Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Time heals all wounds.... sorta

So I was sitting at my computer the other day, surfing the net, when something reminded me of my father. I can't even remember now what it was, but before I knew it, I had burst into tears. I suppose it's understandable to grieve for your deceased father - but my father died 15 years ago. And I'm not talking "tears-running-down-your-face-after-a-memory" crying, I'm talking full-fledged, gut-wrenching sobbing. It came out of nowhere, and it really shocked me. If you asked me on any given day, I'd tell you that I am 100% completely over it. I guess my heart knows better than my head.

When I was a teenager, my parents divorced. My mom discovered that my dad had been stealing money from his company to support his cocaine habit. Despite the fact that she was a teenager in the '60's, my mom was the complete opposite of a hippie! She was a good girl, she was the 2nd oldest of 10 children and learned responsibility from a young age. She helped support her family, she grew up quickly. My dad, on the other hand, was basically spoiled rotten. His family had money, and he never wanted for anything. When he graduated high school, he got a job at the company that his father had founded. My dad didn't want to grow up - before he knew it, he was married at 21 and had 3 children by the time he was 26 years old. By the time he was 30, he had his first heart attack.

When he had his first heart attack, everyone was shocked. He was so young, healthy, etc. I remember it happening in our home, and we were terrified. The ambulance came and took him away, and when we visited him in the hospital, he looked like he had aged 10 years overnight. Although the details are sketchy to me now (I think that your mind does you a favor by blocking out some of the most hurtful memories), it wasn't long before my mom realized that things were much worse than she had imagined. While my father was home "sick" and could not work, my mom worked 3rd shift to support the family, dad collected his disability or social security check. I can remember getting up at night if I couldn't sleep, and my father would get mad - I think now that he was probably doing drugs while my mom was at work, and was afraid that he'd get caught. One time, my mom found a giant bag of white powder and asked my dad what it was. He told her that it was chlorine for the pool. She believed him. I'm sure she just WANTED to believe him, and she was naive. She had never even seen cocaine before. Another time, my mom washed her sheets and beddings, and when my father came home, he flipped out on her. She thinks that he must have had something hidden and she had either washed it (HA!) or he was worried that she would have seen it.

My parents finally divorced when I was about 14 years old. My father chose a life of drugs and friends over his family. By then, I knew what my father was doing, and I hated him for it. My mother was so good about not telling us things, but you can only hide so much. I would get mad at her for not telling me, but now I am glad that she didn't. It's too much for a 14-year-old to deal with, it was hard enough dealing with what I figured out on my own. My father had taken off to California when he first left us, and did not call or contact us for about a year. The following Christmas, he called. I happened to answer the phone, and when I heard his voice, I just burst into tears and threw the phone down. I'll never forget that day. My father's family was there celebrating Christmas with us, and his brother's wife, my aunt Patty, put her arms around me and consoled me. I was so angry, hurt, confused. How can a man do this? How could he basically abandon us and then call on Christmas and expect.... what, exactly? Joy? Happiness? Christmas freaking cheer? Are you kidding me?

He came back to Worcester shortly after that, and I refused to see him. My brother and sister would stay with him, I refused. He'd come to our house to visit, and I'd lock myself in my bedroom and blast my stereo until he was gone. To this day, I am so thankful to my mom for not forcing me to see him. I could not deal with it, period. I began to experiment with drinking, drugs, and sex. I skipped school and got into fist fights. But I also got a job and contributed a portion of my paycheck to my mom to help pay bills. My mom continued to work 3rd shift, which was a blessing and allowed us to keep our home - but I took advantage of it by sneaking out at night or having friends over after she left for work.

I graduated from high school in 1990, after staying back in the 10th grade - which was fine with me, it meant that I got to spend the next 3 years with my sister and we would graduate together. My father attended several rehab programs and flitted in and out of our lives during this time. He remarried a woman he met in rehab (whose drug of choice was heroin - you will see the reason I mention this below) and my mom remarried a wonderful guy she worked with, Paul. By the time I was 21 years old, I had not spoken to nor heard from my father in a few years. I was living with Jeremy, who was my boyfriend at the time (my hubby now) and I was about 5 months pregnant with Trevor. One Sunday morning, after sleeping late, I woke up to my answering machine blinking furiously. My sister had been calling all morning and leaving messages - apparently, our father was in the hospital and not expected to make it much longer. Despite the fact that he had basically abandoned us, he was still our father. We went to the hospital to see him - he was 44 years old, but he looked about 70. He had abused his body so badly that it gave up on him. He was lying in that hospital bed on feeding and breathing tubes, with his eyes wide open. I will never forget it - I held his hand and I said "Dad, I'm having a baby" and he squeezed my hand, and a tear fell out of his eye. He died that night. The doctors told my aunt that "he was doing so well on the methadone." *sigh* He died from heart failure along with several other organs failing.

