Wednesday, October 12, 2016
The first man who broke my heart was my father. He died when I was young.
As a child, this was my first close experience with the death of someone I knew well. I had a lot of fear and anxiety, watching him slowly dwindle away. I had never been that close to death before. Many studies have been done on the lifelong effects of a child who loses a parent. Not only do children lose the parent, but the relationship that went with it.
When you are older, you sort of have time to prepare as you are growing up, that at some point in life your parent(s) will die. But as a child, you don’t expect it. At least I didn’t. I wasn’t prepared at all.
I was blindsided, scared, confused, and to make matters worse, I was told not to cry.
The night my father died, a family member took me into another room and told me not to cry. They said it would make it harder on my mom and if she saw me crying, it would make things more difficult.
And so a pivotal moment took place, and I became an “emotional stuffer.” I would practice this for many years, burying my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I squirreled them deep, and kept them hidden away, so as not to hurt others.
I’m sure this family member had no idea the damage they would do to me.
Studies have been done showing that not releasing tears, can be physically toxic. Emotional crying, can produce endorphins to help relieve pain and suffering. I suffered silently, with no way to release the shock and grief. I was traumatized.
I never told my mom what was said to me, because I was too afraid of upsetting her.
And so, I walked on eggshells. I withdrew and became silent. I carried deep sadness. I was as invisible as I could be, afraid that she might go away too, if I upset her.
Many years later, when we had a chance to talk about some things, my mom told me how worried she was about me. I was after all, Daddy’s girl. I worshipped him. And when I became so very quiet, and non-responsive, she worried. I still never told her what was said to me. I didn’t want her to grieve all over again.
She mentioned my lost childhood and how sad she was that it was cut short for me.
I was sad too.
I became overly responsible, to the point that it would be out of balance at times. Even now, I have to monitor myself for balance. I was an old soul, and still am. A very tired old woman in a little girl’s body, or so it felt to me.
I was instantly thrust into the world of a grown up, having to be responsible and dependable. No longer a child, I was now my mom’s right hand, her helper, and roommate. I had an instinct that I needed to be strong for her so she wouldn’t shoulder the burden alone. I tried to be as mature as I could, responsible, and self-sufficient so she wouldn’t worry about me.
Looking back now, I realize now how frightened she must have been for the future. So was I.
I clearly remember when we were given the news that my dad had passed away. Mom had come home from staying with him, to grab a bite to eat and change clothes. In that short period of time, he died, while other family members were there with him.
I remember following my mom into the bathroom where she was getting ready to go back and be with dad, even though she knew he was gone. She stopped what she was doing at the sink, turned to me, and held me by the shoulders. She looked straight into my eyes and said, “It’s just you and me now.”
I felt so overwhelmed and unsure. I had a pit in my stomach. I felt sick.
I remember being quiet, sort of stunned. I would go through the next few days, and attend the funeral in that same hazy fog, choking back my emotions to stay strong for her.
Many years later, I would again face the loss of a parent to a terminal illness. I once read a description of Alzheimer’s, as a ‘cancer” of the mind. I couldn’t agree more. It is a slow, painful disease that eats away at the memories. And decades later, I would grieve again, as I watched my mom slowly slip away.
I found it sort of cruel and ironic that I lost my father to cancer, and then my mom, to a ‘cancer” of the mind so to speak. Both were horrible to witness.
Though I was older when my mom passed away, I don’t know that I could have ever been prepared for the journey Alzheimer’s was going to take us on. I had spent more time with her, and developed a very different, deeper relationship with her, than what I had with my father. I loved my daddy and nothing could ever replace him in my heart. The bond with my mom was just different.
She and I were closer than what she was with my siblings who were much older than me. That’s not to say that she loved me more, or to make it sound like I was her favorite. We were just different.
Because of what we went through, we formed a very different bond. We had battle scars on our heart, the others knew nothing about.
Mom and I were the ones who came home to the empty house, after my dad’s funeral. We were the ones who had to pick up the pieces and figure out what life looked like. She and I had to learn how to mow the lawn, and shovel the long driveway when it snowed. We learned how to drive the riding mower. We also learned how to bend the aluminum siding on the garage back in place, when one of us dented it with the riding mower.
She and I were the ones who held each other up on the rough days, and kept each other going. I was the one who went with her to the cemetery and watched her shed tears for her first love. She never remarried, even though she was widowed considerably young. In her mind, she had met (and said goodbye) to the love of her life.
She and I were the ones who woke up that first Christmas morning (and all of the other first holidays) and had to start the day without him. She would do her best to become both father and mother for me, and I would attempt to learn the ropes of being raised by a single mom.
It would be a very long time before I was able to shed tears again. Yet when they came, I felt a sense of relief.
I felt human once more.
*The Precious Memories posts you read here, are dedicated to my mother, who battled Alzheimer's. I share snippets of our story, and some things I learned along the way.
Precious Memories 1
Precious Memories 2
Precious Memories 3
Precious Memories 4
Precious Memories 5
Precious Memories 6
Precious Memories 7
Precious Memories 8
Precious Memories 9
Precious Memories 10
Precious Memories 11