Grief is Love

Anne here - actually, since this is a more personal post, you can call me Ashleigh for today.

I should have taken the entire week after my father's death off. I apparently like to torture myself, so I pretended nothing happened.

I got the call Saturday, the 19th, just before we left for our haircuts. My sister in law, Kristi called me - which doesn't happen so I knew something was wrong. We only text or face time and that's through Facebook, always. For her to call me from her phone to mine, never means anything good. She told me my Aunt Bev called my sister and told her they found my father dead, in his home. I didn't cry out or fall to my knees or show an ounce of anything that would have shown that I heard the news.

My husband moved to hug me after the call, but I told him I was fine and that we needed to head out for our haircuts. So that's what we did.

My father only has two daughters, including myself. Our parents divorced a few years ago, right after their 30th anniversary. My mother said it was because he wouldn't stop drinking and driving, but that was only part of the reason. She wanted out a long time ago, but never left. My sister had always told me they would have been better off never meeting, or at least divorcing when we were younger. They didn't wait for the nest to empty, since I left the house at 17 and they divorced when I was in my mid-twenties. They were miserable together, and he was worse after.

We got our haircuts done and went back home. I packed a bag and told Rick to stay with the dogs, since it was so last minute and I didn't want to board them. Plus he would need to go to work Monday, and I had the day off. I took myself, and a stuffed animal of my choosing, and drove the 4hrs and 20 something minute drive down to NRH Tx. My nibbling (nonbinary child of my sister) greeted me first after the long drive with a hug and sweet words. After that, I spent the long night with my sisters and their kids, playing card games and eating burritos as we decided what time to leave for Lampasas, a 2 and a half hour drive further south.

The morning came and I felt as if I was drifting through all the motions. We cracked inappropriate jokes, had anyone else heard us, and we laughed too hard in the car as I drove us down to collect what was left of him. I drifted through the motions as we met our aunt and uncle for the first time in over a decade. We saw cousins and family we are estranged from, and made polite small talk. I felt like a stranger.

We opened his small trailer and went through the dust and dirt of a man neither one of us recognized. We gathered all the photo books we weren't allowed to take when we left home. I took the pictures from the walls as my sister went through the kitchen. I ignored the copious empty gallon plastic bottles of rum in the trash bin, next to the large bucket of dirt (we have yet to figure out what he was doing with the dirt). I smelled the half full bottle of rum on the counter, hoping it was water, but the burn in my nose told me it wasn't.

There wasn't a horrid smell, aside from just the unkempt aspect. There was so much dust in the air, we all had scratchy eyes, throats, and a hard time breathing on the way home. We loaded the car up with albums, the guitars he made, and things we wanted to keep away from our mother. My car is small, but it all fit. We left behind big pieces of furniture that my mother wanted to take for herself and sell to make extra money for her future Africa plans ( don't ask). We were lucky our aunt Bev didn't tell her we would be there. I would have catch an assault case and I don't need that right now.

We met with the funeral home at 4 that Sunday. The man was nice and the place was clean and quiet. I did all the talking as we helped him fill out the death certificate and make plans. We talked him out of a full service package, since we couldn't afford anything and we weren't left anything to pay these expenses with. He's going to have a nice, sturdy box, that we will plant at his burial plot he bought when we were kids. Since he'll just be ashes, it'll be easier to wait until his birthday in June to bury him and put his stone up.

I drove home Monday after sitting with my best friend for a while. I didn't realize how bad I needed to be around her until I had to leave. Even after I got home, a very long drive after that, I didn't feel the need to break down and cry. I still haven't. I can feel it sometimes, the push of the emotions trying to flood out, but there's this side of my that shoves it back before I get the chance to do anything.

I can't say he was a great man, because I truly don't know much about him. He wasn't how I remember growing up, and the baby pictures and old memorabilia we got to go through Sunday night showed us someone completely different. He was funny, goofy, and I know he loved us - but his love came with conditions as we got older. Conditions we couldn't break for. Our mother drove his life into the ground, and didn't look back. He got himself arrested too many times for it to just be casual drinking. He was a type-2 diabetic that wasn't monitoring his blood sugar or taking his meds. He was just waiting to die and chasing that feeling with rum.

The last time I physically saw him was at my wedding. It was the last time I heard his voice too. That was in 2012. I've spoken to him over email and letters since then, but not much. He never had much to say, and it was usually ramblings of scriptures when he fell flat. I tried to get to know him as an adult, but the effort on either side wasn't there. He never approved of my sister's lifestyle and that drove a wedge between them, but I know she still loved him.

He was raised by a good mother, as far as I know, and a father that drunk himself into a stroke because of things he couldn't cope with. He was estranged from one brother and mad at the other in his last few years. The only relationship he had, left him and pretended he didn't exist and his daughters basically did the same thing. I can't speak for my sister, but I tried to forget that part of me.

As I get older I cannot ignore the parts of me that are like him. It's not the good parts, maybe the goofy parts of me, but that's not much. I have his anger and stubbornness. His depression and self-esteem. The way I saw him come down on himself is the same way i drag myself down. When I look in the mirror, I see my mother and I am filled with hate. I can't wear lipstick because I see her putting it on, not me. These are issues I have yet to work out, if I ever will.

I'm not sure if I will process this in a healthy manner. I'm guessing it won't be, just from past experience, but maybe I'll surprise myself. I'd like to say I still haven't had that break down moment, but as I finish this post, I feel the tears leaking down my face without fail. I think seeing it in front of me is making it real.

I know I heard it on TV somewhere, but grief is love. That's all I know about it. It's all the love that you want to show them, to get from them, but you can't. They're gone and you can't resolve things with them, you can't gain that last little bit of love that would have solved all your worries. This grief feels different. It's unresolved and it probably will never be resolved. There was so much stuff still lingering that there's no way it will just disappear as I process the grief.

The day I left, I was seventeen. It was the spring break of my Junior year in high school. My mother didn't do anything as I packed my things and my sisters loaded the truck. My father made sure to talk to Kristi about how bad of a job she was doing. He was good at that. When I went back in for my last bag, he sat across from me in the arm chair as I took the last piece of the couch we brought from the bigger house. We had just moved into the small apartment before xmas that year. They declared bankruptcy before that. That same piece of the couch was left in the small trailer when we packed everything up.

While he sat across from me, crying, he asked if there was anything they could do to stop me from leaving. It took me a while to answer him, I was frozen on the couch. I wasn't sure if it was fear or something else. I told him no, there wasn't anything they could do. It was a lie. He could have stopped drinking. My mother could have been in therapy or something for her dissociative identity disorder (among other issues), they could have showed me how much I meant to them before it was too late. I didn't tell him any of that because it wouldn't have made a difference. I still would have left. They wouldn't change.

I knew that was the start of the end for our relationship. We still tried. My sister still tried, but it was disintegrating as we gripped tighter.

This grief is complicated because all I think about are the what-ifs. The parts that could have been changed for us to have a healthy relationship. I know that's not how I should do this, but all I can cling onto are the fuzzy memories of him being home. He was a long-haul trucker 90% of my life, so he wasn't home much. When he was, we had fun. We played games and he taught me how to ride a bike. Little stuff mattered then just as much as it mattered when I was older. But the moments he wasn't there for, the seclusion I went through when it was just my mother and me, all of that took more of a toll.

So, let me remember the man that put me on his shoulders and walked like an elephant down the hall of our home. The man that called me scooter and made me laugh when I was crying at my tenth birthday. Don't let me remember the man that took him over and dragged him down.

May my father rest easy and be at peace.


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