A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Everybody Hurts

Just a year ago, my dad called and told me that he had cancer. The word "terminal" never really made it out of his mouth, but when your tough-guy daddy starts talking about how he's had a long life and so on, you get the drift. Actually, I knew it was bad when he actually placed the phone call himself, since my father never did that for probably the same strange reason he would never actually operate a microwave.

Six weeks later, he slipped away.

Now since then, we have muddled through every succeeding day. Many of you have helped me more than I can express with words of support and sympathy, and, unfortuntely, in some cases, personal experience of your own.

But there is one area of my life that has not been, let us say, helpful. I now want to say this as gently as possible, just because I am afraid I am going to explode completely if I don't vent somewhere.

Dear family:
Just because I have not had to self-medicate myself into a stupor in the past year does not mean I am not hurting. I personally think that doing these kinds of things makes your pain far, far worse, and who needs this to be any worse than it already is?

Just because I have not held conversations with my dead father's eidolon or visitant or haint or whatever you want to call it does not mean that I am not just as authentically in mourning as you are. Furthermore, I do not want to hear about how you commune with his apparition or huddle over an Ouija board-- this is just not something in which I believe. So, for the love of God, would you please stop blathering on and on about this, because it is making me absolutely tense, and it sounds completely nuts.

Now, you may wonder why I am not just speaking to the people who are bothering me in person. Fair enough.

Because you never ask me how I am doing, nor are you interested. I am supposed to sit here and absorb all your problems and sorrow and vile emotional crap, and when I try to actually converse about my life or how I am feeling, you change the subject righhhhht back to yourself or the other members of the family and how they are incredibly troubled or annoying or hurtful, or how they are to blame for all of your problems. I am tired of listening-- can't say "talking"-- about death all the time. And just because you are in mourning too doesn't mean that I am going to let you play the "I loved him more than you did and that's why I get a moral pass to treat everyone else like garbage" steeplechase. Every time you tell me some vicious thing about someone else in the family, all I can think of is, "I wonder what you say about me behind my back?" Just because you have taken up a long sojourn in Crazy Town doesn't win you a trophy in the great Sweepstakes of Sorrow, either. I have tried not to be judgemental about this. But this is not a competition. What makes it even worse is what little family we had has come completely unglued and everyone is taking turns attacking each other, and just one flailing, drowning person can pull everyone else in the water under.

It is just not my way to fall apart for days or weeks or years on end or behave irrationally or slide into a deep depression. You don't know when I have sobbed or screamed or gotten angry. Someone had to keep it together. Decisions had to be made, and things had to be done. Fine. It's perfectly normal to fall apart, though, and I understand why you have. I just would like to see you accept my way of mourning as equally valid and my pain as equally real as yours. Just because I manage to put one foot in front of the other and haltingly navigate through each day doesn't mean that you should discount my sorrow, or think that I don't think about my dad several times a day. We all of us had a complex relationship with dad because he was a complex figure-- so working through that presents itself in a myriad of bizarre ways that back up on you at the most unexpected times.

I truly believe that my Dad is no longer in pain, and he was in pain long before he got cancer. I believe that his soul is freed. Everyone dies, and I believe that there is something after this life, but even if there's not, it doesn't change the fact that everybody dies. He was not a perfect person, by far, but then again none of us is a perfect person, by far. The thing that is the most difficult for me is that I will never speak to him again-- not even in hallucinations. He was the one person in the family who actually listened to me, on occasion. But I wouldn't want him to be back here with as much as he was suffering.

Everybody hurts. Everyone.


At 12/24/06, 12:33 AM, Anonymous Mike said...

Dear Ms. Cornelius:

I understand. Prior to laboring in the rutted fields of education, I played cops and robbers for a bit less than 20 years. On one average day, on an average patrol shift, something extraordinary happened.

I was sent to a day care center where a baby had stopped breathing. By the time I arrived, it was obvious that child was beyond saving, there was even a breathing monitor that indicated the child was a SIDS risk. The paramedics arrived seconds later and began heroic resusciation efforts anyway. It was only when the child was on the way to the hospital, we all knew it was only a way station to the funeral home, that I could slow down and concentrate on notifying the parents.

The owner of the day care center was, as you'd imagine, shattered. She handed me the rolodex card with the parents information and it all came together. The baby was in niece. My sister's second child, just a few months old, and a definite SIDS risk.

I made the notifications and did my job. No one else could have done it. There can only be one first officer on the scene, and I concentrated and was as thorough as I had ever been on any case.

