Your journey through grief will at times be a solitary one, as you find yourself disappointed by the people who you previously turned to for support and guidance. May be they prioritised their grief over yours and were unable to see past their own pain? May be they failed to understand the extent of your loss and how to support you through your pain? Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that very rarely will this neglect and and absence stem from a lack of care or compassion, and if that is the case, do we really want one loss to lead to others?
My journey through grief has gone hand in hand with my journey through forgiveness. Forgiveness for the parent who couldn’t parent, forgiveness for the friends who didn’t know how to be there, forgiveness for the boyfriends who selfishly ran away, forgiveness for the acquaintances who were stunned into silence. For in forgiving we let go of feelings of disappointment and resentment, giving us the space and the energy to focus on what is truly important, finding happiness and purpose in our lives again, in spite of our suffering.
Same death, different loss
My father, my sister and I all lost the same person, our greatest love, mama. In an ideal world, this mutual loss should have united us, become the source of a strengthened relationship and given us an insight into each other’s pain. However, in reality, we tiptoed around each other, terrified of deepening the cracks in our broken hearts.
My father’s answer was one of survival, which he saw as the anthesis of emotion. He threw himself into denial instead of confronting the reality of what had happened. The family home was preserved like a shrine to my mother, as if she had never left, yet her or her death was rarely discussed. Instead he went on a quest to bring an outsider into the home, to effectively pick up where he had left off. This wasn’t heartless, far from it, but he truly believed that he could not survive on his own, and needed another woman to save him. However, his biggest mistake wasn’t to force us to accept an outsider so soon after our mother’s death, but to think that an outsider understood his pain more than the two woman who shared it. If only he hadn’t seen us a children when we were young adults who had grown up too fast. If only he had leaned on us for support instead of a complete stranger. If only he had acknowledged and accepted our pain and loss as his own and grieved alongside us instead of separately from us.
At the time I felt betrayed by the way he swept my mother’s existence under the carpet and replaced her with an inferior and cold hearted substitute. While I cried myself to sleep every night, he was out plastering over his pain by riding off into the sunset with his new flame. Years of family counselling failed to unit us, as my father clung onto ‘my new mum’ with desperation like a child with a new toy.
In the end I learnt the hard way, if I didn’t want to lose another parent, I had to meet him half way. The acceptance came first and the forgiveness and understanding came later.
Yes as a father, he should have put the needs of his children first. But he was and had never been the open, sensitive, nurturing, compassionate and loving parent. That had always been mama’s role. His role was one of a provider and deep down he knew that he couldn’t even do that if he was alone – and if he couldn’t even do that, what role what he have in our lives?
In losing mama, I learnt about my father, someone who I had never had a chance to know. He may have let us down and failed to acknowledge and support us through our grief, but years later, I finally understand what he went through in his life that led him to make the decisions he did.
I know that in his heart he loves us but I don’t think he ever knew how to show us. And for that and everything else, I wholeheartedly forgive.