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  • Writer's pictureelmarfleet

August: Dance With My Father

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

"Back when I was a child

Before life removed all the innocence

My father would lift me high

And dance with my mother and me

And then

Spin me around 'til I fell asleep

Then up the stairs he would carry me

And I knew for sure

That I was loved..."

The boys and I remember dancing with Tom in our kitchen. We always have the radio on and turn it up "loud!" when good songs come on. It's a memory I want my children to have of me too. I have always loved dancing - just feeling the beat and moving to the melody feels as though all cares dissolve for the moment a duration of a song can give. I love hearing another one starting afterwards and adapting to the new beat, the new melody and the new feeling. Dancing however, is a part of me that left too when Tom passed away. I don't feel the enjoyment of a beat and melody to move to anymore and I'm not as light and carefree as I once was. But most of all, I miss the possibility that Tom might come into the room and join me or put his hands around my waist to spin me around or lift me up with the biggest grin on his face. Tom couldn't dance, he'd be the first to say so, but I loved seeing how happy he looked dancing. In clubs or at parties I would scan the faces around him, and my heart would swell to see how happy he made others too. Laughing with him. No one ever laughed at him. He was too good, too kind, too liked and too OK within his own skin for anyone to laugh at. It was only the moment that mattered then, and to feel him and me and all who were around us so happy, so in the moment, so in the song, so in the beat and so 'there' was always good, happy and fulfilling. It just doesn't feel right to turn the radio up in the kitchen now. I can't dance like I used to. There are no guilty feet... just a heaviness and a sadness of missing who I used to dance with.

Luther Vandross's beautiful song warms my heart with words that speak to me and my boys. We know we're not alone in what we have been through and there's a strange comfort in knowing that. There's a larger group of people who we now belong to, and who also carry that heaviness of loss where memories of what used to be feel more precious and special than they once were. A photograph can take a picture of what a moment looks like but if you were there you see so much more, you feel that moment too. There's that mix of pleasure and pain always felt in grief. I hope that they aren't as sharp for the boys as they are for me but only time will tell as they grow older. I just need to be there for them. Dancing wise, I hope that that part of me will come back. I want my boys to remember that about me, how I would turn the radio up and start to move to a beat and to a melody putting a pause on my grief and heaviness for just a moment. I want to give them that. Maybe one day, just not right now. Three years and two months on is too soon.

"...If I could get another chance

Another walk

Another dance with him

I'd play a song that would never ever end

How I'd love love love

To dance with my father again..."

There are so many songs that I would choose if I could get another chance to dance with Tom. I think I'd like a medley of his favourite songs that I could mix one after the next so seamlessly that they would "never ever end". Soon after Tom died, the boys and I created a Spotify album of

Tom's Songs giving us a total of 2 hours and 3 minutes of songs which remind us of our happy times with him. We "turn them up loud!" on our long drives to Devon. We sing along badly and out of tune(!) but I'm proud that Sam has learnt all the words to the chorus of Blue Is The Colour by 5 years old. Tom would like that. And if we get them wrong, we quote Tom and say, "Oops, they've got it wrong again." We like that. Like the photographs, these songs take me back to so many moments I've shared with Tom, and I know they do that for the boys too. Daniel and Matthew's favourite being We Will Rock You by Queen. He always played that one too loudly and the boys loved it. These songs take me back to when I first met Tom when I'd know his version of Blue Day better than I'd know Suggs's. I miss not having his version to listen to now and my stomach tightens. If only I could have that one more dance with him. And then the next song takes me to driving in California (Saturday Night by Elton John), and the next to dive bars in New York (Livin' On A Prayer by Bon Jovi), then cheesy clubs in London (You're The Voice by John Farnham), our wedding (It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones), 5pm on a Saturday afternoon with the boys (Out Of The Blue for Radio 5 Live's Sports Report) and then to his funeral (As by Stevie Wonder). I become acutely aware that most playlists put together for a 42-year-old will not include a song played at their funeral. It's not fair. Like a film, book or song unexpectedly and abruptly finishing, it can't be the end... we weren't done yet.

"...Never dreamed that he

Would be gone from me..."

I read Waiting for Wolf by Sandra Dieckmann to Sam this month. It's a stunning picture book about friendship and loss, and learning to carry on. It is the kind of book that you want to stroke. Forgive me if this sounds strange, but books are truly more than just containers for words and stories. What they look and feel like matters too when you are putting such powerful words, feelings and relationships into them. This is a beautiful book in every sense. The illustrations feed your eyes and you marvel at nature and the vastness of the world alongside the close friendship and love between the two characters of Wolf and Fox. You feel the warmth of the sun as they lie on their backs beside each other in a meadow and you feel the coolness of an evening as the sun sets and the moon rises over the mountains across a lake. "Wolf put his big, grey paw on Fox's shoulder and said quietly, "Tomorrow I will be starlight." Fox didn't understand. For now, it was just good to be together and Wolf said nothing more." Dieckmann takes such care to detail her vast landscapes with accurate perspective and feeling that the reader doesn't deter from her narrative told through pictures and words together. She takes the same amount of care on her close-up illustrations of Fox. Her eyes, snout and ears turn down and her shoulders slouch when she can't find her friend the next day. You turn the page and rotate the book to show Fox sitting in their favourite spot, by the lake with layers of forest, hills, mountains and eventually the night's sky dwarfing her. Fox is alone and missing her friend. The world is vast and she is so small... and alone. There's no big, grey paw on her shoulder anymore and this makes me feel sad. Sad for Fox and sad for me and sad for my boys. Fox, like Luther Vandross and like me, "Never dreamed that he/Would be gone from me." If only there really was another chance for another walk, another dance, another hug with him.

