Friday, April 21, 2006


Church tree

My father died on 22nd April 1998, and yesterday I re-visited the place where my sister and I scattered some of his ashes, the churchyard in the London suburbs where his own father is buried. As with a lot of things these days, I was conscious that it will be more difficult to do this once I have moved.

It's not easy to get to even from where I am living now. You take the train from Liverpool Street station and after about twenty minutes you change onto a branch line for one stop. There is a walk of a mile or so to the church. Once the centre of a small town, it is now surrounded by rows of suburban housing and shopping complexes, a neighbourhood subsumed into Greater London just before the latter peters out into the flat fields of Essex. It is an unexpectedly beautiful and peaceful churchyard for such an unprepossessing area, quiet save for a chorus of birdsong, and green and wild without being unkempt.

I have known that I would want to blog about Dad at some point, and that it would be hard to do. Our relationship was not easy. He was a good man, sensitive, kind, but distant and sometimes authoritarian. A lot of the qualities that I would like to think I possess to some degree, at least on my good days, I have inherited from him: friendliness, integrity, consideration for others, a sense of humour and an ability to laugh at the ridiculous. The other part of the deal is that along with these he passed on worry, perfectionism, a certain judgmentalism, distrust of strong emotions and a lack of confidence.

He was trying hard to hold a tricky marriage together - a more than full-time job - and had no emotional reserves left over. I was a bright, lively but hypersensitive and insecure child, craving affection but sensing rejection even where it did not necessarily exist. Put the two together and it was not good news.

By the time I was a teenager the walls between us were in place. Rows, tears, silences. I was convinced he had no time for or interest in me and withdrew totally and he responded in kind. Or did he withdraw first? Who knows. We were both hurt and neither could help the other. Awful. And since then the automatic emotional tic of anticipating rejection and exclusion and retreating before it happens has been difficult to overcome.

We settled into a polite, friendly but distant relationship when I became an adult. Both of us hated upset and confrontation so we went out of our way to avoid it. There were things I would like to have talked through with him, questions I wanted to ask, but I wasn't able to speak. My defences by then were so strong that I couldn't say the things I needed to say to him and hear the things I needed to hear from him - the real things - even when I knew he was dying.

It wasn't always this way. I was told once that it is worthwhile searching very early childhood memories, that in some way they hold a key, they illustrate a theme that will recur throughout life.

The clearest memory I have is of waiting with my mother at the bus stop to go to visit my grandmother, probably at around three years old. My father had boarded the same bus earlier along the route having come straight from work, and I was literally jumping up and down with the excitement of going on a journey with him. I can remember running ahead of my mother along the aisle of the bus when it arrived and clambering up alongside him on the seat.

I was waiting for my father to arrive, and he did and I was overjoyed and so was he. I have spent a lot of my emotional life trying to recapture the essence of that moment.

I believe that he would want me to heal anything that still needs to be healed, to move on, to love and to live well and to remember him with compassion and affection. I want that too.


Blogger rdl said...

Mary, that was beautiful!! Well done, and I think you already do.

1:37 pm  
Blogger leslee said...

Yes, beautiful. People, and relationships, can be so complex. From a distance this makes it all so interesting, but living it is not easy. I think you're right that he would want the best for you, to heal, to live a happy life.

2:11 pm  
Blogger Brenda said...

How beautiful this remembering is... there is love flowing between you, I felt it, and it brought tears- that you are stepping over these boundaries, whatever they are, and from wherever in your childhood they come from. Re-finding the depth of love with your father, in mourning him, celebrating him...

2:17 pm  
Blogger Dave said...

It seems as if you have taken that step to heal. The key may be forgiveness. Forgive yourself first then anyone who you feel has caused you any discomfort. You have been able to share your feelings with the rest of us, you have taken the initial step to heal. I know you know that you will be able to achieve your goal. The comfort you get when you get to the point of living in this type of love is what we all seek. Thank you for sharing and know that we are all here for you in spirit and in love,

2:32 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Rdl, Leslee, Brenda, Dave: Thank you all so much. I almost didn't post this and once it was up I almost took it down. I'm glad I didn't, and each of your comments means a great deal.

8:57 pm  
Anonymous pohanginapete said...

It's deeply moving, Mary, and while some aspects differ from my own experience, many of the emotions are similar for me. Thanks for sharing this; I'm glad you didn't take it down. The photo complements it beautifully.

9:48 pm  
Blogger LJ said...

I wonder if we aren't all, in our varied ways, trying to find that moment with someone again. If that is maybe the only story there really is.
This was utterly touching and beautiful, M.

11:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary, that was lovely...and I certainly can relate to what you said. I admire the clarity with which you look at the relationship.


11:08 pm  
Blogger starnitesky said...

Mary your post is very moving, my father also died on 22nd April but in 1985, I still miss him so much.

12:23 am  
Blogger Dale said...

This brought me to sudden, unexpected tears.

