Grief and Healing by Carol P. Christ

My father died on July 6, 2017, 98 years, 4 months, 12 days. The last time I saw him was in the spring of 2004. During that visit, he gave me “the silent treatment” (refused to look at me or speak to me) when I stepped over an invisible line. That was not the first time, but it would be the last. When I gave lectures in California in 2008 and 2010, I agonized and yet made the decision not to visit him. I did not want to give him the chance to hurt me again.

My father and I kept in touch at Christmas and birthdays. In recent years we found our mutual interest in the family genealogy to be safe ground on which we could make contact. I was pleased to be able to tell him that I found the place of origin of our branch of the Christ family in Unterpreppach, Lower Bavaria when I visited Germany in the spring of 2016 with my cousin Bill. My father was with me in spirit when I visited the Christ family graves at Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cemetery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the winter of 2016.

When my father had his first heart attack a few years ago, I agonized again and made the decision not to visit. I did not want to give him the chance to hurt me again. This time the decision was final.

My father had been in decline for the past year, suffering from congestive heart failure. He had a long life, and until last fall, he was in good health in independent living at the retirement home where he had lived for nearly twenty years. Although I knew he might not have long to live, I did not waver in my decision not to visit.

When my brother wrote to tell me that my father was dying, I felt that I had already grieved the loss of my father. I did not hate him. In fact, I had always wished him well. But I also understood that because he did not approve of my independence, my feminism, and my politics, to be in his presence would be like walking into a minefield. He might explode at any moment.

While my father was dying, I wrote to several close friends that I thought I had resolved my issues with my father and didn’t think I would need to grieve any further. My friend Judith responded that though what I said sounded reasonable, grief has a way of sneaking up on you.

The first few days after my father died, I felt numb and withdrawn, but I did not shed a single tear. A week later, I came down with a very bad case of cold and flu. Most days it was difficult to find the energy to feed my dogs. As I had very little food in the house, I ate almost nothing. I spent my days watching reruns of Law and Order SVU.

When I began to feel a little stronger, I said to a friend, “I feel like I have been dead.” It took me another twenty-four hours to ask: could there be a connection between my physical illness and my father’s death? Duh…

While I was pondering this question, my cousin Hattie wrote:

There will always be the questions of why and how I could not get along with him. It is hard but as a child we put the blame on ourselves:  what could I have done better (nothing). Some people can never be happy with what their children do with their lives.

I had already come to terms with this. Or so I thought.

Cousin Hattie concluded:

At some point going forward you will be able to let go. May God rest his soul.

I think what she meant to say was:

May God rest his soul and yours.

* * *

 Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger

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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

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Categories: abuse, Death and Dying, Family, Feminism and Religion, General

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28 replies

  1. Powerful writing as always. Thank you for sharing your feelings, beliefs, and thoughts, and heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol, when my dad died 20 years ago, I had recently made my peace with him. It was a process I found happening within myself and was surprised to see happening.

      We had had a fraught relationship all my life, with a lot of abuse throughout. I had withdrawn from him, but chose to be somewhat in contact towards the end, and was in the house when he passed.

      At the funeral, I realized that what I had been feeling for years, through many years of therapy, was grief. And then I also myself myself struggling to function and with a health crisis shortly after his passing.

      We are so connected to our blood relatives, even when we think we have let them go for our safety and sanity. Death surprises us by making those connections clear in ways we don’t expect.

      I am sorry for your loss on so many levels and for so long. Blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have no words really – but may you be well and strong at this time – and at all times – and may your father rest in peace and may you be at peace too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol at times like this I find it better not to try to fill the silence with inappropriate words – rather I will walk with you in your grief only underderstanding through the experience I am having with my mother’s death.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Some people can never be happy with what their children do with their lives.” And because I have children I would say that some children can never be happy with who their parents are/ do in their lives and treat their parents with that same aggression – distain/silent treatment. I have been sandwiched in between two generations – both – treated me/treat me with the same dismissive behavior. I was not able to sever the connection with my mother until the last years of her life and even then, psychologically, I kept the door open. Grieving her death was a lengthy drawn out process and I never thought I would reach the point of acceptance of what was. Thankfully, I did, but at a tremendous price to myself that included chronic physical illness. To see my very adult sons (50ish) treat me the same way brought me pain beyond anything I had never known. I refused to shut the door on principle – whose principle, I now wonder? This legacy of abuse has a long history and when I finally said NO to both of my sons this spring I could FEEL in my body that I had done the right thing – Respecting myself had finally become more important than having relationships with family that continued to use abusive behavior to attempt to make me into a person to suit their needs, and to be “kings” of their constricted little castles.

    My heart breaks for you but, in time, the grief will pass. The mind/body connection is never more obvious than when one is in a state of grief because one spills into the other. And please do know that you will come round and round again in this process of letting go, and it’s just that, process.

    Why it has to be this way for some of us, I do not know.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Take care of yourself! And thanks for sharing.


