Monday, October 03, 2011

Dear Dad on my 42nd Birthday...

Dear Dad,

Well, I made it another year. I can't believe I'm 42 already, seems like only yesterday I was a kid. I remember when you and mom were 42, that would have been around 1988. I was in the military when you guys turned 42 so I don't really know what was going on but I can close my eyes and remember what you guys looked like in your forties. You looked GREAT. Gosh now I'm you. It feels weird. Guess that's normal. You probably felt that way too. Looking back I had a pretty good life. Seems the older we get the more we remember the good times and less of the bad. We had many years of good times with you and mom. I am thankful.

As you can see a lot has changed in the three years since you died. Friends tried to comfort me by telling me "this too shall pass" and they were right. It was so hard at the beginning. The first few days I cried all the time. Then the first few weeks I cried less. After that the first few months were easier though every time an anniversary or birthday popped up that you should have been at, it started all over again. Eventually it got better until one day I realized I hadn't thought of your death for a few days. It didn't mean I didn't miss you, it just meant that I was finally able to move on. I didn't plan it, it just happened.

For a year after you died, I would wake up on Tuesday mornings reminded that it was a Tuesday that you went into the hospital after suffering the stroke. Then Tuesday evenings around 9 pm is when it would hit me that was the moment I talked to the doctor on the phone and she told me you were dying and we needed to return to the hospital. Just after the phone call, I had to call mom and tell her so she would know why I was on my way back to her house to get her. How do you tell your mom that your dad is dying? That's the worst thing I've ever had to do. Then when I'd wake up on Wednesday mornings it was with a feeling of dread because you died on Wednesday morning at 6 am. For 24 hours, from Tuesday 6 am to Wednesday 6 am I was like a zombie. Even though we buried you the day after you died, oddly enough that day, Thursday, never haunts me. The the rest of the week was ok until Tuesday rolled around again. Then one day it stopped. Tuesday was just Tuesday and Wednesday was just Wednesday. I don't really remember how or when that happened, it just did.

Do you see what's happening in our lives? Are you a ghost wandering in and out of our homes visiting us and making sure we're ok? Mom saw you and felt you for a long time, maybe because you knew she needed you and wasn't able to let go yet. I know you were around me, I could feel it and I believe it was because you knew I needed you there. And maybe when you realized we'd be ok you were able to let go too? I don't know how it works when a person dies but I'd like to think their spirit is there somewhere guiding the ones they loved. I guess we'll never really know. When you were hanging around watching over us you probably saw and heard a lot you wished you hadn't. You probably saw a lot of arguments and fights and cursing and tears. You probably saw us very depressed and sad. Were you sad when we cried? Were you angry when someone wronged us? Were you able to feel anything? Did you feel helpless that you could not help us? I often felt bad that you might be watching me on days I cried myself through being depressed over something. I knew that you never wanted us kids to ever be hurt and it would hurt you to see it. But really, if you saw us at our lowest then you also saw us when things were good. And you knew that we'd be ok eventually. 

I'm doing really well in school, I'm a senior now and my GPA is 3.56. That's because I have an "incomplete"g grade in a course. Once it is changed to an "A" it will go over 3.6. You know how much I wanted to be a stellar student at my age.  I know you would have been upset if I'd dropped that semester you died and you of course know I didn't drop, I kept going. My professors encouraged me not to drop, but to stick with it and I'm glad I did. That Medieval Germany class kicked my ass and still I walked away with a B+. I know you would have liked that. If you recall, you told me that you wanted to read my paper on Charlemagne. You were fascinated with him, with the Roman Empire and history overall. I remember how you laughed when I told you that our family history had been traced back to English and French Royalty and ultimately to Charlemagne. You got a real kick out of that. You loved History as much as I did! I'm sorry you didn't get to read my paper on Charlemagne but it was really very good. But I think you already know that. Oh yeah I was telling someone the other day how much you enjoyed history and how you just loved that picture of our Wallace ancestor with General George Custer. Now I think I know where I got my love for history!

School has been a struggle at times, taking so many classes and working full time but you would not have liked it if I used any excuses and dropped. You wouldn't have been angry or disappointed but you would have felt bad because you knew I was more than capable of doing it and doing it well. Besides, you were not one for excuses, why should I be? I wish you could have stuck around so we could talk about all these really great courses. We would have had some great conversations about politics right now. You died only a few months after President Obama took office so we really didn't have a chance to talk about his presidency. Too bad, it would have been interesting. I wonder what you would have thought about how this economy has tanked? You certainly would have predicted it for sure. Funny how we tended to agree so much in regards to politics. Like me you seemed to be more of an independent. You didn't mind hugging bunnies or trees and yet you were somewhat of a conservative too. You were once union and then you were anti-union. I love telling people stories of how involved you were with the Union back in the day and how you were a steward and you went on strike with Southern Bell and then later how you saw what was really going on in the Unions and you left. You knew firsthand what was going on and you refused to be a part of it. 

