In a recent conversation about grief, I was struck by what I was told, that the grief we feel for people with whom we have had complicated, fractured relationships, is much harder to both feel and process. It struck home because I had been talking about how the my father’s death has been hitting me in waves recently. It comes and goes, except it hasn’t really gone away, and I am surprised. I wasn’t surprised by all I felt after his death: disbelief, sadness, an urge to cry, a wild impulse to keep some of his ashes instead of scattering them all, a flailing attempt to keep a tangible memory of a person gone (I didn’t, although I did have the opportunity to).
Like most things in this life, grief is a hydra headed beast.
My relationship with my father was complicated and fraught, as I imagine it was for any child of a parent with alcoholism and anger issues. I spent a lot of my life wishing for him to suffer or to go away completely. I’m not sure that I ever truly absorbed how ill he was, even when I learned about his diagnosis. I couldn’t bear to look at how frail he had become, it did not match with the anger I had about my childhood. I have and will likely always have the guilt of wondering whether there were some amends I needed to make. In some ways I am well aware of having pretty much textbook reactions of grief. On the other hand, it is unsettling to wake up dreaming of a parent you hadn’t ever wanted to think about. I dream about him more and more. I dream that I can see him and his pain, and love him and grieve for him as one properly (?) should.
I’ll talk about it to friends in stray sentences here and there, because I’m never sure what there is to say in its entirety. Do I miss my father? I am sad that I, who never had a real father or a father that was enough, now have no chance of having one. That was my one shot at a father figure and it’s gone.
Part of the cause and part of the effect of this grief is that I’m becoming more and more aware of mortality. Another friend’s father is in the hospital and it does not look good. I can see my own body aging, parts sagging, the weight settling, just like the lessons and wounds of life. I can see cycles of my life repeating in my siblings’ lives. I can feel my irritation for my mother’s quirks reduce and my worry for her ageing increase. I can feel a sort of… softening and I think it has everything to do with ageing and I use that word loosely, for aren’t the thirties the new twenties or whatever the kids say.
Like most things in this life, grief is a hydra headed beast: you lay a funeral to rest but a dream pops up. I am torn between the trifecta of guilt, sadness and rage. I know a vast amount about disproportionate sadness and reactions, but I have not yet learnt to live well with grief that is proportionate.
One of the hardest lessons in my life and especially for grief and sadness is to stand back and let it wash over you. It sounds so counter-intuitive, it sounds wrong, especially if you feel action and movement are the best ways to get through life. My first impulse is to do something about it, do anything about it; after the crying, I am looking for ways to clean the grief up, at least chop it up and box it in manageable sizes. Can I take it for a vacation to cheer it up? If I take regular walks, will it decrease in size?
Grief, at least in my life, has not followed any logical path. The harder I try to put it away completely, the more savagely it returns. I have stopped trying to fight the dreams about my sick father, the regret over the choices I did not make and the anger about the choices he did make, the sudden tears, the anger that follows it with an instant need to quip about it – I have not once missed the chance to make fun of my grief because I have not once felt that I am entitled to it.
Grief, at least in my life, has not followed any logical path.
If the relationship was so fraught, why would I feel any sadness, my logical mind wonders? Because relationships and emotions and we are not wired that way. There is a vast messy landmine of complicated relationships, co-dependent relationships, abusive relationships, controlling relationships, simply run-its-course relationships. It is tempting, even comforting, the wish to lay everything out neatly, number and label it, shelve it for future/never consumption. But that is hardly how emotions work and so I think I am learning one of my hardest lessons ever: grief comes and goes as it pleases, grief doesn’t follow the equation of logic, and the best way out is through.
Also Read: (Personal) Notes On 2016, Grief And Living
Featured Image Credit: The Stranger’s Wall