For a long time, the grieving process has been going about its business quietly, pottering along in tandem with my life. The sharp edges became blunt and although the void my Dad left was still vast, I could live with it. But over the past few weeks, for no apparent reason, it has become fresh and raw again. It feels as though my Dad died last week and I don’t know why. This time of year is always challenging as it’s his birthday on the 26th of October and then Christmas looms on the horizon, gaudy and unmanageable. However, it has been four and a half years since he died and I’ve dealt with it every year, there’s no reason why it should be worse now, but somehow it is.
At the weekend I did a Q+A at the BFI after a screening of The Long Good Friday, a classic British gangster movie my Dad was in, 37 years ago. The BFI had scheduled a ‘Working Class Heroes’ season, and The Long Good Friday was the finale. I agreed to do the Q+A a while back, when I was feeling emotionally and mentally strong. But since then the pain has crept in and taken grip on my heart, I had been dreading the event. I wasn’t nervous about doing the talk but the prospect of watching the film, after missing him so acutely, was daunting. I went with my mum and some friends and I tried to brace myself, ready to see the image of him bustling on to screen, alive again. Watching my Dad who died over four years ago, crackling with energy and life only a few years older than I am now, was a surreal experience. Ultimately, I’m lucky that I have Dad’s body of work, because I’ll never forget the sound of his voice, the way he smiled or the colour of his eyes. It must be so distressing when you lose a loved one and their memory starts to fade. Nonetheless, watching Dad’s work causes me searing pain. When I wrote the book about him, I had to sit though hours and hours of his films. No wonder I nearly lost my mind.
Even though it was tough, I am glad that I did the Q+A at the BFI, it’s always nice to talk about him. You might wonder why I’m sharing this with you; I suppose I would like to offer support and solidarity to anyone who might be grieving a loved one. Whether their death was last week, last year or last decade, it’s always hard. If you’re hurting, treat yourself to something nice today – think of what they might have done to cheer you up. For me, it’s the endless cups of tea that Dad would make for me when I went to him with a grievance or disappointment. But most importantly, don’t fight it. Let the grief do it’s job; don’t attempt to be brave and keep it together. I understand that may be tricky if you have jobs and families to attend to, but still try to set aside some time when you can cry, scream, or just be quiet and still. Do whatever you need to let the pain out.
This difficult moment will pass and things will improve. You may not be ok now, but have faith that you will be in the future. Until that time, I’ll be right there with you.