This is significant at the start of the play and is explored in contrasting ways through the characters Alec and Davie. As an eleven year old child, Alec has no inhibitions and is not constrained by stereotypes.
He cries freely for his mother, deep big sobs, and this allows him to deal with her death. His religious feelings also help as he hopes for:
A sign. Jesus to come walking across the back and tell me everything was alright. A window in the sky to open and God to lean out and say my mother had arrived safe.
Shortly afterwards, the clouds move across the sky, exposing
a wee patch of clear blue, which Alec takes to be the requested sign. This gives him the peace of mind that his mother is safe and he can now begin to move on with his life.
In contrast, Davie struggles with his grief and becomes isolated and lonely. He cannot talk to his young son and his brother, Billy, does not understand his deep-seated feelings. Davie tries to divert his feelings by keeping busy at home:
As long as ye keep movin it doesnae hit ye. Get the fire goin clean the windaes dust the furniture think about something for eatin don't stop keep yerself going.
His language here is a series of imperatives with no separating punctuation, which suggests a long list of jobs to keep his mind free from thinking about his late wife. However, it doesn't take much for him to think about her and he sees only a bleak future.
Davie’s grief seems to become depression and he loses his enthusiasm for life. He begins drinking and this is noticed by young Alec. He also gambles and takes no interest in his work. His job brings him little fulfilment, but he cannot find the motivation to do something about it.
Meals are not being cooked, possibly because Davie does not know how, and he and Alec are living on fish suppers. His gambling gets out of hand and he is in debt, firstly to the bookie, then to Billy and finally to Alec. This leads to conflict between him and Alec.
Even at the end of the play, when Alec is ready to move onto university and seize new opportunities, Davie is lonely and grieving. He and Alec argue over women. Alec tries to encourage his father to form a new relationship, but goes about it in an unsympathetic way by mocking him.
Every time ye meet a wumman she’s a really really really nice person. Why don't ye just admit that ye fancy her?
Alec receives a slap for this. Despite all his education, Alec has failed to understand that his father is lonely and seeks company in the pub, but is not ready for a new relationship.
The symbolic burning of the items in the glory hole and his rehousing by the council may provide Davie with the opportunities to move on, but only time can determine whether he will. The end of the play is rather poignant as the audience sees him alone.