My sisters arrive, each with their own take on grief, and we join my mother in the kitchen. We are drinking gin at just past noon and our mid-week gathering is so unusual it feels like Christmas. We talk of how glad we were that it was swift, that the horror of these last few days is over, and that he is no longer in pain. We realise we must let others know, and my eldest sister takes the phone to call our uncle. She dials and immediately tells him the news is bad, "he died this morning". There is a pause. "Oh I do apologise", she says, and puts the phone down. She looks aghast. "It was the wrong number". We burst out laughing and can't stop, clutching our sides and spilling our gin, a near-manic release of tension. In the midst of this hysteria the phone rings and my younger sister answers it; "can I speak with Dr Greenwood, please?" It is a sales call. "Are you a medium?" she says. "No? Then you will find it difficult". Her audacity launches us back into peals of laughter, and I marvel at the strength of women, who see humour in tragedy and hope in despair.
A series of visitors come and go all day and we congregate in the sitting room, drinking tea and perching on footstools; studiously avoiding my father's chair. The elephant in the room. Huge and unwieldy, it goes with nothing, but yields unsurpassed comfort which justifies its presence. As children, it was with immense daring we would sink into its battered arms, leaping up the instant he appeared in the doorway to reclaim his throne. The visitors all say we must be relieved. Must we? Can't we be angry? Or devastated? I am both. But still I cannot cry.
The house is silent, so silent. The reassuring tick-tock of the Grandfather clock has always made me feel safe, marking the progression of time with constancy and history. The clock has fallen silent; no-one but my father knows how to wind it. I worry what else we will discover, that only he knew, and I mourn that loss of knowledge. I miss the support of my husband and it is strange to be in the family home with no men, but I am glad for my mother that her sudden solitude is not underpinned by the presence of her sons-in-law. It is right that we spend this time together; my father's girls.
We spend the afternoon roaming restlessly round the house, each separately managing our mourning, yet drawing on the support of our sisterhood. My mother is writing lists, my younger sister sifting through old photographs of my father, and my older sister mopping floors as though she can wipe away sadness. I am upstairs, sat cross-legged on the floor with my father's tie collection spread out around me. Celebrated for this quirky addition to his otherwise conservative dress sense, I touch the fabrics reverently. They are my father. I can see the raised eyebrows at board meetings; I can follow his travels in souvenir ties. The dancing skeletons he wore to see patients, the dollar bills he sported before his accountant. All chosen with care to suit the occasion; some beautiful, some amusing, some quite tasteless. I choose my favourite and wrap it round my wrist, feeling my pulse beat against this piece of my father. I pull the fabric tighter, like a tourniquet, and the beat becomes fierce and strong like my love for him. But still I cannot cry for him, and I don't know why.