I was eleven. My brother was thirteen. Mam had been sick for several years and when she died in 1988 my father continued to love and care for us, offering the majority of his time and energy to his bereaved children. Dad did so much for us. I am an independent, resilient and compassionate being today as a result of my father’s devotion to his family. Here are seven of the ways my dad supported us as we navigated the challenging period following my mother’s death from cancer.
1. By holding on to keepsakes & other specific physical objects belonging to my mother, my father kept my mother’s memory alive in our home. Nothing of hers was removed prematurely. Many of her things remain in our lives to this day. In fact yesterday I wore a lovely purple sweater of hers that I pulled from the closet in our sitting room. Over the years I’ve discovered things belonging to her that surprise me. She lives on in our lives through photographs, cards she received or penned to us, items of clothing, her old but functioning button accordion & other things she valued and loved. My father carefully chose photographs of Mam to frame and place around our home following her death. Every room contains memories of my mother.
2. We spoke about my mother regularly after her passing. Though I didn’t talk about Mam to others she was often mentioned in our home. I sometimes asked questions about her past and Dad answered to the best of his ability. Together we recalled her favorite songs, frequently looked through family photo albums and as we got older we acknowledged the absence her death left.
3. My father made sure to welcome our friends into our home. I spent ample time with my peers both at our house and in theirs. Blessed with wonderful friends who cared about me I spent hours on end laughing with them and having fun. I lost myself in childish games and silliness. Such relief! Dad often drove us around to local events, treated us to train rides and parties and invited my pals on various excursions. To this day my friends recall his warmth and kindness.
4. My father took us on trips abroad after Mam died. We visited London, The Isle of Man, Jersey and in later years other countries in Europe such as Italy and Switzerland. Dad planned visits to our cousins in Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. We went on short boat excursions and joined a walking club. Dad made sure to keep us occupied while at the same time allowing us plenty of down time as needed.
5. We were encouraged to share our feelings at home. We didn’t get in trouble for sharing how we felt. As a child I wanted to protect my father and my focus after Mam died was on making sure he was okay. So, I wasn’t about to upset him by revealing too many emotions. But, when I did wish to share something with him he was always there, listening carefully, making no judgments. He gently advised or offered compassion if a solution couldn’t be found. To this day my dad is that same kind, gentle listener. He doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but his listening ear is ready.
6. Dad learned how to cook from my mother. After she died he was able to recreate several of her dishes from scratch such as her famous cod with Taytos dish, her shepherd’s pie and her mashed potatoes with gravy. For years my father cooked so many of her delicious meals for us in our kitchen where once four of us sat together. Eating these same meals, meals my mother served us, allowed for a smoother transition after her death. Not everything was different. Not everything had changed. The food we put into our bodies on a daily basis stayed mostly the same and my mother was remembered at meal times.
7. We were permitted space. My brother and I had our own rooms and when our doors were closed we didn’t interrupt each other without knocking. Fortunately all three of us enjoyed our own company. We often read, drew, wrote and listened to music by ourselves. This private time was crucial for me. I frequently wrote in my diary and journals releasing all of my emotions on to the page. I liked to draw and color as these activities calmed and soothed me. And I created dance routines in front of the mirror to songs by Irish band Something Happens and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”
Father’s Day is upon us once again. I extend my deepest sympathies to those who are without a father today. I understand loss and loneliness and I’m so truly sorry for anyone grieving at this time.
I will celebrate this Father’s Day with my dad in Ireland. It has been years since I was able to spend the day with him and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so today.
“Father’s Day is hopefully a time when the culture says, ‘This is our moment to look at who our men and boys are.” -Michael Gurian
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