Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

If you were alive today, I’d ask you if you think I am enough. I’m 27 now, Dad. Have I done enough? Are you proud?

I don’t make much money. Do you think I’m successful? Does it matter to you?

How would you treat me? Would you greet me with hugs? If you were still alive today, do you think I would live near you and Mom? Do you think I still would have moved across the country? Would there have been a need in my heart to leave?

What were your hopes for me? Have I captured them?

Sometimes, I wonder if we’d agree politically and religiously. Could we be the two black sheep of our family?

I will forever miss you. I was your little girl. I wish I could have been your adult daughter, too.

Don’t worry about me, Dad. I’ll continue living on with you—it’s your odd, square chin I sport and pieces of your personality I have you to thank for.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad.

Love,

K

 

 

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Leaving: Death and Termination

Last Wednesday morning, the day before my dad’s 21st death-a-versary, I drove away from the airport and towards work, leaving my mom on the curb for her to leave me and head back to Florida. Four years ago, I left her, moving to upstate New York. And a year and half ago, I moved farther way, moving here to Oregon.

We do so much leaving, us humans. Some out of convenience, some to save ourselves, some to become our true selves, to hide, for love, out of hatred, and most of all in death.

We leave, over and over and over again. And so it goes, and so it goes.

Dad died over 2 decades ago now. Now I’m 26.

Sometimes Society inquires,”Why aren’t you over it, Kristen?” like the idiot Society can be.

That’s 21 years of loss: of him not being with me, of significance he’s missed, that I’ve missed him; that’s 21 years without love from a man, a father-figure, a human to protect me from the cruel males who would try and have hurt me. That’s 21 years without hugs or affirmations and without a representative of what a man should be. My dad was flawed (we’re all and only human), but he was mine.

He’s gone, and every day the loss remains.

I work as a crisis therapist, working with suicidal youth. Two Wednesdays ago, a day I was on-call for hospital admits, I got called to the on-call supervisor’s office to be debriefed on a potential client before heading to the hospital to meet her. [Name of On-Call Supervisor] told me about a 16 year-old who attempted suicide on her daddy’s death anniversary. My dad’s death-a-versary was a week away then. I asked [Name of On-Call Supervisor] if we could close the door. She did. I wept, surprising both her and I, as I told her that I was experiencing counter-transference.

[Name of On-Call Supervisor] said she wouldn’t send me out. However, because of how they set up the schedule and to accommodate other therapists, I had to switch on-call days back with [Name of Another Therapist], causing me to be on-call Thursday again, the day my mom would fly into Portland, what I had been careful to avoid.

“Oh it’ll be fine,” said [Name of Current Supervisor]. “You know you’re going to see this a lot. A lot of our clients have dead parents.”

“If it weren’t September, I’d be fine,” I said.

“Is that why your mom is visiting?”

That night I went to The Dougy Center to volunteer with kids grieving the death of a parent.

The following night, Thursday, my mom and I had just made it into my apartment from the airport, and I hear the anxiety-provoking ringtone of my work phone. [Name of On-Call Supervisor] debriefs me on the kid I will see at the hospital that night, ASAP and within an hour as required. “Are you at the airport?”

“No. We just got to my apartment.”

“Okay. Does your mom know what you do?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Say ‘hi’ to her for me.”

“Mhmm bye.”

And that’s when I broke.

The crying in [Name of On-Call Supervisor]’s office was nothing. I was enraged. I TRIED. I’m sorry my dad died in September and that I didn’t go out to the admit the day prior. And now my brief time with my mom would be shortened by at least 4 hours. Where was the compassion? Why didn’t the counselors I worked with understand grief?

Tears shot down my face as I screamed to my mom about how much I hated seeing the ugliest sides of life at work.

“I HATE MY LIFE.” I sounded like my teenage clients, which I guess you can do when you’re with your mom.

What was I trying to prove with this job? Do I get extra life points for being miserable? What color would they paint me as a martyr? NOBODY CARES THAT I’M MISERABLE.

The emotional intensity I felt surpassed all that I had earlier that week breaking up with the boyfriend.

I am tired of seeing the effects of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other abuse presenting as suicidal ideation, violence/aggressive behavior, and cutting/self-harm (basically the causes and effects of pain—of people hurting people) and then going back to the office and being questioned if I’m good enough.

