On the Coast #55+ March 2020

Fathers & Sons

The other week, in my capacity as an holistic funeral celebrant, I had to sensitively mediate two adult brothers, as they navigated the death of their father and plan his funeral.

It was painful to witness them in such pain. The pain at the loss of their father was further amplified by the distance they had had from each other as brothers and the distance the eldest brother had from his father.

There were so many losses not dealt with even before the death. Lost relationship. Lost time. Lost opportunities for connection. The pain of lost relationship had started well before the death occurred, and so when the father died its tragedy and finality could no longer be avoided.

This is the thing with death, death is like the sword of truth that cuts through everything and we can no longer run from our feelings and pain. Whatever the story is that we have wrapped around our hard feelings, our feelings do speak a truth we cannot avoid. Whatever feelings about a relationship we have denied, avoided, diminished or suppressed will finally slam into us like a freight train at the last breath.

It made me reflect on the relationships of men and specifically fathers and sons. It can be such a complex one made even more difficult by the enculturation of men to ‘not feel’ to be ‘stoic’ and ‘strong’ and ‘invulnerable’ to their feelings.

We have done men such a disservice to enable this myth of invulnerability as being manly because I know from my work as a relationship therapist; feelings are the currency of relationship. It takes amazing strength to stay with the feelings, but it is worth it. Feelings are the truest and fastest way to create connection, intimacy and trust.  Not just for intimate romantic-love based relationships, but for ALL relationships.

Feelings are the ‘back-stage passes’ into the inner world of our loved ones.  When we learn to read the map of their inner landscape we can begin to understand them; understand their needs and desires; understand the motivations and fears; empathise, find compassion and be in connection.  When we can acknowledge the feelings we can see, hear and know someone’s truth without having to argue who is right…..it is just about being in ‘right relationship’.

There is something powerful to know and understand how being in ‘right relationship’ with our loved ones while they are alive can help us to continue to be in ‘right relationship’ with our loved one after death.

For fathers and sons, traversing the child to teen to young adult to man is a wild rollercoaster.  There is an essential separation and differentiation that must occur and sometimes during the individuation and the making of a man there is a battle of strength and power as each asserts their place in the world.  This can leave hurts and create a distance that may never truly repair if there is not a conscious effort to ‘re-meet’ each other and ‘re-find’ each other as men in the world.

All families and the constellation of relationships within – parents, children and siblings – go through many evolutions of growth and change. This is still true into our adult years. There are powerful patterns at play, and those ‘roles’ we play in families are hard to break. When a child becomes a parent themselves however, and participates in their own family of creation triumphs and challenges, this can often be a turning point for insight and compassion towards our parents and siblings.

For one of my funeral family brothers, he did ‘re—meet and re-find’ his dad in the latter years of his life, taking care of his needs into old age, managing his nursing home and health day-to-day and finding new relationship with him.  He said in his last few years his father softened and gentled and in their conversations “he got to know the man.” As a result, his grief found its natural intensity and expression. He could find the joy, the gratitude and the celebration for his father in the midst of his sadness.

For his older brother, the body slam of big hard feelings of hurt, resentment and regret created a red mist of anger that almost derailed the funeral.  Essential to the negotiations for the funeral arrangements ever moving forwards to agreement and a good outcome was to acknowledge the truth of his feelings as real and right.  Bringing gentle compassion and understanding to those feelings was the first step to connection.

The measure of both men was they did give witness to each other’s feelings, they could meet each other in that mutual space and stay connected and work together. They arrived at their father’s funeral safely and brought great honour to their dad. And there was a lot of feeling in that ceremony. Good feelings. Lots of love.

Much love. Sarah