Monday, July 1, 2013

The Living Years

"I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say."
                    (from, "The Living Years", Mike + The Mechanics)

Last week brought the 23rd anniversary of my father's death. 

I remember that I was at work when I got the news.  Suddenly, I was left to make decisions that I had never really seriously considered prior to that.  Funeral arrangements had to be made, along with other tasks that usually follows the death of a loved one.  I was 26.  In light of the responsibilities that I encountered at that time, that seems so young to me now - such a long time ago; and in other ways, almost as if it were yesterday.  Time's a funny thing, doncha know.

As the song says, I didn't get to tell my dad all the things I had to say to him.

BUT.  The blessing that will forever be a blessing is that we had started down that path of trying to understand each other.  We both had made conscious, determined efforts to come together again; and we had begun that journey about a year prior to his death.  I've always recgonized this as such a tremendous blessing.  In fact, if I may . . . while the coroner, the police and I were in the house with Dad, with neigbors milling around in the yard, I remember silently thanking Our Lord that Dad and I had mended our relationship with each other before he died.

My mother had died 16 years prior to my dad's death.  I was 10.  One very poignant memory for me surrounding that time was, while still in church at my mother's funeral mass, the priest leaned over to say something to me as I sat in the pew.  He whispered to me that it was ok to cry; that I didn't have to hold the tears in.  It was then that I quickly learned that people were expecting me to be sad.  But.  I wasn't sad.  I was worried for my father.  Even though he was publicly putting on a brave, stoic face, his grief was so very evident to me.  But, for me personally, I felt no grief, no sadness; only relief.  Finally, her abuse towards me had come to an end; she would never be able to hurt me again.

So many life-shaping events happened in the time frame between both of my parents' deaths; too much to even try to relate here in this one particular blog post.

Both of my parents were alcoholics.  Drinking simply was something that had always been around me; even from my earliest memories.  I don't know this for certain; but I suspect that they were both heavy drinkers even before they first met . . . which, was about 15-18 years prior to when I came along (they were actually my grandparents; they adopted me when I was an infant).

While I was growing up, they were "functioning alcoholics"; I imagine that no one really ever suspected the amount of alcohol being consumed at our house.  And speaking of the house, we lived in a nice middle class house, out in the country.  The bills were paid, the clothes were clean, the house was tidy, there was food in the fridge, two vehicles in the driveway and always a dog playing in the yard, along with chickens, rabbits, a goat and a garden.  Who could have known that things weren't really as they appeared?

After my mother died, Dad and I were left with each other.  Neither one of us did very well in that regard.  He became more and more immersed in the bottle, and I responded to that in myriad ways; none of them being very good choices, some of them being extremely unwise. 

We both were living reactionary lives.  Even my mother had lived a reactionary life.  Growing up being abused herself, she then became the abuser.  Children live what they learn.  This can be good or not.  Regarding the not so good, when left unexamined, the children then grow up to repeat what they learned as a child.

On the other side of things, my father had a long, successful military career.  He was a fighter pilot in 3 wars (WWII, Korea & Vietanam) and had also been decorated.  He retired from the Navy as Lieutenant Commander.    After he retired, he continued to teach flight training to new, up-and-coming Naval pilots.

I also know that one of the reasons why he chose to drink was to drown out the horrors of those wars.  The dichotomy of it all.

Our own relationship with each was also such a paradox.  During my teenage years, he and I had a very tumultuous relationship with each other; and it truly is a wonder that we hung in there with each other.  But.  The one thing I always knew about my dad was that he would never physically hurt me; and for me, that was a rarity.

Earlier, above, I alluded to the importance of living an examined life.  When I entered my 20's, I knew I was seriously in need of some very intense life scrutiny on my part.  I asked my dad to pay for counseling sessions, which he did.  Actually, I very sanctimoniously demanded that he foot the counseling bills, and also sharply accused him that he was one of the reasons why I needed counseling in the first place..  Sigh.  The arrogance of it all.  While I spoke the truth, it was nowhere near kind nor gracious.

But.  That was the beginning of our being able to come together, to forgive each other and to realize that we truly did love each other.

About a year prior to his death, I asked Dad to come to one of the counseling appointments with me.  It was then and there that I told him of the physical abuse from my mother and from various other people as well.  It was then that I also revealed the sexual abuse I had endured as a toddler from "trusted" male babysitters.

And.  He believed me.
While everything I told him was true, I still wasn't certain he would be willing to accept it as being true.  But, he did.  I don't think I'll ever be able to express just exactly what that meant to me.

"I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away

I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say."

I told my dad many things while he was alive.  Boy, did he get an earful - and then some.  He heard my anger and my disgust.  He heard my disrespect and my vehemence.

Thankfully, later on (during the year before he died) he also heard how much I loved him and how very thankful I was that he never gave up on me. 

My mother was, in reality, my maternal grandmother; but Dad and I weren't even blood relatives. He was actually my step grandfather - my maternal grandmother's second husband. He adopted me, he raised me . . . AND he loved me - as his very own. And when things got tough between us, he was still my dad.

What I wish I would have also told Dad was how proud I was of him; flaws and all.  I never told him that.  I can only hope that Our Lord conveyed it to him before he died. 

That year before he died . . . there was much reconcilliation and forgiveness between the two of us.  1989 is truly one of my most cherished years; it was the year that Dad and I started really reaching out to each other again.

And, just to let y'all know, I have also been able to forgive not only my mother but all the other people who had hurt me in one way or another when I was growing up.  How can I not forgive them?  For you see, I, they, all of us . . . we all make mistakes; sometimes very grievious ones at that.  But.  When we look beyond the surface and try to truly see someone, we often learn so very much.  To hold onto bitterness and hurt does no one any good; not them and certainly not us.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, can open doors to tremendous peace, joy and love; truly it can.

Thanks for reading y'all;,

p.s.  - I hadn't planned on writing about Dad's death anniversary this year - life truly is for the living, afterall.  I do automatically remember the date; it's just part of who I am . . . but I remember with a happy heart, not a sad one.

While zooming through YouTube this morning, I came upon, "The Living Years".  The year that Dad died, this song was burning up the radio waves.  It soon became intricately connected with Dad's death . . . to this day, the two are one.  It also became a wonderful "safe place" for me while grieving and healing from his passing. 

Please listen to the words of this song; they are so very powerful and can be applied to any relationship.

Y'all be most abundantly blessed!

"The Living Years" (Mike + The Mechanics)

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