Wednesday, June 29, 2011

doors and more doors

It's late, but I'm in the mood to blog.  I'm not sure exactly what to say-- there have been several posts knocking around in my head, but none of them is coming to the fore at the moment.  at some point I will tell you about the Czech Republic and Germany, but not yet-- that one is still a little raw.  And plus, since I'm not much of a travel writer, it will mainly be pictures.  I took pictures of doors for the JulieLanders.  Hmmmm.  That actually feels do-able-- I wouldn't need to come up with coherent thoughts about it.  OK.  I will upload door pictures.  They are all from the Czech Republic except the last one is from Germany. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

in which I overuse my new word (more about dad)

One of the odder things I learned in school this year is the new way to use the word "fraught."  I thought when you said something was "fraught" it was always followed by "with...."  As in, fraught with peril, or fraught with challenge, or fraught with difficulty.  But now you can say something is "fraught" all by itself, and it means that it is difficult, challenging, perilous, or just plain old complicated.

So if you've been around awhile, you'll know my relationship with my dad was fraught.  It was all of those things:  difficult, challenging, and definitely complicated.  (perilous might be a bit of a stretch, but there were a few times it felt that way.)  So I wasn't sure what to expect when he died.  I wasn't sure how it would feel.  We each made numerous, numerous attempts to bridge the gulf between us, and none of them were entirely successful.  I'll tell you why that was, in my opinion-- because he was incapable of accepting responsibility for any of the havoc he caused in my life.  His solution to bridge the gap between us was for me to forget everything negative about him.  I wanted to bridge the gap with honesty, with telling the truth about what it was like.  He wanted me to forget anything bad ever happened.  Oh, dear, this wasn't where I was planning on going with this.  Obviously for the two or three of you who read here and knew him, that is an enormously one-sided take on things.  But this is my blog, and I can't speak from his perspective even if I wanted to.  I can only speak my own words.

Anyway.  there were a couple of years (ten years ago? twelve?) when we were literally not speaking to each other, but things had improved since then.  I gave up my bitterness and resentment toward him years ago-- or at least the bulk of it, it still surfaces now and again.  I've held him in a benign, distant sort of acknowledgement for a long time.  You're my dad, I'm your daughter.  It was just too difficult for me to do any more than that, because his twisted reality wreaked too much havoc with my own.  We'd see each other once a year or so (not bad given that we lived 2,000 miles apart), we called occasionally, we kept track of what was going on in each other's lives.  Well, actually, that was mainly one-sided-- he'd tell me about his stepsons and their kids, and I would listen.  Usually he would remember to ask about my kids, but not always.  It worked for me, and he seemed happy with it, too. 

Last summer he made one more attempt (and props to him for being the one to initiate it), which failed dismally in at least one way-- it convinced me once and for all that he was never going to be able to see things from my perspective.  Rather than any kind of acknowledgement of my experience, he wanted me to feel sorry for him because it had been so difficult for him when we were estranged.  But it succeeded in another way-- it laid to rest any anxiety I had that I should keep trying.  He just wasn't capable of what I wanted from him, and I love (loved) him anyway.  And he loved me in his own way, as much as he could. We were so very much alike; I suppose it was inevitable that our relationship would be fraught.  Is that forgiveness?  I'm not sure. 

So for the last year of his life, there was a sort of settled acceptance between us.  Détente. It was nice.  I liked it.  We talked more (though still not often), and he spent some time with MadMax, whom he loved very much.  But I wasn't sure how it would be when he died.  Would I wish I had tried harder?  Would I regret that I didn't give in and accept his reality so that we could be close?  Would I even care that he was gone?  Would my life actually be simpler without having to worry about my fraught relationship with him? 

I think I spent the first week or so in denial-- not surprising, since for most of it, I was traveling.  And traveling and traveling.  But now that we're back home, I find that although I have yet to feel any sense of regret (which may be yet to come, I'm not ruling it out), I have definitely been mourning him.  It has surprised me a little.  It's not something I feel all the time, but once or twice a day, a wave of sadness comes over me-- sometimes even strong enough that I find tears running down my cheeks.  Sadness for what could have been, I suppose, but also sadness that my dad is gone, that the unique person that he was is no longer in my life.   There's a hole there, no matter how difficult he was, a hole no one else can fill.  Today would have been his 79th birthday.  My sister said she ate maraschino cherries today in his honor-- he loved maraschino cherries-- and maybe I will think up something like that, too.

