Digging up the past

My dad died 7 weeks after the girls were placed with us, 3 days before Christmas. I’m glad he met them, and although he rarely demonstrated much emotion, he seemed genuinely pleased for us.

H and I agreed what we would tell the girls: that Grandpa had become a star. Squeak was 3 and Bubble was 5. Squeak patted my arm. Bubble asked when tea was going to be.

On clear nights the girls sometimes point to the sky and ask ‘is that Grandpa?’.

We buried his ashes in a plot between my mum’s parents and her grandparents. Mum was clear what she wanted in a headstone, and it didn’t include a vase. Over the last year at her request I’ve staked two pots of heather by the headstone, as well as putting the obligatory wreath there at Christmas. But this week, which happens to be both the 30th anniversary of my Grandpa’s death, and what would have been my parents’ 52nd wedding anniversary, she decided she wanted me to sink a jar into the grave for some daffodils.

It was with some trepidation that I set off for the cemetary this morning. I had not enjoyed staking the heathers in, but at least they were at the side of the grave. The jar was going to have to go in the middle, and that meant digging directly over the box containing my father’s ashes. I delayed: I cleaned my grandparents’ headstone, I weeded my great grandparents’ grave. I arranged daffodils in their vases. I paced up and down. I re-arranged the daffodils.

Finally, I dug. A few suprised worms wriggled away through the rich, moist earth. The hole wasn’t deep enough for the jar. I dug again. CLANG! Metal hit metal. I jumped back. I must have hit the plaque on the box. Oh. My. God. For a surreal second I considered digging up the box. In the next moment the jar was in the ground, earth replaced, water poured in, followed by daffodils. I stood back and contemplated what had just run through my mind.

13 months previously I had been the one who had placed the box in the grave. It had struck me then what a lovely box it was. Solid. Square. Hard wood, with a brass plaque in the centre of the lid. Dad would have approved. It seemed a shame to be burying it. Maybe I just wanted to see it again. Maybe I wanted to feel close to him again. Perhaps I was reacting to just having finished ‘The Book Thief’, the story of a foster child in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death.

It has occasionally struck me over the last year that I haven’t given myself time to grieve. Sometimes I convince myself I’m doing really well, and don’t need to grieve. Most of the time I like to believe I’m too busy being a mummy who also has a fairly demanding job to afford the time to grieve. Today showed me I need to make the time. And I need to do it not only for me, but for our girls. They’ve lost their birth parents and their foster carers. To truly empathise with their feelings of loss I need to get in touch with my feelings, however hard that may be.