Every now and then I go to the cemetery to see you. It's hard though. I park my car in front of your grave and I talk to you. The last time I went was at night after my therapy session and I cried for two hours straight. I yelled at you too. Did you hear it? I was angry at you for leaving us. I kept saying it wasn't fair, you should have taken better care of yourself. Damn right I was mad. You were just days from turning 63, you should have been here for it. I think it's ok to get angry at you occasionally. I feel like you abandoned us even though you really didn't. You couldn't have predicted what would come though I believe that you knew you were going to die soon. You probably didn't know how or when but you knew didn't you? Hence all the things you did for mom at the house, finishing things up for her, getting all your affairs in order. You were in pain, you couldn't sleep, you knew. To be honest, we all hated seeing you in pain from the arthritis.  We hated that you still smoked. We hated that you were growing old too soon. But despite that you fought that last year to get a lot of things done. And that's because I think you knew. You were always like that.

You used to agree with me when I said "everything happens for a reason." because I think you believed that too. I think about what it would have been like if you had survived the stroke only to wind up in a wheelchair or in a bed being fed and changed by a nurse for the rest of your life. It would have been a miserable existence for you. You always said you wanted to die in your sleep and not in pain and you got your wish. How many people get to choose how they die without actually doing it to themselves? You didn't want to die, but you wanted to be out of pain, that much I can be sure of. You obviously did something right dad because you weren't in pain when you died. You were in a hospital bed surrounded by family and you passed as peacefully as anyone could hope for. If there was anything good I took out of that whole situation it was that. You lived on your terms and died on your terms.

I felt guilty for not being there you know---when you died. I was so tired, we'd been at the hospital all day and night and it was 4 am and I needed to sleep. I was just so tired and worn, I had to go home. I thought for sure I'd make it back in just a few hours. You can't imagine the guilt I felt at not being there when you left us. First Wendy called me, then Kim just after it happened. I just lay there in my bed because really there was nothing I could do. But knowing it was inevitable doesn't make it any less shocking. Weeks later, my "everything happens for a reason" mentality clicked in and I kept thinking maybe I just wasn't supposed to be there. I'd spent all day and night up there with the family talking to you and laughing and crying with everyone. You knew we were all there, I just know you did, we know you did. You didn't want me to be there at the end, for whatever reason it wasn't supposed to happen. So instead of beating myself up over it, I accepted that it was meant to be that way. 

Did you know I'm in therapy now? Not because of your death but for many other reasons. Well maybe you dying was part of the catalyst that put me there, but it isn't your fault.  I figured out I just needed to talk to someone about things. It's done me a world of good, in fact, for the first time ever I've been putting me first. You'd like that. You always worried I took too much of my own time to take care of everyone else. I am putting me first now and it feels great. I still struggle with a lot of issues but I do feel much better now that I am talking to a professional. It's helping me be the more confident, strong person you always knew I could be. You always hated to see us kids in pain and it probably hurt you more when you couldn't do anything about it. But just remember, we're adults and responsible for our actions, we can take control of our lives if and when we choose. I chose to do that and never looked back. I'd like to think if you were still around I would be doing this but I don't know. Maybe it took you dying combined with turning 40 midlife crisis to get me moving in the right direction. I guess it doesn't matter how I got here, just that I did.

Dad, I'm still sometimes angry at you. I just think you should know that. You dying was NOT ok. It pisses me off you left us so soon. Mom needed you, we all needed you. Your mom and your sisters never even had a chance to say goodbye. I can't even imagine how brokenhearted they were--and still are. I had a hard time talking to Annette after you died because we'd both break down in tears. Mamaw lost her only remaining son and Annette, Martha and Judy lost their baby brother. I know how much pain mom, grams, Aunt Jo Ann and us kids were in but what about your family up in Georgia? It was so devastating for them. I don't think they will ever get over it. Especially Mamaw. So yeah I'm angry at times because I feel like you leaving was selfish. But I'm not mad at you. Honest. In the end how could I be mad? You're not in pain anymore. It hurt us all every day knowing how much pain you'd been in these last few years from that damn arthritis and bad disks. You got that way because of us. You spent nearly thirty years in manholes or up on telephone poles earning good money to take care of your family and look how it hurt you physically. I shouldn't be angry,  I should be thankful. And I am. I tell people about the sacrifices you made for us. I am proud of those sacrifices.

Dad there's so much more I want to say but I can save it for another day. I just felt I had to write this because it's my birthday and it's the third year you are not here to celebrate with me. You should be here but I've made peace with it. You of all people would not want us brooding about you being gone, you used to laugh and tell us that when you died we should bury you back in the woods and move on LOL. Well you're not back in the woods (though it's too bad we didn't put you there because it would have been cool to build a bonfire in the woods and  hang out with you on Saturday nights LOL) but we did move on. It was hard, but we did it. We really didn't have a choice. It's what you wanted. You'd be proud.  

Love, Gaga


ps...Every time I make a salad and put tomatoes on it, I think of you. I recall those good old days about a decade ago when I was living with you and mom and I'd come home from the gym and for dinner I'd cut up half a dozen tomatoes into a bowl and eat them with oil and vinegar. There you were, sitting at the breakfast bar in the kitchen watching reruns of Law and Order and watching me---till I fixed you a bowl too. Guess the apple never fell far from the tree eh? Good times. 

1 comment:

  1. Gosh Jess, that brought back so many of my own feelings and thoughts. Some of them I wanted to leave, and some that I relive more often than most people know, except you, that is. You know.

    I still feel Daddy here, but not as often. I think you're right..he knows when we need him and those are the times when we can feel him close by us. I think it will always be that way.

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