Is it harder to grieve someone you loved or someone you wanted to?
Last weekend I learned that my father passed away. There’s usually a certain standard reaction of grief one feels immediately after losing a parent, at least that’s how I imagine it. People keep telling me how sorry they are for my loss, and I am left confused and unable to grasp entirely what that means. It’s difficult to grieve something or someone that you never actually had, but thanks and I appreciate your genuine condolences.
When I was about 13 years old, two of my friends were killed by a drunk driver. We were all hanging out as a group the night before and they had dropped me off first. My friends were always a little older than me, I grew up fast. Still, both much too young to die. Just like that, here one minute and gone the next like taillights in the dark. The rest of the group was hospitalized. Yet, I was fine. Safe at home in my bed. Meet guilt, my oldest and most relentless friend.
My parents divorced many years before that, and we’d go visit my father on the odd weekends. Those weekends were spent laboring in the fields shucking corn, mowing grass or helping to clean his last kill or catch. Before that day I had not seen him in about a year. I was terribly distraught and desperately seeking help my mother called him to try and talk to me. A completely reasonable thing for a mother to do when a child is inconsolable right?
I remember seeing him outside the sliding door that day and my heart stopped. He hugged me so tight it felt like I was being suffocated from the inside out, and he reeked of schnapps and peppermint chapstick. I told him I couldn’t breathe and he just laughed. Finally letting go, he started ranting about something that had nothing to do with me and then he said people die everyday, that it was just a part of life. Then I remember he asked me for money, and I didn’t give him any. After that, all I remember is his truck spinning off into a dirt cloud. That was the day I had my first anxiety attack and the last time I ever remember seeing him. That was 21 years ago.
I’d like to sit here and reminisce about the good times, look through old pictures of birthdays and holidays. Remembering learning to ride a bike, or having your dad teach you to tie your shoes. I’d really like to cry, but I did so much of that for him already as a child. I’d like to feel something normal for once about my father instead of the vast emptiness he has left me with.
I will always cringe at the smell of peppermint. So, we have that. I’ll also always have your dark curly hair, pale skin and freckles. It’s hard to forget what you look like when it’s staring right back at me. I imagine it’s hard for my mother too. I do remember he liked to write songs, and perhaps that’s where I get my need for writing. If I could say something to him it would be: “I understand you had a difficult life, and I forgive you. I forgive your mental illness, your addictions and all the parts you struggled with that kept you from being the world’s greatest dad or a decent person. The way you treated our mother was unacceptable, and no matter what I’ll never understand that part. I’m so sorry you missed out on your daughters lives. We grew up to be these amazing people and we’re all so close because the one thing we all have in common is never having you.” And then of course rest in peace and all of that stuff you’re supposed to say when someone dies. I’m not cold or heartless, this is the way grieving an absent parent sounds. Like the distant echo of nails on a chalkboard.
To answer the initial question; Is it harder to grieve someone you loved or someone you wanted to?
I think grieving someone is the same no matter what, but it is the process which is different. One is not easier than the other. Having lost other people in my life whom I loved dearly, this is definitely a different process. A longer one it feels like. There are no proper steps, no one really to relate to or at least not out loud.
One thing is for sure, this particular chapter closing in my life now has pages falling out of it that have to be sorted and dealt with. I feel this was a good start. Thanks for listening.
PS: I love you and I am so happy you are here.