Thursday, 5 October 2017

Travel: On Forgetting to Remember...



It was on the Rue au Beurre in Brussels almost 10 years ago that I first remembered my father had died ... absurd as that sounds.

It had been four months since he had passed away. Taken quickly, leaving us to deal with the shock at first, and when it left what remained was sadness and a deep, aching hurt - tinged with anger and regret. And that pain was a constant presence in my head over those first few months, as if his ghost was rattling around inside of me daring me to forget him...


So I had gone to Brussels with a few friends, partly as an escape from the constant reminders of his passing and partly because I wanted to go somewhere to relieve that wanderlust itch, which no amount of reading or writing about travel can truly scratch.

Brussels did both. It was here I discovered Bruegel and Horta; it was here that I discovered a bar with 2,000 different beers; it was here I did the Cantillon tour and first found gueuze and kriek; it was here I was served beers in vases and horns hung on timber; it was here I learned how to pronounce Duvel correctly; it was here I tasted stoemp and sausage for the first time. And it was here I started to really appreciate beer, and began to respect it more.

And because of all of this I forgot about my father's death for the first time ... and not due to alcohol consumption I must add, but due to the sheer volume of information that had overwhelmed my brain and had distracted my thought process.


I was standing on the street, looking in the window of a gift shop on the last day of our trip when I spotted a tiny silver trumpet. It looked well made, with intricate, fine detail and came in its own little case. My father played a trumpet in a few showbands in the 1950s and 1960s, so it popped into my head that this would make a nice present for him. I was about to cross the threshold of the shop when I stopped, with my hand resting on the cold glass door...

It was only then that I remembered, as a wave of despair and pain struck me, that he was dead.

Anger then took over and guilt too, as I couldn't believe that I had forgotten his now permanent absence from my life. I turned from the door and crossed the street to a nearby church, seeking darkness and solitude. I sat down on an empty pew in the gloom and cried...


Loss is a difficult thing to deal with, as most of us know, but in those moments when it hits you again it can be crushingly, achingly painful. Ten years on it still happens, differently and perhaps lessened to a degree by repetitivity but it still creates similar feelings and emotions. In a way I'm glad it does, as it makes me appreciate and work on my relationship with others in my family ... especially my mother, and my own son.

But this is not a poor me/pity me post, although it possibly is about me exorcising my demons in some sort of cathartic way. It serves as a reminder that it's okay to grieve, i
t's okay to cry, it's okay to forget ... as the re-remembering that then occurs jars your emotions awake and makes you feel more human, mindful and alive - albeit with a strong awareness of mortality, and regret.

And that forgetting happens still...


I travelled a little with my father, and I was lucky enough to bring my parents to places such as Rome, Austria and Switzerland. Places both he and my mother had always wanted to visit but would never have gone on their own. And now when I travel, either alone or with others, there is a strange, irrational comfort in knowing that some part of him is with me on the same journey, seeing the same sights, eating the same food and trying those new drinks - because a part of him remains within me, still rattling around in my head.

My father was a hardworking, gentle, caring, honest man, traits I try to emulate although I often fail to attain. He was highly critical of the world around him, and questioned everything. He hated liars and thieves, had no time for fools and charlatans. We were always close although perhaps not as close as we could have been, and at times he was my biggest critic...

... but I'd give almost anything to sit at a bar in Brussels, or anywhere else in the world, and share a quiet beer with him right now.



Liam

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