Monday, August 01, 2011

an old story

I've never come up with internet names for my beloved sisters because they don't appear all that often in this blog.  But I need names for them for this story, and even though I'm a lot less concerned with privacy than I used to be, it still feels wrong to use their real names.  so I googled "names that mean brave" for my older sister and came up with Val, and "names that mean friendly" for my younger sister and came up with Amy.  I love google. They are, of course, much more complex people than a single character trait, but I needed something to start with.

Fourteen years ago, Val surprised us all by deciding to get married in her late 30s-- much to the relief of my mom, who at that point was still married to my dad, and couldn't imagine that it was possible to be happy while single.  In our dysfunctional youth, Val was the star of the family.  She was a talented athlete (and still is, although now with six kids she doesn't have much time for it), an excellent student, and an amazingly hard worker.  Everyone in town knew Val and watched her athletic career with interest, although since she isn't particularly outgoing, I know that sometimes made her uncomfortable.  Dad was an athlete himself, and since he had no sons, Val was his chance to mold an athlete, to put it mildly.  Their relationship during that period was alternately tense and stormy.  Amy and I tried to stay out of it as much as possible. 

But Val never met the right guy until she moved to a big city and started attending a new church where she met my future brother-in-law. Amy and I had been married for a dozen years at that point, so it was the first wedding in the family in a long time, and it was a big deal.  My dad was doing double duty by walking Val down the aisle, where he would "give her away" while the pastor of  her church officiated, and then moving up to the front to conduct much of the rest of the ceremony.

So about fifteen minutes before the wedding was supposed to start, I found myself alone with my dad in the waiting area for the bridal party.  We were past our estrangement years at that point, and I had already spent hours and hours with a therapist trying to understand him.  I thought I had a handle on it.  I thought he must be feeling pretty emotional about his favorite daughter getting married, about giving her away and all that.  I laid a hand on his arm and said, "How are you doing?  Are you hanging in there OK?"  He looked up from my hand, surprised, his ice-blue eyes cool.  "Oh, yeah, I'm fine," he said, holding his hand out to show that he was rock-steady, no nerves.  I'm not sure he even understood what I was worried about.

Fourteen Years Later....
So the day we were leaving for our trip to Europe, I got a call from Amy that Dad had started to go downhill.  But of course we didn't know if it was temporary, or a final descent.  I talked to both Val and Amy, and they each urged us to go ahead with our plans.  But Val said, "You'd better call him before you leave.  It might be your last chance to talk to him."

I didn't want to.  I hate talking on the phone, for one thing, and for another, what the heck was I going to say?  But both sisters were urging me to call, and I knew it would mean a lot to his wife, so I called.  "Hey, Dad," I said.  "I hear you're not feeling very good."   He talked for a bit about feeling really weak and not being sure he was going to pull out of it this time.  I felt nothing but numb.  I couldn't think of anything to say.  Silence fell, then stretched out for ten or fifteen seconds.  "Are you OK?" he finally asked.  I realized he thought I was silenced by grief, and only just stopped myself from blurting out, "Oh, yeah, I'm fine."  "I hope you're feeling better soon," I said instead.  "I love you." 

I didn't catch the parallel until this morning.  Am I turning out just like him?  Maybe so.  But at the time it felt like, and still feels like, I was just done.  I had no more emotion to spend on him, I had already given it my all.  and yet here I am, still processing. 


  1. I "know" you well enough by now to hear you thinking about deleting this post. Do. Not. Do. That.

    It was beautiful and honest and meaningful. Thank you for allowing is to share in your processing. When my sister died, I leaned on my blog too, it helps. The processing seems to go on MUCH longer than WE think it needs to. Just roll with it. It also gets easier.
    (Love the names you gave "Val" and "Amy" - well done.)

  2. "...allowing *us* to share..."

  3. Julie, that cracked me up. I did indeed come here to delete this post. Too personal, too negative, sounds whiny. OK. It stays.

  4. Just read this today. TOTALLY GET IT.