Tag Archive | grief

A Letter to My Father: Two Years After His Death

*** Warning***

Most of the time, this is a humor blog. Or at least, it tries to be. Which is why I feel like I need to give you fair warning about the emotional shit storm you’re about to stumble into. If you’ve come here looking for a laugh, you’d better go HERE instead or check back with me in a couple of weeks when I’m (hopefully) done venting my anger at my dead father, and have once again found my sense of humor….

 

Dear Dad –

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of your death. In the weeks leading up to this day, I’ve been bracing myself for the suffocating wave of grief that crashed down on my head at this time last year, but it never came. Much to my surprise, rage was there to take its place. It started one night, about a month ago, when I sat down to watch a film called Broken (insert bitter irony here) starring Tim Roth.

 

 

 

 

If there really is an afterlife, maybe you watched me that night from whatever dimension you’re in, sobbing alone on my couch as I watched the beautiful relationship between a father and daughter blossom behind the screen of my TV. Could you feel the unbearable longing deep in the center of my chest as I watched those two characters take part in something we never had? Did you feel guilty as I played and rewound the touching father/daughter parts of the movie dozens of times? God, I hope so. I know that sounds pretty harsh, cruel even. But right now, I really don’t care if I hurt your feelings.

 

Missing you was the only constant in my life that didn’t change when you died. For the first eighteen years of my life, you were never there for me. Ever. You were always quick to explain those years away – citing the divorce, the physical distance (between our homes in Illinois and New York), and Mom’s anger towards you as the reasons behind your absence. But now that I’m a parent, I know something I didn’t know when I was a child – there’s nothing that can stand in the way of a parent who truly wants to be with their child. NOTHING.

 

A quote I read by Jim Rohn pretty much sums up my feelings about your side of the story: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” And Dad, you were all about excuses when it came to your children. You know what I think was the real truth behind your absence? I think you felt little kids were tedious and boring. So you bided your time until your children were old enough to have those grownup conversations you loved so much. Then we could talk for hours like old friends, while bonding over cigarettes and beer.

 

Never quite worked out though, did it? Sure, we had plenty of chats over cigarettes and beer, but the bonding always felt forced and uneasy. Part of me was afraid to drop my guard around you because I never knew if the next thing out of my mouth would make you disappear back into the void. So I became the consummate daughter for you – quick to laugh at your jokes and put you up on a pedestal…. never realizing that it’s almost impossible to bond with someone when they’re towering high above you.

 

But underneath my meticulously made smokescreen, lurked a girl who was anything but perfect. You never met her. She’s the messed up result of a lifetime of paternal neglect that your once-a-year visits did little to assuage. Your absence made me who I am today every bit as much as Mom’s presence – maybe even more so.

 

Here are the parts of me I was too scared to show you….

 

– The child who desperately sought out the attention of other fathers to fill the void you left behind. Even if those fathers were total assholes, I still clung to every scrap of affection they showed me. All my earliest memories of rough housing, playing, and cuddling were done with those men – I don’t have a single one that includes you.

 

– The teenager who always dated older guys because I was looking for a father figure, rather than a whirlwind romance. And when I didn’t have a boyfriend, I used the male friends that I surrounded myself with to fill the empty space. Sadly, teenage boys make pretty crappy fathers – they’re much more interested in getting into your pants than healing your inner child.

 

– The grown woman who has to combat pangs of jealousy every time I see a father carrying a small child up on his shoulders or being affectionate towards them, because you never laid a finger on me unless it accompanied a hello or goodbye. That woman cries too easily over stupid, cheesy songs like Butterfly Kisses and melodramatic Hallmark commercials designed to sell greeting cards. She also resents the hell out of you for all of the above.

 

I wonder what would’ve happened if I had the guts to show you all of that, or worse, the anger and frustration behind it all – kind of like when America Ferrera (playing Carmen) tells off her dad in the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants….

 

 

That phone call was the exact one I wanted to have with you a million times, but I could never manage to gather up enough courage for that kind of confrontation.  I imagine there must be an awesome feeling of freedom that comes along with getting really pissed off at someone, and at the same time knowing that they’re still going to be there to love you afterwards. I never trusted you enough to test that freedom. If I had, do you think we’d have enjoyed the same storybook ending as the father and daughter in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?  Yeah, I didn’t think so either.  Because unlike the sappy chick flicks I perpetually fall hook, line, and sinker for, life doesn’t have happy Hollywood endings. Apparently, when it comes to emotional pain it doesn’t have any ending at all.  Kind of sucks.

