When one parent dies, time stands still. Part of the frame of your life has gone, and it feels as though the security of the definition of the person that you are starts to leak away.
You watch the surviving parent adjust; you see them look into the distance, look into their own future. The shape of your family, who once seemed to have been so permanent and never-ending, with its history, its jokes, it’s horrors and its certainty, has been shaken terribly.
What’s left? Some photographs, some clothes, maybe some furniture, maybe some money.
Memory: but that’s isolating, because everyone in the family remembers a different relationship, and a different family, from a different viewpoint and set of feelings.
When the next parent dies, it feels as though you have lost your feet and no longer have a grip on the same earth that everyone else is walking on.
You are exposed to everything; there is no safety, no past, present or future.
The whole edifice of what was built around you and your siblings has collapsed; you can see yourself in that future, vulnerable, uncomprehending, spent.
You are free from the trappings of your family definition, but simultaneously unable to redefine yourself, wandering in the fog of bereavement; you no longer know who you are, because you carved out your life in relief both against and within the construct of your family.
You float without rules, giddy with freedom and tortured by loss. You have watched, with a combination of compassion and fear, the people who brought you into the world struggle and fade out of it. Your past has gone with them; who are you?
A year after McDad died, I found a plastic carrier bag in a cupboard that McMum had given me, with some of his clothes and his gardening hat in it.
The unmistakable fragrance of my father had been trapped in that bag for twelve months and floated past me as I pulled the handles apart. It was excruciatingly sad.