correlations…

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I can always tell when I’ve gone too long without emptying my mind of the jumbled thoughts and emotions that seem to fill it. I get anxious without being able to pinpoint why. There is a knot in my stomach that doesn’t go away and I get teary watching commercials on TV. My internal voice, which starts as a meek little whisper, turns into a shout demanding to be heard.

It would be easy to say I’ve gotten lazy and life has been busy, but that wouldn’t be completely true. I spent many evenings camped out on my sofa trying to decompress from the day and the persistent thoughts that seeped into my conscious were ignored and thrust aside. Intentionally. I just didn’t want to delve into it. Life is so good right now. I love being married to the man of my dreams. I love this time of year when the trees are displaying their true magnificence and preparing for the cold barren winter ahead. I love cheering for the Lincalope at his football games and dressing warmer and pumpkins and crunchy leaves under my feet.

Lincalope

And I’m tired of grieving. I’m tired of handing over the reins to the little girl inside me that desperately misses her dad. I’m tired of navigating the dark troubled waters of my relationship with him. It is far too easy to shove those thoughts and emotions to the far recesses of my mind and turn focus to the present day to day….but…

Eventually I am forced to confront the consequence of this intentional snubbing. My conscious is pricked. It nags at me to sit, to type, to bleed emotionally…hemorrhage if necessary…to heal. I remind myself that if I do not grieve, then I will not heal. If I stuff down this wad of sadness and confusion it will rear its ugly head and will destroy me. I have travelled this path before, and am a master of flight, not fight; much like my father. I’ve improved at confronting my emotions head on (thank you Dr. McBride), but I still instinctively avoid emotions too painful for my mind to process. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Although dad and I had different stories to tell; my life is so similar to his. Our lives, as a whole, have not been easy. The decisions we made, the paths we took that defined who we became, resulted in much heartache and soul searching. I acknowledge that many of the decisions I made, especially regarding my relationships, were directly related to my father’s indifferent influence. I wonder if he also ever came to this realization; that his indifference deeply affected us. That the decisions he made influenced our life choices.

Up until a few years ago, I’d never been comfortable in my own skin. Up until a few years ago, I had no idea who I was. I think he struggled with the same obstacles. He did not share those intimacies with me, and only rarely let me catch a glimpse of the man behind the façade, but as an observer, it is clear to me.

i am growing…

dad hand

Dad died on a Monday in my parent’s home. Due to the nature of his disease, death did not come peacefully. I am still awed by the strength of my mother who sat with and nursed my dad, her husband, and helplessly tried to make his last moments before final surrender as comfortable as she could. She is heroic to me in so many ways. The rest of the week following his death was an odd juxtaposition of sadness and grief; and random happy, even silly, moments. I liken funeral preparations to planning a wedding…in 3 days…with absolutely no joy, except for those odd little instants of memory over something funny or insightful dad would have said or did relating to the moment at hand. The decisions my mom was assaulted with boggled the mind. Dad had been on a steady decline for a while and many decisions had already been made, but there were so many little details left. I felt like my role was to be there for my mother in whatever capacity she needed me, to keep her on track and assist with the countless things that needed to get done. It actually felt good to be busy, to have a purpose….and then cruel reality would smack me in the face reminding me why I was busy, and this uncontrollable anguish would overcome me. I would completely disconnect into a world of hazy memories, recollections and sorrow for a minute…or two…or ten, then pull myself together and keep moving.

Because my dad died at home, I was able to spend time with him before the funeral home took him to wash all traces of pain and death away. It’s such a peculiar way to describe this, because he was gone. It’s tantamount to spending time with the life sized shell of a person I once knew…and I was hesitant, but I will never regret it. The moments I had alone in that room with him were some of the most precious moments I’ll remember. Silence….just me and him. I could hold his hand, touch his face…he couldn’t hold me at arm’s length anymore. I was free to love him as me. No walls…no guards up. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. The emotions just over flowed out of me. I couldn’t help it. I could tell him things I’d always wanted to tell him. I could say I was sorry for the anger I had towards him, and that I was sorry for not trying harder to get to know him, and that I was happy he finally had the peace he so desperately longed for in the final days of his life…and I could say goodbye. There is a huge difference between saying goodbye in a small room, when death has just consumed a loved one, and saying goodbye at a visitation. It is small and intensely intimate and real. I will always covet and treasure that time.