 

I have to say though, I prefer this newfound anger to the overwhelming grief I had been feeling these past two years since you died – it’s easier to manage. There’s a lot less crying involved. Probably because I’m no longer pouring over old photos, or listening to the songs on the radio that remind me of you. When I took my favorite picture of us off of my bedroom dresser the night I watched Broken and threw it in a drawer, it almost felt good…. or at least justified.  I have the feeling I won’t be taking it back out anytime soon.

 

I don’t know what the next year of grieving will bring, but for now you can keep your shiny pennies and “signs” from the other side, if there is one. There’s no comfort in knowing that you’re there for me in death when you never were in life. But feel free to sit back and watch the real me for a while, because if reincarnation exists, I might prevent you from fucking up the daughter you have in your next life.  Just promise me that before you choose to dive back into the mortal melee again, you’ll do yourself and her a big favor – learn how to hug.

 

Still yours,

Linda

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Going Up?

This is in response to a daily prompt from WordPress.  Thanks for this one guys – I really needed it….

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As I was walking through the city, I felt inexplicably drawn to this one building.  When I lightly touched its smooth, mirrored façade, a small static charge raised the small hairs on the back of my neck.  I looked up to see where this architectural masterpiece ended, but from my vantage point it seemed to reach right up to the clouds.

Photo credit: Bill Haack

Photo credit: Bill Haack

I tried to peek inside the windows, but all that was revealed to me was my own awed expression.  I searched for a way inside so I could satisfy my nagging curiosity, and finally found a set of double doors.  I assumed that a security guard would stop me before I had the chance to set foot inside, but when I entered the lobby and looked around I was surprised to find that I was alone.

It struck me as odd that there was no company logo on the wall or identifying mark that helped allay the air of mystery that surrounded this building.  While most companies shamelessly promoted their logo on every pen, business card, and billboard within a 10-mile radius of their building, this place apparently needed no promotion.  It just was.

The stark white walls and metal fixtures gave it the appearance of a hospital, but despite the sterile environment, the room still radiated an indescribable warmth.  As I closed my eyes and soaked it in, I heard something ding off to my right.  When I turned my head to see what made the sound, a set of elevator doors at the far end of the lobby opened up.

Before my brain had the chance to weigh my options, my feet began to reflexively walk towards the doors.  It felt strange to be drawn towards something that would normally kicked my claustrophobia into high gear.  I stepped into the shiny, chrome box and the first thing I noticed was that there were no numbered buttons for the floors.  The only choices were up or down – buttons that were usually on the outside of an elevator.  Eager to see the view from the top, I chose up and waited for the doors to close.

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From outside the elevator, I heard a man’s voice say, “Hold the doors!”

I stuck my hand out to prevent the doors from closing.  When I looked up to see who would be joining me on this enigmatic elevator ride, I saw a face I thought I’d never see again – my father.  He had passed away nearly three months ago, yet there he stood, right beside me.

The doors closed.

“Going up?” he asked with a smile.

I instinctively threw my arms around him and began to cry. After a few minutes, my sobs quieted and I reluctantly released him. My eyes and brain were at war with each other – my brain tried to make sense of the impossible, while my eyes gave proof of its existence.

How??” was all I could manage to ask him.

He smiled like he had a delicious secret that he couldn’t share with me.  “Hmmm, tough question.  Luckily, I’ve found out a lot of answers to some pretty tough questions since I died…. but I also learned that some questions don’t really have any answers.”

“So basically, you’re not going to tell me.” I said, wiping away the tears that had already started to dry on my cheeks.

“Doesn’t look like it.” he said with a teasing smile.

I giggled.  “I’ve had so much I wanted to say to you these past few months. So many regrets about all the things I was too scared to tell you while you were still alive.”

“Are you scared now?”  he asked with one raised eyebrow.

I paused for a moment – I felt nothing but peace.  “No.”

“Then tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Remember last summer, when I came to visit you at your house in Florida?”  He nodded. “Well, there was a moment when we were bobbing around in your pool and you turned to me and asked if I had had a happy childhood.”

“I remember.  You told me you did, for the most part.”  he said.

“That wasn’t the whole truth.” I admitted, and then looked down at my feet.

“So what’s the whole truth?” he asked, reached his hand out and tipped my chin up so I was looking at him again.

“The truth was, yes I had a happy childhood… but I also missed you desperately most of the time.  I can remember nights when I woke up crying out for you, but you were never there.” I said and felt the tears beginning to build up behind my eyes again.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to comfort you.  It wasn’t because I didn’t love you.  I know how you felt – there were nights when I cried out for you and your siblings too.” he said and a sad expression crossed his face as he remembered the past.  “In a perfect world, I would’ve been there, but as we both know, our little world was far from perfect.  So, we had to settle for seeing each other a couple of times a year – which doesn’t look like it was enough for either one of us, huh?”

