I can’t believe that today is two years that you have been gone. There hasn’t been a single day that has passed that I haven’t thought about you. So many things remind me of you- hearing Beast of Burden on the radio, an advertisement for that green Rolex, a Facebook memory of you buying your recliner from years ago…
My dad has been so sick lately. He’s been in the hospital four times in just a month and a half. Today- right now- he’s having an exploratory heart procedure to see if the doctors can pinpoint what is causing the majority of the problems he’s experiencing. It feels like a weird coincidence that my dad is having a heart procedure on the same day you died of a heart attack. I joked to my sister that maybe you would watch over him to protect him, but I know you weren’t his biggest fan. I think you will do it anyway- for my mom and my sister and for me.
The heart is such a fragile thing, in every way. It is so easy to break and so difficult to repair. My dad keeps getting these second (and third and fourth…) chances. I wonder what would have happened if you had just one more chance, too.
My best friend’s mother passed away very suddenly. Growing up, she was like a second mother to me. I always called her “Ma” and she always called me a special nickname. It happened so quickly…like after years of battling one health problem and thriving, she was diagnosed with a second, unrelated disease and within 48 hours she was gone.
Almost every single loss I have suffered in my life has been unexpected and sudden. A good friend died by suicide. He jumped off a bridge in NYC. My ex boyfriend, M., of ten years had a heart attack and was found dead in his apartment. I have lost other friends to drug overdoses, which even though you know they are struggling with addiction, you still think they will ultimately survive. The only deaths I have dealt with that were not huge shocks were the loss of my grandparents, who were in their 90s…and even with them, they were in such good health for their age and died peacefully in their sleep.
It is really hard to write this without sounding and feeling so selfish, but the loss of my Ma has made me feel so scared to lose my own parents. My father’s health has been so bad for so long that it is easy to think that he will continue to beat the odds. I literally can’t even think about something happening to my mother without feeling ill. Watching my best friend go through having to tell her children that their Nanny is in heaven and plan a funeral was heartbreaking. I honestly don’t know how she got through it and is making it through each day as a functional person.
I logically know that eventually my mom and dad will no longer be here with us. And I understand that it is the circle of life and children are supposed to outlive their parents. I just honestly don’t know how I will be able to get though it. I had a complete breakdown with my panic disorder over the summer and contemplated going to a mental institution to get help and literally nothing was even wrong in my life (I mean that’s a whole other story really…) I can’t imagine how I will survive losing my mother.
I feel comforted by the fact that my Ma was such a religious and spiritual person. I really am not, but I do believe that she is in heaven, reunited with her husband, and is no longer in pain. But she was only 64…she was supposed to be here to watch her grandchildren grow up. Life just seems very unfair sometimes. My mother just turned 75 and although she is so youthful and energetic and healthy, I am so so scared of losing her.
My best friend confided in me that she feels so angry that her mom is gone. I remember after M. died, I read so much about the stages of grief and I was stuck in the anger phase for a really long time. It was like as long as I stayed mad- at his family, the circumstances, etc- I didn’t have to face the fact he was really, truly gone forever. I would never see him again. I would never talk to him again. That was it- the end of his life. At 37 years old, his story was over.
But I eventually started to work through it and I found an article about the Herschel Theory. It essentially explains grief like a big box with a “pain” button inside of it. There is a giant ball that is almost the size of the box and as it bounces around inside the box it always hits that button, and you always feel pain. As time goes on, the ball gets smaller and smaller. It can bounce off the walls of the box without always hitting the pain button, but occasionally it still hits it. That is when grief just hits you out of nowhere. That is how I feel now with M. I am not consumed by his death anymore- the ball is pretty small. But occasionally I just remember he is gone or a memory or something and I am flooded with grief. My best friend’s “grief ball” is humongous, but I hope that with time, she will be able to think of her mother and remember all the happy memories without the lightning bolt of pain from her loss or the deep, dull sadness of her mother’s absence.
And someday, I will be her in shoes and I dread that day so much. Today, my family went out to lunch- my dad, mom, sister, two nieces, and me. I can count on one hand how many times we have done that- certainly never when my dad was actively drinking. It just reminded me again why I made the decision I did to try to forgive my father and allow myself to make new memories with him and our family. I know one day when he is gone, I will be grateful to have them.
