Friday, October 17, 2008

From the Archives: Peace Be With You

Pin It I'm reposting this from the archives because I'm submitting it to the October Write-Away contest over at Scribbit, where the theme this month is "Ghosts."

A little over thirteen years ago, my paternal grandfather died. When we got back from that funeral, we got the news that my maternal grandfather had just died.

I couldn’t get more time off, so I was at work as my family packed up the car to head back up to Utah for the funeral. In the late afternoon as we were all getting itchy to leave for the weekend, I got a phone call. It was my brother Mark.

“Sue, Dad had a stroke.”

“What?” My heart stopped for a second.

“Dad - he had a stroke, the ambulance is here…”

He’d been packing up the car, angry about something and slamming suitcases around, when he collapsed in his room. Nobody was there when it happened, but when they went in to get something from his room, he was lying there silent and still. At the hospital, we learned he’d had a massive stroke in his brain stem and there was no way he would ever recover.

My dad was not an easy man to love. He was angry and bitter, occasionally violent and often emotionally abusive.

When we were very young, he was different. He was happier and although his temper could be unpredictable, it always blew over. He was a man of extremes - great happiness, great affection, great anger, great silliness.

My younger brothers and sisters don’t remember the kind of dad he used to be, when we were little. He would take us on bike rides, take us camping, take us riding in the desert on the back of his motorcycle, take us hiking in the desert… He took us to judo and drove us to our championships, taught us to play racquetball and let us climb on the roof.

He loved us, his big pack of children. He went through a very serious bout with cancer when we were young. My grandfather’s biography talks about how at night my dad would stand outside of our rooms watching us sleeping - weeping and wondering if he would have the chance to see us grow into adulthood.

But as time went on, he changed. He became increasingly angry and unpredictable. His mother had a chemical imbalance, and I think he did too, but he didn’t believe in “that kind of stuff,” and wouldn’t do anything about it. Even without that problem, he was gradually hardening. He had a hard time forgiving people, and the bitterness was poisoning him. His behavior grew increasingly erratic and violent. He would get irrationally angry. He was rarely physically abusive, but he would scream and yell and break things and we were all a little afraid of him.

I know my dad didn’t feel loved. I know he didn’t feel understood or appreciated. But it was all there, waiting for him, this huge family of kids who were hungry for a father, if he would’ve been capable of just calming down, of finding some kind of peace so we could feel something other than fear and resentment in his presence.

At the hospital when he had his big stroke, we found out he’d had a series of smaller undiagnosed strokes, and they probably had contributed to his escalating behavior. The doctors told us he would probably die within a few days - that it was a matter of waiting.

I remember every day, waiting to hear. It was so strange. We were sad, but along with the sadness there was relief. We’d lived under his reign of terror, more or less, for a long time, and the removal of that presence from the house felt like a blessing.

The night before he died we went to the hospital, all nine children and my mom, and we sat in his room singing Christmas carols. It was our way of saying goodbye to him. I remember that the nursing staff was in tears, listening to us sing for him long past visiting hours were supposed to be over. My dad loved music - loved to sing and to hear us sing. I like to think that if he could hear it at all, he loved our last concert for him.

He died thirteen years ago today. When he died I grieved for him, for my dad, the one I remembered from my childhood, who gave us piggy-back rides, and sang us Kenny Rogers and Beach Boys and ABBA and danced us around the living room, who helped us build a playhouse and let us keep the puppies after they were born.

And I cried because I didn't know how to deal with his death. I wasn’t sure what would happen to him. According to everything I’d ever been taught, he was probably in big trouble with the Man Upstairs. Because he hadn’t had a chance to repent of anything, to make amends, to make changes. He just died, before he could make anything right, before he could have a come-to-Jesus moment. He just died.

As much as I’d been afraid of him some of the time, and been angry with him a LOT of the time, and been damaged by him emotionally in many ways, I still loved him. It hurt me to think that he might be eternally angry and hurting and sad. And sometimes I still weep for him - for his lost chance to make things right, for his wasted chance to love and be loved. All of his chances, spent.

I used to have dreams where my dad would show up in the hallway, a ghost who didn't know he was one, ranting about how I wasn't supposed to park the car in the street, only in the driveway how could you be so irresponsible and I would wake up in a cold sweat, almost relieved when I would remember all over again that he was dead.

Whenever I think about hanging on to an old hurt, hanging on to bitterness, hanging on to anger, I think of my dad. I think of what it cost him to hold onto his anger, of what he exchanged in order to have the privilege of holding those injustices close to his heart. And I let it go. It's easy to let things go, when you really know what it costs.

Most people, if they’re religious, when someone passes on, they like to think of their relatives as looking down on them from heaven. I’m not sure if that is something I can believe about my dad.

I just hope that wherever he is, that he’s finally found peace. If God is merciful at all, he is at peace.

I wish you peace, Dad. I love you.


39 comments:

  1. Sue, thank you for re-posting this. I cried as I read it, because your father was so very, very similar to my father. My dad is still alive, and every day I struggle with forgiveness and anger and bitterness.

    I have come to accept that he will not change, but I can. It is not easy, but I am getting better.

