Six months or so after I separated from my husband, his father died. He had been ill for about 18 months with mesothelioma so his death was not unexpected. What was unexpected was being banned from his funeral. This man I had known for 16 years and was grandfather to my daughters. This man who I had accidentally walked in on whilst he was showering because he’d forgotten to lock the bathroom door. This man who had never said a harsh word to me. This was the man I was not allowed to say goodbye to.
I was working the day of his funeral. It was fortunate that I was working as the carport where my car would have been parked fell down crushing all underneath. If I wasn’t working then I certainly would have been home as it wasn’t as if I had anything else to attend. I’m glad I was at work instead.
My two daughters had free choice as to attend the funeral or not. They had been sheltered from their grand-dad’s illness until it was impossible to keep the secret any longer. They were both still young and this was the first death of a close family member that had really any significant impact on them.
Separating from my husband was one of the hardest things I had ever done, so this was a time of heightened stress for all of us. I endeavoured mostly just to get through each day whilst shielding from daughters from how strung out I truly felt. I wasn’t sure what normality meant anymore. I mention this because, with hindsight, I can see that small things had an amplified impact on me emotionally. The day of the funeral came and went and I did what I usually did – went about my life in a numbed state. The next day came and went, then another day and another day as they have a habit of doing.
I don’t recall the first it happened. I was going about my business with my head down, a habit I had recently developed to avoid making eye contact which would lead to unwanted conversations. Further ahead on the street was where I saw him. I knew logically that it couldn’t be my father -in-law as he had been buried months before. That didn’t stop me pushing past people trying to get a closer look. I lost him in the crowd then stopped in my tracks, breathing heavily.
This happened again a few months later and months again after that. I began to get used to it and no longer found it strangely confusing. I began to just smile to myself knowing that I was seeing something no one else could see. Life went on and ‘us little three family’ as I began to call us, got on with things. School, work, newly formed habits of how we spent our time filled out lives. We moved out of the temporary rental property and into our own home. Divorce formalised things and life developed its own rhythm.
It was probably five or so years later than I had the dream. I have always loved my wild and crazy dreams though I’ve always felt I’m really the only one who cares or finds them interesting. In my dream, I was in a crowded public place when I saw him there standing alone. Slowly I approached, confident it was him.
It was one of those golden autumn afternoons with the sun low in the sky. “David?” I asked as I reached out for his shoulder, though I already knew it was him. He turned to face me. The sun was behind him, its glare making it difficult to discern any facial features. I moved around so I could clearly see his face. He was smiling at me with that warm smile he always had. He didn’t say anything to me. That’s not what this dream was about. He looked the same as he always had for the 16 years that I knew him. His photo-reactive glasses half tinted in the setting sun, a small breeze lifting his comb-over in an almost comical way.
I started with what I knew I was here to say
“I just want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and my daughters. I am so glad that I had a chance to know you. You were a fabulous grandfather to the girls and they are better for knowing you. I am better for having known you. Thank you”
I turned and walked away. I had had my chance to say what I needed to.
I awoke with a smile on my face and a calm start to my day.
Never again did I see my father in law in the street. I didn’t need to.
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