Confronting death is not just about grief but also about the unique hole that the departed leave in the fabric of our lives—both good and bad

My father lies dying.  There has been time to come to terms with this, as his deterioration has come slowly, at times with quick jumps for the worse followed by a long and slow recovery before the next bad turn.  Such is life; such is death.

When I awoke this morning I projected myself into conversation with him at his bedside.  When I do such things, I live it as if it is real, for it is real, and I will find myself overcome by feelings.  To love someone is never a pure thing.  It is tinged with complexity, the kind which makes things impossible to understand.  The good mixed with the bad, the memories, the disappointments, the hurt feelings, the fundamental current of love.

Many things swirl through my mind.  We don’t owe anybody anything.  Love is earned.  Family, blood, only gives a disposition for love, aided in part by instinct.  But that is no free pass.  People, all of us, must earn love.  Is that something I learned as a child?  Does a child need to earn the love of a parent?  Or should it just be?

The legacy of divorce is toxic.  I learned that at a very young age.  Not rationally, only as a small child can.  My parents were infrequently together when I was 0-2, and from 2-4 my father was largely gone, so much so that I have not one single memory of him until I was about 4, possibly 5.  Perhaps he was a presence in the shadows.  I do remember his energy and being afraid of him.

“Tough but fair,” is how he described himself, justifying his brusque demeanour.  I don’t know whether he ever questioned his cutting words, his penchant for physical force to underline his authority.  Is this why I find my current Mistress so powerful—that her words are so softly spoken that at times I can barely hear, that her actions, her commands, her wishes, are simply spoken in delicate gesture?  I find her command, in this sense, utterly powerful and intoxicating.  It is a form of command that one wishes to obey, to feel it, to anticipate it, to serve it.  My father’s form of command was one to rebel against, distance oneself from.

I once said to my father’s wife that of all of his children, we could measure how messed up they have become as adults in direct correlation to exposure to him.  We didn’t call it abuse, but it was, it has no other name.  Of course, there are degrees, but abuse always comes from the same place, and it cannot be appeased.  Understood, yes, for he was abused in turn, also the child of divorce and its fallout.  That he rose above it better than his siblings is a positive thing, but it isn’t enough.

We must own ourselves, and our legacy, both for good and bad, and do the work necessary to let go of the toxicity which we all have the potential to carry.  This is something that he has never done, not one for introspection. Speculation about others, about life, all things which are easy, even a source of pleasure, but never treading into the interior world, the most colourful, rewarding, but painfully challenging of all.

My reflexologist friend points out that if we don’t crack that nut in this life, then we have to do it again.  How many lives must we lead before we can move on?

As my father’s health first began to really slip in earnest, one of my siblings came to stay with me.  We had a lovely time.  One of the topics was our parents, abuse, our feelings, coping, trying to grow up, even now.  At one point, even though I regard myself as the least abused of my siblings (a good part of this stems from self-protection put in place at an early age), there is always the fingerprints.

Tears came to their eyes as they contemplated my worldview, the experience of not loving my/our parents.  They, as my other siblings, have largely loved anyway, even at the cost of self-sacrifice.  As a baby already, I couldn’t do that.  I fought back.  Fought for my distance.  Rebelled.  Refused to let the person who was hurting me also be the person to heal me.

Ex-Mistress was right to point out that it is hard for me to receive love, to receive gifts, to receive compliments.  Not because I don’t deserve any of that, or that I am suspicious of its motive, but rather because I am afraid of its obligation.  It is easy to simply reply, “you too,” in such circumstances.  Scarier still is that once kindness is accepted, it is inside us, and can later be taken away…and that does more damage than never having it in the first place.

Travelling with a friend recently, a very dear, close friend, we experienced all the ups and downs of intimacy in the context of two strong-willed people travelling together.  We were both amused at times about the dissonance between these feelings and me being a slave.  And then it came out one day in a rush of tears.  I realised that as her “host”, tuning in to her needs and serving them, of making her happy, of showing her a good time, was the most important thing of all, and yet I was failing at it.  I mean energetically.  And that made me feel bad about myself to the point of tears.  In that moment, she understood.  If I was not able to tune into her energy and to feed it, then we had best spend time apart.    

It generated an enlightening conversation about slavery and how “easy” it is to accept the decision-making of others.  But this is only true at the margins.  I don’t need someone to make decisions for me, though often it might feel good when they do.  Rather, my “need” in this sense, is to please someone by feeling their energy and meeting it, and then being rewarded for it—a caress, a kind word.  In its absence, I will make the decisions, I will fill the empty spaces with energy, with a gentle mania to see what sticks.

The other time that I lost control of my emotions was as we walked and I cracked my head against a low roof.  It hurt, but thankfully it was just a graze.  But she was very concerned and came to me and had this look of commiseration and understanding and warmth and compassion on her face, and that expression just opens the floodgates for me.  As if to say, I don’t deserve to be held in this way.  That it is scary, overwhelming.  And that’s crazy, right?  How can it be that someone expressing heartfelt concern for me should push me over the edge emotionally?

That is my wound.

