It’s Over, Now
Two days ago, I got the call.
I rushed to the hospital.
By the time I got there, my father was dead. Actually, he’d been dead on arrival.
I imagined the call would come someday. I imagined I was prepared.
I’d spent years trying to prepare, telling myself, “It’s everybody’s time…sometime. No reason to be upset. We all gotta die someday.”
My rational mind had been telling me for years that when the time comes, there’s no need – no reason – for emotion.
But when I saw him there, alone, dead, mouth wide open as if still gasping for the breaths that never came – I couldn’t help but cry. I didn’t want to, but I did.
Two days later and this is the way I deal with it. The only way I know how. Thinking about it. Barfing out thoughts. Trying to find what makes the most sense within all this anxiety and these senseless thoughts and emotions.
The nurse took me behind the curtain. I was the only one there. I thought it was tragic that there was nobody else present in the immediate aftermath of my father’s passing. It was just me and I knew it would be just me. It was tragic, but it made sense. I was about all he ever had. And his periodic, ingrained fits of rage made sure nobody else got too close.
The next day, somebody asked me, “You were all alone?”
There was a hint of pity in her voice.
It took me a moment to comprehend that she was feeling pity for me since there was nobody there to give me comfort in the immediate aftermath of my father’s passing. My father who – in many ways – was all I ever had too.
It took me a while to fully comprehend what she had asked. Maybe it wasn’t so good to be there all alone in my grief. Maybe it wasn’t such an emotionally or psychologically sound thing to go through all alone.
But even now, I hate to think about that. My father’s passing, although we weren’t close, was the thing to mourn. My feelings were secondary. They were a nuisance trying to get in the way of the sympathy he deserved.
Sadness for myself would have felt self-indulgent.
Plus, I’m plenty used to dealing with hardships alone. It didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.
For all intents and purposes, my father was the only family I had.
And, like I say, we were distant.
My birth certificate has my mother’s name on it. But she was never an active player in my life. So it was mainly just me and my father down to the end.
We were distant, and there’s no point in pretending that if things hadn’t ended on Wednesday, that they’d ever have gotten better.
For decades, the only thing between my father and me was our relationship and some memories.
And it was never the relationship he wanted.
He wanted it to be more like a storybook relationship. He wanted it to be the kind of thing you see in cute TV sitcoms where everybody gets to be themselves without any real consequences to being a self that doesn’t mesh so well with others.
That’s the kind of relationship he needed.
But he never wanted to take much responsibility for making it happen.
Many years ago, he said, “You’re the one with a life. You’re the one who’s busy. When I reach out to you, I feel like I’m imposing upon your life. So, from here on out, I’m gonna leave it up to you.”
Back then, I didn’t understand the move.
Now, I do.
It put all the responsibility on me.
My father remained disappointed in our relationship. Our relationship was the only thing between us. And it was my responsibility, so my father’s disappointment became my fault. Our relationship was my failure.
I accepted that move a long time ago.
I shouldn’t have. But I didn’t have the courage to reject it.
So I accepted it.
I accepted it by allowing myself to believe that with an effort toward improving things, he’d appreciate it. And, in appreciation for my efforts, things would become more like a partnership. Our relationship would evolve into a mutually-satisfying cooperative of two people working together to improve upon things.
But it didn’t improve. A partnership never formed.
My father remained disappointed, and I was the cause since our relationship was my responsibility.
Over time, I grew angry and resentful at the shame and guilt I felt for disappointing him.
It didn’t seem fair.
I concluded his disappointment was as much a matter of his own doing as it was mine.
I tried changing the rules. But the move had been made. The rules had already been set. There was no going back.
I grew angrier and more resentful.
I hated my shame. I hated my anger and resentment.
In order to temper them, I withdrew. And that’s why, in the end, we’d become so distant.
In these days following his death, people have said things like, “He was so proud of you. You were everything to him.”
In a way, that’s true. I was about all that he had.
It’s a difficult thing, grieving like this.
It’s an improper thing – a social taboo – to ever admit that, in passing, there is also relief.
That relief is a huge part of this grief. But nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to know about it.
