A poignant reflection on my dad today, what with it being the 18th anniversary of his death, Children's Grief Awareness Week, and after very gratefully receiving some precious (rare-edition-Pokémon-style) photos of him from the Greek Cypriot side of my family 🧡
I've only recently been able to talk more openly about our dad, family story, and the circumstances surrounding his sudden death when I was age 14. This is for a wide range of complex reasons that I save for the deep meanderings of my mind (and therapy 😜!)... But all these years later (after a lot of therapy!), I'm finally able to smile looking through photos of him, and allow myself to fully experience the pain of his loss, without feeling as overwhelmed by:
Confusion and shame around our family history, my grief, and love for my dad.
Feeling the need to hide my feelings from family members, because of their feelings towards him (for fear of hurting them, but ignoring myself in the process), particularly as we have our 'father' (step-dad) as well as our 'dad'.
Guilt around my brother's very different experience of our dad, and of not being able to help my dad (or brother for that matter).
The sense of abandonment that he wasn't able to help himself, for us.
The bitter regret of lost opportunities and unanswered questions.
The longing for future experiences.
And the fear of opening the aching black hole within my heart that has been left by losing a parent, particularly in childhood, and without the chance to say goodbye.
Only now do I more fully understand these uniquely complex feelings and experiences, and can finally accept that my dad is not in fact part of some Elvis-Presley-faking-his-own-death-conspiracy-theory (one can only dream eh!). Seeing as my brother is now publicly opening up about his childhood experiences, I've realised I can no longer hide this part of me, and keep this all in a 'top secret' protected box within my heart. So I am taking back control of my own narrative when it comes to our dad. And I am reminding myself that it doesn't matter how others remember him, it matters how I remember him.
So, here I wish to celebrate some treasured photos of the hugely complex and troubled, but cheeky, charismatic, honest, generous, affectionate, hilarious, exciting, young-at-heart, "flew through life by the seat of his pants" (and cars!) kind of character that was our dad. You have taught me to make the most out of life, live it to the full, take risks, not sweat the small things, have perspective, not take things for granted, and to deeply love and appreciate friends and family. Ultimately, you have taught me that life is short and can change in a moment (nothing like death to trigger an existential crisis eh 😂 but at least it's also taught me a dark sense of humour..!). I've come to learn that my family experiences are my superpower, and that I can use these experiences to help others. I will forever be grateful for that. I only wish you could have seen how I've grown, but I hope I would have made you proud (post-my dreaded teenage years at least 😂) 💕
So I keep telling myself lately, whilst I have been struggling with my brother sharing our family history, "don't be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others", because "there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you" and “if you don’t write your own script, someone else will write it for you.”
And finally (oh I do love a good ol' cheesy quote - and the over-use of brackets!) - "the weight of loss may never go away, but we learn how to carry it" and "you can't stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf." 🌊🖤
For support and signposting around childhood bereavement, please see my handout in this area.