It’s been a year.
1/25 of my life.
A year without having a dad.
At the time, I thought I'd never smile again. That I'd never be able to go a day without crying. I felt like my life had come to a standstill. I didn't know what was next or how to carry on living. It sounds like a cliche, but my world had turned grey.
Jewish mourning laws are all about structure. For the first 7 days after the death of an immediate family member, a period of time called Shiva, there are many, strict rules to abide by. Among others: you sit on low chairs, don't watch TV or any other entertainment. You don't shave, you don't have long leisurely showers or baths. You don't even leave the house. You cover all art, all mirrors - this time is not about the superficial. You're forced to think about what has happened, no distractions, no denial.
Then comes the next few weeks taking you up to 30 days after the death. It's a time called Shloshim. Here the rules get a bit less strict. You can leave the house and go about your daily business. But you still can't listen to music, go to shows, movies, concerts. No dancing, no singing. No listening to the radio. You don't cut your hair or buy new clothing. Among a whole lot more. The end of Shloshim is the end of the mourning process for all family members, except for those who have lost a parent. For us, this carries on for a full year.
So, that has been my life and it has helped me more than I thought possible. I learnt about all of this at school, and didn't really see how it could benefit anyone. But I was so wrong.
All this structure gave me a way to move forward. It gave me direction. Showed me, pretty much by force, how to live. There was never a worry that I was doing the wrong thing, disrespecting his honour, making a wrong decision - they were all made for me. I was never given a moment to forget or deny what had happened. At every point, I was forced to remember, and ultimately, forced to accept and cope with losing my dad.
Death intimidates people. I've seen it first hand. You can feel when one of those awkward moments are going to happen, like when you meet someone new and they ask where your parents live or what they do. I try keep it light, but people who haven't been through this sort of loss, generally don't know how to act. Understandably.
I've also had people be quite rude. They ask why I can't do something, and when I explain, they say that it sounds stupid to them. I've even had someone tell me that they don't understand why people find loss so hard to deal with, that it's just "the way the world is".
The thing is that death will always be hard to deal with. But for me, accepting it and dealing with it, not forcing it out of mind - let me come to terms with it.
There has been one very poignant change in myself that I noticed over the last year. After it happened, I used to say that he had "passed away". I couldn't bring myself to say it. But now, a year later, I hate those words. In a way, it feels like it's disrespectful. Like it isn't real. It's trying to ignore the truth. He died. It sucks. It's horrible. It breaks my heart. But it's what happened. And now that's what I say. I don't tip toe around it, because it makes it sound like it was easy. It lessens that pain, which was so very real. It's a harsh word, but it's just the reality.
This year is a leap year in the Jewish calendar, which means there is an extra month. So, my year of mourning only ends on 19 September. I have a few more weeks of this structure and then everything goes back to "normal" - I'm more scared of that than I thought I would be. Although, I am looking forward to buying some new clothes and cutting my hair. I'm going to miss the rules and the structure. And my constant reminder - through limitation - of my darling dad.
It's been one year.
This lovely, smiling man died on 30 August 2013.
I was 24 years old - far earlier than I expected to be without a dad.
I get through my days. Life has carried on. And while the heartache and sadness never goes away, I've learnt how to live around it.