What is love then?  The love that a parent feels towards a child is instinctual.  At least at its core.  It is much stronger than the love which flows from child to parent, for reasons that are easily understood from biological or evolutionary perspective.  We are wired for this.

Does a child need to earn the love of a parent?  Does a small child need to earn anyone’s love?  Expect is the wrong word, but the concept is sound.  A child, in order to develop in a healthy way, needs to feel unconditional love on some level in those first years of life.  And then, as they grow, they need to learn that their actions and behaviours affect others, and that they also have a responsibility to play in a certain way.  

Apart from the basics of survival, this one task is the most important that a parent can give, or fail at.  An absent parent will result in pathology.  A distant parent who is present will do as much or more damage by their withholding of love, by their attitude of “you’re not quite perfect.”

My philosophy as a parent was heavily shaped by my experience as a child of parents.  That the single most important thing that a parent does is to not withhold love, not for anything.  The second most important thing is to not undermine a child’s innate sense of possibility, that they really do have superpowers, that they really can do anything.  These two traits mattered most to me as they were the ones that were not fully in the mix.

To accept the love that was on offer, when it was there at all, was to accept all the conditions that came with it…and this played out from birth to my independence.  No bonding with my mother at her breast.  The sexualisation of our relationship from my earliest memory.  The absolute clarity that she was “not okay” with my gender identity, but turned a blind eye towards, even cultivating, aspects of my infantilism (fetishization on her part of my security blanket, pacifier, and later, the complicity in my stash of diapers).  And my absent father who felt it was better to put me down than to show me love.

I survived by not accepting their love, because it was toxic, came with too many strings attached.

Then what is it to love as an adult? To be loved? First, we must accept that love is earned. It is not just given. It is aided by attraction, whether sexual or otherwise. More importantly, it is both the willingness and the action to do the work. For each other, and oneself in ways that allow you to work for each other. It is to feel and respect and listen to the other. And to let them do the same for you. It is vulnerability.

Enter oestrogen and female friendship.

This is quite possibly the landscape that is most significant.  Oestrogen changes the brain, changes the emotional cycle, changes the fluids in my body.  When I feel an emotion, I feel it physically in more places.  It is diffuse, running through me.  I don’t have the “hot” intensity of male mind, the pangs, weather of anger, jealousy, rage, sadness, sorrow, love, lust.  They were sharp feelings.  

Everything is softer now.  Not in a superficial way, not as in less intense.  Instead, they are more even.  Balanced. Complete.  I feel it with all of me.  I was told that my feelings on oestrogen would become more emotional.  The implication of that would be less self-controlled.  That may be true, but is hard to tell, as I was always emotional, though hid it well—to the point of being seen as a cold fish.  It is so cliché.  And my truth is that it is not true.  Even the words sharp and dull fail to convey the sense.  What I feel emotionally is diffuse but more intense.  It takes more external stimulus to make me feel the intensity of it, even when I know that an overall feeling is stronger.  But when it comes, it also comes with more intensity—that there is a sense of lost control.

I have heard it said that the feminine is a “receiving” energy, and the masculine is a “giving” energy.  My positive rendition of male energy was to be a giver.  It was the essence of coping for male me.  As I find my way into femininity, I am also finding that I am receiving more.  Perhaps it is just a casual compliment, ‘you like nice,’ or ‘I love your outfit,” or even just a smile…they come more often I think, or maybe I just notice them.  And the difference is that I am learning to accept them, to hear them, and to thank the person who gave them, “thank you, that’s so sweet of you to say,’ which in male me might have come out as ‘oh, you too,’ or some variation on that theme.

In other words, when I sat with a friend over coffee and we were just talking about stuff and she looked at me with an expression which carried love, compassion, understanding, and then she reached out and touched me, I just cried.  I’m not used to what she was putting out, even less used to feeling it.  I have blogged about being open to pain as the way to find love, but in truth, I barely know.

What I do know is that oestrogen is a godsend for me.  To finally be learning this.  It’s never too late.  We talk about completeness or finding our gendered selves in the trans world, but it is always about the body, about passing, about how we look…but for me, the biggest prize of all, is that oestrogen is giving me the tools to confront my deepest wounds, my greatest fears, and to step into the love that I deserve in my friendships, in society, and in life.

And yes, it is okay to expect the universe to rise to the challenge and meet me there, even when I don’t know where there is.

10 thoughts

  1. There is a lot here, my beautiful friend. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I am sorry to hear about your father. I imagine that the grief you will feel when he passes will be complicated. In your post, you wrote about being moved to tears by your friend having great compassion for you when you hit your head, and I really identified with that feeling. A few months ago, I was staying at my brother’s house and his wife asked me if she could make me a cup of coffee….and I almost started to cry. I felt overwhelmed by this little act of service from her, and so loved in that moment that I was undone. Sending you lots of love ❤

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    1. Hello beautiful human. Yes, it is strange isn’t it. Why can’t we just accept their love and compassion. And the feelings that get triggered are clearly so close to the surface. Your cup of coffee, my friend’s sympathetic look. What is that. What is it in us that is triggered by it? My friend opined that I was so used to never get what I want growing up, that she felt I had wired being thwarted into my whole way of being…as she says, being with a dominatrix is all about being denied…and when you think about the popular games that people play with Dommes, you get “tease and denial” and chastity as perfect examples, but just the figure of a domme herself. Unattainable. It makes sense to me. Are there parallels for you?