12:30 am  
Blogger zhoen said...

You obviously found much to admire and love in your father.


2:13 am  
Blogger Mary said...

I really have met some lovely people in cyberspace. Your comments and empathy are so much appreciated. Thank you.

Starnitesky: thinking of you today ...

Jan: Welcome!

9:43 am  
Blogger Tamar said...

Thank you for sharing your father with us. I, too, was unable to talk to my father about our relationship or ask him questions that I needed to ask. He was 55 when I was born and quite old when I became a young woman. There were other complications too. However, after he died I wrote him a letter. It took me days to write. I talked to him and cried as I wrote. It had such a healing affect for me.
There are excerpts from my letter to him in one of my posts:

11:39 am  
Blogger Endment said...

You share so much caring in this post. I suspect most of us, when we read your words, think of our own relationship with our father. I also suspect that the teenage years were difficult for most of us. The memories you have triggered for me are also bittersweet - your final conclusion is most important - he would want for you to be healed and be whole.
Very moving post - thanks for sharing

12:10 pm  
Blogger Sky said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:39 pm  
Blogger Sky said...

Oh, Mary, it can be difficult to work through issues when we are unable to voice our feelings directly to the one who shared our experience, but I am glad you have come to realize that your father would want you to let the past go and move forward with healing and love. I am happy you are doing just that, and your memory of the early bus ride is surely one example of your remembering him with affection.

Recognizing the similarities you two shared in personality and feelings is certainly a step in finding compassion and understanding in order to move forward without hurt, disappointment, or anger. It is in this state of being human that you both made choices which failed to bring you the intimacy you both wanted. But, you both did the best that you could do at that time and in the emotional places where you each lived. It was all either of you knew to do. No one can expect anyone else to do more than s/he is emotionally capable of doing at any given point in life.

Perhaps the lesson you have taken away from your connection and love with your father - the expensive cost of not fully risking - will be the grandest gift of all. :) Moving beyond that fear could result in the acquisition of all the riches in life you deserve. That kind of gift is like magic and makes me smile with joy!

1:52 pm  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

What a beautiful moment you have with which to cherish the memory of your father. One more thing: I think he would be proud of the woman you are.

12:05 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

So beautiful this post, Mary. Your words are deeply moving. I agree with Endment when she said that "most of us, when we read your words, think of our own relationship with our father". Sure, I think of my father too. Thank you for sharing your emotion with us.

2:39 am  
Blogger Jess D'Zerts said...

Mary, I too think Endment hit the nail on the head, as my thoughts also went to my relationship with my dad.

Twenty years ago I got two kittens. They were different as night and day, the male quiet and unobtrusive and deferential, the female quite chatty and very demanding of my attention and my lap. I used to hope the male would outlive her so he and I could have time alone together for a relationship that wasn't limited by her insistence upon being the center of our universe. And as it happened, he did.

I don't imagine it's very odd that this little feline microcosm serves as metaphor for my relationship with my parents. I think a lot of men (most?) defer to the power of motherhood when it comes to relating with the children, especially girl children. Since my mother died last year, my father and I have had long conversations that never would have happened otherwise.

Your memory about the bus made me think about an early memory I have of my dad. We had been to Grandma's for the day and arrived home after dark. My baby sister and I had fallen asleep in the back seat. I remember being carried into the house by my dad. It's a good memory--it feels safe and secure, he's big and strong, and he's taking care of me.

What I wonder about these memories, yours and mine, is whether we remember them with such clarity because they were such rare moments? They seem, in the telling, like pretty ordinary kinds of occurrences, nothing traumatic about them, nothing you would especially notice if you were an outsider casually observing. Or maybe they are composite memories of something that happened many times.

Anyway, sorry for my slowness in responding to this very interesting topic. Thank you for sharing.

6:10 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Jess d'Zerts: A very good point. Thank you. My father predeceased my mother. I think our relationship might possibly have been very different in his last few years if that hadn't been the case. Just getting him on his own was difficult ...

Are these incidents we remember rare? The one I describe feels almost mythic. I don't think it is a composite memory but I'm not sure I have an explanation. It certainly has a hold on me.

Once again, thank you everyone.

8:41 pm  
Blogger MB said...

Mary, I'm sorry that I missed this post during a busy weekend. You have sensitively, beautifully describe a deep and complex relationship. And, as Endment said, it made me think of my own father and the difficulties we've had and how we have changed. I'm so glad you didn't take this post down. Such personal pains are so intensely individual but at the same time... we are not alone! And I believe the connections that are made possible by stating one's own truth can be just as forceful in shaping our lives. Thank you for sharing this.

4:48 pm  
Anonymous apples said...

Hi Mary, been some time and it's finally term break..wanted to leave a comment on this earlier.

Thanks for sharing, Mary...I haven't seen my dad for some months now...I suppose my dad would feel the same way too.. very complicated situation...

1:57 pm  

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