I started this post back on the 20th of May, my dad’s birthday. It took me this long to be able to come back to it.
I have always prided myself on being the epitome of stability. A rock that people could rely on when they were falling apart. I’m cool in an emergency. I’m thoughtful. I’m deliberate. I don’t make impulsive decisions and I will push forward, even when it comes at a personal emotional cost. People don’t see me cry. I never thought that something could challenge that. I never thought that I could be rattled.
My hero is my father. He lost his dad by suicide when he was nine years old. He helped his mother raise his sisters and they absolutely adore him. But, he’s very stoic. He doesn’t talk about his feelings. He just keeps moving forward, doing his duty. No matter how hard things get, he just keeps moving forward. I’ve only seen him cry when my mother died, and it was a only single tear. I figured that this is what strong people do. They buckle down and they just keep moving forward. He’s the strongest man I know.
Recently Strange asked me about hugs when I was growing up. What did I remember? I remember that my mom and dad worked opposite shifts when I was a very little girl. My dad would come home late and my mom would work the night shift. I would be in bed, but he would often leave me a Skor bar on the kitchen counter found me to find when I woke up. They weren’t my favorite, but they quickly became my favorite because I associated them with knowing my dad was thinking of me and loved me. I also remember Saturday mornings. My dad loved laying on the floor of the living room and watching Saturday morning cartoons. I would get under the comforter with him and watch Tom and Jerry and the roadrunner. He always bought the best cereal. He always asked about the oil in my car., when I was grown up. Love was never a question. Recently, I had dinner with a dear friend with TD and my husband Strange. Our friend played, essentially, TD’s favorite game – any game that involves asking questions about your life. She asked everyone what their top 3 favorite desserts were. I’m not a dessert eater, but my #1 answer was carrot cake. I wouldn’t have chosen it myself, but my dad always bought it on my birthday. My step-son loves it. It’s a memory of the importance of family. Those feelings of love run so deep. Feelings of how to deal with pain, I have far fewer.
That has always been my model. We could have been members of the royal family. Keep Calm and Carry On.
The memory of LIttle I’s death is pervasive. I see it so often. I have nightmares of my children, and not being able to save them. I finally had to call my dad to talk about the hard stuff too, knowing he had been through a trauma. I’m 42 years old. This is the first time we ever really talked about this. I called my own health care providers who articulated clearly that I have post-trauma anxiety and “depression.” They started me on meds. I’ve tried to continue to try to support goodness in the world around Little I’s death.
I didn’t fully appreciate how hard the time after Little I’s death would be and how many people would have opinions about me, my motherhood, and how I am grieving. I’m really blessed to have a dad who has been honest with me about the messiness of all of this, and also how people who haven’t truly experienced loss in this way can’t commiserate or understand.My dad is not a font of emotion, but when he shows it, it is meaningful. He texted me recently, “Just remember who you are: strong, confident, and in control.”
I really thought PTSD was something that soldiers and battle-hardened people got. Not civilians. I’ve since learned the things that happen when you lose a child and they are highly, highly traumatic. Your phone is erased when the police take your child’s phone. You keep getting messages reminding you to enroll them for school next year. People watch you grieve and decide if it is appropriate, when they could never know. Everyone documents everything, according to their memory. You don’t realize the number of people that you know because, for months, everyone you see just wants to talk about your loss. You wonder over, and over, and over if you’re crazy. We started calling it “condolences jail.” When are you allowed out of “condolences jail” to feel something else?
The one person who knows you’re not crazy is the guy who left the Skor bar on the counter. He’s the one person in the world who knows what this loss is like and how it changes you as a person.
I love you, Dad.