grief

It’s time for another blog post about my dad. As you may know from previous posts, my dad, aged 93, is in the middle stages of dementia. Never an easy man to live with, he is now surrounded by anxieties, paranoia and memory black holes.

After a recent call from him where he basically hung up on me because I wouldn’t give him what he wanted, I spent a few days growing more and more depressed and anxious myself. Today, I woke up from a nap (or was it just an afternoon extension of the previous night’s sleep?) and realized that I needed to have a good talk with myself.

So I got on my shoes and started walking down the driveway to get the mail. As I walked, I talked to myself under my breath, asking questions, answering them and generally looking a little odd. Fortunately, as an artist, I can get away with that, my neighbors are used to me being a bit, um,  different.

The gist of the conversation was this…I am grieving. Surprisingly I am not just grieving for the loss of my dad as I knew him but also the loss of my dad as I have always wanted him to be. I think as parents we have such expectations of our children but as children, we have equally high expectations of our parents sometimes. It took to the end of the driveway for me to realize that I am going to have to let go of the desire to hear certain words from my dad. It took the walk back to voice what those words actually are.

“Hey, how are YOU doing?”

or

“You know I really care about you and want you to have all the necessary skills to get through this life.”

or

“Wow you are one talented lady, I’m so very proud of you.”

or

“Are you okay? I heard you were going through a rough time and wanted you to know I was thinking about you.”

Needless to say, I never heard any of these words when I was growing up…my dad is pretty much a narcissist and my existence was mostly groomed to enhance his. This had its perks in that he bought several pieces of my art throughout the years, both for he and my mother and to give as gifts. He was always in the audience whenever I was onstage or backstage of some production in high school and college. He drove two hours to bring me an extra set of keys in college when I temporarily lost my set somewhere on campus. But all of these things were used more as boasting points in his community, he loved when his children presented him with something he could use in a conversation around town.

The dementia irony is that I can honestly say he’s said “I love you” more times in the past three years than he did the 49 previous ones. Dementia is such a double-edged sword. On the one hand it has softened up his boundaries enough for him to say words that I have long needed to hear. On the other hand, it has taken away the part of his brain that is able to understand personal safety and wise life choices. So “I love you” can be followed by “You all are planning together behind my back to try to make my life miserable.” What hasn’t been affected is his knowledge of exactly how to use words and tone of voice in the best way to wound his emotionally sensitive youngest child. And once again I am trying to figure out how to armor myself against him.

And in the meantime, I grieve for the man my father isn’t. I grieve also for the man he was.

serious
serious

P.S. This is perhaps an unfair picture to post, he would not like it at all. He has always loved to have his picture taken, but prefers to be smiling or laughing. This was taken the weekend of my mother’s memorial service so it was not exactly a happy time. What I did not know was that the dementia had already started and would continue to work its way into his life without alerting anyone. It took another two years for his children to understand that he was not capable of making sane rational choices about his life. I like this picture because it really shows him in an honest moment, one where the laughter and fun has been stripped away and he is not trying to be the funny man of the town, but simply, a man.

In case you also don’t like this picture, I am also posting one that was taken a few months later during his 90th birthday party. Again, looking back, the signs of dementia were there and if we had known, perhaps we wouldn’t have subjected him to a huge community party, but merely taken him and a couple of friends out for dinner. Hindsight…

90th birthday
90th birthday

19 thoughts on “grief

  1. My prayers and empathy go out to you and to you father! The sadness of this is as hard to bear as anything I have ever experienced. Again prayers and hugs to you.

  2. My sweet..you may as well be telling my life story..so alike it is spooky..at 53 it took me 48 years to come to terms with the fact I was only as good as what I could be used for as a ‘Look at my child’ thing..as a piece of property..a cruel man who when I last spoke to him at 48 told me for the first time he loved me..i told him it was too little too late…I also went through rgrief for the parents I wished I had had..as it was what it was..nothing can change it..but I have changed.. chose to fill my life with love beauty laughter and experiences that fill my heart..never let a ruined childhood take away your glory years…huge hugs and believe me I know exactly how you feel ❤ ❤ ❤ Bev xx

    1. Thanks Bev. It does sound as if we have lived similar lives. I wouldn’t necessarily say my childhood was ruined, just difficult and I have spent many years trying to find out why. My way of changing is also to fill my life with love and laughter…and to try to minimize contact with him…which is sad as well. I honestly wish that I had the strength to be there for him on a more regular basis. I would love to have a closer relationship with him. But it is not to be. So I continue to live my life as best I can.

      1. That’s all you can do…letting go of guilt is a hard thing..my father is well and married…for the umpteenth time..he will never change..i realised being made ill by my family was not how I wanted to spend my life…we all make choices and we have to make them on our own experiences..we canlt change the past but we sure do not have to drag it with us like a lump of coal on our backs..i am sorry you didn’t get the relationship you deserved..the way I look at it is ,I have become a better parent,wife,friend and human because of my upbringing..so I have stopped the rot…I am far from perfect but at least I have always tried and I am sure when you look around you you will see the beauty that has come from what you have learned….hugs Bev xxx

  3. I far prefer the 1st photo…more ‘honest’ somehow? It must be the Not Knowing How Long For, and the What Comes Next, that is so difficult in this situation….Good that you have yr sister to help sort through his stuff…..and maybe to share giggles when it’s all too much??? Hugs to you, Charlie xx

    1. Yes, it definitely makes it more difficult not knowing how long this will last. My sisters are a real source of strength, but they have their own issues with him which, quite frankly, far outweigh mine and have had to pull away even farther than I have. And don’t even ask about my brother… The good news is that we are all on the same page as far as how to take care of him. Thanks for the hugs.

  4. My life in similar in many ways also. I like how you made the observations about missing the father you did not have and the father you had. I feel the same about missing the childhood I wanted, at the same time I wish I could go back with new eyes and better appreciate the good times in the one I actually lived through.

    1. Unfortunately we don’t always get to choose our parents or our childhood, but we can choose to learn from both and live as adults the best way we can.

  5. It’s good that you can talk yourself through this but also that you understand that there can be no real solution – just hopefully more peace for yourself. Good wishes on the reflections ahead of you – parenting our parent is hard.

    1. It really helps to take a break, but the feelings of helplessness and sadness remain. It is twice as difficult to parent a belligerent, paranoid, deaf, forgetful parent. Thanks for all your good wishes.

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