16 August 2012

Carrying my father's weight

My father died suddenly last week. He had been ill for some time, but it was still a surprise ending to his life, though not a painful or terrible death, as far as I know. I have been in the shock part of grief for a few days, and now this is shifting to a different set of feelings. To say we had a complicated relationship is the understatement of the century, so my grief, too, is complicated.

As a child I was told over and over again that I looked like my mum, but these days I see a lot more dad in me, and some of that is down to my fatness, my ginger colouring, and my sense of physical strength. I related to my dad as a fat man, but he was not always fat. This has implications for how I see my own body as a fat person; was I always fat too? What if I wasn't? Looking through old photographs, I can see that his body changed quite a bit, getting fatter and thinner at various times. In his thirties, he was sort of chunky, then the drinking took hold and he grew a belly and a double chin. Physical memories of my dad are about being a kid snuggled up to his big chest, invariably clothed in a rough, chunky jumper. I remember seeing him in hospital just over ten years ago and being shocked at how thin he had become with the cancer. But he had a strong body, he survived that cancer, he carried on, and although he was very ill when he died, he also drove a moped and gardened, and was relatively active up until the end.

When my mum died in 1987 I got scared that I would die if I didn't lose weight. I was 18 years old. I went on the last diet I would ever do, and because I was doing the cooking and cleaning and was basically keeping everything together, I also put dad on the same diet. On Monday, when I went to his place to pick up some photos and things, I saw that he'd got that same diet book on his bookshelf, he'd decided to do it again. He also had that creep Paul McKenna's I Can Make You Thin. My own book, Fat & Proud, wasn't there, he told me he'd ordered it when it came out in 1998, but that could have been a lie. In any case, we never really talked about it, or about fat, apart from in a video project I did for my Master's degree in 1994. To me it looks like my life's work passed him by.

Dad was cremated early on Tuesday morning. When the funeral director invited people to carry his coffin, I was one of those who stepped forward. I wasn't even sure that I was allowed, despite my feminism, and having attended many funerals, I've never seen a coffin carried by women. But no one stopped me, so I took my place and I helped carry my dad's body. It felt like a metaphor for the emotional carrying I've done in relation to him over the years. But it was also a very physical experience. He was heavy! I had to use all my strength to carry him, from my feet planted firmly on the ground, through my legs, arms and belly. As I carried him I thought: "I am a strong fat woman carrying my dad's body, I can feel the weight of him, this is a fat man's body, a body to which I am connected. I can do this, and I can see what I am doing." And then it was time to say goodbye.

19 comments:

Bri said...

So moving. Thank you for sharing such an honest account of such a big experience in your life.

And it is just as bloody well no one tried to stop you from being a pall bearer!

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks Bri. It's funny, I'd got it into my head that women can't or aren't allowed to do it, which is nonsense. I'm glad nobody stopped me.

Jennifer jenlovesfilou said...

very moving post! thank you for sharing. i wasn't able to go to my father's memorial service and i have a lot of regret about that. i wasn't feeling well enough. thank you!

Charlotte Cooper said...

I'm sorry you missed your father's memorial, that's a tough one.

Sacchi Green said...

Twenty years ago my niece was a pallbearer for her grandmother, along with my son and two of their cousins. Or more; I don't remember. Nobody complained; it was clear that having someone from each branch of that generation (at least those who lived close enough) was the most important thing.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Ah, lovely. It's weird how rarely you see women doing that work.

Meryl said...

So sorry for you loss. You wrested some beautiful words out of those complex emotions, of course. Much love & very much hope I get to work with you on something or meet you again sometime – yr still my big fat hero!

Charlotte Cooper said...

You're my hero too Meryl.

holly said...

sending love to you, charlotte-- and so much appreciation for you, writing through it, inviting us to witness your grief. well done, carrying his weight. didn't even occur to me to offer to do that for my own father.
hugs from all Thermalia,
holly

Well-Rounded Mama said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your father. The loss of a parent is always a complex thing, with so many layers of grieving to it.

Be gentle with yourself as you go through it. Hugs.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks all.

Bally Balldez said...

Stop being fat. Susan Powter is a hard core feminist. Follow her lead.

Put that feminism crap aside and stop being a fatling.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Your comment is completely inappropriate and without humanity. I have published it so people reading this will see your abuse but anything else you ever post on my blog will be deleted immediately.

Emerald said...

So sorry for your loss, Charlotte. Lovely that you were able to do that last thing for him. Hugs to you.

skyethebard said...

That last paragraph made me teary. I can feel your strength through your beautiful words.

Thank you for sharing with us.

HistoryGeek said...

This is incredibly moving and poignant. Hugs to you.

living400lbs said...

My condolences on the loss of your father. I hope that you will have the time and space to take care of yourself.

Nine said...

Thank you for sharing something beautiful even in your grief. Love and hugs to you Charlotte.

marchmwood said...

I am touched by your courage in sharing such a raw and personal story with us. Your honesty inspires me and I posted your story to FB in the hopes that it touches others, and in touching them, can help heal them of fat hatred.

Peace be with you, sister. My condolences to you and your family.