What do we talk about when we talk about grief?*

One treacherously beautiful spring morning, my Dad woke up with a stomach ache and an hour later we were waiting for the undertaker to come and take him away forever.

Part one: back story

That was April 17th, 2017. In the days that followed, I dealt with it by project managing his affairs and funeral; it’s what I do. Because it happened over the Easter weekend there was a lot I couldn’t do, bureaucratically, and I filled the space between profitable actions with some wholehearted manic and depressive episodes. I’m not great with dealing with the emotions at the more vulnerable end of the spectrum (middle-aged white guy not good with emotional displays, I know, shocker) but when I do something, I do like to commit, to own it. To turn it up to 11.

When I was down I was convinced that everything I did was worthless, especially online. I deleted my tens of thousands of tweets, admittedly no great loss to humanity. I deleted everything on Instagram. I deleted the blog I’d been building for getting on for a decade.

When the pendulum swung back to mania, I decided I needed a new project. I’m an ENFP so the start of new projects is my favourite part, and powered by the fucked up energy of my mental state, I went for it. I wanted a new blog. I thought about the subjects that I was most passionate about, and arrived at music. I thought of a (stupid) name, I registered the domain, I created some graphics, I wrote some entries. Then the bungee cord snapped back again.

When my mental state came something close to restful, I went back to the blog I’d created. The graphics were a mess, the layout wasn’t right, it had a stupid name and the blog’s focus was hazy. What I had done was create a whole bunch of playlists around different bands and topics and in doing so, reconnected with myself. I found the music that meant something to me, and then I wrote about it, and as a result I was able to keep things at arm’s length.

The graphics were a mess, so I tidied them up and applied a cohesive colour scheme to them. I tidied up the layout, and then changed it completely, and there’s nothing to say I won’t change it again. I kept the stupid name, just because. Then I thought about  the problem with the focus.

Then I deleted the new blog too. And then I finally stopped and thought about grief. What exactly do we talk about when we talk about grief?

Part two: more questions

There’s one question; here’s another. What do these things have in common?

  • Loyle Carner’s set at Glastonbury 2017
  • A picture of @Beakmoo’s cat on twitter
  • The second verse of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking”

I’ll tell you the answer, not only because you won’t get it but also because if you do get it there’s not much point me writing this piece.

They’ve all set me off this week, filling me with such an uncontrollable sadness that I can barely stand upright. After I watched the end of Loyle Carner’s set, heard the story about his Dad, saw his Mum come on stage, watched them embrace with such love, I literally couldn’t stand. I sat in the big armchair and wept for an hour.

No one tells you how to deal with grief. And that’s kind of okay, I guess, because if someone had tried to tell me I wouldn’t have listened anyway (middle-aged white guy doesn’t listen to advice, I know, shocker). I wasn’t prepared for how much would be wrested out of my control; everything has the potential to be a trigger. I’ve cried at home, lots, in the toilet at work, in the city centre, on the train. The grief comes, it hits you in the face with a cricket bat, and then it just runs away while you’re wiping your eyes and you don’t see the direction it went so you don’t know when it’s going to sneak up on you again.

People say, “time heals”.

I say to those people, “fuck off”.

People say, “you’re not the first person to lose someone close”.

But I think they must be the same people who say, “Manchester United haven’t beaten Dukla Prague since 1957”, as though the efforts of Colin Webster, David Pegg and Tommy Taylor who scored when United last beat them would have some sort of bearing if the teams met today. No, I’m not the first person to lose someone, but it’s the first time I’ve lost someone that close. What went before and happened to other people is irrelevant, to me, as my grief is, to them.

There’s no moral to this piece so if you’re reading this at some point in the future because you lost someone close, I can’t help you. Writing has helped me, a little. It’s occupied my mind, even if it’s been unprofitable and I’ve deleted what I’ve written straight after. I even wrote a poem (it’s about sandwich fillings. They’re very important to me). Photography always used to be an outlet for me but I haven’t been able to take a picture since April 17th 2017. I’ve stopped even carrying my camera around because whatever eye I had before has deserted me and I’ve deleted all the pictures on Instagram anyway.

I’m going to sign off with the last song of Loyle Carner’s set. This is just after he tells the story that reduced me to a torrent of tears. When he was young, he says, his Dad (who was a musician too) promised him they would tour the world together but his Dad died before that could happen. After his death, he discovered an old album that his Father made that he never knew about. Loyle sampled it for his record. Now, onstage, as in the clip below, Loyle wears his Dad’s old Eric Cantona shirt so that in a sense his Dad is on stage with him. My Dad and I used to go to Old Trafford together.


(I’m afraid they took down the Glastonbury version. Sorry.) 

* I thought I’d cribbed the title from Haruki Murakami and his book ‘What we talk about when we talk about running’ but my spidey-sense told me to check that reference. Turns out there’s a Raymond Carver book called ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’. The moral of the story is always check your references, kids.

One comment

  1. People say, “time heals”.

    I say to those people, “fuck off”.

    People say, “you’re not the first person to lose someone close”.

    I remember that making things worse!

    Liked by 1 person

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