Happy birthday! It’s been three years since you celebrated one- how crazy is that?
I wanted to write this because this year feels different than the others. It’s been a bit of a brain dump so probably not the most cohesive thing I’ve written, but I suppose that’s fine all things considered. I also know you’d probably be like, what the f**k are you doing being soft and writing like this, but, honestly, it’s one of the few things that helps so I’m running with it.
Three years on, I feel an expectation to be handling things, not to have handled it completely, but to have the grief under control to some degree. And yet it’s this quieter, more aching grief that I’m struggling with. The initial blow, I took head-on. I could plough through, keep distracted, cry a lot and it would be socially acceptable. But this grief feels trickier. It feels like management and maintenance rather than just survival and, I guess, that’s why I’m struggling with it.
I’m 25 now, I was 22 when you died, but I simultaneously feel:
8 and excited climbing trees while you play footie; 13 and terrified because I forgot to do the dishes before you got home; 15 and smug because we get to watch another B-movie sci-fi/horror instead of a rom-com; 18 and frustrated because we don’t see eye-to-eye; 20 and motivated to build on our relationship; 21 and reassured by your pre-Japan pep-talk; 22 and frustrated with an argument about veganism/ Russell Brand/ anything else; 24 and proud of all the lives you touched and the difficulties that you endured without me knowing; 25 and attentive because you’re advising me on my dissertation; 26 and crying because I want my dad; 30 and wishing you could meet the person I’m with or see the kid that I had or visit me in the new country I’m living in; 32 and drunk with you mooching around Liverpool; 60 and accepting, reminiscing on the amazing life you lived and how lucky I am for being a part and product of that life.
Feeling all of those feelings at once and also not feeling them (realising that there are events in my life that you won’t be there for) can be a lot to take sometimes.
These three years have taught me that loss isn’t just a dramatic poof out of existence; me screaming ‘what the f**k’ when mum told me you’d died, the numbness of the funeral, and people not knowing what to say. It’s more than that. It’s a continued balance between absence and presence. Accepting the time that I did have and celebrating it, embracing the version of you that I knew; while mourning the time that we didn’t have and the other versions I didn’t get to know.
This year round I’m frustrated. I’m fed up with looking at recycled pictures taken on phones with camera qualities three/ five/ten/twenty years old. Pictures that were ‘just taken’ have become cliche with no newer ones to replace them. So now, I take lots of pictures, mainly to help me remember things but also to remind myself that the world is still a beautiful place with some very special people.
I’m desperate. My memory of you is faded and I wake up sometimes forgetting your voice. When you first died you were in my dreams a lot. Fair dos, the dreams were horrific, but at least you were there. Now, if you are in my dreams, you’re quiet (which isn’t like you) and despite trying, I never quite manage to get to you.
I’m childish. ‘I want me dad’ is a phrase that replays in my head so much, especially when things are difficult. It doesn’t bring you back, but it reminds me that you were there. That there was a point when I felt safe, instead of being a girl alone in the world without her dad. And even though I hated it when you got protective, sometimes it’s nice to imagine you’re still here and ready to keep me safe from the bad guys.
I’m impatient. I’m trying to recognise how other people have scarred from your death. I’m trying to love them with those scars without reopening my own and it’s hard. When I stumble I’m so harsh with myself and that doesn’t help either. But in my impatience, I’m recognising how hard the situation is and how much I’m trying and I think, that, if nothing else, deserves some credit.
I’m self-conscious. Being down has made me pretty reclusive over the last few weeks. My messaging/planning has been atrocious and I’m constantly apologising for missed or late responses but most days the thought of looking at my phone is like a tidal wave. In that tidal wave come crashing waves of insecurity about my dissertation, intelligence, motivation, productivity, ability as a friend, personality, etc. Luckily, I have some very patient people in my life who reassure me and tolerate where I’m at. To those people – thank you so much.
I’m also comprehending. I guess what this three year mark has taught me is that time is relative. One day I’m three years on, another I’m twenty years ago and the next I’m five years ahead. There are days when I’m not going to consciously think of you and others when I’ll shoehorn you into every conversation. Days when I’ll watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or listen to Kodaline to reminisce. Days when I’ll sit in my car where you used to park and listen to your voicemail on repeat or run in the gym, despite the hip pain, listening to your funeral song. Days when I’ll use your memory to motivate, to guilt, or to comfort myself. Days when I’ll accept that you weren’t perfect and others where I’ll praise you to the heavens and accept absolutely zero criticism. Days when I’ll understand everyone copes differently and others when I’ll be mad at people for hindering the life they’re living now.
Finally, I’m reassured. This is year three. I’ve done two already and I’m still here. I have people around me who understand and, even if they don’t, they care.
I’m reassured in the knowledge that I’m always going to be your daughter and that in itself is a pretty cool flex. I’m reassured in myself too. You loved me for who I was and that’s built me into who I am. Like my weirdness for example. My random facts, complete lack of style, unreal appreciation for toilet humour, and obsession with zombies were taken completely in your stride.
I grew up weird and you loved it and, as a result, I love it too. Even though it hasn’t always been easy being different, it’s a decision that you nourished in me, a trait that I’m really proud of, and one that I love to nurture in other people.
So, dad, I guess happy birthday again. If I could get one message to you right now I’d say that I miss you so much, I wish you were here and I’m trying my absolute most to live a life that both of us would be proud of.
Love you loads,
Jessinka the Stinker