Grieving the living …..
Could grief for the loss of one we love be greater (if that is at all possible) than the grief we suffer over our loss from death? Anyone who hasn’t experienced this form of loss, but is suffering from torturous grief, will probably want to scream “No” but let me expand. If someone dies, they had no choice (unless suicide of course but even then there is an argument as to the choice they feel they have).
My dad walked out of the door just before my 8th Christmas. I vaguely recall being told it was nothing to do with me. He had fallen out of love with my mum, not me. I would be OK. Would I? I watched my mum shrink to skeletal proportions, whilst I piled on the pounds. I heard her heartbroken sobs, whilst I hid silent and confused in my bed, feigning sleep. I became a very “good girl” fearing it was my naughtiness that had driven my dad away. My fault my mum was in pain, maybe I could make it better if I was “gooder”! I missed my dad so much, but I missed my mum too. Not only that but I missed Santa; apparently even he didn’t think I was very good as he didn’t leave me many presents anymore! I didn’t know then that mum was financially as well as emotionally struggling. My world had turned upside down and I grieved the loss of everything.
At first, he took me out for a few hours every Saturday. We would walk along the seafront together (but he didn’t hold my hand). He would give me 2p coins to put in the slot machines, or watch me on one of the rides – but he never did these things with me. He would buy me ice-cream, donuts, candyfloss, piling more pounds onto my young body (body image and weight issues ever since). I didn’t want to refuse these things, they were nice and seemed to make dad happy buying them. I had started to want to please others more than myself. When he dropped me back home I would kiss him good-bye and say, “I love you daddy”, where I waited for the usual answer of, “I love you too”. He stopped saying it, and very soon so did I. One day he picked me up and there was a strange woman in the car “Meet my wife” he said.
Rejected. Jealous. Scared. I still saw him every Saturday but now he took me to his new home and his new life. I didn’t fit. I continued to try to please and didn’t complain. As I got older friends started going out Saturdays but I couldn’t go. “I have to see my dad” I said. I was scared to tell dad I had invites elsewhere, I thought it would hurt him. I also feared if I didn’t see him he would forget me. So I, in turn, rejected friends losing that time of building those important peer relationships.
At 18, I left college, got a job, left home – I needed to run and get away from my prison of pleasing others. I was depressed and running but didn’t know that then. My dad didn’t try to contact me or even find where I had moved. I felt I had given him all those Saturdays, and actually when he left mum he had wanted to leave me as well after all. I had been right. He felt duty bound to see me, nothing more.
I grieved over the years for the loss of my dad. He was basically dead to me as I didn’t know him, didn’t see him. I began to wish he was. Immediate tremendous guilt. I really was a horrible person. I made myself stop those thoughts, I feared my thoughts to be so powerful I would make it happen and I didn’t really want that. If he died there was no second chance! Then I tried to forgive him. I admitted to myself I missed him. I loved him, he was my dad, surely he did love me too? So I contacted him.
He acted like there had been no separation over the years, seemed pleased enough to see me. Never one for much conversation, he could avoid and blankly refuse to engage, just listen to others with the odd nod. Without words, I still felt his disapproval. If he didn’t nod, I knew it was a topic he didn’t appreciate and I would change the subject. I also still believed he did love me, I made every excuse for him I could find. Then I met someone and planned to marry. Of course, being the dutiful daughter I asked my dad to give me away. I thought it was an honour, but he hated it. He didn’t have to say it – but I knew. Sadly, my step-dad who loved me so much, understood why I had to ask my paternal dad, and he stepped back and watched.
When I had my daughter, I thought maybe a baby would help us connect again. Maybe I deluded myself, it was what I wanted. He saw her at a week old, then 3 months, then a year. I stopped calling him, waited for him to contact me. Gone again. Rejected again. Grief again. This time not just for me but for my daughter. I strengthened my resolve to not let him hurt her like he hurt me so I stopped calling. I tried not to miss him but I still did. I hurt for the loss of what I craved from my dad. But a stubborn streak developed in me and I would not be the one to contact him first. A negative trait I apparently share with my dad.
Ironically, my daughter turned 8 (the age dad left me) and I was very ill in hospital with pneumonia. My husband warned my daughter I could die (big arguments over that one) and she thought I was so ill because she had been naughty. I didn’t see at the time history repeating itself in her development even if it was for different reasons. Bless her. She felt her “missing grandad” would want to know his daughter was ill, got his address from my address book (all paperwork then) and wrote him a letter. He turned up. He did love me! I would forgive him anything. He was in our life for the next 3 years and it was the best it had ever been. We had holidays. We had fun. We had time. I been right after all. Albeit delayed, but my baby had brought us together and she adored him!
More my father’s daughter than I could know…. I ended MY marriage. My ex knew the emotions I had gone through and we talked and worked hard to keep her life as balanced as we could. But my dad was livid! How could I do that to his grand-daughter? How dare he, he should understand not criticise. When I met someone new, it was the last straw, he didn’t want to know me. I knew it was me he didn’t want to see, but of course my daughter lost a grandad too! More grief, more suffering, more loss.
My daughter, history repeating yet again, did the same as me. When she was old enough and had learnt to drive she turned up on his doorstep. She was angry with me, telling me he was so pleased to see her, so sad to have lost us. He was going to call her and she told me she would see him even if I wouldn’t. He never called. She grieves a living grandad.
So, as awful and as guilty as I feel for saying this, IF he had died when I was 8, I would have cried and grieved. I would still be sad, but maybe I would recall the happy times. Instead I have had years of grief with alternate hope and rejection. When we lose , but they are still somewhere out there, the burden of rejection, guilt, self-doubt and loss can be overwhelming. I am sure it’s the basis of my lifetime’s underlying depression which I have to actively manage every day.
With the development of social media, 2 years ago, I was able to find him on facebook. Did he want to be found? Yep, you guessed it, I couldn’t not try, I sent a message on his birthday, “Dear Dad, I know we are no longer in contact but I want you to know I think of you with fondness. I remember the happy times and I wish you a Happy Birthday” – almost what I would put on his headstone. I grieve. There was no reply. I also know the day he does die, I will grieve yet again.