Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ungrounded



My Father died slightly less than a year ago, in New York, the city that inadvertently had become his home for approximately forty years. He has not yet, however, been laid to rest. That will happen next week.

His funeral was held shortly after his death, in the Queens neighbourhood where I grew up. After the ceremony, he was cremated, and his ashes stored until My Mother could decide where they should be placed. He had not wanted them returned to Nottingham, the hometown he had left in his twenties. He had variously spoken of having his remains scattered on Long Island Sound, where he had enjoyed sailing, or perhaps in the Swiss Alps, which he had grown to love. But he was not emphatic about any of these options; indeed, he seemed not to be too fussed about what happened.

Towards the end of last year, My Mother, who is Polish, decided that she would bury his ashes in her family grave in Warsaw. And so, after a few months of officialdom in both Poland and the US, Dad's remains are to be laid to rest next week. Tomorrow morning I leave Vancouver to join My Mother, who flew over from New York some two weeks ago.

Dearest Friends, I really have no idea how I feel about what has happened, of what is to come.

I have just re-read what I posted after his death. Back then I questioned the source of my relative calm and lack of despair. I wondered if I had, with remarkable ease, achieved acceptance of change and concomitant serenity. Or perhaps, I mused, I had buried my emotions deep within and risked them squirting out the sides at a later date.

Eleven months on, and my suspicion is that there is indeed stuff buried deep. Very deep. Deep in my core. It hasn't come gushing out in some sort of sulphuric, cathartic geyser, but I can feel it percolating, and I suspect it has been leaking into what I say, what I do, how I operate. Some of it I have identified, most of it I suspect I have not. For example, when I get strict with the children, I find myself using his turns of phrase -- "That is not acceptable" -- and it startles me. It annoys me. I get cross with myself, and therefore crosser with the children.

Sigh.

Though I have thought about Dad often, I have shied away from really cracking open my core to see the messy pulp of how I related and still relate to him, how I felt and how I still feel about him. This is in such stark contrast to my Dearest Mother-In-Law, who I still feel with and within me if not on a daily basis, then near as dammit. Not that long ago I was in Vancouver Kidsbooks, one of her favourite shops. I thought of her as I browsed the shelves, when out of nowhere tears welled up and I missed her so. That has never happened with Dad. I do realise that the connections I made with Veronica were of a very different sort than those I made with Dad. With him I find myself wishing that I had had more time to culture our adult relationship. But comparing my reactions leaves me feeling guilty. Traitorous. Disloyal. Unfilial.

Double sigh.

And then there is My Mother. The pain of losing Her Husband of forty-seven is still fresh and strong. She has found it extremely difficult to cope, in particular with the bureaucracy of life. Pensions, insurance, gas bills, legal matters - Her Husband handled them all. But unfortunately she clutches that pain close to her, and uses it to feed anger and bitterness. Anger and bitterness which then flow out over those around her, especially me. And with those flows come accusations of selfishness, ingratitude, of heartlessness. Along with the occasional reminder that My Father was not happy about my move to Vancouver, followed by the observation that some research indicates cancer might well be caused by stress.

Triple sigh.

What I find most sorrowful is that this is an extension of a lifelong behaviour pattern, one that I have begun to see as born of affliction, rather than malevolence. My Mother has indeed had her share of suffering. She grew up in Poland during the Second World War, then exchanged life under Nazi occupation for one under a Communist regime. She had an unhappy first marriage. She lost her mother very suddenly to a heart attack. Her (second) Husband, My Father, was gravely ill soon after I came along. And she has never, ever gotten over any of these events. Indeed, she seems not to have been able to even try. Instead, out of them she has forged grudges, lifelong ones, and she holds each one close. Carrying their weight has made her tired and bitter. Her Husband's death is one more to add to the load.

Her Husband. HER Husband.

Ever since his death, she has never once asked me how I feel about having lost My Father. I don't know what I would answer, but I would be ever so grateful if she just asked.

And so I am off on this journey, feeling uncertain, ungrounded, and somewhat fearful. Wanting to be compassionate, while fearful of being cruel and arrogant, both to others and myself. But I will try to remember to be receptive to whatever the moment tries to teach me, and to open up, not shut down, during the difficult bits.

A few of you I will see in London as I pass through on my way to and fro. And I am greatly looking forward to that. I will see the rest of you upon my return in ten days or so.

Oysterband - Polish Plain (buy here or e-here)
The Church - The Unguarded Moment (buy here)
Nick Drake - Time of No Reply (buy here)

16 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Take good care, FiL. All the best for a safe trip. I'm slightly staggered by my loss for words at the moment, but you're in my thoughts. I hope the sighs lessen by London. x.

JC said...

FiL.

If I'm anything to go by, those of us who have come to love and know you through the blog and your words on Podcast Contrast, will be left blinking through the tears and dealing with a large lump right now.

I am fortunate enough to still have both of parents living, although my dad is not always in the best of health. I dread the days when I will have to deal with death. But when I do, I'll remember some of the things you've said abd take some strength.

Safe journey there and back.

