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Gabriel8

First Christmas without my father

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   My father passed away roughly four months ago, and this is my first Christmas without him. 

   My grief for him has been complicated by the dysfunctional family I grew up in. I have vacillated between missing him and feeling great anger at him. It has been a struggle to reconcile what he said with what he did, and what that means about him as a father. I have also had to reckon with the fact that, in a very real sense, I have become him. For better or worse, I see traits of my father in much of my behavior, as well as simply the way I sound when I'm speaking to others; I can hear him in my voice. 

   If I'm honest with myself, I'm very proud of having many traits that I was always fond of in my father. He was a soft spoken man who, nevertheless, had a great deal of integrity, and spoke up about things that he saw that were wrong. He taught me about the importance of not being prejudiced, and of treating all people with respect. He was a gifted Therapist, and he made his passion into a career that brought him a great deal of joy. 

   For all of the things that I was proud of him for, there were as many things that I didn't like to admit were true. He abandoned me over and over throughout my life. He lived in denial about many things in his family of origin, and he stayed in denial about how that carried over into the family that I was brought up in. He was constantly in unhappy, codependent relationships with women who he didn't actually care for. He tried to "save" and "rescue" others while he never faced so many of his own inner fears and demons. 

   The night that he passed away, he came home to a wife who he was sleeping in a separate bedroom from. And the last words he had for anyone was to tell her to leave him alone, after which he went to his bedroom and passed on in his sleep. After always having been an almost larger than life physical presence, he died due to a heart attack. It took us all by surprise; as my brother and I had often joked that he would outlive us! 

   Grief is so much harder when it is complicated. My struggle with whether my father was a good parent coincides with my own struggle to be what I feel is a good man. I am afraid of the ways that I am like him, because I don't want to hurt someone the way that he hurt me. However, I want to remember and pass on the things that I treasure about times with him. When I was a little boy we would "Indian wrestle" and every birthday was a big deal with games and always a piñata. He was a spiritual man who had a wisdom that was earned from a life of struggles overcome. 

   Tonight I brought back a Christmas tradition that I fondly remember from when I was a young boy; when we would drive around town to see the Christmas lights! I took a drive around my block, thinking about how different things look from my vantage point as a man now, myself. I miss the Christmas's of my youth, when we always had a real tree and I would love to decorate it with tinsel (I always put on way too much!). We had a holiday tradition where we would intend to open just one present on Christmas Eve; but would invariably end up opening all of them! Ha! 

   I had many special times as a child with my father, on holidays and otherwise. And I also had many special times with him as a young adult and man. In trying to parcel out the fact from fiction in my family and life, I have tended to favor the hard and painful truths that were so long shrouded by denial. It has been the most important thing for me to be able to stand on a foundation of truth, to find out who I really am (not so many of the things I was told I was and old family roles). 

   Perspectives shift and change like wind chimes. It is easy to get lost in either emotions or in facts; and to feel I am looking at the truth head on, when in reality I am just looking from one vantage point. Somehow, amidst all of the perspectives that compete for attention, I do have fond memories of a man who showed me warmth and a gentle care. It's important for me to remember these things. It's important to remember how I felt, as a boy, on Christmas eve. 

   Through all of the years and losses (loss of childhood/ innocence, loss of belief in parents, loss of life), I am still here, and whole. I have a soul, and it still works. I have a good heart, and a sharp mind. I have good and bad in me (hopefully more good than bad). I will make many mistakes in my life, and I will not be as good of a parent as I would hope (if I raise children of my own or help out raising someone else's). I will say and do things that I regret, and fail in ways that I cannot possibly predict. I cannot help but be human. 

   Maybe that's all that can be asked of any of us. 

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Dear Gabriel,

Thank you for sharing your story with us. And for your thoughtful words. Grief is a long journey and there is so much to process.

Thinking of you. Wishing you peace.

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17 hours ago, reader said:

Thank you for sharing your story with us. And for your thoughtful words. Grief is a long journey and there is so much to process.

Thinking of you. Wishing you peace.

You're welcome @reader. Thank you for your compassion and support. 

It helps, when I do share my story, to know that it means something to someone else. I'm glad for your response. 

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Dear Gabriel,

Keep writing my friend. It takes a long time to work through the sorrow. Your words help all of us on this forum. We all need to give voice to our experience and our feelings.

Take care.

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Dear Gabriel,

I have read all your posts.  What always stands out to me about you is how insightful you are and conscious of yourself.  How eloquently and how profoundly you speak and use words in a very poetic way.  I understand the complexity of grief coming from a very difficult family background myself.  I am very glad that in my 30's I went to therapy and worked through difficult emotions toward my mother about my childhood.  She was such a good person, so brave but I also resented she stayed way too long with my abusive father that affected me greatly in my life.  Eventually one day I came to terms with she did the best she could in a very very difficult situation and she was very young and didn't know she could leave and it would be ok.  She did leave but it took decades.  I thank god I was able to have a very close relationship with her after for many many years and spend a lot of time with her and we became very close.  I see my weaknesses because of my childhood and growing up in fear that still affects me to this day.  I see my mother in me more and more and how alike we are.  My weaknesses and my strengths although I acknowledge I don't have as much strength that she had.  Now she is gone and there is only the estranged family left, I feel all the goodness has gone from my life. the unconditional love is gone.  Love in general.   But I also see that in time, I can rebuild.  I can do this because she is still part of who I am even though her physical presence is not here.  I spent my Christmas completely alone in my apartment with Netflix who was my companion for 2 days! No one called me.  Even though I thought it would be a brutal day, it wasn't.  Yes I am sad she is no longer here but it was also liberating to not have to endure the family christmases that I loathed that I did for her.

It takes a life time to find out who you are Gabriel.  It comes in drips and drabs over the years and losing a parent makes us question our identity and our place in the world.  This goes on and on I think, even when you're older.  Pema Chodron the buddhist monk who has written many many books has a chapter called - No such thing as a true story.  Even though I read it more than a decade ago I am constantly reminded of it.  The stories we tell ourselves change over time I've learnt and how we see them at the time and how we see them later.  I agree that grief is so much harder when its complicated.  Difficult family relationships make grief very very layered.  It takes a long time.  In 6 months, one year, 5 years you could see things differently.

I think you have tried very very hard to know yourself.  You've worked very hard to overcome a lot.  Remember it takes a lifetime.  I believe you've done very well.  I know this from your posts.  Just remember it takes a life time.  Wishing you continued strength and bravery.  

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On ‎12‎/‎26‎/‎2017 at 5:55 AM, sadandlost said:

No such thing as a true story.

I appreciate this idea that you shared, @sadandlost. I used to think that there was such a thing as one single, universal truth; and I wanted more than anything to catch hold of it! I now believe in the idea, instead, that we all see a bit of the truth from different perspectives; and that our perspectives do change with time and where we are looking from.

I am fond of this notion, because then I can acknowledge other people's perspectives, even when they aren't the same as mine. And I can know that I don't need them to be wrong for me to be right.

On ‎12‎/‎26‎/‎2017 at 5:55 AM, sadandlost said:

It takes a life time to find out who you are Gabriel.

This is an idea that provides me a great deal of relief, and I am thankful for your expression of it. There is a quote by Nelson Mandela where he says, "I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

I always thought that recovery was something people did before they went and lived life. I gave myself a time frame that I thought was reasonable to recover in; say, six months. Lol! I can laugh now at my naiveté. As long as I'm alive, I will be a work in progress. And that's okay.

Still, I need reminding of this; because I can easily slip into perfectionism and other traits that make my life more challenging. Here is the next sentence in the quote by Mandela, "... I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come."

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