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  2. All I can say is, if you don't win, Michelle has some explaining to do.

    This breaks my heart.

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  3. I hadn't read this before.
    I hope writing it was a release.

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  4. this post was beautifully written.

    how difficult it is to balance love for someone who incites fear in us.

    i hope you are able to come to terms with this in time. i believe that although your father made mistakes, he will have the opportunity to make amends for them after he has passed on. i believe we all do.

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  5. I'm a newer reader of your blog, so I had not seen this post before. Thanks for sharing it again - it's so beautiful. I especially want to thank you for the way you explain the exchange we make - the trade-off - when we choose anger and resentment over forgiveness and love. That thought has really stuck with me. Thanks again.

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  6. This is good writing. I like this pen of yours.

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  7. I sometimes dream that I go out in the kitchen in the morning to find him sitting there demanding to know why his whole-wheat toast and perfectly boiled eggs aren't ready. I try to explain that he is dead and can't be in our house, but I'm afraid to tell him that I have spent the insurance money and sold the house. I, too, hope he has found peace.

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  8. I'm grateful that you reposted it, as I hadn't had the opportunity to read it before. Beautiful writing, heart-rending reading.

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  9. How heartbreaking. I hope you find peace, as well as your dad, Sue.

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  10. Great post, Sue. I missed it first time around as well.

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  11. Anonymous3:21 PM

    This post made me realize that there is someone in this world who has the exact same feelings towards their father as I do towards mine. The only sad thing is that i don't have happy memories to remember and think back on. There was no "pre-stroke" for us.

    My father is still alive. Sometimes I wish he were dead so we can all have closure. Then I could forgive him for the mental abuse he inflicted upon us all. And I might be able to forgive him for the fact that he still hasn't seen my daughter (or have any interest in doing so) even though I live 10 minutes away from him.

    I just really appreciated your post. I guess if anything it told me that I have to work harder to forgive.

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  12. My father, too, had "issues". I remember I used to put myself between him and my younger siblings to deflect his anger onto me, rather than see them hurt. So many times I stood up to his ranting to be beaten down. So many times I cried, just wanting him to hold me and say that he loved me and was proud of me. For the longest time I could not grasp the concept of a loving Father in Heaven because I did not know a father's love. I came home one night after one of his rages to find my clothes scattered all over the front lawn. After I moved out, I didn't speak with my dad for two years. Then, one time, when I was at my lowest of low points - he called me and told me he was coming to bring me home. That was the beginning of the healing in our relationship. I don't know what made my dad change, but I am glad he did. I love my father. The hurt and anger from the way he emotionally, physically, and spiritually battered me is gone. I am blessed to know my father here on this earthly life as the man he is today. Your father, whatever caused his hurt and pain (for that is what makes us angry, isn't it?), he can partake of the atonement now too, and he can heal too, if he so chooses. One day, he will embrace you and call you daughter and tell you he is sorry. Thank you for sharing your story, my sister at heart.

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  13. Sue what a sweet post, sweet that you would share with us so we can learn and heal as well. Beautiful and you are such a good person. We met thru weird chance, You quickly quickly forgave and we are friends now all because you learned from this.. Thanks for sharind and teaching me..

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  14. Sue what a sweet post, sweet that you would share with us so we can learn and heal as well. Beautiful and you are such a good person. We met thru weird chance, You quickly quickly forgave and we are friends now all because you learned from this.. Thanks for sharind and teaching me..

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  15. This is such a wonderful piece of writing, I can imagine that you're speaking to a lot of people who have had similar experiences with their parents. You have so much wisdom and forgiveness--I really admire that.

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  16. Anonymous10:12 PM

    Tears. What great writing and what a hard subject. Thank you for sharing it (first time I read it) and thank you to all the commentors (is that commentators?).
    I too, hope that I will someday be able to deal with my relationship with my dad and find peace, and that he will too.
    The anger and lies he has inflicted on our family are still deep wounds that I can't even write about. I identify with those who have said that they sometimes wish their dad would die, for closure. But I also hope that he lives long enough to rebuild our hope and trust and love.

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  17. That made me cry for several different reasons. Great post.

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  18. Anonymous8:19 AM

    Wow, typing through the tears. I am a new reader as well and so appreciate you sharing your story. My dad was so similar to yours and every Father's Day was difficult searching through the cards and realizing what you didn't have. My mom awakened one morning in May 2005 to find that he had died during the night of a massive heart attack. There was such a struggle of emotions but in the end he was still my daddy, no matter how bad the relationship between us had been at times. I still shed tears especially for my children who only knew him as a wonderful grandfather. Just recently I came to peace with the fact that I think that he did the best he could at that time in his life. That has helped the healing start and I must believe that our forgiving God somehow gives a chance to those who leave us unexpectedly to open their hearts to Him.

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  19. My heart aches for you, Sue! I just feel so darn spoiled to have such a great dad--I wish everyone could. And, here I am, 44 years old, and I still have him here. Yet, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger and there is no doubt you are who you are because of who he was (and, umm, I mean that in a good way). Meanwhile, I believe, especially when people suffer health problems, body or mind, that the Lord makes big concessions. HF wants all His children and there have just got to be ways we don't understand. ..