So, Fox continues her journey and looks everywhere she can think of for Wolf. Like Ruskin in Philip Ridley's Krindlekrax (written about in March), she shouts out to the world but "There was no answer. So she yelled louder into the crushing silence... "Where are you?" she cried. She reached up to the stars and pulled the shining star blanket down from the sky. Everything went dark." The next page is my favourite. On one half of the double page-spread Fox is curled up in the velvety star blanket. Her eyes are closed and I don't think she could make herself smaller if she tried. Dieckmann positions the text on the other side of the page-spread as a picture in itself. Dieckmann is an artist and words become illustrations and vice versa. It all speaks to my heart. "Wolf... are you there?" she whispered. There was no answer. Fox did not call for Wolf again. In her heart, she knew that Wolf was never coming back."

When I started to read books about grief and loss with my boys I hoped they would open conversations about their daddy and give them opportunity to share in their feelings of loss and grief. I hoped we'd see ourselves in books and be reassured by the words and illustrations, but they have become so much more. These books are about grief and loss but that's not their central theme or purpose. They are all about connections and relationships. We don't have to lose our connection with people we love just because we are not with them anymore. Dieckmann tells her readers, "At last, Fox understood what Wolf had said. He was gone, but all the wonderful things they had shared together would be with her always." Memories, photographs, music all take us back to where our hearts want to be. Right now, mine wants to be dancing in our kitchen being whisked off my feet. Just one more chance.

It's August and the school summer holidays. Last year I decided we could watch all the Harry Potter films and the usual English weather helped. It was an excuse to escape the rain and go into someone else's world together for a release from my hectic and emotionally yo-yoing mind, and I'm proud to have created the whole DVD set from charity shop rummages! There is a lot of death in the Harry Potter stories but I remember J.K Rowling writing about it with sensitivity and care, although I read them a long time ago. I know I was affected by Harry's grief but also think he may be the best role model fictional character for my bereaved children.

We watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone together but Matthew and Sam don't want to watch any more this time. The DVD collection should wait until we're all ready to enjoy this incredible magical world. Sam's too young for its full darkness and I don't think I'm ready either. I feel too much. My wound is still so sore. I thought knowing Harry is an orphan would be OK. Often in children's books, the protagonist has lost one or both their parents. It's used as a way for them to embark on a tie-free adventure or quest... but it's just so much more real now. Seeing the Mirror of Erised in this first film is enough. I love that idea. It wouldn't have to be, "a magnificent mirror, as high as the ceiling, with an ornate gold frame, standing on two clawed feet", it would just need its magic and its inscription: "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi". Read it backwards. Feel and imagine.

My Mirror of Erised takes me back in time to where I'm dancing in our kitchen with Tom. Stevie Wonder comes on the radio as I type and I imagine dancing to Higher Ground with him, laughing at his lack of rhythm and wide grin on his face. I close my eyes to imagine the scene closer and as the song ends I begin to feel Harry's, "powerful kind of ache inside, half joy, half terrible sadness." Open eyes. Deep breath and release those tightened stomach muscles. I wonder what Tom's heart's desire would have been but am interrupted by Sam asking for Tom's Subbuteo set to play with and as I get it, I see Matthew watching NFL on the TV. I have my answer, Tom's heart's desire would be to be back with us. There's so much of Tom here in the love he's left behind. I hold it tight in my heart.

This month we decorate picture frames. Perhaps we'll try mirrors one day. It's the summer holidays and I want to celebrate the boys and give them free reign to decorate as they want, as they desire. Sam paints scenes from Jungle Cruise a film he loves, Matthew paints colours of an NFL team and Daniel goes for a pattern. I love spending time with them and know I'm truly lucky to have them. My dance will come back one day. I can't rush or force it. I must take it one step at a time. It must be felt. It must be right, and it must be real. For now, Luther sings my life with his words and that's where I am. I hope my boys don't listen outside my door like young Luther does outside his mother's. I don't want to add to their pain. They know I cry; they know I miss their daddy but I want their dreams to be about them and not me. I don't want them to feel the pain I know is missing from their lives. I want to give them all of me and in doing so, give them all of their daddy too.

Perhaps Luther now has his heart's desire and is reunited with both his mother and father again. Maybe that's how the afterlife works. We can't know until we do. The thought brings comfort.

"...Sometimes I'd listen outside her door

And I'd hear how my mama would cry for him

I'd pray for her even more than me

I'd pray for her even more than me

I know I'm praying for much too much

But could you send her

The only man she loved

I know you don't do it usually

But dear Lord

She's dying to dance with my father again

Every night I fall asleep

And this is all I ever dream"

Luther Vandross

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