My father was a difficult man to love, but love him I did though I did not understand him. Though my father was fun and funny and passionate about living, he possessed a troubled heart. I never understood the root of his pain; I suspect he did not know himself. Perhaps it was because as a twelve year old child he accidently shot his best friend; it took a court trial to prove his innocence. Perhaps it was because as a gynecologist he had to face another court when he was wrongfully accused of malpractice. Perhaps it was because he lost his beloved daughter, my sister, to breast cancer. Perhaps it was a genetic flaw.
Because of his struggles with his soul’s dark recesses, he understood others who faced down personal crisis, and actively reached out to help them heal. But he could not heal himself. For years he used alcohol to sooth himself, but drink cannot touch the soul. Not having much resilience, he would often lash out at those closest to him when events turned in ways that he did not foresee or did not like. When I was young, I idolized my father, but as I grew up, I would battle internal wars – do I confront him and risk an outpouring of his bitter temper, or just turn a blind eye?
When he retired from being a physician, his health began to fail. Addiction to pain medication added an awful twist to his alcohol addiction. The full horror of his addictions came to light when he went into the hospital for a hip replacement and went into the DT’s when coming out of surgery. The family staged an intervention, and like a petulant child, he “promised” to go into rehab. But promises from an addict are not to be believed. Within months of leaving the hospital, he was again washing pain medication down with vodka. A year later he faced another surgery because of chronic back pain, knowing full well that the surgery could kill him. The surgery did kill him as once again he went into the DTs, and his heart failed. He had finally found peace and moved past the pain and the darkness.
I have had a hard time grieving for my father; my emotions are too complicated for many tears. However, as I work down through the layers of emotion, I finally got to a place where I renounced the need to understand him. After years of trying to make meaning of his self-destructive nature and internal drive to hurt those he loved best, I came to recognize that true understanding is impossible and maybe not even necessary. What is necessary is acceptance, the kind of acceptance where one person can co-exist with another by maintaining a fine balance of love, forgiveness and appreciation. I believe in the redemptive powers of loving acceptance.
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