Wednesday, 25 December 2013

I am not there; I do not sleep

There's a poem that goes like this:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not here; I did not die.

When I went to the cemetery to see my dad this morning, these were the words chanting through my mind. This is, at least partly, because so many people choose to put the first stanza on the gravestone of choice. It's clearly a popular death poem. We don't have that many to choose from really. Pretty much that Auden one, a Rosetti, maybe a couple of war poems. And this.

But also, I think, because it is very soothing, if you let it be.

I have a cynical commentary running through my head in response to it. Yes, I do actually hear voices. I don't. I mean, I kind of do, but only in the same way that you do I'm sure. Probably. Anyway.

The poem will start: Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep.

And I know what it means. And it is soothing to think that everywhere I look I can be reminded of my dear dad. And that I can look up at the stars and imagine that somehow he has turned to dust that has become part of the universe again. I do do that. Sometimes.

But today, in that cemetery on Christmas morning I found that I was sitting at his grave and I was weeping. Because he is there. In that grave. Well, his ashes are. Because we put him in a box and we burned him and the only way I can spend time with my dad now is to go and sit in a soaking wet graveyard on Christmas morning and sob over his small, plain gravestone.

So that's what I did. I didn't mean to sob. It's been 12 Christmases. I'm used to it. It's fine. I know I won't see him and that Christmas just doesn't really feel like anything any more, and that's fine. I'm alright with that. I never get to go and see him because I have never lived near enough to his grave to do so.

I didn't know that it would punch me in the soul like that.

His grave is under a tree in a beautiful, beautiful graveyard. He's hidden away from the ostentatious graves that make up most of it.

As I look up from his grave I see a teddy bear in a Christmas hat on one of the more heartbreaking efforts that litter the cemetery. Children's graves with desperately sad messages, toys, tiny Christmas trees and endless ornaments. I straighten the flowers on a few graves near my dad's. The crazy ass weather has knocked a lot of the flowers over and no dead person deserves that on Christmas morning.

There is only me, my ma and one other woman in the graveyard. Maybe we missed the Christmas Day rush. She straightens flowers on a relatively new looking grave and then spends 20 minutes staring forlornly at it. Because that's basically what you do. It's an odd kind of comfort you can get from a soaking wet slab of marble in a field.

Because the last line of the poem, you see. That's just gobshitey bollocks. You are there in that box because you did die.

I didn't mean to weep on your grave dad. It was terribly cliched. I just really, really miss you. So much. Merry Christmas.

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