“Say Something”: For My Father

I wrote this last year and after having it in Private mode for a while I just went through and read it again and made it Public. I edited this one very little. It is something that still breaks my heart to think about and probably always will.

Sleeping Tiger

I have a third of my father’s ashes from his cremation.

I wasn’t really all that sure about cremation.  And unfortunately my father never talked about what he wanted, nor did he put it in writing anywhere.

So the three toxic musketeers were left to decide on their own. (That would be my siblings and me.)

If I’m remembering correctly, it was my brother who introduced cremation because he couldn’t bear to think of my father’s body underground, considering the decay that takes place. He was really sensitive about that.  And my sister, I’d bet my small inheritance, liked the idea because it was cheaper than a traditional burial. I’m convinced she was worried about making sure there was something left to inherit.

I was on the fence but didn’t have much say. Even though I mentioned that I wasn’t sure about cremation. it was two to three by the…

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I Wasn’t There That Morning When My Father Passed Away

I’m old enough to remember this video being played on MTV.

I remember even then I related to this song. My relationship with him was bitter sweet. He was actually very abusive in emotional ways and I felt tormented by him with his need to control everything around him.

His family (my mother, my brother, my sister and I) walked on eggshells. It was because of him I learned how to gauge someone’s feelings, ever so careful to approach when the timing was right. And there were right times. There were times he was soft, he had a sense of humor, he cracked jokes and did funny things that easily entertained a child.

But I never knew when I’d do something to trigger him. Although that was not my conscious thought to worry about ‘triggers’ with him. That came later as I was gradually conditioned. As a child, I would just let myself go and enjoy the moment…until at times he’d lose his temper over my getting carried away I guess. And the smile was wiped away in no time, leaving me feeling humiliated and ashamed really.

I remember this at the dinner table many times, me with a mouthful of food, my mouth suddenly dry with embarrassment and feeling humiliated, the food suddenly losing it’s taste and feeling so sticky in my mouth I couldn’t swallow it.

When I was distraught over a traumatic breakup of a tumultuous relationship and entanglement at the end of 2011, I blamed my father. I blamed him for me getting involved with such toxicity in the first place. I blamed him for me not being able to maintain a relationship with a man. I blamed him for my acts of clinging to a man that was so wrong for me and later I kept clinging even though he didn’t want me anymore.

I laid into my father with so much anger, sadness, regret and confusion via email. And I felt it was a family problem. So I ‘copied’ my family members.

I described some of the things that happened…his cruelty and abuse in detail.

The main reason for this email to my father, was the question, ‘How can you love me when you’ve done these things?’

He stated that he loved me quite a bit through my life but it was confusing, because so much of the time while I was growing up and even at times in adulthood, I was afraid of him. The worst incidents I think were the times he’d startle me with his anger. His loud, deep voice suddenly bellowing my name from another part of the house and then raging about something he was obviously unhappy about, something that most likely made him feel out of control.

But then there were other times, like when I had a crack in my windshield after visiting with a friend one night. I called my parents when I got home to tell them about it and ask if they could help me get it replaced. I had a job but it was an extra expense, not cheap and I wasn’t prepared for it. In fact it was rare I was ever ready for extra expenses as I lived pay to pay, struggling.

Both of my parents were kind about my broken windshield situation and agreed quite willingly to pay for it. I had been drinking a bit that night and I became very distraught and distressed while on the phone with them.

With my father on the other end, I cried, “What if you guys weren’t around though? How would I pay for it then?”

He was calm that night and said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about that. We are here and we’ll take care of it.”

He was trying to calm me down and soothe me, but it didn’t work too well. I wanted to be able to pay for that windshield repair/replacement myself, without having to choose between that and keeping the electricity on that month. I didn’t want to rely on my parents and I didn’t want to feel this constant need for them to bail me out of sudden expenses.

I didn’t realize then that it was their lack of preparing me for the ‘real world’ that got me in that situation in the first place, despite the kindness that was being shown to me at that moment and in other moments when one or both parents would come through with financial favors and needs.

