Dear Dad…

I’m so sad tonight. I wish I could pick up the phone and call you up and tell you how I’m feeling and let all my frustrations out. You would probably listen awkwardly because I’m a woman and I’d be crying, and then you would tell me a story that hardly seems related, but somehow makes me feel better anyway. I would put down the phone feeling all cried out in the way you normally can only be when you’re by yourself, but in a good way, instead of this lonely aching feeling that I’m left with right now.

You never met R, so I don’t know how you would deal with his visual impairment or his and our frustration at his speech delays. For all I know, when it comes to his medical history, you would be just as unhelpful as my remaining parent, not knowing what to say or do to help, or how to be supportive in the way we need. But I do know for certain one thing, when it comes to his everyday life, you would be here.

You would take me to appointments when I needed the company, you would be phoning off the hook every day to see how we both are, you would hug me when the terrible two’s were driving me mad, or there wasn’t anything helpful left to say. I can’t imagine a day going by where you wouldn’t want to see us both, to hold your grandson, to sit with your daughter, and just while away the time with us both.

You would probably tell me that it’s her depression and the years of being alone, but you’ll have to excuse me for insisting that it is still not normal for a parent to not want to see their grandchildren. After almost three weeks of no contact, it is not normal for a parent to have to be bullied into spending some time with their daughter and grandchild. And yet that’s what happened today. And I don’t know why I bothered. After an hour and a half of sitting on my couch watching him while I played with him, a large portion of that spent with her eyes closed, she left. My mother hadn’t hugged him, kissed him, read to him, or even touched him. She hadn’t even moved from her spot on the couch to go down to his level and join a game.

It’s true- I might imagine you being here through the tragically rose coloured glasses of knowing you never will be again. But it’s not the fact that you’re gone that tells me you would hardly let R go if you had the chance, it’s just fact. Because somehow, with one parent who told me she had to ‘learn’ to hug me when I needed it, I still grew up affectionate and loving to my friends and family. Even though I’ve been told that I’m loved the least out of her children, I’ve somehow got a sense of self-worth and belief. And I didn’t give myself those things, you did.

So I know, with the certainty of really knowing a person, the way I’m coming to believe I never will know my own mother, that you would be cuddling and playing and singing with my little boy every chance you could get your hands on. You would call, probably too much, to find out how we are and to tell us you care. It wouldn’t be a chore, or something you needed to be reminded to do or argued into.

I don’t worry about R, the way I sometimes worry about myself. He has two parents that know how to make him feel loved and special. Thank God, he doesn’t need you in his life to make him feel supported and worth something.

Sadly however, I sometimes think that I still do.

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Loneliness

He stood in the centre of the world, and watched the people passing by. An old couple hand in hand walked silently across his path, and he smiled at the idea that they had been holding hands for a lifetime, even though for all he knew they were newly-weds. He didn’t think so though. Something about the way they had no need for speech, and the uncanny way they almost looked the same as one another, gave the impression they had spent decades not just falling, but growing in love.

A child skipped past his feet, lost in his own world of thought. He looked instinctively for the parents watching, and found a young mother across the way, never letting her eyes move from his tiny figure as the child enjoyed his imagined independence. The boy’s innocence was palpable, and as he watched his limbs dance to silent music, he tried to suppress the white envy from spreading across his chest. He moved his gaze from the child and shook his head in self directed frustration. Children should be innocent, and the boy didn’t deserve to be looked at that way.

A young couple arguing caught his attention through the crowd of faces. They moved their arms in passionate gestures, talking over one another, each clearly desperate to win, rather than be heard. He clucked his tongue gently, knowing that the lesson couldn’t be taught until they were ready to learn it. The intensity of their argument moved him somewhat. You don’t argue unless you care. He hoped one day they would learn to talk as emotively as they fought.

Faces and figures passed by, some he knew, some he didn’t. He saw wives, and thought of his own, who knew him better than he knew himself most days. He saw siblings arm in arm, and thought of friends who were closer than brothers to him, and family members who almost filled that gap, in fact-so closely that an outsider wouldn’t see the hairline fracture which kept them from slotting in as neatly as they would in a perfect world. He watched parents lamenting the crises their children weathered alone, and wondered if his own parents were looking down on him and if they were proud.

As he watched the population of the world move seamlessly in unison, like a dance too impossibly complex to choreograph yet still somehow working perfectly, he knew that all those people were here somewhere, hidden by time and space and sometimes mere fate. He wondered what he would say to any of these people if they were standing close enough to ask with genuine concern why there were tears on his face.

