Happy Birthday, Mr. Fox

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Our sweet boy in the NICU.

We made it, little man. A year old already today and look how far you’ve come. In some ways if feels like you were just born, just handed to me. In others, it feels like many years. You have lived so much already for such a young little thing. And yet you are joy embodied. You are always delighted to see your mommy and daddy; always wanting to give those you love a hug before crawling off to play. Even as we sit in the living room all together, you stop from time to time from whatever busy task you have at hand to crawl into our laps, burrow your head into my legs and coo, “Hi!”

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And every time we pick you up, you give a gentle pat, pat, pat on our backs. So much love, despite so much trauma. You are resilience personified. You are so much stronger than your daddy and me.

Before you were born, I was so scared. I knew you were safe in the womb, thriving and wriggling about. And we cared oh so deeply for you. But we were scared. And we didn’t know what the future held in store. And then you were born so quickly. After so much false labor you decided to rocket out of me so quickly that my doctor didn’t even make it there. Had to make a dramatic entrance, I suppose.

You stayed in the NICU for a month. It was one thing after the next. All I wanted to do was hold you, cuddle you, kiss your sweet cheeks, and love you. It felt like you were being taken from me, or worse, that you weren’t really mine. That you were the hospital’s baby out on loan to me. It was one of the hardest times in our lives to have to visit you, pump for you, and go home at night to an empty crib.

But then you came home and you were cuddly and happy. But we were on edge, Mr. Fox. Your heart surgery was just a couple months away. We tried to live our lives but it was only with baited breath we made it through each day. And the monitors, oh you always had leads hanging off of you. And you were so pale. But happy. You certainly didn’t know there was anything wrong.

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8 days post OHS.

May 6, a day we’ll never forget, came. We handed you over to skilled surgeons who took your broken heart and patched it up. It’s not perfect but it’s so much better. For now. We hold onto that “for now,” and try to enjoy every breath in between the possibility of the next hospital stay, the next procedure. You recovered so quickly. And you had so much more energy. You were so strong before but after that surgery, wow. We realized just how much your heart had been limiting you. And I think you knew it, too, because once you healed, you were off and running. Nothing was going to stop you from hitting every developmental milestone on time, thankyouverymuch.

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Your sister adores you.

Your personality came out more and more, day by day. You smiled and laughed a hoarse little-man laugh. And when you get mad, you throw  silly fits that your uncle calls the sad man. You throw your hands down to the ground and toss your head forward in defeat. It’s adorable.

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You make us laugh every day.

It was around that time, when you were six months old, we came to look at you as the little person you were becoming. Your personality trumped whatever diagnoses you had received. It’s hard when a baby is born with a huge, looming, scary diagnosis. They are that diagnosis. It overshadows everything about them. Until one day, a transition happened in our minds. You were no longer “a baby with a heart defect and 22q.” Instead, you were simply our Fox.

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Love.

Our sweet baby boy who screams in excitement and bangs the table for more food, points at everything, and just recently, makes it stuffed polar bear his auntie gave him kiss me as he makes wet smack sounds with pursed lips. He has those diagnoses. He has a long road ahead. But first and foremost, he’s our little Fox. And he goes to sleep in his crib. No monitors. No leads. No medications. We are beyond lucky, even if this is just an interlude.

 

And that’s a good place to be on your first birthday, little man. That’s a good place to be, indeed.

On how I keep on keepin’ on

It’s funny how you can go on. How you can live your life and almost forget that your parents are dead. Like, seriously, you can just go about your day and everything seems fine and you’re writing an article about cyberpunk, virtual reality, and web development (don’t ask) and then it just hits you—the image of your dad sitting on the couch as you told him about this new article you’re writing. And how he’d probably think it interesting.

