I wrote this piece and read it today at my father’s funeral.
Our Father – Tribute by Miriam Grace
Or in Latin Pater-noster.
I wonder how many of you have been on the paternoster in the Arts Tower in Sheffield? And maybe you have travelled on the paternoster with David?
One of the thrills of visiting Dad at work from a young age, was being taken on to the paternoster. If you’re not familiar with it, take the concept of an escalator and apply it to a chain of lifts with no door, in perpetual slow motion that one steps in and out of to get from one floor of the building to another.
Dad taught me to wait till I could step down onto the paternoster floor as it rose to meet my foot. Getting off, he held my hand as we stepped one step uponto floor six (later 11 and then 10).
Only as adults Jeremy and I realised that we shared a separation anxiety dream as children, that of being on the paternoster, Dad stepping off, but experiencing ourselves as missing the crucial moment and being carried higher and further away from him, paralysed with fear as it became too late to jump.
As a teenager this paternoster-frisson remained, though I independently stepped on and off during casual summer jobs such as invoicing for the early publications of JSOT (later Sheffield Academic Press).
Dad always encouraged my writing, even proof reading my Masters dissertation in Psychotherapy. It was then that he advised me that a piece of writing was never finished, it was more appropriate’ he said, to think of abandoning it, giving it up. From then on the verb to submit always contained more than one of its meanings, I was not simply handing work in, I was psychologically detaching.
Megan was recently listening to a clip of Dad speaking about the last words of Job and drew my attention to his rejection of the standard translation, ‘Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’ Dad argues that beside the fact that the whole story is based on Job being an innocent man with no need to repent, the verb ‘to despise’ would have ‘myself’ after it, which is doesn’t. Dad concludes, quote,
“I think that it can’t really be that word, to despise, but another similar sounding word that means something like, melt or submit or give in or quit. I would argue that what Job is saying is that he’s given up his case against God and he just quits.”
I’ve never been good at melting and submitting, mine is an anxious attachment style, but Dad and I processed these psychological ideas individually and together over the last 25 years or so.
Dad was always interested in enquiring, listening and discussing with my professional self, part of me he could easily engage with. Despite his avoidant attachment style, this valuing and appreciation of my thinking encouraged me to continue writing and to continue to ask difficult questions, which I had been practising from a young age. If my clients were surprised that their therapist remarked upon the hippopotamus in response the existential question of human suffering, those who have studied Dad’s work on Job would be less so.
We also spoke about death. In his final days Dad spoke to me of the many books still left in him that would never be written. Professionally, I would call this pre-emptive grief. Sitting by his bed, I shared with him a guided visualisation I had written.
Imagine being in an orchard, and picking apples from a tree. Imagine the sounds, the temperature, the light in the orchard. Imagine reaching out and choosing and picking an apple, the weight of it in your hand, the texture and colour. Imagine placing it in your basket.
At a later point in the narrative,
It is time to leave with your basket of apples to take them back to your storehouse. As you leave you turn and notice there are so many good apples left on the tree, unpicked. Notice how you feel.
As you approach your harvest storehouse you notice something written above the door, what does it say?
It is left up to the individual to read what is there for them. I explained that when I looked I had seen the word genug. Before I had time to reference it, Dad exclaimed, ‘Ich habe genug!’. And we happily discussed our mutual appreciation of a favourite cantata..
The next morning, he told the nurse, with tears. “I’ve accepted that I can leave things unfinished. I’m ready to go.” Days later I discovered in the file he had left marked ‘funeral music’ that Ich Habe Genug’ was there.
What have I learned about melting, submitting through this? How can I face this separation, that we all mark today?
I can still vividly recall the atmosphere, the smell, the silence of the corridors when one exited the paternoster to begin work in the Arts Tower.
What is it like now he has stepped off, and we are left to travel on without him?
I am no longer a child and I no longer feel anxious, knowing I have received and experienced enough to be confident that I can stand and progress safely without holding his hand.
As for Dad, I do not know what he is doing on the floor he got off on, but I like to imagine that he is saying something I heard him say in his sleep one day, when he was dozing in his armchair at home, “That’s good, show me the next page… now what are we doing here?” to some writer, an academic, a novelist, a grandchild.
For the music links in the service, including “Ich habe genug” (I have enough) by Bach, click here: