Sister trouble

He thought he had the upper hand. He had the gun, after all. He was only eight years old, but he had been trained all too well by his father and uncles. Women were to obey men, no matter what. If they didn’t, they had to be forced to, or killed.

His elders hadn’t told him exactly when he need this knowledge, but he figured now was as good as any. His younger sister was annoyingly taller than he was, and annoyingly got better grades to0. Their parents seemed to like her better, as well. He was sure it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she never caused any trouble, never talked back, always gave more than she took. Because if any of that were the case, then he’d have to change his own behavior and that wasn’t going to happen.

So he decided today was the day he would make his sister pay for his mistreatment. She had to understand that he was in charge, simply because he was male and he was older than her. Somehow talent and ability were irrelevant. Somehow the fact that their parents were actually in charge escaped him too. Now was the time to assert his dominance, and if she didn’t accept it, he’d be forced to kill her. It was for her own good, after all. If she wouldn’t submit to her brother, then how would she act around her future boyfriends? Best to get that train headed in the right direction early or else there was no telling what trouble could happen. It would be an embarrassment to the family name.

Little Susie smiled at Bobby when he pulled out the gun that Sunday afternoon in their backyard. She’d just gotten through cleaning out the birdcage for Mr. Peepers, their three-year-old budgie. She was the primary caretaker of the bird, even though it was Bobby who’d demanded the pet. After a week of owning it, when the novelty wore off, their parents realized he wasn’t taking care of the bird so they assigned the chore to her. For some unknown reason they didn’t insist on Bobby picking up the slack. It was his pet, after all, the one he’d begged and pleaded for all those months. They could have told him he’d have to care for it or they’d give it away to another family, but that never crossed their minds.

This injustice never crossed Bobby’s mind either. It told him he could do whatever he wanted with no repercussions. If only their parents could have looked into the future and seen how this lesson would warp him, resulting in a string of divorces and bankruptcies and get-rich-quick schemes that never quite seemed to work.

That Sunday was the final straw. Susie had gotten a gold star in Sunday school, while he got nothing. He’d not done the worksheet, so of course he got nothing, but the truth didn’t phase him. He was angry at her because he hadn’t gotten a gold star and she had.

So when he pulled a gun on her, she wasn’t surprised. She laughed at him, as she had learned to do. It wouldn’t do to get upset or frightened. That was what he wanted after all. Or so she thought. This time, he didn’t want the upper hand. He wanted all the cards. He wanted her dead. Only then will he reign supreme. No more being compared to his sister, always unfavorably. There would be no more competition because there would be no more her. Today was the day where he would prove he was better than her once and for all and no longer would he have to look at her smirk.

And then it happened. He pulled the trigger. And just like that she was dead. For once in his life he’d done something right the first time instead of halfway. There was no trip to the emergency room here. This was a one-way trip to the morgue.

Bobby thought all his troubles were over. Turns out they had just begun. Of course he had to go through counseling. Jail wasn’t even considered, since he was so young and the family assumed it was an accident since he was so feckless in every other situation. There was no way this was intentional in their minds – he wasn’t clever or determined enough.

But even though he was never punished physically he was punished metaphysically. Susie came back, but only for him. She first appeared in his dreams, with the same gunshot wound to the chest that had killed her. He could see right through her. Every night she appeared, and every night she looked a little more sallow, the blood around the wound a little more crusty and black. He never told anyone about this. On the year anniversary of her death she began to appear in front of him while he was awake as well, but only he could see her. She never left his side. Instead of being rid of her, he saw her more in death than he ever had in life. He ended up having to be institutionalized. Everyone felt sorry for him. Well, everyone except Susie, who knew better.

(Finished October 28, 2019)

What it’s like (art journal page)

what-its-like

A meditation on being estranged from my brother. I have only one sibling, and our parents are dead. I do not talk to him by choice because he is abusive. Even his apologies are abusive. He somehow is able to make it sound like it is my fault that he is abusive to me.  Then, after that, he starts doing the same abusive behavior all over again.  I have given him multiple chances.

I had not planned on working on this topic again – I’ve written about it a lot. But then I was cutting out some pictures and words from magazines for a project at work and came across the one at the top – about how awkward it is to have a sibling you don’t talk to. It isn’t normal or expected. I was initially upset about these words (I felt it in my gut) and thought it too personal to make an art journal page about. But then I realised that is exactly why I needed to do it.

Sometimes it takes a long time for wounds to heal. Sometimes it takes a lot of different ways to do it, too.  Sometimes it doesn’t ever heal, and that is OK too – to sit with the wound and let it be filled with something else, something better.  But first you have to see it, and clean it out all the way.

detail
what-its-like2

I have dashes under the “all of the fun, none of the” collage piece for “fill in the blank”. I’ve written a list of words – good and bad, about what it means to divorce your sibling. I’ve used washi tape to affix it to the back of the page. I use only one side of each page in this journal so that I can cut out and frame / sell / give away a page and so that the ink / watercolor / Sharpie doesn’t bleed through or smear and mess up the other page.

Words that are there  –

(things I’ve lost because I don’t have a sibling I can trust)

Friendship trust history promises future reliability cooperation resource dependability traditions insights help failsafe backup hope

(things I have lost because I’ve gotten rid of an abusive person in my life)

narcissism psychopath being used arrogance delusions subterfuge bullshit megalomania psychological abuse hidden harm manipulation gaslighting lies hypocrisy

———

The craziest thing is that a relative wrote me after a blog post I wrote once about how abusive my brother is.  The relative begged me to make peace with my brother because we were the last relatives that he had on this side.  As if it is my fault that the damage is there.  As if it is up to me to apologize and make amends.  That too is abuse – to expect the victim to “make things right”.

People say “But do you forgive him in your heart?” They are usually Christian.  They think there is some magic formula.  If I “forgive him in my heart” then I’m off the hook.  This is crazy-making.  Sure, I forgive him in the way that I understand a shark can’t help being a shark.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to go back in the water and let that shark bite me again.

———-

Created around 1/2/17 – Strathmore art journal, magazine clippings (many from Cosmo), gesso, Distress ink, colored pencil

Contract

While writing a story yesterday, I realized that I am / was expecting something of my brother that he did not agree to. I expected the “Hallmark” family and instead I got an abuser as my role model. I now suspect that he did not want to be anybody’s brother. Perhaps he wanted to be an only child. Perhaps he didn’t want to share his time or toys, didn’t want to share our parents attention and energy.

Basically, I’m accusing him of violating the contract he didn’t sign. He didn’t agree to having a sister, so he never said he would act like a brother.

This is the very same thing I’m saying that my sister-in-law is doing to me. She is mad that I wouldn’t help out with our in-laws estate, when I never said I would. In fact, I told my husband (the only person I need to tell) that I wouldn’t, because it was his task to do with his brother. I had done the same task, alone, at 25. Perhaps she has a script that says “daughters-in-law should take care of all family matters”, like I have a script that says “brothers should not abuse their sisters”.

I’m coming to understand that it is best to start with a clean slate, to not be prejudiced for or against situations / people / experiences.

Poem – This is not a Christmas present

not a present

This is not a Christmas present.
This is hatefulness.
This is the exact opposite
of a present at all,
much less one celebrating
the birth of Jesus.
This is pure aggressiveness.
There is nothing passive about it.
The label is superfluous.
It is quite obvious
what he thinks
about his sister
from how he has packaged
his “gift”.

If this were given to me,
I might set it on fire right in front of him.
I might take it outside first.
I might put it under a steamroller.
I might shoot it with my revolver.
I might tie lead weights to it
and throw it into Percy Priest Lake.

Under no circumstances would I open it.
It doesn’t matter what is inside.
Gold bars?
Enough money
to pay off my mortgage?
The key
to my dream art studio?
A contract
for a personal chef and gardener?

No gift is worth this.
Sure, it wouldn’t take long
to cut through these cable ties.
Maybe an hour.
Maybe a few pairs of scissors
would get destroyed
in the process.
That isn’t the point.

My friend,
I’m telling you
this truth:
don’t take any “gift”
that is given
with this much hostility.
It isn’t worth it.
Walk away from it,
and that person.

