nolongerinbetween

Posts Tagged ‘dad

We have a strange relationship with loss. We rarely experience it on its own. For too often loss comes accompanied by other strong emotions that somehow manage to take the stage completely and overshadow the sense of loss. Anger. Guilt. Outrage. Shock. Bewilderment. Regrets. Denial. Frustration. Vengeance. Helplessness. Resentment. Disbelief. My life has been marked by loss in so many ways, but I am yet to experience it pure, raw, unadulterated by any other affect. Ten years ago, when I lost my boyfriend, I was surprised to realize that, despite the emotional turmoil I went through, it wasn’t loss what I felt but outrage and a deep sense of injustice. The resentment over the way our relationship had ended shattered any sense of loss. When Tori died, for a period of time it was anger and rage over her cruel fate that took over while loss took a back seat. When my dad died guilt and disbelief were my main emotions. When I lost some friends recently the sense of loss, again, was lessened by disappointment and disillusionment. In all my experiences these secondary emotions took the reins, muddied the waters and made a mess of the emotional realm. They were supposed to be marginal, accessory, acting as backing vocals or sitting quiet in the background but they stormed the stage and took the lead. When I was a Christian, I used to think that this might be one of God’s ways of helping us deal with traumatic events of the sort. By throwing a red herring our way. Diverting our attention from loss to something more tolerable. Tricking us into suffering from a more lenient affliction. Because no matter how horrible these emotions are (anger, remorse, outrage, disgust, disappointment, bitterness, resentment etc) they are not as painful and devastating as the sheer sense of loss. Anything but that lingering ache of having lost something we had. Anything but that melancholic malaise eating at you. Now I no longer believe in God, but I still think this is a defence mechanism, our way of dealing with traumatic loss. Our way of deflecting the real drama. Juggling and trading off different pains. Playing tricks to dull our senses. Disguise. Camouflage. Substitution. Replacing loss with something akin to it but less horrendous.

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My dad is not dead, he is missing. Every time I think of him, I cannot find him in the appropriate drawer of my mind, where dead people usually end up. I don’t think I can put this down to a residual Christianity that survives in me, to the idea that we are actually immortals, that death is an illusion, since this misplacement doesn’t apply to other people. My mind doesn’t reject the label in itself, the category of dead people, for that compartment got well populated over the years. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, pets, neighbours, you name it. It’s just that when it comes to my dad, I cannot visualize him as dead. He is just missing, absent, hidden from us, unavailable, somewhere to be found. But not dead. And this is one of the reasons why I feel that my mourning is lacking. You cannot properly mourn someone unless you give up hope and accept the finality of their death and their irreversible disappearance. Once the disbelief is shattered the grief can go full-on, unrestricted. You put everyone in their right boxes and the strange http 404 error is finally fixed.

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On his deathbed he never mentioned the fact that he was dying. The elephant in the room … had a scythe but nobody talked openly about that. Which I found to be odd since he was a man of faith. There were no wise words passing on to his children. No sermonic rambling or Bible quotations. No formal handover of our mum’s care to us, like Jesus did with his mum. No attempt to apologize, to settle accounts and emotional debts. The patriarch of the family went full French exit with his departure. Even though I was there at the time I was left with this strange feeling that we didn’t have a proper send-off and that we didn’t say goodbye to him.

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We all indulge ourselves at some point in counterfactual reasoning. Fantasizing about turning the clock back and removing a link in a chain of past events in order to fix mistakes we made or to change painful outcomes. So here an exercise to put yourself at the test, to see where your heart is (Matthew 6:21): if you were given a chance to counterfactually erase one single event from your past what would that be? I’m sure for all of us the competition would be fierce, for we all have tons of things we would alter if possible. From nasty things that happened to us to nasty things we did to other people. As far as I am concerned, erasing her death would be my first choice, without blinking an eye, without the slightest hesitation. There’s a long litany of horrors I would gladly change but her death tops everything. I would rather keep every instance of violence, bullying, abuse, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, betrayal, failure etc and save her. Nothing comes close to the pain of losing her. The longing to be reunited with her will never fade away in me.  

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Why do I feel I am no longer whole since she died? Wasn’t I whole before her? Do the people we love become a part of us and alter our substance that much? For good? Do they rip out bigger pieces from us when they die and leave? If we love lots and they die on us can we be lessened to the point of inexistence?

