Today would have been my ‘father-in-law’s’ birthday. He was taken too soon, not from an accident or old age, but from a disease – Parkinson’s – that was accelerated because of spousal/elder abuse. My girlfriend, along with her sister and brother, have good cause to grieve what should have been a joyful day, instead she is seeking to find ways to deal with inconsolable pain. Often the purest and most engaging words come from that kind of pain and from that kind of experience. Here are her words:
A LETTER TO MYSELF
I met a man on the street this morning while walking to work. He held a sign that said “I’m hungry”. I just bought myself some breakfast even though I’d already had a protein drink at 5:30 this morning. I was still hungry after a night of restless sleep, bombarded with endless dreams about those who I love most in the world dying all around me.
I walked past the man but couldn’t help noticing how thin he was. He was sitting on the sidewalk with his back supported by the side of a building. His clothing was dark, but more so from the dirt that melted into it, and him, on this steamy-warm morning. He was suffering. Much like the man I called Dad who should have been celebrating his 82nd birthday today surrounded by his children and grandchildren, but instead left this world 4 weeks ago tomorrow. He should not have left this soon. It was forced upon him by an evil and wicked being whose abuse and neglect exacerbated and encouraged his illness to take advantage of his weakness and inability to fight. He was left in pain and confusion knowing that he’d made poor judgments but now had to find a way to come to peace with that while tears flowed freely in his last days, realizing what he’d lost in the last years of his life.
My father’s golden years should have been just that. However, because of this monster, veiled in human form, my father allowed himself to lose his relationship with his brothers, his children, and grandchildren for many years. My father, in my memory, was a strong, creative, and independent man who was not always the most intelligent. He was easily led. But he was also someone who had a quality rarely found. He loved and accepted everyone around him unconditionally. He never tried to make anyone be different than who they were. He never tried to change anyone. He loved his family with all of his heart, good, bad or indifferent. Unfortunately, he felt that making the choice to create a relationship with this beast, he could not go back. He felt that he’d made his bed and had to lie in it. It was not his way to ask for help or go back on a commitment to God in marriage. And so he suffered.
He suffered physical and emotional abuse. He suffered hunger as he grew weak from his illness and even weaker as nutrition and support were withheld from him. This being, this person who was, in principle, committed to care, protect, nurture and support him, broke every rule. She abandoned him emotionally, created canyons of distance between him and those who loved him, made threats and accusations to his family members if they didn’t behave as she wished. He was a lonely man who just wanted a friend, but instead got a selfish, spoiled, alcoholic, abusive, conniving, opportunistic leach, who turned upon him and anyone who no longer served her whims.
I don’t understand why this happens to people who would never intentionally harm another. I don’t feel the man I met this morning would do that. As I passed him, I thought about what could have been the plight which led him to this place. I suddenly felt that I didn’t deserve the bag of healthy proteins I carried in my backpack. I have enough. I have more at the office if I need it. I stopped and pulled the bag from my pack and turned around to the man. I stopped and looked at him. He didn’t look up at first. So I said “I’m sorry, I don’t have much, but I have this nice warm breakfast. I would like to give it to you.” He gazed up at me; behind his round-lensed prescription glasses I saw kind eyes, but a broken spirit. He reached for the bag and looked right into my eyes. Maybe he saw my pain, or maybe he was just grateful. He took the bag and said “Thank you” in a soft voice. I turned and walked away. The tears began falling as I neared the next corner thinking how I’d had tickets to Los Angeles so I could be with my dad on his birthday today.
My father cried a lot during the last few months of his life. He never cried in my life before then. Not at funerals, not at my own wedding. I think he knew he’d run out of time and waited too long to ask his children for help. I think he felt guilty for all of those years he bent to her demands instead of fighting for himself and his relationship with his family. He realized what he’d lost during all of those years every time my brother and sister and I would visit and bring videos and pictures of his grandchildren with whom he never got to have much of a relationship. His tears came quickly and fiercely. He would say over and over that he made a mistake, he commented on how beautiful the kids were and how proud he was of us and them. It was so hard to watch.
My brother and sister took those years very hard and held onto strong feelings of hurt and betrayal towards my father. I think because they each had children without strong grandfathers or even any at all on the other side. They had only my mother’s husband (who, by the way is incredible and loving) but not a blood grandfather. I, on the other hand, came to realize a long time ago when I was living alone with my father (during my high school years) after my mother, sister, and eventually my brother had moved away, that my father was only capable of certain things, but one of his most amazing attributes was that he just loved unconditionally. It didn’t matter what we did or how we felt about him or even if we ever visited or called. We were his family. We were his children. We couldn’t do anything to change how he felt. He never judged us. He simply loved us. I decided to give him that back to him. He couldn’t help who he was, and he always accepted that in others. He deserved to be accepted the same way. I felt so much more at peace with that than worrying about who he should have been and who he could now never be and wasting my time and energy being angry over something I couldn’t do anything about.
I am glad he finally called and asked for help. I will never forgive the damage that this person inflicted on my father – never. I am still trying to let it go now that my father is gone, but it still keeps rearing its ugly head. Maybe I won’t be able to. Maybe I need time. Maybe she needs to be dead, too. I just hope whatever happens to stop this pain happens sooner than later. I do try to look at what good things have happened since he called for help.
After we got him back, I was able to talk with him a lot more often, without her listening in on phone calls and having to be careful about what we discussed. I got to see him for as long as I wanted every time I visited. I got to reconnect with my wonderful cousins and uncles whom I adored as a child and lost touch with as my father lost touch with all of us. I have connected with my family in a new way – as a “team”; a team that we know is there for life, a team who we can depend upon to gather and protect any of its members no matter the threat or fear or need. I think we have learned how important it is to stick together as a family and to fight for that existence. To love each other through thick and thin and never to hold a grudge or expect one to be something they cannot ever be. To not hold back feelings, but also not to express them angrily or hurtfully, but rather to express them with love and compassion and as explanation rather than accusation.
I think I have a long way to go. I miss my father, and he should not be gone already. But I can’t change that. I have to love the memory and be okay with that.
Happy Birthday, Dad
I love you.