Counting Years, Counting Blessings




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.



5 Responses to “Counting Years, Counting Blessings”

  1. Kimm X Jayne Says:

    Honestly, You are one of the best writers I’ve ever read. (And I am a highly critical retired university professor.) Lines like, “Two cousins who won of those supper.” The simplicity, the cadence in reference to the previous sentences, the poignancy. It’s wonderful.

  2. solwhere Says:

    You have me in tears… such strong memories of that time. I count my blessings. I have a wonderful big sister who has been there to hold my hand, offer advice and talk through problems (usually on a long walk or over a beer). Thanks for everything!

  3. Ceri Says:

    I had a remarkably similar experience. My adored father died suddenly aged 49. I was 20 and away at university, my sister 18 and my brother 10 at home. That was 44 years ago. I still miss him.
    He was a much loved GP and , a few weeks ago, my brother was asked to write his memories for the town’s Facebook page. This prompted many memories and grateful tender comments. It is wonderful to know he is still remembered.
    It was very painful for my brother who had asked my sister and me to contribute to his piece – that and the comments reminded him, yet again, of the father he had not grown old enough to know and who had died cruelly early.
    I think more now, not of what I lost, but of what my father lost. The pleasure he would have received from his adult children and the lives they have made, the enjoyment and love of grandchildren, the chance to grow old with my mother. He was still doing the hard work of child rearing and career building with the huge worries and responsibilities that brought. I am sure he never knew how much he was loved.
    Like you, I honour my father with my memories – and I count my blessings to have the happy memories.
    Thank you for the reminder. Xx

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you for sharing your story, Ceri. I’m so sad for your brother; that’s very young. I am glad though that you and your sister and others were able to share memories of your dad and I hope your brother knew him a little better as a result – you may have done too. I did the same – years after Dad died: contacted old acquaintances that I’d never known. I learned so much more about dad from their kind words. x

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