Friday, September 16, 2016

Truth, story and complexity

My father died a month ago. At the end of his life he was peaceful, one sharp breath and then finally letting it all fall away. He was ready. My mother and I were as ready as we could be, though I don't know if one can ever be ready for the death of someone you love.

As I'm writing this I am tossing around what I want to say at his memorial service, a few days after this post publishes. I knew exactly what I wanted to say when Kevin died. That was easy. My love for him was fairly uncluttered; we had 15 really good years, with the usual ups and downs any couple may have, but the love was never in doubt. It was easy to talk about him and remember him publicly. Heck, I've been remembering him publicly in this blog for years now. (Years. That's hard to believe.)

It's harder for me to craft what I want to say at my father's memorial. For one his death is still somewhat abstract for me; I haven't lived near him for many years so his absence is taking longer to sink in. More significantly the relationship wasn't always an easy one. We certainly loved one another, but it was a more complicated relationship than the one I shared with Kevin. I want to honor my father's memory and life, but it's not a tidy set of memories. There are good memories but just as many difficult ones. What I say at his memorial service is part of how I will shape my ongoing memories of him, the lasting thoughts, so I want to be true and honest and kind.

I don't think his memorial service is any place to air the harder memories. I want to give my mother something she will feel good about, I want to know that I am honoring the best of my father, not holding onto that which is gone with him.

Grief is complicated, isn't it. I am grieving the whole relationship, good and bad, but I want to celebrate his being in the world at all. I know I'm not the only person who has had to contend with grieving a complex relationship, but this is a whole different animal than anything I've yet experienced.

So this is what I plan to do. I want to name the complexity but not dwell in it. Everyone there will know that my father was complicated (something he took great pride in) so I don't need that to be the story. Instead I'd rather remember some of the simple, lovely, shining things we shared. Memories of stories and movies and the night sky.

It's taken me some time to come to this, some balancing between what happened, what I remember and what is True.

This is the job of story, isn't it. To sift through what happened and what we remember then arrive at a deeper truth. Even in the midst of complexity and sorrow, relief and grief, I can share gentle truths, let the harsher ones rest, and remember my father as the parent he wanted to be. I can give him that last gift.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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