In The Face of Trauma: Fatherless Daughter

Last month, my doctor asked if anything specific was triggering me. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything. Until a specific day came, and I broke down in tears for hours. It had been a long time since I’d allowed myself to do that. 😦

The majority of my breakdowns are quiet. Real quiet. As in, no one else ever knows they’re happening or suspects anything. They have no idea what to look for, either. They have no idea you’re struggling, and they say nothing to help you.

These breakdowns started in late 2002 when my father was in the hospital doing an experimental kidney cancer treatment. At the time, it was still a very rare type of cancer that few people had. He had already lost a kidney to cancer ten years prior. The treatment was via IV and he had to spend weeks on end in the hospital. The key side effects were that it could cause heart problems and/or worsen the cancer you already had. It did both. It took a pea sized tumor and turned it into a constant spread, which eventually became bone and brain cancer. One day, as he was leaving a doctor’s appointment, he turned to my brother and said, “Can you go upstairs and let the office know I’m going next door to the emergency room. I think I’m having a heart attack.”

I remember that phone call like it was yesterday. My whole body tenses up because I truly remember every word. My brother was so panicked and freaked out, and he needed me to do everything. He was frozen and upset, and those are normal reactions, but mine were the polar opposite. They still are. I remember speaking to doctors and surgeons, and making last-minute decisions because my father would have died if I hadn’t known what to do.

The reason my father put me in charge of everything is because he knew my reactions would be in correlation with his wishes. He knew I wouldn’t fall apart or be utterly incapable of speech, leave alone making important decisions in the moment. On occasion, I wish he’d thought I was a moron and laid the responsibility elsewhere. I remember someone implying that he’d made these decisions from a selfish place. I don’t feel that was it at all, but do I resent it at times? A little.

No matter how put together you could ever be, and I have always been wise beyond my years, making medical decisions on behalf of someone who is incapacitated is difficult. Even if they’d laid it all out for you, making the verbal calls is not easy. It’s emotionally taxing. Today is fourteen years since he passed away, and I can say this much; I’ve grown, I’ve changed, and I’m a different person. But am I healed? No. I’m scarred.

Interpersonal relationships are extremely difficult to navigate. To this day, I still don’t understand people the way I feel I should. I constantly find myself frustrated and disappointed in people. The more I feel this way, the less I want to interact with anyone, and it probably shows. I just don’t have a lot to offer certain types of people anymore, and I am learning to be okay with that.

After my father’s funeral, I couldn’t get out of bed for almost three months. I had always known he’d die young. I had always known he would not be present to see the celebratory moments in my life, or my brother’s. I knew he was leaving, and I even told him not to do the IV treatment because it would kill him. He told me he had to try, or he’d be sending his children the wrong message regarding how you fight to live. I still disagree with him, and always will. Intuition doesn’t lie, and when he first told me about it, I knew it was the beginning of the end. I just made sure I didn’t say it to my brother, because that would have been wrong, at the time.

All of this knowledge allowed me to write a eulogy which really paid tribute in an honest way. This sense of knowing failed me, though, because it distracted me from the fact that my mother was dying, and didn’t care. That’s a story for another day, but when I compound the mental and emotional trauma on top of the next set of trauma, which was more sudden, I wonder how I get out bed at all. I question myself daily, and far more than anyone else ever could. I legitimately have NO idea why I’m alive. I just don’t see a real purpose to it.

My mother raised two extraordinarily different children (I was easier; my brother tried to break her.). As adults, you can tell we’re siblings by the way we laugh at the same things, in the same way. My brother says I laugh like a villain, and I’ve also been told I have my father’s laugh. You can see us automatically know what the other is thinking by a mere a glance. On bad days, I will say I look exactly like my brother, except that I have hair (He’s going to be SO pissed when he sees this. He only laughed once when I sent him a hilarious photo which made us both laugh for days.), but in reality, that isn’t true. We’re as alike as we are different. He genuinely passes as ethnic, and it takes people a while to see that in me.

