Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

And I learned how to get along

Recently, I came across a post on Shapely Prose where folks were recounting what they'd accomplished in the previous year instead of making hollow resolutions. It was a fun read. One woman posted that she had just survived, because her father had committed suicide that April and she was still learning to cope and still grieving.

There's some stuff I don't talk about much on here because it's pretty heavy but sometimes, things just need to come out. Reading her post (and her blog, where she talks about the sad events of her father's suicide, what lead to it, and what has happened since) brought a lot back to me. That's because I'm also a survivor of parental suicide.

I have conflicted feelings. My father was never in my life, except twice, briefly. First, when I was born, he and my mother were married teenagers having been forced into it by families and social strictures. Since he was pretty much gone by the time I was a year old, I had no memory of him as a child. Visiting his parents, once, I think he was there and came down the steps and left the house when he saw that I was there because I have a very vague memory of asking "who was that?" and being told it was my uncle. Except it definitely wasn't Uncle Jerry. I knew Uncle Jerry and his hair was darker, and he wasn't as tall. My mother never talked about it. I think she blocked most of it out for most of her life and I never got any information. Her parents were mad at him and his parents were mad at her and it was the '60s, nobody talked about anything.

So fast forward a lot of years. My grandparents, my father's parents, are having their 50th wedding anniversary. I guess I must have been in my early 30s when they had the luncheon where I met my father again. We shook hands. It was awkward. He moved to the bar next to the banquet room right after dinner and didn't make any effort to talk to me at all, and I was too busy getting over having met my half brother and half sister that I didn't know existed. Mostly, when I remember that day, I remember Nancy and Michael and trying to get my head around the fact that they were my half-siblings. Siblings. And Nancy had kids. I was an aunt. Shit. My father sat in that bar and did whatever he was doing and didn't talk to any of us. My aunt and uncle were there and they visited everyone, there was other family that I met and haven't seen since but it's a blur, really.

So a couple of months went by. I was working for Port Authority as a bus driver, doing OK, living in a crappy apartment with my kids. I'd talked to Mike and Nancy a couple of times, been out to north central PA to visit them. I decided to send my father a letter. I don't remember exactly what I said. I'd like to get to know you, you have granddaughters here, I want to hear your side of the story, I don't care about the past. I know my mother has hard feelings but really I don't and I want to know who you are. I got no reply, no phone call, no letter, no knock on the door. Nothing. Yeah, it hurt. He worked less than 3 miles from where I lived, too. I used to drive my route through Oakmont and every time a Daily's truck went by, I'd look to see if it was him. It was a couple of times, and I waved. Maybe he didn't see me and that's why he didn't wave back.

Fast forward a couple of years and Mike is getting married to his girlfriend, Elizabeth. They want me to come out for the wedding. Mike asked our father to be his best man. He'd agreed. About two months before the wedding, my aunt Gayle called me. My father had shot himself in the head, in his study or living room or den or something. He was dead. He wasn't going to be Mike's best man, after all. He wasn't going to be my father either, and he wasn't going to be my kids' granddad, and he wasn't going to get to know us or come over for dinner or wave hello from the cab of his truck. He was dead.

After maybe 15 years I still don't know how to feel about it. It hurts. A lot. He was a real asshole, married many, many times, probably left other kids all over the country, broke Nancy and Mike's mother's heart so bad she never got over it, made me distrust and hate yet crave the company and approval of men for most of my life, left questions and anger and heartbreak and hurt everywhere in his wake. And at his wake. My grandfather, his dad, was never the same after and died maybe five years later. That side of my family, never easy to begin with, I can't even begin to deal with now. I kept coming around for my grandmother but it was hard. I always felt so awkward and out of place.

So yes, I'm a survivor of parental suicide. But it's a parent I never really had. I never had the chance to love or hate him, to see if he was batshit crazy or an asshole or just misunderstood or the victim of some mental disorder. It's easy to assume he simply could not deal. That's what my mother says. She said suicide was typical of him; he never met a problem or responsibility he couldn't run away from. Maybe. I don't know.

Would it have been harder or easier if I'd known him? Would my grief have been greater and my anger less? Would it have been the same? And under all that, sneaky, illogical, the snake-thought of maybe if I'd tried harder, the creeping slithering question if I'd tried harder to get to know him maybe just maybe... the slimy earthworm of thought saying maybe I could have saved him. Right. Sure. I'm that fucking powerful. No, I'm not, but the thought is there.

I think part of it is that I've really never processed this as much as I needed to. How could I? Nobody will talk about it. My poor uncle Jerry just smiles and gives his stiff, awkward hugs and does the best he can. My aunt Gayle is too depressed and I can't seem to get the emotional door open for her because I don't want to feel that kind of pain any more. Then I feel guilty because I can't deal with them, I don't understand them, and I am not sure I want to. And then I feel guilty some more. It sucks. I don't understand enough to help my kids understand.

There aren't any answers, I know. The more answers I come up with, the more questions I have. But I think I needed to get this out here, and if you're still reading, thanks.

Happy crafty posting another day, promise.


Marcia said...

Jamie, so sorry to hear about all this. Life really does suck sometimes. It sounds like your father had a lot of depression most of his life, and either didn't know how to deal with it or wasn't able to. He probably truly thought that he was so screwed up that you'd be better off without him in your life.

I have a friend who committed suicide a couple years ago who was a loving and involved parent, but he had fought really severe depression for years and years, and it just got the better of him. Of course I think his kids will be more screwed up in life by having a father who committed suicide than they would have been by being raised by a father dealing with depression, but I guess he couldn't see it that way anymore.

LisaBe said...

i am so, so sorry.

Meowser said...

if he was batshit crazy or an asshole or just misunderstood or the victim of some mental disorder.

Or all of those things, possibly. (Terminal illness and chronic intractable physical pain are two other possibilities.)

Also, if he really did have major depression and wanted to kill himself, he probably had nobody he could tell his secret to, who he thought wouldn't reject him or take it personally or otherwise treat him badly for it (whether that was really the case or not doesn't really matter -- the point is that when you're that depressed it's easy to assume that).

I really do think that's what causes a lot of seriously depressed people to do themselves in, thinking they can't possibly tell anyone how they feel, just how bad it is. Especially if they grew up in a time and place, as he did, when We Don't Ever Talk About Those Things.

But you can break the cycle. You can know that depression is complex and multifactorial, and you can let your kids know that if they ever feel that way that they can contract with you not to harm themselves and that you won't judge them harshly for it. That's more than your dad ever got. (It's even quite possible that he avoided meeting you because he thought you wouldn't like him or you'd be disappointed in what he was. Nobody ever said depression was rational.)

And I'm sorry for your loss, too.