The last eight months have been tough. Illness, death, surgeries, retirement, moving...all those serious life changes they warn you about. You know, all the stress inducing ones. In the background, a granddaughter suffering with a debilitating disease and to a much lesser, but still off putting degree, this Mother's Day was my first without a mother.
So, I find myself in a daily quandary, my brain a-jumble. I stare off into the abyss, overwhelmed, hanging on the ledge not really trying to pull myself up. Getting by is fine for now.
I have 3 pairs of glasses and often can't find even one pair. I walk (limp) into a room and can't remember why I'm there. I'll make a phone call and feel surprised when someone I know answers. Making a grocery list feels like writing a thesis.
Yet, oddly, I find myself thinking about Father's Day. Perhaps to get a jump on it, to not forget. Even though my father is dead. My husband is a father, my sons-in-law are fathers...so maybe that's it.
Or, maybe not.
Lately, I've been thinking about my stepfather- who is just as dead as my father. He and my mother were married over 30 years. A miracle of midwestern stick-to-it-ness if you ask me. But, stick with it they did. Until his death several years ago.
I've discovered when you're feeling a little beat down, your brain goes places it never would if you felt stronger. You don't have the energy to keep at bay the feelings you'd squashed before, or you realize in a weak moment you feel differently all together.
Barely a teen when my mother and stepfather married, I felt no love for him. Just a casual disdain that grew into a lazy hatred then settled into an annoyed apathy.
He was an alcoholic. Cruel, unreliable, unpredictable. Both my mother and I knew it from the get go. She married him anyway, as bad men were her comfort zone. I can't say I felt disappointed. Experience had already taught me that fathers were absent, uninterested, unavailable, violent.
He ruled our house in a surly silence, where something always felt like it was moving in for the kill. We waited every night till eight o'clock when he'd stumble off to bed, in a drunken haze and our collective sigh of relief signaled safety at last.
If you'd asked me to list his good qualities, I couldn't have. But, I would've been wrong. He had some. I just never gave him his due credit.
He was the first man to ever tell me I was smart.
He was the only parent I had who told me I could, and should, go to college.
When I got a B in history because my teacher didn't believe in giving A's he drove to the school, without my mother, and had a talk with the teacher. My stepfather was 6ft. 4in, 250 lbs. He came back with my A.
He expected me to get A's and if I didn't, his disappointment could bring me to tears.
He taught me to work. He fought my mother when I wanted to get a job while still in high school. He lost.
He spent all day catching a rabbit for my science project. He was falling down drunk...but this isn't exactly a Hallmark card, is it?
He thought I needed limits set, not money handed out. My mother disagreed.
After he had the stroke that signaled his downfall, he mellowed. He became a loving, adoring grandfather to my daughter's daughter. He'd let her do anything to him she wanted. He never raised his voice or his hand to her. But old habits die hard, and I kept watch, a bundle of nerves when they were together.
She still points to the stars and reminds us that Papa Ed is there among them.
When he finally died, 12 long years later, of various smoking and alcohol related diseases, I felt nothing. Not sad. Not relieved.
Now, I feel something else. Not love exactly. But a grateful affection. Not for the man he was, but for the man he tried to be, but couldn't.