General Musings Grief

it’s not me, it’s you

I want to write about something I’ve been wrestling with lately. This is definitely somewhat related to my looking back post, but a somewhat different take on it. Namely, the relationships I do still have but which I question the overall desirability of keeping.

My heart keeps coming back to this place of tension due the fact that I am someone who generally values relationships, probably because I don’t build them easily, but there are several relationships in my life which no longer feel healthy for me to be in. Some of these relationships are with people and some are with institutions, but the common denominator seems to be that I have changed quite a bit over the past five years especially and can no longer relate in the same ways. 

My natural inclination has been to see if there is some way the relationships themselves can be adapted. If I have changed and they haven’t, is there some way in which the way we interact can also change so that all parties can move forward, albeit with different expectations?    

This feels like the right way forward… except I am not sure it is a way forward at all, when you get right down to it. By their nature, relationships rely on at least two parties, so if there is only one party attempting to make adjustments and the other party doesn’t seem to even register a need for such an effort, can the fundamental nature of any change be mutually beneficial?  

In the places in my life where I have noticed this tension, it has begun to feel more and more as though the onus to adapt to the new paradigm is only on me. This does not strike me as fair. 

An example, since this feels abstract: I have several long-term relationships with various people of the friends and family varieties While we’ve probably been drifting further and further apart ideologically for some time, the advent of the pandemic has really thrown a lot of the changes into stark relief and in a way where it’s not always possible to just accept we don’t agree and avoid the topic. I no longer feel comfortable being physically around these people, because they not only won’t wear masks if they don’t have to, they won’t get vaccinated and they associate with a whole lot of other like-minded individuals. 

I cannot ignore this. So the nature of the relationship has changed such that I will not put myself or my equally cautious loved ones at risk for the sake of spending time in person with this segment of my relationships. 

This is all bad enough, in my opinion, but what makes the whole equation feel even more unbalanced to me is that I don’t even feel like I can have an honest exchange of ideas with any of these people. 

Shortly after I got vaccinated, I was on the phone with a friend and mentioned I had gotten the Moderna and – honestly just assuming she would be getting the vaccine – asked if she had gotten hers or was planning on it soon. It didn’t even enter my mind that she wouldn’t. 

You know what they say about making assumptions. 

In one conversation that quickly turned very uncomfortable, I learned that not only would she and her family not be getting vaccinated, she is generally against vaccines and a whole bunch of other things I am not going to get into here because I don’t think it’s right for me to get into that level of detail about someone else’s beliefs. 

I will say that it wasn’t a productive conversation from there. Anything I had to say was met with a barrage of anecdotal evidence or statements that it appears I was meant to take as factual even though they lacked supporting evidence. My opinions on anything to do with regard to COVID-19 were – it became clear to me – uninformed, misguided and just wrong. (And, you know, I will absolutely admit I am not a scientist or a doctor and I am by no means an expert, but I do make the effort to have my opinion informed by those who are doctors – including my family doctor – and scientists and experts, not by random people on social media or pundits on the news. So there’s that.) 

After getting off the phone, I talked to Casey, and caught him up on the overall gist of the conversation. The only conclusion we could draw was that there doesn’t seem to be any chance of our getting together with this friend or her family any time in the near future, if ever. 

Then there’s my family. They mocked me to my face at my father’s deathbed for wearing a mask while they did not. Every time I insisted I would not eat at all or would eat outside in the Minnesota winter, I was met scorn and derision. “What is it about you that makes you so afraid of this?” my mom asked me at one point.

What is it about me?

There are layers of emotional response I am having in the wake of these encounters.

I’m annoyed that I have to be the one to set boundaries with friends and family because somehow being asked to wear a mask in public is the most horrific infringement of human rights that has apparently ever happened.   

I’m really hurt and saddened by the fact that my health – whether it is physical or mental – doesn’t matter one iota to people who have told me to my face they love me. 

I’m frustrated that there doesn’t appear to be any attempt on their part to demonstrate an attempt to understand or show empathy for me or my point of view when I feel I have tried to extend that courtesy to them. 

 I’m livid that all these people talk about God and their not-at-all-Christlike Christianity and think they have all the answers but honestly don’t seem to understand the really basic idea of love your neighbor. Even the one who you disagree with. (More on this in a future post.) 

Tension. It’s very present in my relationships right now, and I think the worst part is that somehow I am expected by all these various parties and entities to be the one who has to navigate it all with some modicum of grace. Doubtless this is because I am the one who changed. 

I reject that. Emphatically. 

