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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Healing with my father

One level of healing which started ten years ago is my relationship with my father.  This has actually been really cathartic for me and began before my diagnosis.

My father was born in 1899 and I was born in 1960, and I had a half-brother who was older than my mother.  My father had lived a full life before marrying for a third time in 1953 and becoming a father again with the birth of my brother in 1958.  However to a great extent my father was a figure of terror who remained a mystery to me for most of my life.  I don't remember a father who was fun, but one who was ill and who sat in the Sitting Room and whose temper was extremely volitile.  He would rant for days on end, over and over about the same things.  I just didn't understand because his illness was never really explained to me, though I knew that it was life threatening because I would be taken out of bed in the middle of the night on occassion to say goodbye to him.  He died less than three weeks after my 18th Birthday.  When my father died I stopped sucking my thumb; just stopped with no effort and it took a while for me to realise this.  I no longer needed the comfort, my father was dead.

Let's skip on about 22 years ... my 40th birthday came and went and I began to wonder if I really could do something with my life.  So I started to return to education and the study of archaeology in particular.  To be able to get to university I needed some qualifications so I did and Access To Higher Education course at the college where I worked as a cleaner.  I did a module in Biology and for that I had to do an essay about gas exchange in the lungs and so I decided to study emphysema, the disease which had killed my father.  The first thing I realised was that I wasn't even pronouncing the name of the disease correctly, and secondly I realised how little I knew about this illness.  The research was a revelation, and for the first time I began to understand how the illness effected my father.

Until then I had thought my father acted the way he did because of the power that he had.  The research showed me that he was like that because of the lack of power that he had over his health and maybe out of the guilt he felt at having started another family that he may well not have seen grow up.  As it was I was just a legal adult when he felt he was finally able to slip away.  I understood, at last, how how the disease would have effected him physically, the lack of oxygen, the medications that he was on, the pain, the panic.  Suddenly he was no longer the father who had dominated my childhood, but he was an old man who was very ill and trying to protect us by being overly controlling in what I did, where I went etc.

My father experienced many things in life that I have not.  He was in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I, lived through the Great Depression, returned to what was by then the Royal Air Force in World War II.  He had been married three times and I believe he came to regret not taking much part in the life of his eldest child who I did not meet until just before Father died.  Eric actually knew nothing about me as they had severed contact after the death of our grandmother shortly after my brother was born.  My Father wanted to protect me, but he ended up squashing me, taking away any self-esteem I may have had and left me feeling ... as though I didn't really exist.  He did what he did for all the right reasons, and in all the wrong ways. 

I have struggled with self-expression because I hardly dared to do or say anything that would upset him and potentially give him an angina attack that might possibly kill him.  I learned to express myself through silence and anger, and a grim determination to just keep going in the hope that I would find something to make being alive worth while.  Strangely enough I found that in education and through a diagnosis of incurable cancer.  Even more than I did ten years ago, I understand my father and I feel a connection with him, and a peace with him, that I didn't have before.  I accept and appreciate him for who he was, and I think he would do the same with the person I am now.

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