Monday, April 14, 2014

My Dad

I've been here before--these early days of grief.  I've walked in this foggy state of being completely lost and confused.  I've dealt with the feelings of anger that result whenever I see people (who don't know me or my father) callously going about their lives as if nothing has happened, as if the Earth hasn't completely stopped spinning.  I've been through this feeling of being exhausted without having done anything of substance all day (grief is tiring).  I've been this sad before.  And yet this time, it is so, so, so very different.  Losing Sophie was so medically complicated, that it was days after her death that I even knew what was happening and it was months before I was physically able to grieve.  Losing Amy was horribly unfair and sad, but we knew it was coming.  We had a year to prepare.  Losing my Dad is different--not easier, not worse--just different.

For those of you who don't know, my father suffered from bipolar disorder.  What this meant when I was younger was nothing significant.  He had ups and downs, but he was usually full of energy, forever doing something fun, and always involved in my life.  He was perpetually late--I can't think of a single time he was supposed to pick me up from something that I wasn't the last one of my friends to be picked up.  (My freshman year of high school, I had a very small, tiny, itty-bitty role in the drama club's production--I can't even remember the play--but my part was within the first 5 or 10 minutes of the show.  While it didn't take much begging to convince my dad to come, after the show, Dad was mad at me that I had "dragged him" to this show and I wasn't even in it!  Of course, it turns out that he gotten there late and missed my part.)  He LOVED live music.  He never missed one of my concerts--late to them often, but never missed one.  He couldn't get enough of the ocean.  People wonder where I got my love of all things ocean and boating and was him.  While my earliest memories of the Isles of Shoals are on my grandfather's boat, I spent more time out there with my Dad than with anyone else and probably more than anyone else did with him (with the exception of Janice, his partner of nearly 20 years).  It is something that connected us more than anything else.  Watching my kids play out there is amazing to me because it is all his doing.

This all changed about 3 or 4 years ago--his love of life, his joy, his interest in what was going on in the world--it all slowly disappeared as he sunk into a depression.  It started in 2003, with the passing of Janice, his amazing partner of nearly 20 years.  A piece of him died with her.  His spark came back a bit as his collection of grandchildren grew, but he was never fully recovered.  When he bought a new boat in 2006, I thought he was finally going to come back to life.  I suggested the name: Snap Out Of It.  Years later, after a series of poor financial decisions, he was forced to sell the boat and that was another gigantic blow to everything that was my father.  Since then, he has gone farther and farther into a depression.  While I'm not writing this to air all the dirty laundry my father carted around (we all have that, don't we?), I want people to know the truth--that these last few years my father has not been my Dad.  He's been a person I've checked up on, invited to family events (he usually didn't come), and called to make sure he was okay.  He has been a shell of his former self.

This is the part that makes his death so very, very different from the others I've dealt with.  The fact is that he died years ago.  In the past few years, he hasn't wanted to be involved in our lives and (if I have to be brutally honest), I haven't truly wanted him in ours. I felt a very strong need to protect my kids from his depression and the resulting lifestyle choices.  So in addition to the suddenness of the actual death and the sadness and shock that brings, there is the struggle with the guilt and anger I feel at myself for letting our relationship get to the point it did.  There is the anger I feel towards him due to the fact that I begged and begged him to sell a house that was too big and move into something smaller and closer to us--but he refused, never wanting to be a part of our lives or community.   How am I supposed to come to terms with this?  How can I reconcile the man he was with the man he became?  I know the answer to all of this, of course, is time.  As different as this death is, I know next week, next month, next year will be different.  I know I'll start remembering my REAL Dad, and not be trapped in the guilt and anger.  I'll remember the time we flipped over on the ATV, and the time and energy he spent making sure my brother and I had the absolute BEST tree houses on the street.  I'll remember all our trips to NYC and the time spent there with some of the best friends a family could have.  I'll remember the time he set me adrift on a row boat with only one oar.  I'll remember the time he was in tears over the beauty of the best performance of my high school career.  I'll remember the pride in his eyes when I graduated from college, and the way he held my arm as he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.  Time....

Dad, I can't take back the past few months and years, and for that I am sorry.  I hope you know that as much as it frustrated me, I never gave up on you.  I never gave up hope that someday you would join our family, and my kids could see the man I remember and the man I will always love.  I wish it hadn't ended like this.  More than anything, I wish it hadn't ended like this.  I love you more than words can say and I'm going to miss your presence in our life.  You asked me once, when I was in high school or college, to come to your bipolar support group and talk about what it was like to grow up with a bipolar parent.  I didn't want to go.  I felt like I wouldn't be able to answer the question because I had never known any differently.  How could I explain what life was like WITH a bipolar parent when I had never had life WITHOUT a bipolar parent.  And know what?  I can't imagine any other Dad, bipolar or not.  I can't imagine my life without the memories of the boat and the island.  I can't imagine kids who never got to sled down the driveway on their dad's back.  I can't imagine life without kites, snowshoes, cameras, Broadway shows, camping trips, and fishing from a canoe.  I can't imagine growing up without ever having to pull over to the side of the road because the light was "just right" and would never be that way, in that moment, on that day ever again.  There is so much more--so, so, so much more to say to you.  I hope you are finally at peace and that you can see what is truly in my heart.  I love you, Dad, and I cannot express how much I'm going to miss you.

I think I'm on his back and my brother is holding onto his leg--but I could be wrong!  We took turns riding like that--calmly, fairly, and never fighting about it, I'm sure!

I have no idea...

 Out at Smutty--before there was a kitchen in Haley, one would cook on the pier.  We had hamburger meat and hot dog buns on the boat, so my dad made hot dog shaped hamburgers. 

 College graduation

Our wedding...I love both these pictures--in the first one, while everyone in the church is either in prayer or listening to the pastor, my dad is grinning at the camera.  And the one above is my dad doing what he loved for people that he loved.  
I love you, Dad.

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