The other night I had a terrifying nightmare. Like so many others I’ve had since I was a child. They say it’s an aftereffect of being raised in a doomsday cult. So anyway, I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat with my heart pounding so hard and my head swimming with confusion. The time was 0436 and the number 42 was stuck in my head on a loop that kept flashing before my eyes. I sat straight up in bed and tried to make sense of what was going on. Why was I sweating and breathing so hard? Why was I scared out of my mind? I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep but that number 42 kept racing through my head. So I gave up and decided to figure out the significance of this number in my life.
It’s been 10 years since my father died. Alone and lonely; in a room he was renting from strangers. We were estranged at the time for many years so it hurt really bad, knowing that the chances of making amends was now forever terminated.
Christmas has never been a happy time for me. Not since I was 3 years old. That’s when I lost my extended family for many years. My parents joined a religious cult that expected and demanded members to cut off all ties to anyone who wasn’t a member, including biological family.
I was driving in my car a couple of weeks before Christmas when the song called “Please Come Home For Christmas” by The Eagles came on the radio. The sad lonely desperate lyrics made me think of my father, which made me start to cry unexpectedly. See, the last time I saw my father and actually spoke to him was over the Christmas holidays a few years ago. I was with my father’s family at my Uncle Rick’s house and the last person I would have ever expected to see there was my father. Yes, even though I was at his brother’s house with most of his siblings. Because of his involvement in the JW cult he had cut me off many years ago. He obediently shunned me as part of the requirements of being a member in good standing because not only had I run away from the JW as soon as I could, I was a known apostate. I spoke out against the tyrannical rules and regulations dictated by an organization that destroys families and robs children of their innocence. I was having a great time with everyone when I noticed that one of my aunt’s had seemingly disappeared. I looked around the house for her and was told that she had gone outside for a cigarette. So naturally, I went to the front door and when I opened it I got the shock of my life. There stood my father! He turned and smiled at me so I said hello. He said hello back, but then… nothing. The moment felt so surreal and awkward. I didn’t have a coat on and he didn’t make any gesture to encourage me to come to him so I just smiled at him and shut the door. I’m sure the whole exchange took less than a minute but at the time it felt like I was caught in a time warp. I don’t remember who else was standing on the porch or if anyone else said anything but I will never forget that lost chance of reuniting with the first man I had ever loved.
Every year, as November comes to a close a darkness starts to wash over me. It comes without warning or notice. It’s a feeling of dread that’s brought on by childhood memories of sad feelings of isolation and loneliness, knowing that everyone else was engaged in celebrations and being merry while we were forbidden to engage in such activities. Every year I hope things will be different and I really hope that this year will be different. I try to stay positive and focus on the plans I have for the loving family currently in my life that I am so grateful for. But every year, without fail…the darkness comes and casts a gloomy shadow over all of my good intentions and positive plans. I try to conceal these negative feelings from everyone I love but I feel like I’m walking a tightrope of feelings that could cause me to topple at any second.
This year however has been extremely difficult to hold back the floodgates of tears and feelings of misery. My 92 year old paternal grandmother died on November 21, 2017. She was living with one of my aunts 2 hours away so I was fortunate enough to be able to go there and spend her last days with her and other family members. The family members that I was denied during my childhood. We took turns sitting by her side; never leaving her alone. We held her hands and rubbed her arms, whispering words of love into her ear. Just like we did with my Aunt Nancy 4 years earlier. I am the oldest and first grandchild on my father’s side of the family, so as I held her hand and my grandmother slipped into unconsciousness it felt like a small piece of me was dying with her. After many years of separation we each took tentative steps to repairing and rebuilding our fractured relationship. I made the decision many years ago to put myself out there and try to get to know my grandmother better before I jumped to any conclusions or judgements about her role in the dissolution of our families. As scary as it was to let my guard down and allow her into my heart; I am extremely glad that I did. When you gather information and put all the missing pieces together, things begin to make more sense and the healing begins.
My grandmother had a very dignified funeral service and the turnout was huge. My father was there too. Well, his ashes were anyway. When he died he didn’t have any kind of service so we were denied the closure that is necessary for the grieving process. It had been almost 10 years since I viewed his cold, bloated body on a gurney in a body bag in a back room of another funeral home. It was the first time my husband had ever met my father. He stood by my side, holding me up as I talked to my father and stroked his cold, sad face. So now here we were and his time had come to be given the dignity he was denied so many years ago. One day I will write about the whole thing surrounding my father’s last days and death. But right now I need to stay focused on the recent events. My father had spent the last few years first at my grandmother’s house and then later with one of my uncles when she moved out to the West Coast. Sitting on a table beside my grandmother’s elegant light blue casket were my father’s ashes and a picture of him just months before he died. The plan was for me to place his ashes in my grandmother’s casket before the service began, along with his picture. After a second service at the cemetery we were all invited to a luncheon at the building next to the funeral home. I was exhausted when it was all over with but I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my aunts and uncles during that time for all the money in the world.
Three weeks later my favourite uncle was admitted to the hospital for the final time. He had been battling health problems for years and had had to go on dialysis the last year of his life due to kidney failure. After finding out that he was also suffering from kidney and liver cancer he decided to stop all treatments. He was tired of feeling sick. He was tired of fighting a losing battle. He was tired of sleeping all the time. So, he made the very brave decision to stop all treatments and let nature take it’s course. A week later he was dead. Three days after Christmas. I was his POA and Executrix so I got the call at 0426 that he had died and I needed to get his stuff out of the room and make arrangements to have his body picked up. I’ll write more about that whole experience another time. Right now, I just want to grieve the losses I’ve dealt with this Christmas season and hope that by Spring I won’t still feel like crying everyday.
I’m already not looking forward to next Christmas. Too many bad memories, too much pain and heartache. Every year I say this year will be different and I make plans to provide a beautiful Christmas for my husband, my children and grandchildren. But every year it’s foreshadowed by a lifetime of haunting images and disturbing memories. I know that everyone has suffered from grief and heartache sometime in their lifetime. I don’t think I’ve cornered the market on misery but I definitely think I’ve had more than my fair share of tragedy. Like Elvis Presley sang, “I’ll have a Blue Christmas Without You”.
I woke up really early this morning because I was in great pain. It’s been extremely cold outside and my hip was acting as a barometer; letting me know that spring still hasn’t arrived. I got up to go to the bathroom and took a couple of painkillers to try and numb the stabbing pain that’s become my constant companion for the last few years. As I lay there waiting for some sign of relief I closed my eyes and instantly music started playing in my head. Like an old jukebox stuck on repeat. The same song had been playing in my head all night long and it managed to wake me up every couple of hours. So instead of trying to escape back into sleep I leaned over and grabbed my iPad and opened up youTube and did a search for the song that had haunted me all night long. It was “The Great Pretender” by The Platters. And then it hit me!! I had been dreaming about my father again last night. Singing and playing his guitar. Singing that song over and over again to me like he did when I was just a little girl.
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