JC
x

Campfires and Battlefields said...

Quadruple sigh, and all the best. I'm new to this blog and so I don't know if I'm speaking out of turn, but I just want to thank you for your honesty. My parents are still living too, and so I won't even try to get in touch with that part of your experience, but I have amassed some good karma over the last few years and I now hereby pass it on to you.

Matthew said...

Good luck old chap. Hope it goes well, whatever that would actually turn out to be in the circumstances.

mjrc said...

oh, fil. grief is such an ongoing process. (for some, maybe a neverending one?) each new loss brings up every old one, and they all roll into one big hunk of sorrow that periodically reminds us that life is, in some respects, so very out of our control.

you are so mindful, though. you know that paying close attention to what you're feeling and being aware of what others are feeling will help you make sense of what you have gone through and what you're about to go through.

you know, i don't think we ever stop wanting or needing certain things from our parents, no matter what stage of life we're in or what the health of our relationship is with them. the deepest regrets come from not having taken the opportunity (or having been denied the chance) to both get to know them as real people and for them to know us, really know us--and have them still love us.

in my humble opinion, that is. : ) safe travels.

T&F@tlh said...

FiL,

We await you with open arms.

Tim & F.

Spoilt Victorian Child said...

Take good care FiL, my thoughts are with you.

Simon
X

Mentok the Mind-taker said...

Brotha, if I started quoting everything you said that echoed in my experience, I would end up quoting half your post. I think your mom and mine will have tea together in ...um.. the afterlife, I suppose is the polite thing to say.

I'll speak only about the "stuff buried deep". Like you, I didn't cry when my Dad died. I recall at one point during the funeral I forced myself to get misty eyed, just because I thought it was the proper thing to do.

Two years on and I still miss my Dad, I still get quiet when I mix up verb tenses (I jabber away about something that he "does"; people start exchanging glances and I correct it to "did"), but still hadn't wept, until the other day.

I was at the office over the weekend and had the ITunes going. That song you posted, The Joy of Living came up, and suddenly everything caught up with me at once. Totally lost it and wept like I can't remember weeping since I was a kid.

(So, you see, it was all your fault, asshole ;-)

I totally hear what you're saying about feeling "traitorous", but don't worry. Someday some song or something will be a trigger. Can't be rushed.

Enda said...

Hi Fil. Rough stuff. I sometimes see unwanted elements of my parents in me, which I choose to see as inevitable, rather than dispiriting. Who else are we supposed to turn out most like anyway (whether we like it or not)? Still not happy with them popping up though either.
Don't forget the list. Take care of yourself.
Enda

Natsthename said...

God speed on one of the toughest journeys you will ever take.

Peace to you and yours.

Crash Calloway said...

I hope all is okay.

I remember coming out of the funeral home having visited my dad in his coffin and feeling how everything else in the world was just out of place - nothing's ever felt so wrong.

My dad died six years ago and it's only very recently that we've finished scattering his ashes. He's got around, in his garden, mine and my sisters, his allotment, the park behind the site of the house he was born in, Hyde Park during a 'Stop the War' demo... I think I'd like something like that for me.

cchang said...

Thank you so much for sharing that with us, FiL. As you know, I lost my father recently as well and my mother became a widow at the age of 55 (too young in my opinion)...and yes, the piles of bureaucracy that follow afterward is difficult to handle. I'm happy that you're able to deliver the ashes.

But I will try to remember to be receptive to whatever the moment tries to teach me, and to open up, not shut down, during the difficult bits.

This is how I've kept myself sane during difficult and bitter times. I'm glad you have that mindset as well....may you have a beautiful journey, Fil.

T&F@tlh said...

FiL,

Hope your journey back to dearest wife and the chaos two went well. It was good to have you back in Town - even for such a short time - and great to get some of the "Cambridge Crowd" back together (complete with new and ex partners) for lunch and the play in the park with the extended families!

T
x

FiL said...

Dearest Friends, forgive me if I don't reply to each of you individually. Your words of sympathy, empathy, encouragement, and concern gave me much support.

After writing this post, I briefly toyed with the idea of scrapping it. I feared it was a bit too revealing, even self-indulgent. But in the end I decided to leave it; it was completely authentic and I felt that writing and posting would help me frame what was to come. I hope that wasn't too selfish...

As I subsequently mentioned, the trip was largely a positive one, I think. It didn't bring closure, but then I'm not sure anything will. What it did most was to show me where the next steps might lie. More to come...

Who'd have thought an mp3 blog would end up in this state?? ;)

Once again, thank you all, Dearest Friends!

The DoorKeeper said...

Thanks for not scrapping it. I am an occaisional visitor here (hence my lateness) and might have missed a thoroughly resonant post. As someone pointed out, quoting all the relevant bits would be epic.

You sound Well, though. In the midst of all that.

A. B. Chairiet said...

I'm glad you didn't scrap it either...I read it a long time ago, and felt speechless. If only in public.

When you feel scared to post something, it probably just means you NEED to post it for the healing that's in it.

I'm so glad you're home.