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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Daddy

He was never, ever, “Daddy”. He was “Dad” and he was bigger than life, meaner than a crocodile, and funnier than Red Skelton. I came to terms with my image of him decades ago, when I needed to address my idea of a father figure vs. what God wants a father figure to be like. My father was not a God-like father-figure, make no mistake of that. But the man who terrified me was the same man who amused my best friend, and bantered with her on a chalkboard next to the refrigerator.

I was horrified the first time I noticed that she’d written a note on the board – and signed it, no less, with the name “Krazy Kat”. Dad would blow a gasket. That board was only for parental instructions and the once-a-year greeting of “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” scrawled in Dad’s left-handed print. But Lisa had left an off-hand remark and signed it, there, on the forbidden board.

Moreover, Dad answered her with some tongue-in-cheek repartee that had us all giggling. They corresponded for years like this, Lisa and my father, while my siblings and I cowered under his authoritarian rule and dodged his “black” moods. Their notes on the blackboard were some of my earliest memories of his humanity.

Not my earliest, however. I remember that sometimes – and very rarely – he would let my sister and I try to tickle him to death. Somewhere in the tickling, he would “swallow” his cigarette, and we would rear back, afraid we’d kill him or he’s be mad at us. And then, miraculously, he produced the butt of the cigarette from his mouth, still smoldering, and we’d all fall in a heap, giggling.

More often, he was the authoritarian. He was moody and unpredictable. He could say something simple and it felt like it cut like a knife, We all longed for his approval, and we all felt like we fell short of it.

But that was the early Dad, not the Dad of our adulthood. He still had his moods, but he seemed more mellow. Kinder. More patient.

My sister was very needy. A single mother, an addict, an alcoholic, a woman with no marketable skills. Dad taught her how to do her own plumbing. Encouraged her to get minimum wage jobs. Got guardianship of her oldest when it was needed, but didn’t try to interfere with the younger ones. He loved his grands to the moon and back, and don’t you think they knew it? Where was the drawer with cookies in it? Have a fight with Mom (my sister)? Ride your bike over to Gramps’ house and hang out. Dad was proud of Deni.

I was closer to my mother than to Dad, but when she died, roles changed, as they needed to. Dad became my friend, my confidant. He and my brother went on many trips to revisit Dad’s childhood. Our sons stopped to visit Dad when they were in the area, and Dad loved Jared and Levi for that. He had other kids he “adopted”: my sister’s friends, our childhood friends. Their children. He took care of them, shared drinks with them. Tomi (my niece via my foster sister) was his favorite.

Somewhere along the line, I addressed all my issues toward him, and he toward me. We became friends. I talked to him the week before he died, and we made plans.

And then he was gone. Just like that. A candle blown out. The papery feel of the skin on his hands just a memory. His face – which mine echoes – and his eyes – mine resemble – gone. The good, the bad, the ugly. The beautiful.

So – we’re driving down the two-lane from Lages to Ely. All of us on the bench seat of the old pea-soup green GMC. Dad, Mom, Me, Deni. Dad lights a cigarette and passes it to Mom. Dad lights another cigarette and passes it to Mom, who passes it to me (the non-smoker). I pass it to Deni. Dad lights a third cigarette, which he takes a long drag on.

Deni, “Um, Dad, you just lit three cigarettes,” She’s staring at the one in her hand with lust.

Dad: “I thought you were a smoker. That’s for you.”

Mom and I collapsed in laughter. Deni rolled her eyes and smoked her cigarette. “Thanks.”

He died on May 5, 2011. I miss him so. But not in a painful way. I miss him like I miss my mother and sister. They’re gone. Will-o-wisps. Voices that whisper from the grave once in awhile. A faint touch on the shoulder. A nod in the wind.

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1995. I sat at my mother’s bedside. She was nervous, and constantly batted at the IVs going into her body. Her hazel green eyes were foggy with morphine. A tube was inserted into her throat so she could breathe. She was dying of emphysema.

Mom battled the disease for years. there were countless hospital stays that I was kept unaware of. This last time, my brother called me from Reno and asked me to come down. It was the end, he was certain. My father had asked me to stay home, but I took my brother’s advice and flew down. My dad was happy to see me.

Mom would have smiled, if she could have. She clenched my hand. She tried to pull the tubes out. The morphine pulled her away from us.

Individually, we went to the nurse’s station. “Mom doesn’t want the tubes. Please remove the tubes.”

“You know she will die?”

“She knows she will die. She wants the tubes removed.”

Three of us. Three of us who had to consent. I have to admit, it felt a little like murder. I wanted my mom to stay here. I wanted to hear her ring on the telephone when she called. I wanted to spend an hour on a Sunday evening talking to her. I wanted her advice on love, children, marriage. I needed her political opinion. I wanted her to see my children grow and to know them.

Instead, my 10 year old daughter sang at my mother’s funeral.

I remember the last words I spoke to my mother. I leaned in and told her that we were allowing staff to remove the tubes. Mom’s drugged eyes looked relieved.  “I love you,” I said. “I want to say ‘good-bye’. I know you are going to do what you want to do. It’s OK.”

My mom’s spirit smiled at this admission: she was Scots-stubborn. You couldn’t talk her out of a decision. I knew – and she knew – that she willed the tubes out of her body so she could just leave Hell. Mom believed life on earth was the only Hell a Christian would know, and life on earth is Hell. She left us within the hour.

2011. My brother and I were cleaning out the house. Dad was gone. There was so much we had to come to terms with. like the oxygen tank in the corner.

Terry pulled out the medications Dad had been prescribed to help his COPD and his heart. The last one used was in March of 2011. It was May of 2011. Dad quit taking his meds two months earlier.

I have known a lot of suicides. The first one was when I was 16. There were many between my 16th birthday and my 18th. They slowed down for awhile. Then my husband and I attended funerals for two suicides back-to-back. We literally walked out of one funeral and drove to the next. Men we knew & loved & respected.

The pastors who spoke at those two funerals preached not of hell and condemnation, but of hope and life and healing. No longer was the suicide condemned to hell by the church, but the church wondered if there was not a grace to cover suicide.

My parents committed suicide. It wasn’t an overt act like jumping off a bridge or putting a gun to their head. They pulled tubes out of their arms or quit taking medications. They understood the consequence: they would die. They chose death over life.

I hurt for my loss. I hurt for the loss of Robin Williams’ family. But more than I hurt, I understand. I have hope.

There is a place – a much better place than the ‘heaven’ portrayed in “What Dreams May Come” where the suicide was caught in a web of repeating her painful decisions. I believe – I hope – my parents and Robin Williams – are in a better place. I hope all the suicides I have known found that place.

Let us be short to judge and long to forgive. We don’t know what is in the heart of a person and we don’t know the pain.

For me: I only know the pain of the survivor. I choose to forgive.

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