I may have lost my father twenty-five years ago, but no-one told me about the complicated nature of grief.
I dreamed about my father last night. It was a dream I know well: the one where he shows up at our family home to explain that he has been alive all along, and there is a very simple reason why he couldn’t come back to us sooner.
My father died a quarter of a century ago — so, as the years go by, the explanations become less believable, the family home changes and my dream father grows older. But the dream remains. The glimmer of hope has long since faded with his memories, but still, the dreams come.
I first had this dream a few days after my father’s funeral — and I never imagined it would continue to haunt me decades later. There are so many things about grief that no-one told me.
I didn’t know you could grieve for someone your entire life, even though you were only 11 years old when they died. No-one tells you that this grief can surface again when you become an adult, thrusting you into a deep depression. Or that the sudden scent of a marker pen that smells like his office can hit you like a sucker punch to the stomach.
No-one tells you that the day when the amount of time you have spent without him surpasses the amount of time you spent with him is a terribly sad day. No-one warns you that you can suddenly cry for the person you lost years ago as though it was yesterday.
No-one warns you that you can suddenly cry for the person you lost years ago as though it was yesterday.
No-one tells you that twenty years after your father has died, when you have to attend a funeral of someone else’s father, you will collapse in tears at the sight of the coffin. Your friends might not think to accompany you to this funeral, because no one told them that you’re still in lifelong grief and funerals will always be unbearable.
No-one tells you that you will feel the pangs of loss every time you travel — because your Dad travelled the world when he was the same age as you and you just wish you could tell him about it. No-one says anything about the imaginary conversations you’ll have with him in your head, year in and year out, as you follow in his footsteps and try to see the world through his eyes.
You don’t know yet that you will become obsessed with tracking down people who knew him in remote countries. Or that when the search proves fruitless, you will grieve all over again for all the missing pieces of the puzzle that you’ll never be able to fit together.
No-one tells you that the words “My father died when I was a child” will gradually become less difficult to say out loud, but will never ever be painless.
And no-one tells you about 25 years of dreams.