That is the best present
you can give
yourself.

Tilly and the lawn.

Tilly and the lawn

 

It was a big yard, and somebody had to mow it. 82° in the shade, and there wasn’t much of that to be had, but the grass still needed mowing.

Tilly was pleased with herself. All 7 acres in one day! Maurice said it couldn’t be done, but she did it. All week long he doubted her and it only egged her on. It was years later before she suspected that was his plan – to fire her up to do it by saying she couldn’t.

He was forever getting out of doing things one way or another. He thought he was so clever, but she was the real winner. He spent his whole life making others do everything for him and had never learned how to do anything for himself. Now he was a manager at a forgotten branch office of a small appliance outlet. Upper management had been fooled for years, thinking he did all the work.

When employee after employee quit, the house of cards tumbled down. They’d held it together for a very long time, but there was only so much they could take, watching him get the praise, the bonuses, the requests for motivational speeches. They couldn’t get why nobody else could see through his lies. Finally they left, one by one, and he was left by himself to run the shop. He didn’t even know how to run the cash register. It took the corporate office a week to suspect something was wrong. It took them a month to find an out-of-the-way office where he couldn’t do the company a lot of damage.

They couldn’t fire him, no, that wouldn’t do. Nobody really knew why. It wasn’t like he had tenure, not officially. This wasn’t a college after all. Plenty of half-rate incompetents had slid under the wire in that field. He was likable, in an odd kind of way. Perhaps that was how he could cajole everyone – employees, family, neighbors, into doing things for him.

He wasn’t pushy in an obvious kind of way. He just knew how to put a little pressure here and a little finesse there and before you knew it you’d agree to give up your one day off to work his shift. Somehow, at the time, you forgot you had plans you made weeks ago with friends you’d not seen since September. Somehow, it took several hours into your shift – his shift – to remember, and get angry and even a little resentful.

He was far away by then, and maybe that was part of his magic. The closer he was to you, the more you couldn’t resist, the more you couldn’t say no. Even 30-some-odd feet away at the other end of the building, his influence could still be felt. When he was at home he didn’t have the same power over them. But he sure had it over his wife.

Tilly made less than Maurice, always had. She was fine with that, because she had something he’d never have, something more than money. She had respect. She was respected by her coworkers and her family – people who had to be around her. Her friends didn’t just respect her – they adored her. They were drawn to her charm like a child is drawn to fireflies. They all did what she asked joyfully because she rarely asked – asked only when absolutely necessary, and even then she always said “You can say no”. They never did. Doing for her was like doing for a saint. You felt better after doing it, whatever the task.

Years later Tilly saw the picture of her standing on the front porch and laughed. If she’d only known just a few years later there’d be gas powered motors to speed things up. Just a few years later and there’d be tennis shoes, not loafers, for better grip. Just a few years later and she could have worn a T-shirt and shorts to do this chore, free to choose to wear a dress rather then it be the only option. All these advancements made her mowing accomplishment at the time all the more impressive because she did it without them.

She’d always thought that handicaps were advantages in disguise. They made you work harder, not take anything for granted. They handicapped the athletes who were stronger, didn’t they? Or was it horses? Something about making it a fair match. So being handicapped meant something good to her, meant that she secretly was better, stronger, more capable. Like she had secret powers and had to figure out what they were, hidden under that handicap. She always said that the more you focus on what you don’t have, the more you miss what you do.

Maurice was her handicap, so he was her blessing. Because of him she learned how not to treat others. He gave her so many examples of how not to act that she had a clear road in front of her showing her the way. It was like he’d gone through the test book of life and crossed out all the wrong answers, leaving her with all the right ones. It was an odd way of learning but it was learning nonetheless. It took her years to understand the gift that he given her by teaching her backwards.

Stuck

I had a boyfriend who was 20 when was 17. His birthday was coming up and he wanted to celebrate it with his parents at his house and he wanted me to come. However, this involved a trip across the country in a plane. We flew from Chattanooga to Seattle, and then drove to some little town about two hours away. I was stuck at his house, in his town, with his parents. I had no way out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became really obvious very soon that I was in trouble.

