Where do I start this week?
Well I was out walking in my midday lockdown excercise and as I approached the road a hearse passed with a flower corsage with DAD on top of a dark wood coffin. I automatically did the sign of the cross even though Im not really religious but thats what i was always told to do so i still do.
Anyway, what came back to me was somthing that has had a profound impact on my life. I thought id share that this week as it has had a lot to do with shaping me as a man and what i feel often leaves me in a tough spot emotionally even now.
When i was growing up my uncle Daniel was a really big influence in my life. He was older than my dad and didnt have a family of his own. He had been in the army and i guess never really settled down. Daniel and my dad got on really well as brothers and I think in some ways he adopted our little family as his own so he didnt have to make one himself. As I was growing up I was a quiet kid. I was quite thoughtful and always used to ask him to stop smoking and drinking as much so I didnt lose him. Sounds a bit much now comming from a then 5 year old but thats how much he meant to me. I used to sit at the foot of his sofa chair and we would watch old black and white war movies. We didnt talk much and I think that was one of the reasons I liked being around him so much. I didnt feel there was any expectations or demands. I felt that he was more a father to me than my dad. Thats difficult for me to say as my dad was great too it just seemed that Uncle Daniel was easier to be around. I think i idolised him a bit really but the top and bottom of it is that i loved uncle daniel and felt that he loved me too. Then one day everything changed.
I remember walking into the kitchen and mum having her hand on dads shoulder while he was on the phone he looked white as a sheet and when he put the phone down he looked up and said that I should sit down. I remember feeling instantly sick and feeling that something terrible must have happened. Dad never showed any sort of emotion really, a bit flat you might say, neither happy nor sad. The only time i ever saw him upset and cry was when his friend from school Gary died . Going back to that morning, I was 14 years old and hadn’t had any loses up to then. My dad explained that Uncle Daniel had a heart attack and died during the night. His friend had found him when she went round to deliver somthing. I remember feeling this numbness wash over me. I remember looking at my Dad in disbeleif i think, also I just didnt know what to do. I looked to my Dad for some sort of cue or signal of what I should do or feel but nothing. He got up and said to my mum that he needed to phone some people and start sorting the funeral. Funeral.... my uncle Daniel had died and my dad had already had the ceremony and put him in the ground.. that how it felt anyway. My mum wasnt much good either as she often was consumed by her own world and didnt have much time for how anyone else might be feeling.
I didnt know what to do. What to feel and how to express anything i did feel. This seems odd does it not? Ive been thinking about it and it seems to me that this was a problem. A child that dosnt know what he is feeling and without the first clue about how to express it. If I was to take on board my father I would be steadfast and ‘just get on with it'. Even then this seemed not quite right for me. You might be asking at this point what difference is there with a mans experience of this rather than a woman? Well i guess you would be right. It was the next part of my experience that I think defines most in me what it meant to be a man (child).
Dad organised the funeral and sat me down. I was numb. My Uncle Daniel was gone and I didnt even have a chance to say goodbye. What did this all mean and why did he have to die anyway? I had a million questions and no answers. When Dad sat me down a part of me felt relieved. Was je going to ask how I was? Maybe even let me know it was okay to be upset and to be sad? No. He asked me, neigh told me, that I would be a pall bearer at the funeral. That because I was close to Daniel he had decided that I should be a part of the carrying of the coffin. And at the grave side help lower Uncle Daniel into his grave. I went cold but there was also a part of me that shut off at that point. I suddenly had a purpose now. Not a thought or feeling but an active purpose that I could just focus on and ‘just get on with it'. And to hell with it, it also meant that I could spend time with my Dad and learn a little bit about how it was to be a man. This seems ridiculous now thinking back. I had no choice, no time for grief, no room to breathe the loss I now know I felt. Dad went over what I should be doing on the day and Mum seemed to be proud of me. Often saying that I was turning into a proper young man and Uncle Daniel would be proud of me. I drank it in as a 14 year old. I thought here it is, all this growing up, its not that hard.
The day came and I remember thinking I cant let my parents down. I had an enormous sense of responsibility to make sure ‘I did what was right for Uncle Daniel'. It was perhaps looking back now the worst day of my life up to then and perhaps even now. I didnt know it at the time. I took responsibility, I became a man and did my job. I didnt cry, I didnt sob into a tissue and miss my cues. I took responsibility and carried my Uncle to his last resting place. The worst bit I think now was lowering him into the grave. Seeing the casket go down into the dark cold hole and know that it was my Uncle in there and Id never see him again. I remember that I didnt cry a single tear for my Uncle until 6 months later, by myself, in my room. Because after all a real man dosnt cry he ‘just gets on with it'. Dont get me wrong. I don’t blame my parents, after all we all just do our best and hope that we do enough to get them through. My parents were from a different time. This cultural expectation though of a man being someone that needs to ‘just get on with it’ needs to stop. Not because its wrong to get things done and be strong for your family, but because it cuts off any room to breathe, to feel, to be alive enough to grieve.
I hope that I was able to express a little about my experience this week and if you can share the link someone might read it and feel a little easier to get that space.