I needed to do an update on my MacBook and when I looked at the storage option, the majority of it was being taken up by my massive amount of photos. I transfer all my photos from my phone onto my computer and organize it all into folders based on the event, person, place, etc.
I realized that I really needed to go though them and purge to clear up some much needed space. One of the albums was all of the photos of when my exboyfriend was in the hospital. I documented everything- the tubes and machines, the ventilator, the collage of pictures and letters I hung up on the wall, the flowers my sister brought to cheer us all up, the mural painted above the bed…and many of his unconscious body. I know that probably violated some kind of law, but I needed proof to show him when he woke up. And I did show him. I showed him the photo from the day his parents arrived and his dad stood over his body, his head bowed in despair. I showed him the photo of the dozens of wires connected to his head to test his brain activity. I showed him the photo of our baby niece in the waiting room wearing her “world’s best uncle shirt”. I showed him all the photos and it did not have the impact I wanted. I expected him to be horrified, to cry, to remember anything from that month. But he didn’t. He said it felt like he was looking at photos of someone else.
My therapist asked me why I still kept the photos on my computer. I didn’t have a great answer except that they provided some kind of validation of what I (and be) went through. She gently pointed out that I did not need the photos for him anymore because he is gone. They are of no use to him or his family anymore. And I am sure that his parents can no more forget those memories when they close their eyes and think about them than I can. I realized those pictures aren’t serving any purpose anymore for me. They just bring back pain to look at them.
So, without over thinking it, I deleted them all. And I didn’t stop there. I went through all my pictures and erased all of our vacation photos (minus any of just him or the two of us) and all the photos of his family. I have no relationship with them at all and I know I never will again. His sister’s children are years older now and probably don’t even remember me. I hope that they remember him. I hope his mother still has photos of him in their house and they talk about him and reminisce about him the way my family does.
I don’t need the photos of that terrible time to remember it. I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to. And when I think about him, I want to remember happy times, not traumatic ones. I actually went even a step further and erased photos of my father after he had a stroke and some pictures from when he was actively drinking and damaged things in our house (holes in walls, broken vases, etc).
I have albums and albums full of happy things- my beautiful nieces, my cute house, my decorated classroom, my great friends. It was time to make space on my hard drive for more positive, future memories instead of letting bad, sad ones take up so much room. Now, if only it was as easy to erase them from my own memory as it was to remove them from my computer….
My father has been having some dental issues lately and had to have a tooth pulled. We were talking about it the last time I saw him and I was empathizing with him, as I have had dental woes of my own. He then casually asked me if I had my wisdom teeth removed. I told him that I did have all four removed when I was a teenager, to which he responded, “I don’t remember that at all.” I was SHOCKED because although I do jot remember a lot from my childhood, it is one of my most vivid memories.
Let me take you back and set the scene…I was probably around 16 and it was over the summer. My dentist recommended I get all four wisdom teeth removed, as they were all impacted. When an oral surgeon performs that surgery, you have to be put under anesthesia. I was very nervous. I had never had any kind of surgery or anesthesia before. I don’t remember anything from the actual surgery (although my mom tells a funny story about how in a panic I thought the surgeon removed my tongue when I woke up and kept touching it to see if it was still there).
What I do remember was how uncomfortable I was afterwards. I had stitches in four parts of my mouth, which was also packed with cotton. I had to take both antibiotics and codeine. When I got home, all I wanted to do was go to bed. My father, however, had different plans. He was incredibly drunk and a few hours later he began arguing with my mother. He told her, my sister, and me that we had to leave the house and forced us out of the front door, along with our dog. At that point the combination of anesthesia, painkillers and anxiety kicked in and I spent the next half hour vomiting into our front bushes. In case you ever wondered (although I doubt you have), throwing up with a mouth full of bloody cotton is absolutely disgusting.
Eventually, he must have allowed us to come back into the house, because I don’t really remember much else from that day or night. The bushes part is my most vivid memory.
Back to present day…I spent the whole rest of the night thinking about what my father said. I truly do believe that he honestly did not remember that night. It made me wonder how many other incidents that I remember, many of which scarred my childhood, he simply does not even remember.