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South Korea – 156 people crushed to death in Seoul at Halloween celebrations. Indonesia – 135 dead in a riot and stampede that broke out after a football match. Philippines – 98 dead in a heavy storm that hit the country. Turkey – 41 dead people in a coal mine accident. Somalia – 120 killed by a car bombing in the capital, Mogadishu. India – 182 dead in a bridge collapse, many of them children. You can find these headlines in the newspapers, right at this moment. Horrible disasters, taking place at the same time, in the span of a few days, not spread over a couple of months or a year. I used to agonize over such tragedies when I was a Christian, trying to reconcile them with the concept of a benevolent God. And it’s such a relief that now, as a nonbeliever, I am no longer subject to this mental torment, fuelled by a never-ending streak of tragedies. The easiness with which my fellow Christians dismissed the problem of theodicy was disturbing. “God works in mysterious ways” is such a nonsensical defence. There’s nothing mysterious about being crushed to death by a crowd on a street. Burned alive at a music venue. Raped and killed by a Russian soldier. Drowned in a river holding your child’s hand after the bridge under your feet collapsed. Torn into pieces by a bomb. If I were a parent and I would allow my kids to be burned alive I could never say “oh please, you don’t understand, I am being … mysterious”. And yet, this is our line of defence when it comes to God. We fill the gaps with this mysterious crappy matter. Being an atheist has a lot of downsides but not having to explain evil, death, pain etc is the main, if not the only, advantage you get. This doesn’t mean you are not saddened and flabbergasted at the view of these tragedies. The thread of life is so fragile, and it can get broken at any time. Witnessing all these disasters I got to the point where I am grateful for my life and for the years I lived so far. For I have lived longer than most of these people were allowed to. If I get to live more, I look at it as a bonus not as an entitlement. Not taking life for granted and knowing that life can be taken from you in such absurd, meaningless, petty, ridiculous ways and at any time should be in our minds constantly.

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Haunted by this image of my mum, sitting at his deathbed, broken-hearted, lost for words, hunchbacked, overwhelmed with sorrow, holding and kissing his hands for hours on end. The same hands that used to turn into fists and hurt her. What a strange thing is this redeeming love that forgets and forgives everything. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Cor. 13:5)

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House of the Dragon. I watch the episode in which the king Viserys is dying in a state of horrified frenziness. The gruesome depiction of aging and the misery of death is haunting. A masterclass in cinematography. The decrepitude of his body and his mind takes me back to my dad’s when he was dying, and it fills me again with horror, shock and sadness. I watch Viserys’ demise and I relive all my dad’s degradation, his delirious agony and mental pain. I can’t for the love of me get over the misery and ugliness of our dying. Nothing shook me more to the core than watching Tori, my dad, and prior to them, a close neighbour, sinking into decrepitude and dying. For a while, death and life overlap, disputing the ownership of that body and mind. Witnessing first hand that fight between life and death is horrible and faith shattering. Nature is cruel. Death in itself, ceasing to exist, is already an outrage, a wound and a trauma to our existence. There’s no need to get there through a horrible process. The fact that most of us don’t die of sudden deaths but through a slow, painful, repulsive transition to death is adding insult to injury. We are punished for our sufferings; we are punished because we were punished.

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My father didn’t really know me. At all. He didn’t know what makes me tick, what I am made of, how damaged or brilliant I can be. To my shame, he wasn’t even privy to my mundane self since most of the time he had no idea what’s going on in my life. There’s always this huge gap between parents and their offspring that I find horrifying. Some parents manage to bridge the gap and cross it, but most of them remain in the dark. To give birth to something that is not you, that is so different, so foreign to you is a terrifying experience that all parents have, but to be clueless about what you brought into life, to raise someone who eludes you completely, to not know your own child takes this to another level. I don’t blame him though, since, like I said, it’s more like a structural fracture that emerges between parents and kids and less a parenting failure on his part. But it’s horribly sad. The thought that I could have a kid and that my understanding of him would be skin-deep, stopping at the surface, that I would be in the dark about the way he feels, the way he navigates through the difficulties of his life, his anxieties, his fears, his mental torments, his coping mechanisms, his thoughts, his pleasures, his likes, his desires, his dreams, his hopes etc makes me shiver with horror. If he could now have a look at who I am, from the inside, he would be dumbstruck. Who is this stranger he called his son for all this time?