Here's where our paths cross. My supervisors were stunned. They couldn't imagine how I could so calmly and cooly continue to function. My family was a bit more understanding. Still, to this day, I've no doubt that many saw--and see- me as cold, heartless, unfeeling.

I knew, as you know, that life goes on. Funerals are for the living. The dead are beyond all of that, above it, done with the cares, pain and stress of this existance. We all must live as best we can, make peace with the deaths of our loved ones, and with our continuing lives, knowing that tomorrow is never guaranteed. If we are granted an additional day, we must sieze it and do what we can to see that others are better for having known us.

Those who focus on what they imagine to be your emotional state are as much in the grave as your father, yet, they are not at peace and cannot be. They want you to be as miserable as are they. We know better.

You have been able to say farewell to your father, as have I to my mother and my wife's mother. That simple act may be, ultimately, the greatest gift your father gave you. Cherish it, even if your relatives can or will not.

At 12/24/06, 7:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Cornelius:

Sorry to hear of your loss. You have been able to 'vent' through the blogosphere even if your own "family" doesn't seem to support you. Know that I am keeping you in prayer this Christmas season.

May peace and joy be yours in 2007!

At 12/24/06, 9:28 AM, Blogger Mike in Texas said...

I understand your pain. Like you I watched a parent succumb to cancer, and then had another loved one drop dead at my feet from an undiagnosed heart problem. I thought I was tough enough to work my way through it.

Last Sept. I started to have wild mood swings, alternating between depression and rage, totally out of character for me. After struggling with it for a month I went to my doctor, who explained that you don't have to be in the military, a police office or fireman to have a form of post traumatic stress syndrome. He put on a small dose of "happy" pills and now my moods are back to normal and I feel like my old self.

Don't be afraid to seek help if you need it.

At 12/24/06, 11:28 AM, Anonymous Alsoomse said...


Loosing one's dad is one of the hardest thing we go through in our lives. It's a struggle and it's hard. I'm not sure the pain ever really goes completely away. Nevertheless, as you've said, life does go on and fighting to continue to have a life does not mean that our mourning is over.

I have no wise advice. I know how hard it is to be the 'strong one' who holds it together. All I wanted to say is that I understand what you're going through and that my thoughts are with you.

Have a good Christmas.

At 12/24/06, 11:55 AM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

Dear Ms. Cornelius,
I am so sorry for your loss and having difficult family members doesn't do much for the healing process. I hope that you find continued peace in the new year and that you are able to vent here in the blogosphere. You are right. Everyone hurts- we just all hurt in different ways. And everyone needs to blow off some steam now anad again.
Merry Christmas to you.

At 12/24/06, 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone grieves in their own way -- you clearly know this. Pain comes from others' insistence that only thier own grief is valid. It is a cultural stereotype that one's own family is the best support group in times of crisis or joy.

Please know that you have another 'family' where you are appreciated and cared about.

At 12/24/06, 1:51 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thank you so very much everyone. You have no idea how much better I felt once I actually hit that "publish" button.

You know, mike, as soon as my father's heart had stopped beating, I went into a little supply closet and sobbed for a few minutes. But then I had to start getting on the phone and calling people and making arrangements. Things had to be done. I understand what you did completely. That doesn't make any less heartbreaking that you had that happen to you. Thank you so much for sharing that story. God bless you.

butterfly angel, I read the poem you sent along over at eht's and it was beautiful. Thank you so much for everything.

Dear MIT, I really haven't experienced a year like you had in 2005. I remember you writing about your nephew, and I can't imagine how shattering that was. No matter what, my father lived a long life. We are never ready to lose the ones we love, but to lose one so young is unbearable.

The thing is, I have not had mood swings. I get sad, certainly and absolutely, and miss Dad. I am a Christian, and I believe there are worse things than dying-- like suffering. But at least I got to say goodbye to him.

Unfortunately, it's the living people in my family who are dumping on me, and you can't take a pill for that. Maybe THEY should, though.... But I certainly have kept my doctors updated, and they say that I am doing pretty well, especially considering the stress my family has put me under. I'm a pretty introspective person, and I know better than to struggle against that which you cannot change.

alsoomse and mrs t and graycie-- thank you so much for your kindness. We all just do what we can. And that's all we can do. All you can do is all you must do. You all have comforted me so much.

At 12/24/06, 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote you a long post and promptly lost it. Just to let you know that your post helped me tonight and I hope writing about your Dad helps you a little tonight. Thank you.


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