At the start of this post, I said I wasn’t sure that the relationships are worth trying to salvage. I still don’t know that there is a way forward. I don’t think it’s worth my time or energy to try to accommodate the incurious, the close-minded, the people who think they have found The Truth. There is literally no reasoning with such people. 

It’s not me. It’s them.


pride and joy

Tomorrow, it will be two months since my dad passed away. 

Writing it still doesn’t feel right or true, and yet the spring of grief within me wells up at the same time. I suppose it’s denial, which makes sense. I seem to live in either denial or anger these days. 

I have lost other people, of course. Most of my grandparents have long since passed and there have been others: acquaintances and people from my husband’s family. My miscarriage was the worst loss until now – until cancer took my father long before it should have been his time. 

My relationship with my dad was not always easy. He was not an easy man. I have always thought that I understood him in many ways, because I am very much his daughter in the sense that we seemed to see and process the world around us in similar ways. I often wondered how much of that was nature and how much was nurture. 

He was often angry. As a child, my few friends were terrified of him because he was always vocal in his anger. As a person who cherished order and solitude, he was perpetually frustrated. Seven children and a disorganized wife will cause chaos to abound and I have some sympathy, looking back, because I know all too well the irritation that builds and builds with each new random thing out of place and the utter futility of anyone else in the world ever understanding that need, that requirement, that itch to have all things have their place and to be in it for more than a minute at a time for fuck’s sake.  

I was rarely a target of his anger growing up. I was an introverted kid (who grew into an introverted adult) and spent the majority of my time in my bedroom with the door shut and my head in a book. I wasn’t the child to make my mother’s life any harder either – to the contrary, I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t her primary source of assistance for anything from keeping the house clean, helping to cook meals or taking one or more of the younger children aside whether to simply mind them or to help them with their school. 

As I grew older, I took a job at the same place my dad worked, and then I was a young adult sharing a commute and water cooler chats with my own father. My mother seems to think Dad and I shared some strong bond as a result of those years, and maybe we did, but as is so often the case, things changed. I changed.

The last few years were particularly strained. I had spent a lot of that time – I don’t know to put this exactly – consciously rejecting a lot of what I was raised to believe. Mostly screwed up religious stuff, of the white Evangelical Christian bent with all the culture steeped in the patriarchy and racism. My parents likely believed these changes were because I was hanging out with the wrong crowd but it was actually that I honestly couldn’t reconcile the version of God I was raised on with the same one who came to preach love and acceptance. So I started disagreeing with my parents out loud when they would opine that women shouldn’t preach and all lives matter and that the 45th President was in any way, shape or form a man of God.

“When did you become such a damn libber?” my dad asked, summing up and dismissing whatever point it was I was trying to make. We didn’t talk for a year, which I know because it was my birthday when he said that to me and I didn’t call until his birthday, which falls two days before mine on the calendar. I don’t know if he noticed.

Fast-forward a few years and my dad was diagnosed with AML Leukemia in May 2020. Because he was stubborn, he decided early on not to seek treatment. Nine months later, he was gone. His final decline was sudden and swift. 

We still weren’t talking very much or very often. It was still a painful exercise for me, not knowing when it was worth an argument with him when he said something offensive and when I should just let it go because I knew his time was limited. 

The Sunday before he passed, I felt a sense of urgency to call. Because I never want to actually put myself through a conversation with either parent, I asked my husband to talk me out of it. He considered for a moment and then said, “I think you have to. Whatever it is that’s prompting you is something out of the ordinary. Call it God, the universe or philotic connection. You should call.” 

So I did. And we had the most normal conversation we’d had in years. I got an update about his health – he was tired, he’d had a nose bleed for several days – and we talked about things so mundane I can’t even recall. The only time we came close to a touchy subject, I remarked that we already knew we weren’t going to agree so perhaps it was better to save our time and energy. 

The next day, I got a text from my mom saying he was going on short-term disability. 

The day after that, my youngest brother called to say that Dad had collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Later text updates were that he had regained consciousness, was lucid and the doctor was working on getting hospice care set up. 

The day after that, I left my home for virtually the first time since March of the previous year (when COVID hit hard enough for my job to send everyone home) and flew for several hours to make it to my parents’ home. 

He never woke up, not really, and when he did he was so drugged that he clearly had no idea what was going on. 

And then he was gone. 

I am grateful for the last dialogue we had, because it was so normal and because we didn’t argue and I didn’t walk away from it hurting all over again over things that I can name but can’t and couldn’t solve. And yet, I lack closure, because we didn’t have a real conversation and talk about anything meaningful or true or deep. 

As always, Brandi Carlile expresses it best:

Where are you now?

Do you let me down?

Do you make me grieve for you?

Do I make you proud?

Do you get me now?

Am I your pride and joy?