But more importantly, you remember that Stephen King was just awarded the National Medal of Arts and part of you jumps up, reaches for the phone inside your mind, makes a note to tell him, to let him know. “Hey did you hear that..” Because he was the one that introduced you to Stephen King’s books when you were a kid and let you read them from way too young of an age. He’s the one that collected all the hard covers and said, “one day they’ll be yours,” and you knew that but never wanted to admit that. Because he was the one that couldn’t wait for you to finish reading Bag of Bones so he could talk about it with you when you were seventeen.

And then another image hits you. Dad isn’t sitting on the couch with a familiar smile on his face. Instead, he’s on his knees in the hallway, unable to get up, face ashen, body swollen, shoulder blades protruding. Of your dad in the convalescent home, looking at you with downturned eyes. You hear his voice say again (just as you replayed it a million times over last February) “I’m feeling sad.” “The doctor’s are being very optimistic,” and worst of all you hear him break down and tell you, “I’m forgetting.”

All over again. It’s back, just like that. And you don’t cry, even though you probably should. Your mind closes the book on the image of his still face in the casket and you sigh. Your shoulders slump. Right. This is what it’s like to be 31 with no parents. This is what it’s like to remember the ties to your childhood are gone. And every last little memory you can find that had light (even though so many had darkness), are now a little dimmer. Because they’re gone. You miss your mom, too, but oh how you miss your dad so. much. more.

This is what it’s like to want to call your dad and tell him something, anything, no matter how trivial, and remember for the one hundred thousandth time that he’s not there to pick up the phone anymore. That the phone number doesn’t even exist.

This is what it’s like to keep on keepin’ on. This is what it’s like to survive.

On feeling conflicted in the face of change

My mom’s in the hospital. This has been long overdue. I’ll spare you the details but she has problems pretty much head to toe, many of which of her own making. Just as an example, she used to try to fix a tooth on her dentures with super glue, while they were still in her mouth. And she’s smoked for years despite developing condition after condition as a result of it. 

In any case, she’s in the hospital now. She just had surgery to remove a large benign tumor from her ovary. She’s in a lot of pain, understandably. If you’ve read this blog at all in the past, you know that my mom is a hoarder and that she’s the main reason my dad didn’t seek medical treatment late last year when he was showing disturbing symptoms that turned out to be heart failure. She’s also the reason why numerous offers to have various appliances and plumbing issues fixed for cost were turned down. 

She was admitted after a completely fed up 911 call from me last Saturday. By Tuesday, I’d called up my cousin and her boyfriend had installed a new toilet in her house. All it took was a $100 in materials. It was that easy. I was feeling conflicted about this then because even though I knew I did the right thing, I still felt like i went behind my mom’s back in some way. 

Okay, so fast forward to yesterday. We went to visit my mom. She was expressing a deep worry that they would send her home the next day but she couldn’t fathom how to make that work. Prior to the toilet fix, she had to schlep outside to turn the water to the house on every time she wanted to flush the toilet, all because there was a leak in the pipe that fills the tank. “I can’t walk outside to turn the water on and off all day anymore, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” 

So I spilled the beans. “Don’t be mad,” I said. “But I had [my cousin’s boyfriend] come and install a new toilet for you.” 

“You did what?!?” she asked. Her tone was indignant. Here we go, I thought. 

But what happened next truly surprised me. She burst into tears. She thanked me. She was filled with gratitude. “You mean, when I go home, I have a new toilet?” I nodded. “Merry Christmas!” she said.

I was waiting for the confrontation. I was gearing up for a fight. I was prepared to call her stubborn for the millionth time. But she accepted it with gratitude. 

And I though this will make moving forward to make additional repairs easier, her acceptance and gratitude broke my heart. 

Would it really have been that easy all along? Could I have made my dad’s last few months better if I’d just grown a set and got shit done back then? Of course, I didn’t have $100 to front to a project like this at that point, either. That was a big part of the problem. 

