Envious Grief

Photo by Andy Mkosi

I drafted this while I was in bed trying to check out of the dark cloud that I was feeling stuck under during one of my episodes of self-doubt. (This needs to come with a trigger disclaimer; it feels triggering to me!) 

Making peace with the non-existent relationship between myself and my parents has meant that I question a lot of my childhood memories and whether everything I experienced was true; sometimes even for simple things. 

I’m a nervous, anxiety riddled mess half the time…a consequence of my upbringing.  Recently, I was chatting to a friend about their relationship with their parents  – and it seemed out of character for me to ask  – but I wanted to know if they were ever going through their lives with the nervous uncertainty that should the sky fall, they are on their own. She responded with one word, “Never.”  Her reply was short and certain.

I have always been on edge when it comes to asking my parents for assistance. Memories from childhood school holidays until I stopped communicating with my parents altogether are fraught with tension. I remember having to opt out of school activities and what are considered normal teenage milestones and events because my parents would either a) honor the request far too late or b) disregard it completely. This laid the foundation for my belief that I was on my own.  

I did an exercise. I began recounting all the times I have asked for some kind of assistance as an adult and how those requests were always a subject to deep interrogation usually ending with accusations of my selfishness for not considering others. I was reminded, repeatedly, that there are siblings besides myself. Strange when you consider that as a first born girl child, our existence is often defined by how much labour we can contribute towards the wellbeing of others. 

So I enviously grieve certainty: wondering what life would have turned out like had I had one person I knew would catch me for sure, regardless of where I was in the world.  Today it feels so strange experiencing people showing up for me when they are not related by blood and I can’t help but wonder if they will also wake up tomorrow and realize that they didn’t sign up for loving somebody who questions everything and every motive. It’s a part of my conditioning, though I wish it weren’t.

This isn’t a sad story; well not for me. It’s the realization that there is more to life and love and sometimes our fears aren’t unfounded. They are growing pains that we need to shake out of our existence, especially when we start realizing how much more we deserved, compared to what we got. 

A lot of the times when we talk about difficult childhoods, I notice how everybody is in a hurry to excuse poor parenting by saying they didn’t know better and they did what they could with what they had at the time. That’s all great until 30 something years later I’m on the phone with my parents again and they are doing what they can to sabotage efforts to self-improve. So I grieve for all the times I felt like I was asking for too much, for the times I got so little and in those moments when my friends are talking about missing their parents so much that it hurts (whether they are alive or late) I can’t relate to that feeling. I grieve in envy.

When a person faces challenges in life, it’s often blamed on them being fatherless, often as a “joke” and sometimes with the intention to remind others that they didn’t grow up with a present father figure in their lives. We assign ”daddy issues” to everything and nothing. Very seldom do we get people being told they have mother issues, especially women because we are conditioned to believe that mothers are perfect. So I’m questioning everything and wondering how different life would be if my mother was a parent to me; a present parent that is. 

I don’t think the relationship will ever be fixed. Adulthood and new friendships in my growing age has shown me that there is more than one way to be loved and protected. People who had no skin in the game besides random interests… If strangers like that can come into my life and show up for me in unimaginable ways, expecting the minimum from my family shouldn’t be too much to ask. And even if there was a bridge to get over, I would be expected to be the one who makes the first move. I’m not being petty, I just don’t believe in granting forgiveness to those who never asked for it. 

I don’t know what the future holds but I do hope that it has less of me grieving in envy about the possibilities of things I might never experience from blood family but I also remember that whenever I am feeling listless and lost in the world, the universe tends to send people or solutions my way. So I know that this grief won’t be for long. I have acknowledged it. The first of many steps to healing but it has to start somewhere. 

I’ve learnt that love shouldn’t feel or seem too far-fetched to be real; dreams shouldn’t feel too big and nothing should feel impossible; and often the nervous anxiety I’m carrying has nothing to do with the present but everything to do with a past that I can’t change. The awareness about this means I can make a better effort to remind myself that I have come so far and there is so much I still want to realize for myself and none of my dreams are too unrealistic. Now to put that on a sticker for days when I can’t get out of the dark clouds in my head. 

My grief will heal eventually, but I know that much of it depends on not asking people for things they have no interest in giving me, whether it is love, commitment or presence. 

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