anniversaries…

My dad died 2 days before his birthday. He kept telling everyone he wanted to make it to his birthday and I believed him. I kept thinking that he’d make it to Wednesday and then after that, whatever was to come would come. But he died on Monday, and I wasn’t ready. I was prepared for Wednesday. I was not prepared for Monday. My brain had to race to catch up with the shock and pain that mercilessly invaded my heart. I was pretty numb for a few hours until the shrieking inside my mind quieted and I faced the reality that my dad was now gone. It was a brutal jolt. The emotions that crashed into the wall I carefully pieced together to protect myself, was violently destroyed in an instant.

And so on his birthday, a day we would have celebrated with laughter and stories and German Chocolate cake and a delicious roast beef dinner, we instead gathered in a quiet softly lit room and gazed at his face as he lay motionless. He looked amazing! All the years of pain and sickness and hardship had been erased. So…peaceful. I couldn’t help but reach out to stroke his face and then recoiled my hand almost immediately as it touched a cold hard surface. Once again the reality of his absence struck its mark. Dad received a birthday card from his best friend in the mail that day. What a thoughtful gesture. I thought it was such a sad paradox that he left this world so close to the day he entered it. I couldn’t help but reflect on his birthday the previous year, surrounded by his family. We were all there. And he lowered the wall and came out of isolation and allowed us to enjoy him and love him. It was a wonderful time and one I look back on fondly. At his funeral the following day, the ladies who prepared refreshments also included a birthday cake for him. So intensely wonderfully bittersweet.

dad cake

In the aftermath of dad’s death, I find that I am acutely aware of time. The sixth day of the month, I consciously mark and remember the time, the day, as I go about my daily activities….I wonder when the moment will come that I don’t mark time passing in relation to my dad’s death. Will I be able to talk about him, think about him without my heart responding intensely with pangs of loss? I know as days turn into months and years, it will happen, but I also dread it as it means I am letting him go. I am fighting it. Even now as my parents would have celebrated their wedding anniversary last weekend, there is a small space deep in the recesses of my mind that hasn’t quite accepted his absence. Because he and I did not see each other with any sort of frequency, it is so easy to get lulled into the lie that he’s still here; and the irony is not lost on me that even though he had little impact on my life when he was alive, now after he is gone, I am fighting with every ounce of my being to keep him relevant in my thoughts and life. I am creating anniversaries in my mind to mourn him and to process our relationship. One month since dad died. Two months since dad died. This time of year always provokes a sense of dreaded anticipation in me. My school experience was not a positive one and I’ve never really lost that feeling like I’m a lamb headed to the slaughter house come the end of August. Dad loved this time of year. Sports! And so as September marks the beginning of his passions, football season especially, takes on special relevance. My son’s first football game is next week. Dad loved watching Lincoln play football and basketball. I started to send videos to him last year when he became too weak to attend the games in person. Another anniversary…another instant of time where his absence is powerfully felt. My delicate mind cannot even begin to formulate thoughts and emotions about Thanksgiving and Christmas yet. But they will come, whether I am ready for them or not. I cannot stop them and I will be forced to face the onslaught of overwhelming emotions that will inevitably invade my healing heart. And then they will pass, as time does, and another anniversary will be marked…

dad alpine

intentional grieving…

survive

When I first heard the phrase “intentional grieving” I must admit I was a bit skeptical. I mean, my dad just died, why would I need to intentionally grieve him? And then…Life. My life hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t stood still and I’ve gotten busy…negligent in my reflection of this man, my father. Time slips away and the grief is pushed into the far recesses of my mind because the items at the forefront need attending to. Getting back to this place of contemplation and reflection is hard. I feel like I must mentally turn off my brain to all other pressing items trying to monopolize my thoughts and search for that area in my mind that is still raw and emotional….it takes time for my brain to relax and decompress, to let go of the everyday busy-ness and let the emotions and the vulnerability sink in again. And then it comes. The flood of grief and confusion and anger and more grief and I realize I waited too long to revisit it. It’s overwhelming again. I miss dad. Regardless of what he was to me, I still miss him.

My last post was pretty raw, I know….but it is me. It is my internal conflict. It is real. My hostility and contempt towards my father had faded and dulled over the years to an almost comfortable co-existence. We exchanged pleasantries, discussed the weather, sports and any other inane subject to avoid delving below the surface and confronting our dysfunction. For someone who seemingly had such a non-existent presence in my life, the void left is almost palpable sometimes. I am left to ponder why.

why?

Because it wasn’t always like this. My earliest memories of my father were of a man engaged and fully participating in life. I vividly recollect him walking home over the grassy knoll in front of our apartment building to greet us after his bus ride home from work. We always ran out to meet him and he would kneel down to catch us as we’d laugh and giggle with delight. He loved to play with us and many evenings were spent in epic tickle fights, playing games and devouring his fantastic popcorn-pot popcorn. He allotted time in his day for us and sought us out to check in. My favorite childhood memories with my dad involved him singling one of us out for a “sneak’. He would “sneak” into our room and as quietly as possible, gently rouse us at some god forsaken early hour, like 6:30 AM (soooo early for an 8 year old), to take the lucky recipient out for breakfast. No one else in the family would know about it (pretty sure my mom knew about it) and he would bring us anywhere we wanted to go. Just us. I don’t remember any earth shattering in depth dialogue, but I remember the “sneaks” and how special and loved I felt.