I didn’t like funerals…and I realize as I type this…it’s a bit ridiculous. I mean, who does? I never really ascribed to public displays of sorrow. It makes me uncomfortable. I have always preferred to grieve privately, tucked away in a room somewhere so no one can watch me weep. I realized when dad was diagnosed and the inevitability of his life ending became more of a reality that I couldn’t hide away.  I also came face to face with the brutal truth that the underlying reason I didn’t like to grieve publicly was that in that moment of overwhelming grief, I was also incredibly vulnerable.

I hate being vulnerable. My dad taught me well. Like him, my life experiences have been harsh and cruel. Watching him deal with the lot that life had thrown at him, I mimicked his isolation and detach technique quite meticulously. And so, to be stripped raw and emotionally naked before people I knew and didn’t know was terrifying. But in hindsight, I gained something immeasurably valuable at dad’s visitation and funeral. With each friend and family member that I greeted and exposed my broken self to, it became apparent to me that an underlying reason I was so emotional was because they cared. These wonderful people came from everywhere to acknowledge my father. Friends and family I had not seen for years…they came for me. For us. They loved and grieved my dad, and subsequently wanted to love and grieve with us. It was overwhelming and incredibly humbling to be a part of. I am so grateful to these people for loving me and giving me the freedom to be vulnerable at one of the lowest points in my life.

Being able to express my sorrow and vulnerability was incredibly freeing and I am saddened that dad never got to experience that with us. He could have. We were ready to love and accept him and all his flaws if he could have let down the wall and allowed himself to be vulnerable with us…to be authentic with us. Those two days changed me. I grew up a little more. I am more comfortable allowing my true sensitive nature out and I have taken a step in letting down my own guard. My remaining family has grown closer. I need to touch base with them now. I need them to know they are loved and missed when they aren’t around. I am not afraid to love them anymore.

My grief and healing guides me to places internally and emotionally that I don’t necessarily anticipate, but I am committed to riding this wave. I will not shy away from whatever emotions, memories or situations that present themselves to me….and I am growing.

and so…it begins…

It’s been one month since my dad passed away. One month. The world keeps spinning, people are having birthdays, getting married, having children…and the routine predictable busy-ness of my life has returned to normal. But it’s not. My drive to and from work has become a time of reflection, tears and processing. There is definitely a void, and the irony is not lost on me that even though we would go weeks without seeing or speaking to each other, I still feel a void. I can hear his voice, his laugh…for some reason his hands are so vivid in my memory.

I have come to the realization that his actions…and inaction…throughout his life had a profound effect on me and truly did shape the person I am and how I relate to others. Sad how evident now that is he is gone. Hindsight…

My relationship with dad was complicated. I loved him. He was my father. But I also felt like I was kept at arm’s length, so I never felt free to be my true self with him. Because he was so guarded with me, I was with him. Except for the random intense dialogues I had with him, usually in or regarding conflict with him or within our family, I can’t remember any profound intimate conversations I had with him. His opinion wasn’t a factor in any major decisions I made in my life. I didn’t use him as a sounding board or go to him for advice. I often felt like an afterthought with him, and so unfortunately and I am ashamed to admit, I treated him as an afterthought. How terribly sad.

Up to the day of his death, I often wondered if I would even feel grief. He cultivated such close intimate relationships with many people, but those people did not include me. I never realized the lives he touched, the depth of friendships he had, until he died and his life was shared through their eyes. It was heartbreaking. I wanted that with him. I wanted…a dad. I can’t help but feel a twinge of anger that they got to experience this side of him and we did not. Why did he hold back with us and not with others? Not fair. I sat in that church pew sobbing as they spoke so eloquently about him, choking back tears, and ached for that connection that will never happen now.

And so I am grieving. I am grieving the small, albeit significant relationship we did forge. I am grieving the relationship that never was…again. I’m not sure what is more devastating; grieving a relationship lost, or grieving a relationship that never was, and knowing there is the permanence that it will never be. I am surprised by the ferocity of it.

Grief is such an exhausting emotion. It hits me suddenly…it sneaks up on me when I’m not prepared for it or the inevitable internal processing that must accompany it in order for me to heal. The healing part is so hard. Wallowing in grief so easy….and as I process and slowly heal I am scared that I am also letting him go. I am moving on…he is not. It seems cruel. The memory of the sad little relationship I had with my dad is all I have left; and despite the anger, the guilt, the strained conversations, the tense moments and the seemingly continuous trying to delve below the surface with him…it is what I am ferociously clinging to right now…

And then {Serendipity!} this wonderful, gentle man I married reminds me that it has also been 3 months since we said “I do”. Perspective. Choosing joy in the middle of sadness…love you hubs.