Thursday, December 06, 2007

Peace Be With You

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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.


  1. Very touching post. My thoughts and prayers are with you today as you remember your dad.

  2. It very well could have been the smaller strokes affecting his behavior. How lucky you are to have good memories of him also! He has most assuredly found peace from the anguish that his physical sufferings inflicted upon him. Perhaps they purified him for the next life, who knows? We understand so little.

  3. Anonymous9:36 PM

    Sue, I have only ever lurked on your blog (I know, I know, the whole killing your soul by not commenting thing) but I just have to comment on this AMAZING post. So sad and powerful. I can relate - if my dad were to be gone tomorrow I would, I think, be haunted by a whole lot of unfinished business, emotions that haven't ever been sorted out, loose ends that have never been tied up. And I will not feel at peace about his fate in the afterlife. I have to believe in a God who is all knowing and full of mercy - who knows our background, our genetics, all of those things that make us who we are and that make some of us so very imperfect.

    Sometimes I feel a little bit overwhelmed as a mother when I think about all of the power we have to potentially screw our kids up and make them deal with these kinds of issues their whole lives! Parenthood is a pretty heavy mantle. I think we'll be okay, though, if we're the kind of mothers who are always putting our kids' well being first.

  4. That was really touching Sue. I learned so much about your dad that I didn't know before. Thanks for taking the time to share what you have learned.
    Kevin doesn't read blogs usually, but I want him to read this.

  5. Beautiful thoughts, and beautiful message. Thank you so much for sharing. PEace be with you as well.

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your dad, and to the way you've come to terms with your childhood.
    - Hugs -

  7. Your perspective and ability to let the bitterness/anger/hurt are what stick with me. That is true strength of character. Bitterness breeds more of the same (kind of self replicating that way). Getting beyond that makes way for clarity and healing, at least from my experience.

  8. Ok my first sentence was supposed to say:

    Your perspective and ability to let the bitterness/anger/hurt go are what stick with me.

  9. Twenty-five years ago I remember sitting by my dad's recliner and being really sad because I was afraid he might be dying and I knew he wasn't perfect (well, and I knew I wasn't perfect) so I thought I was losing him forever.

    I know better now.

    I'm so sorry for your loss, but I know it's not forever either.

  10. Like you said, he probably had a medical condition that was causing this is always sad when people refuse treatment. Imagine how much joy he could have had - and could have given.

    Whatever the afterlife is -- I'm sure it won't punish him for being sick in this life.

    I hope all his kids can be as forgiving and generous as you are, Sue.

    Hugs!! Heidi

  11. Wonderful post, Sue. Just as i was of an age to get to know my grandfather, he was going through some medical things that made him angry, cruel, and not like himself. He was able to make some changes in his treatment and eventually I came to know that the person he was inside was not the one that I saw with my eyes and ears. I know he's happier now, reunited with his sweetheart.

    The wonderful thing about being in our positions is that we never have to judge where people will end up in the next phrase of life. I trust my God to find the place where we will be most happy.

  12. As usual, you're over here making me cry. Dang it! why do you do that to me?!?!
    But also as usual, you are poignant, insightful, witty, and fun, and I love reading your blog because of it. I wish we were friends in "real" life, because I'm sure I'd love you!
    What a great post!

  13. Anonymous12:08 AM

    This was very moving, and beautifully written. It's so hard to lose a loved one in this way, to watch them change before your eyes, and then the conflicting emotions when they actually pass away. There is grief on several levels. I have to believe such souls eventually find their rest.

  14. Sue, I am so glad you shared that. It is very touching.
    Thank you

  15. This is a really well written post, Sue. And even though it's really difficult to read and take in, I loved reading it...

  16. Beautiful post, Sue. I do believe your Dad has probably found peace. I think God is more merciful than we can comprehend.

  17. Thank you for this.

    And I do think he is at peace. When my father was dying, under different circumstances but also, it seemed, beyond reach to us, I noticed that when we held his hands his heart-rate would change on the machine that monitored him, and so I know that even though he was leaving us, he felt the love we had for him. I am convinced that your father heard you all singing and knew, and maybe it finally answered the question you say he always had, about whether or not he was loved, in the affirmative.

  18. Wow. Good post. I think our dad's are very similar. And I imagine learning of his future death will be very awkward due to the whole relief feeling. Anyway. Thanks for your post.