Having never made any moves on me before then, he attempted to have sex with me that very first night. I resisted and eventually managed to survive the week still a virgin. I broke up with him immediately upon returning home and didn’t speak with him for many years afterwards. He was deeply confused as to what had gone wrong. Even after I explained it to him he didn’t really understand.

I suspected something was wrong from the very beginning of the stay with his parents, when I was greeted by his parents at their house and his father was wearing only an undershirt and tight shorts. I was clued in to more when I learned that my boyfriend’s “rebel” earring wasn’t rebellious at all – his dad had one, and his brother had one. I also figured out that something was wrong when his parents matter-of-factly put my luggage and his luggage in the same room.

The alarm bells kept going off – there was a lot of smoke, but I didn’t have an escape plan. Worse, I’d been taught to ignore these alarm bells by the very people who should have taught me better.

What were the alarm bells? My parents would have never greeted a guest wearing their underwear. They would never even be seen in front of anyone, even family, like that unless they were sick. They certainly wouldn’t have put a non-married couple in the same room together, and much less if one person was a teenager.

For his parents to treat me like that was a warning that I was not in a “normal” house – and I certainly wasn’t safe. He proceeded to try to “pick my locks” as the Pink Floyd song goes every night that week, and I was terrified.

How could I leave? I had no car. I had no spare money. He had the tickets – he’d bought them.

Perhaps I could have called home and gotten my parents to wire me money for a new plane ticket – to leave right away. Perhaps I could have gotten a taxi and just left.

I didn’t. I felt trapped, and I had no frame of reference for this kind of behavior. I had no way of knowing how to act.

But in a way I did. My brother abused me in many ways throughout my childhood, and my parents did nothing. He beat me and stole from me and when I told them they didn’t make it better. They didn’t punish him at all. He eventually became a full-blown narcissistic psychopath, and they didn’t nip this in the bud. He learned early on that he could get away with manipulating people any way he wanted. He learned early on that he could treat people like things and get away with it. Since my parents didn’t defend me, I learned to be passive. This was how I was supposed to be treated, apparently.

My trips to the dentist as a child also taught me passivity. He didn’t use anesthesia because he thought the needle would scare me. I learned that pain was to be endured, especially pain at the hands of an authority figure. My parents were paying for it, so this must be normal. Suck it up.

While I’m angry at myself for not standing up and defending myself, I also have to forgive myself. I didn’t know better. I wasn’t taught well. I learned to accept bad behavior quietly until I could find a way to remove myself safely. I’m angry at them for not teaching me how to take care of myself at all. I’m angry at them for their ineptness. But I also need to remember that they, like all parents, are amateurs.

I went to a therapist once who thought I should just hang out in the “angry” place and not forgive or excuse bad behavior, but it isn’t that simple. Emotions aren’t just one or another, but a range of them. I can be angry and forgive at the same time. I can understand and empathize, but also be sad at people’s bad choices.

While I think that boyfriend and my family “should” have known better, I’m putting my value system on them. I’m forgetting that they don’t have to do things my way. I’m forgetting that they have their own ways of doing things, and if I feel that they are wrong – for me – then I must get away from them. They don’t have to stop doing what they are doing – they just have to stop doing them to me. Their actions are their own, and the consequences of their actions are their own.

This all reminds me of how nobody told me how to use the brakes on a bike when they taught me to ride. I got very badly hurt, and it was totally avoidable.

Relax. Don’t do it.

I don’t know how to relax. When I take a day off, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I feel like I have wasted a day. If I spend the whole day in my pajamas and I don’t brush my teeth and I don’t go out then I really feel the same as when I did when I was smoking pot. The next day I feel completely behind and that I haven’t done anything useful.

It is like being on a bender. My entropy and lethargy only get stronger and stronger. The next day when I start to pick up the pieces I feel like a big mess. I feel like I’ve just had a huge party in my house where 50 people have shown up and left beer bottles and paper plates everywhere. I feel like my entire job is to clean up after them. But the only problem is there was no them. It was just me.

So I feel guilty taking time off. I feel guilty doing nothing. Perhaps I feel that I don’t deserve it. So I push myself really hard all the time and I double up on my days. I try make sure I have something to do no matter where I am.

