Many people in this world have been abused. Too many. Often by individuals they can never wholly sever ties from, no matter how much they might like to. Many of us have been abused by family members that are attached to other family members we actually like, and who are important to us. Some of us have never found the strength to confront our abusers, and have found it easier to pretend that it never happened. Even when that person starts dying. Don’t judge us.
In my case, my dad had an explosive anger that he took out on his children. He was verbally abusive, using both insults to shame us and screaming combined with violent gestures and a terrifying stature to cow us.
Because he never physically hit us, I didn’t recognise it as “real” abuse until I entered therapy at 16 for a mysterious anxiety problem (ha). By the time I was anywhere near ready to even think about confronting him, I had moved out, was living on my own, and only seeing my parents at holidays and family events.
LISTEN: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow speak to a woman who severed all contact with her toxic father. Post continues after.
It was hard to think about disrupting the family. I was afraid of not being able to come to family gatherings, one of the few places I get to see my busy siblings and their amazing children — nieces and nephews I adore and admire. At the same time, in his old age, my dad has calmed down considerably. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen more than a hint of the volcano of a man he used to be. This doesn’t erase the damage he did, or make up for the fact he never apologized, but it does mean he’s easier to be around. For a few years, our relationship became bearable, albeit built on lies and denial. I paid a lot of money to therapists to work through my anger, my grief, and my disgust at both him and myself. I decided that I didn’t need a confrontation. I was okay.
Then he started dying.
Chronic Leukemia: the lazy killer.
One day mum and dad sat myself, my brother, and my sister down and told us that he had been diagnosed with chronic leukemia. It’s not as bad as the acute forms of leukemia you tend to hear about that rapidly ravage the body. It develops slowly, and victims often display no symptoms for years. But in a routine checkup, an elevated white blood cell count raised red flags. The illness was diagnosed, but it was still too early for treatment to be necessary.
The downside is that chronic leukemia can’t be cured like other cancers. Chemotherapy will lower abnormal cell numbers back down to stage 0 numbers, but the cancer will continue to develop. At age 67, chemo would be difficult, traumatic, and even potentially fatal. So he’s decided to turn it down when the time comes.