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When someone we love dies our mind tries to apprehend their disappearance. In the same way we try to understand what’s behind a magical trick performed on us, when something vanishes into thin air in front of our eyes. But I find that with death our mind gives up quite hastily. Because we have a name for it, because we have assigned a word for their magical disappearance (death), even though the word doesn’t explain anything, our mind stops even trying. We just accept it. Death. We shrug. We move on. No further inquiry.

Only a kid would try to deconstruct our unsatisfactory answer and look further.

– Where did grandpa go mummy?

– He died.

– What do you mean he died? What do you mean by that?

– Pause.

*

The shocking stiffness of their body. In death our flesh loses not only its warmth but also its softness and plasticity. We turn into cold, hardened objects. I had some idea about stiffness but not about the stonelike sensation and the alienation that comes with it when you touch them. The shock you have when you hold into your arms the hardened body of someone you love is something else and nobody can prepare you for it.

*

Resurrection is a collective dream mankind has got since the beginning of time. A Jungian archetype I follow faithfully. Since he died, I dreamed about him three times and in all of these dreams he was resurrected. Not just alive, as if nothing had happened, as if the setting was before his death and we were oblivious to it. He did die and we all knew it, but through some bizarre interventions (in one my mum gives him some CPR, incredulous of his actual death) he was brought back to life. He is now weak, fragile, unwell but we are all happy he’s got another shot at life. I wake up in a state of frenziness, overwhelmed by this mixture of joy that he is alive and the disappointment that is not true. Schizoid is my middle name.

*

You can’t replicate with humans the bond you have with an animal.  There’s an intensity to it that humans cannot provide with the same continuity. Because animals are simpler creatures, the bond with them is stronger and almost indestructible. Until death do us part is better matched by our animal friends than by the bond between humans, which are fragile and fickle and rarely survive the wear of time. The imprinting mechanism, that in most cases, sits at the core of their attachment to us cannot be written off. We are their world, their life, their gods, their mothers, their fathers, their kids, their lovers, their everything. Who on earth can possibly match that? What human can compete with that level of faithfulness and religious devotion?  When we lose them to death, we lose access to the purest form of unconditional love and loyalty we can get, matched only by the bond between a mother and her child.

*

Guilt-ridden. For not putting her to sleep. For not releasing her from suffering sooner. For not humanely killing her. For not being able to look into her eyes while she would take her last breath into my arms. As regrettable as it might sound, I owe my sanity to this weakness. I have no doubts that putting her down would have tipped me over the edge to sheer madness. I would have lost it completely. With my dad is the other way around. I carry a sense of guilt for not pushing him harder, for not going the extra mile to buy him more time. Guilt is indeed a nasty companion of death.

*

Even now, six months later after his demise, dad’s shirts and pants are hanging in the same places. As if nothing happened. I am seated at the kitchen table, in my parents’ home, eating, while from some hangers on the wall his shirts are staring back at me, making me uneasy. In one of his pants you can see the pocket is full, bursting with stuff he used to collect obsessively (wires, keys, pieces of paper, money, corks etc). Once or twice I buried my head in them shirts and wept like a child. Leaving things untouched after someone’s death, in an attempt to freeze time, is a clear sign of depression. But I wouldn’t challenge my mum on this since, when it comes to dealing with death, I’m not much different. I procrastinate. I linger. I dwell on it. Anything but admitting the finality of death.

*

La capela, dupa predica, lumea se grupeaza in bisericute. Catching up as usual. Copii, pandemie, joburi, nepoti, inflatie, nunti, botezuri, sfaturi despre muraturi, vaccinuri, concedii, you name it. Nimeni nu vorbeste despre tata. In afara de mama nimeni nu pare sa stie de ce se afla acolo. Nu stiu ce e mai trist, sa nu vina nimeni la priveghiul tau sau sa ai un priveghi care sa nu fie despre tine. Ca un politist de pompe funebre, incerc constiincios sa il aduc pe tata la propriul lui priveghi, sa il introduc in subiectele de discutie. Bag vreascuri pe foc dar simt mereu ca fara inputul meu focul se stinge repede de fiecare data.

Exista intotdeauna o prejudecata pe care o avem fata de cei carora le moare cineva. Credem ca e dureros si stanjenitor sa vorbim despre cei morti cu cei indoliati. Ca e de preferat sa trecem totul sub tacere. Sa nu stingherim cu indiscretia noastra. Cand dimpotriva, reflexul pe care il avem cand ne mor cei dragi e sa vorbim intruna despre ei. Sa-i netacem. Sa-i nemurim vorbind despre ei. Sa nu-i lasam inghititi de uitare. Dureros pentru cel indoliat nu e sa vorbeasca ci sa nu vorbeasca despre cel pierdut. Un priveghi in care esti injurat e de preferat unuia in care nu esti pomenit.