“Guess not.”  Seeing his sad expression made me feel guilty that I had put it there.  I searched to find a means of erasing it and said, “But you should know that you were never far from my mind.  I had moments when I felt angry at you because I felt like you had abandoned us…. but I never stopped loving you.”

His face brightened.  “Thanks, that’s nice to hear – especially since I thought you spent most of your teen years hating my guts.  Eighteen years is a long time to go without a Father’s Day card.” He said and playfully nudged me in the ribs with his elbow.  I could see the teasing smile return to his face.

I smiled back, “I bought you a card last year, but then Amy and I went in on a gift and I never sent it.  I brought it with me to Chicago when I went to see you after you passed away…. but since there was no casket, and you weren’t being buried, I didn’t have anywhere to put it.  So, I brought it back home with me.”  I shuddered with the memories of that trip.

“What did it say?” he asked and put a comforting hand on my shoulder.

“It had a picture of The Wizard of Oz characters on the outside cover and said, ‘A good father needs brains, courage and a lot of heart’…”

“What did it say on the inside?”

“Fortunately, the ruby slippers are optional. Happy Father’s Day to a dad who has it all.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I could pull off ruby slippers.” he joked, and then we both started laughing.

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“Dad, I just wanted to say that I’m so glad we managed to close the gap over the years.  When I really got to know you, it felt like I had found my missing piece – the one I spent my whole life looking for.  No matter how many times I tried to shove somebody else in that space, no one else seemed to fit.  I saw so much of myself in you.  I didn’t know how it was possible to have so much in common with someone I barely ever saw.”

“You can’t fight genetics, Kiddo.”  he said with a wink.

“I tried for a little while.” I said with a chuckle and unconsciously reached up to touch the deep crease in between my eyebrows – the one that becomes more pronounced when I’m trying to work through a problem…. the one I inherited from him.

Just then, I felt the elevator come to a gentle stop – the ride had been so smooth that I had forgotten it was even moving.

“This is my stop.” he said.

I felt a rush of panic – I didn’t want to lose him all over again.  There was still so much that needed to be said.  “Wait!  Dad, please don’t go.”  I begged and grabbed a hold of his hand.

“I have to.  But if you ever find yourself crying out for me in the middle of the night again, this time, I promise I’ll be right there.” he said and put his hand to my heart.  “Always.”

Then he wrapped me up in a hug that felt like he was trying to make up for all the hugs we missed out on in the past, and all the ones we would never get the chance to have in the future.

When he finally released me he said, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Dad.”

“And hey – thanks for my Father’s Day card.” he said with a smile.

Then the elevator doors opened ….

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Some Lessons Death Taught Me About Life

My father passed away two weeks ago.  Since then, I feel like I’ve been thrown off my axis – like my world has stopped spinning, but everyone else’s has just kept right on going as if nothing’s happened. It makes me feel slow and lost – like I’m always racing to catch-up to everyone else, but can’t. My brain has totally shut down and can’t seem to process anything concrete – all I can do is grapple with my emotions.

I know exactly how you feel, Kid.

But life is a stubborn bitch, and refuses to be ignored for long.  When you least expect it, life barges in and demands that you pay attention because it has a lesson or two it wants to teach you.  Even though I felt like my brain would explode from the effort, I tried to pay close attention.  I figured that if I looked attentive enough, maybe life would leave me alone long enough to catch an afternoon nap.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far….

Go Acquire Some Funeral AttireI’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, so when it comes to dressy attire, I usually have to scrounge around in the back of my closet to find anything appropriate (and then pray that it still fits).  You can plan a shopping trip for something to wear to a wedding, but it’s difficult to do for a funeral.  You should have at least one black suit or dress on hand at all times.  Otherwise you may find yourself tearfully begging a sales lady for help in finding a piece of black clothing that’s as comfortable as the pajamas you wish you were wearing.

God, please let there be a pair of black pants in here somewhere….

Starve a Cold, Feed a GrieverI’ve sent flowers and fruit baskets to people for all sorts of reasons – birthdays, anniversaries, and various holidays.  But I’ve never sent them to someone who was grieving; I usually pick up the phone instead.  But what I recently learned is that sometimes, the person in mourning doesn’t have the energy or desire to talk to anyone, but they still want to know people are thinking about them – that’s where heart shaped pineapples and chocolate dipped strawberries come in handy!  Although, cookies, muffins, or assorted goodies would work too because they all say the same thing, “This basket of stuff is ridiculously expensive, but I love you and don’t mind having to eat Ramen noodles for the rest of the week in order to pay for it.”