  19. Thank you for sharing this beautifully written story.

  20. I think that God is endlessly merciful and that your father is certainly at peaceful rest. Beautifully written.

  21. Oh, honey. That brought the tears. You write so eloquently and openly of something that couldn't have been easy to write about. I'll be thinking of you today.

    This is a lovely, honest tribute to your father.

  22. That broke my heart. My dad died three years ago and left his family very incomplete about the whole thing. I for one, think eternity has a lot more repentance and mercy that many of us think. I don't think he is bitter and sad. I think he is whole again, from the chemical imbalance and that he is filled with love and peace, with all my heart I believe that. Peace for you dear too, today, as you remember.

  23. My thoughts and prayers are with you today! (((HUGS)))

  24. We don't know what the Lord knows. Like the others said, He is a God of mercy. I'm sure there will be quite a few people we'll be surprised to see in the hereafter, and some we'll be surprised not to see. Of course that depends on where we end up!

    I can't imagine going through a time like that. My uncle died a few weeks ago from the same thing as your dad, a massive stroke in his brain stem. It was completely unexpected. He was healthy and took care of my grandparents. My dad is 10 years older and has been ill for many years. My father took comfort in the fact that even though they lived far apart, in the last few years the two of them developed a good relationship. You never know when time on earth runs out.

    Very deep and poignant post. Thank you.

  25. My thoughts are with you on this anniversary.

    Very beautifully written too.

  26. What a profound post! Thank you for sharing. As I get older and wiser (I guess) I have realized that the resentment I feel towards my parents and especially my dad... is something that I have to deal with and through learning about his own childhood and parents it has helped me understand him better and forgive him. I hope that you can feel peace about your relationship with him.

  27. Nice tribute. Thank you for this.

  28. Beautifully expressed, Sue. Heart wrenching, of course, but so beautiful. How amazing that you could work through the hurt and anger and arrive at this, a hope for peace.

  29. I'm sorry for your loss. I wish your father peace, too, after all the emotional turmoil. It was the same with my grandfather--he was an angry alcoholic who later stopped drinking, but he never had a come-to-Jesus moment that I know of, which confused me as a kid. I didn't want to think of him suffering. The minister at the funeral said we needed to put him into the hands of a merciful God, and that's what we did.

  30. I'm sorry for all the loss in your family so close together. Even 13 years later, that must be a difficult thing to process. I hope your dad is at peace as well. I'm not really sure what I believe in these days, but I like to believe that everyone has a second chance at a happy life, even in the afterlife, whatever/wherever that may be.

  31. I did not know your Dad... but I do know a very tortured kid who took his own life in a very horrible way. He did it right down the street from you, I'm sure you even heard about it on the news a few years ago.

    The point is, I believe with my whole heart that the ugly things that happen via a brain plauged with chemical imbalances, does not follow you when you leave your body. I believe that this kid is not only at peace today, he is busy doing highly productive things. He is progressing once again.

    I believe in a God that has infinite mercy and patience. It's going to be OK.

  32. As long you are at peace with your father and yourself.


  33. first THANK you for commenting on my blog, I was MISSING. I even have a post waiting to be published about you and how I miss you, but you're pretty famous now, so I understand. It was great hearing from you.
    second thank you for this post. I could relate in so many ways. Im in that "have to wait" stage and its very very hard. Especially not being able to be there.
    My heart is aching so so so bad.

    I will say I really think abou twhat happens after this life with people like our dad;s and b/c we fel such love for them despite their downfalls, I can only imagine the mercy the Lord must hold knowing EVERYTHING that plays a part in their behaviors.

    You're so righ tabout not holding a grudge, its NEVER worth it.


  34. Anonymous7:17 PM

    Sue, that was beautiful. When I remember Dad I think of him singing Neal Diamond songs in the car on long car trips. I remember watching Mom and Dad dance in the living room of the Remington house when Dad would pull out his old records. And when I do remember him and his awful temper (which I believe I inherited along with the chemical imbalance) I think of the funniest angry moment I have ever witnessed. Dad was fighting with Mom and yelling and cursing. He was threatening to leave. He marched up the stairs of the Bromley house to the partial attic. He was going to get a suitecase and dammit, he was leaving. Well he opens the attic door and reaches down to grab a suitcase and as he stands up his head hits the lightbulb and he breaks the lightbulb and gets a bit of a shock. FUNNY STUFF. I also remember him getting SO mad at us at the Remington house and storming out of the house right through the screen door, but I was pretty little, and don't remember the details. Great post. Love you.

