It’s been nearly two years since I saw my father.
He passed away on a sunny Saturday in March. I remember the morning of that day – I was the only one awake in the house that early because of work. At the time, I was working my way through Red Dead Redemption and was squishing in half an hour of gameplay. John Marston, after clearing up in Mexico, was now being hounded by two Bureau agents. After doing a mission, I put the pad down and got ready for work, saying goodbye to everyone very quietly since they were all still sleeping, including my father, and headed off to work. My head was full of cowboys and horses and vast expanses of dry desert under a cloudless sky.
After my father died, everything became both difficult and pointless for a while. What they don’t really tell you about bereavement is how strange it all feels, to have someone there one moment and then not there the next. To have everything be so normal that you don’t even think about how normal it was until everything changes and your reality has to shift and mould to something that feels uncomfortable and different and painful. How grief and mourning feels both so massively universal because everyone dies and that’s just what happens and infinitely personal at the same time because it was someone close to you that died, not just anyone. How you can’t really describe grief itself, you can only describe what it does to you, what it does to your thinking, what it does to your body, what it does to everything and everyone around you.
When it came to the consoles, I couldn’t stand to pick up a pad or play through a story. It was just all so… trivial. Red Dead Redemption was cast to one side with contempt.
For a while, gaming along with most other things became almost despicable to me. When it came to the consoles, I couldn’t stand to pick up a pad or play through a story. It was just all so… trivial. Red Dead Redemption was cast to one side with contempt. It didn’t matter that I was probably 80% through the story. Who gave a fuck? It was yet another reminder (everything was a reminder) that my father wasn’t around. That my morning had been spent playing, rather than… I don’t even know what.
Looking at Red Dead would remind me that my father wouldn’t be sleeping in the next room while I was playing it, that he wouldn’t enjoy the good story that was unfolding no matter how much he loved Westerns. I tried to play it once shortly after the funeral but John Marston in that achingly beautiful landscape was too much, too strong a memory of that morning where nobody knew that everything would change. Fuck that game, fuck everything, shut it all down, shove that disc somewhere, anywhere.
I think that bereavement is a process; it’s not something you just pop through in one piece – it’s strangely everlasting. Mourning doesn’t really end, more that it just… changes. I’m not in the same place I was a year, two years ago. I might not be in this place again next year. And that’s the thing about death and grief and time. It just keeps on going. Time just keeps moving on and things don’t disappear, but they become more manageable. Maybe this year, it’s time to try and play that game again, the one that took on an unfair significance.
I tried last year to play Red Dead Redemption, but I had forgotten all the buttons and got killed by a bear, as you do. I’m going to start it again, now that I can look at it without crying or throwing it across the room. I think this year, on my father’s anniversary, I’ll sit down with a stiff drink and play the game for a while in his honour. Maybe this time around, I’ll actually finish it. My father did love a Western; it’ll feel a bit like we’re sitting and watching one together, playing through it together, exploring the landscape, watching the sky move, the dust swirl and the animals sweep past.