Written over a year ago but not published until now.
Trying my best to not hold on for dear life. I’d held on so tightly and for so long I knew of no other way. I had started to think it was not possible to let go. Not possible to love and care for someone that is slowly drinking themselves to death and at the same time set them free from who you think they should be. And then it happened.
I became free, no longer obsessed with what he was doing. And I had been obsessed. I was the one who bought him the pill box so that he could put each day’s pills into separate containers, thereby avoiding a possible over or under dose. I don’t think he used it. Not. even. once. I took him to doctors and even to an iridologist, bought him vitamins and red goji berries to eat with breakfast. I arranged numerous moves, and paid people to help. I was the one who convinced him to go to rehab for the last time and then travelled 80km in peak hour traffic every Monday, for 12 weeks, so that I could attend the family meetings with him while he was in rehab. I took him into my home. I threw out his alcohol and dared not keep alcohol when he was around. I was the one that he called every time he couldn’t breathe (the asthma), thought he was dying, or just couldn’t sleep. I lent him money to pay for his radiation. I took him to hospital and sat in the queues with him when he had no means of transport. He could have arranged with someone to take him, but he didn’t, so I drove 130km and two hours to fetch him from his house and take him to the hospital. I was the one who called the ambulance one Valentine’s day and got into trouble for it (how dare I?!). I had to explain him that his car keys were not stolen as he hadn’t driven himself to the hospital, that he had been brought in by the ambulance. I asked the doctor to check his brain function because he was talking as though he were mad. I later learned it’s one of the many serious side effects of delirium tremens (DT’s) caused by the withdrawal of alcohol which if not managed properly can be fatal. I’d seen it before and it was terrifying.
But I was more worried about him and his life than he was. I was neurotic.
The reality however was that I was the one who’s life was out of control. Anxiety and panic attacks threatened to take over my life. But I had seen it for what it was and was finally letting go of this need to control him.
He didn’t call me for my birthday because we had a fallout and I was absolutely ok with that.
After walking around for years with the world on my shoulders, it had finally lifted. And just as I started to get I right… he died.
And just like that he was gone.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. No. I had not been ready for this. There one day, me practising letting go, gone the next, me forced to let go. He just left. It felt so unreal. So this is how it feels to lose a father. That hurts, I don’t like to hurt, how do people live through it? It felt like there was a hole where my heart should have been.
What did my letting go matter now? There was nothing to hold onto. I didn’t have to set and stick to boundaries, or sit with fear in my heart that he would call and tell me that he is dying. No. It had just happened. Found by the domestic lady, on the floor in his flat. Alone. His final moments on this earth and he hadn’t called a soul. Unlike numerous other occasions where I received a call at 01:00 am in the middle of the night or any other time for that matter. It didn’t matter if I was asleep, or training the dogs, watching a movie or eating dinner. My heart used to lurch when the little phone screen lighted up with his name. The ringtone used to send my heart into a gallop. He would just want to talk, to tell me that he is dying and couldn’t breathe and he just wanted someone to talk to. I spent many phone calls with him getting angry at me for summoning the ambulance to his place, for trying to help him. Getting angry with me when I spoke about boundaries and that it was not ok to call me like this.
He didn’t want to help himself, so how could I have ever helped him? Young and naïve.
That day he died he hadn’t called anyone. He just left, without letting anybody know. I didn’t think it would happen like this.
“I’ll speak to you another time…”
Those were my last words to him… 8 days before. I was unhappy with him for calling me when he was drunk, as I had made it clear that I didn’t want to talk to him when he was in that condition. I told him, in no uncertain terms… “I’ll speak to you another time…”
I sometimes wonder if he tried to call anyone.
The strange thing is, I was already mourning the loss of my father for 3 weeks before he physically died. How to wrap a head around that.
I was grieving the loss of a father mostly absent from my life. He was in his own world with alcohol, chain smoking, his messy bushveld flat and bushveld creatures (I didn’t inherit my fear of spiders and creepy crawlies from him). Surrounded by his rocks – he was an exploration geologist – they were his absolute passion (that and music). The rocks that he studied every day of his life had also nearly taken his life in 1990 when a ton rock had settled on him while working underground and smashed just about every bone in his body from his pelvis to his neck. The doctors said he’d never walk again. He was adamant he would. For the next three years we watched my father dragging himself down the passage, behind a chair, willing his legs to work. Dragging, crawling, standing up, using two crutches, using one crutch and finally walking by himself, with a limp but walking nonetheless.
How incredible. If only he had seen it that way.
He had suffered a lot. Reading his journal after he had died (random bits of paper he had written on while in various rehab centres), I saw a very sad man. Extreme sadness. Sometimes that suffering is too much to bear and you numb it anyway you can. He chose alcohol.
Vodka will make it better and the day I let go
The day of my brother’s wedding. Dad is sitting cross legged on the bed he begged me to buy him vodka. The stench in the room was overwhelming. The stale smell of cigarettes and the smell of alcohol oozed out every pore and made me sick. I stood and looked at him. He was deathly grey. The room felt heavy. He’d been wretching all night. My dogs had barked at him earlier, perhaps he wasn’t even fully present to this life any longer.