Give a man (or even a girl) a fish and all that…

But I digress…

Getting back to my rather aggressive email:
I didn’t hear back from my father, but was actually greeted at my house, by my angry brother one Sunday evening after I’d sent it out.  He got so worked up trying to understand why I’d send something like that. I could feel the anger and see the rage in his six foot frame as he furiously erupted while towering over me as I sat in a chair.

His girlfriend and my roommate had stood by in shock while this took place.

I kicked my brother out of the house after that and his girlfriend walked over to me just before she opened the door to leave and said, “Your brother loves you.”

“Yeah right!”

As she opened the door, my brother peeked around the doorway and flashed a peace sign with his fingers. He wanted to come back in.

I agreed and he came back in. The conversation was calm, but it was clear that he was excusing my father’s behavior because of the way he was treated growing up.

It didn’t occur to me that night to call him out on his double standard. I was just glad he wasn’t raging at me and I wasn’t feeling physically threatened.

Knowing I struggled with what I wanted to do with my life as a career and not working, he asked me what I wanted to do. Then made a comment about how he’d noticed, even through his distress about it, how well written the email was.

When I told him, I wanted to share my knowledge, opinions and experiences from pet sitting, he said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “No one is interested in that. You should write about your life.”

Wait what? He was suggesting I write about the very same shit he’d just raged about. Again, I froze (my go to coping response) and didn’t point out the irony of what he was saying.

Things only settled down outwardly afterward and then only for a little over a year. My father never said much about the email and what it contained, except to reply to my apology for sending it in the first place.
“It only hurts me that you’re hurting.” And that was it.

We saw each other at Christmas that year and I felt awkward but my father greeted me as he always had, arms out with a big welcoming grin on his face. I wouldn’t have wanted to talk there and then, but it didn’t feel final and I would’ve liked some resolution. After all, I wouldn’t have sent a letter of such anger and intense pain without actual anger and pain being behind it. But he quite obviously wanted to sweep it under the rug.

He later made little comments here and there, while exchanging later emails, while he was preparing to move from his apartment to his girlfriend’s house quite a distance away. He was working toward dispersing much of his belongings to my siblings and me.

One comment in particular, I remember: “I’ve been trying to get you to forgive me all these years.
It was part of a response to an email I’d sent telling him how I was feeling treated unfairly concerning the way he seemed to be favoring the other two in what he was giving them.

I had dibs on all the books, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about the furniture, more specifically the things that had been passed down from his parents.

One evening, I’d gone over to sort through his books and he told me about the two things he was giving to my siblings. For my sister, an antique radio that used to stand in my grandparents’ nicely finished basement. Still beautiful aesthetically but didn’t work.  And an authentic beer stein for my brother, made in Germany, with beautiful designs.

When my father saw the look on my face, he pointed to a broken antique chair and said “You can have that.”

I’d felt like he was offering me a consolation prize, while at the same time attempting to diffuse any adverse emotion I may have had. And it prompted an email to him as it felt much safer to confront my feelings about it that way than face to face. His ever increasing hearing loss was another obstacle that made it difficult to have such conversations anymore anyway.

Later…now I realize, this part of his response “I’ve been trying to get you to forgive me all these years” was putting the responsibility on me, guilt trip extraordinaire, not to mention deflecting a bit on what was going on and my feelings about it.

Although, he addressed it in other ways in his reply, he addressed it with words like, “you were first on the scene…blah blah blah.” Meaning I was first born, so of course he isn’t favoring them, kind of thing.

When I think back on all of that now, I realize it wasn’t the object/s that I was upset about. I didn’t want any of those things, even though you wouldn’t know it by the way I behaved when he made the majority of his move to his girlfriend’s house. I was almost frantic, making sure I got over to his apartment to get what I wanted without my siblings being around.

I had felt slighted and forgotten. I didn’t take the two items that were promised to each of my siblings, but I did make sure I got other things I wanted before they could get to them. I remember now that the more I gathered for myself, the more distraught, sad and empty I felt.

