Dealing with the grief of a parent leaving
After her father left, it took time for this SpunOut.ie volunteer to realise that she was going through a grieving process
Grief – it’s not black or white. Everyone has experienced some form of grief, whether it be the death of a close friend or relative, neighbour, or even a family pet. Some people have suffered greater intensities of grief than others. Of course, it is highly subjective to the person and the circumstances. You cannot tell someone how to grieve, and it’s hard for someone to explain their grief.
I found myself overcome with grief when I was seventeen, but I did not know it at the time. Nobody died. There was no coffin, no funeral and nobody sympathised with me. But something happened that led me to embark on my own journey of grief. It has taken me five years to come to the realisation that that was exactly what it was – grief.
‘I just can’t seem to get on with your mother lately’. Did I really just hear this? Thursday evening, half past six. My usual break from studying for the Leaving Cert to make a cup of tea and watch Home and Away. My father comes in, perches himself on the radiator and hits me with this. Out of the blue. He’s not really going to say it, is he? ‘I’m going to move out’ Okay. He has. Now, how do I react? Well, I simply didn’t. I became numb. So numb, so frozen that I could not muster up any kind of response or reaction other than ‘okay’. Surely it is some kind of mid life crisis. He doesn’t mean it. He will be back. We’ve just got to give him a week or two. Everything will be back to normal. Besides, I’m seventeen now, my brother and sister are in their twenties. It’s not a big deal.
I stay enveloped in this blanket of numbness and denial for the next three years.The bottom line is, he never came back. There was something out there that was bigger and better for him, in his eyes, then the close-knit family unit he had been part of for almost 25 years. I told myself I had to be brave, not even shedding a tear when he left, despite my mother being in the throws of hysterics. He cut all contact with me. I was no longer important to him. Of course, he initially tried to tell me that I was, that he still loved me and was proud of me. I soon realised that the phrase ‘Actions speak louder the words’ has never been truer. This is where the greyness of grief seeps in.
From my experience, I truly believe a father’s (or indeed mother’s) abandonment of his children resembles death. There is no contact. A complete disconnection. No longer an existence. What is the difference between that and death? My father was, in my eyes, a great father, up until the day he left us all. I remember the days he would carry me on his shoulders, bring home treats from work, bring us out for Sunday dinner. I remembered the journeys he would take me on in his jeep. To him, he was just running errands. To me, it was a magical time I got to spend on my own with my Daddy, rocking out to Bruce Springsteen.
This bubble was burst, the rug pulled from underneath me. I had to tackle my early adult life without my daddy. I told myself I couldn’t make a big fuss, nobody cared. It happens to so many people. I didn’t reach out for help. Would this have been the case if he had died? This belief was backed up by society. Nobody dared mentioned him in my presence. Nobody, in my family or friend circle even asked me how I was. Don’t get me wrong, my family and friends are great. However, society had set the tone for how the whole situation was approached. I was almost an adult, expected to cope with this void in my life.
Would this have been the case if he physically died? Nobody recognised it as grief. Not even myself. My father is no longer part of my life. He’s still alive, but not my daddy anymore. I had to journey through grief to come to terms with this. I struggled with my own thoughts, lashed out at friends and family, partied hard, spent days curled up in my duvet – all in the name of grief.
Looking back, it was not easy. However, if myself and society recognised that I was on this journey of grief, perhaps it could have been made easier. Everybody has something. And this is my ‘something’. I am not comparing or contrasting my experience with anybody else’s. What have I learned from this hand that I have been dealt? Firstly, a loss is a loss. You must deal with it. Even as I wrote this, I wondered many times if ‘grief’ was the correct word to use. It is. I lost my father. He was once my hero. His refusal to recognise the fact that he has three children and carry on with his own life shattered my heart into a million pieces.
Secondly, grief does not discriminate, and age doesn’t matter. It has the power to encapsulate a body, no matter what age you are. Parental separation is not necessarily easier to deal with when you are older. I’m 22 now. I’m finished college and working my dream job. I have an amazing family, friends and boyfriend. I still have bad days. Why? Because I miss my daddy. The person who I thought he was has vanished. He chose to lead a new life and is happy to not have us be a part of it. I realise now that I have completed most of the grieving process. I say most because I think many people would agree that grief never truly goes away, when you lose somebody so significant in your life. Grief is not black nor is it white. It is a swirl of greyness that lingers, and we must not ignore it. Check in with your friends, ask them how they are doing. Recognise your own grief in life and seek help in dealing with it.