My sister could not stop crying once Dad told us he was dying. She got into a routine of getting up at five every morning and walked the dogs along the Norfolk strand so that she could howl and wail and weep without anyone listening.
I couldn’t cry. I wanted to. I expected to. After all, I was the one who always cried. I could cry at the drop of a hat. I cried at films, at books, at good news and at bad. I cried at weddings and baptisms and funerals. I cried during arguments. I even cried when my husband proposed to me.
But I couldn’t cry about my dad having terminal cancer. Instead, I raged.
It was not a specific rage. It was not directed at the cancer or at the doctors or at the dying of the light. It was an indiscriminate rage which reared up when I least expected it: white hot and roaring and not a little bit mad.
The first time I experienced it was the day after Dad called me with his news. I was due to get a train at midday to go on my book tour, but I needed to go for a run before I left. I had so much pent-up energy. I put it down to feeling nervous about the tour.
I was running along the towpath near where I live. I was running faster than I usually do. As I ran, I became aware of a small black and white dog, sitting in the middle of the towpath ahead of me. Its owners were standing by a narrowboat, calling it to them, ‘Daisy, Daisy!’
I remember vaguely thinking that I hoped the dog would return to the boat and would not jump up at me, as small dogs are wont to do, and I slowed my pace a little. As I approached the dog, it remained sitting cutely, right in the middle of the path, ignoring its owners. I swerved to avoid it.
At that very moment, it jumped and pawed my legs. I slowed some more and waited for the owners to be more insistent in their calling, but they simply stood and watched as the dog jumped higher, dug its claws into my thighs and then dived under my feet. It all happened quickly, as these things do, and at once I was flat on the ground, my hands out in front of me, my skin stinging.
I got up, aware of a sharp pain in my knees, and walked stiffly to a nearby cafe where, in the ladies, I peeled off my running tights and inspected the damage: two large gashes on my knees, gravel embedded under flapping skin, blood pooling darkly in the wounds. My hands were only grazed, but they too were hurting. And I was three miles from home.
That is when the rage came. It welled up, racing through my veins, like the blood pumping from my knees, dark and hot and violent. I hobbled out of the ladies, my head full of the words which then streamed from my mouth at the two astonished men, standing by their boat, their sweet little dog at their feet.
‘You should have your animal on a lead! What if I had been a small child or an elderly lady? My knees are bleeding, I am three miles from home. I have a train to catch!’
I ranted. And as I ranted, another part of my brain was saying, ‘They are two old men. They are Dad’s age. They are saying sorry. They look mortified. Stop shouting at them.’
The trouble was, I wasn’t really shouting at them.
There has been a lot of rage since that day. There have been tears too – they did come, at last. Tears are more understandable, more acceptable. I still have two deep purple scars on my knees to remind me of that day. I look at them and feel ashamed. Maybe if I had broken down and cried in front of those men, that would have been OK. But the rage is a natural part of grieving too. I know that now. I just wish I hadn’t taken it out on two white-haired old men and their tiny cute dog. I wish I could find them and explain: ‘I was grieving.’