It’s 3:14 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I went to write in my journal and thought, “Hey, why not catch that blog of yours up?”
A purge straight from the pain and the brain. This is going to be a very personal deep-dive, so if you’re here for sexy werewolf love stories, skip this one.
It seems impossible that my last post was in 2020, but then these last couple of years seem impossible. Covid. Now monkeypox. Alex Jones finally getting a fraction of what he deserves. Kansas standing up and securing reproductive rights. Man there’s a lot happening. And so much has happened since March 2020.
My darling cat Kali died in July 2020. We still talk about her all the time. She was a pure soul and I needed her more than I realized. She had a way of grounding me that I don’t have now that’s she’s gone. I know people make jokes about emotional support cats, but she really was emotional support for me. She was with me all day, every day. Back when my monitor was a CRT, she’d climb on the top and hang there while I sat and wrote the day away. She’d hop down when she got overheated and would cool off on the floor not even two feet away, just to repeat the cycle until she was hungry and I had to get up to feed her.
Tonight though, something else has been keeping me awake. I’ve been in a bad cycle of watching TV on the couch to unwind, but I watch it until I fall asleep. Tonight while watching Buffy was such a moment. I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer series for a couple of weeks now, at the insistence of my friend Kristen. I’m finally into the Spike episodes. Anyway, on such nights my husband comes and gently wakes me up and nudges me upstairs, at which time I may be too groggy to do anything but fall onto the bed, or I may wash my face and brush my teeth and then be all awake and minty. A combination of this minty awakeness and the fact that today a memory came up on Facebook – a once happy memory – has been keeping me from sliding back into the slumber that I had so easily found on the couch.
I asked my husband a couple of months ago, “Why is it so easy for me to fall asleep on the couch? Why doesn’t that transfer to the bed?” His answer was brilliant in its simplicity, “There’s no expectation for you to fall asleep on the couch.” My solution to test that theory? I lay on top of the covers, with my head at the foot of the bed like I’m on a couch and not expecting to fall asleep, just watch some TV and chill. And you know what? That shit worked.
But no TV on in the bedroom tonight, my darling had fallen asleep and I didn’t want to wake him–so it was hard to turn off my brain. My old doctor always used to tell me what a bad idea a TV in the bedroom is, but finally after all these years I’ve gotten one, and it’s been good for me. People who don’t have anxiety surrounding their bedtime have no idea how much an anxious brain needs distraction.
I ended up crying and waking him up anyway. You see, my dad got sick with Covid at Christmas last year, and he stayed sick until he died a very scary death in mid-January. Facebook brought up a six-year memory today–a video of him in physical therapy standing after his motorcycle accident, which honestly left him with a lot of pain (and he hated taking pain medication) and some heartbreaking disabilities that would linger. I’m told by the time he died of covid he was in regular pain from these injuries.
I don’t have any of my father’s worldly possessions he’d been holding onto – because his new wife wouldn’t give them to us. That is a whole blog post by itself.
His relationship with her had my full blessing when I’d first met her, but as soon as they were married it felt like a wedge was being driven between my dad and his daughters and grandchildren. My sister and I loved my dad. My sister is probably the person who spent more hours with my dad than anybody else in his life – because they worked together.
My sister and my oldest daughter and I were NON-FUNCTIONAL when he passed, for weeks. I don’t think I could smile until mid-March when my husband decided I needed to get out of the house for my birthday.
My dad wouldn’t vaccinate and he wouldn’t wear a mask and people in his life encouraged that attitude. I cannot tell you the level of blame and regret I have for my part in telling my dad that I was happy for him if he was happy. I had no idea how quickly it would all go south.
At some point after he stopped masking and the year before he got covid, out of frustration, I sent him an angry letter. I didn’t feel like he cared how worried we all were. Especially since at first he was taking it all so seriously, masking, checking on us, but the tone changed a few months in. It caused so much stress for me I can’t really even explain how worried I was and I lashed out, upset. I keep wanting to go back to read the letter I sent, to see if I was truly awful, but even just writing about it right now it makes me cry. Just the IDEA of it, makes me cry. I don’t know if I can ever look at it, but I do plan to publish it with my memoir I am writing about my complicated and somehow simple love I shared with my father. He was a damaged man. Damaged by war. Damaged by a toxic patriarchal society. Damaged by a twisted and toxic form of Christianity. During his funeral, which I watched virtually via a Facebook livestream, the preacher boasted–with my father’s body lying in front of him in a casket–that they didn’t mask at their church. I recorded it. I have video. He came off as bragging in my opinion.
I’ve gone over in my head hundreds of times how I could have handled all of it differently. I’ve had long discussions with my sister, my therapist, my husband–was I a bad person? Should I have just not cared he wouldn’t get vaccinated? Why did I let it become a point of contention? Why did I get so upset when he sent me a birthday card? What should I have done to make it better? Their answer over and over is that he was surrounded by people that made it hard for any of us to be close to him. Even the one that had always been the closest to him – my oldest.
About six months before he died I had become quite urgent in therapy about trying to reconcile with my father. My therapist would later point out how urgently I was trying to heal that rift as though I had intuited what was to come. But his life he’d started with the new partner made it impossible to reach him – literally and figuratively. There was now a gatekeeper was the feeling among those who had been close to him before.