For the past 30 years, there’s only been two times when my father was sober. One time was after he had a stroke and did not drink from October of 2013 to October of 2015 and the other time has been since December of 2019. During the first span, I remember having a conversation with him and mentioning a few of the things that he had done while he was drunk. It was clear that he was appalled and did not even believe that he was capable of doing those things. And I really didn’t even tell him any of the truly terrible things he did.
The immature part of me wants to stomp my foot and say that it’s not fair. If I have to live with all of these bad memories, he should be riddled with guilt and tormented by them also. Another part of me feels slightly comforted by the fact that because he does not remember doing these things, it was not really my dad doing them, rather it was this drunk monster that took over his body.
My mouth has long since healed and the memory of that experience has faded. Although I have to admit it did hurt a little to have him admit that he didn’t remember that day- added a little insult to injury.
Twice in the past couple of months, my father has been in the hospital. The first time, he was unable to breathe and was rushed in an ambulance and the second time, my mother drove him. Both times, he was admitted and stayed for several nights. Each time, it seems they find more things wrong with him, yet there has not been an “official diagnosis”. During these two visits, doctors found symptoms indicating that he has congestive heart failure and diabetes, in addition to his breathing problems. My father has not only been an alcoholic for over 20 years, but he has also been a heavy smoker since he was a teenager and this is what is causing the majority of his recent health problems.
My boyfriend said something to me the other day that caught me off guard, but made me think. He said, “you know, your dad is going to be in and out of the hospital from now until he dies.” I know that is most likely true and it is a sad reality. It is obviously difficult to think about losing a parent in any context. It sounds silly to say this, but it just upsets me that my father is most likely going to die due to his bad habits. He is not the victim of a genetic disease or a horrible accident…at one point in his life, he chose to smoke and chose to drink and then they became lifelong habits.
Not so coincidentally, my anxiety has been peaked lately. I talk to my mother every day, sometimes multiple times a day, usually just about everyday life like her gardening club, funny things my students said, our cats, etc. It is so hard to describe, even to people who know her well, how different her voice sounds on the phone when she calls to tell me that she called 911 for my dad. There is such a seriousness, yet I can tell that she is trying to stay calm, for both herself and for me. And now, I worry about her calling me every day and telling me that he is being rushed to the hospital again- or worse.
On Wednesday night, my mother called my cell. “I just called 911! An ambulance is coming to get your father. He said he can’t breathe. I think he’s having a heart attack!” Luckily, my sister was already at my house for dinner. It wasn’t even a second thought…we left our uneaten food on the table and jumped in my car. Even though it took us nearly an hour to get there, we actually got to the hospital before the ambulance did.
Long story short, my father had a tear in his intestines, which lead to a major loss of blood, which caused the shortness of breath. They gave him a blood transfusion and ran a ton of tests and he was in the hospital until yesterday. My sister and I stayed at the hospital that first night until almost 11 pm, waiting until he was stable and was admitted.
I called my father in the hospital on Friday during my lunch break to check on him. There were a couple of my coworkers in the teacher’s room when I called and he got so frustrated because he could “hear people talking in the background” that he yelled at me and then hung up on me.
He wrote his first nasty email within hours of being released on Saturday. He wrote that my mother is a “terrorist” because she threw away his cigarettes…that no one cares about anyone but themselves…that all we do is take…and that it’s “time for (my sister and me) to do something for him and PAY HIM BACK for everything he has done.”
I had not seen my father since Christmas before seeing him in the hospital. I sometimes felt guilty about that until I reminded myself that it was because of his actions that I chose not to be around him. He was nice to us when he was in the hospital and I thought to myself, “he must appreciate that we drop everything and run to be by his side when there is a medical emergency”…nope.
I do not mean to make light of a medical condition at all and I am not implying my dad is lying about that. Rather, what I mean by comparing my father to the story of the boy who cried wolf is that every time the little boy cried “wolf”, the townspeople reacted. They ran to him to see how they could help…and they were disappointed each time to find that nothing was wrong. Yet, they did not learn. They fell for the boy’s story every time.
That’s me with my dad. No matter how upset I am with him, no matter how much he has hurt me, if something happens and he needs his family, I am there. And afterwards, when instead of being grateful for us, he is mean instead, I retreat like the townspeople. I am disappointed with him and with myself and question why I fell for it again. I wonder why I still care so much. I use the excuse, “but he’s my father” to justify worrying about him.
