Surviving Life's Lessons

November 19, 2012


The first holiday is particularly hard after your loved one has passed.  Every first landmark is difficult, especially birthdays, a wedding anniversary or the anniversary of their death.  Although Thanksgiving isn’t the “first” holiday without Dave somehow the reality of it all has set in.  Easter was more of a blur because it had been 3 weeks since his passing and we were still in shock.  Now that Dave’s been gone for 8 months the realism of life without him has very abruptly interrupted what was us just going through the motions of day-to-day life.

Emily was especially affected and she finally was able to begin  her grieving process by letting the pain out.  Up until this time she had this memory tucked away safely in her mind so she wouldn’t feel the pain.  She saw the pain Sarah and I were going through and thought she had to be the strong one to keep us going.  In some ways that’s exactly what she did for us; she kept us going and reminded us that her dad wouldn’t want us crying all the time about him and she is right.

Emily’s breakthrough finally came over the weekend when she was, yet again, on the computer reading blogs about her favorite celebrities and friends.  I had asked her several times to do something and she would dismiss it responding casually, “Okay, I got this, Mom.”  Finally I kicked her off the computer and told her to get busy and again, she casually dismissed me.  It didn’t even sound like my Emily.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been witnessing her drift farther away from our family by hiding in front of her computer or in her room listening to music. Sure, most teenagers do the same thing but this girl wasn’t my Emily.  There was no personality, non of her characteristic funny stories about her day at school.  I was losing my daughter emotionally.

I knew what she was doing, I did the same thing when my dad died when I was 15.  She wouldn’t allow herself to even think of her dad because  it hurt too much.  It was so much easier focus on fun things and not feel any pain, not think of her dad and how sick he was.  Plus, she believed that if she stayed strong she was helping Sarah and me so it all made sense to her.  She finally got to the point where I was able to sit her down to listen to me.  It was such a cleansing breakthrough even though it was extremely painful for her, but she was able to FINALLY grieve for her dad.  She let go of those emotions that she had locked away safely in a place where they couldn’t hurt her. The only problem is, if she never let go of those emotions she could grow up with trust issues, depression, self-esteem issues, anxiety.  She could grow up like me.

I did the same thing after my dad died.  Initially I cried when he passed but after that I put those thoughts away because they hurt too bad.  It wasn’t until Dave died that I realized my mourning was for not only for him but for me.  When my Uncle Mel died this past fall the emotions I felt losing the  person that was a father figure to me for quite some time all came flooding over me.  Emotionally I felt like I was hit by a train.

But then I realized all this pain I was letting go of was not just for Dave and my Uncle Mel.  I was letting go of my pain that I buried so deeply it made me forget.  Suddenly I was remembering suppressed memories of my dad.  I remembered how difficult our family life was because of his alcoholism. I remembered him being drunk every day and yelling for us all the time; yelling for us to come home through the front screen door when he could barely speak or stand.  I remember all the arguments he and my mom had that were so loud the neighbors would call the police.  I remember the arguments getting so bad that my mom took us out of bed to sleep at my Grandma’s house a few blocks away.

I also remembered the few times he tried to stop drinking.  He quit one time for a whole month.  That month I got to know a very different man, a very different father and someone who was sensitive, intelligent, loving, humbled.  I remembered when I was a child how he and I would watch National Geographic together and learn about exotic animals.  Although as a father he failed miserably because of his illness, as a dad he taught me about responsibility by buying me any animal I asked for just so I could learn about them. He taught me compassion for other living things by helping me nurse a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. The bird died but he helped me understand the reason the baby may have fallen from the nest.  He taught my sister and I how to swim in Lake St. Clair and then put up a huge swimming pool for us which became my obsession every day during the summer.  He taught me how to dive by tossing coins in the deep end of the pool and let us keep what we found.  That was a favorite game for everyone in the  neighborhood and once word got out all my friends wanted to dive for coins too.    My dad adored my mom and he would write her notes on the bathroom mirror telling her he loved her and sometimes apologizing for the argument.  Unfortunately the bad times grossly outweighed the good and my mom filed for divorce.  My dad couldn’t bear to lose us and he would try to quit drinking again. They never did divorce and he died shortly after his body started shutting down from the sepsis ravaging his liver from alcohol abuse.  I REMEMBERED ALL OF IT and it hurt!  It hurt that I had put those memories away instead of treasuring the good times with my dad.  Those good times were very few but they were good.

Emily was able to let go of some of that pain and, like the floodgates opening, cried and grieved her daddy, her best buddy; they were so much alike and had the same things in common.  They would watch WWF and RAW together, NASCAR, NCIS and all the corny Christmas specials.  Dave adored me and the girls and spending time with us was like breathing life into him.  He was, in lot of ways, a big kid himself but he would tell the girls about when he was a kid, fascinating them with his stories then running down the hall to verify them with me.

So now we have our first holiday since Easter and the reality has set in.  As Emily put it, we’re not a family of 4 anymore, we’re only 3 now and that hurts a lot.  It does hurt but we can’t change it; at least now that she’s allowed herself to feel that pain she can move on with her healing.  She says she feels like a huge weight has been lifted and she feels emotionally lighter.  She’s starting to get back to herself but now she’ll let an occasional tear fall.  She’s allowing that pain to come out because she knows now when she lets it go she’ll still be all right.

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