Posted by: AgingChild | June 8, 2008

Reflections on Grief, part 2 (an ongoing study)

Yesterday Spartacus and I continued batting our kids around – metaphorically, that is… although some days it’s tough not to reach for the peach switch… or aluminum Louisville.

Sparks responded to my email that formed the crux of yesterday’s posting here:

—–Original Message—–
From: ”Spark” le Klaus []
Saturday, June 07, 2008 1:59 PM

To: A. Gene Childe
Subject: Re: Graduates, and Granulates

My heart bleeds for you, it really does. “What do women want?” is never rhetorical when asked by a man with a broken heart.

Re our daughters growing up–somehow we have to figure out a way to come to terms that we will never again be as big a part of their lives as we once were–and that part is shrinking daily. I haven’t gone through as much of the process as you, so I can only hope naively that their future success and happiness will help mitigate the pain I will feel. From what you’ve told me of Portia, it sounds like she has her head on straight–that’s gotta be reassuring to you.

Last night at a Community Gala I reconnected with a neighbor. Danny is a very nice guy, easy to talk to, but we have very widely divergent interests so we never really connected beyond exchanged pleasantries. Nevertheless, he unloaded on me last night–it was obvious he is in pain and just needed someone to talk to.

Sparta explained that Dan is a single parent, with custody of his youngest two kids (as I had of Shellie); his oldest has been out of the house for some years. I can’t give the details; let it suffice to explain that one of his children is now being raised by his ex, since the extreme demands and heartaches this one was causing threatened to make it impossible to raise the youngest in anything like a good, “normal” home. The child with the ex is only worsening in behavior, while the youngest was this year’s valedictorian, an honor-laden, recognized young scholar.

Danny was in tears as he told me this. He said he feels like a failure as a parent for what happened with his middle child. Wow, what do you say to something like that? I told him he should be proud of his youngest and continue to be available for the middle and to hope that s/he turns him/herself around–some people just have to sort things out on their own, however painful it may be. Dan knows this, having already gone through something similar with his oldest, first one–the kid apologized for putting the family through hell in his teenage years, and is now working with Danny.

It’s the kids who are lost, floundering and blindly reaching out for something, anything to give their lives meaning–those are the ones you really have to worry about.

Take care my friend! Everything is going to be alright.


I answered him:

Again, thank you, sir – I’m getting there. No danger of opening a vein; I know it gets better from here: I’ve been down this path before, and could map the route for anyone interested. Still, last night, if I lived within a quick trot of the Grand Canyon, there were a few despairing moments I just might have seized the impulse to leap in and splash my scanty grey matter over all the lovely rocks. Selfish, defeatist, and stupid; utterly unseeing of the far greater pain and ruination doing that would bring, those moments.

They passed, of course, as I knew they would. Mantras from the years behind me came up: “I have to get over this some time, why not now?”, “Do the next thing”, “Don’t stop moving”, and all that. My most recent one is from a Catholic devotion promulgated by His (recent/late) Holiness, John Paul II: “Jesus, I trust in you.” It’s also one of two ace-cards up my robe come Judgment Day: “Jesus, I trusted you.” (The other, of course, being to immediately throw myself on the mercy of the Court… which I understand the Court has, in – uh – spades. I may manage to ace it before the King.)

Well, I was improving enough to start punning… definitely a good sign. I went on:

Another spiritual response, one I didn’t think of last night but wish I had, is also primarily a Catholic one: Offer it up. That is, turn it over to God/Jesus to put to good spiritual use. I mean, positing a Messiah – God incarnate – suffering for our sake (taking on himself our cumulative karma – through all of human history – in order to free us of the incurred spiritual debt from being such total jerks and idiots)… couldn’t He make use of my own, tiny agony in the same way? Use it to erase some idiot’s debt? He’s welcome to it.

Perhaps in answer to these prayers, my mind at bedtime was able on its own to transform that “Pomp and Circumstance” into Sly and the Family Stone’s “Summertime Is Here”… really! So I clung to and listened to that over and over in my head, allowed some images of Portia and Pauli to do as they wished, their voices talking animatedly and laughing, as they often do.

I’m not trying to weather a death here, of course, nor a breakup. When Portia was about half this age, she did have some issues with the concept of sharing, not wanting her sister to get into her stuff. Pauli floored me – and shut up Portia – with the awesome, very sensible line: “It’s still yours.”

Portia’s still mine.

Do see the afterward to the blog-posting I put up this afternoon, built around our earlier email today: Portia reached out and hugged me this morning, all the way from Massachusetts (she and proud mom – did I say this already? – are checking out the campus up there this weekend).

Back to kids growing up: the pain as they leave us is (among other things) confirmation of the deep love grown between parent and child. Pauli admitted yesterday that she herself had been a similar – but weepier – wreck over this on Thursday, the day before our girl’s graduation.

When Shellie was a new baby, I was too naïve to understand the crucial distinction of “full honesty” versus “total disclosure”. Follow? Tell only true things, but you needn’t say everything that’s true – this is a rule for living I’d first read (in entirely different words) some three decades ago, but only in the last few years have come to grasp, understand, and try more consciously to put into practice.

So I told Beej – Shellie’s mom – at the time that I wasn’t sure I loved our baby… and this really hurt Beej. I was being honest, but saying too much. Meanwhile, she by instinct, reflex, and new-mother biochemistry of course loved our daughter. And I found myself wondering whether I ever would.

Not a problem, of course. Shellie is my world.

Ditto thus with Portia. Never have I for a moment held against her, even the least bit nonconsciously, the never-fully-soothed hurt I still bear, over Pauli and I failing repeatedly to pull and keep it together. (One of our fates, I’ll always believe, was that we were supposed to marry. Fortunately the Fates don’t settle for just one future for each of us.) Instead, as I said – either in that last email, or my blog, or both – it’s become and been a great, deep consolation for me that in our daughter Pauli and I are indeed united perfectly, and forever. (Ditto thus with Shellie and Beej, for that matter.)

Reaching out helps, obviously – as you and your friend Danny see. I feel for the man; Shellie’s turned out different from how she seemed she would, half her own lifetime ago. But I love and respect her (even while wringing my inner hands over some of her personal choices), and find her and her stories to be delightful and always quite-welcome company.

I wish I had some good insights for Dan about his middle kid. But it does seem to be his own consolation and hope that kid will do the same as the oldest has done… though of course at an earlier age. He can’t do anything more than just love this problem-child, and support his ex-wife as the other parent. They don’t have to unite in heart to unite in cause; Pauli and I did that successfully, though admittedly the challenges were nowhere nearly as great as those Danny and his ex continue wrestling with. Do be his friend.

And over the last decade-plus, I have most consciously done all I can from my end to encourage a much deeper bond between Beej and Shellie. It was never weak, but much time apart did little to nurture and encourage it. And especially since she went off to college, exactly such a wonderful rapprochement has happened, and I’m so happy. It brings me much peace, and erases so much of the ills that passed between me and her mother for such a long time.

Pauli and I never had problems like that, so – as long as our own hearts for each other were kept separate from this – we’ve been lockstep allies as Portia’s parents. It’ll simply eat away at me the rest of my life that I wasn’t there with her every day. (With Portia, I mean. But I miss Pauli, too.)

But we survived; must remember that. We survived. Most especially Portia; everything else is second to that.

She’s still mine.

More later; ciao bello!


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