By Elisa Adams
Death is finality. It brings tears and sorrow to the hearts of the ones left behind, sometimes consuming them. But what if that isn’t the case? Is there something wrong with you when your loved one leaves and there is no sorrow, no yearning, no missing?
Yes there were times of joy, fun and laughter, but they always came with a price. You learned what not to ask for and how to behave to stave off the rage that would burst through. What made it so hard was the unpredictability. The randomness that made it devoid of explanation time and time again left a young child confused and bewildered.
“What did I do wrong?”
“I shouldn’t have said that,” or “why did I ask for that?”
“I should have gotten a B instead of a B- and then it would be right.”
Always reviewing the daily events for all the possibilities of the things I did wrong. Hence my role in the family was the peacemaker. I became acutely aware of people’s behavior and tried to anticipate their needs. Having everything just so, as to avoid arguments. I would polish the silver, intensively clean the whole house, and make many a “Betty Crocker” dinner with the table set in high fashion. But every time, with any kind of conversation, within minutes arguments would ensue. They worked two jobs for several years. Stress levels were high. My brother and I were left to babysit each other. I would often re-arrange the furniture with the magical hopes of a child, thinking it would help change the energy and everyone would be happy in the morning. Ha! When I awoke, all the furniture was back where it originally was. That was telling. Did anyone ever query me to understand why I took on such an endeavor?
There was never respect from my father; I was his stupid daughter. Women really didn’t have a place of power in his world; actually we didn’t have a place at all. That theme haunted me for years before strength came. I was 33 when I could begin to stand up and express my feelings with less need for his acceptance. I tried that on for a while, but it was hard and would backfire through the next couple of years. I came to a new realization… He was not the father that I wanted growing up, nor the father I wanted at that time. There was never a conversation about life, or a batting around ideas. It was a monologue of what I “should” do according to him. If I didn’t behave in that manner, the screaming escalated.
Trying to change him wasn’t working, so I tried a new strategy. I decided to simply cut ties with him, to not speak with him for some indefinite period of time. Possibly, until a time when he would begin to understand. It was clear to me that understanding may never come and yet, cutting ties would make my world more peaceful. So I let him go.
I made the pre-emptive strike with my brother. I told him in June that I would not be at the family Christmas if our father was invited, nor would I do anything on our father’s birthday or father’s day. All of this was the price of letting him go. The first Christmas was hard. I met with pleadings from my brother to attend and I had to stand my ground.
This went on for 3 years. Then one April I received a call from my father at my office, asking if I would treat him. He had been in a car accident, hit his head and had terrible headaches. I told him I would have to think about it and I would get back to him. It dawned on me that I could treat him like my other patients in my chiropractic office, with care, compassion and non-attachment. So I invited him in. I sandwiched him in at my busiest times to ward off lunch or dinner invitations. And this went on for months. He would question my patients in the waiting room as to how they felt and if I was a good doctor. They would often come in scratching their heads asking who was that guy in the waiting room? I responded with, “One of my crazy patients.”
With this exploration of his, he was seeing my role in life and my importance, but for me it was a moot point. I had already lost my father and he was irretrievable. His narcissism was his nemesis.
When I got the call (years later) that he had a bladder infection that wasn’t being helped with antibiotics, I knew right away that he had a tumor, and found a urologist for him to see. What I didn’t know is that he had Stage 4 bladder cancer. I realized he would need help navigating the medical muck and mire, and that I could midwife him to his death. In my mind, I was offering my time to care for another human walking this planet. I immediately went to Florida to research, investigate and set up his healthcare team. By April it was clear he needed to be back in Boston. The next four months, I (consciously) took on another fulltime job. Again researching and setting up care here. Traveling to see him was two hours round trip, without traffic. First it was 2-3 times a week and then 5-7 times. I set him up with various groups, The Ride to get him back and forth daily to the hospital for radiation, VNA, and then ultimately hospice.
Opportunity came for me to say all the things I wanted to during that time. I thanked him for the good and told him my version of my upbringing, the honest truth. And it was liberating. Mostly because it didn’t matter what he said back, his opinion was just that and it was not valuable to me any more. I said my piece and I reclaimed my power. During the time since the car accident he would tell others and me that I was his angel. I am glad he felt that way. Yet for me those words couldn’t change what I was robbed of in my youth.
When time came to go to the hospice house, his final decline was rapid. Two days of semi-consciousness and one day of unconsciousness. That night my daughter and I went to see him. We were told that he was irresponsive the whole day. She walked in and said in a very loud voice “Papu, we are here, Mom and I,” and he tried hard to open one eye. He mumbled, “I love you both,” and those were his last words. He died the next morning.
He scarred all of us with his narcissism, but somehow in the end we still had love. I feel complete with him. For myself, I was happy to assist with his last caretaking needs, and now I am totally free. No tears, no longing, no missing…just freedom and peace.