family

A Decade.

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

 

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Sorrow and Joy

Those of you who know me personally know that I’ve been through a “rough patch” of life lately. I call it a rough patch because we all have them; mine are no worse or better than yours. They come and they go and they never happen at an ideal time.

To make a long and sad story shorter and less difficult for you to read and me to write, I lost two very important people in my life in the same week last week. My dad’s mom, who fought a long and graceful battle with both cancer and Alzheimer’s, is finally at peace in a new and healthy body. [As an aside: I find Alzheimer’s to be an awful and bittersweet disease when it comes so late in life as it did with my grandmother. I have started to sincerely question how aware I want to be of my body and mind’s deterioration as it comes to me in my sunset years.] Her passing was not a surprise, so while it is never easy to lose someone who has been such an important influence in your life, grieving for the loss of my grandmother had been going on for quite some time already. However, my mother’s father is a different story. Since I’ve never had much of a father figure in my own life, Poppy (as we knew him) was the default. He was sarcastic, charming, a leader, and had lived many, happy chapters of life. He was a veteran, an engineer, a father, the best Poppy, a farmer, a raconteur, a church Deacon, and a simple man. He was the best man. The end of his life came swiftly, unexpectedly (to me, anyway – perhaps it was denial), and it still hits me like a knuckle-punch to the temple.

I have lost plenty of people before. Close ones. My dad died when I was 22 years old. Here Maria Popova summarizes Joan Didion’s view on grief: Joan Didion on Grief. Never have I read anything more spot-on in the description of loss, or at least how it feels to me. One minute you’re as collected as a museum, but the next you find yourself thinking “I’ll be sure to tell Poppy about that when…” and suddenly curled up in the fetal position, vomiting tears, mad at yourself for forgetting, again, and wondering if it will ever not hurt anymore, knowing it won’t, and thinking that if you don’t pull yourself together right this second you never will. Waves of this. Then fewer waves. Sorrow is hard. But it’s life.

Then I was watching TV, because I do a lot of that lately, and some scripted wedding something or other came on. The vows made mention of something like “…two shall be one, sorrow shall be halved, and joy shall be doubled.” Rewind. Sorrow shall be halved. Rewind. Joy shall be doubled. Rewind. Sorrow. Shall. Be. Halved.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis. He’s my jam. He talks a lot about love. The man does not sugar coat it. I couldn’t agree with him more. After all, I’m writing this blog as a misadventured spinster, no? It’s never been that I don’t have faith in love; I do. I simply don’t buy into the “falling” part. The part where you sell someone a bill of goods. The part where you act like someone you’re not, and they do the same, and then suddenly you’re married and you hate each other because you’ve married a stranger. [I’ve never been married but I see it all. the. time.] I want to skip that part and get to the meat. I like the meat. I love the meat. [Now I want steak.] I love the part where you love each other for who you are, not who you pretend you are. All of that digression was simply to say that I avoid dating [like the plague], because of the bill of goods. And C.S. Lewis nailed it when he said this about love in Mere Christianity:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably was never was or ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

So the point of this is to say that for so long I’ve carried my own burdens, because I’ve been happy to. Happy to be a spinster. Happy to be single. I still am. But, the idea of half the sorrow and double the joy is enough to consider the alternative, the quieter love, even if it means having to be “in love” first.