These Boots Were Made For Walking

I think of my grief as the 8th dwarf. The bitter one that got rejected for the casting call for Snow White.

Fear not, I don’t possess the derriere to squeeze into Daisy Duke’s shorts and pay homage to Jessica Simpson’s remake of the old Willy Nelson song – plus it’d be a bit hypocritical to lather up someone else’s car when I can’t be bothered to wash my own. If God wants it clean it’ll rain.

That toe tapping song did get me thinking though of all the times I’ve had to restrain myself from doing a Forest Gump and heading off without a look back, although admittedly not in boots – I have two left feet and a flat foot so I tend to favour trainers.

The death of my father really triggered that impulse. It was around the time my mental health went into decline and I found myself walking straight past work, trudging forward blindly, anywhere, until my feet hurt and I couldn’t identify where I was.

Unlike the school play, death has no rehearsal. Instead your life rotates in its usual seasons and cycles until one day, without so much as a courtesy text, it all spectacularly falls apart. Falling probably doesn’t do it justice; when you imagine falling your brain does a quick HSE assessment and you begin to reason that there would quite rightly be a bungee cord or crash mat provided in the scenario, but there is no safety harness when you lose someone, your existence is crudely ripped apart, derailed from its former tracks.

I don’t want to bore you with the early weeks and months of grief. When people are apt to ask you EVERY day how you are, as though there is a standard recovery time and by a fortnight you’ll be right as nine pence.

I think of my grief as the 8th dwarf. The bitter one that got rejected for the casting call for Snow White. He sleeps most of the time now and lives on a diet of cold baked beans, but he’s an unpredictable wretch, lying dormant for days, sometimes weeks on end before delivering a sucker punch. Those moments when on auto-pilot I’ll giddily reach for a multi pack of walnut whips or a giant bag of jelly babies to curb my dad’s unremitting need for sugar before forlornly remembering his absence and gingerly placing them back on the shelf with unsteady hands. That 8th dwarf is the ultimate party pooper, usually gate-crashing your life the moment it’s within grasp of any sort of harmony, shouting at your better judgement to remove the bunting and put down the party poppers at once with an arrogant wagging finger.

People will say a lot of things in that universal need to fill the crater a recent bereavement creates in a conversation. There’s the obligatory ‘he or she will be watching over you’, ‘you’re so brave’, or the unexpected ‘at least it’s Friday tomorrow’, but one admission, even though it smells perversely of Mr Hanky, is that it gets easier in time.

It’s been seven years since I lost my dad. I was blessed with the happiest moment of life when my daughter was born, her tiny pink body placed in my arms, and then cursed with the worst event three days later with the news they were withdrawing his life support.

In the time that has accrued since I’ve learned that no one ever leaves you unless you allow them. You adopt new ways to carry people with you. In a way we’re all a re-imaging of our parents. A piece of them reincarnated by blood, gifted to us, a current of secrets and mannerisms bound in flesh. Just as skin will eventually knit together where parted, with enough time our hearts become able to not only mourn but house those departed.

Time is that constant hand at your back, gently prompting you ever forward. Now when I walk it’s not to outrun what has gone before, but to meet it. No matter how much his absence is felt, I remember with love the profound joy brought with his presence.

Ironically, it took losing someone I adored to find my own spirituality. Now I feel him around me, in the light splintering through dense branches and the bird song I hear on waking. Maybe that’s just me interpreting my surroundings as a comforter; an adult pacifier to my grief. Yet despite my own skepticism I can’t deny the echoes caused by the cavities in the earth beneath my soles and an otherness to the seemingly everyday.

We make plans and mark calendars never knowing what lies around the corner, the truth forever dancing out of grasp until the final veil is lifted.

One truth I do hold close, is that there is no limit on the distance two hearts can travel in the velvet dark.