Yesterday on Richard Glover’s Drive program he had Susan Wyndham, who has collected a number of stories about losing a parent from a number of Australian authors into the volume “My Mother, My Father”.
As I listened to the callers talking about their grief I thought about losing my own father.
It had taken many years to develop a strong relationship with my Dad. When I was a child he wasn’t really there much. He came from a tradition where it was his role to work hard and provide well for his family and he did that in spades.
In my teen years we started to spend more time together, we went skiing together a lot while I was at high school and ended up quite close.
He was, however, never a demonstrative man. I’m not sure he ever actually told me that he loved me and was proud of me. Somehow, though, I grew to know it.
There were the small things. When he was in Sydney almost every weekend he would drop in on his way home from shopping to deliver some food he had cooked. Dad was never happier than when he was cooking for the people he loved. When I dropped him off at the airport on his way out of town he would have to get a hug. The one time I forgot to give him a hug he started fiddling with his suitcase and briefcase and wouldn’t go inside until I realised and gave him a hug, then off he went happy. He couldn’t ask for or start the hug though.
Then he died of cancer. We knew he was ill and knew it was probably terminal but he went fast in the end so it was a bit of a shock.
At first I just felt an intense grief but then it changed into depression. I couldn’t understand why it felt as if my entire world was wrong.
Then after some months I realised what it was. My central pillar had gone.
No matter the turmoil of my life, no matter what else happened or what I did, for many years there had been one unswerving, unchanging constant. Subconsciously I had known that nothing would ever change the love and pride of my father and I had built myself around that. It had never been said, never really been known but it had been the core.
Now that had gone. As I went through some problems that next year I didn’t have that strength.
So my grief over losing my father was not just for him, but also for me. I died right along with him and then had to spend some serious time being reborn.
I’d like to think that I internalised that central pillar and became a more grown up, a more adult person. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss him almost every day, it doesn’t mean that I don’t yearn for just one more meal at his dinner table.