He might try to respond with the truth, and let the crushing weight of sympathy take his breath away from the pain for that single moment. He might laugh it off and give the questioner the relief of not having to find some words to fill the empty silence. He might pretend he hadn’t heard them, and start a new conversation, drawing attention to all the things they had to talk about rather than the one thing they didn’t.
In all honesty, he’d probably just turn away and get lost in the crowd once again. They wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. And there was nothing more lonely than that.

On Divorce, and All the Trimmings

I am what is known as the product of divorce. As melodramatic as that sounds, it just means I grew up with my parents in two separate homes. I wasn’t the victim of endless screaming matches and custody battles, although I believe there were both. I’m not scarred from being caught in the middle or being unduly spoiled or missing out on quality time, although I believe all those things have been true at one time or another. The truth is that the divorce and its trappings were over before I was old enough to remember that any of it was happening at all.

As a kid in primary school, we had a bit of a club. The divorced parents club. And it wasnt sparsely attended, lets put it that way. It never occured to me that it was something to be sad about, to lament in any way. Just as some people had rich parents, or some people had strict ones, some people had divorced ones. When I got to high school, and started visiting other friends houses, I suddenly realised for the first time that having a family structure was something worth having, something to be proud of,  and yet something I didn’t and couldn’t have.

Compared to others, I was lucky. My folks could bear to be in the same room together, could have a decent conversation which didn’t only include the times I was being dropped off or picked up, and much to the surprise of my fellow club members in primary school, could take me out for the day together, and we’d all have a really nice time. I nearly got my membership card revoked. In fact, while I never remember actively wishing they were together, it took me until age 14 to work out why they were even apart.

At that age, I started wondering for the first time why certain things were different for me, and tracing them back to the relationship between my parents, a thought I’d never even entertained before. In many ways, I felt like I had two different lives when I was with each of them. They even called me different names, something which I hadn’t and haven’t seen in any other ‘product of divorce’ then or since. My mum had her secrets I wasnt allowed to share with my dad, and although far more serious than the usual “dont tell your father how much these shoes cost” of a regular household, no one ever taught me to feel uncomfortable about hiding the truth, and so I started to keep my own secrets and lies. The arguing and ignoring was by no means constant, [as I said, they usually got on well] but when it came, it was harsh and brutal, putting me in a frightening place I didn’t want to be, perhaps all the harder for the unexpected and sporadic nature of their fighting.

I got on with life in 1 and a half houses, finding my own family and friends to escape to, reminding myself that one day I would have my own home to build the way I wanted to. That I had a choice to treat marriage and family with the sacred language and actions that I saw others doing seemingly effortlessly, everywhere I turned but home. But it took me until my year abroad after high school to accept and open up about these issues which I didn’t even really know were affecting me.

Since then, and after I lost my father in 2006, I no longer ever feel like the product of divorce. It got devastatingly overtaken by my new title, That girl who lost her dad at 19. Not coincidentally, the timing also fits with when I started dating my husband, and began building that home I always dreamed of.

Nowadays, I try and take whatever bad feeling is left about my parental situation and channel it into being a better wife and mother at home. And I just hope that R is as surprised as I wasn’t, the first time he comes across a friend who doesn’t have both loving parents at home with them, as they deserve.

The Generation Game

If my baby were an adult, this week I would call him callous. If he were a grown up, aware of how tired both this parents are from an emotionally and physically exhausting week, I would probably be furious at him for his behaviour towards us.

Our family have suffered a great loss in the last few days, and I’m feeling drained, contemplative, emotional, and in need of some serious me-time. My son however, is just as he always is. Eager to be entertained, wide awake (as we all would be if we were allowed 15 hours sleep a day), somewhat whingy, and constantly in need of our full attention. What is usually part of the job, and at worst, moderately frustrating, has this week become almost impossible.

I got home on Tuesday morning at about 6am. My son woke up with his usual vigour at around 7. I sleepwalked into his room, muttered the morning prayer of Modeh Ani to him, with none of my usual halfhearted bounce, (half is good for me-I am the opposite of a morning person.) and lifted him out of his cot. He grinned at me, and started pressing my nose, the cue for a cheery rendition of “The wheels on the bus.”

Washed out. Devastated. Exhausted. Lost. A few of the words that described how I felt at that moment, having only hours before watched a man I loved leave this world. How could I play with my baby, smile and sing and laugh with him, when I cant even explain to him yet, “Ima doesnt feel too good today” or “A sad thing has happened.” For R, the world was exactly the same place it was when I said goodnight twelve hours previously. For me, everything had changed, and I was overcome with a desire to put him down on the floor, leave him the open box of cheerios, and climb back under my waiting duvet.

