A Personal Grief
This feels a little like going to confession:
It has been 18 years since I saw him alive last. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death but for some reason it has hit me today at just how long it has been since I last saw my dad alive. 18 years since we talked, 18 years since I got a hug from him. When my dad died I spent a lot of time angry. I was angry at my mum – she sent me home the night before he died because she was angry at someone else but taking it out on me. I was angry at god (a god I never believed in) for taking him. I was angry with myself – for not telling him I loved him; he and I shared a look in those last moments before I went home, a look where no words were uttered but a million things were said. I was angry at everything and everyone. I spent a lot of time carrying around the hurt and pain I was going through. I never had many friends so I didn’t have people around me to talk to about him. My family were all dealing with their own personal pain so I just shoved mine down deep. I buried it so deep into myself that for a while I forgot it was there.
Even when my mum got ill I managed to compartmentalise all of my feelings so that I was able to cope with the magnitude of losing another parent. My mum and me were always at loggerheads but when she got ill I was pregnant with my fourth child so I did not manage to help in the care of her but instead was a comfort to her by making her laugh (sorry for the hurt I inadvertently caused anyone if you were the subject of a joke). We kept each other company and talked about life as it was happening, we spent a lot of time laughing and joking. I don’t think I was emotionally ready for any huge heart to hearts. I felt that I had come to terms with my mum’s health decisions and respected how she wanted to do things. That is not to say I would have made the same decisions she did. Over the course of my pregnancy and her illness we became closer than we had ever been. I appreciated her opinion and she was visibly chuffed when I told her how much she meant to me and my kids. Although I was never ready to lose her as a parent we had resolved all of our earlier differences, we had become close and I did not have the regrets that I had held onto when my dad passed.
My dad’s illness was much more dramatic and fast. He went downhill quickly and no one was really aware of how bad things were. We were reeling from the cancer diagnosis but I do not think anyone had recovered from that shock when he died. I cannot speak for everyone but I was left with a huge sense of things unsaid. A huge gaping chasm had appeared in my life. I was in my second year at university but did not have the strength to speak to my tutors and let them know what was happening. My grades suffered and I walked around in a daze of incomprehension. I was lost on so many levels that I don’t know how I made it back to a normal life. I think the fact that I had two young daughters that needed me to be strong was the only reason I had to keep going.
More recently though I have had a strong sense of feelings re-emerging. I feel like circumstances have left me a little more vulnerable in life. I am the parent of five kids and now have three grandchildren but this last year has been one of huge upheaval and there were many shocks along the way. I have been exhausted due to many sleepless nights and worry about loved ones. I have been emotionally on the edge and have no idea how I managed to keep going to work, looking after everyone and even getting out of bed. There were many days this year that I awoke and thought maybe if I just close my eyes and pull up the bedclothes that everything will go away.
As a direct result of this my mental health was affected in ways that no one would ever realise by looking at me. I had pushed my feelings away for so long that the cracks were beginning to show. I was crying for no reason at home on my own. I would be inconsolable at night when all my kids were sleeping. I would wake up bleary eyed, blotchy and swollen from crying so much. I was eating everything in my way, I was eating late at night trying to fill the void in my life. For me boredom is dangerous as I start to self-destruct. I did not have the concentration span to read, music did not have its usual anti-depressive effect on me. I let things slip by the wayside and just concentrated on doing as little as possible to get me through the day. I have been scared to let all of my feelings out in case it was all too much and I wouldn’t be able to function anymore.
There has been a catalyst in the last few months that have brought all these feelings to the fore. I have been looking into my family history and especially my dad’s side of the family. I have been trying to understand the people who shaped my life and in turn the people who shaped theirs. I have been trying to spend my time with my aunts. Not just because they are all wonderful, interesting and fantastic people but also because they are the key to who my father really was. I was devastated though at the loss of one of my aunts just before Christmas. I went to visit her before she died and was blown away by how beautiful, serene and glowing she looked. The feeling of love in the room was overwhelming. I gave her a hug before I left and she gripped onto my hand and looked at me and I told her I loved her and there was a huge feeling of connection that washed over me. If I could allow myself to believe it (I have been a sceptic on such matters forever) I would have said that my dad was in the room. I gave my other aunts a hug and went home feeling like a weight had been lifted.
On returning to my house I felt like I had a mini breakdown. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like I had gone through some sort of epiphany and needed some focus for my grief. Since then I have felt comfort in a few places. At my aunts rosary service I felt like I was closer to something bigger than me. The words in the prayers actually gave me comfort. At the funeral for my aunt I loved the tone of the service and the fact it was all about love and the growth of love. In my aunts presence I only ever felt feelings of love. I have a huge family but I never felt like I wasn’t equally loved by this woman. I know I am probably giving these happenings much more importance than they really need but for me I felt like the world was telling me something. I have felt compelled to sit in the chapel but not for any religious sustenance but because it is a place for reflection. The chapel holds lots of memories of my mum and dad and us as a family doing something together.
It is now days later and I still feel the warmth from that initial connection. I still feel surrounded by love, a familial comforting love. I think the connection for me was a family circle being completed. I think somewhere in the ethos my dad heard the words I said out loud to my aunt and I feel at peace with her and with him. I am going to go visit his grave tomorrow. I feel that it is long overdue.