So now, once my mom recovers and spends some time in rehab, she can go back home to a nicer house where everything works. Where it’s more comfortable and not filled floor to ceiling with useless crap. Where there’s some daylight. I’m working on getting her a day nurse and maybe a maid once every couple of weeks. Because she’s still a hoarder. She needs help with that. She’s hoarding in the hospital, even. After her surgery, she took her hairnet off and instead of having me throw it away, she asked me to put it in her drawer. I had to laugh. The problems are still there and they will continue to be problems. And her issues are outside of my capacity (and willingness) to fix entirely. 

But the idea that she can have a significantly better life after all this kills me. My dad deserved that. He deserved better. I couldn’t provide that for him then. And my mom made sure he didn’t have it. 

So here we are on the cusp of major change and the shifting of roles between parent and child. And here I sit conflicted, wishing she’d continued to put up a fight. Wishing she didn’t thank me. Wishing she remained as ungrateful and nonsensical as ever. Hating her is easier. And I don’t even think I have the emotional capacity to deal with the implications of that right now. 

On never quite hitting the wall

When I was seventeen, my dad and I took an eight-hour car ride to San Francisco for the Western Regional Oireachtas. That’s an Irish dance competition, in case you didn’t know. Anyway, my mom was “too sick” to travel with us — as she had been for nearly three years at this point — so it was just my dad and I. We stayed at some fancy hotel where the competition was being held with a ridiculous per night rate. That meant we couldn’t afford to stay the extra night after the competition was over, so we ended up leaving San Fran at around 9p.m. That meant driving all night, after an exhausting day, with no stops.

10608319335_873c725e6dAfter a few hours my dad was zoning out a bit. His eyes kept fluttering. He was nodding off in spite of his best efforts to stay awake. So I ended up just shouting at him and cranking the radio. We had the windows down, too. The icy coastal air helped.

At one point, we encountered some fog. It was sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning and the fog rolled in thick along PCH. My dad wasn’t falling asleep anymore; rather, struggling to see the road. He kept thinking he saw a wall in front of him, just on the other side of the fog.

“It’s weird,” he said. “Like it’s jumping out at me.” He had to resist the urge to slam on the brakes. There was no wall up ahead. Only fog and the endless, dark highway.

Grief is like that imaginary wall in the fog. I have moments where his death slams into me. Moments where I fully realize his absence, which will be a fact of my life from here on out. It’s a fact with soul-crushing weight. And yet, I don’t feel the impact. My body tenses as though it will slam into that wall in the fog, yet I emerge on the other side. Panicked and breathless, but still in one piece.

I keep waiting for some thought to halt me. To make me fully understand. To force me to bear the weight of his death. And yet I slip through. I drive along this highway, resisting the urge to slam on the brakes. I keep going because it’s night and there’s no place to stop other than home — and that’s a long way off yet.

Image source: Thomas Leth-Olsen

On being numb

I’m still here. Still grieving. But I’m moving on with my life. My dad would’ve wanted that. But it’s so hard to speak of him in the past tense. Reminds me of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. That shift in tenses. The “is” becomes a “was”. It’s hard to wrap my mind around, to contain the gravity of existence being snuffed out in the matter of a verb.

My mind wanders to my dad often. I think of him every day. I think of him whenever I come across something I’d have wanted to tell him about. I think of him when I have news in my life. I think of him when I think of my childhood. I think of him when I look at my daughter and find myself saying and doing the same things he did with me. Silly things, mostly. He used to say, “Shampoo! Leaves the sham in, takes the poo out,” and I thought of that while giving September a bath the other day. I think of him every time I hold my daughter in my arms.

And it’s scary. That shift. That I’m now the one doing the comforting, rather than the other way around. Sometimes it hits me hard and I feel very alone. Not actually alone in my life right now, but my memories of the little girl I was and still carry inside me is so very alone.