I read back over this and realized that by not telling you the details of things that happened long ago, I run the risk of making myself sound like a harridan who couldn't forgive her sick, aging father for his minor sins.  And I guess I'll just have to accept that, because at this point I'm not going to drag all the crap back out and air it publicly.  I could.  I could tell you details of things that happened in an attempt to convince you it was as painful as I'm telling you it was.  but you know, I just can't do it.  Partly because someday my kids will have their say and I certainly am not a perfect parent.  But mainly, I'm just not going there.  I've dealt with it-- I have years of therapy bills (and a good dose of peace) to show for it.  I'd rather leave it back there in the past where it belongs.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

rest in peace, dad

I'm sitting at a Starbuck's in Seattle (which is like saying I'm sitting on sand at the beach, I know) in what has to be the yuppiest shopping center in town, and it is great to be back in the US.  Free wi-fi, and a lovely evening to sit and type.  We flew back from Dallas this morning, got in to Seattle just in time to be hungry, so went out for Vietnamese.  Then dropped dh and MadMax back at the airport so they could fly home-- dh has to work next week, and MadMax has basketball camp.   This was the week that Nell and I were supposed to be gallivanting around the moors, or maybe Dublin, and it's hard not to have... well, pangs.  But there's no way I would have missed the time with family that happened this week, so it's all good.  There will be other trips.

There was a delicate balancing act to perform this week.  Anyone who is the child of a much-admired, fairly public person will understand.  You have to publicly honor the good that your parent accomplished--which in the case of my dad, was considerable--without losing touch with the reality of your own experience, which may be quite different.  It is the rare public figure that can live up to their hype.

There are cases where the person's private life was so much at odds with his/her public life that the truth needs to come out, and the public accomplishments need to be re-assessed.  But I don't think that is the case with Dad.  I didn't (and don't) have any problem with remaining silent while listening to people talk about the amazing things he did.  He did some pretty amazing things for me, too.  But I have to say that the private times with my sisters, our spouses, and a few people who knew him very well, where we were able to laugh and cry and roll our eyes at the pain he caused along with the joys, was more therapeutic than the more public times.

But having said that, I have to say that the service was beautiful.  My dad had reached a point of contentment with his life in the last few years, and his illness lasted long enough that he was able to come to terms with his death, too.  He was ready, and although I doubt his wife would say she was ready for him to go, she was in any case ready for an end to his suffering.  I think in circumstances like that, the funeral can become a celebration of someone's life, and this one was.  Two of his mentees (is that the word for someone you mentor?) spoke movingly, and the man who was our pastor when I was in junior high and high school spoke.

My sisters spoke, too.  They asked me if I wanted to join them, but I didn't.  I didn't really think it through, I just knew for sure I didn't want to get up there and speak.  Not too surprising since whatever other reasons there might be, I have a life-long complete and utter dread of speaking in front of people.  My sisters did a lovely job of being humorous, and honest, and loving, without going into too much detail.

In a classic act of dad-ness, Dad had scripted his funeral, including telling our retired pastor what he wanted him to speak on.   The pastor made us all laugh telling the story.  "I don't let other people tell me what to preach."   "Then I'll find someone else to do it," my dad replied, which I can completely believe.  But they were both joking, because the pastor knew he would honor Dad's request, and Dad knew that there was no one else he would trust to do it.

So he talked about grace, using his own words and dad's outline.  The sentiments expressed were fairly standard ruminations on the Christian idea of grace, which is-- as we were taught in Vacation Bible School-- God's Riches At Christ's Expense.   Grace is about a gift you don't deserve, the love you receive at the moment when you are most unlovable, a cosmic random act of kindness of which you are the recipient (with random meaning not that it was unplanned, but that there is no reason you should have been picked out for it).

