30 March 2008


Travel. Arrival.
Years of an inch and a step
Toward a source

I was in my 20s when my father died April 11, 1990. Few of my contemporaries had lost a parent, so I had a sense of being out of time as we waited out the final four months of his life. There was no one I knew to confide in, no one who had any sense of what I was living with. I was too young to be planning a parent's funeral, but there it was, and as usual, I did what needed to be done.

For the most part, my father was a father in the biological sense only. Yes, he lived in the same house, but he made it abundantly clear that we his children were not really welcome in his life, and he had as little to do with us as humanly possible. I have a few really happy memories of time spent with him, including sitting with him watching baseball games when I was very young, and the occasional times he regaled us with stories of his earlier life. By the time I was about 10, the pleasant moments ended and he became a complete stranger.

I'm certainly not the first person to have grown up with emotionally disengaged and troubled parents, and it's a fact that is only a footnote in my life. I am fortunate to have a very strong will not only to survive but to succeed, and I am blessed with a beautiful family of my own. I am not concerned with redressing old wrongs, only in making sure that old wrongs aren't perpetuated.

I've largely made peace with my past, though hot button issues can still anger and distress me. But for reasons I don't fully understand, this time of year continues to disturb me, 18 years after my father's death. It may simply be that all of the issues surrounding closing out the remnants of his life and trying to schedule his funeral were so difficult--he died on the Wednesday before Easter and because of the rules governing funeral Masses during Holy Week, we had to wait until Easter Monday to bury him--that the stress has become blood memory. Whatever the case, this time of year, I become antsy and churlish, and I really just want to disappear for a bit.

Which is what I've decided to do this year: disappear for a bit. I've been provided with the perfect excuse to be absent, and I grabbed it, to the dismay of my family. They don't really know why it's important to me to be gone at this particular time and I'm not sure the kids would understand anyway; they see it as a bit of selfish indulgence on my part, and it is in a number of ways. But I'm rarely selfish, and I answer the call of responsibility far more frequently than I cater to myself. This year, however, I have put my foot down: I'm going to reclaim this time as my own, and erase the vestiges that have darkened it for 18 years. I'm going to reset the emotional clock to mean something other than grief, something closer to joy.

Because 18 years is long enough.

I'm coming to you
I'll be there in time

Go listen to some good music: "Pilgrimage" from the album Days of Open Hand by Suzanne Vega.


lisagh said...

As someone who lost a father with whom I had a very challenging relationship (different than what you describe, but challenging all the same) - also in my early 20s, I read each word of this post with understanding and compassion for you.

For me it's been now almost 21 years. Over the years, I've done ceremonial things to "erase the pain" as well. And although these feelings never really disappear, it's encouraging to know that as adults, we can form new perspectives and we have the power to take control of those relationships in a way we weren't equipped to do so as younger people.

I applaud you and thank you for sharing this.

guerrilla girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
guerrilla girl said...

Lisagh, thank you for your kind words, and I'm sorry that you suffered a similar loss.

"Ceremonial" is a perfect word for these small rituals, and you are correct that the feelings don't disappear. Over the years, I've accepted this as part of me, part of my history. What I want back is the beauty of April and an end to the sense of impending doom it tends to bring. That's my goal for this year, small and achievable, I think.

I appreciate you bringing your story to the conversation. In the intervening years, I've met a number of people who lost parents in young adulthood, and it is a comfort to learn from one another.

lisagh said...