I hesitated a lot over whether to write this…..I’m still not sure whether I’ll press the ‘publish’ button. I hesitated, and am still hesitating, because it is something I’ve never written about before, or even really talked about before.
I hesitated because thinking about it makes me sad, and it tends to be easier to avoid those things. Or it seems easier at the time, anyway. But this year I’ve realised that sometimes you have to stop marching on through pretending everything is fine, and take the time to address things properly.
The thing is, my dad died this year.
The day it happened, I wrote it down again and again because I didn’t really know what else to do. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to do next. Because the other thing is, I hadn’t seen my dad for over 20 years…..since I was about 15. So how are you meant to feel in that situation? How do you even tell people what has happened? People would have questions – where did he live? Was it sudden? Were we close? Had I seen him recently? It was too big to know how to approach. It would need to be followed up by explanations, history; by things that I had rarely talked about.
And so I hardly told anyone…..I didn’t really talk about it at all. I went to work. I cooked the dinner. I watched my boys play football. I did the food shopping. I renewed library books. I went to meetings. I tried my very hardest to carry on with my day to day, because I had no idea what else to do.
I went to my dad’s memorial service and listened to people talk about a man I couldn’t even claim to know. When a lady asked me who I was, I was unable to find the words to answer….for a moment I had no idea.
That was three months ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I have talked about it once since then.
Interactions with friends and acquaintances tend to require us to be fine – there is little time for things to be otherwise. You can be tired, or not feeling 100%, or anything else brief that can be dealt with on the school run or at the coffee machine; but the rushed ‘How are you?‘ that we greet most people with does not allow for anything much more detailed than this. We ask people how they are, but that doesn’t mean that we actually have time to put an afternoon aside to hear all about it.
It’s not that we’re not interested, it’s just modern life.
And so that was how it was. I attempted to deal with this massive hole in my life by not dealing with it; which is what I had always done. I kept busy through my twenties, and hid behind my boys through my thirties. It is only now, as I’m about to enter my forties, that I am starting to realise that hiding behind activity and/or children doesn’t necessarily work. And that, ironically enough, by attempting to protect my children I have probably made things worse, because I can’t be the mum they need whilst continuing to pretend that everything is as it should be.
I had, at the age of 38, lost my dad; but what I had never taken the time to come to terms with was the fact that I hadn’t actually had my dad through any of my adult life.
I don’t have much to say about estrangement that hasn’t already been said in this excellent piece by Sali Hughes, much of which really resonated with me. But I will say that it is an incredibly difficult thing to talk about for so many reasons. There is the worry that people might judge you – estrangement can be such a hard thing for people to understand. And what about friends who have lost a parent? How could I tell friends who I knew were devastated to have lost their dad that yes, my dad was alive but that he was no longer part of my life?
And so it was one of those things that was easier to not mention. It would hit me every so often, like a giant wave…..normally when I saw a proud father of the bride at a wedding. But I rarely said anything. And not saying anything just became a habit.
Then came this year. There have been times over the last few months when I have only really felt half-present. Half-present on the school run, half-present in conversations with friends, half-present at tea time. The other half of me has been somewhere else, running through all the things that I have been busy not talking about for 23 years.
I hesitated over whether I should write this, and then I wondered why. I often find writing things down easier than talking things through – writing gives me time to consider what I want to say, and ensure it is all coherent without my emotions taking over. Here is where I tend to write some of the things that are spinning around my head, and these are the things that are spinning around my head; so why was I so unsure? I was hesitating because it is usually easier not to address the things that are messy and complicated……we don’t know how people will react or what they will think. But does the fact that something is complicated, messy and uncomfortable make it any less valid? Or mean that it should be dealt with silently? Just because not everyone will be able to relate to your situation, does that mean you shouldn’t write about it or take the time to try and make sense of it?
I realised that no, it doesn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t. And so, over the last few weeks, I have been attempting to address some of the things that I ignored for too long. Writing down snippets during lunch breaks and before going to bed….messy, disordered thoughts which were in my head but had never gone any further than that. Just by putting some of it down here I already feel like a huge weight has been lifted. My head no longer had the space to contain it all.
I have always been someone who is reassured by routine – there is a lot that is good about surrounding ourselves with people and activity. But if there isn’t time in the busy-ness to address those things, little or big, which are threatening to overwhelm us because they have been ignored for so long; then the one thing that becomes more important than anything else is making the time to do this.
That is where I am now…..looking up, realising that this isn’t something I need to pretend hasn’t happened; and attempting to find some proper time to address it. If this post encourages anyone else to do the same then that will be even better.
And now I’m pressing Publish.