Words Unspoken

11 Jun

My dad on the train to Brugge, Belgium in 1995

 

Note:  This was a piece that I posted on my Facebook page this morning.   I try not to mix my personal life with my blog, but  at the risk of being vulnerable, this is a message that I’d like all parents to hear:  broken and/or non-existent relationships between a parent and a child can have effects all the way into adulthood.       

Today (6/11/10) marks the 8th anniversary of my dad’s passing.  Typically not good with dates, the date of his passing is easy for me to figure out: I look at my oldest daughter and add a year.  He passed when I was 7 months pregnant with her.  The death of a parent is never easy on a child, but it’s particularly torturous on those of us with broken relationships with parents that are on the road to healing when the rug gets pulled out from under us and that parent dies.       

I didn’t meet my dad until I was 13-years old and it was only because I asked to meet him.  He probably would have been content to go the rest of his life without adding me to the mix, but I felt like something was missing.  The relationship was a rollercoaster from the beginning; I was a snot-nosed, know-it-all teenager and he was a stubborn man with an idea of just how a teenager should act (which by the way, had no basis in reality).  Add alcohol and a lot of hard feelings to the mix, and it was a recipe for disaster.  There were some amazing memories like my first visit to Hawai’i where I met an entire side of my family that I didn’t know existed (and vice versa); the time he flew from up from visiting my grandparents in L.A. to meet us for just a few hours on Christmas Day and my son, only 3 months old spit up on his Armani suit; and the life-changing trip to Paris he decided I needed when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and he was finished with his cancer treatments (or so we thought).       

The last time I saw my dad was in Paris.  Our relationship deteriorated quickly after that trip and the next 3 years passed by in silence until he called me in May 2002 to tell me he was dying.  Years of drinking and smoking resulted in a third bout of esophageal cancer that was stronger than his will to live.  He was tired, but he had plans, he said.  He wanted me to go with him to Hawai’i so he could say goodbye to all this beloved aunts, uncles and cousins; then he wanted to go back to Paris, his favorite place on Earth, one last time.  Three weeks later, he was gone.      

I had planned on taking the time during those trips to apologize for my piece of the broken relationship.  I had planned on telling him that even though our relationship was never easy, that I loved him.  I never got to say any of those things because by the time I had mustered up the courage and found the words, it was too late.      

I remember boarding a plane for home after his memorial service (ironically held the day before Father’s Day), 7 months pregnant with big puffy eyes. The flight attendant sweetly asked me if there was anything she could do for me and to this day, I remember what I said: “Tell the people in your life that you love them.  If you have a broken relationship, fix it. Don’t put it off because you may never get the chance to say what you need to say.”  The flight attendant’s eyes filled up with tears.  I must have hit a tender spot.      

Eight years later, that regret still hangs over my head.  It doesn’t help that my 14-year old son looks just like my dad and I’m reminded every day of the words that I didn’t say in time.  I struggle to move past it, but I can’t.  The experience has changed the way I function in my relationships.  “Life’s too short” sounds so cliché until you find out first hand, just how fleeting it really is.

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4 Responses to “Words Unspoken”

  1. danna K June 11, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    B – thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing this – you’ve inspired me to make some connections…

  2. BioStep June 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    Danna, I’m so glad that you’re willing to reach out and repair the broken relationships in your life. It will give you peace.

  3. A "Biomom" June 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    So true and profound…

    Last year one of my best friends since high school was killed in a house fire. She was 33 and left behind two teenage daughters. Unfortunately the last words her youngest uttered to her were “I hate you.”

    Our 17yo daughter’s relationship with her father is strained at best. I believe they have spoken at the most 4 times since last July. Because of my friend’s sudden death, a few months ago I spoke to our daughter about her father and not having any regrets, that if he passed tomorrow would she be able reconcile that with their current relationship. Sadly she said yes..

    However, the very next week her high school did a drunk driving exercise called “Every 15 minutes.” The effect of this exercise was very profound on our daughter and she left the auditorium crying that Wednesday afternoon and called her dad over 15 times…she called her stepmom…her granny (Dad’s mom)….all with no answer. They never called back, not that day, that night, or the next not even the next week.

    At church youth group a week later they discussed the effects and after getting upset again she called her dad. He answered and she asked why he didn’t call her back when he saw the missed calls. He said her stepmom had thrown her back out that day and they were at the hospital so he couldn’t answer. They exchanged pleasantry’s and hung up. She has not spoken to him since and has declared her peace with their relationship. She said “Mom if you saw 15 missed calls from me you would blow up my phone to find me and we talk everyday so you pretty much know I’m okay. He saw 15 missed calls from me and didn’t call and we never speak so it’s best to just stay that way.”

    I hope someday they find a way to make true peace versus resignation…

  4. BioStep June 11, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    My advice to your daughter is this: say everything you need to say to your dad so that if he dies tomorrow, you have no regrets. Seems like an omninous thing to say to a 17-year old, but I wish someone had told me that at a young age.

    The sad reality is that he may not be capable of giving her what she needs. I experienced this with both of my parents and my son is now experiencing this with his dad. Because my relationship wasn’t what I wanted it to be, I had to work with what I had. It wasn’t so much resignation as it was letting go of my expectations. For me, peace came with understanding.

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