When I was ten years old my father died in a car accident in Alberta. I was living with my mother in Ontario. I really did not know him. I did not have memories of time together, no visits no phone conversations, and the last I saw him I was a baby at twenty-one months old. But I still was affected by his death; throughout the years I have been affected. He died April 11th, 1980, on a Palm Sunday. Ever since, I associated Palm Sunday with his death. I would remember Palm Sunday more than the actual date of his death. It was not until I googled my father’s name did I learn of the date, you see my mother never discussed my father, and if there was any information shared it was limited as she would become upset and impatient with my questions.
I will never forget being sent to school, the next day, I will never forget how I felt. My mother nor any other adult talked to me to discuss my thoughts and feelings. It was assumed that as I did not know my father that I did not have any emotions.
I will never forget how I did not want to play and tried talking with a school mate about my dad`s death. Obviously I thought I was safe to talk to a friend… She did not believe that my dad had died. “That’s not true! You would not be at school if your dad really died! You’re a liar!” Those were her exact words that are forever seared into my memories, and that pain still hurts.
Of course, she was young, and did not know the impact her words would have on me. I knew even at that young age, I not only lost my father, but I also lost any chances of forming a relationship with him, getting to know him and spending time with him. I never got the closure; no sympathies or condolences were given. Worse yet, was the fact I was not even able to go to the funeral, so I never met my brother and sister, children he had in his second marriage, I never got to meet his wife and I did not see and meet my grandmother who flew to Edmonton for his funeral. I never got to say goodbye. My mother said I wouldn’t miss anything as it would be a closed coffin due to his accident. Everything that was said and done, because adults believed I wasn’t affected and as a child believed to be resilient, compounded my hurt and grief. My father’s death was not just the loss of a parent; it was a loss of a future without him, and without being part of his family. For years I suffered without closure. Looking back, I realize how affected by his death I truly was, how much to this day I would miss the loss of a father.
When I was a teenager, my best friend’s dad passed away. I spoke on the phone, gave her my condolences and was given details of the visitation and funeral. I dressed up and prepared to go to the visitation. I got in my car, and I drove to the funeral home. I drove and parked my car, but I could not undo my seatbelt and go in. Instead, I left and drove to a park. Thinking of going into the funeral home made me feel sick. How could I go and say goodbye to a friend’s dad when I never got the chance to say goodbye to my own dad? Yes, visitation is more than saying goodbye, its showing love and support for the family of the deceased. But I could not go in and do that. I went to the park, I cried for my own father who I never had. I cried and talked to him, talked to God and I also shed tears for my friend’s loss. I understood better what the loss of a father meant, in my life and my friend’s.
When I returned home my grandmother asked where I was. You see my friend called wondering why I was not there for her. Thankfully she understood my feelings when I opened up, and we did have a good talk. I had to admit I had unresolved issues from my own father’s death. This opened a dialogue with Oma, and my friend. At a time when I was needed as friend, I let someone I loved down. It was not until I lost Ota that I could find closure to some of my issues.
I mean even as a child of three or four I knew what death was, my uncle tells me of a conversation where I told him I needed to speak with my Godparents. I understood they were there to be back up parents. So, I wished to speak to them to make sure I would be taken care of and have a home should my mother die. This was before my father died, but I was a child of a single parent so I had concerns of what would happen to me if and when something happened to my mother. My uncle, who with my grandfather, fulfilled the “father figure” role my own dad was not there to play, said I would be taken care of. Firstly, my grandparents would not abandon me, and I also had him. I would never be alone. The death of my father further enforced the value of having Ota and my Uncle Mike in my life. They were the father figures, the men in my life who taught me so many things, and also offered my life stability.
As a child I knew losing my dad was a big deal. As the years passed, I experienced missing him at many milestones along the way; confirmation, graduation from high school and university, walking me down the aisle when I got married, father daughter days and events, all the yearly holidays; birthdays, Christmas, Easter, the passing of each grade, the start of new school years… and just having a dad. Some would say you cannot miss what you never had, but I saw what other kids had and knew I would never have that with my dad.
In life, we do not always get what we want, but we do receive what we need. My father was taken away, but I was blessed with being given a grandfather and uncle who stepped up to the plate and were my father figure. They taught me values, nurtured me, spent time with me, teaching me life skills, and about life. I was luckier than some, as I had two great father figures in my life. Men who were loving but firm, who covered the basis of teaching me to swim, wood working, how to cut and trim grass, how to do home renovations, garden, to drive a vehicle, do tire changes and even fill the car with gasoline. They were in my life; they helped me overcome the loss of a father’s role. I learned the value of integrity, honesty, keeping promises and the value of quality time together. I played badminton and frisbee, I learned how to ride a bike (actually my uncle bought his first bike because I was too fast on the bike he bought me). My dad was not there to teach me, I was very blessed to have Ota and Uncle Mike.
Ota’s colon cancer diagnosis that led to his eventual death meant finding closure to losing a father. At Ota’s funeral I said goodbye to my grandfather and my father. As Arthur Schopenhauer said “Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.” We sometimes only realize what we had once it is gone. I knew from the loss of my father, what losing my grandfather meant, immediately thereafter, and now still. I was able to as an adult heal my childhood pains of loss. But I do ponder if we really overcome loss. Or, do we just learn to adapt?
I became involved with Home Hospice Association’s (HHA’s) Many Faces of Compassion, because I understood being a caregiver. I understood the challenges, sacrifices, hard work, as well as the reasons, rewards, and satisfaction of the endeavour. At the time that I was a caregiver, there were many challenges I was not prepared for. I wish to offer support and understanding to the wonderful people who are caregiving currently as well as to those who may not know what caregivers experience. All this led to me being asked to share my experiences. I journaled the whole time I was a caregiver. It is still one way I vent and work through life stress and dramas. If you have been reading previous articles, you know I do not actually share everything; rather I compile and write of my experiences. I explore topics, themes and issues related to dying and death based on my experiences. I am able to only offer my perspectives, but I do hope to create a greater understanding, empathy and perhaps even support network for current caregivers.
Due to my experiences, I can say I am so pleased that HHA offers a C.A.N.D.Y Café (Creating Awareness and Normalizing Death for Youth). I know children and youths think about death. I love the idea of this program; it raises awareness in adults that dying, and death does affect children. It is a forum in which children and youth can discuss and share their feelings and concerns while learning; it demystifies dying and death. As a child I sure could have have benefitted from this and would have appreciated adults too being made aware how I was affected. I know I have not been the only child to be affected by dying and death but talking about it opens a dialogue from which every person in society can benefit. Death is not something we can escape. “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” (Hartuki Murakami) We all will have to face it, remember talking about death won’t kill you!
HHA's next virtual Caregivers Death Café is Monday, April 3rd @ 7:00PM. You can register to attend here.
Similarly, May 7th at 7:00PM is HHA's next Parents/Guardians Death Café, which provides a place to explore the many aspects of death that may come up during a discussion with children and teens. If you are interested in participating, you can register here.