Grieving : Notes from a Daughter

In a Guardian article, Tania Unsworth, daughter of Barry Unsworth, talks about the process of grieving, made harder by difficult relations. October 2020.

After my father, the novelist Barry Unsworth, died, my uncle asked us if we wanted any of his clothes. He led my two sisters and me to the bed where he had laid them out. It was an awkward, overwhelmingly sad moment. We had no practical use for these tweed sports jackets, M&S jumpers and lone Burberry mac. No sentimental attachment to them either, apart from the fact that they had once held his shape. Even so, we took a while to make our selections.

I chose a khaki jacket – the kind of bland garment designed to make old people even more invisible than they already are. I had never seen my father wear it – or, in fact, any of the clothes on the bed – because I hadn’t met my father, or even spoken to him, in 15 years.

The estrangement was his choice, not mine.

It is extraordinarily hard to write these words. As someone lucky enough to have had a loving and mostly happy childhood, I grew up assuming that the bond between parent and child was virtually unbreakable. That no matter how annoying, troublesome or hurtful an adult child might be, a parent would never entirely turn their back. To discover I was mistaken – that my father’s love was conditional after all – seemed so fundamentally, bewilderingly wrong that I was unable to accept it. And until a couple of years before he died, I never relinquished the belief that it was no more than a terrible misunderstanding that would eventually be put right.

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