It’s hard to be depressed when you’re stuffing your face with chocolate covered yumminess.

It’s hard to be depressed when you’re stuffing your face with chocolate covered yumminess.

Hugging 101When we are kids, we hug with our whole body, clinging to the target of our affection like little, balding monkeys.  Then as we get older, propriety steps in and our hugs lose a little bit of their fervor, sometimes feeling no warmer than a handshake.  But being wrapped up in a heartfelt hug can be more effective than a handful of Xanax at easing depression – because when you feel like your world is shattering into a million pieces, sometimes all it takes to keep it together is someone else’s arms.

I tried doing this with my cats,but they don't seem to share my appreciation for hugging.

I tried doing this with my cats,
but they don’t seem to share my appreciation for hugging.

United We Stand, Divided We Bawl:  Get yourself an arsenal of good friends because they are like the biological weapons in the war against grief.  I found comfort and support among family because we were all mourning the same loss.  But I turned to my friends for an escape from the insanity.  My friends sympathized with me, but more importantly, they gave me a reason to laugh again.  After crying hard enough to make my eyes burn and my head pound, laughter was the best gift they could’ve given me.  Well, that and the awesome fruit basket.

Our love for each other remains as big as our hair was back in the 90's.

Our love for each other remains as big as our hair was back in the 90’s.

Regret Sucks More Than the First Twilight Movie:  How often do you get the urge to call, text, or visit someone just to say hello or I love you?  Now how often do you ACT on those urges?  Too often we shelve those impulses because we allow other things to get in the way.  Work, kids, food shopping, or cutting our toenails become the priority because we assume we can make that call or visit tomorrow.  It isn’t until tomorrow is abruptly taken away that we begin to mentally tally up all those missed opportunities, and then the crappy feeling of regret sets in.  We can’t do much about the regrets of the past – whether you blew off calling Mom, or made the mistake of sitting through another one of Kristen Stewart’s movies, try to learn from those regrets and work towards avoiding them in the future.

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Eat Your Goddamn Vegetables:  I’ll admit that if all the vegetables on Earth were destroyed in some sort of veggie apocalypse, it would probably take me a year to notice.  And don’t even get me started on exercising or my loathe/hate relationship with my treadmill.  Clearly, I wasn’t born with whatever healthy-living-genes Jillian Michaels seems to have in abundance (don’t get me started on her either).

But when I hit my thirties I got a serious wake-up call that implored me to take better care of myself – a front row seat to my father’s triple bypass surgery, and my best friend’s battle with lung disease.  When you see a prolonged illness suck the will to live right out of someone you love, you find out that there is a lot of truth behind the phrase, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”  If you’re like me, you hate to hear preachy clichés like that– especially when you’ve got a donut in your hand.  But I’m saying it anyway.  So do yourself a favor and eat a freakin’ string bean once in a while.  Okay?

Except during girl's night out.

Except during girl’s night out.

Don’t Sweat the Small StuffGood grief Linda, how many clichés are you going to throw at us in one blog entry?!  Sorry, I know this slogan has been stamped on a million different coffee mugs, t-shirts and bumper stickers – but again, it’s true.  Let your grudges and petty annoyances go – the guy who cut you off in traffic or the co-worker who drank the last of the coffee isn’t going to spend a single second thinking about you.  So, why should you waste hours of precious time imagining all the different ways you could kill them and avoid trace evidence?  Especially when Google can do it for you in seconds….

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I Double Dog Dare You:  Accomplishing something we didn’t think we were capable of is exhilarating.  Which is why I’m urging you to push aside all the imaginary roadblocks you’ve created for yourself (lack of time, money, ability, etc.), and take on a task that you find challenging.

I will be facing two challenges this summer.  Initially, both of them scared the crap out of me because there’s movement involved – a lot of movement; and I’m pretty sure I can’t bring my couch and TV remote along with me.  But after a little bit of thought (and a lot of alcohol), I decided to push past my fears and see if I’m still capable of surprising myself.

Here are the two upcoming events:

The 5K Foam Fest – I’m going to need a chiropractor and a few drinks when this race is over.  And I’m sure I’ll be spending the better part of a week cleaning mud out of places that should NEVER get muddy. But it looks like a hell of a lot of fun…..