The calling hours and funeral were awful - my brother refused to go, but my sister and I went. We hardly knew anyone - it was such a strange feeling being in the receiving line of my father's funeral and not knowing half the people who came through. Every familiar face was a comfort and I can remember a couple of his old friends hugging us and saying something to try to make us feel better, something like we should remember how he was before the drugs took control of him. But that was easier for them to do - they weren't 13-14 years old when the drugs took control. They had memories of him for 20-30 years, we hadn't even been alive for that long.

For the next year or two, I saw him EVERYWHERE. I'd be driving to the store and a car would drive by and I'd swear my father was driving. I'd be in the store and think I saw him walk around the corner, it was so weird. When I gave birth to my son that July, I gave him my step-father's name as his middle name - Paul. Paul is "papa" to my kids - he's the only grandfather they've ever known. Blood means nothing to them - who cares if Papa is not related to us by blood? He's Papa - he's related to us by love. He's been more of a father to me in the 20 years he's been married to my mother than my father was - as a matter of fact, he's been my father longer than my father was my father!

So anyway - it was 15 years ago in March that my father had died. As I said, I'm quite over it. But I guess I'm not, not really. I think that deep down, you don't ever get over such a deep, heart-breaking loss. My loss really started when I was about 14 and didn't end until I was 21, which is a long time to suffer. Not to mention the fact that I was trying to grow up during all of this! I guess I grieved in my own way, because there was no way I would have admitted that I was sad, upset, hurt, back then. I was too tough to cry, too strong to admit that I wanted, needed, my daddy. I would have laughed if someone told me that I was hurting, I would have told them that I hate that man, he is NOT my father. I even called him by his first name, James. But I know now that the drinking, the experimenting with drugs and sex, the fighting, it WAS my way of grieving, of hurting, of wanting someone to notice that I was NOT alright, despite my insistence that I was.

Because of the way my father hurt me, I always knew that the man I married and had kids with was going to be a good guy, and I was right. The guy I dated in high school was an alcoholic. I loved him, but I knew I would never marry him or have his children, so I broke up with him. I was drowning my own sorrows in alcohol, in the meantime. A year later, I met Jeremy. A few months later, we moved in together - a month later, I was pregnant. Maybe not the ideal situation, but it worked for us. And I stand by my philosophy that everything happens for a reason. I had to grow up once I got pregnant, no more partying and caring only about myself. I threw myself into that role and I loved it. My father died before Trevor was even born, which was perfect, really - I was finally able to grieve for him without hate. I forgave him, mostly, and could move on. I had Trevor and knew my life would never be the same. I knew that I was meant to be a mother, and that Jeremy was not going to leave our children like my father did his.

So life goes on and before you know it, fifteen years have passed. Wow - fifteen YEARS! Time does heal, but I guess it doesn't completely cure. Because I can now talk about my father without feeling sad, mad, or hurt. So the fact that I completely broke down sobbing the other day, well, I guess that's just my heart's way of reminding me that even though I'm doing OK, I'm never going to be completely over it. And maybe that's a good thing - maybe if I could get over it completely, I wouldn't be the person that I am. I loved my father and he hurt me - and I never had a chance to reconcile that. I don't think I'd want to be the kind of person who doesn't care, even if it hurts to care.

AND - fifteen years later, I'm still married to Jeremy. We have 2 TEENAGERS (gasp!) and we've had our ups and downs. We've fought, we've struggled, we've been through a lot - together. No matter what, I wouldn't change a thing. Everything I've been through has taught me a lot and made me stronger, made me who I am today. And I think I kinda like that girl. I think I'll keep her. And to all my friends and family - thanks for sticking with me for the long ride. I love you all and I wouldn't be the person I am today without you, either. So thanks for that. And the next time I'm having a nervous breakdown, remind me of my own philosophy, OK? Everything happens for a reason - EVERYTHING. Peace.


  1. Hey girl - I kinda like the girl you are too! I am just sorry it took that kind of pain though.

    I was 16 when my brother died and I would "see him" places too. I thought I was weird and never told anyone. It wasn't until I took a graduate course on Death and Dying that I learned that was not unusual. So you are OK in my book!

    hugs, Linda

  2. What a difficult post that must have been to write. I am so sorry for your pain. Just a note, my "grandpa" wasn't my "blood" grandpa either, but he was the only "real" grandpa I ever had. Sometimes blood isn't thicker than water.

  3. Your insight and thoughtful words are a pleasure to read Jenn! Thanks for sharing. Life brings tough times sometimes and it takes a special kind of person to process it in a positive way, like you seem to be doing a good job at!

    Hugs, Mia