Most days though I feel numb. My mind drifts to my dad and I picture him in his casket and I shake my head to push the image away. I resolve to think of something else. Anything else. And that makes me feel numb. I’m refusing to feel the pain because I’ve had more than enough of it this year. I feel like I’m maxed out on pain and sadness and I just need to be okay for a while, even if I’m not. Even if there’s a million issues that have yet to be resolved. I need to be okay for a while.

Maybe I’m not numb. Maybe this is just what grief is. I don’t know. I’ve never really done this before. And it’s like a slap in the face when I realize I’ll never speak to him again. It might sound odd but it’s something I have to realize over and over again. The norm was picking up the phone and talking to him every week. The norm was seeing him offer the warmest smile whenever I walked in the room.

51pIm254qFLAnd so now I sit here listening to his playlist and wonder why I was so blind and so naive and why he was so stubborn and defeated. I wonder why I could never tell him how much he meant to me, when all he ever did was give of himself to me as much as he was able. When I first got into Irish dancing, I was into Irish EVERYTHING and he was, too. We came across this one song that was so sad but lovely. I never really paid attention to the words though until I listened to it after his passing:

My childhood days bring back sad reflections

of happy times spent so long ago.

My boyhood friends and my own relations

have all passed on now like the melting snow.

But I’ll spend my days in endless roaming.

Soft is the grass, my bed is free…

…But I’m sick now, my days are numbered

So come all ye young men and lay me down.

                                                    — Carrickfergus, Roly Daniels 

Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

On being okay and not

I’ve been okay. At least I think I have. I’ve been busy with that whole “getting on with life” business and though it’s not easy, I’m focusing on the things that matter. I’m finishing my assignments on time. I’m spending a lot of time with my husband and daughter. I can even take joy out of watching favorite TV shows again, which is something I couldn’t do right after my dad’s passing. These are all good things.

642449918_4a5b09ee0dBut there are moments when I am decidedly not okay. These moments sneak up on me like shadows. They wrap their arms around me when I least suspect it and I’m back in the convalescent home with my dad. Holding his hand for the last time. I’m seeing through my mind’s eye all the things he was trying to convey with body language. When he asked me, “How ya doin’?” and I said, “Oh, hanging in there,” he paused and chewed his lips for a second, seeming to search for words but never found them. I wonder if he was wanting to say, he wasn’t hanging in there? That he was slipping away?

I had a good cry last night. The first in a few weeks. Matt and I were watching an old episode of Bones. A Christmas episode, no less. The main plot revolved around Brennan coordinating a family gathering for Christmas, even though her father and brother were in prison. I felt a tinge of sadness, a bit of melancholy that I’d never have Christmas as I knew it as a child again. Even as a young adult, Christmas was a bright spot in the dreariness of that house. After opening gifts — which took forever because my mom’s OCD dictated it be done a certain way — and we ate — which also took forever, again mom’s OCD meant that her preparation of food had to be done just so — she would retreat to her bedroom and my dad and I would watch a movie one of us got as a present. We’d often watch more than one. It was tradition and one I enjoyed, at that. It was also one I thought I’d be able to live out again, someday.

But there is no going back.

So yes, the Christmas theme did make me a bit sad but what truly opened the floodgates was the closing scene of the show. Booth’s son Parker was supposed to spend Christmas in Vermont with his mother and her boyfriend but he found his way to the FBI to spend it with his dad. Booth is on the phone explaining this to his ex-wife, and father and son look so happy just to be together. It made me think of how my dad and I were a team. We did everything together.

My best memories are of him and I in the car, driving somewhere. Anywhere. That’s where our best, most honest conversations occurred.

And the thought that I’d never have those conversations again struck me in the chest. And I couldn’t stop the tears. I saw him in the casket in my mind so clearly at that moment. That eerie stillness. That, this is you but so very not you sensation that doesn’t make logical sense. That question of how a person can be here and then not in the blink of an eye. It all came back and washed over me like a tidal wave.

Moments like these bring to question my own mortality, too. One day, I will be old. One day I will be holding my dear daughter’s hand. Under different circumstances yes, but that “slow drawing down of blinds,”* is coming for me, too. Is that what makes an adult? That knowledge?

