On Death & Dying & Family

Probably the biggest and scariest challenge most people face is their own mortality. Death–the great unknown. We can’t really know what happens when we die. There are a lot of people who have concepts, ideas, hopes… religions try to tell us what to expect, but there are so many differing stories, and it’s unlikely they are all right (not that it isn’t possible for an infinite universe to let them all be right).

My oldest uncle had a heart attack last week. It was a big one, quadruple bypass, talk about power of attorney, bleeding out, coding on the table. I’ve never been close to this uncle, though I did used to play with his kids, my cousins, when we were all younger. I never got to know him that well, though he has mellowed out some in his older years. I believe he is 64 years old, which, by many standards, isn’t all that old, but it’s still not all that young either. My mother is a couple of years younger than him, my father the same age as he is, and he is lying in a hospital bed with a central line and hooked up to tubes having been cut up and brought back to life.

I learned of this the day we were set to drive back from Colorado to end our vacation. I had to do some searching on the internet for my family to find my uncle’s kids and get in touch with them. They are, how shall I say this nicely… estranged.

But it made me think of my own father and our relationship. My father is the same age as my uncle. He and I have been estranged off and on my entire life, I guess you could say. I’ve been so angry at him.

See, two years ago, in April, I was in the hospital. I nearly died. It was serious business. My father did not come to see me. He called me on the phone to check on me, but he was out of town, and though he came back to town before I was released from the hospital, he did not come to see me. He said that he was in the medical field, and he knew I was going to be fine, so he didn’t see any reason to come see me. That if it were really serious, he would have been there.

It was serious to me.

But still, when I got out of the hospital, for a short time, he was calling me nearly every day to talk to me. We were getting along and I was enjoying our conversations. My sister had hurt her ankle and had some of her own health problems going on, so he was calling me to ask how she was doing too. See, she is a bit estranged from him as well. At least I know it’s not just me, right?

So then my father’s wife called me and asked me to ask my sister if she needed any help with groceries or household stuff while she was sick. I couldn’t help but feel a little hurt, since I had been in the hospital and nearly died, but no one asked me if I needed any help with anything, but being the good person I am, I told his wife I would ask my sister. When I did, my sister basically–and don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame her– said, “I don’t want anything from them.”

There’s a whole lot more to the story than just this (isn’t there always?), but suddenly, my father stopped calling me. He never said anything to me. I never understood why. He just stopped calling.

June comes around, Father’s Day. I called and left him a message. No return phone call. His birthday comes around. I called three times, left two messages. No return phone call. Thanksgiving comes around. I called three times, left two messages, no return phone call. Christmas comes around. I bought gifts for them. I called every day the week before Christmas, left multiple messages. No return phone call.

Those gifts are still wrapped and in the closet at my old house, unopened. I don’t imagine I’ll ever give them to anybody.

A year ago, in March, my father’s wife called me. It was THE DAY I was packing to move to another city. I was waiting on my ride to come and get me when the phone rang. My father’s wife proceeded to tell me that my father was very disappointed in us girls. That he was hurt by our actions. That if we were adults and if we wanted to talk to him we’d have to make the effort.

Wait a minute.

I’ve left multiple messages asking him to call me and have been met with silence, but I have to make the effort? I didn’t DO anything wrong here. I wasn’t the one who cut off communication either.

When I told her how I felt and what I thought, she said, “Well, your father just didn’t like the going behind the back you and your sister did when you asked her about groceries and helping at the house and stuff. He said you should have talked to him about it, not her.”

I”m like, wait a damned minute. “Wait a minute! YOU TOLD ME to call and ask her! I”m being ‘punished’ for what YOU asked me to do?”

I cried through the entire conversation and then told her I was leaving out of town and I would think about it and get back to her or him.

That was a year ago and I haven’t contacted either of them.

I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still feeling justifiably in the right here. But my father is not a young man. My father’s mother is not young either, and I don’t like leaving things in limbo.I don’t want someone to die and these feelings be left in the air, when they would feel so small and inconsequential at that point.

The problem is, I have been misunderstood, ridiculed, mistreated, abused and neglected by my father for the majority of my life. I keep trying and hoping that things will be different, and they never are. How many times do you keep trying before you give up? I’ve been used as a pawn–when I thought he might really give a shit about me for a change–in order to get inside information on my sister, and she has been used the same. Is it my father’s fault? Is it his wife’s fault, cause she surely doesn’t seem to like me? Trust me, my daughter was subjected to her full-on assault about how she felt about me–and it wasn’t nice at all.

My father said to my daughter once that he didn’t do right by me. I wish he had been able to say that to me instead. That would have made such a difference in my life.

On the trip back from Colorado, I thought to myself, “I’m at that age where a lot of my family is going to die soon…” I’m not prepared for that, you know. Don’t guess anyone ever can be prepared for that completely.

I do know this: I’m not ready to die. Not even close to it.

Which is why I’m going to the doctor today to have her look at my leg. I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I know it is the worst pain I’ve felt in a very long time, and I had necrotizing cellulitis once and said it wasn’t ‘too bad’. This hurts. I don’t know what’s wrong, but it’s been hurting since we got back from the trip and it’s gotten progressively worse until last night when I couldn’t put any weight on the leg/foot at all.

Anyway, I think about these things. Sometimes a lot more than I should. I worry and wonder about death and dying and family and what would happen if something happened ot me before I could make amends–whether I even want or need to make amends–or what if something happened to him before I could make amends.

Then I take a look at my writing here and realize that I said “before *I* make amends”… I guess it comes down to me having to make the effort.

I wrote a letter once to him that I never sent. You can read that letter in full here on the Unsent Letters blog. I think if he knew me, he might actually like me.

Anyway, guess I’d better go get dressed and ready for the doc appointment. Wish me luck.

Love and stuff,

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One comment to On Death & Dying & Family

  • Teri S.  says:

    I really feel for you here. It’s tough being estranged from people that you think you should never be estranged from. Having just ended a 5 1/2 year silence with my own mother I REALLY relate to this. I think what’s helping things to work for me this time around is that I’m doing it without any expectations. We aren’t talking about the past, I’m not expecting any apologies. The thing is, she sees things how she sees them, and I see them how I see them, and I know that with us, no amount of talking or explaining will ever change each of our views of the past, or even of each other. So she’s back in my life, but sort of at arms length. I guess my advice to you, if you feel you need to reach out one more time, for the sake of your own peace of mind, then do it. He doesn’t have to be your best friend, he doesn’t have to know what’s in your heart, and you don’t even need to rehash the past. You don’t have to speak to him every day, or even every week. I think it’s highly unlikely that his memories of it would change, even though he’s likely wrong. I guess I’m saying that you can have him in your life, without having him take over your life. It’s not an easy choice though, sometimes keeping those toxic people completely away really is the best choice. But sometimes not. Best of luck to you with your decision.

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