  35. Anonymous8:09 PM

    Thank you, Sue. That is so much what I would have said had I been as eloquent as you are. It is all in the Lord's hands now. My greatest sorrow is for the pain of you children, both before and after your Dad's death, and how little I understood how to deal with it. I love you.

  36. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Dearest Sue,
    Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you as well. On January 26 of 2008, it will have been 14 years since I lost my mother and on June 9 of 2008 it will have been 12 years since I lost my father. My parents were drug addicts and alcoholics and because of their lifestyle, I suffered greatly as a child. It has been difficult for me as an adult to let go of all of my resentments and anger toward my parents and I see how it is affecting my relationship with my stepdaughters. I only mention this because I greatly appreciate your willingness to share such a tender part of your life with all of us and that what you said about remembering him (your father) when you have the desire to hang onto resentment and not doing so, that really hit home for me. I am a convert to the Church (LDS) and thus, my parents were not members. I pray that God has mercy on them and that they too find peace. Thank you, Sue, for this post. Tomorrow happens to be (what would have been) my mother's birthday so this has come at just the right time. Peace be with you too, Sue.

  37. Such a touching and beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. God Bless!

  38. My dad was electrocuted in Viet Nam when I was five. He was almost completely brain-damaged but lived another almost 19 years. He dies in 1989 and I still miss him. Ever. Single Day. I miss the dad I knew for five years. Every. Day.

    Dads have a big effect on little girls. It's one reason I am so happy to have given my girls the best dad in the world. There is so much healing in watching you kids grow up with the things you wanted most as a child --and I don't mean the material things.

    This is wonderfully written and very forgiving. Bless you.


  39. Anonymous10:30 PM

    Now I'm REALLY getting crazy - posting TWICE...

    I just have to agree with Barb. What you said about how healing it is to see your children have what you always wished for brought tears to my eyes. Truly I think I feel the most joy in my life in those moments when I am watching my cute husband and daughter laughing and playing and tickling, etc. Knowing that she gets to experience a daddy who adores her and is there for her really does heal those hurts that I still carry from my childhood and fills that void where I always longed for a dad who was involved. I am grateful that I will never take a husband who is an amazing dad for granted!

  40. I can't tell you how touched I am by these comments. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  41. Beautiful post. I can really relate to much of what you said about your father. Thank you for sharing this.

    May peace be with you as well.

  42. Wow. I don't know what to say. I'm weepy and sad, and, now, I'm thinking about my own Dad. I've got similar feelings for him...

    I'm gonna take a minute, process this ...


  43. Anonymous11:12 PM

    On a side note, I don't even think your dad looks happy in that picture, taken at our reception. Maybe it was because my hair looked so weird with the hairpiece on top. What was I thinking?! Oh well, I guess it was "in' back then (the 60's).

  44. I think we can't judge where he's at, but I think he's at peace now. He reminds me of my mother in law in a lot of ways, and I just don't think she has had control over so many aspects of her life, you cannot judge, but the thing about feeling unloved while you have all these people ready to share their love if you would just open up to it is her all the way. Mental illness is something we are only beginning to understand, but God does already. Trust him to His care. I also love what you learned from him! A very neat post!

  45. Thanks for posting this Sue. I have a lot of the same feelings, and sometimes they're so hard to articulate. I had such mixed emotions for years, and it was such a relief when I came to a point when I could be at peace with it all. Thanks again for posting this. I love you.

  46. My history with my dad makes me so grateful for my amazing husband. I know it must have been painful, but thanks for writing about it.

  47. oh sue, i'm so behind in reading blogs... but let me just say that this was beautiful. and that my heart goes out to you. and that you had me giggling then crying seconds later. and that i also grew up with a dad who had an affinity for abba... (so when are we going to see "mama mia?")


  48. Your dad reminds me a bit of my dad who is still alive. I understand the thing about your dad not feeling loved even though there was his family there waiting and hungry for a father.

    That's all I can say right now.