It has been a year and a half since the day my Father died. It was, as you can imagine, a very difficult time for me and my family. Ironically, he had a massive stroke on my Mom's birthday - and exactly four days later he was gone.
Lately, I have been feeling pangs of guilt. Before all of this happened with Gavin, I would talk to my Dad every day. Sometimes I would even talk to him out loud in the car. Then... silence. I just haven't thought about him as much or talked to him as much or... or have I?
The truth is - my Dad wouldn't mind. He was a man who was all about his children. If he were alive, he'd say "Don't worry about me... worry about your boys."
The truth is - my Dad is very present in my life, whether I talk to him or not. And I want - I need - to tell you why in the hopes that it will open your eyes to the dynamic with you and your parents - or change the way you parent your own children.
My Dad was always a positive person. If I ever got into a situation - he was there for a talk. He had this way of showing me how anything - even my biggest screw ups - could be turned into a positive outcome. While there may have been moments of "How could you?!" or judgements or anger... I would always walk away remembering the life lesson more. Even during the awful phase I went through where everything my parents did or said or wore or stood for was worthy of an eye roll (more on that later), I soaked in every word my Dad said to me. He gave me this magical way of thinking that, I believe, laid the foundation that allowed me to survive everything since Gavin's birth... and now, death.
The truth is - I think my Dad would be proud of me right now. Not for all the attention and the publicity and the internet response that has happened - but for how I'm handling this. Of course I was... and am... and will remain to be devastated that Gavin died. But early on I knew that something good had to come of it. It had to. It was the only way. The magical thinking my Dad instilled in me was my ticket to not only surviving this - but helping others... somehow, someway... at the same time. My Dad was all about helping others. As a matter of fact, the morning of my birthday when I asked people to perform random acts of kindness in Gavin's memory - I'm sure that came from my Dad.
There's a saying that goes, "You always hurt the one's you love." Isn't that true? When I think back to that immature phase I went through - the eye rolling and the sarcasm and making fun of my parents who were just soooo uncool - I'm ashamed of myself. There were two pivotal moments in my life that broke me of that. One was a stern chat from my oldest brother. He basically said that disrespecting your parents or your family in ANY way is pretty much the worst thing you could do in life. As the youngest of five, I worshipped my older brothers and sisters. Anything they said to me held a lot of weight. I never forgot what my brother said to me that day - and he was absolutely right. When I see people acting in a way towards their parents that is rude or disrespectful in any way, I just want to pull them aside and tell them - "You are making yourself look like a person that I am sure you are not. You look like a jerk and in this moment, people witnessing this feel sorry for your parents - not you." It's one of my biggest pet peeves.
I also remember a real desire to know more about my parents on a personal level. I put my fears aside and started asking them questions... about their lives, their fears, their dreams. So many of us grew up - are currently experiencing - or are parenting our children in a "I am the parent - you are the child" type of way. While there is nothing wrong with that... at all... I would like to propose a nice detour.
When I was able to see my parents as real people - with real feelings - it changed everything. We became friends and their advice was easier to take because of that. And when I became a Mom, it gave me a way of parenting that, in my case, has served me well.
We are open and honest with Brian - we don't hide our feelings or emotions from him. I think this is helping him as he works through his grief. He isn't afraid to talk to us about Gavin... about death... about his feelings.
This was our conversation in the car today on the way home from school:
"Mommy... I have a surprise for you!" (He hands me an imaginary present.) "It's a picture of Mommy, Daddy, Brian and Gavin!"
"I love it!" I exclaimed as I kissed my hand that was holding the imaginary photograph.
"Mommy, why did you kiss your hand?"
"Because it has a picture of you and Gavin and I love you boys so much."
"The pictures now don't have Gavin in them anymore. Only me. I don't like that."
"Me either, buddy."
Will he go through a phase where he can't stand us? Probably. But I'm hoping that it won't last long. Because now that I'm a parent... and know how much I have invested in loving, caring, researching, shopping, feeding, holding, worrying, obsessing and loving some more... it would absolutely break my heart. And if just the thought of being treated with disrespect - or feeling "unimportant" - would break my heart... imagine what it's doing to parents who actually ARE being treated that way.
The moral of my story - from a girl who recently lost her incredible Dad? From a girl that wings this parenting thing and is not in any way an expert of any kind (of anything). From a girl who is hoping that her own son is reading this during his "I can't stand my parents phase..."
Be nice to your parents.
One day, they may be the only one's in your corner. And they have loved you longer than anyone else. And as my brother said, disrespecting your parents or your family in any way is just about the worst thing you can do. And he's right about everything. Trust me.
Oh, and try some of Pop's magical thinking. That's the other moral of the story. It really can get you through so much.
p.s. - if you don't have parents, or your parents are abusive or just horrible people - find surrogate parents! Ed has many sets of surrogate parents who stepped in after his parents died when he was young. If you find incredible surrogate Moms and Dads like he did, treasure them.
p.p.s. - I miss you, Dad. So much.