My family and my sister’s and my daughters all made it to my dad’s burial in Quantico where he was buried with honors. The staff there didn’t know we were family and only treated his new wife, her son, and his girlfriend like family. This was excruciating for us, but we all just remained quiet about it and stood there and sobbed. Even my younger daughter (who is late into her 20s) who isn’t much of a crier, was sobbing. They folded that flag and gave it to his widow. My family had lived on that base twice when I was little. I don’t know if his new wife had ever even been to Quantico before. It all felt so wrong. After that preacher from the funeral had some words to share as if he had an in with God, we waited for people to clear out and we took a moment – our literal only moment that was ours – and my husband sang a Scottish dirge and we said our goodbyes to him and that was it. The best closure we would get.
I wanted his ceremonial sword. It hung in our house for as long as I can remember. We were told we get nothing. But worse than that she told is in a way that made it sound like he didn’t want us to have anything. His will did reflect he’d put her in charge, which I fully understand and that’s how it is for my will as well. That’s not the same as saying you don’t want somebody to have something.
My sister and daughters believe the idea put forth that he didn’t want us to have anything was an unmitigated twisting of what was true – which was that my dad was never much for material possessions and that he trusted her to be good to us upon his passing. His new wife’s assertions were in direct conflict with our beliefs about our dad and were hard to reconcile with the images flashing in my brain after he was gone: softball practice when I was nine, fishing together on a hot Sunday, warming my small frozen feet between his hands when I’d come in from the snow, calling me in the middle of the night from Okinawa when he was stationed there. And so much more, like a slideshow flashing through my mind’s eye. He taught me how to flick that sword to my shoulder when I was about nineteen. I never did get it quite right. My daughter went to her house after he died and bought my dad’s truck from her. She wouldn’t give us anything but she’d sell my daughter something. My daughter said some of his awards and things were in a basement on a box. Things we wanted. But weren’t allowed to have.
We don’t know what’s happened to his things. Maybe they’re floating around some thrift stores. Maybe she sold them. Maybe she gave them to her son’s girlfriend. I just don’t know and probably never will.
My husband also lost his father to covid. Christmas Eve 2020, just about a week before he was to get some of the first rounds of vaccines out there – he was in a nursing home and that nursing home lost people. My husband loved his dad, but he wasn’t close to his like I was with mine and our mourning has been vastly different. At times I feel guilty, like I’m sucking up all the grieving energy, but he tells me it’s ok.
While I he was in the hospital with covid we were texting each other. I would send him an old photo or tell him I was making homefries for breakfast (which he taught me how to make). Little things, just to keep him motivated to heal. Eventually I am told his phone was removed by his wife because it was disturbing and exhausting him. We had no real way to talk to him after that unless we called the hospital and we were too afraid to stress him out so we tried to wait it out a bit, but it wasn’t long after that he was gone.
But not too long before his phone was cut off and he passed, he sent this. He meant “amends.” And it’s the one thing I keep going back to when I want to clear my mind of all the rage and resentment. Of all the hurt and blame. I go back to this, and it clears out the haze surrounding what some people wanted me to think, and what was real.
Important lessons from my experience:
1 – If you love your parent and want to be in their life, don’t give a potential partner your stamp of approval out of some sense of being supportive or minding your own business. I wanted my dad to be happy and he seemed happy when he met her, but what I didn’t realize was how emotionally vulnerable he was to this person. We are of the opinion that if my sister and my oldest and I had not given our stamp of approval, he wouldn’t have continued on with that relationship, he would still be living near my sister and my daughter, and there is a very good chance he would have continued to wear a mask and get vaccinated. The man had been vaccinated a million times in the military and he cared more about what we wanted for him before his these changes in his life.
2 – Ask your parent to have you marked down somewhere in legal documents as a person who can talk to the hospital and make decisions even if their new spouse is available.
3 – Having a hard relationship with your parent doesn’t make you a bad person. What is your motivation? Did you intend harm? This is the key! My therapy had to turn from reconciliation with my dad, to reconciling my upset feelings towards him for doing this “to us.” Was I a bad person for not just swallowing my concerns? Was I a bad person for not just accepting his views, which he felt the need to tell me, even when I asked him not to? Turns out that what matters is intent. For me, our rift, my angry letter – all of it was out of concern for him and his wellbeing, my intent was to protect him. I was afraid he was going to catch covid, die on a ventilator in the hospital regretful and scared. And that is exactly what came to pass.
4 – Grief is RELENTLESS and will lay you low. It will come in waves. It will knock you on your ass and make you keep wishing this and wishing that but feeling smothered by the fact that none of that wishing will do a damn thing. Let the grief happen. Do what you have to in order to process it. Write. Paint. Run. Cry. Whatever you have to do to get through each of those grief waves. They will get a little less overwhelming and happen less and less over time When my dad first died I was sure there was no way I could ever be happy again. It felt definite and final. And as it got futher from his death if I had moments where I wasn’t thinking of him I felt so guilty, like I was forgetting him and if I was forgetting him it meant he would disappear altogether. I only made it through with the support of friends and family promising me it would settle down. It will, but it will take a while.
5 – The only thing worse than your own grief is watching helplessly as your child is drowning in grief for a loss that felt avoidable.
I’ve begun notes on my memoir, but I can’t say when it will be out. Whenever I try to write it I get overwhelmed with sadness. I know at some point that won’t be true, and that is when I will know it’s time to write it.