I’m still not sure. What I do know is most of the time I am okay. Sometimes I’m even thinking about my dad and I’m okay. And other times, I think of him and feel the loss, a lead weight pressing on my chest, and I’m not okay. That feeling will never be okay. And I know, years from now, I will think of him and feel the loss and not be okay, too. This is the new normal.

Image source: Conor Lawless

On seeing what we want to see

My mind feels like a library card catalog, stuffed to the brim with index cards. Funny, that’s an image I used in a short story I wrote several years ago. So many of my stories feature a broken old woman, crazy and lost. She sorts and stacks, folds and files. And a man who is powerless and under her control. A man who stays silent. A man who dies.

illusionApparently, my subconscious knew this was coming for quite some time. I just didn’t want to believe it. So I exorcised those demons in the form of fiction. Where I could control them. Where I had a say. Where I could leave the tragic ending on a positive note.

Unfortunately, fiction is not real life. Life isn’t something you can control or micromanage. My mom and people like her try though. Oh lord, does she try!

And I have a habit of seeing only what I want to see. Matt reminds me the weeks before my dad’s passing were not a time for being vague and my dad was being very vague in terms of his health. Every visit was canceled and I hadn’t seen him in person in months. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw him before rushing over to the house after his fall just after the first of the year. I think it was just after September’s birthday and he only came to the door for a minute. He had an upset stomach so couldn’t sit out on the porch to see us. I didn’t think too much of this because his heart medication always caused him some level of nausea since back in 2008, especially if he didn’t eat at the right time or ate the wrong thing.

I told him to make doctor’s appointments and he did. But then he wouldn’t go to them. He’d cancel at the last minute. This was the story all the way through to December when he had an appointment on New Year’s Eve. He’d told me about this appointment a few days before so I made sure to call him that day to see how it went. I said, “So, how’d it go?”

And he sighed and said, “Oh, I put it off.”

“Dad!” I said, “You need to go to the doctor!”

And he sighed again and said, “Well, I kind of can’t now.”

And I didn’t understand what he meant. I thought he meant that day. I thought he meant it in the same way he was always limiting himself in the previous few years. Just like he had been having some trouble walking–walking quick, any way–because he was so sedentary. He literally sat all day. For years. So whenever he said he couldn’t do something I took it to mean “I don’t want to do it.”

And maybe I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to face the possibility that he might be dying. We see what we want to, after all. We are our own greatest deceivers. After all, no one can lie to me and make me believe it like I can.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

On saying the hard things

I’m a fairly open person. Well at least I am now. This blog has helped a lot with that. But whenever I was around my parents, I’d revert to my old fake and guarded self. I still felt like a little kid and like I needed to behave. This was totally my mom’s doing of course. So when I was around them, I didn’t curse. I acted like a kid in a lot of ways. And that’s weird.

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I wanted to be more genuine with my dad but that was made so difficult because being around him usually meant I was around my mom, too. And being around her meant I couldn’t be myself. Which is funny because whenever my real personality slips out she automatically assumes I’m not being myself. When I was in high school and even younger, she’d claim I was just acting like my friends and that I needed to talk like myself. I wanted to say, “well, maybe if you took a chance to get to know me…” But I didn’t. And I still don’t. I still don’t say what I feel. And in that way, I am so very much like my dad.

I can’t say the hard things. I’ve never been able to. The words will bubble up my throat but never quite make it past my lips. So when my mom says things like, “I always did for daddy and I’d do anything to do things for him again,” I want to say what is it that you did, exactly? Bring him takeout food he shouldn’t have been eating? Tell him not to go to the doctor? Restrict him to a bedroom? Fail to call emergency services when he hadn’t been out of bed except to go to the bathroom (if that) in over a month? 