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What is new this time is that I can’t seem to get myself to acknowledge his death. There’s a veil on my eyes that hides it from me and protects my mind from the horror of it. If you bump into me on the street and suddenly ask what’s been new with me for the past six months I wouldn’t answer: “oh well, unfortunately my father has died”. That information is just not there, not on a conscious level. I do know something horrible happened, because the pain, the trauma and all that is there but I cannot quite put my finger on it. Its source eludes me. It’s like having had a car crash accident and now, coming out of a coma, I feel bruised, covered in hematomas, traumatized but it’s all blur and I can’t put all the pieces together about how I got in that state. The last thing I remember is that my dad was dying of a horrible, horrible death but not that he did pass away. The last save checkpoint is before his actual demise. I have to dig deep to get to the hard fact of his actual death and get hit by such a disheartening realization.

*

Church gathering at the chapel around his coffin. Eulogies for my dad. Prayers. Choral singing about resurrection. I listen to their sermon in dismay but resigned. Their theological rambling brings back memories and I remember the reasons why I could never feel at home with their views. At some point I am even singled out in their speech, along with some hints to the prodigal son, and I regret not being able to make a statement by storming out. I never shied away from expressing my opposition to them, but now, for his sake, I stay put and play ball. I bury the hatchet to properly bury my dad.

*

Not believing in God anymore made his dying so much easier to deal with. It’s not that I am capable of the serene resignation atheists are talking about. I loathe that. It’s just that I no longer had to partake in the theodicean war. Reconciling God with my dad’s horrible dying was no longer an issue. It is what it is. No one to blame and hold to account. No gods to defend or to scold. No need to argue with an imaginary loving deity about cruelty. I was spared the excruciating torment I had to go through two years ago.

*

When Tori died my mind played obsessively for a couple of weeks the horrific details of her last days. The idea that I could forget the tiniest detail or repress them and inadvertently speed up the healing was suffocating me. The anger I had in me for her undeserved suffering was bordering on self-destruction. Nothing of this sort now with my dad. There’s no vivid details of his agony in my mind. No gore imagery playing on a loop. I know the suffering he had to go through was horrifying but when it comes to actual details, I have to retrieve them from my memory with some effort. They have been pushed away at the edge of my conscience, repressed, concealed, underplayed, edited, revised, softened, rewritten. At times glimpses of his agony break the censorship of my consciousness and I am utterly shocked by what I recall.

*

It’s been two years today since she died. I will carry with me the dread and heaviness of that day for the rest of my life. Was I right to worry about healing and moving on at a pace I found disheartening? In many ways I was. It’s not that the healing will ever be completed. For some people that would be true, for some it wouldn’t. But life is indeed like living in flowing waters, pushed forward by alluvium. You might stall and get stuck once in a while but eventually you will move on. The only thing that has remained unaltered, two years after she died, is my love for her. The intensity is all there, untainted, intact. I would still cross mountains and oceans, I would still go to the end of the Earth on foot to be with her if that would be possible. In two years I didn’t move an inch from that and I don’t think I will ever do.

*

I’m not the only one stricken by disbelief. Expecting him to suddenly show up, to come back from his journey or his stay in a hospital or whatever. My mum finds herself looking through the windows to see him in the garden or crossing the street from his shopping rounds. We know he is gone but not that he is dead. That would be horrible. We are stalling and dodging the bullet of truth as long as possible. Our minds play tricks on us to help us cope with the harsh truth of his definitive departure.

*

I’m haunted by the image of his deathbed scene. He died like an animal in a cage. Keeping me awake in the night while he was rattling the bars of his improvised cell. His mind was severely damaged but his instinct for freedom was intact. He wasn’t ready to give it up without putting up a fight. The need for freedom was the last thing that died in him. At the time, exhausted by sleep deprivation, I was rather annoyed with his restlessness and his attempts to escape. Now, that the dust has settled, I can see beyond the nuisance of having to restrain him and I can recognize in that relentless stubbornness his need to regain a sense of dignity and I am profoundly ashamed and guilt-ridden. Subjecting him to restrains, however needed for his own sake and protection, feels cruel to me now. Nobody should die like an animal in captivity, but they should be given the dignity of dying on their own terms.

