family, women

Grieving the Living

File Jul 21, 8 32 21 PM

I keep coming back to this place.  A dread.  I do not want to write this piece.  And also I need to.  Undoubtedly there will be fallout.  Though I pray for Restoration – I welcome peace.

I have such fond memories of my childhood.  If I really think back, I cannot remember but a handful of “bad” moments.  One was hearing my parents argue and suddenly being gripped with fear that one of them would leave and never come back.  Another involved a dreadful fight between my sister and I where I physically hurt her, I bit her badly, and feeling incredibly ashamed that I allowed myself to hurt her in that way, and another involved an Uncle, that had he not fled the state that very night, my dad would have likely been headline news.  The love of parent and child – it should be so fierce.

Mostly, I remember running bare-footed across hot rocks and making mud pancakes under the old fruitless mulberry in the front yard.  That tree was meant for climbing unless, of course, you had just eaten fried chicken and your attempt at climbing landed you flat on your back – knocking the wind out of you.  Dad rescued me then too.

We captured bugs and caterpillars, venting the old mason jar lids and filling the bottom with dirt and grass. The woodpile behind the garage adjacent to the back fence was the perfect hideout for secret clubs and hiding from parents.  There was art and music and gardening.  Much of what we consumed in that house was touched at some point by our own hands.  Food was canned. Granola was made.  Clothes were sewn from patterns picked out of giant McCall’s pattern books.  Mom, barely in her twenties, made everything from scratch, mostly because that’s what we could afford, but also because we were very much still steeped in a generation defiantly distancing themselves from TV dinners and Velveeta cheese – staples of the generation before it.

I am sure it was not as idyllic as I remember.  Now that I am a parent, I am positive that it wasn’t.  I am certain stored away in my brain somewhere there is so much more to our story.

Just as my childhood is not as I remember.  The future I pictured, imagined, as a little girl also does not exist.  Nor will it ever.

Sickness has stolen that from me.  From us.  From all of us.  Please don’t misunderstand, I am so very grateful my mom is alive – I know there are so many that would give anything, just for a moment more with their loved ones.  I only try to put our pain into words.

My mother will never get to experience my boys the way she was able to with my oldest, Madison, and my sister’s two girls.  And my boys will never know the vibrant, loving, and giving person she was…is.  IS.

Last December we visited my parents.  Maddie and I and the four Littles made the two and a half day trek up to Central Oregon to spend a few days after Christmas with my parents.  I was warned what to expect.  I do not know how we could have ever been prepared.

Her illness has taken so much already.  Her mind.  Her ability to walk. Speak.  Just about every form of independence is gone.  With tremendous effort she can respond in one syllable responses. It gave me great joy to sit with her on her bed and have a few moments alone with her.  She was flustered that she could not get to the remote, so I asked my dad where it was.  Always in caretaker mode, he came in and changed the channel.  I was certain it was not something she wanted to watch and my dad insisted she liked what he put on.  I changed the channel when dad left room.  And in a small, but not insignificant show of independence, she grinned with affirmation that she preferred what I had chosen.   I asked, is he always like that, she sheepishly responded, “yes!”

What I wouldn’t give to simply have a conversation with her.  To listen in as she chatted with my boys about nothing…and everything.  It has been years since I have had a conversation with her.

The gradual loss of a parent is so utterly painful.  I do not wish for death.  I wish for restoration.  Not just for my mom, but for my dad as well.

I am not sure what has happened.  Well, that is not entirely true.  I know most of what has happened.  I know that my mom’s illness has not just stolen a future from me but, more so, from my dad.

This is not the “Golden Years” he pictured either.  He and mom will never travel across the United States in an RV.  He will not take daily treks into the beautiful Central Oregon landscape gaining inspiration for his art. They will never come visit their grandchildren who live so far away.  Funerals of loved ones have been missed, as have important family gatherings.  Mom cannot be left alone, nor can she travel – his retirement will be spent as her full-time caretaker.

Whereas I am filled with mostly tears and sadness, I suspect my dad vacillates between sadness and regret – both peppered with anger and resentment at the yoke he has vowed to bear.

Somewhere in the midst of the emotional exhaustion of my mom’s illness another transformation has taken place.  Whereas before there were only lines of disagreement between my dad and I, now there are deep voids of extreme opposition.  Like Lysa TerKearst describes in Uninvited, I am sure he has as many “file folders” of transgressions that validate why he is right and I am wrong, as I do him.

I am also certain, just as I carry wounds I attribute to him (he would argue they are not) the reverse is also likely true.

To the core, I love my dad.  I LOVE my dad.  I love the dad I remember and I love the dad, who today, is nothing like him.

I suppose the future my dad pictured with me is also not the same either.  I do not doubt that he is very proud of most of who I have become, mother and wife, lawyer…I also imagine that he did not envision a daughter, daughters really, who would so vocally oppose his ideologies.  Or worse, challenge them.  In that future, his daughters stood with him – not across a chasm.

And therein lies the rift.  Identities that are no longer drawn along familial lines, but of ideology.

Restoration may never come.  Certainly not for my mom.  At least not in this life.   Eternity is so much sweeter anyway.  And possibly not with my dad.

There is Love is there.  Love will always be there. It was there in December, where for a moment, there in the snow, I was immersed in the future I dreamed of.  Four little boys, in mittens and gloves, stomping through several feet of snow attempting to lob snowballs at their grandpa.  And a grandpa, thoroughly under-dressed and not caring much about it, chasing little boys squealing with excitement in circles around him.

There was so much love there.  Perhaps enough to fill a chasm.

7 thoughts on “Grieving the Living”

  1. I know how hard this must have been for you to write my friend, but I pray the writing has brought you some peace. As a parent, I am always unspeakably proud when my children demonstrate independent thought and intelligent consideration, even when we disagree and they make me crazy. I don’t know your dad, but knowing you, I have to believe he feels that pride & respect for his girls as well. Thank you for sharing this. You are not alone.

  2. I am somewhat going through the same. My grandmother is in stage 4 of her cancer. The matriarch of my family. The glue that holds us together. I cry and I hope but its the inevitable . Thank you for sharing

  3. I looked you up because I have been listening to the House of Fi podcast, and I’m so glad that I read this. The older I am, the more I experience sheer adoration for the value my mother STILL provides to our family. We too are a beautiful array of dark brown to pale peach hues, and that has come with the broad array of ideologies as well, even as we each would like to think that our ultimate intention is to please the Lord in our actions and interactions. Anyway, you have encouraged me to savor all of those moments that I still have with my mom fully present in mind and body (albeit, a few hundred miles away, but we visit plenty) Thank you for taking the time to write this.

    1. Thank you so much for your beautiful response. Sadly my mom passed away a couple of weeks ago. The beautiful part was that I truly got to celebrate her life and reminisce about all of the wonderful things she did and the amazing person she was before her illness. In a lot of ways it also helped the distance between my dad and me. She was the love of his life and we got to come together for one common purpose. Thank you for listening to the show and for taking the time to read a bit of my story.

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