Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Time To Mourn

I met my stepdad 40 years ago. I remember the day well. I was 5 years old and my mom was introducing him to me as her new boyfriend. I was angry because he wasn't my dad so I promptly slammed my bedroom door in his face.

Thus began our complicated relationship. Mom had a few boyfriends since she had divorced my dad but somehow in my innocent mind I knew this one was going to stick. Life with just my mom was about to change. Drastically.

My stepdad never really wanted kids although much later in life he wishes he had chosen differently because he felt bad I didn't have a sibling to play with. Honestly, I don't think parenting was one of my stepdad's strong points. All of a sudden he had this crazy 5 year old running around. I can't really blame him for his hesitancy.  Nevertheless, he dove in and for years we attempted to forge some sort of relationship.

There were years of good and there were years of bad. Unfortunately the bad outweighed the good at times which truly altered the course of my future as a teenager and young adult. 

To wade through the years of dysfunction feels pointless now. It was part of our journey and history can't rewrite itself. For some reason we had to go through those experiences in order to be stronger. What I can do however is reflect on the things that were good and there are plenty of good memories.

My stepdad had a fantastic sense of humor. We would watch Beverly Hills 90210 together. He would make me huge bowls of popcorn. He paid for years of private schooling, we would play 'band' together and sing Amy Grant Christmas carols into microphones. On his good days, he was my biggest cheerleader.

But on his bad days...threats, violence and verbal abuse infused the four walls of our home.

Many years later my children were born and he lived as if he were a new man. The times he had missed out on being a father were now being experienced as a grandfather. My children absolutely doted on him.  I felt a sense of redemption and hope as he fully embraced his new role. I think those years when my kids were younger gave him a sense of purpose and joy as he actively participated in their lives. I was cautiously optimistic.

The day my daughter was born my stepdad was at the hospital in the delivery room. As it became apparent I was getting close to the "pushing stage" he went to make his exit. However he didn't get very far before the bed I was delivering on, broke. The entire leg stirrup piece gave out as I began pushing so there I was with one leg flailing about with a baby coming out. Since the doctor and nurses were obviously otherwise engaged, there was no one to fix the bed so my stepdad had to crawl underneath and hold up the stirrup portion of the bed as I delivered my daughter.

Let's just say he had a bird's eye view of a birth that he would have preferred to miss but I will always remember that event with humor as he saw my daughter enter the world from a most 'unique' position.

But mental illness and alcoholism are cruel. It ravages both the mind and body. It has the potential to leave irreparable damage to both the one suffering from it and those that are closely connected with the person battling it. We saw the power it held over my stepdad and it grieved us to see such a now vibrant person fall into it's clutches.

Yesterday my stepdad died.

Suddenly and most unexpectedly.

On my daughter's 15th birthday.

The irony is not lost on me and I'm grieved by it.

However my stepdad took advantage at a last chance of redemption before his death. He started over from a place of complete brokenness. Thanks to a wonderful, compassionate, supportive group of friends, he found joy again. He found a church community he embraced and felt loved by. He was in a healthy, happy relationship. This brings me joy. Even though we were no loner in contact, I'm glad he left this world in a place of peace.

Today I'm crafting how will I tell my children that he has passed away. I'm choosing my words carefully because I want them to remember the good times, the good memories and the times of laughter that we were able to share in between the difficulties. That even in his moments of despair, he loved them.

It feels a bit freeing when I say that I'm choosing to focus on the things that were good because wallowing in any past hurt will accomplish nothing and honestly, I don't want to remember him in that way.

He's finally found true peace. Who am I to try and take that away? Rest easy, Jim. You are finally free....

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