Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Goodbye forever, again

I'm not sure how to process my emotions right now, so I'm just going to write.

In the early morning of May 31, my dad died. You can only neglect your health and abuse your body for so long before it just gives up, and that's what finally happened to him.

I got word from my mom on Friday May 30 that my sister had gone down to Florida to be with him in the hospital as he was being moved to hospice care. His liver and kidneys were failing and there was nothing more they could do—it was comfort measures only at that point. They estimated only a few more days. I was a wreck that day, imagining him dying and waiting for the call.

The call came from my mom that very next morning, as I was sitting on the beach with my family for a weekend getaway. I couldn't believe it—he was actually gone. At the same time, I couldn't believe he lived as long as he did, knowing what he put his body through and how bad his life was for many years.

{A Lazy Crazy Life}

I'm sad—for me, for my mom (though they had been divorced for many years), and for my sister who had to literally watch him struggle for his last breath. I'm mad—that he did this to himself and that it didn't have to be like this. I'm relieved—that he's finally at peace, that he didn't die alone in an alley somewhere with no one to care, and that I can now try to put all the pain behind me and move on.

This is all so hard for me because my dad was an alcoholic, and it destroyed our relationship and his life.

Daddies are supposed to walk their daughters down the aisle, see them get their college diploma, become grandfathers who spoil their grand babies. But that was not my reality, and I mourned the loss of the daddy I wanted and needed a long time ago. And now I have to mourn that loss all over again and it hurts. It hurts more than I ever though it could, given the huge time and distance between us.

I closed my heart to him for good almost 14 years ago—I just couldn't handle the constant heartbreak. Letting him in, forgiving him, over and over and over again, only to be devastated when he fell off the wagon yet again. It hurt too much.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy at all. I tried many times to mend fences with him. He went to prison in 1998 for drunk driving (finally!) and it took all the strength I had, but I visited him there, several times, in an effort to reconnect because he was actually sober. But he wasn't out for more than a month before he fell off the wagon again. That was the last straw. I was emotionally unstable (in treatment for clinical depression) and I could not handle the heartbreak one more time.

I thought that was it—I had ultimately made my peace with the estrangement and told myself he was essentially dead to me. I did my best to bury my feelings. I didn't want to talk to him or hear about him. Ever. And it worked like that for the most part.

But now, in his passing, so many feelings have resurfaced, and I'm really struggling with them. I'm still holding onto a lot of anger, disappointment and sadness. I loved my dad, but when he was drunk, he was a totally different person. Thankfully he was never abusive in any way, but I HATED what the alcohol turned him into. It became really hard to separate my hatred for this horrible disease from him—they were so intertwined. I hit a breaking point in high school and I started hating him. I had to put up a wall to protect myself, and hating him was easier than loving him and repeatedly getting my heart broken by the one man who's always supposed to be there for a girl. I know alcoholism is a disease, but as a child I could never understand why I (and my mom and sister who all loved him dearly) wasn't enough to make him happy and motivate him to stay sober. People did it all the time, why not him??

I made my decision before I had kids, but I stuck by my decision because of the kids, once they were in the picture. I knew there was no way I could in good conscience put them through even a sliver of the disappointment or heartbreak I went through.

In time, much of the raw hatred faded. I was still sad, disappointed and angry at times but mostly just indifferent. He was out of my life and I was okay with it. Even better for it, I truly believed (and still do).

But I've found, surprisingly, that it's really hard for me to hate a dead person, especially knowing how much he suffered. And especially knowing that no matter what, he loved me. My sister reassured me that he asked about me and talked proudly of me all the time. That gives me some peace, that he didn't fault me for doing what I had to do to protect myself. And now that I'm a parent, I do truly believe that. I don't know that I could have been convinced before I had kids, but with the perspective I have now, I know that there was nothing I could do to make him stop loving me, because that's how I feel about my own kids.

As far as closure, that about as much as I'll get. I chose not to see him in his final days because I don't believe I could have been strong enough to talk to him or see him like that. But that means I'll never hear him tell me he's sorry. As much as I didn't think I needed that, I realize now that I do.

Forgiveness won't be easy, but I think that's all I can try to do at this point.

This is so hard.


Oddly enough, I woke up at 5:08am the morning he passed, an hour at which I'm very rarely up. I was still awake at 5:20am as he drew his last breath, unbeknownst to me at the time. I didn't get an overwhelming sense of him at the time—I figured I was just still upset about knowing he was going to die and anxious/excited for the beach trip, and that's why I was unable to fall back asleep. While I'll never actually know, I'd like to think that he was thinking of me as he lay dying. Somehow that's comforting to me.


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