It's one of the most obvious of the major Christian doctrines, and one that is relatively easy to define, and yet it is--in my experience-- the one that is the hardest to live.  Because it requires giving up the idea that we need to deserve love and acceptance.  To truly recognize grace at a soul-deep level is to give up feeling inferior, like damaged goods.  It is to give up feeling unworthy, or unacceptable, or bad about yourself.  The ideas expressed at dad's funeral were specfically Christian, but I think it translates to any spiritual path.  I've been thinking about it a lot.

In fact, the funeral itself felt like a moment of grace to me.  I'm not done processing my dad's death, and certainly not his life or his influence on me, but there was a moment toward the end of the service where I was able to just let go of all that and be at peace.  At peace with him and at peace with me.

Nell is rejoicing at being back in the States with her buddies, but I'm supposed to pick her up in ten minutes, so I'd better go.  There may be more on this topic another time.  DSQ, it was so nice to see the Pilot Man.  Please tell him how much I appreciated his presence-- I didn't get a chance to talk to him, because I was so sure he was staying for dinner that I didn't track him down until he had already left.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

tired but content

Well, once we heard that my dad was gone, it was a matter of about three minutes to decide that all four of us wanted to come back for the funeral.  It took over an hour on the phone with the Delta people (who were amazingly helpful considering how complicated our travel arrangements were), and then four days of hanging out in airports and hotel rooms to get there (Munich-Berlin-Amsterdam-Seattle-Dallas-East Texas). But we did make it, with about half an hour to spare before the graveside service.  Then there was a funeral at a local church, with a lavish potluck lunch afterwards, and dinner at my sister's for assorted family and friends last night.  It was a long, exhausting day, but so wonderful.  And there was entirely too much to eat.  I'll tell you more later, I'm sharing computer time with a household of people so can't linger.  Dh and MadMax are flying back home on Saturday, Nell and I will be back sometime the middle of last week (we have to pack up her stuff from her apartment and then drive from Seattle).

Friday, June 10, 2011

sounds like he's not going to last much more than 24 hours or so.  Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, Julie and Debbie.  This is hard but so far we are doing OK.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

just wanted to let those of you who are regulars know what's going on and ask for prayers/positive thoughts/fgbvs.  I'm on a bus, believe it or not, between Prague and Munich.  We are having a wonderful time, it's been a terrific trip so far.  The only negative has been worry about my dad-- he has taken a severe turn for the worse and I've been getting daily emails from my sisters letting me know what's going on.  I'd appreciate it if you'd think of him and my sisters and his wife, and also us, as we try to figure out whether to keep going or to head back home.  My older sister, who is a medical type, says he probably has at least a week, but maybe not much longer than that.

I miss you and reading your blogs to find out what's going on in your lives-- am already writing posts in my head about what we've done.  we're leaving the city that has the internet connection so I have to get off.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

and we're off-- well, almost

Our big trip to visit dear daughter Nell in Prague is coming up at the end of the week.  We're driving to Seattle on Friday, catching a flight to NYC at oh-dark-thirty on Saturday morning, and then eventually we will end up in Prague mid-morning on Sunday.  I am so so so excited.  The last time we went to Europe, Nell was 13.  I was so happy that I started crying when we got off the plane in London.  I think I need more of a life. 

I've spent the better part of the day today making reservations.  I've always enjoyed making travel plans (that is the polite way of saying that I completely and utterly obsess about it, beyond any kind of reasonable.  I have a stack of at least eight guide books.)  I'm pretty good at it—we've had some great trips over the years.  But booking stuff for Europe is different.  It is stressful.  The fine print is different over there.  Not to mention that it is often in German.  I'm a little freaked out.  In the last two hours, I've spent quite a bit of money making reservations for hotels, trains, in-Europe flights and a rental car.  I hadn't planned on getting a rental car, but I really really want to go to the Cotswolds, and I just couldn't get us there on the day we wanted to go using public transportation.  Or at least, not without convoluted contortions.

So who knows if I'll be able to sleep tonight.  This will probably be my last post before we leave, and I'll be gone three weeks-- Prague, Munich, Berlin, London, the Cotswolds, Dublin and then back to London to fly home.  So, 'bye, you guys!!  I may be able to post from an internet café along the way, but I'm not sure.  There will definitely be pictures when we get back.