So, like the townspeople, I am naive and caring and gullible. But, eventually, my father is going to end up like the boy. A day might come when he once again needs his family, and none of us will come. I am not really at that point yet, but honestly a person can only care for so long. Each time this happens, I think my dad will realize how lucky he is that after everything he has done to hurt his wife and daughters, that we are still there for him and he will change*.
*Isn’t that the definition of “insanity”…doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
I was showing my 11th grade students samples of a project in class today. One of the samples was one that I made years ago, which included photographs of my ex-husband. I have not assigned this project in years and I had forgotten that the sample included pictures from my “former life”. My one female student, who is lovely and very inquisitive, asked me innocently if seeing the photo from my wedding “bothered me”. I always try to be appropriately honest with my teenage students, so I answered her truthfully that seeing the photo did not really affect me anymore…that at one time it would have made me sad, but now that years have passed since my divorce, it feels like a lifetime ago.
It made me realize how far I have come since that time. I got divorced in 2010 and during the process I was a complete mess. That is no exaggeration. I cried every single day…for like a year. It did not help that I also lost both of my grandparents, my two favorite people, at the same time. I thought I hid it reasonably well at school during that time, but when I run into students I had that year, they always tell me how worried they were about me (I remember getting quite a few really thoughtful cards that year from kids). I remember people telling me then that I would get through it and that someday I wouldn’t care anymore or even get upset. I thought that was literally impossible. I really felt like I would NEVER get over my divorce. But those people were right and now it is such an afterthought in my life. I never think about it- or my ex-husband- at all, unless it is in a very specific context. It is funny how your life can be SO affected by something or someone and then one day you realize that it has been hours…days…weeks…months since you cried or even thought about it or them.
I kind of feel the same way about my father. He is still a big part of my life and he had such a negative impact on my childhood and teenage years, yet I really try not to think about the things that happened that much or what is going on now. I think over the years, I found a way to compartmentalize everything that happened with my family. I mean, at some point, I just had to find a way to not obsess about it or it would have literally drove me crazy. I haven’t seen my father since Christmas- for over six months. Part of me finds that really weird and part of me doesn’t care. I am so disappointed in him for starting to drink again that I had to find a way to separate myself from him. Whenever I start to think about it, I try to just *snapping my fingers* STOP. I do go to therapy, so it is not like I am naively ignoring my problems; I just simply know that I cannot let it affect my everyday life, which is often easier said than done. I know in AA, one of the mantras is to “let go and let God”. I am not religious, but I think that is sort of my mentality when it comes to my dad right now. I tried for so long to control him, my family, my life, everything…and ironically, the more I tried to control, the more out of control I felt. There’s just no point in worrying about things I cannot do anything about. If worrying and caring and crying could have saved my marriage, I wouldn’t be divorced. If worrying and caring and crying could make my dad stop drinking, he would be sober. I have wasted a lot of tears on people who didn’t deserve them.
Today is my dad’s birthday. Growing up, his birthday was always a day my sister and I dreaded because it seemed like he was extra nasty on “his day”. During the two years my father was sober, I actually enjoyed celebrating his birthday- we would BBQ or go out to brunch and he was pleasant and grateful for whatever gifts we gave him.
About 8 months ago, I found my dad the most perfect birthday card. My family has a joke about chihuahuas and I found a card in the shape of that dog. Even though it was so many months before his birthday, I bought the card anyway and saved it until now. (Side note: I LOVE cards and have several card boxes full of cards for any occasion!!)
Now that my father is drinking again, I don’t even want to give the card to him. I know that sounds very silly and petty, but it is not really about the card at all. It is about the fact that for the past couple of years I enjoyed having a relationship with my father and throughout that time, I enjoyed family holidays again and looked forward to other occasions to celebrate. I guess when I look back on myself buying that card eight months ago, I feel dumb for how naive I was. His sobriety (following a stroke) was so abrupt and so absolute (pun intended) that I just blindly believed it was going to last. I took that card out of the box today and just felt sad. The dad that I bought that card for is gone…once again replaced by the alcoholic I am all too familiar with. And that’s really nothing to celebrate.
