Father’s day when you’ve lost your dad. The best gift you can give him and yourself – stop doing the one thing that will make you forget him.
These holidays can be really tough, can’t they? The build up to the day. The ads on the radio. The cards in every shop you walk into. The flyers through the letterbox with ads for stuff you can get your dad. Friends mentioning their plans for their own dad. People who don’t know you (or have forgotten) asking what you plan to do, or whether you remembered to send a card.
And all of it reminding you that your dad isn’t here. All of it hurting you.
It doesn’t have to be like this. How about, for this father’s day, you give your dad (and yourself) the best father’s day gift you ever could. Ensure that you will remember him.
You might think this is what you are doing already but there is probably one huge thing you are doing that is actually going to ensure the opposite – that you forget. So let’s talk about that and do something about it.
(Now just a heads up…the bit below is actually part of the book I’m writing. It’s the first time anyone has read any of my book…..but it was perfect to use here today. Nervous…and excited….to be sharing some of it for the first time.)
It’s time to start thinking about the bad things about them
A couple of weeks ago I saw a women who works with grief update her facebook page asking the question “do you ever think about the bad things about the person you lost?”. The reaction was immediate. She got absolutely slammed. People were commenting saying that this was a horrible question and how could she ask such a thing. They questioned how she could suggest this and, one after the other, they explained how they loved every single thing about the person they lost, with one woman even saying that her 11 yr-old daughter who died ‘could never have done anything I didn’t like when she was alive’.
What was your reaction to her question? Did it sound terrible to you? Did the idea of thinking of the bad things about your dad make you uncomfortable?
Around someone who is grieving it is very easy to get overly sensitive and tread on eggshells, not wanting to comment on and question their experience…but let’s get realistic for a second here and look logically at that last comment from the woman who had lost her daughter. Hands up who was ever 11 years old. And keeps your hands up if you know that by the age of 11 you had never done a single thing to anger, bug, annoy, upset, distress, or infuriate your parent. No-one should have their hand up right now. Seriously, no-one. Every child of 11 has done something (or some-millions-of-things) their parent didn’t like. Every parent has done something (again, millions) their 11-yr old didn’t like. If you have known someone for 11 years and they have never done anything you didn’t like……well, look, I don’t have anywhere to take that sentence. It simply doesn’t happen. Only the people we haven’t met have never done anything we didn’t like.
Now I understand why the woman who posted this got the reaction that she did. Once again, people were thinking that they are supposed to feel a certain way and only focus on the good, and getting angry at the suggestion of anything else. And the suggestion of the bad (that they know very well exists) pushes a great big powerful guilty button.
Think about it like this: think right now of the person (living) who is closest to you and knows you best. Is it your partner/spouse? Your best friend? Your own mother or child? Got them in mind? Ok, so they know the best things about you, right? If I wanted to know what makes you amazing, special, a great friend, inspiring, and fun, this person would be able to tell me. They know the very best bits of you. But they also know all the worst things about you, right? They know what things about you make you difficult or annoying sometimes. They know why some people won’t get along with you. They know what bad or weird habits you have (yes, that habit). They know what you’ve done and what you do that hurts others. They could blackmail you with some of the dirt they have on you. But they won’t….because they love you very much. And you have enough dirt on them that it wouldn’t be worth the risk. They love you loads. They just happen to know you very, very well too. In fact, this is why they love you. Because you’re a whole good-and-bad person. Just like them. Knowing all of these things about you doesn’t stop them getting close to you. In fact it’s the thing that allows it.
Now imagine that something happens to you (it will one day…we just don’t know when this mystical ‘one day’ is)and after you are gone they are trying to think about you. And imagine that instead of just honestly thinking about you as you really were they now decide that you were only good and fun and lovely and refuse to remember the bad things about you. Because to do anything else would be to dishonour your memory, right?