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      1. Some parallels, yes. I think as a submissive who feels her best when serving others, I tend to give and give of myself. While this fills my cup so to speak, with all the hard things we’ve been facing in life lately…I’ve continued taking care of others, but have not focused much on self-care. This act of my sister-in-law requesting to make me a cup of coffee…it just completely had me undone. It was so kind and generous. It was the first time anyone has made me a cup of coffee in years, though I am often doing so for others. And I don’t resent that one bit, it is who I am as a person. But it sure felt special to be on the receiving end.

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      2. Oh Nora, I am so with you on that. I think that the female experience leads down this path generally too. And when you combine it with being submissive, it can surely lead to forgetting to take of self. I wonder on some level whether I am like this because the feminine having already been inside of me…but similarly think that is wrong as it equates sex with gender with types. But I do hear what you mean.

        In that sense, bringing submission out into the open, making it explicit, means we have a chance to talk about boundaries…and that is very core to kink. In this way, kink actually helps us be more mindful of caring for the self than we might be were we not kinky. Maybe your need, my need, to be dominated, is actually this, because the dominant is a caring and nurturing figure, a parent, a boundary marker, and we know we struggle with it, that we need the external structure or support that having a Dom/me implies.

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      3. What you have written here strongly resonates with me. When I lost my mom, I lost the person in my life who was nurturing and provided the beautiful parental support that I had (was lucky enough to have) experienced the first 36 years of my life. As I reflect back on my journey, just one year later I started to look for a formal DD/D/s relationship…and I think in some ways, I was trying to fill that void. And here I am, with a Dom who is incredibly loving, very supportive, and encourages me to be my best self…elements of my relationship with my mom, without all the kinky stuff of course. But to your point, I was absolutely seeking the external support and structure that she brought to my world.

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      4. you know what…I think you are on to something big. The same thing happened to me. I lost my mother in 2017. I felt like the roof of my house got torn off. A feeling of “I’m next”…my father didn’t figure in it as he never has, never will. So, I lost the container that she provided. And my baby self is all bound up in the parts of my relationship with my mother that never developed properly or resolved…and that is what the domme did for me in the end, help me to close them. That was ex-Mistress. New Mistress is very much a stable container, and that is the essence of the dynamic. Very nurturing and supportive.

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      5. Yes. It was hard, but I got to be there while it was happening and sat beside her when she went. And a kind of guttural sob, just one, rolled up from deep inside me and pitched out. I just feel naked in a way. Don’t understand it. When my father goes I am curious to see if I feel much. While I would call myself the least abused by him of siblings and spouses, they are all rallying around him in his twilight moments. It doesn’t feel right to me.

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      6. Your emotions surrounding your relationship with your father, and the relationship your siblings have with your father, and his impending passing sound incredibly complicated. This often leads to complicated grief situations.

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      7. Hello beautiful! Of all the people in my family that might reasonably said to be somewhat narcissistic, my father ranks first amongst us. He possesses a peculiar inability to self-reflect and has left a wake of unfeeling action behind him. In his twilight years he has reminisced with eloquence about what a great family we are, how proud he is of our diversity and achievements, and of his own role in siring us. Conveniently absent are the years of abuse, both verbal and physical.

        I once remarked to his current wife that there seemed to be a correlation between how messed up his children were relative to the time spent with him. I spent the least time…and if my former deep sense of shame about my sexuality and gender is any measure, that should give you a good idea of how dysfunctional my family is in parts. By standards both social and self, this is true.

        It is sad to see him fade, amplified by the warmth of his embrace of my coming out…something his wife has struggled with, and I have mixed emotions. Although abused the least, I am also the only one in my family who has not been rallying to his side as his health has faded. Admittedly, I live overseas, so visits are complicated, but I also don’t feel guilt. I made peace with my feelings for him a long time ago. I stopped respecting him as a child.

        Do you know how we get these feelings inside of us, a kind of tightness in the chest when we think about certain people. And we might think we have the measure of our emotions, but when we open the valve a tiny bit, we just lose it? That’s what happened with my mother. I thought I could handle it, but thankfully, I wasn’t asked to speak, normally a core skill. Instead I just wept in the pews, held on either side by female cousins with whom I have always been close. I don’t fear that with my father. I suspect my siblings, however, will be overcome with grief.

        It will be something to see. Shouldn’t I be grateful for being the only one he never struck? One of the things that has come out in hypnosis with my favourite therapist, is that I saw him beat my mother when I was a baby. He’s a big man, and was domineering and scary. A baby will even wish to protect the mother figure.

        Life is a joy made better through self-awareness. The work is worth it.

        Wishing the greatest of blessings on this cold and rainy day on the Eastern Seaboard.

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