I have just read an article from the Huffpost titled ‘What Milestones are like when you lose a parent at a young age’ (written by Brittany Wong) and it got me thinking. I really do not think I understood or acknowledged the impact losing my parents at such a young age had on me.
I am an orphan in my mid forties. My story begins 5 days after my fourth birthday – we got the news that my father had been ripped from our lives and had died in a plane crash. It changed our lives forever and the impact of the tragedy is still ongoing for all my family. My mum was left with 4 kids including a newborn and a demanding business. Back then there were not the services of support there is today, so, we as a family, stood mostly on our own, navigating grief as best we could.
It was not until years later, in therapy, I realised I had not actually grieved. All I had done was ate away my feelings and who I was. The messages from my mums friends in the aftermath of his death, were all about ‘being strong for mum’, ‘look after your brothers’ and ‘be good’. Right, I thought – I will…..I became the ‘perfect’ little girl whose mission it was to look after this snotty, pukey, crying little brother. Hey, don’t get me all wrong – it was not ALL bad – I had a puppet who would do anything for me! He would follow me around like a puppy and I would teach him ‘secret’ languages, get him to help me make ‘camps’ – I had an instant friend!
However, it all came at a price – being the perfect girl, I realised I had to become invisible, so I stopped expressing feelings, having needs or demanding attention. Food became my frenemy – it was a way I bonded with my mum but it was also something soley for me which no one could take away. I stole food from the cupboards and ate in the quiet, peaceful Sophie’s world where everything was as it should be.
Meanwhile around me the shit was hitting the fan, my older 2 brothers were acting out, getting expelled from school and into trouble but my mum did not know where to turn.
The secrets, lies and craziness spiralled and so did my eating.
I remember she told me once that she lost a lot of her friends after the funeral because the wives suddenly became threatened by her being single. She said that also some of the husbands came onto this ‘vulnerable, grieving woman’ so she had to stop seeing those couples too, as a result the support network dwindled.
As I got older, I started stealing money to fund my eating and I also got a job – I became very good at hiding my bingeing and my weight stayed static so no one noticed, which was bittersweet as I desperately wanted to be noticed (for someone to ask how I was doing and feeling) but I also wanted to keep my way of coping a secret.
I was craving attention so I did engage in some behaviour I was not and am not proud of which then exasperated my self loathing. I was in a dark cycle of doing stuff because I hated myself so that made me hate myself even more…..
I became addicted to food, abusing myself and my body, letting others abuse me, being a people pleaser, staying silent and punishing myself.
I should mention that it also came to light that I thought my dad dying was my fault. At 4 years old I did not know how else to deal with it all. I embraced and metabolised the messages
‘if I was loveable he would not have died’
‘If I was better behaved he would not have left me’
‘Everyone I love will let me down or abandon me’
I did find solace in creativity and sport. I loved dancing, theatre, entertaining and making people laugh. That is how I shined when I allowed myself to be visible – sadly my self esteem and lack of self confidence put a stop to that, my eating got worse and I piled on weight. All this was my inner turmoil, on the outside I was this happy, sociable, strong, intelligent (yes brothers…….intelligent!!), confident person.
I guess I should mention about my relationship with men as growing up without a father has of course had an affect on my love life – in short – it has been a fucking disaster! Enough said.
My brothers found ways to cope too and today they still struggle with the inner demons of the tragic loss.
My superhero mum everyday put her best foot forward, struggling in silence and never got the recognition of her bravery because she never expected or asked for it. She never found another ‘soulmate’ which she deserved. She sadly left this life to be with dad just over 10 years ago. She had become my best friend, confidant, supporter, hugger, advisor and so much more.
I have to end this post as it is getting quite long! Going back to the article, I do think losing parents is so much more than just losing physical bodies. For me, I lost a cheerleading squad, support, those daily phonecalls to talk to someone, that sense of knowing I can just pop home if needed, their personalities, the love I receive has halved and most importantly, I have lost a part of me and my childhood. I cannot call and ask questions about how I was a child, did I like doing this or that, was I good at that? I am having to get to know me – Sophie – who I am before the conditioning and trauma. What I radiate is my uniqueness but also my authenticity. So, yes – there has been huge negative side effects but also huge positives have come out of a shitty situation. So, yes those milestones are lonely and different but I have learnt to deal with life without parents and through this part of me and my story can allow others to know there is life after grief.
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