In the years after his father’s death, South African author found his grief transforming into peace
first, it is a howling storm of agony, rage and fear. Loss is what we call this thing, but it is a many-layered inescapable hell that we have to navigate. We have to balance it with our other life, the one of hope and busyness, of career stress and financial burdens, of illness and fun-filled dinner parties, or of sun-soaked holidays and sometimes unhappy children whom we must guide to selfacceptance and growth. Grief doesn’t stop for real life. through the hurricane of grief. I heard it first in the still emptiness of my dad’s workshop. It was filled with a lifetime’s collection of his much-loved tools and halffinished projects.
He was an engineer and loved working with his hands. He did woodwork, fixed cars, and came up constantly with ideas on how to improve rubble collection, the transport of sugar, even the railway spikes that hold the rails to the sleepers.
He was a poet with machines, it gave him to do these things taught me to do the same with words. They too need careful precision and accurate assembly, and when I do that properly I get the same sense of joy I did while watching him all those years ago.
Weeks after his death I stood alone in his empty workshop, a place where no one would ever work again.
Sadness welled up in me, and yet, at the same time, I felt the first faint stirrings of an unfamiliar joy. The gifts he had given me through his love of tools and work were how he lived on inside me. I had always loved him, very deeply, and I had feared and raged against that loss while he was still alive. But now he was gone, and in the half-light of his empty workshop, I understood that I had learned a new way to love him.
I’m not gifted like he was with tools, but over the years of my youth he taught me enough to look at problems around the house: a dripping tap, a light switch that doesn’t work, a drain that is blocked, and have a pretty good idea of how to fix it. I certainly can’t fix everything, but what I can achieve is because of him.