Warning - depressing. Do Not Read if you are in a good mood, or a particularly bad mood, or do not have a stuffed animal and kleenex on hand. Oh, and you should eat first. The angst contained herein is enough to spoil even the healthiest of appetites, and promote some nausea, but not enough to actually induce vomit. I think. Just...proceed with caution.
Also, this posting was entirely inspired by a Slate article on the experience of grief. So, I blame the Slate. You should, too. And they have happy writing, too, and it's all very informative, so you should probably just go read their stuff instead. It's slate.com. Go, go now.
Now, on to the Angst.
When Daddy died, all I felt was anger.
I was angry at my mother for her howling histrionics, and how she cried on the phone when I told her, and how she, later, put her hand on my leg with her tear-filled eyes and asked ‘Are you okay?’ I rolled my eyes. She didn’t even like my father. She’d separated from him when I was two, and for good reason - he beat her physically and emotionally, and when I was six he threatened to smash in her face (she had asked him for child support). She did not love him and would not miss him, and had no right to cry or pretend to console - we did not have that sort of relationship.
I was angry at my grandmother, who was the first person to see me after I’d heard the news. I’d been at home when the hospital called, and my grandmother was driving me to the dentists. I told her awkwardly - I was seventeen - how do you casually mention your parent has died? She was silent, then sighed. Well, he was in pain. I stared out the window. The car ride was long. When we pulled into the parking lot, she turned and stated, meaningfully, that it showed there was order in the universe - that my father had treated my mother badly, but that he had suffered, and now it was all even. I turned, and blinked, and inside I made small talk with the hygienist about how the school system pushes smart kids into Bachelor degrees instead of skilled trades.
My Daddy was a rapist, and a wife beater, and at various times was addicted to various substances, notably alcohol and cocaine. My Daddy had left home at fifteen and wandered across North America, worked at the Fairmont Springs Hotel in Banff, and pointed out the bridge that he had slept under, for a while. My Daddy died, functionally blind, his left leg amputated, when they stopped his dialysis pump on request. He had been kicked out of his nursing home because of a fight - I think a fight - and, homeless in the hospital, alone, he had asked that if it all could stop, please. His brother was with him, flown in from Alberta, but I didn’t go to say goodbye, because no one would drive me. My Daddy was forty-five.
I was angry at my teachers, who said my work had suffered lately and that they wondered what was wrong. My work had not suffered, my grades were identical, and my teachers were full of shit. A guidance counselor called me to her office to stare, sympathetically, and ask if I was doing okay. A month before, she discouraged my application to a national scholarship, for which I was selected and earned six thousand dollars. I wondered what I was supposed to do or say…thank you? No, I’m not okay, but not because of what you think…or yes, I’m fine, as always? You don’t know me, what gives you the right to pretend to care?
I’d been kicked out of my house at least ten times in the last five months. There were screaming matches at least three days a week, usually more, and my step father was a scary creep who sexually harassed me and occasionally hit my mom. He had beaten my brother once, severely, but social services had not cared because my brother was sixteen then, and was now nineteen, in the military, and drinking heavily. My mother blamed me and my stepbrother for the marital arguments. My house was isolated, I rarely saw friends, I poured myself into my school work, and my arms were criss-crossed with scars from my exacto-knife.
Right, and yesterday, my father died. Today you suddenly care. Uh-huh.
My mother was wailing about how my uncle would be at the funeral. She did not like my uncle, my father’s brother, and how he was rude to her, and how he was handling my father’s estate. To be fair, my uncle was not the nicest of men, but he was my father’s brother, and the executor of his will, and had arranged the whole funeral. My mother refused to go without my step father there, to ‘protect’ her. My step father hated my father - actively, truly, hated - and the sentiment was returned with furor. There had once been a fight, which had ended with my step father hitting my father in the forehead with a lead pipe.
My step father has no place at the funeral. I tell my mother so, defensively, and she rolls her eyes at me and says he’s coming. I will not be in the same room as my step father and have not spoken to him in months. Our closest contact is when he stares at me creepily through doorways, or shines a flash light in my eyes when I’m watching TV in the evening. I don’t feel comfortable in a room when he’s there, and my mother may feel the same way about my uncle, but…it’s My father’s funeral. I’m the next of kin. I’m the one who stands by the open casket and shakes the hand of his friends and thanks them for coming. I won’t be able to go if he’s there, he has no right to be there anyways, and I should be there, because…it’s my father’s funeral.
My mother disagrees. She is going, my step father is going, and if I don’t want to go, so be it. I am informed differently a few hours before the funeral start-time - my step father has decided to be the Bigger Person and stay home. I drive with my brother and stand by the open casket. I shake people’s hands and think about how they stick people’s eyes shut with chewing gum, and how my father’s face is covered in make-up and looks less like him than a photograph. I shake hands of friends of my father’s, who played pool with him, who I’d met ten years ago and barely remember, who are my cousins but who’s names I always get confused. I thank them for coming.
My mother is sobbing hysterically because my uncle has placed my little sister on his lap and hugs her. My sister is crying quietly through the entire ordeal, and I hold her hand. The ceremony is evangelical - they want us to stand up and be saved by Jesus. No one does - it is awkward - and my grandmother is righteously offended (she still brings it up, to this day). My brother and I crack jokes, and on the way home almost get killed by oncoming traffic; we’re driving too fast and it’s snowy outside in the dark.
I don’t know if it’s just a stage of grief, to feel this angry, and eventually it fades enough to let in waves of guilt - for not being there when Daddy died, or during the last couple of days, after he decided that he’s fought enough and wanted to be done. And eventually that fades, too, and I feel like I’m all done up inside. Then suddenly, one cold day, it’s winter again, and I’m shrunk back down to seventeen, and I feel like I could scream that I’m so angry, and than gnashing teeth and cutting knives and cracking pipes on faces sounds like just the right amount of violence to capture how I feel.