It’s a month today since my father died and Milltown is a lot quieter place. Or at least it will be, after the streams of visitors subside. Already the strict rule of dinner-at-dinner-time (1pm) has relaxed. I bring my mother to Bailieborough, instead of Kingscourt, her closest town, to avoid meeting people she knows when we shop. Before his death, my mother would have left him dinner, or would have rushed home to make it. Today, there is no rush, although we are all starting to feel hungry.
I’ve driven the road home so often in recent weeks. It’s tiring when you are already tired. Once I hit Navan, I feel like I am almost there. Once I hit Nobber, the tears start. The children ask me again, fascinated, about Grandad AND me AND my brothers AND ‘which cousins again ?’ and their cousins, who ALL went to the same school. We laugh when we think about Grandad at school and agree that he was probably a ‘little divil’. Mya reckons that he didn’t like homework very much. Not as much as her anyway. I ask them if they miss Grandad and Mya says 'no, I just wish he was there'.
I drive up the Glen and I can’t help myself. I’m bawling now. Leon, is uncomfortable that I am crying again, and crying ‘differently’ than I have before and asks me in a concerned voice to ‘please stop’. I gather myself before I get into the house and greet my mother.
I look around the house. I pooch in a drawer just to see if there is any paper with his handwriting on it. I open his wardrobe and see a neat row of short sleeved checked shirts, neat because my mother hung them up. He hated long sleeve shirts and would roll them up the sleeves, making donut shapes around his elbows, under his jumper. I look at his mobile phone and see a group-text message sent to IFA members informing them of the ‘death of John Russell’ and another one, advising them of a guard of honour at his funeral. I spot pockets of cigarette ash on window frames and feel nostalgic about the thing that until recently drove me crazy. I see a friend of his in town, who I know was very upset about Dad’s death. Even though I’m driving, I want to pull over and run after him to chat, to see how he is doing. I suddenly remember that he won't be around for an of the 2016 commemorations and I feel cheated for him.
I go into the children’s school with a wad of money for their MS Readathon, greatly boosted by donations to the MS Society at my father’s funeral. I feel really proud, but sad that the children didn’t get to ask Granddad John for a donation. I would have liked to have his signature on their donation forms. Silly, I know.
I don’t feel like eating and substitute most meals with sandwiches, the blander the better. My daily bowl of porridge makes me feel nauseous and I crave coffee. I’ve ditched the de-caf for now. I get a rotten cold that I can’t shake and force myself to eat. At least I can pass off my watery eyes and nasally sounding voice as the sniffles.
There is nothing like an Arts Council application form to bring one firmly back to earth. On line deadlines don’t really care about your personal circumstances. There is no option in the menu that says ‘Deferred until further notice, because I’ve got stuff going on’. I think about making up the financial table and cutting and pasting last year’s text from the application form and just changing ‘2015’ to ‘2016’, but I think better of it. Thankfully, I work with great people who do the main body of work, before I press ‘send’ and off it goes into cyberspace.
I didn’t get off as lightly with my children’s birthday party. Their 8th birthday is a fortnight after my father’s death. I float the idea with them, that perhaps we wouldn’t have a party this year. I am met with two little faces filled with horror. As far as they were concerned, grandad’s death was long gone. We go ahead with the trip to the cinema, on the eve of Hallowe’en. It is an easy option, that involves minimal interaction with other human beings. I get into the spirit of it though and enjoy a dose of Transylvania. The part that hurts is seeing their birthday cards from Nana Kay. No Grandad John this year. Damn it.
We go Trick-or-Treating the following day, their ‘real’ birthday. Thankfully there is little dressing up involved. It’s a beautiful night and it’s nice to be outdoors. And it’s all done and dusted very quickly. Later, I collapse in a heap.
I carry around cards that I have received and reread one or two. I respond to some texts and other messages every day, finding it hard to do so. I feel guilty about everyone I ever knew who had lost a parent and wonder if I showed them enough consideration at the time. I want to contact them all now and say that I’m sorry. That I didn’t understand. I feel a bit funny about the cards with references to God and heaven because I don’t believe in either. Besides, heaven seems too far away. Dad's energy is in that strong wind that has been circling around me, in leaves circling my ankles and cross winds on the motorway.
Myself and my boy go in to tidy up my father’s grave on Saturday. It's cold and lashing rain and time was short as it was getting dark. The oasis in the wilted wreaths are sodden with water and are a dead weight. I drag two refuse sacks across other graves, being as respectful of them as I could. I feel miserable and I embrace the feeling. My boy makes me laugh, asking ‘what’s that big bump’ on the grave. ‘Grandad’s coffin’, I say. The fresh flowers don't look that impressive in the growing darkness.
Dad’s months’ memory mass was yesterday. The closer it got to it, the more I dreaded it. The logistics of having a huge crowd in my parents’ house. My Mam’s house now, I guess. A call from my mother on Friday asking me to decide who will do the readings and bring up the gifts at the mass seems like a huge task. I feel a sense of panic. Ridiculous. The mass is lovely and the lovely priest, Fr Mark is kind and generous in his words to the family. He reads out my father’s name. Yes, he is really dead. The eight grandchildren sitting in a row, good as gold throughout the mass. I feel proud as punch. I bet that people are looking at them, admiring these lovely children, John's legacy.
I leg it home to turn on the burco boiler and heat the soup. Soon the house is heaving with people. Heaving. All looking for soup even though it’s only 11.30am. Home-made scones and cakes to beat the band. You can’t beat the Russell women for home baking. The men are quite happy to sit and let the women organise the food and drinks. An informal network, taking turns to wash up at the sink, to replenish supplies, with no one needing to inform the other who-is-doing-what. Children, outside, jumping in puddles, destroying their lovely clothes selected for Grandad’s funeral. The older cousins-cousins disappearing upstairs and only appearing when their parents are leaving.
If Dad was there, I know which table he would have sat at. Who he would have chatted to. What they would have chatted about. Which slices of cakes he would have went for. Which one he would have asked me to 'save a slice' of, for later. It was odd to see his friends in the house without him there, deep in conversation. He would have been oblivious to the organisation that went into planning the day. Overall, it was a lovely day, but it was one that I was happy to see the back of.
I didn’t think too much about the one-month milestone today as I had a busy day. But tonight I went to see a final edit of a drama that I produced earlier this year, ‘JFK, The Badge Man Conspiracy’. The composer has just finished the music. The end credits roll and a dedication to my father appears. The Directors had told me previously that they wanted to include it. Seeing it now, I feel honoured and rare for me, speechless. I phone my mother to tell her. I'm not sure how she will react, but she is delighted.
If he seen the dedication, what would he say ?
‘Well holy God, who would have thunk it ?’