(Song dedication: Just Visiting by Aisha Badru)
Where I last left you, I was ready to leap. Off to the United Kingdom to explore with my husband, son and mother-in-law for two entire weeks! The mood was anticipatory for all, as I had been the only one who had been there before. Once after my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and before that, once where I celebrated my fifth birthday with the paternal side of my family. At the time, my biological father had moved back to England for a while to be with his mother, father and brother after he and my mom divorced.
It was a difficult separation that was the conclusion to a dangerously abusive marriage resulting from my Father’s dependancy on alcohol and his own unresolved childhood trauma. When he finally left the little brown house on Westview Drive, I cried for his absence, not comprehending the full expanse of the situation as a 4-year-old. Nonetheless, it was confusing and left me with all sorts of abandonment issues that I am finally nurturing and weaning myself from.
We spent five busy and exciting days in London and proceeded to take the train to Wales where my husband braved the narrow, winding, hedgerow lined roads navigating from the other side of the road and car. Talk about a complete mindfuck. I would not want to be him! But on the other hand, he probably didn’t want to be me either, finally amassing enough courage necessary to perform such feats as facing my bio dad for the first time in 17 years.
And not just estranged bio dad, but slowly declining health and mind this time around. His older brother had prepared me in so much as explaining that his dementia had progressed to a 6 out of 8 and he would likely have a difficult time understanding who I was. To the best of his ability, my uncle worked hard to prepare his little brother for our visit. Surrounding him with our family photographs, explaining daily that we were coming to visit, that he would meet his grandson for the first time, imploring him to drink water so to avoid another stay in hospital, convincing him to trim inches from his overgrown beard, sprucing him up with a smart outfit to make his best impression on this mystery family. I am eternally grateful for what my uncle is doing for John and what he did to make our visit meaningful.
I did my very best to channel Eckhardt Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Brene Brown with a dash of Amy Schumer (comedy is a necessary staple in situations like these). In short (which as my reader you know nothing ever is…sorry, not sorry) I google earthed myself to the exact location of my body, mind and spirit and steadied the soles of my feet to the earth wherever they found themselves. There is a sheep in front of me, be with the sheep. There is a warm flat pint of beer in my hand, savour that down. There is my son drawing another Titanic pencil drawing while sitting at a pub table, watch his steady hand in complete wonder. My greying and wrinkled 72-year-old Father is sitting next to me, look at him, smile warmly, answer his questions.
And the questions, they were like the drips from a leaky faucet, kind of slow but repetitive. He never went as far to ask who are you? He still had enough English charm to know that would be rude. But he asked about our ages and birthdays. He asked questions about his grandson, he’d mistakenly refer to my husband as his caregiver, he’d ask my Mother-in-law if he was a “funny guy”. He asked questions about me that hinted at his confusion of who I was to him. By the 8th time I had repeated warmly, I am your daughter, every time eliciting a smile and glimmer of recognition in his eye, I realized what the universe was trying to do. The more I said it, the more I understood myself what I was saying. I was his daughter. No time, distance, or failing memory could change that.
At one point, he had asked me when my birthday was so I told him August. He looked interested and asked what day? To which I replied the twentieth. His face lit up like christmas lights as he exclaimed, “That’s my daughter’s birthday!” Without missing his beat I responded with, “I know! Because I am your daughter!” And at that, we erupted into laughter, which spread to my son sitting across the table from us. The three of us laughed and I realized at that moment, none of this can be taken too seriously and more importantly I needed to hear confirmation that he remembered his daughter. He resoundingly did and that was just enough to satisfy my tiny glimmer of neediness that still lingered. But his recollection of his daughter’s birthday was the best gift he could have given me, it made up for all the missed birthday’s that piled up after his TBI. It reminded me that before his accident he always sent a birthday card, even in the thick of his addiction. As an adult who has struggled with her own addictions I can empathize what an accomplishment it is to have remembered every August to get a card, write in it and mail it with postage. I of course didn’t grasp that as a child. And later as a teenager, once the cards stopped I only felt resentment and forgotten. Cue the abandonment trigger. But with a bit more life behind me I know how we can get so tangled up in our shit that sometimes even getting out the front door is a monumental feat.
I guess what I’m getting at here is how I have found gratitude in the smallest things, a few words strung together in acknowledgment, a thoughtful gesture, a knowing smile, one human being present to another. These were the gifts of the past two weeks and they weren’t just reserved for my father in the land of dragons (that’s another way to name Wales, not a metaphor for dementia or something).
When I sat outside at the little table in front of our Cottage in Presteigne after seeing my family for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, my mother-in-law poked her head out the door and asked if she could join me. As she sat down she asked how I was feeling about the days events. She and I shared a heartfelt conversation and I felt heard. Her motherly compassion was immense for me in that moment and I didn’t even realize how much I needed it.
The day we toured the Welsh countryside with my uncle (but unfortunately not my Father because of his limitations) we spent some time exploring Ludlow Castle. Jack loved the experience of crossing the stone bridge into the fortress and climbing impossibly small steps in a spiral formation to the highest tower in the compound that looked back on the green patch faraway on the hill that we sat and ate our lunch an hour before. At the end of the trip, my uncle had purchased a book about the castle on his brother’s behalf for Jack. In it he scribed for John as a Grandad. The sentiment was moving but felt a bit final as if they may not see each other again. I was getting ready for bed when I summoned the nerve to read what had been written inside the book cover. My husband came in the room and found me crouched over my suitcase, hair hiding my face because I was ashamed of my tears. He didn’t need to ask, I didn’t need to say a thing. He just knew and hugged me as my eyes opened the flood gates.
And my son, the whole reason we even went on this trip because he was brave enough to tell us what he wanted, or perhaps even needed. To meet his Grandad. He made those otherwise awkward moments, you know the silent ones where no one can come up with something to say even though you know there should be words, memorable with knock-knock jokes, funny faces, intuitive questions, and his full body enthusiasm for whatever adventures that particular day happened to bring.
There is more to tell about this journey we took, and we’re talkin’ some way outta left-field-shit, but for now I will let these words standalone in their own right for they are significant to my healing and I don’t want them to be overshadowed by my other thoughts and stories (I believe this is called compartmentalizing).