A story of grief by a man and a boy
I went out for dinner with an old friend last night. Jackson wasn’t too pleased about me leaving the house, allegedly because he was concerned that it was my bedtime – it was 7p.m. Several weeks ago it wouldn’t have taken much effort for him to persuade me to stay. Although I have wanted to make more time to see people, I’ve rarely wanted to see anyone enough to either leave Jackson or to put on a show, acting cheerful for the benefit of whatever company I find myself in. Recently, however, I’ve felt a little different. I’ve realised that my friends will happily take me as I come; that they want to support Jackson and me, and that means they will take the rough times with the smooth. It has been a bit of a breakthrough, not least because part of me realised some time ago that I risked ostracising myself if I stayed away from everyone for too long. For once I felt relaxed about going out and I had a good time when I got there.
When I woke up this morning I was immediately reprimanded for not having gone to bed on time. It’s funny how children attempt to flip control over their parents from the moment they can talk, and that after that point they never really stop trying. Sometimes I catch myself bossing my own parents around and then see the placid, knowing look in their eyes, which says: ‘Just let him think he’s in charge and eventually he’ll tire himself out.’
‘You can’t go to bed when you meet your friends for dinner, Daddy!’ my three-year-old warned me sternly.
Next came the interrogation about who I was with.
‘Daniella,’ I explained.
‘You can’t see him, Daddy!’
I think it’s a pre-school boy thing to refer to everyone as ‘him’ and ‘he’ at Jackson’s age. I noticed a little girl in the park the other day doing exactly the same but in the feminine context. Deciding not to be dictated to about who I can and cannot see by a child not yet old enough to distinguish a man from a woman, I turned to my mother-in-law to engage in some adult conversation.
‘Do you remember Daniella?’ I asked her. ‘She was at Dessie’s funeral and at the birthday get-together we held for her last year.’
‘I do, yes,’ she replied. ‘We met one day when the two of you used to work together and Desreen and I brought Jackson into your office to say hello.’
I was eating my breakfast as we spoke and I suddenly felt my stomach turn with a pang of grief that I’ve become familiar with but not completely accustomed to. It’s a feeling I get when a different kind of loss hits me. We have pictures from our wedding day, from holidays and from other special occasions hanging all around the house. I think the photos I see every day may possibly make me remember Desreen most from those types of occasions. I think they may even possibly hinder me from recalling many of the more subtle moments we shared.
By the time we arrived on our honeymoon I’d already accepted that we would never experience our wedding day again. By the time the plane landed on a London airport runway I always knew that whatever holiday we had just been on was over. But when I’m reminded that my wife will never again do any of the casual things that are not immortalised on camera, I’m momentarily crushed. It feels like a kind of bite-sized grief. And in the moment when it pierces, its teeth are damn sharp.