There are three huge problems with this and these are reasons why you wouldn’t want them to do this to you, and why it’s time to stop doing this about your dad:
By blocking out the bad, you push him away
Firstly, for someone who loves and knows you very well, to try to imagine you as an angel they have to take a few steps back from you. Standing close to you they can still see your warts (as in ‘warts and all’ – why they love you, remember). So they have to stand far enough away from you that you get a bit blurry. And then they have to squint. Really hard. Because up close they can see you. All of you. The real you. The terrific and the terrible. And that is what they are trying to avoid doing.
If you are trying to imagine your dad as an angel then you have to do the same. You have to distance yourself from him – you have to push a lot of the memories away. You have to stretch out the connection between you and him. The more you try to imagine an angel the less access you’ll have to all your real memories as you are pushing a good chunk of him away and refusing to look. If you decided you don’t want to look at half of him then there goes 50% of your memories, right there.
Trying to remember your dad as an angel (instead of the wonderful, beautiful human that you knew and loved) will cut you off from memories of him.
Blocking out the bad will make you feel guilty
The second reason, as I’ve just talked about, is that you DO know all the bad stuff about him…so if you’re running around trying to talk him up to be an angel – to others and to yourself – and making as if he had no faults, no bad bits, or never did anything you didn’t like, you’re going to be fighting yourself. The part of you that knows all that stuff will be going “ummm excuse me…about all this ‘never did anything bad nonsense’….” and the rest of you will be going “shhhhhh! It’s bad to think bad things about him. Shut up! He was only good. He was only good. He was only good (fingers shoved firmly in ears)”…and you will be feeling guilty as anything for knowing all the bad things. You will feel guilty for every bad thought you ever had about him. You’ll feel guilty for knowing the things about him that you think you aren’t supposed to know. Guilt is a massive (and often unacknowledged) part of grief and it is not helping you. It’s just getting in your way and it’s making it more painful to remember your dad.
By remembering only the good you are remembering a very different person
The third reason that trying to remember your dad as an angel is a problem is that if you are doing this you are imagining a person who actually isn’t your dad at all. You have created someone different in your mind, not him, and this is the person you are thinking about. Not him.
I spoke to a woman who heralded her daughter who had died as an absolute angel, with no faults, who never set a foot wrong or harmed anyone in her life. Even her best friend said to me that this woman had turned her daughter into a creature she never actually was, and was clinging to this hologram for dear life. The saddest thing about this is that it was a thoroughly misguided attempt to do what she thought would let her hold on to her daughter. The reality was that she was pushing real memories of her daughter out of her mind and instead focusing all the time on this character she had created. In her attempt to remember her daughter she was actually forgetting her .
I don’t know about you but I wan’t to be remembered damnit. I want the people I love and the people I’ve touched to remember me. I don’t want them remembering some angel-barbie girl who goes by my name. I want to be remembered. Me. All of me. Don’t I deserve this? Don’t you? Yes? Well so does your dad.
One of the biggest reasons you’ll start forgetting your dad, or anyone you’ve lost, is that you start blocking off access to your own memories. You censor some, deciding that they are inappropriate. You make up other memories or change them accordingly. You paint a different colour over the picture of your dad and wonder why you can’t quite see him anymore. Put it any way you like but you see what I mean.
If you want to remember him….I mean really remember him clearly and feel closer to him then get realistic. Quick. Stop blocking out memories. Start remembering everything you can – good and bad. Make a list of all the good things he was/did/said/made you feel/helped you do….and all the bad too. And make sure the list is the same length on both sides. It might feel nicer to write a list of 250 good things and 3 bad things…but that’s not who he was and this won’t help you remember.
Honour your dad by knowing that all of him was worth remembering, that every single bit (even the stuff you couldn’t stand…and it’s ok to admit you couldn’t stand it. He had stuff he couldn’t stand about you too) had it’s place and, more importantly, was part of him. The good and the bad is what made him your dad.
You loved him as he was when he was alive – both the awesome and the crappy stuff. Don’t stop now. He deserves to be loved and remembered as the whole, real, amazing person that you knew.