Sunday, August 10, 2008

The other shoe does drop

Recently I had hoped Apollo the Magnificent counted as the third in the deaths that touched my life. TGF said she thought a feline didn't count, though I hoped it would. Over a week ago my best friend (human companion of Apollo) lost his father, after a long illness. I have met Greg's parents a number of times over our 20+ years of friendship. We have had many a long conversation about our relationships with our parents - the joys and challenges. His dad was not young, having just recently celebrated his 88th birthday, but still losing a parent is losing a person who has always been there.

Another friend and I were talking about setting boundaries with our parents and she said that doing so would wipe out the hope of something different. I suggested that it could also be viewed as opening a new door in the relationship. Many years ago I set very specific boundaries with my father and in turn, I now realize, it completely shifted our relationship. As I distanced myself and laid sharp, short boundaries in terms of time together, in some ways I got the father I had wanted as a child - one who spoke of missing me, of being proud of me, he became more expressive of his feeling towards me.

For a long time I muttered that it too little too late. That is still true in many ways. However I am learning to be grateful for the small pieces of the dream father that he is able to give me. I still yearn for that close relationship some of my friends have and I suspect I will always. We never stop wanting on some level the magical parent that we never will have. But once they die, we have less. We have a closure whether we want it or not, they can no longer change, once gone there is no way anyone but ourselves can fill that space that begs more still more. Only we can do the work that accepts, not loves, but accepts what we have in our parents.

Several years ago my father was in the hospital and the doctors where having a hard time stabilizing him. In the shower before a harried drive from Massachusetts to New York I sobbed; not because I was afraid of losing him but because I had no idea how I felt. Many years before I practically prayed for his death so I would not have to deal with him, in youthful foolish thinking that if he was gone my work would be done. Standing under the spray I realized that if he died, it would not mean that he would not continue to shape who was was, it would not mean all my issues with him would die as well. I realized over the course of the next few days that I had more control in how I handled the wounds, not him. I learned I would mourn him, I might even miss him but I would rally just fine and I would keep working on making peace for me.

Well that's what I say now. When it happens I may laugh remembering this post and my hubris about what I can handle. In truth we don't know how we will handle the loss of a parent. We can ponder, imagine, and hope; but there is no surety in these theoretical ponderings.

1 comment:

heather said...

"Another friend and I were talking about setting boundaries with our parents and she said that doing so would wipe out the hope of something different."

i'm sorry, but this really bothers me. what's wrong with hoping for something different? especially if there is much room for improvement. maybe i'm misunderstanding her comment but this seems very odd. your followup statement, in comparison, seems common sense.

i was talking with my sister last night about some new occurences of a painfully old issue with my father. blog post about that sometime when i can breathe, i'm sure. anyway, she said something very smart along the lines of: mom and dad will always be our parents, and we'll always love them. all we can do is decide how we're going to interact with them.

which has been my modus operandi for some time, but it pleased me greatly to her *her* say something like that. plus, i just needed to hear it right then.

thanks for the great, insightful post. family is one of those neverending issues..