I felt so guilty when my father died. It was like everything I had done wrong or badly in my life came to visit me and to haunt me. In some way I felt as if my father could see me in a new way and I felt naked. I knew if that were true he would be so disappointed with me.
I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me and every time I thought of it I cried and cried. I loved him so much but we didn’t talk about it. Now we couldn’t ever talk about it again.
It seemed I was on my own. I couldn’t talk about it to by family. How could I? All I could say was that I missed him and that justified my sadness and tears. He died quickly. None of us had time to get ready for it or to make any kind of preparation. Why!. Why!. Why! did it happen so fast. I could have told him all the things I now so badly wanted to say. I could have prepared him to see me………but he was gone.
For a long time I felt numb. I tried to get back to things that needed to be done and that worked for a while. Friends encouraged me. It was best, they said, to get things back to normal. But I didn’t feel normal! I felt as if I were listening through water. Everything was muffled and my mind seemed to be constantly preoccupied with thoughts of what might have been and with memories of disagreements and harsh words. The sorrow would well up and overcome me. I began to take time off work and I seemed to have little control over the downward slide that was happening to me. Somewhere I wanted to talk but who could I talk to? My friends were uncomfortable when I became upset and were too quick to ‘fix me’. My family were trying to handle it in their way. They didn’t need my adding to the burden.
Nearly eight months after his death I was lower then ever and I was angry. Why did he do this to me!. Why did he have to die now. I used to dream about him. He would come to me in my dreams and I would try to reach him but I could not. Sometimes I could not see his face and sometimes I could see a look of pity in his eyes.
At other times I felt a mixture of anger and shame because I remembered how insen sitive and demanding my father had been. I was angry with him because he had taken away any chance of sorting out the mess of feelings I was having and I felt shame that I could think so badly of him.
I was brought up as a Catholic. I had not been inside a church for a few years but I de cided to go to the priest. My thought was that since I could not talk with my friends or family maybe the priest would help. I thought of going to confession as a way of getting rid of the cloud over me and the feelings of guilt and resentment I had. The priest lis tened to me and in the end he asked me if I would be willing to go for counselling. He thought I needed to do more than just have a chat with him. At that stage I felt a sense of relief. He had listened and somehow that made me feel I was still in the world. He gave me the name and number of a counsellor and I made an appointment.
The first appointment I spent crying and telling the counsellor about myself. I felt very self-conscious and weak-willed but the counsellor told me it was OK and to try not to censor my feelings or thoughts. It was hard and after this appointment I decided I would not go back. As the time came for my next visit I fought with myself about whether to go or not. In the end I went along.
It was all right to be angry with my father and to say so to someone else without cre ating outrage. I felt a bit strange about it but the more I got into the counselling, the more I understood that I could really let my feelings out.
For me the most painful and joyful experience I had was when my counsellor explained to me that I could bring my father into the room with us and talk with him. As I write this I am becoming upset, though this time it is because that memory is so good. I spent the time letting my father know how I missed him and how I felt sad and guilty. I told him how I was afraid of his disappointment. My counsellor explained that I could hear my father answering me and if I was willing I could lend him my voice to speak. I know it seems weird but it really felt like he was there and we were talking and crying togeth er.
This was a breakthrough for me. I knew that all was not lost and it was possible for me to work through the things that had been crushing me. In a way my father is more with me now then he ever was before. I stayed in counselling for about four more months and most times I felt a sense of peace and a feeling of shedding layers of shame and sadness. Now my father is dead but he lives in my memories.
(Brian Kennedy is 26 years old. His father died four years ago)