Thursday, December 13, 2007

Letting go of anger

Note: This long diatribe has been sitting on my chest for years, so please skip it if you're only up for my usual chipper self...

It has been two years since my father passed. Our relationship as adults was friendly and cordial, but not necessarily close. We saw each other about twice a year and he enjoyed seeing his grandchildren, calling them "golden boy" and "jade girl". He divorced my mother about 8 years prior to be with his girlfriend, eventually moving in with her in his last year. He was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer which in the last few months left him confused, angry and frightened. It was certainly not the man I had known my whole life. When I first heard that his condition was worsening, I paid him a visit to make sure he had his affairs in order, including power of attorney, etc. I had already known that he had appointed his girlfriend's daughter as the executor of his will because as he said "It would be more convenient because she lives in New York." Sure fine, I had no problem with that. I just wanted to make sure that he had a power of attorney and health care proxy in place while he was alive, who could very well be his girlfriend's daughter (she is slightly younger than I with young children as well). He adamantly refused to believe that he would not be physically or mentally able to pay his own bills or handle all of his affairs. At this point, I didn't even know whether he had married his girlfriend or not as I wouldn't have been surprised if he did so without telling me in order not to upset me or my mother. I had to awkwardly ask them point blank whether they were married so I could understand my legal position and responsibilities. After this rather unsuccessful visit, I started to receive angry letters from him addressed to me, my mother and his sister-in-law who had paid him a similar visit. These letters were extremely mean and really upset my mother who throw them away. I filed them away just because that is what I do (when in doubt organize). He accused us of being after his money and to stay out of his business and not to call or visit him.

As he got worse and spent more time in the hospital, I still went to visit him by driving 3.5 hours each way by myself on weekends. He appeared to be glad to see me and enjoyed seeing the sweater I was knitting for Dova. As he worsened, more of my time was spent being nurse, helping him move, getting the nurse, helping them change his diaper, etc. In all of these visits, I saw his girlfriend only once and I never saw her daughter. They were never there when I came to see him, only another friend of his and my mother. Of course when it came time for treatment or emergency procedures, the hospital had to call me because he hadn't set up a health care proxy.

When he passed, he left clear directions for his cremation and internment. His girlfriend and her daughter were completely useless in handling the arrangements, so I arranged everything from the cremation, ordering the urn, setting up the memorial service and luncheon, picking out the music, making the slide show, everything. During the service, several of his long time friends spoke of him as well as my mother. I hadn't prepare anything to say because I had been too busy arranging everything. But one of his long time friends did say something that really touched me. He said that most of all, my father was extremely proud of me. It was something that I never thought he had felt about me, let alone hearing him say it in person. His girlfriend also got up to speak, and although I didn't understand most of her Chinese, I did hear that she claimed that his entire life was unhappy until he met her, and she completely depended on him and what was she to do now, woe is me, woe is me (selfish whiny bitch).

After the service, it was finally time for the will. I learned that he named me as his only living descendant, but then proceeded to give everything to his girlfriend and her daughter. That included all his belongings, cash and two properties in New York City. Well, it wasn't as though I was completely surprised, but I felt that it was extremely unfair to his own grandchildren. The date of his last and binding will was after his descent into dementia. I began wondering if he felt that it was a simple matter of financial aid, where his girlfriend's daughter and her family were not as well off as mine, or whether he truly felt he replaced me with her. Did I mention that she was totally useless during funeral arrangements and did not come to visit him once in the hospital while I was there? I then remembered a time when I was 14 years old and he said that he was disowning me because I had a boyfriend and was no longer his daughter. It was a crime in his book, but not in mine and if he couldn't let me be my own person, so be it. I was just as stubborn as he was.

I was extremely angry about the will and looked into contesting it but in the end, felt that it wasn't worth my energy. I had long deleted the doctor's names who could corroborate his mental state. Their lawyer kept hounding me to sign papers giving up my rights to my father's estate, but I refused. Finally, a court hearing was scheduled several months ago. I didn't go, therefore forfeiting my rights. I had no intention of really fighting with them, just wanted to make them squirm. Since that incident several months ago, I've finally started to let go of my anger. I'll never truly understand his reasoning for choosing his girlfriend's daughter and her family over his own flesh and blood grandchildren, but I guess he got his last laugh and disowned me after all.

Here are some podcasts that I really related to in the aftermath of my father's death:

WGBH Morning Stories Behind the Blue Ribbon - Another unappreciated daughter until after her mother's death.

