DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
AMIDST TWO of the deadliest months in our post-colonial history, I want to write about death. Or maybe loss. Or maybe remembering. Actually, I’m writing for those of us still here, parsing through our pasts and memories like a cupboard of old clothes, some reminding us of this time or that, some still fitting, some best given away.
My dad died two years ago, before the shock of covid19 took hundreds of our loved ones, but I’m still thinking of him today. Trying to figure out what in that cupboard to keep and why, trying to feel my way through texture and colour, through what remains familiar and what I forgot was there.
When someone dies, you make choices about what to recollect, what age to see her or him as, what age to see yourself. Some only want to see the good, others chafe at how much that negates their unresolved pain. Some hide truths, others are pinned at their crossroads, wondering what to do with knowledge they can’t escape.
On the anniversary of his passing on June 6, I perused photos, trying to decide which spoke most to how I felt. I wasn’t so much enjoying seeing him in those images. It wasn’t nostalgia. In retrospect, I was sorting, feeling, resolving our relationship. My dad was a piercingly brilliant man, with an intense personality, and an enthusiastic sense of humour. He was a regionalist with a deep belief in justice. He liked cricket, dancing, plantain sandwiches, animals and the sea. I never once heard him put down women’s rights and he was pro-choice. He could be selflessly generous and kind. He had a starboy jaunt, and liked to sweet talk women. He was also destructive and difficult to love.
When he was alive, I wished so many things were different. When he was gone, in a heartbeat, it was much the same. Now, I’m intrigued by these contradictions, and how we assemble discomfort and discord, love and loyalty, resemblance and connection into different combinations of coherence as those still living and gathering experience and acceptance. I wrestle with silences. Many of us do the same.
At first, I used to think about his burial, which we thought was right. He wanted to be cremated, but we were concerned for his soul, and considered his visit to the family mosque in Chaguanas the day before he died to be decisive. I’d stand at the bedroom window, with my back to the Northern Range, looking south, thinking of all that Islamic tradition says about graves, and feel a raw mix of vindication, sadness and fear.
Over time, I’d think about the opportunities he missed or the moments he may have still wanted to see. The momentous trivialities and pride of birthdays and promotions. More tender was watching Ziya play the piano which he bought me nearly 40 years go. If I could have been his eyes, I think he would have appreciated looking through them then.
In-between wandering backward through time, I’ve also felt freed from his chaos, like his sudden end was a gift, a light that lifted a long shadow. I dreamed him many times. Dreaming someone already departed is like a version of their afterlife. I missed him, but didn’t wish he was still alive.
Two years on, I find myself retreating to when I was a child. Memories seem simpler then, naïve and full of adoration. Or perhaps there hadn’t been enough experience to undermine those emotions. Maybe it’s just that then I felt most loved.
Still, the grown-up in us can be stubborn and I went back and forth between two photos, one from a still-chubby age when I would bound toward him, tall, beloved and larger than life, and one from a rare, enjoyable day which the two of us spent together as adults when I had already distanced myself from expectations.
There’s a picture of him as a child which I looked at, without much feeling. Oddly though, it’s through understanding what my dad may have survived as a child that I have become forgiving. I’m older and he is gone. Yet, here we are, in my reckoning, both as children.
Across the country, others are rummaging through cupboards with such sentimental treasures, some with greater acceptance than others, some with more they must heal. This journey has heaviness. Yet, sometimes, I am on his shoulders again, laughing beneath an endless sky. Relationships live on. I’m still saying goodbye.
Diary of a mothering worker