Goodness gracious, I’m sorry I’m not on Xanax or an SSRI, using alcohol, developing an eating disorder, or sleeping around to handle the horror and anxiety of this work like my coworkers. I’m sorry I cried at the office. I don’t like it either.

But I’m not sorry I’m human. And I’m not going to allow this job to take any more time away from me and certainly not any more time away from my loved-ones.

[Name of First Supervisor Who Never Wanted Me Hired in the First Place] was right all along: I’m not suitable for this job. She can smirk while she stomps her way down the hallways while she thinks she’s masking her deeply-set insecurity. She can have that.

Because here’s the truth and this also applies to the recent breakup with [Arrogant Doctor and Future Abusive Husband]: I have so much more to offer this world than completing the duties of this particular job.

We all leave each other for one reason or another. Sometimes we leave our jobs, too.

**I quit the next day, offering the organization a month’s notice, just as they begged for so that they wouldn’t be screwed over.

I quit appropriately on September 22nd, my dad’s death anniversary; albeit that symbolism was unplanned. If he were alive, I’m sure my dad would not want his daughter spending her one fleeting, precious life doing this work. As a dead dad, he knows how fleeting ‘fleeting’ really is.

The following Monday they fired me.**

Twentieth Deathaversary

 

It’s late in the morning, and I’m still in my pajamas. I could be in Alaska with the rest of the mourning families at the YUKLA 27 memorial for the 20th anniversary of its AWACS plane crash. But instead I’m at my kitchen table, with a greasy face, greasy hair, and a now empty coffee mug.

I keep thinking I should do some grand gesture to honor this day.

My dad was in the Air Force when I was young. He was on the AWACS plane that crashed in Alaska in the fall of ’95.

Every year on this day, I try to hold space for whatever emotions and thoughts (however rational or not) bubble up.

That’s a lie. I thought it might sound great, mature, even honest. It sounds pretentious.

Some years I feel nothing. Some years it’s two weeks before or after the deathaversary that I feel something. Some years I mourn for me. Some years I mourn for my mom and her loss. Some years I’m pissed. ‘Geese?! I don’t get a dad because of fucking geese?! What a miserable Goddamn mistake you made there, Air Force!’ 

How does a sudden death of a dad affect an individual’s life? How might that play out?Well, that individual might hold a truth within from a young age that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is in her control, and that God, if one is believed to exist, isn’t going to protect her from pain, loss, or heartache. Life’s going to hurt.

Her family might take the path of living irritatingly cautiously. Perhaps that felt like living in a bubble. In that bubble maybe there were rules upon rules upon restrictions. Maybe the thought behind that was: rules can protect; risk can kill.

Maybe this individual grows up into a young adult and in her twenties, she might put life this way: Shit happens. Shit happens and then we fall apart and then we pick ourselves back up. We either do that or allow our spirit to die along with the dead.

Maybe she would think that people should fully mourn whenever the grief surfaces and honor all their emotions. Maybe her greatest belief would be that our emotions and our experiences are all valid.

Life is going to hurt. But it’s going to be heavenly, too.

Quick Thoughts on Grief and Hurtful People

Here’s something that’s been whirling about in my mind for days, something I couldn’t quite explain until my mind was at ease as it drifted to sleep last night. I captured my thoughts by typing them into a text to myself before the moments passed.

The people who say “Get over it” or “Why aren’t you over it yet?” are simply the people who refuse to go deep into their own lives of pain–maybe in that moment, maybe in every moment that they’ve lived.

To them you’re the problem because you reflect the true reality of our human condition. Of course it could be worse. Of course someone else HAS it worse. Ignore, avoid, avoid. ‘I don’t want to acknowledge the legitimacy of your pain. If I did, I’d have to acknowledge mine. And I’m fine. It’s a shame you’re not fine, too.’

I’m so sorry they’re hurt you. They’re hurt me, too. Don’t believe their lies. You are strong while you feel so weak. You are brokenhearted. You are wounded. Because it matters.

Grief is a weight of depression and rage and brokenheartedness. It never entirely goes away. It rather expands at times and contracts so small into such a tiny volume that you forget its presence at times.