    • Sarah, Here are the guidelines:
      Would be great to have you join us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Relating … Carol and Sara … although my sons (14 and 16) are still at home under my care, I wonder what our relationship will be like down the road. I know that my boundaries, like both of you, will be firm. Through women’s circles, therapy, reading, it seems simple but I really never thought through what it would actually feel like to have a mother who supported and nourished you until recent years. I had to come to the realization that mine does not and that there is nothing I can do about that … that the more I become ‘Myself’, the farther from her I get. Which is a horrible thing! But not really a choice at all, is it. I solace myself by thinking that somewhere subconsciously I know that she is very proud of me for finding myself and stepping in to my ‘power’. I am sure that your father was(is) the same, that even though he did not have the ability to relate to you and tell you that, at some level, he FELT it. We’re all here to do our part, and I have realized that my relationship to my mother and to the rest of my family is part of mine: standing firm, but loving while staying authentic. Not easy! :) Thanks for sharing Carol.


  5. So very sorry for your loss and the pain of this relationship. I relate on many levels. Big hugs.


  6. I was prepared for my father’s death, or so I thought, but when he died, I found it was the finality of it all that was so overwhelming. All the loss of what would never be, never be said, even though I had never struggled with those thoughts before his death.
    Sincere condolences on the death of your father.


  7. Carol, I am sorry for your loss, this fresh, final loss and all the losses along the way, and the great loss of not having a father who knew how to love, encourage, and accept his daughter. My story parallels yours. I also got very ill after my father died. According the Chinese medicine, lungs are the organ that expresses our grief. Wishing you well!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I understand the ambivalence, Carol. I have struggled for many years with my own relationship with my father, someone I love dearly but who has also hurt me. Please take care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, Carol!

    That your father should always mean to you ‘another chance for you to be hurt’…What a spiritually impaired person he was, at a cost borne by you — and no doubt others. You may have meant a hurt to him. Best you decided to escape to love.

    Condolences on your painful loss, which will unfold over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am sorry for your loss. Hope you find peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Your last sentence hits where it matters most. Good for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you Carol for honouring yourself and by writing about this. Showing others they can honour themselves in the same way. It is so important to speak about these difficult family relationships out loud. There will always be people who don’t understand when the best thing one can do for oneself is to pull away from ones father. It takes so much courage and strength to do that more that it does to continue that relationship. This is just another example of the personal is political. Little by little we chip away at patriarchy. By all that you do in your life, Karolina, you make this world a better place. I always love and take hope from this quote by feminist writer and activist Arundhati Roy “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Carol, thank you for sharing your story and your grief with us. I too have a difficult relationship with my father and I think when he dies I will mostly be mourning the loss of the loving father I never had. When my husband died of liver disease due to alcoholism I thought I wouldn’t grieve much because I’d been grieving for him for years, but I was wrong. The grief hit me hard and I also developed a chronic illness. On the surface my illness is not related to grief, but I believe that our minds, bodies, and spirits are interconnected and what affects one affects the others.

    You were wise to distance yourself from your father so he could not hurt you. I learned yesterday that one of my husband’s brothers had just died. I talked to his widow and then called his stepbrother to let him know. This man is belligerent and his political and social views are the opposite of mine. I’ve never told him what my beliefs are because I was afraid he’d bully me, like my father has always done. He says some day he wants to bring his wife to Maine and that they’ll visit me, and I’m hoping they don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The parent child relationship is a tricky one for sure. I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one and all I’ve learned is to accept what is and go on.


  15. Karolina,
    I am so sorry for your loss. No matter how old they are, or how distant geographically or psychologically, it is very hard when a parent dies. I have read that grief for a child is even more difficult when the relationship was troubled, and that was my experience as well.
    With my sympathy and condolences,

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m sorry for your loss. I also had a friend that his father died when she was seven but she move on , and that makes her strong again…. but you still have to take your time .

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Carol, how your story spoke to me!! my father did not like women, a true misogynist, yet he married a woman and had four daughters! how we all suffered because we were female!!! But I took a different route than you did. I took care of my father and he lived with me for the last 11 YEARS of his life. And though I did not love him, I took care of him for ME. I wanted to be free of the guilt and grief when he died. It got bad sometimes. There were times I wanted to push him down a flight of stairs. There WERE times I did hate him. There were times I pitied him. I learned so much about him and the damage he’d suffered in those 11 FOREVER years. But I learned more about myself than anything else. I learned I can endure anything. I learned how to REEEEEEEALLY pray. I learned patience I never knew I had. I learned acceptance I didn’t think I could muster. And when he died? my three sisters suffered in varying degrees of grief, guilt, distress. Me? I went out drinking with friends….and in the 9 years since he died, he has only occasionally crossed my thoughts. And when he does, I can always smile or laugh. I hope he is at peace. I hope he has found rest. I hope he is happy. But I honestly don’t care if I run into him in the hereafter or not! LOL


    • Wow, sujamer1956, what an interesting journey, and approach. I’m glad it worked for you. And I am so glad that you got goodness out of it! I more took Carol’s approach with my abusive dad. But I had dealt with so much of it by the time he died, and he apologized from beyond the grave, that I was able to let a lot go, and not grieve that much. When he came to me a few times his energy still felt off, so I asked him to leave. I honestly wish him healing and peace. And never ONCE have I thought of meeting him in what-is-to-come!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Suhamer, Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds tough, but I am glad you made the best of it.

      I don’t know what I would have done if my father had needed or wanted help. In truth, I believe he went into an independent living residence with care available so that he would not be required to accept any help from any of his children. He had the money to do it and that is what he did.


  18. Carol, this resonated with me deeply. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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