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Father's Day: Absence as a form of loss

The loss of a parent is a devastating experience, and it can come in many forms. Lush staff member Amber shares the grief she went through when she lost her father after his arrest, how it affected their relationship and how frequent communication has helped mend the bonds between them.

My dad isn’t dead. Quite the opposite, actually. He is alive and faring well after having just moved 30 minutes down the road from me. But three years ago, in 2016, he was arrested. Dealing with the loss of the first man in my life was like coping with a death and I still went through a grieving process of sorts.

My childhood was happy and relatively normal. I have one brother and my parents were happily married; we were the stereotypical image of a nuclear family. I’ve always been close with my dad, we have the same sense of humour and spending time together has always been relaxed and easy, finding conversation in almost anything. I grew up between a mixture of the UK and the US, moving there and back again because of dad’s work. My brother and I were fairly close growing up, we were happy-go-lucky children with wild imaginations who spent endless hours making mud pies and “potions” in the garden. Our parents never argued and we all used to go on regular family holidays together, the sun-kissed, beaming evidence of which is now buried somewhere in my mother’s attic.

Many of my school and uni friends came from “broken” homes (a term I have always hated), with their step-parents and siblings and multiple Christmases but I was always so proud of my family for sticking together through all the rough patches and hard times. As far as I was aware, we were happy and my family was functional. Not without the stresses of normal life but happy nonetheless.

That was, until I received a call from my mother one morning in October to tell me that the plain-clothes police officers had turned up on their doorstep and arrested my father. All of a sudden my dad turned from someone who I admired and trusted into a stranger. My pride dissolved and my trust in one of the only people I had always been able to confide in and look up to vanished.

What followed was two years of uncertainty and tumultuous emotions as we waited for the police to finish their investigations. My mother, horrified by the charges, threw him out immediately. Within six months, she had filed for divorce, listed and sold our family home, and moved back in with my nan while she looked for her own place.

I fell into a bout of depression, to which I almost gave into on two occasions. My brother had just moved to Australia a month prior and we had very little contact with him other than a two week visit to tell him what had happened. We were all grieving, but as the person we were grieving over wasn’t dead, it almost felt invalid and almost more difficult to deal with. Grief is very isolating and I honestly don’t remember much from this time apart from feeling sick to my stomach, constantly anxious, and otherwise empty. But after those initial six months the ripples of sadness settled somewhat, I sought help from a counsellor, and we all tried to get used to this new life.

The first Father’s Day after it all happened was difficult and I actually couldn’t bring myself to send him anything, not even a card. I didn’t think he deserved it, and I wasn’t sure if I even had a dad anymore. My anger at him was a red, roiling beast. It took over my rational thoughts and I cut off most communication from him. The occasional letter and text messages were filled with cutting words that, although he insists he needed to hear, I still regret saying. Eventually my rage calmed and I began to think a bit more clearly again. I reopened the channels of communication as I couldn’t stand the thought of dad being alone. His introverted and withdrawn personality meant he hadn’t a friendship group to speak to and his only relative in the country was his brother. He needed me as much as I needed him.

After a year and a half of waiting to hear the results of the police investigations, dad was tried and sent to prison, and I had to struggle with the loss all over again. Thankfully, he only received a short sentence - 20 months with the opportunity to be out on probation after ten. We had kept in touch before he went in and had been slowly rebuilding some of the trust between us. Words were getting easier to say and were becoming kinder but when he was sent to prison, most contact was cut off again. But even through the fresh hurt, I refused to give up. My brother was still struggling and mum had almost totally cut herself off from him so I knew I had to try as I would spend the rest of my life regretting it if I didn’t. We wrote to each other regularly and I would send him postcards from places I visited. At one point I was his only visitor to the prison which helped him open himself up to receiving more. We were helping each other and I’m so glad I didn’t give up on him. That following Father’s Day, I finally found it in myself to send him a card. He still has it on his shelf in his new house.

He is out of prison now, after 10 months as he was hoping, and lives not far from me. As my brother now lives in London, his mother and sister both living abroad, and his brother moving to the area in a few years time, he has no reason to go back to our old home town and I’m glad for this opportunity to start afresh. I’ve not forgiven him, as his actions have taken all our lives and changed them indefinitely, and not for the better. However, I have been able to somewhat come to terms with what happened. He has gone through counselling and psychiatric help. He has done his time and accepted the punishment for his crimes and, as far as I am concerned, the worst is over. We can begin to rebuild amongst the rubble.

I think that the fact this came to light when I was an adult was almost a good thing. I think if I had been younger, I would have struggled with it more, but being a more rationally thinking adult means that I can begin to work past it in a healthy way. Sometimes people make mistakes. And those mistakes can change things for the worse, but that doesn’t mean they automatically deserve to be totally demonised for it. This Father’s Day, because of the work I have put into my relationship with my dad, I am going to be able to get him an actual present. I won’t be able to buy him a “best dad ever” card again but maybe he’d like a pair of socks.

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