Saying goodbye when there are no words
Anticipating the death of a parent is no easy task and there are no roadmaps to help me navigate this. There is so much to say and so many feelings to process and the saddest part is that he is not gone yet but the clock is ticking.
The ambivalence of my thoughts and feelings sends me in a dizzying vortex. I should feel grateful for the time we have left… I should feel close to him… I should be able to muster the courage to have THE conversation but I can’t… I can’t will myself to go there. It’s too hard, too painful and I fear the vulnerability.
Decades of growing up in an abusive and toxic household, subjected to years of criticism and invalidation left me with no voice and no sense of self. I have spent many years healing these wounds and finding ways to stand in and speak my truth. As strong as I feel now, capable of setting healthy boundaries with others, all it takes to return me to that voiceless little girl is to be in the presence of my father. He has not changed. He still is harsh, he is critical, his words pierce and he will never change. He has declared “this is who I am.” I’ve made my peace with this, and know now that I don’t have to accept his abuse. I can make a different choice for myself. I can speak up. I can leave. I can set boundaries.
I have this utopic image of a family becoming closer through the end stages of a loved ones illness. Finally clearing the air and finding forgiveness through all of the mistakes and regrets. This is a fantasy from which Hollywood tear jerkers are made. The reality is so different…
How do you say goodbye to an abusive and toxic parent? How do you come to grips with all the ambivalent feelings? How do you say what needs to say without being decimated? These are the questions that linger in my mind every time I see him.
I feel like there is so much to say, but neither of us have the capacity at the moment to participate in such a deep conversation. My biggest fear is that I will be filled with regret, knowing I could have — should have had the conversation. I should have mustered up the courage to start telling him how I really feel about him; all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly.
But for the time being, and perhaps until the end I will wrestle with playing this role that I have perfected over the decades. The one of silently brooding but dutiful daughter. Always wanting to hear the validation and the acknowledgment that I am enough in your eyes. That you love me despite my flaws and mistakes. I want to tell you that I love you in spite of your flaws and your mistakes. I want to acknowledge that you’ve been doing the best you can.
This has sat in my draft for 8 months as I have sat on it, looked at it and edited it numerous time over the past 8 months.
Then two weeks ago it happened. The middle of the night phone call that everyone dreads receiving. A panicked phone call from my mother telling me he is gone. Racing over there to be the strong one. To navigate this crisis, in ways I know I am capable of. I attend to the details, the endless phone calls, the holding of space for the grief that comes spilling forth. Like a tsunami of emotion both unfiltered, raw and empty at the same time. Or is that me?
It’s like being in the twilight zone. I already grieved his death. While he was alive. Now I feel small waves of emotions as I continue to process the finality of it all. Life is there and then it isn’t. I see the process unfolding around me, the projections of people’s fears and denials that we too will be gone. The most we can hope for is that we have more time. But for most, they return to the daily routine of “living” life without really focusing on the gift of reminding us what matters. To briefly wake us up to what counts and what needs to be acknowledged before we fall asleep into complacency once more. I think it’s too much for the fragile human ego to keep in the forefront. So we allow ourselves to return to complacency, to get back on the treadmill of life as we know it. Until the next death, where we have another brief interlude of our own finality.