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On Loss and Coping

Sometimes some people die young, go away without warning or preparation, go away while they are still living like there are many more tomorrows. When such departures happen, they unleash little disasters and tragedies in other lives, especially the lives of those others who are dependant on them for their very identity and survival. My father died when he was very young. He was 30. I was very young too. I was 7 but older than my sister who was 4 then, or my brother, who was a year old. My mother was 27 then. The word bereft applied to all of us in equal measure but in different ways.

My father was a fun loving, rock solid, loving human being who had vivacious energy and an entrepreneurial spirit that was infectious and that I certainly sometimes feel I have inherited from him. My father was a provider of earthly comforts, emotional warmth and was the gentle hinge for our unit. Our unit was not just the five of us but also my Uncle, Aunt and cousins who also doted on him, and depended on him for random and specific things including clothes shopping or socialising. I know now that had we had the chance to grow up with him, I may not have thought him to be perfect, just as I know that I am not perfect. However, my child’s mind knew of no flaws in my Papa.

So when my father passed away, it was a shock to everyone. Even the older people in the family were only in their 30s then, and so nobody quite knew how to get on with life after Papa. My mother was so depressed that she did not comb her hair for days, and then had to cut her hair (which reached her knees) to a short blunt. Since everyone was shocked, no one really took into account that the children were shell shocked. Not out of neglect but purely on account of their own grief, everyone was left to deal with their loss on their own terms.

I dealt with it by excelling in my studies. Along the way I also met other people who had recently lost their father and then amazingly came first in class or something similar. Today I know for certain that for me dealing with loss through gaining socially acceptable and laudable results was a way of coping. I was coping with my full being. I have several qualifications and degrees and there are enough to have a little alphabet soup for dinner. Today I know however that when I was coping with my full being, I was not really alive. It is possible to be slightly dead, and seriously successful.

For the longest, I almost had no idea how my sister or my brother dealt with it although we were together through a lot of our growing up. I now know that as I was so disconnected from my own grieving, I could not really have been connected to my loved ones. So we all, kind of, grew up with our own versions of coping.

We are not special. Our loss is drastic but loss comes in childhood in various different guises. It could come as parental death but could also come as parental separation, divorce, discord, it could come as poverty or neglectful upbringing, it could come as verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, it could come as rejection, or constant comparison, it could come as a part of you- if you happen to be a girl child in many homes, it could come as busy parents, or parents struggling with different addictions.

My only nuggets of wisdom from knowing my loss are that

– it is best to not make loss a secret that you need to deal with alone. Let us acknowledge it. As I write this, I fret, and panic and hope that no such loss becomes part of any little child’s growing up. When it does happen, let it not be swept under the carpet, let it not be the elephant in the room.

– fully and publicly mourn the loss that can otherwise become the very the basis of one’s being. Do not respect any pitying public. Pity comes from a strange place best not visited when one is sad.

– sob, as those tears are much better out than in. Inside you they will morph into physiological issues. Let them be seen and heard, it is ok.

I now remember that he IS my father, he is a present and he has been a presence in my life. My witness when no one else could be. I now celebrate his birthday again. He was born and therefore I am. Alive is so much better than coping.

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