Rae is an older woman who continues to learn about herself and others.
I met my Dad, the man, during a Gestalt counselling session three years after he had died. Deciding I needed help to work through some issues, what emerged was long-held anger towards my dad.
Ranting and raving I shouted at him – the empty chair – my outpouring focussed on his apparent indifference to my life, the remembered absences in my childhood when he was at work, golf, committee meetings, unavailable at times when I needed him most.
As the session came to a close, my emotion exhausted, I slumped in the chair opposite his empty one and heard a quiet “I’m so sorry”. Initially incredulous at this impossibility then weeping in a togetherness I cannot explain, I felt the man, the person, as bewildered as his daughter. A man of integrity, generosity and wisdom. A man with talents and vulnerabilities, who valued honesty, hard work and meticulous, careful use of resources. His life purpose to provide security for his wife and children and extend love to his families, community and our Mum.
In that Gestalt session I recognised my anger towards Dad was grief, grief for the lost years and the relationship with him that I had yearned for.
Now the relationship I have with my father is richer, more generous and appreciative of the man he was and tried to be and the Dad he was and is. When I contemplate my Dad the scenes that come to mind today involve, not feelings of loss, but comforting cellular aromas; holidaying in Rotorua, his cigarette smoke entwined with the sulphuric mist rising to meet the damp morning air and the fragrance of fresh yeast bread. The intermingling of Old Spice, cigarettes, Persil, wool and maybe whiskey with wood smoke from the open fireplace. The pungent aroma of paper, leather and ink in his dark and brown city office. And then the every day smells of toothpaste and shaving cream, weekend smells of garden sweat and beer and the safety and comfort that was there but seldom appreciated. Thank you Dad.
Rae, the eldest of five, lives in Tamaki Makaurau with Rangitoto a familiar and reassuring presence. Her three children have discovered their own paths and six mokopuna are finding their way with the villages they need around them.
Transition, was it gradual, or sudden? The transition to adulthood seemed to take a lifetime. Some may say that phase of growing up is called “Life”, the continuity of change as we move through our decades.
There were two events during my transition time between teenager and adult, which colluded to impact beyond their context and into much of my adult life.
On the second to last day of August 1970 I was in my first year of nursing training. My sister, two years younger and adventurous, had met with me for my eighteenth birthday in the city the night before. When, that next morning, the hospital Matron called me from my work in the ward, to her office, I dreaded to think what might have happened to my sister on her way home.
I was completely unprepared for the news that our five-year-old sister had died in her sleep. I was incredulous. Mary was only slightly unwell when I had been home two days before, how could this have happened?
Feelings of disbelief, grief, guilt, impotence and loss combined to implode our family, resulting in a fracturing of children from parents and a thick impenetrable silence around our individual bereavements.
Perhaps it was my incomprehension of God’s lack of intervention in Mary’s death, or my feeling of helplessness, or the early 1970s music; the Hollies’ “Too young to be married” and “I have loved me a man” by Allison Durban were playing on the radio. Whatever the reason, I envisioned my destiny there in the music, not with my heart broken family. When, a few months later, I was dumped by my first lover for an ex-girlfriend I felt betrayed, sullied and unworthy.
I recklessly embarked on a life of parties and partners, perhaps in an attempt to numb my soul. Eventually, by the end of my second year of nursing training this all caught up with me. Failing an examination, I was expecting to fly through and then discovering that the long Easter weekend of abandonment, when I had been gloriously off duty, had resulted in pregnancy. The now familiar feelings of guilt, love, loss and loathing became amplified and a new layer of change and grief was added.
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