My dad died last weekend. I found out on Facebook. I was shocked. I didn’t know who to call, so like anyone, I called my mom and then my step-dad. A few minutes later, my step-dad called me back and I asked him what happened. He was shocked I hadn’t heard. Then he told me that they found out the afternoon before when they called my sister to wish her a Happy Birthday. Turned out she found my dad around 1 p.m. He had been dead for a couple of days. My mom asked her if she wanted her to call me to tell me and my sister said she would call me. She didn’t call until 9:30 p.m. She had to call from my dad’s phone because I have her blocked. She didn’t leave a message. I was already in bed when she called. I had noticed earlier that someone had sent me a message request on messenger but ignored it because I was enjoying my time with A. That message came in around 6 p.m. It was a message of condolence from my dad’s boss’ daughter-in-law. She knew my dad was dead a full 16 hours before I found out. I got her message and a message from an aunt and was so confused. I had no idea who died. I went to my dad’s Facebook page and saw messages of condolence, all posted before my sister called to tell me. In the end, I called my sister and talked to her. She was obviously hurting as she told me the story. She kept saying “When I get the body” and “I have to…” I reminded her that I was there to help. I am still reminding her that I am here to help.
After I got off the phone with her, all I could think was how awful it must have been that she walked into my dad’s house on her birthday and found him dead in bed. He had been there for several days. It must have been so very traumatizing, especially since she isn’t exactly medical in nature and she was really close to my dad. She hates me, and I can see how in that situation, it must have caused her a lot of anxiety just thinking about calling me. I’m not sure why she didn’t leave a message. I wish she had. In the end, while I don’t think she dealt with the situation well, I decided that she had been through enough pain and trauma with finding my dad that forgiveness was the way to go about the way she dealt with telling me. I’m still working on forgiving her as I process my dad’s death, but I’ll get there, hopefully without ever mentioning to her how much it hurt that I learned about it after so many other people.
Here’s the thing about my dad: I mourned the loss of my relationship with him years ago. I realized that I couldn’t go on being disappointed and hurt every time I saw him or talked to him. I had to be the adult in our dynamic, because he never would be. It meant coming up with realistic expectations of who he was and what he could be in my life. It also meant coming up with some pretty well defined boundaries about what was acceptable and what wasn’t in our relationship. This means I really restricted the amount of time he spent with me, especially after I had kids, because I couldn’t have him hurting me anymore and I couldn’t have him doing to my children what he had done to me as a kid. Really, it was just a series of unmet promises and passive aggressive attacks. I don’t want to focus on those negatives, but let’s just say that I married a smart version of my dad in F, and repeated the history anyway. Now F is just doing the same thing my dad did to me to my kids.
What this all means is that I’ve been processing the death of my dad reasonably well. I didn’t feel guilt or even sadness that I hadn’t talked to him for so long. My sister has enjoyed making quips about how “he felt the same about me as I did about him”, which I think to her means he hated me, but the fact is, I didn’t hate my dad. I loved him. I just couldn’t give him power in my life and couldn’t let him be a big part of it. I want to get to the funeral and to the estate settlement part more so that I can be done dealing with my sister than anything. I just finally got her out of my life three weeks ago, and now she’s back in it. The problem is that the details of settling his estate will probably be messy. I’m very actively hoping that he cut me out of his will and left everything to my sister so I can just wash my hands of the whole thing and not deal with her.
The problem is, as much as I am OK about dad dying, what happened was that his death took my capacity to deal with everything else away. This hit me hard this morning. On Monday, after I found out about dad, I got my kids back. F and I had an amazing chat on my front step where we got along really well and I was really hopeful that we had turned a corner in our dealings with each other. Of course, this meant that I let my guard down and on Friday when he deducted money off his child support payment unfairly, I started crying in the middle of work. Without getting into detail, my second job is in emergency services. Yesterday, I was triggered due to an event that happened that really was a nothing event, but brought back the memory of some really horrible things I’ve experienced in the job. I didn’t understand at the time, but I knew enough to ask my boss if I could have today off work. Now, I’m not exactly a delicate flower. I don’t show my “weaker” emotions often. Usually, if I cry, it’s alone in my room with no one the wiser. Sometimes I’ll tell people after I’ve processed. It’s just who I am. Add to this that in 5 years working there, I have called in sick twice and I’ve never ever asked for anything from anyone. So when I advocated for myself to my boss, it was a big thing. Like huge. But I wasn’t over the top emotional or anything, I was just advocating for my needs. And he forgot. At least that was his excuse this morning when our mental health support team lead talked to him about the situation. So, in the end, I came in to work this morning, pissed that we were not actually short staffed, and talked to this team lead and went home. I slept the day away. But as I did, I realized that so many things that have been making me emotional this week are because my capacity to cope is gone.