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  20. Wow. That left me kind of speechless. That was a great post.

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  21. Yep, Daddy issues are a bitch aren't they? When someone who is SUPPOSED to love you just doesn't or doesn't act in loving ways, I think it profoundly damages you. For me, it was my Dad and my only sister. My Mom was the only one who honestly loved me, but she loved me a LOT to make up for it.

    I was fortunate that my Dad wasn't the angry Dad, I can see where that would have been really hard. My Dad was the clueless, indifferent Dad. He didn't "get" kids in any way and I honestly think he would have been much happier if I'd been a Cocker Spaniel - seriously. He never did anything fun with me, never spent time with me without a specific command from my Mom, never showed an interest in my education, or my work, or in his grandkids. But that just made his death that much harder for me because you always have that hope that they'll come around someday...

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  22. Sue thank you for this post.

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  23. Sue, I have been a stalker of your blog for a while and I am going thru a really hard time with my Dad. He is dying, and I can't handle it because I know I will never have the courage to say things I need to say to him to make things right in time. I come to your blog for humor and today I have found courage, Thank You

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  24. That was a lovely post Sue.

    Peace to you & your Dad!

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  25. Sue! I'm Raquel's sister. She wrote about our Dad a little, but some of what you wrote is also true of another side of ours, especially now knowing how to remember him, because we weren't done having conversations, figuring each other out. Seems strange, but it's harder when ppl die when you have mixed feelings about them, rather than just love.

    I think you are very brave for writing about the whole truth.

    Also want to take the opportunity to tell you that I love your blog, that you crack me up and make me happier. Even this post makes me happier, because it's reassuring to see someone be unguarded and totally honest. Thank you!

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  26. Wow, that was really amazing. Thank you for this.

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  27. Thanks for this -- I think I've read other posts of yours, but this one really struck home. Like "The Jongejans," my dad wasn't a good dad when we were kids but he has changed a lot as he has gotten older. He's a better dad now and an awesome grandfather, but I still have hurts I hold onto ... and needed the reminder to try harder to let things go.

    Thank you.

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  28. Sue, my Dad sounds very similar to yours and died 7 years ago. I felt the same feelings you described. I felt guilty for feeling relief and had even been praying for years that he'd be allowed to die. And the reason being was that he was so miserable with himself. He hated the anger inside of him and felt so bad about himself. However, he wouldn't take any kind of medicine to help himself and was in denial about his depression and anger. When he first died I worried about his "eternal salvation" but I have since learned that God is truly a merciful God. My dad did not want to be the way he was, and was unable to change, but I feel very strongly that he's been given the chance to change and be who he truly is. I feel that he is at peace now. I feel that he's worked through whatever he needed to work through and now I often feel him watching over me and giving me the strength to change in me the parts he passed down. It was passed down to him also, and I feel that he wants the cycle to stop. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  29. Heart stopping, eye wiping....thanks for sharing, I can relate. And what an awesome reminder to think of the true cost of our thoughts, words, and actions to ourselves and others. Thank you!

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  30. I just found your blog and wanted to say how touched I am by your post. What a great reminder to try and not be angry and to hold on to the good moments. I, too, hope your dad is at peace.

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  31. I just came over from Scribbit. Thank you for your honest and candid words. It is not easy to bear my soul about something so personal, but you've done it in a way that I could follow. Thanks for the example and the lessons you learned from it. Your decription here, is particularly poignant, "He was a man of extremes - great happiness, great affection, great anger, great silliness." It shows the character can have qualities that are strengths and can be weaknesses.

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  32. Bobbie in AK1:03 PM

    Just found your entry from Scribbit. Wow! Thank you for sharing. Oh, and congrats for winning "Editors Choice" in the write-away contest.

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  33. Incredibly beautiful. I dream about my dad, too. And I am glad that he's gone. He changed as I grew older as well. I also share your Christian sentiments. Wow! Incredible.

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  34. What an amazing tribute. I appreciate that it's honest rather than the sappy sort of stuff that people usually feel obligated to say after someone has passed away. You're an incredibly strong woman.

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  35. This is breathtaking in its rawness, Sue. Truly a powerful piece of writing. I literally can't stop thinking about it. (That's what I get for reading while nursing and commenting five days later: Sue in my head.)

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  36. Thank you for sharing this. Your writing is so ... readable. (Does that make sense?) I cried while reading this post. It makes me feel like I can forgive for similar things in my life. It seems that this is more common than I thought? I people who need each other find each other?

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  37. Wow. Great post. Like many of the commenters, your dad sounds lots like mine. I also suspect my dad has a chemical imbalance - but the moment any doctor suggests it, he goes absolutely mental and never goes back to them. It's at least good to know there are other people with complex relationships with their dad.

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  38. I dont even know what to say except thank you for posting this. You've described my Dad to the T, and although he has not passed away, I feel like I need to let go of some anger towards him after reading this.

    Like Becky said, I know he won't change, and I've learned that I can't let his actions effect my emotions.

    So, thank you

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