*

Grieving feels different this time. I didn’t come undone like two years ago, when Tori died. Now the main theme is disbelief not anger, but also the pain is less striking, more discreet. Do I get used to the notion that we are mortal, finite beings? Do I love him less than I love her? Does being a nonbeliever now make things easier? Do we get altered by each death of our loved ones to the point where we just feel numb or hardly anything at all?

*

We all have misconstrued ideas of what Alzheimer is about. It sounds exotic and we think is about forgetfulness. About forgetting where you put your keys or misplacing things. But that is the surface, the trivial layer of your condition. In Alzheimer you actually lose yourself. You lose the keys to your self, to your own identity. You are dead before having died. Waiting in the dementia’s realm for your body to catch up with your mind and die as well.

*

I find the idea of dying on your birthday fascinating. Coming full circle is just beautiful. I’m no longer a religious person but I can’t help trying to extract a religious meaning from such an unlikely event. It shouldn’t really matter since it’s a trivial detail but the fact that he died on the same day of his birth was a solace to me and gave me a bit of consolation. It is said that in Alzheimer you go backwards, in reverse, losing, at first, your most recent cognitive skills and memories until you reach the first ones you acquired as a baby. Maybe that’s true and my dad reached the beginning of things and then he just died, bringing the past, present and future together.

*

All animals need a shelter. We humans go deeper than this basic need. We need a home. We need to establish an emotional bond with a specific place. We isolate a place from the wild environment, we claim it for us and make it our own. We turn chaos into order. We turn alterity into familiarity. We tame that place and call it home. It’s part of what makes us humans and distinguish us from the other animals. Our homes become part of our identity and give us the sense of belonging we so much crave.

We all experienced at some point the anguish of being stranded in an airport, railway station, hotel, hospital, city etc, due to bad weather conditions, delays, critical events, accidents, injuries, surgeries, fleeing war, migration, political turmoil, pandemics, you name it, longing for the security of our homes. We all experienced first-hand the anxiety of not being home when, for some reasons, we didn’t feel well and we could hardly wait to finally get back.

Of all the quirks and afflictions my dad had to suffer in his last months the one I found the most devastating and debilitating was that he no longer recognized his home. His mind cracked up, he got lost and he had no breadcrumbs trail to follow and find his way back home. As if he was stranded forever in transit. The anxiety we could read on his face for feeling he is in a foreign place to him was heart-breaking. Not feeling well and not feeling at home must have been horrifying for him. He was robbed by the least comfort animals are given when they feel they are dying – they retreat to their nest, den, burrow, lair etc to die in peace. Our attempts to make him remember and recognize his place were fruitless. He kept wanting to leave his home and find the protection and comfort he was missing. At times he didn’t recognize us as well, but that was for short periods of time and there was no pain attached to his memory loss. But the damage of not recognizing his own home was permanent, painful, to say the least, and psychologically debilitating. The comfort and protection you get from the familiarity of your home was taken from him. He was like a slug. A snail who lost his shell. Scared and homesick. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was, in the end, what actually killed him.

(home)

I hated him when I was a child. The Oedipus complex might be just a crappy theory but in my case it sort of fitted right: I wanted him out of the picture. I wanted the abusive progenitor to leave. I was anxious when he was around and relaxed when he was away at work. Heaven for me was a place where I could be only with my mum and my siblings, away from his intrusion and abuse. No father at all was better than a lousy father. I hated his strength and the power he had over our lives. I owe him my incessant obsession with injustice and ethics.

Later in life, I got to love him. At some point, like in a videogame, he lost his magical powers. He became weak, debuff, diminished, shrunk, beatable. The mighty Samson morphed into an oldster. His reign was over. In addition to him getting old, something else happened. I also got older and came to realize I am no saint either. Despite my attempts to be totally different from him and not forge myself in his image I found out I could be abusive and tyrannical as well. I can be my father. His convoluted moral DNA runs through my veins. This didn’t change or excuse his parental failures, but it changed my perspective. He was finally relatable and lovable. He was finally just another troubled soul failing to do right. He was finally a good father. The prodigal father came back home and reconciled with his son. And then he died. He finally got out of the picture. The circle is now complete.

Happy Birthday dad and rest in peace. You’ll be dearly missed.


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literatura e efortul inepuizabil de a transforma viaţa în ceva real

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