My 2 year vacation, part 3

a ship at sea adrift

The biggest catalyst for finding my authenticity and living even remotely comfortable in my own skin began when I lost my dad.  The series of life decisions I made in the days and weeks immediately following his death clearly show I was, in many ways, a ship adrift in the sea of life, no anchor, no captain, no navigational charts, no charted course, merely going wherever the waves and storms of life took me.

There’s no way I could tell my story without this crucial life altering event.

I’ve learned that sometimes you must go backward to go forward.  If this happens, it’s important to remember it’s not the end of the world.

~~~

By the grace of God, I was in the room when my dad’s spirit left him.  I saw it happen with my own eyes, and nothing or no one will convince me otherwise.  That night, I learned there’s a miracle in death as there is in birth:  both are sacred.

The events that followed, were in some ways emotional torture.  I have often hoped that I would wake up and find that it all was simply a nightmare.  There were things that made no sense to me, things that deeply hurt me, things that all but destroyed me, and things that I truly regret.

~~~

Now we go backwards a year maybe 2.   My divorce was final and I came to realize that almost my entire circle of friends had crumbled almost immediately.  In retrospect I see many things so clearly, although at the time it was truly painful.  I had never felt so alone.

Up until my divorce, I would have said I had many friends who loved and cared about me.  I went to church with the majority of them and the others went to another church.  The problem is this particular religion believes divorce is immoral, and whoever is “wrong” in the divorce is going straight to hell.  I was awarded the title of the scapegoat.

~~~

Now we go backwards almost 2 decades to 6 days after my wedding.  My then husband and I were sitting outdoors at a restaurant, and the next day we would be heading back home as Mr. & Mrs.  As that thought swirled about in my mind, my chest tightened, I couldn’t breathe, my heart raced, and I felt trapped.  I said, “I can’t do this.  I’m not ready to be married.  I’m not ready to be a wife.”  His response, “You’ll be ok.  We’ll be ok.”  (Note – you may want to run, fast, far and not look back if your new bride says this. Just a thought.)

~~~

So when I lost my dad, there I was with a couple (I mean 2) people who were actually my friends and are still dear to my heart, divorced (the scapegoat), and feeling like I was being smothered with family and “friends”.

I believe when someone dies everyone means well, but what few seem to understand is we all process emotions differently.  Some of us need to be surrounded by people, while others need to be off by themselves.  This difference started a chain reaction of events that if I’m not careful, I can still get angry.

The day of my dads funeral, the following processional to the grave site and at the dinner that night, if anyone asked how I was, I said ok:  I knew what I was supposed to say.  It was expected that I would participate and go along with what everyone else decided: whether I agreed or not was irrelevant.  I’m a recovering people pleasing enabler, of course I would agree.  But, I was also expected to participate when no one let me know the plan the day after the funeral.  What I needed was some space and time.  One person seemed to understand.

I desperately needed some time to be alone in my own thoughts so I could breathe.  This was not the case for the rest of the family (except maybe my youngest son).  They all seemed to thrive on being together.

Early the next morning following my dads funeral, I got up before everyone except my mom and got ready to take off for the day so I could clear my head and take at least one deep breath.  When I was leaving that morning, mom asked if I knew when I’d be back.  No I did not. Just heading west.  She laughed, smiled and said, “ok, have fun.”

The rest of the entire family woke up later that morning, including my 2 sons, and asked my mom where I was and when I would be back.  My understanding now is she told everyone that I knew there was a plan to meet at the grave site early that afternoon so I’d be back before then.

The cold fact is no one had said one word to me.  I knew nothing of this plan.

When I wasn’t back “on time”, I was _______________________________ (fill in the blank). According to my family, I had abandoned them and I had abandoned my sons. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

My 2 year vacation, part 2

send ’em while I’m alive

On my life journey, there are some days that have vanished from memory.  There are other days that are etched on my soul in ways I could not have imagined.

~~~

The day after my dad left the hospital A.M.A., Hospice set up a bed in the living room of my parents house.  My sister, brother in law and children made the 30-40 minute trip everyday to care for dad.  I found out later, they had been caring for him for weeks taking him to radiation and various medical appointments.  I can say thank you a thousand times and more, but I don’t know if it ever conveyed the depth of heartfelt gratitude I have for their sacrifice and willingness to do whatever it took.  I’m also eternally grateful to my brother in law for taking care of dad in ways I know I never could.

Dad was miserable, he was barely hanging on.  He was on morphine and barely eating or drinking anything.  His body was shutting down.

For the next 6 days, he would wake up and fight to hang on, almost as if he couldn’t let go.  I don’t believe he was afraid of dying, I believe he was afraid to leave mom, my sister and me alone to figure out life without him.  In his way, he was still trying to care for his family.

Anytime dad woke up, he’d ask for mom if she wasn’t there in the living room.  She spent the majority of her time out in the back yard sitting at the picnic table or watering the grass, anything to get away from him.  (Why she stayed married to him is another subject for another day.)

My entire life, dad had said many times, “I don’t want any flowers at my funeral, I can’t see them when I’m dead.  If you wanna give me flowers, send ’em while I’m alive.”  That and, “just bury me in a pine box.”  (I’m guessing people often say they want to be buried in a pine box, because when we were picking his casket, a “pine box” was one of the most expensive options available.)

About a day later I found myself sitting alone with him.  He was sleeping and every so often he would wake up and kind of smile and look toward the television before going right back to sleep  All of a sudden, in a flash I remembered the flowers comments.  I got up and told him I would be right back.

I raced off to the closest florist and bought the biggest basket of red roses they had.  It was gorgeous!

I brought them in my parents house and showed dad the flowers.  He saw them and softly smiled.  I set the basket of roses on top of the T.V. so dad could see them anytime he opened his eyes.  I remember feeling good, like I was honoring my dad and his wishes about flowers: “send ’em while I’m alive”.

Then I realized, dad was only hanging on for us.  He needed us to let him go.

Sitting by him, by his bed I began praying and saying under my breath, dad, it’s ok, let our Father take you home.  It’s ok dad, let Him take you.  I remember being so scared to whisper those words, but I knew in my soul they were true and they were necessary.

I continued whispering those words, my prayer, until finally he let His Father take him home.

My 2 year vacation, part 1

It seems important

It seems important at this point to describe the reasons behind why I was gone for 2 years and lived in another state away from my sons: especially since I made it very clear in another post that I love these 2 young men with my entire heart.

In Spring 2005 I got a call from my sister, she told me dad was sick and that he wasn’t going to let anyone know that he had cancer, not even me.  He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him, navigating sad emotions was definitely not his strength.  So I made a trip to see him.

At that time he was going to radiation treatments and it didn’t take long to understand that this was near the end of his life.

I wanted my sons to at least see their grandfather before he passed.  I called my then ex-husband and explained the situation, he agreed to bring them.  They spent a couple of days with grandpa and back home they went.

They hospitalized dad and he went home A.M.A.   He had laid down for bed early that evening and I went in to say good night but he was already asleep.  So I very quietly and gently kissed his forehead, and said, “good night, I love you dad”, turned and took a couple of steps.  I heard him move and looked back.  He had raised himself up a bit and he smiled at me and said, “I love you hun.”

(Now that friends is a big deal.  Big deal.  He didn’t say I love you very often.  When I was growing up, I always kissed dad on his cheek, and said, “good night I love you.”  To which he kind of said night, or grunted something.  And smile?  Especially AT me??  Um, not really.)

It’s bittersweet, and I am deeply grateful for that exchange.

Little did I know that would be the last time he would ever say those words.