Saturday was the 24th anniversary of the day that alcohol took my father’s life. I realize that many of my experiences don’t always paint a very nice picture of him, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him. As many times as I had the thought of how much easier life might be with him out of the picture (not through death, but just somewhere else), I had an equal amount of thoughts that I loved and felt sorry for whatever pain he held inside that fueled the drinking and other substances. I wish I had an opportunity to really know him, to understand more about who he really was and who he could have been, because he almost seems like a stranger to me now.
I never fully grieved him when I learned of his passing. Of course there was sadness, but how do you deeply mourn for someone that there wasn’t much of a relationship with? Besides, while he was alive I lived with the thought that he was always on the edge of dying. Before he grew sick, every time he got behind the wheel of a car in a drunken stupor (which was almost daily), I was sure that would be the day he wouldn’t return. When you brace yourself for something like that repeatedly, when the day does come – the grief is buried beneath the numbness.
I desperately wanted to have that father/daughter relationship, even while I was little, but at that time I didn’t fully understand that our situation wasn’t exactly normal and I just dealt with it because there was no other option. There were brief glimpses of what things could have been like if dad wasn’t drinking, but I didn’t fully recognize what I had missed out on until I was much older. What I’ve come to realize this past year is that grief is finally setting in. Not grief in the traditional sense of when someone passes, but grief of something that I never had in my childhood. It’s a loss that many people who’ve gone through difficult experiences or traumas as a child find themselves facing, and in most cases it doesn’t happen until we are in an emotionally comfortable position that allows us to do so. It took a bit of time for me to fully appreciate that somewhere inside of me, the pain that was buried had much to do with the lack of nurturing, love and attention that is so essential in our early years. I became so used to being strong and insisting that I am proud of who I am today because of how I grew up, which is certainly true, but I was denying that there was something tremendous that I deserved and should have been given as a child. I was broken hearted because of this loss and that was very troubling to admit, but ultimately very freeing.
Allowing those old pains to be fully experienced and genuinely grieved is what helps to empty them out and make room for greater peace and comfort within. While I am still very much going through this process, the journey has already been an enlightening one. I will always carry my father in my heart, but I will not always carry the hurt.