Even if I’m watching television I have beads nearby that I can work on and make necklaces. It isn’t like I have commissions or guaranteed sales for them. It isn’t like I’m really making money off this. Yet I still keep busy. When I walk at lunch I write some of this blog using my phone. I don’t look up and see the beauty that is around me.

I’m always doing something. Rarely am I just being. I know that if I do too much I’m going to wear myself out. My desire to not be wasteful of my time will end up wasting my life. I’ll wear myself out and have nothing left.

Even now I’m on the way to an appointment and I’m dictating this into my phone. That way I can copy and paste it later into my blog. It’s a little pathological. The appointment is with a spiritual director. Spiritual directors are concerned with your relationship with God. The right now I’m concerned with my own relationship with myself.

Just like the Sabbath, perhaps I need to schedule my unscheduled time. God knew how busy we’d get, and mandated rest for us. So I need to start seeing rest as holy.

I need to start seeing quiet time as not wasted time. I think the only way for me to do that is to plan it, rather than just let it happen. If I prepare for it by doing my morning routine and making sure I’m caught up on my chores, I won’t feel so far behind when I “return” from my “time off”. Retreats don’t have to be held at a separate location. They can occur in the living room or back yard.

And then again, I need to address why I feel that I have to do it all. How much of that comes from when my parents died, and I had to handle the whole estate by myself? I had to take care of the house sale too, and prepare to move. I had help with the heavy lifting from friends, but all the organization and legal stuff I had to do on my own. My brother, older and in real estate, was not only not helpful, he had proven how untrustworthy he was with other similar situations. I could have let him “help” me and I would have lost more than money in the deal. I’ve seen his version of ethics and morals.

I need to remember that isn’t how everyone acts. I need to remember that bad people aren’t necessarily patterns for all people. I’ve overtrusted in the past and been very hurt. People I should have been able to trust, best friends, have betrayed me and excluded me. I have a hard time trusting and feeling safe around most people. Their ways are not my ways.

I’ve recently learned that feeling betrayed and losing trust are all part of trauma. What you expect to be solid and true turns out to be null and void. I also know that not processing difficult feelings is dangerous. Perhaps that is part of why I fall into pits of “nothingness” and unintentional days off. Perhaps the trauma of my childhood and the recent chaos at work are all connected.

Hidden in plain sight

I think it is interesting how there are some posts that I won’t share on my Facebook feed, but I’ll still write them and post them. There are some people and situations that I want to write about that I feel won’t be received well by my friends or my family, so I don’t share them there. But I do share them with total strangers all over the world.

Perhaps it is a sign to me that I should talk to those people privately about what I see. Sometimes family or friends are doing something that I think is dangerous or stupid or counterproductive. Sometimes I can see that the direction they are going will result in making their lives even more difficult. But instead of telling them, I vent about it here.

But then again, I’ve noticed that people are unwilling or unable to heed advice when they didn’t seek it.

For a while I had a filter, where I would share posts with certain people but not others. I could block out a group. It turned out that group was either family or friends of family. Family tends to get upset when I talk about family. My brother had a real issue with it – something about family honor and pride and name. But if he was so darned interested in family honor and pride and name, he should have acted better.

I was just reporting the facts. Is it embarrassing to be called out for your repeated violations of your own honor code? His lies and machinations finally got to me. It was either my sanity and health or his “honor”.

Then there is my married family. There is quite a bit of unsettled business there, and it is ugly to watch people act like teenagers when they are in their 70s. If lessons aren’t learned when you are young, you will continue to stay at that emotional age.

I got called out for pointing out hypocrisy and lies and maladaptive behavior in my family – birth and married. I got challenged by members, saying that I should just put up and shut up and make peace. It isn’t my place to make peace with someone who has abused me. I am not in the wrong for standing up for myself.

If someone breaks into my house and robs me, I am not the person who should apologize and make things right.

Being mentally harmed by a family member, even after I have pointed out the harm and asked him to stop, is the same as being robbed. My mental peace had been stolen. But for another family member to write me and say I should make peace for the sake of the family is even more insulting, and further harms me. It says that I am the antagonist.