I promised myself a long time ago that I would break the sibling curse which I’ve watched plague my family. Some days, I think I’ve done a pretty good job, and other days I feel taken advantage of. On my end, the effort is present. I try. I know my parents and Grandparents can see that. I know I’m not bringing shame down upon them. Or at the very least, I try damn hard not to.

There will always be days when I question how you move past all of this. Not everyone is built the way I am. There are personality types which I will never understand as long as I live. They aren’t passionate about much, so death means very little to them. They don’t place a lot of value on life or the people in their lives, and it’s obvious by the revolving door I see in their relationships. I’m not like that. I have bras older than some people’s friendships, and many still have the tags on them. 😉 I’ve had some of the same friends for over twenty-five years and I don’t usually ditch people out of the blue. I’m loyal and honest to a fault, if nothing else.

The whole point of what I’m trying to say, and failing miserably, is that healing is different for everyone. I stopped talking about this day with my brother because then he’d stop speaking to me for a few months and that’s not conducive to any relationship. My closest friends really don’t care to listen (I get it; you’re busy. I, too, will be busy the next time you want to talk for five hours about anything. Blowing a friend off is NEVER cool, especially when you would flip out if I treated you that way.), and if someone does, they certainly haven’t communicated that to me. That’s fine. Truly. One of the good things about me is that I work a lot of shit out on my own. I’ve had to. So when my doctor tells me, “You show up for 99% of your appointments. You do the work. You’re growing and improving, and working on yourself for yourself. What’s great about you is that I don’t have to explain a lot to you, because you’re already ahead of it. You see it and you self-correct.”, I have to take that as a compliment. Usually I think he’s trying to boost my self-esteem, but then I look at the actual work and realize that yes, I did it by myself. He’s basically complimenting me for being a self-starter, but I would say some of that is my personality and the rest is nature versus nurture. It goes back to being the responsible party for things, to some extent.

If you know someone is strong and smart, most people will automatically worry less about them. I will never forget my mother saying, “I don’t worry about you because you’re strong, you’re smart, you’re intuitive, you work hard, and you’ll always land on your feet. I worry about your brother. He’s smart, he has great work ethic, but he doesn’t have your common sense or street smarts. I really worry about him.” All these years later I can assure her he finally has a modicum of common sense and a different set of street smarts. He’ll figure shit out on his own. Despite feeling like I’ve been an excellent role model, my brother has the personality type that wants to learn the hard way. It drives me insane, but you cannot change the core of most people.

I’ve done my level best to look out for my brother, and my family in general. Not everyone listens to me, so I’ve decided to stop giving advice and focus on myself. I’ve invested in myself a lot over the past year and that will continue into 2022 and beyond. I am taking my business sense and everything I was taught, and aiming for more.

Ladies, it is perfectly okay to want more out of life. It is okay to do things differently. It is okay to do things in your own time and space. It is okay to say no to things you don’t want because you see what you do want, and it’s all well within your reach. Stop letting small people tell you your worth, or that you can only achieve great things by doing it the way they think it should be done. Fuck that attitude! Not everything in life in forever, but your achievements will always be your own. No one can can touch that, so please, don’t let them.

Please speak for yourselves. Speak loudly for those who are afraid, right now, to use their voice. Don’t let situations or people diminish you. Remember who you are at the beginning and end of each day. There will always be days when you don’t want to be strong, because you’re exhausted. Allow yourself to rest, to rejuvenate, and give yourself permission to heal from anything and everything.

Go forth, trauma and all, and make someone proud. Even if it’s your deceased father who probably wouldn’t care that much. But in truth, know that you’re really doing it for yourself. The future truly IS female.

copyright © 2021 by Lisa Marino & Poison In Lethal Doses, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Poison In Lethal Doses®™ is a registered trademark.

