Type “coping with the death of son/daughter” into a search engine and you will be rewarded with a host of material. But most of it is directed at mothers, and nearly all concerns the death of an infant or a child. There is next to nothing about a father coping with the loss of his adult son.
In writing what follows, it’s inevitable that I’ll be accused of wallowing in it, or drawing attention to myself. I don’t think either is true, but who am I to judge? Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are some observations on how I felt and feel. It might be helpful for someone else.
Within days of returning from the funeral, I took up weightlifting again. I’m glad I did, and I intend to carry on. But the interesting thing is why? Physical activity is of course an outlet for energy and anger, but I can’t in all honesty say that I felt angry. I felt drained, despondent, scraped out, exhausted, flattened, destroyed, sad—overwhelmingly sad at such a waste. But not angry. What I certainly did feel was the need to test my own physiology, particularly cardiac, since that is what failed Hugh, to see if it would stand up to extreme provocation.
About four months after the funeral I became aware of a nasty creature roaming my subconscious. I didn’t know how to get it to show itself except by waiting. So I waited. And one day, it poked its head out of the sea bed, and then its bristly carcass followed. It was this. (1) A father’s job is to protect his offspring. (2) I had failed to do this. Therefore – and this is the important bit – (3) I deserve to die.
Note the word deserve. I can’t think of a better one. I did not wish to die: I deserved to die for having failed him and his wife and daughter and sister and brother and mother. And, ye gods, for having failed myself.
Understandable, I think, from a biological point of view. I’ve passed on my genes and had a vasectomy, so I’ve had no biological function for over 30 years (I have views on the effects of vasectomy, but they can wait). And since one offspring has gone before me, I might as well do the honourable deed and bugger off myself. There the logic breaks down. Logic breaks down in other ways too, of course. I have two other offspring alive and kicking and lovely; parents do not own their children; parents are not responsible for their children once the latter have reached adulthood; and so on. But logic is not much in evidence in these circumstances, and I still felt that I deserved to die.
Maybe the wish to provoke my cardiovascular system was the first manifestation of this malignant worm that was, as I say, gobbling its way through the floor of my psyche, but it has gradually faded. Not completely, but substantially. And since I rather overdid it at the gym and tore my right gastrocnemius (almost better now), I hope that it and I can settle down to a less frenzied modus vivendi.
Then there is the matter of allowing a new normal to develop, and a new vision for the rest of life. This is a work in progress.
I used to rail about stupid parents who lived through their children, and now see the extent to which that is what I was doing. My plan for retirement involved at least annual trips to the US to explore, I dunno, the north east, the west coast, the Great Lakes, the east coast – whatever – in his and his family’s company. Trips to the US will continue, but on a different basis. Part of the plan was a response to my not looking forward to retirement. What will I do? How will I occupy my brain? This forces me to ask what I want, and frankly, after a lifetime of—so it seems to me at present—pleasing parents, teachers, bosses and ego, and providing for and ministering to others, I’m not sure what ‘I’ is any more, let alone what it wants. So it’s back to the drawing board, and let’s hope that whatever blueprint emerges is built this time upon reality rather than escapism.
I’ve coped with the last ten months by doing very little. At a review meeting with the area bishop recently I said that since two of my urban colleagues were leaving Burton soon, I would consider going if that would help diocesan strategy. He said no, they wanted me to stay as long as possible. So I said OK, but I’ve no intention of looking for work. I’ve watched a lot of films. I find that I still have little to spare for other people, and as far as parishioners are concerned they seem to have sensed that: they have been gently supportive and got on with things without bothering me. Long may this continue. I did rather lose it at a meeting last April at which I, in the throes of major exhaustion, was gravely provoked by people who wouldn’t shut up and I said that I was sick of this and I was going to bed and they could all go forth and multiply. But apart from that, we’ve done quite well. (I offered my resignation, but was told that I should never apologize for being human).
What of Susan? I learnt long ago never to put words in her mouth, or into the mouths of my children, so all I shall say is that different people cope differently. We talk. It affects us differently and at different times, unpredictable and sometimes debilitating. But as she says, you just can’t maintain that level of grief. Eventually it dissipates, until the next time. And while the distress is on me, there is nothing I can do but wait. Getting used to that impotence has to be done, and I venture to say that it is more difficult for men, who are in general used to solving problems, than for women.
And finally what of God? Hollow laughter. That’s something for another blog. If I were wise it would not appear until after I retire, but since I’m not it will appear sooner.
You may find some of what delights you can only be done in the context of the stuff that you hate???
yes barry – the paradox of delight
Survivor guilt is troubling.
Why retire? Just do less and less of what you dislike and what drains you and do more and more of what delights and energizes you.
yes indeed. that is my intention!
Words of Wisdom? Words of confusion? Words of Expression, all are better than no words at all and long may you continue to pass on to those of us who are, perhaps, not so eloquent.
So pleased to see you writing again. Sending a hug now with intentions to deliver a hug in person very very soon. Xo
We think of you and talk of you so much, especially over the past 10 months. Our hearts are with you.
I would be interested to hear your views on vasectomy Stanley. Also more on retirement. I am always being asked if I’m keeping busy. I reply I thought the point of retirement was stopping being busy. I believe a lot of dishonest talk goes on about this subject. I’m training myself to be idle. I’ve never been convinced about the need to ‘achieve ones potential’ – other than trying to behave as well as one can manage to others. But all this comes dangerously close to ‘what is the purpose of life.’
The muse is returning. There is such a lot about the sodding church that I itch to write, Trouble is, nobody cares – it’s all irrelevant now – except to pay and pension. Drug companies are evil too, so I shall write about them one day.
Good evening Stanley
We must compare notes on drug companies sometime. In short, they are too focused on profit to pay for the ‘next generation research’ but are fighting the twin challenges of regulatory oversight and the unmet needs of diseases which are really difficult to crack. It is an industry which has changed so much since I started in the 80’s.
From: Rambling Rector Reply-To: Rambling Rector Date: Friday, 26 August 2016 at 21:54 To: Nigel Day Subject: [New comment] Life moves on
Rambling Rector commented: “The muse is returning. There is such a lot about the sodding church that I itch to write, Trouble is, nobody cares – it’s all irrelevant now – except to pay and pension. Drug companies are evil too, so I shall write about them one day.”
Good to see (read) your words again. I see the old ‘Stanley’ is still there. I’m sure when retirement finally beckons, you will keep yourself busy and, who knows, if you choose to continue your writings, the Rambling Rector’s words will continue to be read by an appreciative following !