Eight days ago, my father-in-law passed away. We were very close. For the first time in a long time, I’ve been struggling to write, rest, breathe, eat, sleep. My mind tells me his passing wasn’t entirely unexpected, but my heart tells me otherwise. He had to go twenty years too soon and will never meet his first grandchild. We keep saying how unfair this is, but that doesn’t revert anything, nor does it make us feel better. If anything, it only makes me feel worse.
I don’t know how to cope with loss. I’ve lost dear ones before, but at respected ages, when it’s acceptable to come near the end, or when I was too young and naive to fully understand and emotionally feel the impact of it. The undertaker handed out documents that granted me three full days of official grief. After that, society expects me to be present and correct. Three days! Three days where I couldn’t even spend more than a few moments reflecting on what actually happened because of a sudden aggressive form of stomach flu.
The world keeps on turning, the sun keeps on rising, and after the funeral, apart from the administrative hell that Kristien’s mum has to go through now, everyone resumes their day-to-day activities. I wonder whether that’s a good or bad way to cope with loss. Our current society seems to be severely incompatible with grief—no time for that, there’s profit to be made.
As an electrical engineer by trade, he loved building things: a jukebox from scratch, a custom home automation system, various pieces of machinery to help Kristien with her jewelry craft, … My 80486 is actually his. The serial mouse broke down two years ago, and we debugged the PCB together, measuring the resistors, checking the infrared receivers, and overriding one. I wouldn’t know squat about electrical design if it wasn’t for him. At the same time, I helped him with his programming hurdles in C for his Arduino projects and in Python for his Raspberry Pi projects. I never considered us to be a great team: we both were very much hacks when it came to our projects. But perhaps I was wrong. We were a great team.
He loved my pizzas. The last week in intensive care, he yearned for good food, and we promised when he was better he could eat all the pizzas he wanted, we would hold a pizza party, and I would knead and bake and bake. One week later, he was gone. Now we have to carry on ourselves, without his analytical mind and seemingly unlimited pool of knowledge, without his smile that gave away the two aces during a game of Hearts, and without the practical advice that we sorely need when doing chores around the house.
Why don’t we learn how to cope with loss in school? We learn about Pythagoras, about Mesopotamia, about Moore’s and Einstein’s law, and about conjugations. But we remain silent about ethics, about how to live and die, and how to cope with that. Yet the only thing that is granted in this life is death.
See you next time, dear friend. That’ll no doubt be when I pick up a soldering iron, when I struggle to drill a hole somewhere, when the oven is firing up, when a jumper needs to be reconfigured on a motherboard, and when we’re raising our daughter. I hope I’ll then have the strength to do the things you did.