I met Faith Stewart-Gordon twice, when she came to a couple of her daughter’s club performances. Beyond being introduced and exchanging introductory sort of remarks, I did not talk to Faith. We smiled at each other several times.
Her daughter, Ellen Kaye, is my dear friend and my brother’s writing and performing partner. Everything I know about Faith, I know through Ellen.
A loss of a parent is complicated.
If our experience as children was unadulterated love for a wonderful nurturer and fierce supporter, an outstanding exemplar for our lives, best friend and confidante, mourning can be deep, pure and sort of comfortable — grief, sadness and awe, all mixed together. We can listen to condolences from outside our family and thank the well-wishers who understood how fine that parent was.
Right, but mourning never is like that. Never, unless the mourner buries the reality of childhood in a deep hole. When we’re little ones, our experience with parenthood depends upon how often our parents are gods and how often they’re monsters. Because for sure they’re going to be both.
So at best, mourning is a love-hate mix of fond memories and deathly intentions, adoration and relief in equal measure. Often a false sense of, “Now I’m free!”
We’re never free. Our genes proclaim that. And mourning a parent whose imperfections as parent were substantial and soul-shattering is so much more difficult than mourning the ideal parent, the perfect one…who doesn’t and never can exist.
The only comfort I can offer friends who have lost an imperfect parent is: Take good, warm care of yourself now and watch out for a delayed reaction, which might come in the form of depression, i.e., buried anger.
A wise psychiatrist once told me why such delayed depression can follow the death of a parent. “They’re gone. Which means we can no longer kill them for what they did to us.”
Another wise psychiatrist told me that if you have had unadulterated love and nurturing from someone, not necessarily a parent, at some point in your childhood, you can hang on to that memory of love and go forward as an adult, with its blessing.