CAUTION: This story contains references to domestic violence and descriptions of childhood emotional abuse.
I stood at the podium looking out at the sea of faces, unfamiliar and familiar, the funeral director’s words still ringing in my ears. It’s okay to be raw and honest. There’s no right way to grieve. They’re just looking for the comfort of a shared experience from you.
Ah, there’s the rub. How could I be raw and honest, and still give them comfort? These people, good people, did not know my father like I knew him. They hadn’t been there when I was eight, running late for school, running behind the car as my father – fed up of yelling for me to get a move on, fed up of punching the horn like it was my mother’s face – drove down the driveway, just a little too fast for me to catch. They hadn’t been there when my father inevitably stopped near the letterbox at the end of the drive, refused to unlock any of the doors, let the engine idle, lit his pipe, and ignored my pleas.
They hadn’t been in the car with me on those long silent drives to the exclusive boys’ high school my father insisted on enrolling me at, even though all my friends were at the local public school, even though I’d begged him to let me go with my friends, even though I was bullied and ostracised at this posh school filled with people who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They hadn’t been there for the daily guilt of never measuring up to his absurdly high standards, of feeling beholden for the sacrifices he made for my education.
They hadn’t been there for the belittling of my dreams of playing cricket for Australia — or India. I had the choice after all. They hadn’t been there for the daily lessons in how to demean and gaslight women. How many times had I heard the story of how imprecise women were with directions?
I ask your mother where the towels are, and she waves vaguely at the linen cupboard and says they’re on that shelf. How am I supposed to know which shelf? So imprecise! I never responded, never told him that the towels inhabited the same space on the same shelf for at least twenty years.
No, these people – good people, who supported my father as cancer ravaged his organs, who supported my mother with meals and relief and company – did not know him like I knew him. They had known him as jovial and benevolent, tutoring their children through final exams, opening his house for all visitors, running the local community association. They knew him as gregarious and generous, giving freely of his time, his food, his expertise. And he was all of those things. To them.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Thank you all for coming out today. My father would have been delighted to see so many of you here, remembering him, supporting my mother and me,” I began.
Image credit: pixabay/tonyarucker
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