No Way to Say Goodbye

Christie and Dad, circa 1983
My father and I, circa 1983. That's Mr. Bear in the background.

This Spring marks a decade since I last saw my father. We didn’t speak and he didn’t actually acknowledge my presence, but I know he saw me in the courtroom because his public defender requested that the judge have me removed as a potential witness. The judge denied this request, and I stayed to watch the rest of my father’s arraignment. If you’re curious why my father was in court, watch this video, or read this article.

I don’t actually recall when my father and I last spoke. To the best of my recollection, it was sometime in 2000. We had on-again off-again communication while I was in college, but at some point I decided that a continued relationship with him was just not a healthy thing for me and distanced myself quite a bit.

Last night one of my brothers called and told me he’d just found out that our father had a heart attack the week prior, had been in the hospital for a few days and was now released. My brother didn’t have any specific information about our father’s condition other than that he had collapse while running errands and had woken up in the hospital.

It’s very difficult for me to imagine my father collapsing and being in the hospital. Logically and factually, it’s not surprising that had had a heart attack. We’re talking about a man who has seen a doctor a handful of times in his life (that I know about), smoked for decades, ate a very unhealthful diet and did amphetamines. In many ways, I’m surprised he hasn’t had more significant health issues. However, my mental and emotional memory of him is dominated by a single image: lean, mean, angry and muscular, albeit with a slight lilt from a bad back. It’s just weird to think of him as being old and frail and in ill health. But that seems to be where we are headed.

Aging is a normal process, of course, but it’s unsettling when it’s happening to a parent and even more strange when it happens to a parent with whom you’re estranged. I find myself wondering if I’m going to get to say my final goodbyes, or if I will simply hear about his passing sometime after it happens. Should I attempt to make a kind of peace with him, or with myself about him, sooner rather than later? The answers to these questions seem unknowable.

 

5 comments

  1. Marko

    Make peace – if only for you. Say whatever things you need to say. It’s not about reconciliation it’s about closure. Do it before you lose the opportunity to say your piece.

  2. Brennan Novak

    Wow Christie, this is an incredibly intense story. Thank you. You and your writings are by far one of the most thought provoking people / blogs i’ve had the honor of making an acquaintance with, largely due to the mutually shared familial themes you write about. My estrangement from various parts of my family are not nearly as intense as you and your father, but the one phrase that has been a talisman to me in recent years is- “growth is a crooked art” meaning, growth and change of my person- especially with family issues, has almost always happened in the most indirect of ways and under the most unexpected of circumstances. That may or may not resonate with your situation, but I figured I would share :)

  3. Grant K

    Wow. I remember that story, but never tied it to you in any way. That’s a helluva thing right there. Sans the obvious added complexity of your situation, I’ve done both, as in reestablished contact with an estranged family member… but also the reverse with my father. In both cases it came down to a simple question, “Will my life be enriched by ending this estrangement, or will it be a lot of angst and hard work for little return… or negative return?” I suspect the same is true for you. Best wishes.

  4. ben hengst

    first: *huggs*
    second: Having never been in this situation, I can’t really offer you any real advice, but I’d have to agree with Marco. This is really about you and what you need out of this situation. If you have questions, then I’d say reach out. Just please be aware of the possible pain that it could cause, you have a great support group here in town, please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.