I have been reflecting on many things over the past 6+ months. Nothing like death, or the threat thereof, to make you take a look at your life. Here's what I've learned so far.....
1) I can get through most things and come out fairly unscathed.
I found myself talking to people who've lost a father just to see what was normal in the grieving process and what I should be concerned about. Turns out that everything I'm feeling is normal. That's the good news. The bad news is that the excruciating hole in my heart will never go away, and I'm told the only improvement will be that I learn to live "around" that hole. I'm still sorry for all the things I didn't do, and I mean stupid things, like chores that I kept putting off, like taking out daddy's old newspapers, buying him chocolates at the market or making a pot of the black beans he liked so much. I'm sorry that I didn't talk to him for over two weeks before he died (we had a habit of not talking for long periods of time - not because there was any love lost, but because he just didn't dig the phone). The bad news is that I will be sorry for the rest of my life.
We had the mass for daddy in March, the day before my birthday. The original plan was to take daddy's ashes and scatter them in several different places: at Myrtle Beach and Pawley's Island in South Carolina, in Baltimore at Camden Yards, in Tennessee at Morgan Manor (aka, my aunt Patty's old house), and a few others. But the priest told my mother that if we scattered the ashes, he couldn't give the mass. In Catholic lore, even if a person is cremated, his ashes must remain in tact because when judgement day comes around and everyone is risen from the dead, he needs to be complete with no arms or pieces of face missing. Something like that. Both daddy and grandma were Catholic, and grandma would have come down from heaven and gotten after me if I skipped the mass. Daddy would have said something like "Dammit, Maria, if you had any sense at all...." And so, a group of about 10 people, me, my mom, two of my high school buds and several of his old co-workers gathered at the church where I was baptized, sang a horrible rendition of Amazing Grace, in which I didn't dare open my mouth for fear of falling apart, and fell apart anyway. The image of daddy's bright, smiling high school self in a graduation picture sitting next to the box of his ashes was ironic in the worst way possible.
In June came the actual burial. Daddy did two years in the Navy, which he referred to as his "cruise", and for his honorable discharge, he earned the right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This came as a relief to us, mostly because we couldn't decide where to put him after we found out we had to keep him all together. So off we went, again a small group of us, huddled under a white tent on a beautiful Washington, DC, day. Not a cloud in the sky. To the left of the cemetery, in the distance, I could see the Prospect House, where daddy lived when I was little. I remembered standing on a chair and sloshing my hands around in the kitchen sink, "washing dishes", the planes flying overhead on their way in to National, and the afternoons at the park looking up at the Iwo Jima memorial, which was almost in daddy's front lawn. To the right of the cemetery, I could see the building where he lived for 28 years and where I became a teenager, horrible to every adult except daddy. I was fine up until the seaman played Taps. Ladies and gentlemen, what you hear in the movies is nothing compared to the real-life rendition. It's heartbreaking to an unimaginable extent. And so is the 21 gun salute. Another seaman handed me the flag, which had been folded into a triangle, each fold symbolizing something important which I can't remember right now. Then I carried the box to his niche in the Cemetery's Columbarium, and that's where he rests. I hope he's keeping cool in there.
Meanwhile, I had shut down, and it was showing at work. My two bosses, both ladies and probably the first ones I had actually gotten along with in that sort of scenario, sat me down to let me know that. Some people would've taken this negatively. I took it as a slap in the face. A good slap, the kind that someone who truly likes/loves you would give you so that you wake up to be your best self again. Lord knows I am trying, and most days, I am succeeding in being my best self again.
I've survived all of this, plus cleaning out daddy's apartment, which has been an ordeal. And somewhere in all of that I managed to buy myself an apartment, which is madness just by itself. I also managed to get a little closer to God and have a bit more faith, just as it was being tested.
2) You cannot count on anyone but yourself.
