Sex and the city: My sexually abusive father is dying of cancer. How do I have a closure?

My sexually abusive father is dying of cancer. How do I process my feelings? I feel so ashamed of my father’s deeds. He has not only touched me inappropriately while giving me a bath as a kid and also while teaching me to drive as an 18 year old, but has also molested my sister, my cousin sister and my best friend at my home. He has been detected with cancer and is now dying. While I have to serve him at hospital, I do not know how to process my feelings about him. He is old and looks so powerless today. I confronted him about his deeds and asked him to ask forgiveness from his Maker, and he just cried like a baby. He is now unable to speak and I am unable to shake off my shame of him being my father. How do I have a closure and live my own life untarnished by his choices? Please help. 

Ans: What your father did to you, your cousin and your best friend was despicable. You have emotions that need processing so don’t be afraid of those emotions. It is unfortunate that you had to go through this. Your father’s current fragility and general health woes have nothing to do with his behaviour in the past. Do not mix the two. Death is the inevitability where the curtain falls for each and every one of us (sooner or later) in a moment of absolute finality that’s as much a scientific truth as it’s an emotional truth.

Do not forget that your father’s poor health does not absolve him of his misdeeds in the past. It’s alright to still be angry and upset. Working through such emotions takes time and work. Work that you’re going to have to put in. Forgiveness cannot and should not be prematurely manufactured when some wounds run deep. Wounds need to heal first and healing period differ vastly. You are under no obligation to feel bad for your genuine emotions – so don’t censor them. By confronting him, you acted with authenticity and courage. Despite his tears, it is also true that he has a fair bit to atone for. While it’s true that he can’t speak any more, you have made yourself heard – so you have technically already taken a big first step towards finding the closure that you need and seek.

While every human being deserves the right to live and recover, you need not feel helpless for nature taking its course with your father. You need not feel ashamed for confronting him for what he did to you nor do you need to feel shame for what happened to you. You were at a helpless and vulnerable age when you suffered and you had little control over these things at the time.

However, it is also important for you to realise that the same way we can’t choose our gender or our skin colour, the very same way – we can’t choose our parents either. Our parents are fallible and often frightened young adults when we enter their life as babies. They have got their own demons to deal with and emotional baggage they carry from a time when they were little.

All ideas of ‘parenting’ vary largely based on our parents’ own cultural exposure, gender roles, personalities and general education. There is no fail-safe to living since everyone lives, works and ideates in ways best known to them. Habits, proclivities and misdeeds are a part of everyone’s life journeys.

This doesn’t mean that the evil that men or women do is to be accepted with an open heart. While your father’s been through his journey, you still have a long way to go through your own journey. You have been through a hurtful time and while you may not have the opportunity to exact due penance from an ailing and dying man; know that the only way towards betterment is to keep moving forward.

I hope (in time) you find your peace. Don’t rush it. Perhaps there is some value in connecting with a support group where you can meet other women who have been through similar incidents of sexual abuse. You may find yourself in a unique position to give support to and receive support from these women with similar stories to yours. Courage and resilience can become a shared exercise as you heal and find your strength.

(Dr Aman R Bhonsle is a qualified Psychosocial Analyst and a Professional Youth Mentor with specialisation in Transactional Analysis and REBT. He is available for consultation at the Heart To Heart Counselling Centre.)

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