I am, if my life lasts until extreme old age, at my mid life. Many people around this time in their life experience parental loss. It’s a difficult stage of life to process at times and I want to share my experience of being in the midst of this circumstance, and what I learned about my own exploration with it.
I am writing this as a cathartic coping mechanism in part, as I know I am feeling emotions related to this specific circumstance, so bear with me. However, I have something important to share with you that you may find helpful. Let me first give you some background so you can understand why I came about with this lesson in my life’s journey.
In brief, my stepdad passed away in 1997 at age 54 and my biological father, whom I never really had a genuine relationship with, is now seriously ill. Luckily, I still have a healthy mom. I have mixed emotions of gratitude for the parents that are healthy and alive, but I am still awash with reactive worry for my father, who struggles to stay balanced with his medications and medical issues. Sometimes I feel like I’m a roller coaster of emotions as the drama of issues press erratically at the precariously balanced health of my father.
I know that I need to stay present, and spend my most precious resource, time, with the people I love. I know that they will pass on, some sooner than others. That’s life and a very logical progression of every single entity on Earth. I also know how emotionally fragile it can leave you, as it did when my stepdad passed. For all intents, he was simply my dad, and I grew up with him for the vast majority of my life. It was devastating, heartbreaking, and his passing upset the family balance heavily.
So here I am recalling those memories while hearing words of discomfort from my living dad, while I remain very close with my mom. These really are three completely different types of relationships with a parent: one dead, one sick, and one healthy. In a time when many people have step families, I believe this could be fairly typical, but that fact bares little comfort for those of us in similar circumstances.
As part of my volunteer counsellor training, I am trying to sit with these emotional states more often, noticing them, and exploring them. I find writing highly productive in exploring and analyzing the feelings, as there has been more than one occasion where insights have come as a result of writing.
Part of the outlet is that writing is relatively slow. It helps to pour the emotions out slowly, which assists in analysis, and I can think them through as they well up. Usually I am feeling a sensation that tells me I am ready to write, which means there is a pressure to get an emotion out. It’s hard to explain, but all of a sudden I am ready to sit down and start the process.
I recall in my younger years, I would not have this kind of pressure release mechanism, and like any pipe system that doesn’t have it, I would explode in a mess of emotion, not necessarily of anger, but also frustration; often at the wellspring of emotions that sprang forth unannounced and unwanted. Monitoring and writing out how I feel, is a much smoother, ‘at the time’, attention to self.
I have to remember that time spent with family and loved ones is the best medicine for feeling disconnected or worried about the future, or several other reactive emotions that our brains have a tendency for. It will provide memories that we can draw on in the event of their passing, and it will minimize regret of not being there.
Time, although a man made concept of reality, is the single most powerful currency we all have to give. I plan to give much of my time to my remaining family, all of them, as often as I can, because it’s value increases as we get older and more mature. Simple economics really, it become scarcer, and therefore as our finite supply diminishes, the value we give it increases; sometimes dramatically.
I will share with you the change in attitude that came over me in a short time frame considering my life long, poor relationship with my biological father. I had resentment and unresolved feelings for him that waxed and waned year after year. But when he became ill, and I had time to spend with him over this past summer, I started to get to know a person I never really knew. The stories I plied my brain with were after all, simple conjectures and here-say that I had created from fragments of thoughts and feelings that bore little resemblance to the real living man himself.
I sat by his side while he shared story, after story, after story, about his life. His naval history, his time in Egypt, his recent love experiences, times in his old house, and many others. He is a good story teller, and I wanted to soak up information from him because my real experience of him was like the hard, cracked soil of the desert, in want of moisture. In listening to him, that hardened part of me started to soften, and I began putting pieces of his experiences together, from boyhood through mid and late stages of his life.
The puzzle that was my father was being filled in, where I merely only had the outer border before. In time, week after week, as we spent many hours side by side in storytelling mode, me listening and him sharing, my disposition changed. And like the desert plains after enough rain, flowers started blooming.
Time changed my relationship with him. I enjoy calling him now and visiting. I miss him if I haven’t seen him in a couple weeks, and I look forward to the next time we speak. I also feel that in genuine feeling in return, something that is new to our relationship.
I may have not been able to do this year ago. I may have been too self-centred, too stubborn, too unconscious to realize my part in the failing of our relationship. Being open to explore, and simply listening to his life unfold was the greatest gift my dad has ever given me, and it all happened because I started with the gift of time.
I am grateful that it wasn’t too late to get to know him. I am grateful that he didn’t die in the hospital just months ago. I am grateful that the universe allowed time for me to spend time with him and I am able to start having a real relationship with him, all these years later. What happens now is what matters most, and I think I am extremely lucky to know my dad right now.