The Aftermath

September 20, 2010 at 8:47 am Leave a comment

Five years ago my father passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was living in Canada when he died and, for various reasons, did not attend his funeral in his home country of South Africa. Part of my journey through grief over the past few years has been in letting go of the feelings of guilt surrounding my father’s death. Ours was not an easy relationship. We both had, I think, a deep respect and love for each other, but these feelings were accompanied by a disappointment in the life choices we’d made.

I resented the way he let himself wither away, not standing up for himself when his wife, my mother, verbally attacked him for his supposed incompetence. I was ashamed of his gnarled limbs, his faded clothes, the faint smell of mould that seemed to follow him wherever he went. To me, he represented a by-gone time of conservative, patriarchal notions that no longer held much value. He even labeled himself passé in my presence. He claimed to be a healer of souls (he was a psychiatrist by profession) and yet I found no help from him, not even as I struggled with major depression, social anxiety and identity issues.

It irks me that my father saw me as a chronically depressed, self-harming, suicidal, borderline personality disordered basket case. He had had such high hopes for me when I was a child. In part, his high hopes served only to deepen my depression because I knew that I could not live up to them – especially not at that point in my life. For years I felt that he saw me only in terms of psychiatric diagnoses, that he did not see the person behind all the labels, the person who longed for his love, acceptance and trust. He wished me to be more than I could be in a way that parallels my own wishes for him to exceed his own accomplishments. In the end we were both disappointed.

While I understood that he had died, my inability to be present at his funeral made it hard for me to truly process my grief in a publicly acceptable way. Eight months after his death I still woke up with nightmares, imagining his last moments of life, the morphine entering his vein and sending him into an eternal slumber. At nine months, I had a dream that finally put the nightmares to rest: I was back in my childhood home; my father returned from work and hugged me. I woke up still feeling his presence on my skin.

My father’s passing had a profound effect on my life. I have worked hard to achieve relative mental stability. I have taken an active role in building the life I want for myself. I hope the guilt I feel over the pain and suffering I caused my father (and other family and friends) when I was younger and in very real mental distress will one day subside enough that I will, in some way, be able to build a life that even my father would have considered worthwhile.

As for this day, the day my father died, I will use it to remember his kindness, his desire to do good in the world and his devotion to his family. I miss you, Dad. And I love you.

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The blame game I have a voice

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