I was attacked for what I wrote about the church too – by members of the parish I went to, and by strangers here who thought I was being divisive and harming the Church. I’m not. I’m showing how we are damaging it. I want it to be stronger, but it can’t be until we remove the weak parts. Like all the parts that Jesus not only didn’t tell us to do, but also all the parts that Jesus told us especially not to do.

I will not be silent anymore. I was silent for many years. But now I’ve found my voice, and I will speak. The more people who try to silence me actually strengthens me, because I see it as a sign I’m on the right path. Just like in aikido, I use my opponents’ energy in my favor.

Family honor

My brother used to push the idea of family honor on me. He seemed to think that it was my responsibility to keep up the family name and family pride. And yet he was the one who changed his last name and who got two women pregnant without being married to them. He is the one who got divorced four times and who got himself a quarter of million dollars in debt.

So I’m not really sure why he thinks it is my responsibility to keep up with family honor and pride. Perhaps it is my responsibility because he realized that he had failed at it. Trying to make his problems my problems isn’t acceptable.

I have felt like I have failed the family for many years but I’ve gotten over it. He really did a number on me. Because he was older than me, I trusted him. He imprinted me. I finally realized that their madness isn’t my madness.

If you work for a company, everybody should work together to make a good product. But if you work really hard and no one else does, then you will lose your sense of loyalty towards the company. You feel like it doesn’t matter what you do because no one else is pitching in nearly as hard as you are.

The same is true with my family. I feel like they aren’t doing anything for me so why should I do anything for them? In fact they seem to think that it is my responsibility to care about everybody else’s feelings, when they don’t bother with mine. That is the very definition of codependency.

In “Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss talks about how our first loyalty is to our tribe – our family, our culture, our country. Whatever we are born into and is impressed upon us. Problems occur when we disagree with it and realize that its goals and values are not the same as ours.

She talks about our family of origin as being Divinely chosen. So this means we should accept it.

That isn’t so easy.

This happened with Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane – 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39, RSV) He was about to be crucified, and he knew it. He was about to suffer a very painful and humiliating death, one that he didn’t deserve. He knew that he was going to be resurrected, but getting to that point was going to be ugly.

He didn’t want what was going to happen to him. He was asking God to let it not happen.

I was angry at God for letting things happen to me. I was angry at God for the abuse and neglect. I was angry at God for it all – not having a better family then and not having a better family now. I didn’t pick these people.

I felt pretty ugly for thinking these thoughts. But if even Jesus can think stuff like this, then I’m in pretty good company. And Jesus says, not my will, but yours, God. It isn’t what I want, but what You want.

I’m trying.

Myss says that problems with this area tend to manifest in the lower back and knees, and that is where my pains are. And from my prayers before I read this, I knew that I needed to let God be in control. It is good to get confirmation, but still hard to do.

There has to be a reason what has happened and is happening to me is going on. God made it happen and is making it happen. It is a way to open up, to learn, to grow. It is a test, a trial. Somehow I doubt that the world will be redeemed through my sufferings, but I might be.

Father’s Day, 2014. Eulogy, epiphany

Here’s to all the fathers –
Those who are here, and those who aren’t.
Those who show up every day, and those who were never there.
Those who abandoned us, and those who have died.

They have made us who we are.

It doesn’t take a license to be a father. There is no training for it. Fatherhood can be done by amateurs, and often is. Even having had other children doesn’t prepare you for having more. Every time is a new time, with new challenges.

I had an uneasy relationship with my father. He was emotionally distant. He hadn’t been nurtured by his parents, and he didn’t know how to nurture his children. Is this an excuse? Is this an explanation? Or is it just the way it is?

There are plenty of guys who left when they found out they were going to be fathers. Some stayed, but only half-heartedly. Some initially wanted to be fathers, but found out they weren’t up to the task.

Let us forgive them all. Not excuse them. Forgive them.

The best thing I ever was able to do was to forgive my father. He never knew about that bit of grace that happened that day. Shortly before he unexpectedly died, I finally saw him as just a person, and not my Dad. He didn’t owe me anything. There were no expectations to be unmet. There were no promise to be broken. I saw him as broken and sad and hurting. I finally realized he had done the best he could, with what tools he had.