These things include A’s comment about me being “Temporary”. Normally I don’t let words get to me like that, and would just talk to him and deal with it instead of let it cause me to really doubt him and our relationship. Normally, I don’t cry when F is being a colossal douchebag (he always is), I just get annoyed and then remind myself how happy I am that I no longer have to live with him and have a life together. Normally, a couple harder calls in my emergency services job just make me sad for humanity, not cry in my car during my break. Normally, I don’t cry in front of several coworkers as I explain how my boss failed me when I reached out for help. The thing is, this situation isn’t normal. So much about my life isn’t “normal”, but it’s not normal to have your dad die and have your sister not tell you and find out on Facebook. It’s not normal to have to deal with babies dying as part of your job. It’s not normal to have all this happen and not have time to talk to the person you love about something he said a week ago. Realizing that helped remind me that, as my mom says, I’m “a normal person reacting to an abnormal situation”.
Knowing why I feel the way I do, why I’m not coping well, why it’s OK that I’m hurt and sad is the key to me processing and moving on. It makes it easier for me to understand and let myself be “weak”. Yes, I know that I’m not actually weak because I’m feeling all the feels, but this is who I am, and having others see me emotional is not comfortable for me. It’s something I’m working on, but after years of being attacked for my emotional responses to things, hiding my hurt is my go to, and unlearning such an unhealthy protective mechanism isn’t easy.
I’ve been forced to show some pretty raw emotion in many situations this week because the shock of the emotion or the ferocity with which it hit have been too much to hide until I’m alone. This includes the tears I shed on A’s chest after I found out my dad died and today at work when I was talking to my coworkers/team leads about how I wasn’t coping and why I was triggered. What’s more, I recognized immediately that I needed to explain to S and A what was really going on in my head, so I had to dump the horrible details about what triggered me and why it happened and acknowledge that my lack of coping with everything was affecting me in ways I didn’t understand at the time, but was only now processing. As hard as this has been, the fact that I was able to communicate the hard time I am having to both the people who love me and ask for help from the people I work with is a huge victory for me. Me from a year ago never would have done that. I would have said that I was having a hard time, but never asked for what I needed and definitely never explained why I was having trouble. The most anyone would have gotten from me was a narrative after I had processed the pain and the emotions that told them what I went through in a casual, unattached, factual way. To me, the fact that I asked for what I needed, even if it wasn’t recognized, and that I communicated, while highly emotional, exactly why I was so upset, is a huge victory. What it tells me is that I am really working my way towards healing from the dysfunction of my marriage. I’m not fearful of my emotions and how other people will take them any more, I’m owning my emotions and advocating for myself.
As I sit here and think about that fact, I think about my good friend who apologized to me when I told her something she said to me upset me many years ago. How I was shocked and amazed that someone could apologize for something without blaming me for my response to what she said. She didn’t accuse me of being too sensitive or make excuses. She acknowledged my feelings and apologized. She was the first person to ever do that. Years later, I’ve only just realized how F always blamed me for my feelings or criticized me for overreacting. Even when he hurt me so badly that I couldn’t stop hurting, he would tell me I should learn to take a joke. A year after I asked for a divorce, thus removing his ability to minimize my emotions or hurt me for being human, I’m a completely different person. While being vulnerable is still scary as hell for me, I am not incapable of taking the steps to reach out to people around me. This has a huge amount to do with the fact that I have really chosen the people in my life who lift me up and love me for me. A and S are the main people who figure into this fact. S, for validating my emotions, understanding my motivations, desires, and complexities, and for just being her. We’ve never had conflict, so I don’t know how that would go, but probably a whole lot of functional conversation and giggles. A and I though, we’ve had our things. I generally write about them here, so it’s not exactly a secret. The thing is, there’s a theme too if you look at them. No matter what happens, when I tell him about how something he did or said hurt me, he apologizes. Sincerely and without blaming me or attacking me for the way I feel.
It isn’t easy apologizing to me. I don’t just take an apology and accept it. In the beginning, I would have to force myself to just believe he was actually sorry. I was always waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop as he blamed me for being too sensitive or attacked me or minimized my feelings, but that shoe has never dropped. Sometimes, I was just so happy he apologized, I eagerly moved on without properly talking through what had happened. In those cases, the issue always reared its ugly head again and forced us to talk. But all this time later, I’m no longer fearful of talking to him about an issue. OK, this isn’t entirely true. I still get all twisty and scared that my feelings will be attacked or he’ll be upset by my emotions and choose to leave me, but that’s years of indoctrination of fear, and I can logic my way out of that spiral pretty quickly. I know I will always be listened to with respect and patience. I know he hears me and I know he cares about how I feel. I wasn’t scared to post my post about being called ‘Temporary’ yesterday because I know he loves knowing how I feel no matter how intense the hurt or emotion. I also knew he would read it and feel horrible about how his words affected me. (In this case, I offered him a chance to read the post in advance, but he wanted it published first). So when I received his messages apologizing to me and his comments on my post, he confirmed, yet again, what I already knew – he owns his shit. He owns his shit without blame, pretense, drama, or hyperbole. What I didn’t realize until today was how much his ownership of his actions has meant to my healing. As I came to him with issues and we worked through them together, I gained the strength and ability to ask for what I needed from him and everyone else in my life. Slowly, one validation at a time, he helped me fix something in myself that neither of us knew I was fixing. How amazing is that?