Friday, February 12, 2016

The Things We Don't Discuss

Sometimes I wish people would talk about the things we're not supposed to discuss.

We live in a society that tells us how to feel when someone is dying. Our society tells us what feelings are okay, and that it's unhealthy to stray from these feelings. We are taught to say "I'm so sorry," "I will pray for you," "Things will get better," and a few select platitudes. We are taught to remind a grieving person of "the good times" and to smile awkwardly while patting their shoulder. We are taught these things from a very young age. They're ingrained in us so deeply that we don't question, we just DO.

Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes there ARE no "good times", the "right" feelings aren't there, and you're simply left with an empty sense of... wrongness.

My husband's father is dying. We know what we SHOULD feel, but somehow we can't. Over the past four years we have moved him, cleaned and sold his house and car for him, driven him to hundreds of doctor's appointments, paid his bills, tried to entertain him, and generally kept him safe. He has fought us, yelled at us, loudly resented our presence, and been grossly inappropriate to all of us.

I watch my husband carefully trimming the toenails of a man who refused to take his son to the doctor when his arm was broken, and my heart crackles with the iniquity. Twice we have packed up and moved the man who told his only son that he was marrying and he would have to find another place to live - and the injustice stings. My children and nieces gave up an entire summer of ten hour days painting walls for a man who never cared enough to know their names, and I am angry for them. I have had recurrent nightmares of his graphic stories; things nobody should hear from someone old enough to be their grandfather. There are thousands more stories... thousands of reasons for the emptiness.

Society fails to explain what to do, when your grief doesn't fit the mold. I see the struggle on my husband's face - in the grimace when someone asks how his dad is doing and he struggles to explain, and in the frustrated sigh when he's told to remember his childhood memories with his father. I see it in my children, when they stare awkwardly at me over the shoulder of someone telling them they must feel terrible that their grandfather is ill. I see it in the frantic compensation of my sister-in-law... so meticulously careful to be sure that the RIGHT thing is done, for a father who has never cared or done what was right for her. And I feel it in myself as overwhelming guilt, now that my own health prevents me from caring for someone who has never cared in return.

There is a sense of guilt, that what we feel isn't "right".
There is resentment and frustration... that we are "stuck" with death as the only possible release.
There is a sense of loss - not for what was, but for what NEVER was, and will never be. 
There is a burning urge to explain and be understood... and a feeling of utter futility, because words are wholly inadequate.
There are feelings that don't even have words, that keep us awake at night, demanding to be felt while defying comprehension.

I want to tell my sister-in-law that I am so sorry - that her father never showed her the care she shows him. I DO pray for our families - that we will have the strength to do what is right, whether we want to or not. I want to tell my children and nieces that things will get better - when they no longer need to cover their ears to avoid hearing things that should never be said. I want to remind my husband of the good times - that we have created together, in spite of his parents. I want to say these things, but these are not the "right" things to say.

Sometimes I wish people would talk about these things, so that others would know that it's okay to not be... okay.

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Update February 20th: My father in law passed away this morning. Numerous Facebook messages, saying people are sorry for our "loss" prompted my husband to pen the following:

"For those who haven't heard, my father died this morning. There are many things that conventional wisdom says I should feel or express, and many things that our social norms tell you that you should say to me. To all of that I defer to my lovely wife's greater wisdom and suggest you read her blog.

People tell me they're sorry for my loss, but I don't know what to say to that as I can't lose what I never had. The wisest response Marcy and I have gotten so far was from my wife's sister when she said she's sorry for lost opportunities and what will never be. I suppose the last part of that is the closest. Knowing who he was and how he was the sort of heart to heart conversation where we express our hurt and come to terms with each other - was simply never a possibility. So though I know you care and I know you mean the best, please don't tell me your sorry for my loss.


I am glad he's not hurting anymore and I'm glad he won't spend long hours worrying about the things that politicians and predatory groups convinced a vulnerable adult he had to worry about so that they could solicit as much money from him as possible. To those radical groups that made his last decade of life fraught with fear over their personal crusades, I hope you never have to suffer the kind of world encapsulating fear you inflicted upon him. But if you do, don't come crying to me because it's no less than what you deserve.

At this point I feel gladness and relief. He's gone home and is free from hurt, worry, loneliness, and confusion - all things that plagued him for a long time. He can be together with his parents, two great people who always cared for him and whom I long to be reunited with someday many years from now. So please don't say your sorry about him passing on, because I'm not."

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Perhaps that's all that need be said. He cannot hurt or worry anymore, and we can move forward.