Life. The birth of a child. One of the most memorable moments of a parent's life.
June 1st 1990 was the day my journey on this earth began. A journey that began shaping me from day one. A journey filled with vast amounts of love...and also tremendous heartaches and losses. Even thinking back to my earliest memories of my parents' apartment together, I had no idea what would lie in store for me. The bumpy roads. And the amazing Grace of a faithful God.
I came into this world through unique circumstances. I would like to believe that God had a specific plan for my life from the beginning. Choosing me to be born at this specific time. And choosing Kevin and Maria specifically to be my parents.
Growing up having no real memories of my biological parents together made me never really miss them being together. Traveling back and forth between homes every other weekend was my normal. I was never even sad about my circumstances because that was all I knew.
The one constant though was this underlying tension of feeling the tension between my parents. I carried it with me for a majority of my life. A weight that I never knew was there until it was gone.
I loved my dad very much. I can't say that enough. Probably more than he knew. But it was because of that love that I began to grow distant from him as I got older.
It's hard to say when it really started, but growing up with an alcoholic parent took its toll on me. And honestly, it was not even until church yesterday (months after my dad's passing) that I finally accepted that alcoholism is a sickness and that my dad was sick the whole time I knew him. First emotionally and mentally. And then of course physically when he was diagnosed with cancer.
But again, growing up, I never knew how to put words to my emotions. I hated seeing my dad in pain all the time and knowing there was nothing I could do to help him.
To be honest, the happiest I remember seeing him was when he was at work as a nurse in CCU (and then later working in bed operations). He loved his job. He loved his coworkers. He was a leader and was very proud of his work. It was a relief to see him there. And looking back, what a blessing it was that my dad got me a job at Troy Beaumont so I could spend so much quality time with him in his environment. I always knew visiting my dad at work was special, but didn't realize how much until recently. That was how I spent about half my time with him since I graduated from high school in 2008.
October 2013. The beginning of my journey with my therapist, Renee.
My mentor, Leslie (who has been such a HUGE blessing in my life) recommended that I start seeing someone professionally after some extreme anxiety and panic attacks. Renee was her friend who was also in a Bible study with her, so I trusted that it would be a good fit.
What I thought would be a quick couple sessions turned into a weekly journey that lasted almost 2 years. I knew I needed help, but I didn't realize until months in that my anxiety stemmed from the abandonment I felt from my dad.
Let me clarify, my dad NEVER abandoned me. In fact, he always made sure to be a part of my life through everything. The abandonment I felt was emotional.
So I began working through my "abandonment" issues...the aftermath of having an unpredictable and emotionally unhealthy parent. He did the best he could. Of this I am certain. But he never received the help that he needed to experience real healing on this side of heaven. And because he never really faced his own issues, he remained to be emotionally distant and sarcastic most of the time.
I don't remember a specific timeline of when I began to work through different things in therapy. But I do remember one of the first things Renee encouraged me to do was to let myself feel the pain of not having a "normal" relationship with my dad. She told me that I would never be able to let go of the disappointment and pain if I did not first let myself experience it.
Sometime in high school I grew pretty numb to my dad after a series of bad experiences. Again, a new "normal". So to feel any emotion at all was painful. But I did.
I remember pulling off into a 7-Eleven parking lot one day in tears thinking about all the things that had happened between my dad and I...all the things I wanted in a healthy relationship with my dad, but probably would never experience. For the first time, I began grieving the loss of what I didn't have and accepting and grieving the fact that I would never have a normal and healthy relationship with my dad unless he got help.
I also learned to accept the fact that it was not up to me to help my dad. I could pray for him and spend time with him. But it was not my job to be his confidant and therapist.
Then, after a year and a half of therapy, my parents finally made amends to each other.
And what transpired from that was the one day, at age 24, that I finally, for the first time, grieved the loss of my parents' marriage to each other. I stared at this photo of my parents holding me as a baby wondering what it would have been like had they stayed together. Their marriage was brief. I know deep down they both wanted the best for me, despite their differences.
And shortly after that was when I finally realized that despite the ways my dad had hurt me, that he really did love me the best he could. He was a hurting man who never got real help for his issues. But he loved me deeply despite of them. I will never get the image out of my head of looking at my dad across the diner table over breakfast and understanding the reality of the situation. I had worked through the hurt enough that I was beginning to forgive. All the pain I had allowed myself to feel through therapy was finally leaving my heart (because I had finally allowed myself to experience it instead of suppressing it). You need to feel things in order to let them go sometimes. And in feeling and letting go, I was creating a space to learn how to love my dad more freely again, without the fear of being hurt.
And then months later, I finally felt ready to share with my dad the ways I felt hurt by him growing up. I was always so scared to be open about such things for fear of creating a bigger space between us. But I knew in that moment that in order for that space to heal, I needed to be open and vulnerable with him. And so I was.
We cried together, sitting side by side on the front porch of his house. He kept saying over and over that he didn't want to go to the grave thinking that I thought he was a bad person. I kept telling him I didn't think that. I told him that I worked through a lot with Renee in therapy and that I wasn't upset anymore and that I had learned to let go of a lot. I'm not sure he believed me, but that is what I felt.
Then he was diagnosed with cancer 2 months later.
November 8th, 2016 was our last day together. A day I replay in my head several times a day...the way he looked as I wiped blood off his mouth as his body was shutting down. The way his hand felt as I held it tightly. The way I cried on his shoulder as he took his last breath...telling him over and over that I forgave him.
The rest of the week following that night I spent planning the entire visitation and funeral. I picked out a coffin I thought my dad would like, a floral spread at the funeral home to match his love for America, and went to the cemetery to design a tombstone personalized with an American flag on it. I then coordinated the funeral service and put thought into each specific song that was to be played. I put my heart and soul into planning everything the way I felt would bring my dad the most honor. A testament to the healing God brought into my life. I wanted my life that week to be a reflection of all God had done for me. I still do.
We don't get to choose our number of days on this earth or the amount of time we get to spend with the people we love. But we are called to love. And one way of loving is to forgive. And sometimes we need to reach out for help in order to help our hearts heal and learn how to forgive.
One thing I want to stress is to not wait to seek healing. And to not wait to experience real love, joy, and intimacy in this life.
I continue to believe that God had a specific plan for everything. And I thank God everyday for bringing Leslie and Renee into my life to send me on a path towards healing at just the right time. God knew. And God made a way.
26 years, 5 months, and 1 week.
That was all the time I got with my dad on this earth. And in the space between the day I came into this world and the day my dad left it, God extended an infinite amount of grace over my life and heart.