The Man I Didn’t Know, the Point of View Not Considered
For the last few years I’ve written at length about my own healing journey following the suicides of my parents, the familial wounds it brought up and the processes I’ve learned to not only cope, but reach an understanding of mom’s life and reasons for leaving when she did. I thought I’d come to terms with dad’s more obvious reasons (health-related) until recently when other aspects of our relationship rose up and bit me in the butt.
What I never considered was how dad was coping in the 10 years between his and mom’s deaths—until now.
In the back of my mind I vaguely recall him getting a prescription for anti-depressants. To be honest, I had enough problems of my own between my divorce, my 6-year-old daughters who’d just lost their only grandmother, and trying to at least appear to be a normal, functioning adult. Once the details of the funeral were worked out and I’d helped clear out my mom’s clothes and a large part of her kitchen, I left my dad in the hands of his close friends. At least he had some.
We Often Hide The Most From Those We Love
Aside from finding his wife’s cold, dead body in the bed they’d shared for over 40 years, I’d have said dad was in better shape to cope with the aftermath than his eldest daughter. He had close friends who didn’t run away or have vapors over losing his wife to suicide. To my knowledge, the only ones who asked stupid, insensitive questions were the same family members who removed themselves from my life for over two decades.
I know dad stayed in contact with some of them for awhile, but as I wasn’t making an effort to keep in touch, didn’t see a reason to ask him about them. I was neither ready, willing, nor able to defend my mother or her actions to them. I certainly didn’t need to listen to people speculating or drawing unkind conclusions in my presence.
Living With Constant Reminders
Looking back now from a place where many of the demons have been put to rest, I realize I’m guilty of abandoning my dad when he probably could have used my support. And yet, by his very nature, he’d taught me not to offer. So I ignored the cries for help as they came from a place so rusty with disuse, they were barely audible to the most sensitive of ears. Where my dad was concerned, mine had long been desensitized at his insistence. He didn’t know how to reach out to me any more than I knew how to recognize a need and reach out to him.
Still, I wonder how he was able to remain sane while living in the last house they’d shared, and sleeping in the bed where she’d died. Mom’s presence in everything he saw and touched were a constant reminder of what he’d lost and where he most likely believed he’d failed.
I suspect for awhile it was touch and go and he spent a lot of sleepless nights either in his recliner, on the couch, or in the guest room where my daughters used to sleep when they visited. None of the options could have been comfortable for him at 6’1″ but the bed he never saw fit to replace had to be more uncomfortable, if for different reasons.
Coping in the Only Way He Knew How
Dad had always consumed his fair share of alcohol, and smoked heavily except for one brief attempt to quit. I know he buried his pain in both, self-medicating alone and with his friends. I’m pretty sure at least the cigarettes contributed to his declining health, though he kept me blissfully unaware. Never one to share his troubles, though, dad got harder and harder to be around as time went on.
Some of it was his deteriorating health; emphysema, a botched eye surgery, and ultimately the lung cancer which contributed to his decision to end his own life. He covered it by complaining about people and occasionally the eye surgery. His teasing took on a harder edge though it took me a lot more years to recognize the cruelty in his taunts. I’d learned to accept his unkindness towards me as affection, never questioning or expecting anything more.
A Distorted Kind of Love
Sure, it bothered me he treated others better than he treated me, but growing up with a skewed and broken version of love, I took my pain and buried it deep, just as I’d been taught. My dad was a true master at hiding his misery. As far as I know, the trait ran back many generations in his family.
Looking back, the trait didn’t serve him very well in the years after mom died. Everything he buried ate away at him, until dis-ease ran rampant in his body leaving him wracked with constant, inescapable pain. He dealt with it in the only ways he knew how; drinking, smoking, and complaining about other people’s behavior.
By then, I was starting to turn my life around. I was letting go of a lot of ugliness, including many of the people in my life. I was learning to love myself and appreciate who I was, warts and all. Being around dad drained me and had me thinking judgmentally when I no longer wanted to. How was I to know it was the only way he knew how to connect with me?
Blinded By His Negativity
I’ll never comprehend the hell my dad went through in the last 10 years of his life. I expended more effort avoiding his dark outlook and unrelenting misery, not because I didn’t care, but because I had no idea how to help, or make things better for him. And because it took so much out of me to spend time with him.
I suspect he went through many of the same emotions I did; blame, guilt, shame, grief. I’m reasonably sure he tried to drown them in a bottle without much success. With no idea how to deal with anyone’s emotions, much less his own, he probably let them fester for awhile, just as I did, falling deeper and deeper into his own personal pit of despair.
He functioned for awhile until things had broken down enough to make him feel it was no longer worth the effort. Then he ended it in the only way he knew how, with an apology to his girlfriend, while leaving the resulting mess for his daughters to resolve. I guess he felt he didn’t owe us explanation or apology because we never realized he might need us. In his cancer-riddled body and mind, I think he believed we’d failed him.
Years of Emotional Rejection Can Be Reversed
I can’t speak for my sister, but I honestly believed I was giving him exactly what he wanted; what he’d taught me to give. I’m incredibly grateful I eventually learned there was more to life and love than what he and my mother were able to share and teach.
Jumping off from where my parents’ lessons ended, I’ve gained so much, not the least of which is a circle of friends who accept me for my own actions and don’t judge my by anything my family might have done.
Feeling Incredibly Grateful
My gratitudes today are:
- I am grateful for the lessons my parents weren’t able to teach me.
- I am grateful for the ability to temper the anger and hurt I’ve recently discovered with compassion and understanding.
- I am grateful for finding the rainbow in every storm cloud.
- I am grateful for an amazing, supportive, compassionate circle of friends who, until the last couple of years, I had no idea I even deserved.
- I am grateful for abundance; love, opportunities, joy, friendship, harmony, peace, health, positivity, inspiration, motivation, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, ghostwriter, and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws , of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward