We got through it. The one year anniversary of a significant death. My kids, sorry, our kids, all apart from each other and from me, marked the day in the way that mattered to them. Walking in the wild, finding the sea, talking to old fishermen on a pier, watching a river flow. I felt like my belly was in turmoil. All the day long it churned and rumbled and I wasn’t hungry. Well, not for food. For what, then? Don’t, please don’t, think ‘Closure’. There is no such thing and it is such a dreadful cliche. It’s almost as angry making as phrases like ‘He is in a better place.’ Oh, you think? How do you know?
My lovely daughter-in-law (an awful title when you completely adore the aforesaid), and I picnicked on the grave. Not quite on it, on him, but to the side, respectful like. We spread a blanket and poured tea from a flask, and munched on lobster sandwiches, as you do up here as easily as another in non-lobster-land might munch on luncheon meat or jam. We talked of much and many, but not a lot on the dead dude. Funny that. Lots of people drove by as the hilltop graveyard is very visible for anyone driving, cycling or walking the switchback road. These folk see us from the minute they lift the hill and we are in their view for at least 6 minutes as they curve and loop and swing and climb out of sight. We were visible, we on our checkered picnic blanket, our mouths open in laughter at some daft joke shared. We sat for an hour and talked about the other graves. One very wonky one, just a wooden cross with a name on it, the cross that I swear is moving in on my husband because the last time I came this cross was further aft of amidships. I wonder if it’s lonely, if nobody ever visits, comes to pay respects, to honour, to mark a death. Perhaps. It sads me. Other stones tell the story, fix a life lived between two dates and add a little something that meant a lot to those left behind. It feels like that person meant something, mattered, was loved.
Many years ago it was common to see families picnicking in graveyards, as they came together to celebrate their dead, or someone else’s dead. There is a something in a graveyard that beckons. I know what it is. Stories. Stories allow imagination. I wonder who Alfred MacDoodle was, how he was, what he meant to his children, grandchildren, friends. He played the violin, no, he played the fool, he cooked, he was a teacher, fisherman, magician. In a graveyard I can let my mind fly like the birds that flew overhead yesterday. The air is hilltop fresh up here and the looking is endless. Islands dark the sea, so far away and yet so clear. The sealine butts against the sky, some, what, hundreds of miles away, more? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am here and looking and so is my imagination, so is my memory. He, the dead one, knew those waters better than he ever knew me. He could navigate those waters in any and all states better than he ever navigated me or his children. Such is who he was, who he is now, held fast in memory, like a fossil in stone. An imprint on the world and certainly an imprint on us.
We, who apparently are ‘left behind’, which sounds very lame to me, can weave any story we like now. The Corrector Of Facts is buried 6 feet deep and awaiting his grave stone (Covid delay). We can tell you he was wonderful or awful. We can recount his achievements or list his faults. We can present him as The Whale Father or the Absent Father. We can highlight the lack or illuminate the abundance he brought to us all. We are free to go and not free at all because he, this dead guy was so important, so revered, so bloody impossible, so powerful an influence that we cannot but bring him with us from now on.
And, for me, he was no whale father, no father at all. He was not a recording engineer, not a hotel owner, not a pioneer, not a sailor. He was the man who stole my heart.