Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Missing My Dad


Thirteen years ago today, my dad passed away.  It has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with.  Even after thirteen years, I think of him every day and struggle often with all the feelings I have related to his death.  It never gets easier, but I have learned to deal with it better.

My parents divorced when I was twelve and remarried other people soon after.  My stepmom was fairly nice until she became pregnant with my little sister.  After that, all hell broke loose.  She became someone completely different and horribly mean.  She was very verbally abusive to both me and my brother, as well as physically abusive to my brother.  I was constantly told how fat, lazy stupid, worthless, and pathetic I was.  After a while (and as a young teenager), you start to believe those things.  It got to a point where I thought about killing myself on a regular basis.  I never acted on it, but my depression and sadness was very overwhelming to me.

I lived in that environment for three years before finally deciding to go live with my mom and stepdad when I was sixteen.  They lived four hours away though, so I had to leave my school and friends and the only city I had ever lived in longer than a few years.  It was a really hard choice for me because my friends were my family then and the only people I could rely on and talk to. 

I ended up not talking to my dad very much after that.  My mom hated him with a passion and made that awful divorced parent decision of talking bad about the other parent in front of my brother and I.  I was made to feel I had to pick sides and feel a certain way about each parent.  I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't at that point.

We ended up moving to the other side of the country (from Georgia to the Pacific Northwest), where I started my senior year of high school.  I received a few emails from my dad, the last one in February of 1998 for Valentine's Day. 

At the beginning of May, I received a phone call from my stepmother.  She told me that my dad had been in the hospital for a week, but he was out now and would be just fine.  She said she just wanted me to know.  I decided I would reach out to him, so I made him a Get Well card and told him I loved him and mailed it off the next day.  I don't think he ever received it.  He was back in the hospital a few days later.  My brother called and told me I needed to fly back there to see him.  I knew my mom and stepdad wouldn't just fork over the money needed for a last minute plane ticket across the country; and I was graduating high school in a month.  I had so much on my brain.  I wanted him to be okay, but coming to visit him at that point didn't seem like a possibility.  A few days later I got the phone call.

It was a Sunday night around 5:30PM.  It was Mother's Day.  My stepdad and my mom had gone out to dinner or running errands that day, so I was home alone.  I was bummed about everything and worrying about my dad.  Then the phone rang.  In the amount of time it took me to stand up, I knew why it was ringing.  I knew what I was going to be told when I answered it.  

I walked to my mom and stepdad's bedroom and answered the phone in there.  When I said "hello" into the receiver, my brother was on the other end telling me to sit down.  I did.  He told me that dad just died.  He made me feel guilty for not coming to visit, which stuck with me for a LONG time.  I didn't even talk to him about what he said to me until three years later after a huge breakdown I had over losing my dad.  It was only then that my brother told me he didn't blame me for my father's death and that it wasn't my fault, which I really needed to hear.

After the brief phone call, I sat at the top of the stairs in my house and cried for at least a couple hours.  Time went very slow that night.  My mom and stepdad came home and as soon as my mom saw my face, I think she knew.  I told her that my brother called and that my dad was dead.  Her response was "Good riddance to bad rubbish".  I was devastated.  I needed someone to hug me and be there for me and understand how upset I was, but she was happy he was gone.  I didn't know what to do.  I know I cried a lot more after that, but it is all a blur from there.

I wanted to go to the funeral, so my stepdad began preparations for me to get back to Georgia.  He spent a while looking for plane tickets and writing down everything I needed to know for the journey.  It was the first time I would be flying by myself and with minimal assistance.  Because the plane ticket was so expensive, my mom told me that the plane ticket was my birthday present and graduation gift in one and she hoped that I enjoyed the trip. 

The next day, I chose to go to school to get homework assignments for the week so I wouldn't get too far behind before graduation.  The only people I told about my dad were a couple friends and my video production teacher.  I tried not to think about it too much because I just kept crying.  It was too  much to deal with emotionally, so focusing on school was a welcomed break and a diversion from all the things I didn't want to deal with.

The next day was my 18th birthday.  I spent a majority of the day above the clouds, flying back to the east coast for the funeral.  My close high school friends were able to attend the funeral to be there for me.  It meant so much.  I was able to see my older sister and spend some time with my friends, which helped keep me from slumping too far into my depression.

I thought the funeral would bring some kind of closure for me, but my dad didn't look like himself laying there in the coffin.  He was a lot thinner, his nose looked more pronounced, and his shirt was buttoned all the way up really tight.  His hands looked fake, like chalky plastic.  I didn't want to touch him or look at him too closely.  I stayed at least 3 feet away from the coffin, even when people were pushing me closer to it.  It was too surreal and devastating.  And everyone is staring at you to see how you will react.  I wouldn't even wish an experience like that on my worst enemy.

I've struggled for YEARS to deal with this event in my life.  It isn't just about my father dying, but about all the regret I have for not speaking to him the two years before he died.  It haunts me all the time.  Five years after his death, I visited his grave for the first time.  I sat down and spoke to him, but it was hard to find the words.  It helped to do that though.  I think after that I may have started the healing process.
The first time I felt some sense of peace in regards to my dad's death was when I went to visit his grave with my husband - my then-fiance.  We both went to the grave and sat there.  I talked like my dad was really there with us.  I introduced him to my fiance and told him when our wedding was and that he was welcome to make an appearance.  Mr. Fiance talked to my dad's grave too.  He told my dad how much he loved me and how he would always take care of me.  It meant so much to me that he would do that.  If I didn't know already, that was when I knew he was a keeper for SURE.

It continues to be a process to deal with this loss in my life.  I have good days and bad days.  I think because of the recent losses of family members I have had (not deaths, but other forms of loss), this year seems to be a bit tougher.

If you can relate to this story in any way, my heart goes out to you.  Know that you aren't alone and you can get through it.  I think it's important to know it doesn't get easier to miss someone.  But you learn to handle it the best way you can.  At some point, you stop drinking to forget and you long to remember all the happy memories.  And you do.  And you laugh.  You feel happy to have funny stories to share and happy things to think about.  It doesn't dishonor your loved one to live on and be happy.  Life is very short, living it to the fullest is a great way to pay tribute to those you have loved and lost.

And always tell people you love them.

I love you, dad.



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