“I can’t do that Dad, I’m sorry… I’m not supporting that any longer and it’s your son’s wedding later” I choked. It was nearly too painful to speak. I stood and looked at him, sitting on the bed, the blue bucket I had given him to use cradled next to him. He looked at me and we just looked. I think I saw it. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul – I think I saw it. He saw it too. At that moment we understood – no words needed to be spoken. No words would describe it anyway. A split second of clarity. He had asked me for the vodka. The eyes implored me to let go.
I didn’t throw anything this time. I didn’t shout, beg or plead. His eyes bored into mine. I turned to leave the room.
Eyes stinging with tears I stumbled to the lounge and my legs crumpled from under me. I had a strange feeling around me. Excruciating pain in my chest, perhaps pieces of my heart were dropping off. I had never felt such a staggering sadness in my 33 (nearly 34) years on this earth. I sat and just breathed for a while. And then a sense of calm. A growing sense of calm. What a strange feeling. And then I knew, with every fibre of my being, that this is ok. That he is ok, that I am ok and that we will be ok. I was compelled to take a book off the shelf and opened it up. I read “trust that everything is unfolding exactly the way it should”… and suddenly I believed this with my entire being.
We were going to be ok.
I took him to the doctor for a shot of some sort. I took him for a haircut. He had gollywog hair, and it stood out in all directions. Like Einstein. Perhaps even eccentric, but without the money. I nearly didn’t take him but I did and I’m glad I did. I bought him orange juice, which he drank while sitting in the chair. I cried. Tears steaming down my cheeks, watching him sit in the hairdresser’s seat. Small, frail, not completely withit and so grey. The hairdresser quietly went about her job, but not without throwing a curious glance at me every now and then.
Every time now when I walk passed that salon, my heart lurches from the memory. As if the memory of him sitting there, still lingers in the shop.
So ecstatically happy for brother. Desperately sad for this man, my father. The paradox. The high and the low, living together within me. Opposite ends of the spectrum, co-existing side by side. Is that even possible?
I walk to his hotel room to make sure he is ready. No. 601. I open the door and he is standing in the middle of the room, showered, hair combed and in his suit. I was shocked to see that he looked nearly normal, besides being a deathly grey. Oh my god my heart wanted to climb out my throat. He looked so smart. “If only”… The tears leaked out of my eyes again. I softly told him “come Dad, it’s about to start”…
He had bad diarrheoa and had to run to the toilet every now and then. Partly due to the alcohol, lack of food and nutrition, partly due to the myasthenia gravis, partly due to the radiation treatment he had received for his prostate cancer. That’s how he missed being part of the family photos at the wedding. He had needed the toilet.
That is how months after he had died I found his unwashed shirt and suit amongst his clothes bundled into my garage, the white shirt stained with blood at the back where it would have been tucked into the pants. My heart broke again. He had needed the toilet. I had let him be. Sadness and guilt overwhelmed me.
The last time
The day after the wedding I had dropped him off at my sister. A mixture of relief and guilt about feeling relief. I turned and gave one last look at him as we drove away. Perhaps if I’d known it would be the last time I would see him, I’d have looked a bit longer. Perhaps I would have hugged him and told him not to worry and that everything will be ok. He was looking down at the ground, looking dejected, grey and small.
I sobbed. This deep well of sadness had no end it felt. At home I put my brown and blue jacket in the wash that he’d been wearing – one that I wouldn’t be able to wear for months after he had died because he was the last one to wear it. You know how it sometimes feels better to stuff things into a cupboard and forget about it, than to rather sit with the pain of a memory.
3 weeks later he died. 8 days after my birthday he was gone and no-one ever told me it would hurt so bad.
While clearing his flat I picked up a chest infection. I struggled to clear it for 8 weeks. The lungs are related to grief – my lungs were weak from grief.
He was gone. I was free, but not quite the way I had planned. I had not planned for it to be the final letting go. He was only 61.
The mystery of this is that I had learned to let go, before the final letting go. I had learnt to put a boundary in place and stick to it. I had learnt that everything is unfolding exactly the way it should. I had learned that it doesn’t matter how much I worried and tried to control things, they happened anyway. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could have ever done. I learnt I was ok and he was ok. I could let go and know that everything was going to be ok. Whatever that ok was.
I had been privy to experiencing a beautiful, excruciating painful truth of actually letting go before I learnt it from death itself.
I miss him. I know one day “…. I will speak to you another time…” – perhaps even in my dreams.
And a quote that brings me close to tears when I hear it: “I forgive you for not being the way I wanted you to be” Louise Hay. I really do.
We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go.
We become something new by ceasing to be something old.
This seems to be close to the heart of that mystery.
I know no more now than I ever did about the far side of death as the last letting-go of all,
but now I know that I do not need to know,
and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing.
That is all that matters.
Once you have seen the truth
you must make the decision to let go
of the pain, anger, and resentment you have been holding on to.
This requires you to take action.
If you are attached to your pain, resentment,
and self-righteousness, and addicted to your emotional reactions,
this will be a difficult step for you.
Taking action requires letting go of the very thing
you have been holding on to for so many years.
There is comfort in what we find familiar,
even if we are experiencing pain and suffering.
The pain and suffering itself becomes the familiarity we seek.
It takes absolute faith in yourself
plus courage, will, and discipline to let go.
But once you let go, it will be as if
the weight of the world has been taken off your shoulders.
In this process it is important to forgive
not just the others in our lives, but also ourselves.
For most people, giving ourselves
the gift of forgiveness is very challenging.
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie