It was definitely not one of the “SINS” I planned to confess, after “my examination of conscience”, before I finally went into the confession cubicle. Looking back now, I think I went to confession that day “to fulfil all righteousness”. It was the last week of lent, before the resurrection at Easter. I didn’t want to welcome the risen Lord clogged with so much grime. I wanted to free my mind and receive absolution and I particularly like this monsignor because we connected in a special way. He knew me as “the lady who suffered from insomnia”, because I once told him about it. But he doesn’t really know who I am because the confession cubicle is veiled and everyone goes incognito.
As I knelt before him in the silhouetted cubicle, it just came tumbling out of me. I didn’t realize how heavily it was weighing on my mind till then.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, I didn’t attend my father’s funeral!”I said, not sure how much of a sin that really was.
There! It was all out and what a relief! I had carried that guilt around for over one year and it felt so good to let it out. If I expected the Monsignor to instantly pass down judgment, he didn’t. He simply delivered a brief homily on ‘Forgiveness’ and how we should honour our parents, no matter what. He then handed me penance!
As I left the confession that evening, I recalled the three way conference call with my half-sister Patience in Miami, my sister Barbara in England and myself: “Betty”, they said soberly, “our dad died last night in Benin”. And then there was silence. No one said anything for a few seconds. I knew what everyone was thinking; “our dad is dead and we should be devastated and inconsolable” and in a way, we were.
Initially, I couldn’t understand why I was crying, I felt like a fraud. But I soon figured it all out, I was crying for all the wasted years! His death just unearthed things I would rather keep buried; the frustrations, the sense of deprivation. I cried, not only because he was dead, but also mostly because of the choices he had made. I cried for the many times I needed a father and he wasn’t there. I cried for Christmas cards, which stopped coming through barely two years after he left. I cried because I couldn’t understand how someone who was such a caring and doting father could one day just sever all relationship with his children without a care. It was a most unkind cut, especially for me; because he was my hero, and every time he was away on assignment I would pine for him until his return.
Once, he had to leave for a peace keeping mission in Congo and I was so restless until he returned. And because I wanted to feel that warm embrace before anyone else, I jumped from the first floor of our block, broke my fall on the roof of a shed and landed safely by his feet. I could have broken a limb and it wouldn’t have mattered. What mattered to me then was that daddy was back and I needed to show him I missed him, even if it entailed some drama. I couldn’t for the life of me reconcile that man, who would do anything for us, with the man who walked out of our lives for good and never looked back.
I can still see that police truck loaded with everything we owned, everything that once made our house, a home. I can still see everything in the belly of the police truck and the small crowd that gathered to bid him farewell. I can still see the dust the truck raised as it revved up and gradually disappeared until it became just a speck. He was waving and I could taste my tears. I was afraid my heart would break in two. I wasn’t even ten years old!
I saw him a couple of times after I got married, but by then he had become only a stranger. I wanted to ask him why he did it. I needed to understand so I could forgive him, but I didn’t.
The timing wasn’t right. Then about five years ago, my siblings and I decided it was time to collectively exorcise that demon. For the first time, we prayed together about all our pent-up anger and disappointment concerning our dad and his ‘sins’ against us. We prayed for him and for ourselves. We prayed for the grace not to continue to judge him and we thanked God for compensating us with wonderful husbands. There was so much emotional release in the house that day. And oh! The blessings that followed us!
So why didn’t I go to his burial? Honestly? I still have no answer, but in the words of Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of “Simple Abundance”; (a book of comfort and joy), “I have learnt to be patient towards all that is unresolved in my heart”.