A Study in Delayed Grief
It took a (very minor) car crash to make me realise I had a problem.
Set the scene: me, hysterical, reversing back into a road I shouldn’t have come out of, hyperventilating, my dad’s ashes in the passenger seat next to me, buckled with a seatbelt. A black car suddenly appears (it’s pitch black). I bump into it at a snail’s pace. The driver comes out livid, screaming — his brand new Lexus is ruined, I’m an ‘ungrateful little girl’ — in an incredibly hazy state of unwellness I come out and have a look at the scratches. It’s simply the most minor and irrelevant thing, to me; yet he is genuinely seething and starts to dial 999, which is when I start laughing, because we are in the UK and every public service is so underfunded that robberies are pretty much never investigated by police and people die in ambulances waiting outside hospitals.
But anyway…when 999 tell him to not waste their time, as I am clearly here and haven’t fled the scene and nobody’s life is even remotely endangered, we exchange details but he keeps cutting me off with ‘but why did you do this’ and I suddenly lose my patience and say, ‘look, my father just died’.
Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t give a shit — why would he — and either way, it’s a poor excuse, given that he died 13 months prior to the incident.
Or is it? I’m not so sure any more.
The chronology, roughly, is as follows: dad goes to Moscow just before the very first lockdown, and I stay in London. In the summer, when some travel is allowed, Russia never makes it onto the ‘green list’, and neither of us wants to quarantine. In September, I say to him, fuck it, I’ll come in December, I don’t care about quarantine, I just really miss him. In October, he dies.
Then in December, I take that same flight I booked to see him, alone. I’m coming to get his will, which I finally located. Three days before I’m due to fly back, all flights between the UK and Russia are banned because of the delta variant, and I spend a completely insane 2 weeks going crazy by myself in a hotel room, in a country that feels foreign and horrible now that he’s gone.
When I eventually come back, the UK is in lockdown once again, and I spend a wonderful couple of months only going to work and then coming home. It’s illegal to see my 19-year-old sister and mother, but perfectly fine to go into work and be around strangers’ children (I work in a school). It’s definitely not allowed to see friends, or get any semblance of normality or support.
So, I go off the rails a bit. I’m either in my tiny box room, or at school, but mentally I’m not present anywhere. I’m reliving my memories constantly, to such a vivid extent that I have to shake myself sometimes and remind myself that it’s 2021, he’s dead, and I’m never seeing him again for the rest of my life.
In my head, I’m everywhere else: 2001, New Year’s Eve, talking next to a giant ice horse sculpture to mark the Zodiac sign; 2011, driving to St Petersburg, him sipping on an energy drink, me turning the volume up on ‘Criminal’ by Britney Spears; 2014, us at a Megadeth concert, our first ever together; 2002, him telling me to rewrite my messy and first ever English homework to ‘make a good impression on my teacher’; 2005, him excitedly showing me Youtube as it’s just come out; 2015, at my high school graduation do for both students and parents, beaming with pride, the only man there in a light grey suit as opposed to a black one; 2019, him shedding a tear, telling me and my sister in a pub at Waterloo station that he’s in a lot of shit at work and he’s scared…
2017, at home, him telling me how proud he is of the adult I’ve become.
I could go on endlessly, but that last one is the most important.
But back to my dad’s ashes in the passenger seat of my car.
The thought process leading up to the decision to put them there is insane, of course, but at the time, it felt so obviously like the most rational option. I recently finally managed to get his ashes from my sister, who’s had them ever since his death and is famously unreachable and unresponsive to messages. Soon, we will finally bury them in England.
That day, my rented flat was due an inspection by my landlord’s agency. I recently read a story in a tenants’ Facebook group about how somebody’s landlord just took and donated to a charity shop a limited edition skateboard somebody had, because they ‘weren’t allowed to keep a skateboard inside the house’. That morning, before I left for work, the thought suddenly came to me: what if my landlord decides you can’t keep human ashes in ‘the property’ (my home)? What if he simply takes them and throws them away? Panic consumed me, and I decided the rational decision would be to take them to work in my car, so they were safe with me.
And then I crashed on my way home. I couldn’t bring myself back to the present enough. In my head, I am constantly time-traveling; whenever I am alone, silent, have even a second to myself, I am gone. I’m with my dad.
I can’t let him go.