I squeezed his hand and told him about when I’d next be there, but I couldn’t tell him what I really wanted to say. And the next time I saw him was his last night alive, sitting next to him in hospital, and though he was weak and uncomfortable, he was able to have conversations. I only spoke to him about other people, not about me. I wasn’t brave enough to tell him what I wanted to. To tell him that I was OK, that I had found a good life. I didn’t know he’d be dead the morning after. I thought we still had a few days.
My brother asked if I wanted to give a eulogy from the altar at the funeral. It wouldn’t have been right. Dad’s funeral was very, very religious, exactly as he would have wanted it to be. There would have been no place for whatever godless tributes I could have offered. I waited.
Before leaving Ireland, I visited the graveyard. Finally, away from prayers and hymns and all the rest of the religious hubbub that separates me from my family, I could have a chat with my dad, as he lay in the ground. The clocks had changed and by the time I managed to go to the graveyard at 4:00 pm it was already kind of dark. I stood there. I cried and told him I was OK. I told him I was happy. I told him that London was good for me. I told him about being kissed and loved by men. I told him about what I’ve written. I was honest in a way I’ve never been.
I don’t think I believe in Heaven. I don’t know who or what I thought I was talking to through my tears in the dark drizzle of a Cork October Friday evening. But I needed to. And I’m glad I did.