But loss is permanent. So the grief will be, too.

Don’t believe their lies. You don’t deserve to be hurt by others’ incompetence at connecting and empathizing with another human being.

It’s important to share. Find the safe people. We need connection and understanding. We’re all and only human.

To Heaven or Hell

When the crust has fallen out of my hands, I do not look to Heaven, I do not think of Hell

I think of how it was

Blessed

I remember when you made a funny face, not wanting to smell my dirty feet, turning your head away

When you came home late, after how many days or months, I don’t know

The boys and I ran in the dark across the kitchen tiles, through the shadows, to your room

We knew you were home

We could sense the peace in our hearts, in our home

I remember when

You taught me how to say my kindergarten teacher’s last name

Burrrrr-bridge

You crossed your arms, pretending to be cold

Burrrr

You didn’t know how cold our lives were about to become

And then

You were gone

To Heaven or Hell I do not wonder like other little daughters

I do not wonder if reunion is possible anymore

I wonder only of what I’ve missed.

In my arms, he died.

I don’t want to write because I don’t want it to hurt more.

I have to write because I don’t want to forget.

I was there, holding my kitten as he died. I’m so glad I was there.

I came home from work and found him still laying on the kitchen floor, near his water. I picked him up to get him to stand. He gracefully collapsed back down. I took him over to the two steps in my apartment where I had been administering his meds and forcefeeding him the past few days. His breaths were short; I could hear them. There seemed to be a slight hiccup noise after each. Could I always hear his breath?

I shoved a tiny syringe in his mouth and force-watered him. Then I went on to forcefeeding, shoveling a tiny bit of wet food—the newer wet food of his new diet, maybe he’d like this one better—onto my index finger. Schroeder clamped his mouth harder than usual. I got three globs of food into his mouth before I cried out.

“Why do you want to die?! Why?!”

Schroeder climbed out of my cradling embrace and climbed a little to place his front paws on my right shoulder. I hugged him.

Then I thought, and I wondered as I held him, was there a bigger picture?

“What are you trying to teach me, God??”

All I knew was that this was the end for my baby tiger. I would not rush him off to the emergency vet. He would not spend his last hours or minutes in stress and confused.

Once I understood that he was dying, I took him to my bed, had him lie on his side, and I held him.

His little jaw and one paw rested on the crux of my arm as he shuttered sporadically, took his short, labored breaths, and then as he eventually took a few bites of air, sticking out his tongue slightly, looking as though he was trying to get the taste of death out of his mouth.

I held his eye contact—maybe he couldn’t see then, but he could feel me—through most of it, except for when I would shut my eyes and cry out. I was watching my fuzzy, vulnerable year-old kitten die. One that I loved. One that annoyed me. One that got in the way. One that batted at my shoelaces as I tied them, trying to rush off to the gym. One that would jump at my leg and stretch there when I would come home, like a dog might. One that sat on the microwave to watch me clean the dishes. One who would watch me cook and try to steal a bite if I was shredding a rotisserie chicken. One that played fetch with me one magical night, from the yoga room to the kitchen over and over and over again.

He was striped, grey and black. He was so soft. And silly. And stubborn. He was right for me.

Baby Tiger
Baby Tiger

A lot of the times, I would return home needing to pee badly. So many times I should have used a public restroom, thinking I’d make it home easily. Nu-uh. I’d rush into the apartment, and Schroeder would race me to the bathroom. Once there, I’d go my way, to the right, to the toilet; and he’d go his way, to the left, to the closet with the litter box. I used to wonder if he timed this for himself, if he faked it, if he was really urinating/pooping at all. Was this quality time to him? Did this make us tighter companions? It doesn’t matter; it was silly, and I loved it.

I knew my interspersed crying wasn’t helping give Schroeder a peaceful, loving death. And that’s when I realized. I hadn’t told him.

“I’m going to miss you so much,” I mustered through silent tears.

“I love you, Schroeder.”

“It’s okay.”

His body gave out; there was a woosh of gas expelled. His belly no longer moved with his breath, for there was no more breath, no more nostril flaring. His mouth took one more bite of the world’s air, and he was gone.

Schroeder.

Schroeder-bot.

The Schroedes.

Schroed-Monster.

Baby Tiger.

My little kitten.