The other day I was talking with my counselor. She asked me about my relationship with my dad and began to tell her the story of my life. I started to cry, not just a little, hard. She asked me why I was crying and I said I didn’t know. I truly didn’t. It had been years since my father passed away, 17 actually, so why was I crying? After thinking and praying, God brought me to a podcast about grief. I realized that I think my tears are because I never got closure after my dad’s passing. There was no funeral and he has no grave for me to visit. (I’ll give the full story on that later) Because of that I don’t think I was ever allowed to grieve his loss well. Grief needs a witness. It needs others around you to witness your pain and acknowledge the good and bad in your relationship with your loved one. That is why we have funerals. We need others to witness our grief. If you don’t have those rights of passage then you have a difficult time fully grieving. So, I realized I need to find a way to have that closure. I’ll tell you how I plan to do that, but first let me give you the story of my dad and my relationship, the good the bad and the ugly.
My parents met and married in six weeks. They were in their upper 30’s when they married and my mom had never been married but my dad was divorced. They were married for a few years when they decided to adopt me. My dad was a good dad to me. He spent lots of time reading to me and playing with me. But our happy family wasn’t as happy as I thought. My mom told me later that he had been having affairs since they first were married and that continued throughout their relationship. When I was six they separated and divorced a couple years later. Shortly before their divorce, my dad moved out of state and my mom was left to run the home health agency they had started together. One day the IRS showed up at her door and took over her business stating that employee taxes had not been paid for a number of years. After a lengthy investigation and threatening her with prison, the IRS discovered she did not know about any of the tax evasion and it was all my dad’s doing. Unfortunately, they could not find him, so they ordered my mom to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. The business was sold and most of what we owned was sold or repossessed. We almost lost our house and my mom had no income from making six figures just days before. She also discovered my dad had taken all that money from the taxes and started his own business with his girlfriend. He was an elder in our church and he told the church that he and my mom were divorcing because she was an alcoholic, which of course wasn’t true, but they all believed him and came to my mom trying to do an intervention.
During this period I would see him periodically. He would bring me large expensive gifts to make up for not being there or not paying his child support. My mom was good about not talking negatively about him even though there was plenty to say. I still knew what was going on for the most part because that sort of thing is hard to hide when it effects your whole life. Over the years we stopped seeing each other, and he would call on Father’s Day each year which was painful because it’s just days after my birthday. When I was in college he started calling me drunk and talking bad about my mom. I finally wrote him a letter and told him I loved him but I wouldn’t be talking to him until he was sober. He and I didn’t talk for five years, during which time he missed my wedding. Finally when I got pregnant with my oldest son I called him to tell him. We had a wonderful conversation and he told me he was sober and had started attending church again. We talked frequently for about a year. He apologized for all he had done. We made plans to go see him in Pennsylvania where he was living. I was able to say all the things I wanted to say. Then one day his sister called and talked to Glenn while I was at work and told him my dad had passed away suddenly. They didn’t do a funeral because he didn’t have any money, so they had cremated him and spread his ashes somewhere and would I pay for the cremation. (You can see that his family was very messed up and that led to some of his issues).
I was sad, but truthfully part of me was also relieved. It had been an emotional rollercoaster and I was glad it was over, if that makes sense. But I was also sad that we never got the chance to have a relationship that I wanted and hoped we could have. At the same time, as a new parent, I was relieved on some level that he wouldn’t have the chance to get to know my precious son. I knew from experience that he was good sometimes but there was also his unreliable nature that I just didn’t quite trust with my child. I know God can redeem those things but I wasn’t ready to trust that just yet as a parent. So, I entered counseling shortly after that for the first time as a adult and tried to deal with his loss the best I could. But as I reflect on it now I think I didn’t really grieve it properly because I didn’t have that proper ceremony. So, I have decided to do that for myself. I decided to write a letter to him about all the good things about him and also all those things I wish I didn’t expereince, the hurts he caused. I will write that letter and then burn it. But there is also one symbolic thing I must do. The dollhouse.
Once I asked my mom why she told me they were getting divorced on my sixth birthday. She told me that they didn’t do that, they would never ruin my day. It was on that day that I realized something was wrong. They weren’t separated yet but they were distant. He spent most of the day inside and not outside where the party was. I got a dollhouse for my big gift at that party. It was unfinished solid wood. He and I started painting it pink but never finished it before he moved out. It has sat unfinished for all these years. I played with it all the time as a child and I said I would someday finish it and give it to my daughter. I never did. I have dragged it around for 35 years and my husband has lovingly stored it in garages and attics, I’m sure wondering when I would just get rid of this heavy thing. Well, I realized that this thing is carrying unfinished emotional business from my dad and it needs to go. I’m letting go of a hope of an earthly relationship with him that will never be. I’m letting go of memories of that day when my world ended. I’m letting go of memories of unfinished tasks and I’m also letting go of the dream of having a daughter to somehow make this thing right with. Lots of emotional stuff in this doll house. But when I let it go I will be letting go of all that and stepping into healing and wholeness. I will be stepping into freedom from pain, loss and anger. I will be getting rid of the albatross around my neck of these complicated relationships both with my dad and my daughter. Neither one lived up to the expectations I had set forth. Both were flawed and hurt from their own messy pasts and caused me pain in the process. BUT, in heaven all that will be no more. They are both whole and I can have that relationship I wanted with them there. For now, I need to let go of things that will never be and pain I’ve been holding on to, so that I can step into the future with an open, healed, heart. So, I will do that hard thing and have that ceremony.
What ceremonies might you need to have in your life? Is there a hurt in your past that needs to be let go of? Choose to let it go with a ceremony that you can mark the end of that pain and the beginning of healing.