My father died on July 6, 2017, 98 years, 4 months, 12 days. The last time I saw him was in the spring of 2004. During that visit, he gave me “the silent treatment” (refused to look at me or speak to me) when I stepped over an invisible line. That was not the first time, but it would be the last. When I gave lectures in California in 2008 and 2010, I agonized and yet made the decision not to visit him. I did not want to give him the chance to hurt me again.
My father and I kept in touch at Christmas and birthdays. In recent years we found our mutual interest in the family genealogy to be safe ground on which we could make contact. I was pleased to be able to tell him that I found the place of origin of our branch of the Christ family in Unterpreppach, Lower Bavaria when I visited Germany in the spring of 2016 with my cousin Bill. My father was with me in spirit when I visited the Christ family graves at Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cemetery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the winter of 2016.
When my father had his first heart attack a few years ago, I agonized again and made the decision not to visit. I did not want to give him the chance to hurt me again. This time the decision was final.
My father had been in decline for the past year, suffering from congestive heart failure. He had a long life, and until last fall, he was in good health in independent living at the retirement home where he had lived for nearly twenty years. Although I knew he might not have long to live, I did not waver in my decision not to visit.
When my brother wrote to tell me that my father was dying, I felt that I had already grieved the loss of my father. I did not hate him. In fact, I had always wished him well. But I also understood that because he did not approve of my independence, my feminism, and my politics, to be in his presence would be like walking into a minefield. He might explode at any moment.
While my father was dying, I wrote to several close friends that I thought I had resolved my issues with my father and didn’t think I would need to grieve any further. My friend Judith responded that though what I said sounded reasonable, grief has a way of sneaking up on you.
The first few days after my father died, I felt numb and withdrawn, but I did not shed a single tear. A week later, I came down with a very bad case of cold and flu. Most days it was difficult to find the energy to feed my dogs. As I had very little food in the house, I ate almost nothing. I spent my days watching reruns of Law and Order SVU.
When I began to feel a little stronger, I said to a friend, “I feel like I have been dead.” It took me another twenty-four hours to ask: could there be a connection between my physical illness and my father’s death? Duh…
While I was pondering this question, my cousin Hattie wrote:
There will always be the questions of why and how I could not get along with him. It is hard but as a child we put the blame on ourselves: what could I have done better (nothing). Some people can never be happy with what their children do with their lives.
I had already come to terms with this. Or so I thought.
Cousin Hattie concluded:
At some point going forward you will be able to let go. May God rest his soul.
I think what she meant to say was:
May God rest his soul and yours.
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Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger
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