2nd October 2019, nearly two months since my dad passed away and just over a month since I returned to Japan, I had a weird start to the day.
I woke up not long after 5am from a pretty horrific nightmare. I’ve been blessed/ cursed with extremely vivid dreams since I could remember. They’re often so clear that it feels like I’m remembering a real event rather than random occurrences from my sleeping mind. My ability to recall uncanny amounts of detail can, at times, be pretty stressful. My nightmare from a couple of weeks ago was no different. To avoid an intrusive plunge into the psyche of a mourning 22-year-old, I’ll leave it at the nightmare was horrible, very vivid and involved the loss of my dad.
I woke up crying and feeling pretty scared; very quickly becoming aware that I was all alone in a house up a mountain, in the dark, on the other side of the world from my main people of support. I managed to call a friend back home in the UK who was driving home at around 9pm his time. We chatted for a while and he chilled me out.
After getting off the phone, I got dressed and went for a walk down to the sports ground by my house. The colours of sunrise were spreading across the sky above the trees when I stepped outside. I hurried a little higher up the mountain for a better view and the beauty and grandeur of it all left me a little awestruck. The sky started off blue and purple like an 80’s synth-wave album cover before it warmed to the fireside brushstrokes of oranges and pinks.
Then I headed down to the sports ground and listened to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack as I walked. I was reading the Fellowship of the Ring at the time and looking back, the timing of it seems pretty relevant. Not only does the book create one of my favourite fantasy worlds but, this time round, I noticed myself finding comfort in the story. I’ve loved the story since I was young, but as the narrative continued, I always felt bogged down by the quest (some parts of the Two Towers and definitely in Return of the King) like I too was trudging that long laborious path to Mordor.
Reading the story at this time in my life has brought about a new perspective and I’m experiencing it in a very different way than before. The story feels a lot closer to home, almost corporeal. My once lesser favourite member of the fellowship, Frodo, has become quite relatable. The detail present in the book compared to film, the insight into his mind as well as the links that I can now make between our positions has brought me closer to his character.
I too have left the Shire, the comfortable paradise of home and now, facing the biggest loss of my life so far, I share in Frodo’s complete overwhelm, vulnerability and struggles against negativity. All of a sudden these once narrative tropes have unfortunately materialised into very real issues.
The long-term perseverance required of Frodo is another comparable burden and to some degree, is something that we all share. For me, it is accepting that mourning is not something that you ‘get over’ after a certain amount of tears. It is instead, a realisation that could come round the corner at any moment- a smell, the window in a classroom that he sat by a few months earlier, films we watched together, songs, random flashing thoughts that my dad won’t be there to see me get married or have a kid or to catch up on what I’ve been up to when I come home for Christmas. Like the One Ring, there are days when the weight of loss sits heavier than usual.
Tolkien also helps me realise, or remember, that support from friends and strangers is not only helpful but necessary. Even though there are times when Frodo is surrounded by friends and still feels alone, the story would be a much darker and shorter tale without the fellowship. My friend from the UK pulled over in Halfords car park to talk me through the nightmare and while soothing me out of a hyperventilating panic added a little light back into the room, just like Galadriel’s Star of Eärendil.
Phone-calls to check in with my mum and sister, people that relate most closely to what I’m going through, and listening to them vent or just catch up on the everyday logistics of dealing with the loss reminds me of how far away I am, but also how close. I share updates and conversations that would be difficult to hold with many other people with my beautiful, nurturing and wise Legolas, now living in Chicago. Legolas in Chicago would be a very interesting twist to Tolkien’s tale.
I also have support available from some insanely positive hobbit-like friends living not so far away in Kagoshima. Their abundance of warmth and positivity is always on offer. Then there are consistent, random messages that pass between me and my childhood best friend, the Pippin to my Merry or the Merry to my Pippin, depending what mood we’re in. Check-ins from other friends and family members at home and in Japan, like my aunties, my dad’s best mate, my Japanese host family and so many other people have made me very aware of the power of just knowing that people are there; even if, like Frodo, there are times that the insidious workings of the Ring can make you forget it.
On top of all this I’ve had the most amazing support from one friend in particular. My Samwise, Aragorn and Tom Bombadil all in one. He was there long before I got the news, supporting me through the usual trails and tribs of everyday life all the way back to high-school and then the stresses of living away from home. Despite coming to the end of his trip to Japan at the time we got the news, he changed his flights to stay with me. He took on the task of supporter without question or hesitation and his consistent positivity, drive and unconditional support could never be repaid and he would never expect it to be. My gratitude to him is amaranthine and so by nature is one of the few things in my life that I’m unable to articulate.
To friends of grieving people, be there. You are a light brighter than you know. Override those ‘I don’t know what to say’ thoughts and be there. Above all your presence is needed most and it’s needed consistently. Be the Star of Eärendil for someone.
To grieving people, there is no measure for your pain and it will vary from day to day. Be accepting of your emotions and accountable for your actions. Do what feels right for you and give yourself time and tenderness to heal. Remember that while the relationship you’re grieving may have come/ be coming to an end, that you are able to mourn it because it is something beautiful.
The biggest support for you is yourself. I tell myself often that grief is the feeling of a displaced excess of love. Use that excess on yourself and those around you. Use that love to nurture the parts of the person you’re grieving that still exist.
My dad exists in my sister, in her memories of him, her dramatic outbursts and impatience with incompetence, her powerhouse levels of motivation and her inspiring beauty. He exists in my mother’s boundless ability to nurture and sacrifice, in her understanding and patience and in her passion. He also exists shaking his head at her inability to make decisions.
My dad exists in me. In my love of sci-fi, my sarcasm, drive, self-acceptance, confidence and my self-made sound effects, which the kids I teach find very amusing-PITCHEWWW.
On 2nd October I woke crying to a horrific nightmare, it was not the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last. There are times when it feels like every day I stumble into is a nightmare with my mind snagged by bad memories or realisations.
It is not a nightmare.
I know that my life is a blessing. I have so much to be grateful for and try to write a list as often as I can. Life is definitely more difficult now, but I am also grateful to have that life to struggle through. I gaze more widely at every cloud circling the mountains of my rural town, sigh at every colour of sunset; for when everything else is grey, when food doesn’t have taste and music sounds dull, the beauty that I find hardest to ignore is the nature that I’ve found myself lucky to be surrounded by, in a place that my dad was proud to see me settled into.
It will get better. Over time I will remember my place as a force of nature, cultivated by everyone around me, including my dad. I will notice the inspiration that I instil in others with my strength and use whatever power I can to help whoever I can and to nurture those people especially who cared for me in my bruised state.
Stay positive, even when it seems impossible.