I'm more like my dad than I thought I was, and I understand him better. I am a loner. The older I get, the more solitary I become. Yet I expect that when a friend or anyone else offers to do me a favor, they keep their promise. I wouldn't offer help if I wasn't prepared to give it, and I am always prepared to give it. However, I may need to rethink offering it so much. Just like daddy on all counts.
When you have a death in your family, everyone comes to you with "...if there's anything I can do for you....". Most times you don't accept help because they couldn't possibly help you. I mean, it's a beautiful thing to know you have people on your side, but they can't imagine the pain unless they've been through it themselves. I hate asking favors from people. I don't like the position it puts me in, and I don't like the expectations and the subsequent let-downs, which are unavoidable. It's not the fear of having to repay the favor; I have no problem doing that. I've had some friends accept to do specific things for me, only to back out at the last minute. I've been told on several occasions that I shouldn't be afraid to ask friends for favors. Maybe this is why I don't: because I know I'll resent them if they back out. And sure enough.....
I want to add, in a separate paragraph so that it is not passed over, that others can truly surprise you. Friends that seem aloof or otherwise entangled in their own business can provide tons of comfort, and all they do is offer a shoulder to cry on. Others who have let you down in the past and who you may not have been on speaking terms with for the last, say, year and a half, offer their help as a complete surprise and do not take it back.
Even so, I'm not going to count on anyone but myself. And my mother. She's never let me down, EVER, even when I didn't deserve her help. If I don't count on anyone, I won't get disappointed and add more hurt to my life, because I take everything extremely personally. Despite all the encouragement to just let things roll off my back, I can't rid myself of that, and the last emotion I need to add to my current mix is disappointment.
3) I don't have to hang with anyone I don't want to.
This can lose me friends, I know that. My good friends are chums with a whole throng of people I don't particularly like. It doesn't bother me anymore that they ditch me to hang out with them. It does not bother me anymore that I'm sometimes invited to dinners or brunches that include the disliked ones(if I can accept the invitation, I will, with thanks and without "scenes"). What does bother me is the almost constant badgering to be friends with these people regardless of what it is I don't like about them. My friends might think I'm just full of negativity for not being chummy with whoever I tried to include in group plans and who made an ass-face through the whole outing, or who got drunk and started to pick on me relentlessly. Oh, that's just how she is? She's shy? Apparently, and I don't appreciate it. I've already had my share of making nice with people because I absolutely have to. I've already made up with people I've fought with in the past. I do my part. I'm tired of extending myself to people who don't need to take up my time. I'm not going to give people 15 chances to annoy me, because they will undoubtedly annoy me. I may be alone for the rest of my life, but I would have no one to blame but myself, and that's strangely liberating.
I look around me and I see oodles of people who are "set in their ways". This used to be a bad thing to me, and it continued to be until recently. As in, "she's old and set in her ways". The thing is, they're pretty happy people, but I am continually requested to change my shit, and it makes me doubt myself constantly. When do I get to be happy with myself? What's wrong with setting boundaries when it comes to the way others affect me? Why do I need to listen to people who tell me I should let things roll off my back, or try to get along with people because it makes it easier for others to be friends with both of us? What's in it for me? Should I really care if someone else thinks I am a negative person? I am who I am. Love me or hate me. What you see is what you get, and all that good stuff. This is of course not to say that one shouldn't be open and accepting. I'm just saying that you need to do whatever is necessary to be happy with yourself. After all, that is the most important thing. If your parents are anything like mine, that's all they want for you, right? It's all you should want for yourself.
I opened this year on such a positive note. I really had some high hopes. And God seems to have chosen this year to test the hell out of me. My father, who I adore, is dead. My mother is in almost constant pain yet still kicking. Two of my friends and my stepfather have cancer. One friend has diabetes. My cat died two weeks before my father. I'm trying to keep up those high hopes despite all this. It's been awfully hard for me to do that, but I realized I have to live in the now, for myself and not for someone else's viewing pleasure. Life is tiring enough. Keeping up appearances is positively exhausting.