About a week later, my brother informed me that he and my sister had gone out to pick up my father and take him to the hospital. My brother had picked up from emails he and my father had been exchanging, that my father was in some kind of distress. He wasn’t spelling things correctly and he was skipping words. Very unlike my father, who was a stickler for correct English.

To make a long story longer, before being discharged from the hospital, and then the rehab, my sister at first wanted me to help her bring our father home. But last minute changed her mind and felt it was more important to get the stuff back to his place before he got there.

So that’s what I did. Again, I was frantic, getting it back to my father’s apartment and then setting it up again. It was kind of silly to rush around like that, now that I think about it.  I was doing it for my sister for one, to calm some of her stress, and for my father to keep his stress levels down as well. Of course he would need some of the things back…like a lamp and a side table I’d taken. But I ran around the apartment setting up the things I brought back like it was a big secret.

My sister had reported to me my father’s narcissistic behavior was off the charts while he was hospitalized and then in rehab. So she was concerned about his reaction to not having what I’d taken from there. This in spite of the fact that my father had actually pushed for me to get over there to get the stuff as soon as possible.

(Just a quick note here. My sister wasn’t being nasty about the furniture nor in asking me to help her. In fact she’d called me before she’d picked my father up giving me a chance to back out because of my father’s behavior. Acting as though she understood my apprehensiveness to seeing my father at this point at all.  This would become a source of confusion later as she could play understanding at times and then turn and hold that very thing she seemed to understand against me, weeks later.)

My siblings hadn’t taken any of the furniture yet. And the reasons were probably a mix between the fact that they were busy with their lives and that neither one of them thought it was a good idea for our father to move in with the woman he was making plans with. Perhaps they thought those plans would fall through.

Somewhere during all of that chaos, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the weeks of his care was a nightmare, the way I was treated by my family, which I go into on this blog already and will continue to do so.

But through all of that, there is one night in particular that I remember, after my father had eaten his dinner, and I was there with him alone. He said quietly, “I thought there’d be reconciliation.”

I looked at him feeling shocked, hopeful but afraid.

He wasn’t looking at me.

“With who?” I said cautiously, with a lump in my throat,

I was nervous, afraid of what he’d say and of what he wouldn’t say.

“Oh nothing,” he replied with a shake of his head.

I felt the blood drain from my head. It was a relief that we weren’t going to have some deep conversation, while at the same time I was deeply disappointed we weren’t going to have some deep conversation.

I have no way of knowing that he was talking about me. Most likely he was not. He could have been referring to my mother, who he’d been divorced from for years at that point. A divorce he hadn’t wanted. It was my mother who wanted out. He was so hurt and attempted to scramble to fix certain things. The lawn in front of the house looked better than it ever had. He would be seen carrying laundry baskets up from and down to the basement. But it was too little, too late. My mother had reached her limit and was long ready to move on. (Only away from him though, she was not interested in being with anyone else.)

Or it could’ve been that he was talking about the woman he had been about to move in with. He broke it off after he got sick. I’m not even clear on how that went down. But I can say my siblings couldn’t stand her and didn’t trust her. They may have been an influence.

As for me, I hadn’t thought much about it. She did get on my nerves and I didn’t quite understand what my father saw in her. But I guess I was trained to think that whatever I said wouldn’t matter anyway. He was a grown man, making his own decisions. I didn’t think about how he might have been deteriorating, before the diagnosis. Which leads me to the conclusion that I was and even am still not as emotionally mature as I should be.

It’s obvious to me now that in trying to collect whatever I could from his apartment before he moved completely out of it, I was trying like hell to get from objects and items what I couldn’t get from him…or my siblings…or even my mother.

From the day of diagnosis to the early morning of April 1, 2013 was 10 weeks. I had been there with him that last night, until about 10pm. I’d thought about just sleeping there, in the big fluffy chair in his hospice room.  He’d been unconscious for the last day or two and I was wishing before I left that I’d brought some sweats and a toothbrush.

I went home. I was awoken a little before 3am to a phone call from a hospice nurse telling me my father was gone.

Today is the three year anniversary of his passing.

A lot of things were left unsaid.

lots o gravesst