I’m grateful to have gotten to that point. It took a lot of work.

I’d realized years before that if I wanted to have a relationship with my father, I was going to have to find something we could both do together. He seemed unable to connect with me, so I had to make the effort. Eating out seemed to be the way. We would meet for Sunday brunch at Ruby Tuesday’s, or Bob Evan’s. Every Sunday I would go to church alone, and then come back home and we would go together out to eat.

It was his choice to not go to church, even though he was an ordained minister, even though the church I went to was the one he had gotten married in. It was kind of an awkward routine on Sundays. It would have been easier if we had gone to church together and then to brunch afterwards, but that wasn’t going to happen. I took what I could get.

He didn’t come up with the idea of us eating out together, I did. I saw it as a point of agreement, something we could both enjoy. His other interest was classical music, and that wasn’t really something we could meet on. I didn’t love it like he did, and he would always be the expert on it. We wouldn’t have been on equal ground.

When we ate out, it was our time together, just us. It wasn’t always easy. He was a sloppy eater, a bit greedy. I remember when we would eat at home he would finish his food first and then look at my plate and ask to finish it for me. I ate slowly, carefully. He ate ravenously, like a dog. He was willing to take food from his child. This pattern happened in other areas of my life too.

This is who he was. This is how he was raised. He wasn’t allowed to grow up true and strong. His parents were either overbearing (his dad) or flighty (his mom). There was no healthy role model. It was military precision and perfection, or playtime. He never had a childhood, not really. His dreams were squashed as being unreasonable and unrealistic.

One day, over a mid-day breakfast of pancakes and sausage, it clicked. I stopped seeing him as somebody who owed me a good childhood. I stopped seeing how he had failed me. I stopped expecting anything from him. I started seeing him as just a person.

He died twenty years ago. There was no more time to work on our relationship. There was no more time to rebuild it. I was grateful that I’d had that epiphany while he was still alive. I was grateful that I’d had all those Sunday brunches with him to build up to that point. I wanted more. I wanted to rediscover my Dad as a person, but there wasn’t time. He died unexpectedly, just six weeks after Mom died.

My brother never made the time to get to know Dad as a person. That is his fault. That is his loss. He’d threatened to kill Dad when he was 17, and the relationship had never gotten better. Dad’s will reflected that. My brother blamed Dad for the bad relationship, but it takes two to have a good one. And Dad didn’t threaten to kill his son.

My brother insisted on an etching as part of the estate. It was of “The Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt.

It was worth a lot of money. It was worth nothing. It was a piece of paper.

I had the “returning” in reality, because I’d worked on it. In the story, the son returns, and the father welcomes him. But my brother hadn’t worked on it, hadn’t returned. He had the image, but not what it represents. It is sad, but not tragic. Perhaps he thought he’d have more time. Perhaps he didn’t think about it at all.

When Dad died suddenly, there was no more time to work on the relationship. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. We didn’t know he was that ill. In a way, it wasn’t a surprise – he’d never taken care of himself. He smoked two packs a day. He never exercised. He ate whatever he wanted and it was never fresh.

Relationships transform after death. I’ve come to see that every time I think about him, he’s thinking about me. People who die don’t leave, so much as change state.

Death is freeing – a person is not limited to the body anymore. Your loved one is always with you.

There is a time of transition, surely. There is grief, and acceptance, and anger. There is a time of growth and deepening after that. It isn’t all pain.

Our society doesn’t teach us how to deal with death and grief. It doesn’t teach us how to transform it. It doesn’t teach us the other side of it.

Here it is –

After death, you can ask your Dad anything and he will answer. He is part of you now, just like you were always part of him. All of your ancestors are with you now – even the ones that you never met, even the ones that you don’t even know the name of. Your presence is the sum result of all their efforts. You are the end of the relay race. The baton has been handed to you. They passed on their genes, their knowledge, their fears and hopes – to you.

They are all with you, now.

Death isn’t an end. It is just a beginning.

My Dad.
Dad