Of Death, Step-Parents, Displaced Parents and Blends.

As I sit to write this I can feel that sense of ‘do you have a right?’ sitting in the far reaches of the right side of my head. Crazy right? I’m a counsellor; feelings just are. But it really, really, really is never that simple. (Lots of ‘reallys’ and I meant every one).

You would gather that parts of me are in this story. And parts are clients. And parts are family – in all it’s forms.

When we think of step parents and blended families our mind goes to the two ‘parents’ in a home with children. But there are many far reaching effects of blended families for years to come . This short post is about one seldom thought of.

Imagine you have a step-dad from the age of 4 until you are 19 (when he leaves and starts another family). And imagine you are older and it is some 30-40 years later and he dies. My question is – what is your allocation of ‘ the right to grieve’?

If it’s your Mum or your Dad, your allocation of the right to grieve is obvious; it is not questioned. Or at least it’s not questioned if your Mum and Dad are still together.

If it is your step parent (and your parents stayed together until that step parent died) then a little nudge for allocation might be needed – like ‘He was my Dad from when I was 11 to now’. And Voila! – its kind of explainable and your grief is recognized; some may even say – understood.

But if your Step Dad or your Dad went on to have a whole new family the displacement is surreal. Funerals are organized by his ‘now family. And you watch the forward motion of social grief, with all it’s condolences and photographs and memories, steadfastly roll forward with little or no recognition of the 10 or 15 years of his life that you were pivotal in.

This displacement comes up in lots of situations but sadly (and understandably) those at the front of the line in the ‘right to grieve’ are tied up in their own grief – they may even feel they have more ownership of that grief.

So spare a thought for the son in law who only came on the scene 10 years ago when the rest of the family have been around for 40 years and gets none of the ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’…. Or for the daughter who sits at her fathers funeral, where she knows no-one and listens to stories all about her fathers new life and nothing about herself in his old.

If you are lucky – someone in their new life lets you in….just a little. It doesn’t stop the feeling of displacement. It doesn’t stop the questions about the ‘right to grieve’. But it helps.

Look around at Funerals. It takes nothing away from you to acknowledge those left holding she shortest ‘right to grieve’ straw.


A copper dust swirls like a wake from a boat as the 4×4 pulls in

The sun burns my skin as the breeze cools it
Dust rushes to the back of my throat and I close my eyes
I breathe in the smells, the sounds and the feel of Africa
My son rolls on the lawn with the Ridgeback
And points to a Kingfisher sitting on the electric wire
A swallow sweeps over the veranda diving up into her nest in the thatching
It is a long, lazy, African day on the farm
I hear guinea fowl in the distance and the Ridgeback runs off to chase them
My ginger cat scavengers some sadza from the dogs bowl
The strawberries glisten from the garden spray
I pop one in my mouth – warm from the sun
Damp from the spray – fresh from the plant
Big black African clouds gather on the horizon and
The hot earth begs for a cooling……..I close my eyes…….
…………It is cold and I’m in a rush – I cannot find my keys
The kids on traffic control are wearing bright orange raincoats
A boy drops his ball on the pavement and his Mother reprimands him
Frost sits upon the grass and the sky is dull
We rush into a heated classroom already frosting it’s windows
The children laugh at something said I am greeted with
“How are ya?”
I reply in kiwi talk “Good”
I walk back out into the cold, past the cherry blossoms fighting the wind
The tulips a cacophony of color – the mountains disguised by the mist
Suburbia chatters in voices of traffic, skateboards and dogs..
I stop a moment – gasp in cool crisp air and close my eyes…….
……………A hornbil sits on the telephone wire and a Kudu barks in the distance
A pikanin stands – dusty and barefoot clapping his hands together as I hand him a penny cool
The tractor pulling a trailer of singing women disappears in the dust leaving wisps of voice and beat
The sun beats down and bleaches the red earth 
As rain – like an invisible wall approaches through the maize
I can hear it before I see it
Heavy drops begin to fall and a clean, dusty, choking smell hits my nostrils
The fields rejoice………………..

Like a sound that wakes you; confused and startled in the night
Like the sense you get when you are being watched
Like the image of a bright light that remains imprinted as you blink
Like an echo that rings in your ears long after the sound is gone
We are there
On the grass a boy rolls….into the yard a truck pulls
The sun warms my skin and the breeze brings dust
Dust to the back of my throat
In the long lazy hours
For the rest of our days
We are there
          We are there
                         We are there                                                                                                Boo 2005