November has arrived in Saskatoon, bringing the first snowfall, and the dark mornings and evenings of Winter. There’s a miasma of sorrow that coats this month; it’s the month of All Souls, the month that remembers those who have died in the service of their country, and it’s the month that holds the anniversary of the death of my father. He died sixteen years ago today, fracturing our lives into the Before and After of bereavement, and while the old adage that time heals holds true at many levels, he is missed today as much as during the years that have gone before this. My father, Sean, was only fifty-four when he died. The passing of time brought colour back to the monotone that characterized the early days of grief, and now, as a wife and mother, I grieve more for what he lost than for what I lost. He never met his sons- and daughter-in-law. He never attended our weddings, and rejoiced in the birth of our children. The fact that he never knew what it was like to be a grandfather is a hard pill to swallow. He should have had years more; years of being part of our families, of enthralling and terrifying our children in equal measure, of teaching them all that he learnt throughout his life. Years of trips to the beach, hammering in windbreaks, swearing at the sand in the food, playing soccer at the edge of the sea. Years of arguing with us, laughing with us, pissing us off, driving the neighbours mad with the music blasting from his car as he arrived home. There were so many good and bad times left to come; so much love and laughter, trials and tears that he missed out on, and I resent his passing at so many levels.
We always thought of him as invincible, even as his health worsened. He was the most stubborn, impossible man to have ever walked the earth, and would argue that black was white until the cows came home. He never wanted to go the the hospital, and would fight with us the whole way through a cardiac event. “Ring Liz!” would be his final shot. Liz, the nurse, the Medical Oracle. “Hi, Liz. Dad is having a heart attack, doesn’t want us to call an ambulance. Whaddya think?” “Ah sure, tell him to take some paracetemol, he’ll be grand”. “Dad, Liz said to take paracetemol, you’ll be grand”. “Oh, okay then, call the ambulance”. Black humour permeated all those years. Conversations that began with “When I die…” and descended into hilarity. He was a terrible patient. We always knew when he was getting better, as the nurses started to tear their hair out and he became more grumpy and outrageous by the minute. He was always champing at the bit to get home to his out-of-hospital dinner of steak and chips. He lived and breathed soccer, was a voracious reader, loved working with his hands. The day before he died, he went to the pub with my brother and a gang of the lads, and watched his beloved Liverpool thrash Manchester United. They all arrived home that evening, noisily euphoric, bonded with the glue of a common enemy. It was a perfect day; the kind of day that made the news of his death so utterly shocking to everyone the next day. To go from life to death so suddenly seems impossible. I always remember the open book at the side of his bed, his newly-acquired reading glasses beside it, the heart-rending realisation that life could stop in the middle of a page.
Being so far away from family today is strange. I woke up to memories and musings on our family Facebook page, and cried while the others had moved on to their afternoon outing to the woods and the beach. They’ll draw the curtains on the end of this day, while I will still quietly slip between the present and the past. I don’t know what he would have thought about our move to Canada. Whether he would have visited us and insisted on trying out hunting, fishing and ice hockey. I’d love to know what the people of Saskatoon would have made of him; a big man with a beard and a hat, larger-than-life and interested in everything, with the Dublin sense of humour running through his veins. He loved the Dubliners, the Wolfe Tones, the Fureys; we could sit in the kitchen and hear the car coming from the end of the road, with him bellowing along with Luke Kelly about Dublin in the Rare Oul Times. My sister Louise posted this in his memory today, from one of his favourite singers:
His funeral was a frequent topic of conversation. He wanted the hymn Amazing Grace to be part of the ceremony; he said he liked thinking of himself as the “wretch”, although I suspect it was because someone had told him years ago that it’s a Protestant hymn. A last rebellion. He wanted us to knock on the coffin before we left him, to make sure that he didn’t knock back. We laughed about that every time, but standing beside his coffin that day and knocking as he had asked was crucifying. “It’s not funny now, is it?!”, I wanted to shriek, furious with him for not being invincible, for joking with us for so long about something that lost any humour when the unimaginable happened. The most important request was for “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the Liverpool anthem, and a song that still buries me with both hope and grief every time I hear it. He was carried out of the church to the sounds of the choir singing it (school children from my sister’s school, gleeful at the chance to sing outside of the repertoire of hymns, blissfully, thankfully untouched by the grief of the day). We would have preferred 95,000 Liverpool fans, but that might have been seen as pandering too much to his whims :
When you walk through a storm
hold your head up high
and don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky
and the sweet silver song of the lark.
Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
and you’ll never walk alone.
You’ll never walk alone.
Sean Fitzpatrick 1943 – 1997
Thanks for the memories
All my love, always