And when she says, “I liked our visit last week. While you were eating lunch, I ate crackers, didn’t I Brennie?” I want to say, why do you always try to make me feel sorry for you? What is it about sympathy that you crave? Why can’t you go about your day and I go about mine? 

But I don’t say any of those things. I bite my tongue. Hard. I sit and feel the anger seethe within my belly as I just nod and say “mhmm,” as she talks and talks and talks. It builds up and it has no place to go. Because I can’t say the hard things. I can’t get past the fear. I am still the little girl sitting cross-legged on avocado green carpet, looking up at her mother’s widened eyes and manic grin, wondering what she said to make her so angry. Wondering if she’ll ever stop yelling.

And not once did that little girl wonder if she’d ever be free, because she couldn’t imagine a world where things weren’t complicated and exhausting and backwards. She couldn’t imagine a world where things made sense.

So I never say the hard things. I sit and accept. I nod and smile and pretend. And I hate myself. And I wonder if this is how my dad felt. Powerless. Trapped. Incapable of fighting back because silently accepting madness is all you’ve ever known. Or all that you can remember, at least.

Image source: sea turtle

On growing a backbone at the wrong time

I get quite a bit of traffic to this blog from various hoarding blogs and websites, so I apologize to those readers for deviating from that subject matter for a bit. I suppose it’s all related. Still, I imagine I’ll be blogging about grief and guilt for some time. Bear with me.

86509233_76ae55537cIt looks very much so like my dad knew he had heart failure at the end of 2012. Whether he found this out at a routine doctor’s appointment, I don’t know. What I do know is that he kept that information to himself. And while I feel less guilty for not alerting him to his symptoms this past December (because it seems he already knew), I feel guilty for pushing him so much all the time.

I remember back in April 2012, he ventured out of the house with Matt and I to co-sign on a loan to refinance Matt’s car. I was almost 4 months pregnant and the auto loan refinancing was the only way we were going to able to afford the super high delivery costs. I had insurance, too, but it was really crappy. Delivery at a hospital was going to be $3000 (not including doctor’s visits–which always turned out to cost at least $150 each–, tests, ultrasounds, etc). The birth center fee was around $6000 and included everything. But I digress.

We were going to initially do a standard loan. My dad was going to co-sign to help us out. But he talked to my mom and she said flat out no. She said they had too much debt already. My dad was the one that had to tell me this (I could hear her whispering in the background). I was really upset. We were desperate. Add pregnancy hormones on top of all that stress and I was near tears.

About a week later, we figured out that a car refinancing would work because it was a solid piece of collateral and wouldn’t add to my parent’s debt. So I totally freaked out for no reason. And I’m relaying all of this to provide context, by the way.

So, we pick up my dad and he was walking pretty slow. I hadn’t seen him outside of the house in real clothes in a while–not since our wedding in Jan. 2010. Every time we went over there to visit, my mom would usher us into his bedroom and he’d be there in his pajamas or sweats and a robe. He’d started letting his beard grow out by then. His hair was longer.

But he’d shaven and trimmed his hair for the venture. It was nice to see him out of the house. We got to the bank and he was shuffling along (I guess this is one of the first signs of heart failure?). We did all the paperwork and took him back home. I remember feeling uncomfortable. Like I didn’t know what to say to him. I was angry at him, even then. He was giving up on life and it frustrated me so much because it just didn’t have to be that way. So instead of being compassionate and considerate, I got angry. I just wasn’t my usual self around him and that makes me really sad now.

We did the whole bank thing and dropped him off back home. I didn’t even offer him lunch. Not that we could have afforded it at that moment (obviously, we needed a loan to pay for our baby lol), but still. It’s the simple things that show you care and I feel like I was really not being kind to him. And I felt like I was being ungrateful, even in the moment. I was totally grateful for the help with the loan but I could barely express any kind of gratitude because being around him made me so sad. I guess what I’m saying is I’d much rather have been able to go in the house (a normal house) and spend time with my dad listening to music and doing what we always did than get anything related to money. Especially after September was born, I wanted my dad to know her so badly. But it was such a pain in the ass to bring the baby over to just sit on the porch. During winter, no less. I could have brought her inside, yes, but it was smokey. And lord knows what else was floating around in the air (they never opened windows). And I’d put my foot down with my mom on that subject already.

