It was 2 years ago April that I finally mustered up enough balls to write my estranged (of 15 years) bio Dad a letter after a failed, anxiety riddled phone call that never was picked up on the other end, on the other side of the world. I see now that had he picked up my most random phone call at 8:30 pm, we would have proceeded to have a brief, awkward, somewhat confusing exchange and the events that unfolded over the next year, likely would not have occurred.
You see, that letter, that physical envelope with the little blue airmail sticker affixed to its corner and its contents inside of ink on paper, sat next to my Father on the faded blue loveseat in his deceased mother’s living room for a couple weeks after he read it and set it down in the small pile of other cards, notes and photographs. During a visit from his older brother, Will, the letter was discovered, much to my uncle’s surprise, while he was tidying some things up. Will in turn, did what his brother could not, re-engaged in communication with me, sending an email, explaining that the letter was received but John was unable to write. And from there the assisted (with Will or the home care provider Vince’s presence) phone call’s began.
A year later, April 2019, I was able to move the pile on the loveseat next to John and sit there myself with him, my son in my lap, my husband in the matching blue chair and my Mother in law sitting on some other dated and faded piece of furniture, holding presence while my biological Father and I were reacquainted. He was joyful meeting his Grandson Jack for the first time. He was jovial meeting his “very Canadian” son-in-law and his Mother. It was a moment in my life that taught me the most important lesson – a lesson, I know, I continue to absorb, question, reject and then revel in – the power of presence. The nowness of that moment, not overshadowed by his declining memory and health, but in fact amplified by his mindstate.
There were no stories and bad choices to shamefully explain away and make peace with. For him, all his brain had was that very moment and in that was his trueness. His happiness, his laughter, his enjoyment of human connection. And so we followed his lead and held presence with him.
That night, back at our Welsh Cottage, I cried into my husband’s shoulder with grief. At that moment in time, I had slipped out of presence and was grieving the idea of who my Father had become, which didn’t align with the storyline in my head. I was bracing rather than surrendering to what was and thus experiencing my own mind’s suffering for a story that was not to be. After my husband said how much he enjoyed the time with John and how happy he seemed my response was contrary…but that’s not him…I don’t know that person! Complete denial, forgetting that he too, did not know me and who I had become.
The 4 days we spent there are forever etched in my mind and I, nearly a year later am abundantly grateful and humbled by the time I was given with him. At that time not knowing it would be my last time to know him for a brief moment in my own timeline, for he would pass away due to health complications only 3 months later. I would return on my own, to pay my final respects at his funeral in August, brave enough to speak my truth to a small congregation of attendees as I spoke of the gratitude I held for him when he decided to step down and let another man (my Mom’s new husband) raise his daughter like his own. The courage it took for him to step back and concede, he wasn’t able to parent me the way I deserved because he was an addict and had unresolved mental health issues. As a parent now myself, I believe his response was out of love and concern for my well-being.
This was all conjecture, however. I didn’t know for certain what his motivations were personally as a human, a man or a father. I knew events that had taken place. I had fractured and traumatic memories of my own, as a young child, with him. I had the first hand accounts of others who were negatively impacted by him but I didn’t know how he truly felt about me as his daughter before all this. But before what? Before the dementia? Before the accident and traumatic brain injury? Before his substance abuse? Before his Bipolar diagnosis? Maybe before his divorce from my mother?
Did he ever stop “being my father”? Did he just feel indifference to my existence with the passing of time and span of space? This was my greatest fear. The fear of indifference and abandonment that I was personally working through, had bled over into most other relationships in my life, tainting everything with a tinge of black mold. It made me anxious, depressed, physically pain-stricken, incomplete, untrusting and cynical.
But good news! I haven’t felt the black mold of doom in quite some time. Its been work, but I have been able to transform my thoughts and how I interact with the world in every way possible. It’s been a Fuuuuuuckton of work, but so worth the blood, sweat and tears…so many tears. A key player in this transformation has come about through discovering that my worthiness as a human is not defined by any other human other than myself. As I continue to improve the relationship with my own self, my heart, my mind and my soul, I find a well of so much love, that turns out to be bottomless.
In this depth of compassion that runs deep within, I am at peace with myself and others (Thanks Tanya – my yoga person and teacher, for this new Mantra! Because This is not a crisis is firmly embedded and I was definitely ready for something fresh and new – so sick of repeating the word crisis!).
So I’ve found time and time again, when I let go of an outcome or expectation and just be, then something positively reinforcing will materialize in my life. And believe me faking it and saying, oh yup…believe me universe…I’ve totally let that shit go, when it’s still plaguing the deeper recesses of your mind doesn’t work all that well…Hello Anxiety!
So again leaping ahead to almost another year later and months since my Father’s passing my Mom calls me. While doing some spring cleaning she finds a letter. A letter written by him. A letter written and addressed to her that she had forgotten about and tucked away with some old correspondence and cards. A letter that is nearly 30-years- old. And she wants me to have it because its contents she believes, are important to me, as his daughter.
It is brief, written on 5 x 7 unlined note pad paper, front and back and one more front. Folded awkwardly into a standard envelope much too large. It is 10 well-written, all caps and concise paragraphs. But no matter how short it presents in appearance, the sentiment and intentions ring true and carry weight. Something I am still striving for…concision…I say at 1230 words.
He writes out of concern for me because he hasn’t heard from me in a while. He says “he’s worried and just wants to hear that I am happy and safe”. He acknowledges the new life we have in a new town and her new marriage. He confronts the fact that he has been unable to pay child support, living on welfare that past 2 years. He optimistically shares that he is working in carpentry and paying off debts, one of which he plans to be sending child maintenance to make up for what he owes. He circles back to my welfare repeatedly, requesting that some type of communication be upheld just so he knows I am okay. He apologizes and also recognizes his own suffering with a recent diagnosis of “manic depression”, his dependency on alcohol and his struggle to come to terms with the death of his Father. The letter is written respectfully and truthfully. He talks about how he is looking forward to making things right and living a productive life. I believe in his hope at that exact moment in his life, even though a year later he would narrowly miss rehab and instead nearly lose his life in a drunk driving accident.
His final words are summative of the contents of his letter, and perhaps his life:
This letter is not intended to interfere with your lives but is written with genuine concern for Sarah as her Father who removed himself from her life…I hope you are all happy and healthy…please write. Love to Sarah
And that my friends is divine timing, closure and an authentic expression of Love.
It came at a time that I most needed it, or at least, would best understand his intention.
It comes on the heels of our reconnecting and then his sudden passing, letting me know that there is nothing left unsaid, so if I am ready I may release the grief of his loss (not just in death, but as my parent).
Ultimately, his words of love and concern are the furthest thing from indifference to his daughter. He did, in fact love me. But it comes at a time in my life, where I don’t need to know this to feel love and be whole. I did that part on my own, from within.
But to extend what this letter does now significantly to my life and the people in it, I am released. If I could live in the shadow of doubt with a significant caregiver for most of my life and then be suddenly told in black and white, that there was always love there, then I can most certainly give myself over to the relationships I hold dear now. Meaning no matter the struggles we face interpersonally, I can find meaning and learning in them, rather than anger and fear. I can move forward honestly with others without the fear of rejection or abandonment. In the end, we all love each other the only and best way we, ourselves, know how. Going forward, I will never need the yardstick of someone else love to know how much I should invest back. I will do what feels right and true to me, always embraced by the buoyancy of my own self-love.
I too John, look forward to leading a productive, happy and healthy life.
And I will write. As long as I have something to say. I will write.