dad hugs

He eagerly shared his passions with us then. Anyone who knew my father knew the role sports played in his life.  He especially loved playing baseball with us and would regularly rally the neighborhood kids to the open field near our home for a rousing game before the sun surrendered to the night. I only recently learned that he was scouted by a professional baseball team in California when he was younger. My dad. Apparently, it was his dream to play pro baseball. He was really good! My dad. So many things I did not know about this man. So much he kept from us. After he died, our local paper published an article about him and how much he meant to our sports community. I have never been so proud and so sad. I didn’t know this man they wrote so eloquently about, fully engaged and participating in life…{cue light bulb}…Or did I? Perhaps this was just an older version of the man I use to know? I am beginning to reflect on him a little differently, through my adult eyes. He was a person. He wasn’t just my dad. As we grew older, we grew resentful of his passion for all things sports. It took him away from us. It was his escape. His way of disconnecting from our family…so I thought. Granted, I still believe his passions significantly and adversely affected our relationship with him, but I believe I am being fair in stating that none of his children were stellar athletes. We all tried in our respective chosen sport to make a go of it…and dad was there to champion and cheerlead, but they never panned out and were replaced by passions that were more suited to our personalities. Did that disappoint him? I wonder. I’m sure he would have loved for one of his children to follow in his footsteps and mirror his passion for the sports he loved so much. None of us did. Did he view that as rejection? That we were rejecting him? It is cause for pause…

As he became more immersed with sports, he received the accolades and the recognition he seemed to be longing for. He was validated. His life meant something. He was surrounded by people who shared his passion and accepted him enthusiastically. He was human. We gravitate to things and experiences that validate us. That bear witness to us as human beings. That state “Your life is important. Your life matters and I am a witness to that.”  In many ways I did not accept him. I did not validate him, and I too, was selfish. And I know how it feels to desperately yearn for acceptance and validation, and to have it withheld. It is a painful cruel reality that eats away at ones self-worth like festering gangrene, and is something I still struggle with. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As I grieve and mourn and reflect, it often comes full circle, and I am forced to confront the reality of my own short comings and faults. As hard as it is, I must acknowledge it. I must process it…and I must find my way to forgiveness.

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patterns…

hope

I’m noticing a pattern. Because of the complexity of my relationship with my dad, I am not just processing grief. My emotions fluctuate and yoyo at any given moment; like a ping pong game.

The intensity and depth of my grief confuses me. I do grieve that this person, who has known me all my life, is now gone. There is a void…an empty space at the dinner table; but as I’ve indicated previously, up until the day he died I struggled with a varied mix of emotions.

I knew his death was inevitable, but I felt no sense of urgency to “tie up loose ends” or to spend as much time as I could with him before he was gone. And I know it sounds harsh but I do not regret it. It makes me sad that I do not regret it. I question and second guess myself…but this is my truth. It would have felt forced and not really indicative of where our relationship was at.

I realized after he died and the grief did come in waves, that I do…still…have unresolved feelings towards my father. I did need further closure, but at that time I did not want to reopen Pandora’s Box of resentment and hash old feelings with him. I thought I had accepted his indifference to me years ago and placed that book on the shelf. I even convinced myself that all was forgiven as dad and I forged a mutually apathetic relationship that endured until he was gone. But his death ripped open that book and shed a blinding spotlight on this glaring deficiency, and I am forced to re-examine who this man was to me.

My dad and I were not close. I had long ago given up on the daydream that I would have a father who would be involved and interested in my life. That reality hit me very hard when I finally accepted and allowed the truth of our relationship to seep into my conscious thought. It was incredibly painful to reconcile. He was not my protector. He was not my champion. He was not my knight in shining armor. I felt at best I was a casual friend to him, at worst an annoyance and intrusion into his world.

This realization assaulted me during a time I was wading chin deep through some pretty nasty junk in my life, and failing miserably. He was indirectly involved, and when I tried to share how his actions affected me, his wall flew up before I could finish verbalizing a complete thought. He shut me down. He chose to intellectualize so he wouldn’t have to feel my pain. Intellectualizing was his coping mechanism, you see. He could take all my rage, my anguish, my pain and stuff it into a tiny little space labeled “Do Not Open” so he could remain unaffected…completely minimizing the raw emotions bleeding out of me. He heard my voice, but he did not listen to me. It crushed me and I was devastated…to my core. Years later, during another random intense conversation he admitted to me that he was more concerned about the perception of others than the security and well-being of his family…of me. It was his truth. He was ashamed of it, but it didn’t change the course he was on. That was my light bulb moment.

And yet…I grieve.

And my mind screams silently inside my skull in frustration and despair…How could he say he was proud of us?!? How could he say he loved us!?! He had no right to share that with others when he couldn’t even share it with us! I have no idea who that man was. That man who everyone seemed to love and respect, who was a mentor and a teacher, who was witty and thoughtful and intelligent…that was not my reality. Hearing how proud he was of me or how much he loved me from people who so obviously knew him better than I did is painful, like salt poured into a gaping wound. He did not tell me. He knew he was dying. He could have written it down for us. He could have left us a bread crumb of peace and validation. But he did not. He was a selfish man.

And so, once again I am grieving his indifference, not only his death. Something I thought I had come to terms with rears its ugly head and I am back to that confused and hurt little girl trying to be open and vulnerable with the most important man in her life. I cannot look to him for answers, but I feel I must push forward. Each of us will choose how we will move on. One day at a time…

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.

{hello}

Welcome to my little space in this vast universe!

I am soooo new to this…

This blog is, in essence, my journal to help me heal and to gain a better/deeper understanding of myself and how I interact with those around me following the death of my father.

Feel free to join me on this journey, or stop by when it suits you. I’ll be here…trying to figure it all out

But first, my pups, because really…

Pups