And then I had a moment of utmost clarity. I was holding in my arms, a baby. My baby. Entirely innocent, and thank God, entirely without hurt or pain over this or any other incident in the world. (Lack of breadsticks exempting.) That’s the way of the world, and that’s the way it should be. As heartbroken as I am, he doesnt even know how to feel that emotion, let alone recognise it in my own eyes. And I’m so glad. He has plenty of time to learn how to sympathise with other people’s pain, and discover the right platitudes to say. For now, he is completely and totally selfish, and nothing could be better for him.

And perhaps for me too. Coming home, and seeing my son, playing with him, being forced to smile and laugh, only reinforces the nature of our lives. As we say goodbye to the older generation, we step into the shoes of the middle. This week, I truly feel like I’ve grown in countless ways, but not least out of being a child, in a very real way. Taking on responsibilities that may have rightly been my own late fathers, accepting that life is finite and precious in a way I’ve never embraced before, and stepping up into a more adult and mature role in our family. All of these things have changed me.

Looking at my baby boy, who has years and years to explore the ways of the world and struggle with the beauty and hardship of all these emotions, I know that he is truly blessed in his self-centredness, and that there is enough time in the future where he will no doubt be deprived of that without me taking it away from him now, in his babyhood.

And so I kissed his tiny forehead, gave him an extra little squeeze, and began at his favourite part, the middle of the song. “The horn on the bus goes.. beep beep beep!”

After all, why should he have to wait?

 

On Dealing with Tragedy

The first time I had to deal with death I was 8 years old. I don’t remember a huge amount about it, but a favourite Aunt of mine died suddenly and tragically young with no warning. I remember being truly devastated, in the way that only a child can be, and I believe it has shaped how I feel about tragedy and death in general.

When I was 12, both my grandmothers died within a month of each other. The first, I found so painful that for years I couldnt think about it without crying, and the other, passed me by in the shadow of the former. From that point, without any conscious choice, I began to believe that anyone more than one generation above, was not safe. Even though 70’s and 80’s is young by some peoples standards, to me, if someone had reached their 70’s, it really was only a matter of time.

What a horrible way to look at life and death. And unfortunately, once again, I have to look at how mortality was viewed in my house growing up. I remember a conversation I had with my own mum when I was about 13.
“What will I do when [insert favoured family member of the older generation] dies?”
“… I know.”

As a child, wondering about death, having lost two grandmas in such a short space of time, I was thinking about older people and death and I suppose needed some reassurance that old isnt the same as ill, and that I didnt have to worry. Instead, the two word reply I got, (followed by the instructions that I had to be brave) not only confirmed that they were in fact, old enough to worry about (At the time this person was about 66) but also meant that pretty much the last decade or so since then has been spent waiting for them to get ill and die. If R asked me the same question, I have no doubt that my response would be along the lines of “Well that’s not something to worry about! X is perfectly healthy and not even very old yet!”

And so I spent my teenage years not really being affected by the loss of Great Aunts and Uncles, however much time I had spent with them, or by hearing of people young and old who had been lost. For me, it became a harsh reality, that still stung once in a while, but was just part of life.

And then I lost my Dad, the week I turned 19, and suddenly everyone elses tragedy was mocking me. I saw adults crying at their parents funerals, and became angry. How ungrateful they were to all the extra time they were given with their parent? When my own Grandfathers died soon after, I couldnt relate to my mums grief, because hers seemed fair, to lose a man in his 90’s, and mine so unjust in comparison. I was and still am shocked at people my own age with all 4 grandparents, much the same way as I would gawk at a two-headed creature on display at a fairground.

Before this, I had always found it difficult to relate to death around me. But at age 19, I became cold to it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel grief and sadness, for me and for others, and it’s horrible to watch anyone suffer, but I also know that my mind quickly switches to ruthless thoughts and drifts to other topics, and the tears dry up far quicker than they once did.

Maybe that’s just adulthood, and as we grow up, we find it so much easier to face death and illness and not fall apart. Or maybe losing a parent, at whatever age, gives us such a real glimpse into grief and mourning, that we are just better at handling it from that point on.

It’s hard to know what I would want for my own son. He already has just 3 out of 4 grandparents, and I feel a loss for him in that he will never know his Zeida. While obviously as a parent I pray that he is protected from grief for as long as possible, I also want to be able to meet that grief together with him head on when it comes, giving him a realistic yet optimistic view of life and death, and helping him through it, in a way that I never really feel I was.

The main thing is, that I don’t want him to have the same hang ups and mixed up feelings on the topic as I do. After all, here we are, he’s 1 year old, and all his grandparents are in their 60’s. And yet I’m kind of preparing myself for it already. What a huge effect the way we grow up has on every aspect of our lives. And how to stop history repeating itself?

Yet another work in progess.