Sunday, June 22, 2014

Losing Your Daddy

"Losing Your Daddy," is a heartfelt daddy-daughter epic that ends in suicide, but doesn't end.

Wait til she finishes high school and then divorce. That was the plan. An easier, simpler plan.

It didn't work very well.

My Father planned/decided that since he was divorced from my Mother that he was divorced from his family, from his children. From me. The forever Daddy's Girl.

In a subdued but obviously planned phone conversation, my Daddy cut me off. He told me he couldn't see me any more, because of the divorce.

I heard the words, with no comprehension. It absolutely couldn't be happening, this doesn't happen. My Daddy wouldn't do this.

He could have said he was dead, like, "This is a recording, I'm really dead, now."

The words fall horribly on my heart and frighten me. The telephone itself is now heavy in my daughter hands, but I hear my Daddy waiting. Since I can no longer breathe I know I can't talk. A single moment has forever changed me.

That phone call still gets caught in my throat and forever, in my brain and plays itself in a slow loop over and over. When I need a Daddy, when I need a protector. The loop plays.

I felt a stabbing, a deep cut to the chest, into my heart. While the world couldn't see the cut and the pain, the unseen wound was very real to me.

Some ten years later, when I am 29 and my only-then 'parent,' my Mom, was dying of lung cancer, and I contacted my Dad in tears, he responded with, 'Well, that's her choice, she wanted the divorce.'

Even though my Dad had cut me off, I still didn't see that coming. Again, harsh.

In 1979 I had a daughter, Sarahjoy Laura. Joe's only daughter had his only grandchild, also a daughter. I knew he loved me, a girl, I thought this would be the exception to his harshness. I absolutely thought my Daddy would walk into the hospital room, toward me, carrying a stuffed animal and a smile, like he'd done when I was a child. But he never came. I was an adult and now a mother and I still wanted my Daddy. But he never came.

In 2001 my Daddy shot and killed himself. I kinna' lost my Daddy two times. The latter was more permanent, that one many years later, the one in 2001.

What kind of Father does that? Not surprising, I was angry at him for a long time. 

Not because he shot himself, but mostly I just wished …... he'd opened up his depression world to know his only Grandchild. A girl, who so like you, Daddy, is also into sports.

She's very driven, focused and has become an accomplished hunter jumper trainer and competitor ...

Author, Patricia Loya, Camiros, And The Author's Daughter, Sarahjoy Crain

She's this and she's that, Daddy and I'm this and I'm that . . . and I need you. We need you.

It's all really blah blah. I was ignorant. I was blind.

Because actually a very loving Daddy did that. A very loving Daddy that had been emotionally hurting for so long that the affect on his family wasn't on his mind. Having lived and experienced more, now I know that you can simply be in too much pain.

It was the beginning of my learning about a very sobering illness.

Depressed people like my own Father also have unseen, unfathomable wounds. Their hurts are so endless that they absolutely prevent/inhibit their ability to have moments to 'come visit' their only daughter holding his only, ever, just-born Grandchild. Depressed people face profound pain every day of their lives. Now I know this ache unfortunately often ends in suicide.

My Father was suffering from depression and its oft-partner, alcoholism. I, like millions of people, didn't know or understand mental illness. In fact, both knowledge and treatment of mental illnesses advanced staggeringly in the 70's and 80's, and especially since the 90's.

Five times. Or less than five times. After being cut off by my Father in 1974 until his death some 27 years later, I saw my Father less than five times. This was despite not living far from him - and - not because I did not try. Countless phone calls were made, asking to see him, to visit him, to have a Daddy, for my daughter to have a Grampa.

We tried every which way. When we just showed up at his door, which we tried as an alternative eventually, he would turn me and my small family away. There we'd be, knocking on my Father's door, holiday presents in hand for him. A little family looking for family. My Daddy would open the front door, talk to us most briefly through the screen door, and turn us away. And it shattered me, ripped my heart to shreds.

Albeit, we did have a strange and difficult ritual. Every year without fail my Father sent me mail at Christmas and for my birthday.

He'd write a brief greeting and sign these odd, handwritten notes, "Love, Joe."

If he sent money, which he often did, I longed instead for a hug. Finding a handwritten envelope from my Father in a cold grey mail box brought me to my knees and tears. I guess the envelope and note in my frozen hands was his best version of a hug.

Among the approximate five times I was allowed to visit my Father was an occasion when we met at a restaurant in Whittier, California, for my birthday. He'd called me out of the blue - or - maybe I'd initiated the phone call, I don't remember. I was experiencing a divorce from Mr. Christian Man. I was raw emotionally. I'd probably called him.

So, at a nice restaurant, on a lovely Southern California, January evening, my Daddy met his Granddaughter and he gave three-and-a-half year old Sarahjoy a television. It was unexpected and nice and I was so happy, I wanted to pop.

On one of our other few visits, to his house, my Father (having evidently enjoyed the time with my daughter very, very much) had put out the suggestion that she stay overnight with him and wife, he'd re-married by then. But a very young and shy Sarahjoy, perhaps five or six then, did not know this man, her Grandfather, and it was not to be. It was a poignant, sad experience between these two loved ones of mine.

And, these are my bestest memories of having him. They bring me both joy and sorrow.

Over the years I would mail photographs and snippets of information about achievements and successes for both Sarahjoy and I, to my Father. He only once wrote back, a note to the effect, 'that he'd never expected anything less than greatness . . .'  Yes, my Daddy was MIA from my life, but this written statement of how he felt, rang true to my heart. It was no surprise. I always knew that my Daddy thought I was accomplished, expected me to be accomplished. And he carried that expectation forward with my daughter. Smile.

The door to my Daddy became permanently closed and locked, as I said, in 2001, when my Father officially sealed it shut.

I received a phone call from a neighbor telling me my Daddy had shot and killed himself.

I was shocked but not terribly surprised, it didn't seem unexpected. If I could have done anything to prevent it, I of course would have. If I could have had my Daddy in my life for all those years, I also of course would have.

It is a forever loss.

From discussions with people who were in my Father's life, including his second wife, Faith, via infrequent telephone calls with her, over the span of those passing almost 30 some years, my Daddy was experiencing what we now know are symptoms of depression.

I was ignorant and immature in my expectations, as a Daughter, as an adult. Mental illness is just as real an illness as my Mother's lung cancer, having a broken leg, or measles.

You don't just get over it by going for a walk, or volunteering at church. You don't get over it 'by trying harder'.

All these many years later, I know now that he did the best he could with what he had been given.

Sadly in losing my Daddy to suicide I experienced another ugly fact about mental illness.

When my Mother died, friends and family gathered round, there was great support. When my Daddy died via his own hand, nothing. Nothing. No talk, no support.

Society has made great strides in understanding mental illness, but we're not where we should be.

Our understanding and treatment of suicide, moreover and a nod to those who are showing suicidal tendencies, is archaic and primitive. We would do well to immediately see that suicide and mental illness and addiction often are parts of a whole. It's still the big secret in our society, in our families, in our lives, in us.

Today still the mere speaking of suicide is considered taboo.

But that's not fair and that's not right.

My Daddy was an Army Veteran, he had honor and he had dignity and he had accomplishment. His death should not be swept under the rug, like a trivial amount of dibris.

Neither should his survivors go quietly in shame. For us, despite the choice of suicide, it is still a significant loss of a beloved Father, Grandfather, Veteran and a man. 

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