WGBH Morning Stories From Us To You Part 2 - A daughter who was disowned by her father comes to terms with it twenty years later (hopefully it won't take me that long). The text of her letter was so moving, I am including it here:
I'm 44, and I've recently come to terms with the fact that my father disowned me when I was 24. I was in love with a black gentleman and my dad couldn't take it. I was his baby girl and the one of his five children most like him. We stayed estranged for the next nine months and then he was killed in a car accident in Zurich. Everyone always puts on their sad face when they hear this story, they say "Oh, if you'd only known that you had so little time left." But I don't agree with their thinking. I wouldn't have done anything differently. I'd been angry I guess, and that anger kept me closed to any memory of him. But in the past few years, I've let myself think about it from some distance, and I see that it was his gift that enabled me to stand up to him like that. He didn't raise me to be a racist, he taught me to stand up for what was right, even at great cost. He instilled in me the personal dignity and sense of decency that enabled me to even attempt such unheard of behavior in my family. It was a defining moment in my life, one that clarified many things for me. I'm so thankful that I can finally separate these things from the cruelty and small-mindedness of his other action. And I really know he was proud of me even if he wasn't able to see it at the time.
NPR A Year to Live, A Year to Die - A moving chronicle about a man dying of a brain tumor, descending into an angry violent state.


Julie Pippert said...

That's a tough situation. I'm also estranged from some family, although not my parents---my dad can be great or a little hard on me (as in my comments today).

I think your decision shows you were willing to let him and all of it go and I think that must be healthier for you, means you can move on.

Thanks for sharing such an honest post and emotions.

Using My Words

Melissa said...

When my dad divorced my mom, there was a time that I thought he was replacing me with his "new" family. Fortunately, he divorced her and things are ok. Stuff like that is rough, I know. And it's hard to see how he did that to your children.

It was good that you didn't contest the will though. That would have just been unnecessary pain that would detract you from good times with your family now.

Have a great holiday!

Sonya said...

This is tough stuff. I am estranged from my father and I can't really tell you why. He just never took interest in me after my parents divorced when I was 7. Twenty-six years later, he has not changed. I have two daughters and he has only met them a few times in their lives (they are 13 and 9). It's sad but it is one of those things that you have to learn to deal with or it will eat you up. I have no anger but I feel sad for my children. Probably much like you feel for your children.

Thanks for sharing this story. It was very helpful in reminding me of my own situation.

Bigqueue said...

I will start right off and say that I don't know your father, and really hardly know it really isn't my place to even comment. (but that has never stopped me before....just please don't get offended if anything strikes you badly....I mean nothing bad)

My daughter and I went to a memorial Mass for my wife today. At Mass, the homily discussed the gifts people bring to the world, and how we need to better the world by sharing our gifts.

But this homily normally continues on talking about how we need to spread our own gifts and talents not only to those close to us, but to others less close....perhaps even strangers.

But today the preacher instead suggested that we could also look inside out fellow humans and look for the good. He noted that it is quite easy to see and focus on the see the parts we don't like.....the stuff we want to see different.

The "good" is we sometimes don't even acknowledge it exists...."I mean that's how it should be".

When I write and talk about my dad (Who passed away in 1998) I often write about all his goodness. How he was very intelligent, and an absolute sponge when it came to learning. He was also quite a "McGiver" in his practical ingenuity.

But to most people who knew him, he was a raging alcoholic.....a drunk. If you ask my aunts, uncles or cousins about my dad....those would be the first out of their mouth.

They are correct.....but this isn't what defined him in my eyes. This was his major weakness for that was painful for my mother and me.....but my mother always pointed out my dad's strengths....she loved him, and she was darn good at seeing the whole him and everyone else.

My mom was the type who would help just about anyone when they were down because she saw a worthwhile soul there....she always found some goodness in anyone.

Same for me....I have my faults and strengths. I'm far from perfect, and even now am doing things that in ways hurt my daughters. I don't want to hurt my daughters, but I almost can't help it because I have a very big problem being alone.

I have met someone I really care for, and I've moved forward with a me it is great.....but I see the strain it has on my daughters. (a strain which I believe is getting less every month)

So I don't exactly have a message for you....or even an opinion on your relation/reaction to your dad.

My dad brought me into the world....and tried his best to help me get ahead. He tried his best to teach help me....he was generally proud of me.

No, he was far from perfect....but then I suppose I am not so perfect either.

May you come to peace with your father's actions.

Happy Holidays.....