They presume I’m grieving over the loss of a loved one. So they reassure me of all the reasons my father was worthy of my love.
And they want to assure me how much I meant to my father.
In order to honor him, I don’t contradict. I smile. I nod. And I grieve in a way that feels unique in its complexity, but probably isn’t.
But I wish there was somebody here who understands the whole.
The whole of the shame and the years of my father’s disappointment that I wore like a wet coat. The guilt that I ate and slept and showered with for years.
Now he’s gone. I don’t know how things are going to feel now that the person I’d learned to disappoint is gone.
There’s nobody left that I’m profoundly disappointing.
It feels like a relief.
Or, at least when all this passes, I hope there’ll be some relief.
Still, I can’t help but consider how much I was to blame.
Maybe I’m too sensitive.
Maybe I assumed too much guilt for something that just wasn’t there. Maybe I took it too much to heart.
Maybe the disappointment that was both explicitly and passive-aggressively stated wasn’t all that I thought it was.
Maybe my profound sense of guilt wasn’t justified.
An unjustified guilt leading to resentment.
Resentment undermining everything.
Perhaps I needed to feel guilty and shameful in order to justify pushing him away. Perhaps I needed to blame him in order to keep him at a distance.
The day after he died, I went to his house. I found pictures of him as a handsome, young man. He was the first in our family to graduate from college. He had such promise, but his life ended in years of self-imposed solitude.
I drove over to my ailing aunt’s house. She knew all about her brother’s death. It happened while he was visiting. The paramedics worked, but couldn’t revive him. So they rushed him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
I drove over to her house where he’d died the day before. In my anxiousness over all that had happened, I wondered if then was the time to try to get some things straight.
I told her about the photos. I told her about all the promise I saw in that handsome, young man. I asked her if she could tell me anything about what went wrong.
Immediately, as if it had been a secret she’d been dying to reveal, she said, “He was always angry at not having a father. He resented it, and that bitterness never left him.”
I’d grown to resent my father for the many consequences of his resentments. But now, I must wonder, is my resentment really resentment at my absentee mother? A resentment of her neglect that I misdirected toward him?
Could it be that it was my fault all along?
Well, it’s too late now.
It’s all over.
And, for my part in our ballet of dysfunction, I’m profoundly sorry.
As I sit here writing this, the grief is temporarily gone. As I sit here writing this, I am too busy trying to think – trying to formulate with words – that I don’t feel.
When I’m done, I’m afraid the feelings will return.
Isn’t there something else to write about?
If there isn’t, at least I’ve found some peace during this writing.
And I hope my father has finally found the peace that he never seemed to find while alive.
I hope so.
Now, maybe we can both get a little more peace.
5 thoughts on “It’s Over, Now”
Family is complicated – in life and in death. Maybe more so after they’ve died. Mostly because we can’t have a re-do, When they are alive there is the tiny hope that what has been wrong can be made right. I’m so sorry that your father has passed.
I’m really bad at stuff like this, so all I can say is that I’m sorry. Life really is a bitch sometimes.
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Yeah. I understand. Me too. And there’s always the risk of future embarrasment and shame over being a self-centered, whiney little bitch about this kind of stuff. But, at the same time, concealing harsh truths…living as if they never or don’t exist can take a pretty heavy emotional and psychological toll. For your own sanity, It feels necessary sometimes to at least address the confusion and anxieties to yourself. Sometimes a catharsis is the only (or best) option left. Realistically, should probably leave all this self-psycoanalysis to a real pro. Otherwise you’re that knucklehead trying to get to the moon in a homemade rocket. Fucker’s more likely to explode at 100 feet than anything else.
Relationships, it seems, can be like ingesting too much alcohol, essentially a toxin. When we ingest too much, there’s always a price to pay. Relationships are great when they are primarily a social lubricant, leading to a jolly time. But, in excess and dependence, unhealthy and imbalanced ones literally become a poison to the heart and mind.
Thanks for the read, buddy. Peace.
I apologize because I hadn’t read these posts in sequence. And I won’t lie, you’ll always feel the loss. However occasionally you’ll smile when you remember something good about the person. Wonderful posts