Today marks 10 years since my dad passed away. If that isn’t proof that life just keeps chugging, I don’t know what else possibly could be. The cliches do apply: it seems like yesterday, it seems like an eternity has passed, #allthefeels.
For those of you who are recent entrants into the mess that is Jess: welcome, and here’s the long and short of it. My dad was a severe alcoholic for my entire life before he passed, which equates to at least 22 years of his. I’ve never pretended to be the only person with a jerk or an addict for a parent so we’ll suffice it to say that my childhood was your average less-than-awesome experience and I try not to let it bother me too much, especially since I never knew any different. I had many blessings to be thankful for, including an awesome older brother who stepped in when he needed to.
I’ve waffled about posting this at all because it seems like a pretty downer topic, but it’s important to me, you’re all important to me, and I’ve learned a lot about this little thing called life as a result of losing a parent. Here are a few things I didn’t know before he died or I’ve learned along the way that I think are worth sharing:
- My dad made a series of really bad choices that, ultimately, lead to his death. It was a slow, painful, and selfish death that everyone around him had to watch. He hurt a lot of people, in a lot of ways, along the way. Now that I’m 32 years old and my friends are married and have children of their own, I have a completely new perspective on my dad’s choices. I see that life is hard. Being financially, emotionally, and physically responsible for yourself and other human beings is the penultimate stressor. Balancing work, money, relationships, and being simply average-at-best at all of those things doesn’t come easy. I forgive my dad for snapping at us, for losing his temper, for being downright bad at life sometimes. Parents are people, too. My hope for all of my friends is that, if you’re struggling with any of the things that make #adulting so damn hard, don’t make it harder on yourself or your family by going down the rabbit hole. Ask for/accept help. I certainly wish my dad had accepted the help we offered myriad times because who knows where we’d be today.
- My first experience with death was when my uncle committed suicide in 1993. I was 10 years old and it hit me pretty hard. My grandfather passed in 2000, which was also quite difficult. I remember getting in his car the following week and seeing the package of peanuts in the cup holder he never traveled without and wondering, “Oh my God, what will we do with those? We can’t throw them away. We can’t eat them. I guess they’ll just have to stay there forever. Which means we can’t ever sell this car. Do peanuts go bad? Who cares. They’re staying. I’m just going to stay in the car. With the peanuts.” Death is weird and oh so final. When my dad died, though, it was oh so different. When I got the news from my brother, I was on a weekend trip in New Orleans. It hit me so hard, it was literally a physical blow that caused me to collapse on the ground in the middle of the French Quarter. Never, before or since, have I felt such a rush of frenetic emotion. Fast forward to the funeral and I wept (such ugly crying) more than I knew I was capable of. Later that day, I heard some of my friends talking (not realizing I could hear) about their surprise at my tearful reaction to my dad’s death, given how much I disliked him. At the time, their conversation broke my heart. Looking back, I get why they didn’t understand my grief. Death will cross everyone’s path, and just like my uncle’s death felt different than my grandfather’s which felt much different than my dad’s, no one else will understand the impact it has on you except you. My friends were right, to an extent: I wasn’t sad that I’d no longer have to worry about my dad driving drunk and killing an innocent family. I wasn’t sad that my dad and I wouldn’t be having the same arguments about his sobriety over and over again. I wasn’t sad I’d no longer have to hear his slurred/drunk speech. However, my friends were very, very wrong about my grief. When my dad died, with him died any hope for his recovery. Gone was the hope that he’d one day walk me down the aisle. The hope that he’d get sober and we’d go on vacations out West together died. The hope that he’d meet his grandchildren died. It was all gone. There was now no. chance. Moral of the story: let your people grieve and never, ever make an assumption about how anyone should feel about death, including yourself.
- When you suffer a loss, the most common thing you’ll likely hear is “it will get better with time.” Sometimes I think people tell you this because they don’t know what else to say. For the longest time, when people saw me after my dad died, they didn’t even say anything at all, they simply looked at me and tilted their head. At first, the head-tilt sent me spiraling into an automatic breakdown of tears. Over time, it made me mad. Eventually, my brother and I both found it comical. So yes, perhaps time has a funny way of changing your perspective on things, even death, but I’m not sure if it gets better. No, it doesn’t physically hurt like it used to. But I still get mad about how things could be, how they should be. When my nephews were born something, someone was missing. I get angry knowing that, one day, my brother will have to explain to his sons why they only have one grandfather. I get sad wondering if there’s any possibility that my dad could have gotten his act together at this point, or what if he had never been an addict at all. My mom and I are completely different creatures. I’m fairly certain that if my dad hadn’t made all those bad decisions, he and I would have been thick as thieves – I could have had a parent to relate to. It’s such a damn shame that we’ll never know. He’ll never see that I have a master’s. I’ll soon have my PhD. I have a good job. And a house. And a car. I have the most wonderful people in my life who matter to me. I don’t settle. I’m doing better than he ever did. I’ve made the best of all the time that has passed. Maybe in spite of him.
Thanks for sticking around to read this one. I pinky swear the next one will be puppies and rainbows.