The Long Island walk to help fight breast cancer – 2 days, 35 miles, and probably a boatload of blisters.  If you would like to help me raise money for this great cause (without the nasty blisters), all you have to do is click the link below and pull out your credit card. Personally, I think you’ve got the better end of this deal…..

https://www.li2daywalk.org/donor_info.asp?MEMBERID=13166

If everyone who reads this donates just FIVE dollars, I can reach my fund raising goal of $1,000!!

BRING.  IT.  ON!!!!

BRING. IT. ON!!!!

Dear Dad…..

I got the call from Lesley this morning at 6:00am.  I can’t even imagine the strength it took for her to make that call – having to somehow find the words to tell me that my Dad had passed away last night.  She did the best she could…. tried so hard to be gentle.  I lost my shit anyway.  I didn’t hear anything she said beyond, “He’s gone.”  I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my own screaming and wailing.

There were no questions at that moment – Why?  When?  How?  It didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that yesterday you were here, and now you’re gone.  And with you, all the memories we had yet to create.

You just retired a week ago.  You were counting down the days until retirement for the last few years – couldn’t wait to practice your golf swing, and start racking up the miles on your bicycle.  You spent the last fifty years busting your ass, and you were finally going to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  I could practically hear the smile in your voice over the phone as you told me about how you were going to sleep in as late as you wanted on your first day of freedom.

I should have called you to find out how it felt to not have to wake up to an alarm clock that morning.  I thought of calling you a dozen times this past week, but when I finally dialed your number, it was too late.

I got your answering machine….

“Hey Dad, it’s Linda.  I’m calling you in the middle of the day just because I can now – we’re finally on the same schedule.  How cool is that?!  I hope you’re out playing golf or doing something fun.  Give me a call back when you can.  Love you.”

But that’s not all I wanted to say…..

Had you been there to pick up the phone, I would have told you that I had thought a lot about our birthdays coming up – you were turning 70 and I was turning 40 this summer.  I wanted to say that I didn’t want anything from you that came in a box.  That suggestion I made about the diamond earrings was just a joke.  We both know I’m not the diamonds-are-a-girl’s-best-friend type.  They would go horribly with my converse sneakers.

What I wanted more than anything was a memory.  Growing up with hundreds of miles between us, we didn’t have much opportunity to create memories together.  Jobs, kids, crazy schedules, and the physical distance always seemed to get in the way.  I think we were both counting on your retirement clearing away some of those obstacles, and finally allowing us some time to get to know one another better.  I know I was counting on it.  I didn’t realize just how much until that time was taken away from me with one phone call.

I feel grief-stricken.  Robbed.  Angry.  Regretful.

I’m mad at myself for taking so much for granted.  Even though your health wasn’t the best these past few years, I still stupidly thought you would be there to create all the memories I had only dreamt about.  I was going to share one of those dreams with you over the phone that day….

I imagined us going on one of your 30-mile bike rides together this summer; both to commemorate our milestone birthdays and to stubbornly prove that age is just a meaningless number.  I thought one or two days of pedaling together, bitching about the hot Florida heat, and laughing at all the old-timers in spandex bike shorts, sounded like the perfect birthday present.  Then at the end of the day we’d compare sore muscles to see whose ass hurt more, and you’d attempt to teach me how to cook one of your signature dishes – all the while I’d be nodding my head, but hopelessly lost.  After dinner you’d insist on topping off the meal with dessert – who am I to argue with homemade strawberry shortcake?  But it would taste extra sweet that night because we’d know that we earned every one of those delicious calories.

That’s just one of a thousand would-be memories I have swimming around in my head right now.  I’m trying desperately to hang on to the happy memories we did manage to create and let go of the rest, but I have to admit that right now I’m not having much luck.

I can’t promise that the sting of regret won’t taint those happy memories, but here’s what I can promise:

I promise to take that 30-mile bike ride this year, even though I won’t have you pedaling by my side.

I promise to honor both of our weight loss efforts, and pass up on more donuts than I eat…. I can’t promise the same about coffee cake – but I know you’ll understand.

I promise to make the most out of the gifts you gave me:  your sarcastic sense of humor, your love and talent for the written word, and your immense capacity to love anything on four furry-feet.

I promise not to complain too much about some of the physical traits I inherited from you:  the odd long torso/short legs combo, the ability to gain weight when even pondering a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts, and that deep crease I get in between my eyes when I’m looking at someone like they’re nuts.

I’d like to ask you to promise me something in return.  Promise me that there is something beyond this crazy, fucked up world where nobody seems to ever get what they deserve.  Promise me that you’ll do your best to protect and comfort those of us who are still stuck down here, missing you.  And promise me that when it’s my time to go, you’ll be waiting there for me.

I hope there are bicycles in heaven….

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