Sometimes I wonder if it would be better- or easier- if my father did not get sober for two years. He has been an alcoholic since 1990, with the exception of the 24 months after he had a stroke in 2013. He stopped drinking virtually overnight and stayed sober for a full two years. In 2015, almost to the day of his stroke, he started drinking again. It was a great two years and during that time I felt like I had a “normal” family and I made a lot of effort to reestablish a relationship with him. I enjoyed talking to him and even began to look forward to previously dreaded holidays. Just as suddenly as he stopped, he started drinking again and my psychotic, belligerent dad returned with a vengeance.
I’m not sure what is worse…having my old, sober dad I remembered from when I was ten years old back and then losing him again or having him have never stopped drinking at all. I am grateful to have had that time when he was sober. I’m glad that my boyfriend got to see the good qualities in my dad that I still remembered from when I was little. I’m relieved that my mother had a break from his craziness during that time.
On the other hand, it feels like I was given a gift and then it was snatched away from me. I was so numb to him and his behavior before his stroke…I could so easily ignore his insults and nasty emails and screaming voicemails. I developed a pretty thick skin over the years of him being drunk. Or perhaps it was more that I just got used to it (sadly). Now, when I talk to him on the phone, I feel so much more affected by it. It’s not as easy to shrug off as it was a few years ago.
I try to act like it isn’t a big shock that he started drinking again. It was just a matter of time, right? But deep in my heart, I did let myself believe that my mother and sister and I had all suffered enough and that we deserved his sobriety (I know that isn’t the way it works, but I desperately wanted it to be true). The famous saying is: “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. Am I suffering more now because I have been reminded about the family and the life I could have had if my father didn’t become an alcoholic when I was twelve years old?
So what’s worse…losing my dad to the bottle a second time or never experiencing those two years of him not drinking? I honestly don’t know.
I think my dad is drinking again. A few weeks ago, I talked to him on the phone in the morning and then again in the afternoon and when I hung up the second time, I literally said out loud to my boyfriend, “I think he sounded drunk”. I pretty much dismissed the idea because he had a stroke two years ago (which led to his miraculous and unexpected sobriety) and so he does slur a little bit still. But I also dismissed it because- to be honest- after two years of him not drinking, I got used to him being sober. For the first year of his sobriety, I answered each call from him with that slight feeling of anticipated dread that it would be the time he would be drunk. By the end of two years of sobriety, it shocked me how quickly I took for granted that he would be sober. I guess what made it easier to acclimate was his complete and very abrupt stopping. He was a horrible alcoholic one day…had a stroke…and from that day forward did not drink. It was like a light switch was turned off. Just like that…sober.
Now a little over two years later, that phone call that I stopped dreading finally happened. There wasn’t anything obvious…just a slight difference in tone. Really just something I can’t put my finger on that only the child of an alcoholic would even notice or know to listen for. What was more worrisome was a couple of days later, my sister sent me a text with a screenshot of one of my dad’s emails. She wrote, “do you think he’s drinking again?!?!?” I immediately called her and told her my suspicion from the previous phone conversation with him. We saw my mother that weekend and questioned her. She just retired and is home all day with him and would certainly be the first to see the red flags. She right away denied it and said she “would know” if he was drinking. I decided to let it go- it was only a brief suspicion- and I wasn’t ready to confront the possibility that he could have fallen off the wagon.
Today, I got an email early this morning from my father. In it, he included that my mother was mad at him because she found “a bottle of vodka under a cabinet” and that it was “several years old”. My heart sunk. Memories flooded back of being 13 years old and frantically searching for bottles of vodka in my dad’s various hiding spots. I remember pouring part of one down the sink, the liquid burning my nostrils, and replacing the vodka with water…hoping it was diluted enough to prevent him from getting drunk. My sister and I both called my mom and both told her the same thing- if he is drinking and she stays, she is on her own this time.
I can’t go through this again. I can’t relive the horrible events from my childhood. I can’t stand by and watch and listen to him abuse us and my mother. When I was 12 and he became an alcoholic, I had no choice. I do now. I just can’t do it. Even just thinking about how he used to act- the horrible screaming on voicemails, the nasty, degrading emails, the ruined (and often frightening) family holidays- causes me to feel anxious. I have made such an effort to become closer to him over these past two years. But if he chooses alcohol over his family for a second time, it is going to undo all of that and I will cut him out of my life. I just can’t do it.