Just a few months before I told my parents I wasn’t coming in the house anymore because of the smoke. I was pregnant after all. But I thought she would have the decency to smoke outside so her pregnant daughter could come in. That’s what I thought would happen. I never thought we’d actually need to have visits on the porch because she couldn’t do that one thing for me. Or that those visits would become so inconvenient because she had to get out the chairs for them to happen that they’d be cancelled more often than not.

I know I was angry because my dad wouldn’t fight against my mom. There was a good 3 1/2 years of “giving up” going on before this point in time. And I know I was angry because he wasn’t taking care of himself. But it never even occurred to me that he couldn’t. I always thought it was a choice he made. That he chose to eat bad food and he chose not to exercise. Even in April 2012, I thought he could still get some of his old vigor back if he’d just get out of that damned room once in a while, get some fresh air, and go for a walk. There were years of me begging him to do just that that preceded this after his heart attack in 2008.  In every phone call I told him to go for a little walk. At first, I told him to go around the block. Then as he got more sedentary, I reeled in my requests. It became, “walk around half the block,” then “to the end of the block,” then “around the front yard.” Till finally, this past year, I just asked him to go outside and sit on the bench on the front porch.  I just wanted him to get out of that smoked-in toxic envrionment.

He would tell me sometimes that he couldn’t get around like he used to and that made me angry, too. It all stemmed back to when he gave up in the first place. I never once considered he might be very unwell. Or just getting old. I never once thought he wouldn’t get better.

And I swear, sometimes, for a smart person, I can be really stupid.

Even in the convalescent home, I thought he was going to get better. I knew his time was going to be limited from then on, but I thought he’d recover some. I thought he’d be able to walk. I thought he’d be able to better manage his symptoms. And I know part of this is due to the fact I wasn’t given all the information but still. I feel like I should have known. I should have been more empathetic. I should have recognized that he was old. But I never once thought of him that way. He wasn’t old. He was just my dad.

And in an effort to stand up to my mother, to no longer do things by her twisted, weird rules, my dad suffered.

Image source: JR_Paris

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On being phased out

Dealing with the loss of my dad has been difficult. Some moments I’m completely fine. Some of those moments I’m thinking about him, even, and I’m fine. The way he would give me a side-eye glance whenever my mom said something crazy. How he’d wink across the room at me or say, “Hey Bren, Hey Bren,” whenever he was going to tell me something either wildly inappropriate or that he knew would bug me.

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But there are other moments where I am so completely not fine. I’m not okay. Matt put it perfectly recently: I fall into myself and thoughts of what could have been and what’s been lost rush over me and down my throat. I choke on those memories and in those moments, I weep.

I know that I would be devastated no matter the circumstances of his death. I know this. But there are certain elements of this situation that make everything more complicated, more difficult to bear.

For context: my dad changed after his heart attack in 2008. Actually, he was different ever since I moved out of the house. But it was the heart attack that really made him different. After he was released from the hospital, he was optimistic. He was adamant about changing his diet and getting more exercise. He seemed motivated. Then my mom started in. She made him feel like he couldn’t leave his bedroom. Every time he got to the door she jumped up and said, “What do you need? What do you want?” Every time he made it all the way into the kitchen, she acted like he was invading her territory. He wasn’t welcome anywhere except in his room.

That’s when I first noticed a significant change in him. He was giving up. He was slipping between my fingers then. I didn’t know it exactly. I still had hope. But as it turns out, he was on a set trajectory from that moment on.

