“Though we are terrorized by death, it’s not different from birth, it just happens” ~ Bangambiki Habyarimana
So, my dad died.
And it’s not been so very bad actually.
It came as a bit of a shock. I found out he was dying about 32 hours before it happened.
He’d known about it for a little while longer. Long enough to have expressed a desire to go on a last holiday that he didn’t end up having time for; not long enough for it to have occurred to him to want to make things right with his eldest daughter before he died.
It was my sister who told me. And when I got to the hospital he was already unconscious.
So at least he didn’t leave me with any lingering questions about whether he actually loved me, even if only in his own weird, emotionally stunted way.
He almost certainly did not.
That one hit me about a week later whilst reading something about last messages people sent to love ones when they knew they were about to die.
I cried, a little.
And a bit more because it brought up a lot of stuff.
“You are not a priority in this house!” – my most abiding memory of him from my childhood
“Oh, blow you, Sarah!” – this one comes a close second
“Er, I don’t think so.” – gas lighting was one of his favourite activities
“Well, no. No. We know that didn’t happen, because the bloke they interviewed on telly. They said, they didn’t start anything until people started it with them.” – on the EDL, when I told him that some friends and I, including Raj had needed to run away from them when they rocked up at the pub where we’d been watching the rugby; and that a massive, skinheaded, male one of them had punched my tiny, blonde, female friend.
I had an hour and a half of desperately wanting to see my dad a few days after he died. Presumably just because I now couldn’t, where previously I was choosing not to. Kind of like how I’m resentful of the fact that my body won’t be able to have children anymore in the not to distant future, even though I don’t want any.
But on a practical level, his being dead isn’t really so different to his being out in the world living a life I’m no longer involved in.
And this was always supposed to happen eventually. Maybe not so soon – and given that all my relatives who’ve passed before were in their late 80s or early 90s I feel as though my own life expectancy has been drastically reduced – but parents are supposed to die before their children. And your mid-30s is hardly a tragic age to lose one.
An old school friend died last year leaving behind a one year old baby who will have no memory of her. That was a tragedy. This is pretty commonplace.
So I’m telling you this because it’s one of the big questions people have around family estrangement.
Will I regret it if anything happens to them while we’re estranged?
Those who lack even a basic level of empathy for those of us from dysfunctional families, and who believe those who pursue the estrangement path are always the aggressors, are adamant that we inevitably will.
All the mental health professionals I was involved with when I took the decision told me to be sure that I wouldn’t before I did it.
I didn’t think I would, but until something happens you can never be 100% sure how you’re going to feel about it.
What it ultimately feels is…anticlimactic.
As though you’re simultaneously making too big, and not enough of a deal of it.
There’s a very palpable sense that this is not how it was supposed to be. Which almost exactly reflects the same feeling that hung over our relationship while he was still alive, and I still knew him.
There’s nothing about our previously terrible and latterly non-existent relationship to miss. And I’d mostly turned the page on mourning the relationship we might have had when I changed my last name to not be the same as his.
So I feel to some extent inconvenienced by having had all that unpleasantness brought up again.
And I suppose sort of relieved for childhood me, who used to fantasize that this would be the solution to all her problems, that she never had to experience it. For me, as an adult, it hasn’t solved any problems – although I feel a little lighter, my subconscious let go a bunch of things that I hadn’t even realised it was hanging on to, because what’s the point now, he’s dead – but it hasn’t created any new ones either. But from this vantage point I can see that for her, then, it would potentially have been more of an out of the frying pan into the fire type scenario. It’s seems unlikely that with my dad out of the way my mom would have suddenly started making better decisions for us all.
But I don’t have any regrets.
I am so much healthier now than I was when I started this blog. I’m in a healthier place, surrounded by healthier people – by which I mean people who aren’t toxic or malicious, rather than that I’ve ditched my fellow spoonies and mental health mates. My life is stable enough that I’m able to work on building it back up. I like my life, I like my house, I like my friends.
And I just don’t see that having been possible if I’d maintained a connection with my parents. They’d have carried on causing me stress, and carried on hurting and undermining me, and I wouldn’t have been able to find enough mental energy and space to get myself to where I am now.
So I did the right thing.
And while this bereavement thing hasn’t been all great and fine, it hasn’t been any worse than I think it could have been because we were estranged.