My Dad was an avid sportsman; one of those people who excelled at any sport he turned his hand to. He played tennis, golf and cricket and competed in wood-chopping events at regional shows. He loved his farm where fattening cattle and growing cash and fodder crops allowed him to live his dream. He was a loving and doting husband and father and his children adored him. At 31, he was at his prime enjoying life and his young family.
It was at this time that his life was cut short as a result of a car accident. He left behind his wife of ten years and four young children, aged from two to eight years.
Today, the first of May, is the anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Although it has been 51 years, he has never been forgotten.
I was his baby girl and at two years old when he passed, I have only vague memories of feeling safe and comforted when held in his arms. I do however, recall a time when I was wandering the house looking for him, feeling scared and alone, crying out for his attention. I believe this would have been sometime in the days following his passing. Although I never really knew my Dad, I have never doubted his love for me. When I tune into his energy now, I am filled with a sense of love and peace.
As time passed, memories of my Dad faded and because of my age and lack of understanding of death, I never grieved for him. Due to the paucity of my memories, the need to grieve his loss didn’t even enter my mind, even as an adult.
However, unbeknown to me, I incubated this unexpressed grief carrying it with me throughout my life, until it needed to be released, like the steam in a pressure cooker. It was fifty years after his death, when the pressure valve was finally discharged and I was left emotionally spent.
It was April 2012 and my niece, Abbie was getting married in an outdoor ceremony at a beachside resort. As she linked her arm through her father’s and made her way onto the rose petal littered carpeted aisle to meet her husband-to-be under the shade of a white wedding canopy, all eyes were on Abbie.
But my eyes were fixed on her father, my brother. Bruce had walked me down the aisle when I was married 30 years ago, but this was different. This was his only daughter, and the pride and love he had for her was palpable.
As I looked at my brother sharing a nervous laugh with his daughter as they edged closer to their destination, I saw him in a way different to how I had known him before. I saw him as the loving, doting and proud father that he is and this triggered something inside me.
My eyes grew heavier until I could no longer fight the battle to hold back the tears and they cascaded down my face. Equally surprised and embarrassed by my outpouring of emotions, I did my best to keep a dry face, consoling myself with thoughts of ‘no one would be looking at me.’
Little did I know at the time, this was only the start of my tears that day. After the reception and in the confines of my room, the floodgates were opened. The barrier had been breached and the floodwaters arrived. I was inconsolable, and sobbed incessantly and uncontrollably for over two hours until I finally fell asleep, totally exhausted. The following morning brought more tears and despite my best efforts to shut them down, they needed to come out. They continued to pour out until gradually easing off over the following week.
Confused about the intensity of my emotions, I reasoned in my mind that it must be because I was menopausal. What other explanation could there be? However, deep inside, I had an uneasy feeling that I would never see my brother again. I was afraid that something was going to happen to him and I wanted to hold on to our connection as a family.
It was another six months before I understood my emotional breakdown had nothing to do with my brother, but was an expression of grief for my Dad. When I saw my brother at the wedding and felt the loving connection he had with his daughter, I knew in my body what I had missed out on with my Dad.
This was the first time in my life I understood on a visceral level what a strong loving relationship between a father and daughter could be like. And it saddened me to my core as it ignited the sense of loss I felt for my Dad but had denied for half a century.
When I looked at Bruce walking Abbie down the aisle, I saw my father, not my brother.
The feeling I had that I’d never see my brother again, was my two year old self knowing she didn’t get to say goodbye to her father. I knew the close family connection I was yearning for at the time of the wedding, had been broken all those years ago. For awhile, I tried to hold on to remnants of that family closeness by suggesting regular family get togethers, while knowing in my heart, the connection could never be repaired. The bond had been broken fifty years ago.
It is recognised that children less than three years of age have little or no understanding of the meaning or significance of death. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t feel the loss or that they don’t need to grieve. This grief may go unrecognised and unexpressed for many years, waiting patiently for as long as it takes to have its expression.
Renown grief expert, Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book, On Death and Dying (1969) ‘grief has a fail-safe mechanism that will hold itself intact until a child is old enough or psychologically prepared enough to deal with it.’
It took 50 years for me to express my grief for the loss of my Dad. I had carried it for all those years without knowing it was even there, and without understanding it needed to be expressed.
Today on the fifty-first anniversary of his passing, I lovingly celebrate and honour my Dad, Gilbert Thompson Summers (21.11.1930 ~ 01.05.1962).
‘I cannot think of any need in childhood
as strong as the need for a father’s protection.’
01 May 2013