I remember vividly one time I was at my parent’s house to accompany my dad to a doctor’s appointment. I’d spent the night because I don’t have a car or drive (that’s another story). We went to his appointment and he needed some labs done the next day or something. I don’t remember exactly but I know my mom asked me if I could spend another night to go with him to his next appointment. You need some context here. My mom hadn’t been out of the house on her own in nearly 10 years at this point. She checked out of life when I was about 14 or 15. She says to this day it was because she got sick (or sicker, I should say) but that wasn’t really the case. She just couldn’t be bothered to do much of anything anymore.

I paused to think for a minute after she asked me to spend the night again. I said, “Let me call, Matt.” After all, I was living with him at this point and he was the one that dropped me off at their house in the first place and was going to pick me up. Also–WE LIVED TOGETHER. I wanted to talk with him to see if he was cool with it and to make sure there wasn’t anything else going on I didn’t know about. So, I get off the phone with Matt. I gave him a brief rundown of what was going on and I was just about to tell my mom that yes, I could stay again. But she wouldn’t let me get a word in. She said, “You don’t have to go tomorrow, it’s okay, you don’t have to stay.” I argued with her. I said I wanted to stay over and over but she wouldn’t hear it. That was that.

I went back into my dad’s room and told him what had just happened and he just sort of sat there, rubbing his thumbs together. He was defeated even then. Because really, how do you fight against a person who doesn’t even acknowledge what you say? She makes a decision and that is that. She went with him to doctor’s appointments for a bit after that. She refused our help buying groceries after a few weeks, too, because I wouldn’t buy her cigarettes. Also, she was having us go down to Lakewood to buy groceries three times a week instead of just making one big list to last all week. Because we wouldn’t/couldn’t do things 100% the way she wanted, she didn’t want our help anymore.

A year or so passed and my dad was very different. He didn’t go out much at all anymore. He was even more secluded in his room. I’d been spending the night to go to my dentist’s appointments which were in Lakewood. Every time I was over there, my mom made a big deal about the fact that she had to “undo” the couch so I could sleep on it. By “undo” she meant move all of her unnecessary crap like a pile of candy, pyramid of cigarettes, and perfectly folded napkins. So, she’d pitch a fit about all the effort she put into my visits. My braces came off, then I got married. I had another dentist appointment lined up a few weeks later. My mom made my dad cancel my visit though. Why? Because she didn’t want to have to “undo” her couch. He sounded so sad on the phone then. I think he knew he was losing me too. She’d driven everyone else away and now she was doing it to me, her own daughter.

The cruelest joke of all now is she calls me every day. I have to hear her voice every day. A women who couldn’t even be bothered to pick up the phone when I called before. A woman who couldn’t be bothered to move a few things off a couch (or god forbid, let her daughter do it) so her daughter could sleep there. A woman who takes everything that matters away from  people while shouting from the rooftops about how much she does for other people. As though buying my dad some iced tea he liked makes up for the years she kicked him out of their bedroom, for never listening to him, for never caring, for the gross neglect.

When I got pregnant, I refused to go in their house because she smoked in there and didn’t have the decency to smoke outside for me. Then when September was born my mom didn’t feel like coming over to visit to meet her new granddaughter even though a ride was all lined up. Every time she made my dad cancel. He had to hear my frustration and anger. She never did. How unfair. As the months rolled on leading up to my dad’s passing, my mom cancelled nearly every visit, and every time she made my dad do it. She pushed me away because I wouldn’t do things on her terms anymore. And my dad suffered for it. And that isn’t fair either.

Around Christmas, my dad called again to cancel a visit. He said, “You sound disappointed.” I said, “No, I’m used to it now.” He paused for a moment then said, “Maybe we’ll see you next Christmas, Jesus!”

I know he was frustrated and too weak to do anything about it at that point. And that’s so shitty. My mom robbed me of the last months of my dad’s life and I was too busy being pissed to argue. That’s a shitty regret to have, believe me.

Image source: Jiska