My father passed peacefully on July 27, 2010. It’s taken me a long time to write this final chronicle of his death. Has it been a grieving process? I don’t really think of what I’ve been through as grief, but his death brought new revelation into my life, both positive and negative. It’s taken some time to sort through it.
My mother was at his bedside when he took his last breath. I had just gotten the kids off to school and was getting dressed to drive to hospice when she called. She asked me to meet her at her house, and together, we called my brother at work back in Atlanta. It was emotional, even though we all had plenty of time to prepare.
In the ensuing weeks, I learned a lot. I was amazed at how well my father had prepared for his death, prepaying everything, the cremation, everything. All the documents, life insurance, bank info, etc. were all accessible and where he had said they would be. Everything fell into place, one piece at a time, each thing just enough to deal with for that day. My mother, of course, grieves the most. On what would have been their sixty-first wedding anniversary, we went to lunch together. “It just seems like we should celebrate,” my mom said. So we did, hoisting our iced tea glasses in a toast and enjoying some dynamite Italian food. My mother told me stories about how my father grew up, stories I had never heard. His mother, my grandmother, was a paranoid schizophrenic back when it wasn’t okay to be mentally ill. His father lived in denial, moving the family every year because she caused disruption in the neighborhoods in which they lived. His father was in denial many years, and it wasn’t until after my parents were married that my grandmother finally got the help and meds she needed to function. My mom talked long for many days about how she had always fought my dad’s urge to isolate. I gained a wealth of respect for both of them, for her constant successful urging for them to have a social life outside of us kids, for my father for stepping outside his comfort zone. They were perfect for each other. She was impulsive and a bit wild, and he was a quiet introvert. They taught each other good lessons.
About three weeks after my father’s passing, I began to have thoughts. Negative thoughts about my dad. “Your father was a chauvinist” was the first one. Followed by memories. Of hurt, of my dad letting me down. At the same time, my own teenage daughter who has just entered high school hit some bumps in the road. Misbehavior. I started rereading a book my therapist had recommended a few years back, Reviving Ophelia. About adolescent girls, how they think, what motivates them, etc. Hindsight now tells me I had rekindled my own adolescent girl, and it was precisely at this point in my own life where my father had failed me. Only a few times, but the memories came back. I tried to rethink and pray and talk myself out of my thoughts. All efforts failed and I wound up back with my therapist. Not to discuss my own daughter, for I have handled her problems well. Instead, I found myself with a list of resentments toward my dead father.
It took a couple of weeks to move through this. I said to my therapist, “My God, I’m fifty-four freaking years old, and I am just now uncovering this stuff?” I was desolate over having lost the years I had lost, because my relationship (or lack of) with my dad corroded every relationship I have ever had with a man, it was crystal clear to me. The root of the voice at the committee table in my head that says from time to time, “you’re not good enough,” “what’s the use in trying?” “Don’t make waves” was planted in my adolescent years. I hated myself for finding this stuff out, as well. My father is dead, for crying out loud, and from what I had recently found out about how he grew up, surely I could understand that he truly did the best he could with what he was dealt in life. I have this knowledge intellectually, but it is a process to internalize it, and the process is ongoing.
I did shed tears, finally, not in grief over my father, but over damage done and corrections needed. It’s a mixed blessing, the newfound knowledge and the opportunity to do something different with my life. To realize even at this midlife stage the subconscious erroneous messages I have listened to all these years are wrong; I am still breathing and can finally begin the second half of my life.
It’s all good. Death is a part of life. We do the best we can with what we’re dealt. And we’re never too old to renew and change direction. Love you, Dad.