Archive for June, 2020

Counting Years, Counting Blessings

June 24, 2020




Yesterday it was 35 years since my father died.

I do the math.

He has been gone from my brother’s life for almost twice as long as he was in it; nearly three times as many years as he was there for my little sister. 

In tragedy you can be lucky: I was 19. I got more of him than my siblings. 

Mum said, count your blessings. That was mine: a few more stolen years.

He was driving home from a weekend away. Mum was in England, encouraged by my grandfather, on another mission to chase down cures for an incurable illness.   

I heard on my lunch break on a Monday morning. A phone call as I manned the office reception. 

“Your dad’s had a car accident … I’m so sorry.”

What did I do – when I was told – what did I do?  Cry out? Crumple? Stand stock still and silent?

I do not remember. I remember being bundled into a cab. Being bundled north to my aunt’s on a train. Being met by her and two small cousins, too small to understand or empathise. Two cousins who wanted their supper.

I sat curled in the window seat of my aunt’s kitchen as she gave it to them, and I watched my mother drive in. She didn’t know. Not yet. 35 years ago the absence of technology protected us a little from the worst of bad news: buffered us until we could be told by somebody who loved us in some safe place.  Like a Northamptonshire kitchen when you are surrounded by your sisters, as your eldest child holds you and tries not to cry: “Dad’s dead.”

He was 47. 

When my children’s father approached the same age, I was full of trepidation. Could cruel history repeat itself.  The kind counsellor I am compelled to talk to – because my dad died, ‘twenty years ago’ I explain and feel ridiculous – says it’s normal: to worry about such markers. As they loom.

But he is well past that milestone now. My children’s father. And they far older than my siblings were that devastating day.

We returned home to pack up, slipped through a silky summer night back to Africa and arrived on a dawn that was unashamedly beautiful. You learn fast in the face of grief that the world keeps turning. That the sun keeps rising splendidly. That it sets just as magnificently as it did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. 

On dad’s desk lies an envelope, ripped open, in it the Father’s Day card I’d sent. It arrived days before his death. 

Count your blessings, Mum said. I did. I do. I knew him. My children know their own father.