The Dark Days

I’ve kept an extremely low profile the past few days. For starters, I am still fighting off an infection. It’s draining me terribly. My brain understood I really needed to shovel snow yesterday, but my body sent me back to bed because I couldn’t keep my head up or my eyes open. I was battling a migraine, chronic pain, and a damn infection. My body can only handle so much right now. Second, today is the thirteenth anniversary of my father’s death, and it is fresh in my mind. I’ve needed the rest I’ve managed to get, but it doesn’t wash my mind clean.

I have often told people that when I speak from experience and from no need to, “please anyone”, it stems from being an adult orphan. You are never fully prepared to lose your parents, no matter your age, or theirs. I only have to make myself proud, because no one else is as invested in me as my parents and grandparents were. It is sad that even in 2020, people still make it clear that they don’t appreciate me in any way. There’s nothing I plan on doing about the issues of others. It isn’t my responsibility, and it likely has nothing to do with me, personally. In 2021, I’d like to take things a lot less personally

I’ve always been clear that my father and I were not close or on the best of terms during the course of my life. I come from an abusive home and background, and I am trying hard to make sure the next generation is not affected by this. It was maybe in the final years of his life that he was able to appreciate me. As a person, as a daughter, as the responsible member of the family.

Each year, as I revisit the losses I’ve endured in my life, I also try to keep the good memories alive in my heart. And yet, these are still dark days for me. It’s hard to, “celebrate” a life half-lived. Any time someone dies and they are older than my parents were at the times of their deaths, I don’t have much to offer. It’s a sympathy card, a fruit basket, something I know anyone in mourning can appreciate, but sometimes I want to say, “He was 95. He lived his life.” I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, but in a, “It was an inevitability.” type of statement, yet I tend to keep that to myself 99.9% of the time.

It’s taken me a while to realize I am choosing to lack empathy and compassion at times. It’s something I’m consciously doing on nearly every dark day. I am not trying to take anyone’s private pain away from them, as much as I am choosing to embrace a fact in my life to keep me from going off the deep end.

I was not shown a whole lot of compassion or empathy after losing my father, and then my mother. I received such things in tiny doses. And I’m not going to lie; it’s important to grieve until you can feel yourself slowly start to heal. Until you no longer feel completely shattered. It does not happen overnight.

My dark day is now a dark night, and I am trying to keep myself calm as I approach the anniversary of the funeral and everything that occurred after the fact. It’s not “dwelling on the past”, as much as it is hoping for a better future.

Sometimes It’s The Retelling That Sucks

Saturday afternoon someone asked me what I was doing for Father’s Day. I had actually forgotten that Father’s Day was coming up, so this conversation was yet another reminder for me regarding the fact that my father has been gone for ten and a half years. Somehow, my brain just wasn’t absorbing this holiday. Even today, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it if someone in the grocery store hadn’t been discussing lobsters for her husband’s “Father’s Day cookout”. It legitimately went in one ear and out the other. I didn’t fully grasp it until late in the day.

Having to reply to the question, “What are you doing tomorrow for Father’s Day?” meant rehashing a wound. I blinked and said “Nothing. My father’s been dead ten and a half years.” The person automatically apologized, but the question didn’t bother me. It was the thoughts the question conjured up; those bothered me.

My father was not good at accepting gifts. One year we gave him a watch. He desperately needed a new one and it was given with a full heart, but he tried it on and flat-out told us to return it. I remember thinking “Wow. He can’t appreciate anything we do for him.” Because for years, my father would reject whatever we did for him. One year I got him a movie he asked for. I had actually pre-ordered it so he’d be able to enjoy it immediately on release day. About a week or so later I asked “Did you like it? Was it good?” A few days later, it arrived in the mail. I was not pleased. When I questioned him about this he said “I’ve seen it once. I won’t watch it again. Enjoy.” I was utterly dumbfounded. It didn’t matter what the gift was; there was always some sort of rejection attached to it. For me, someone who LOVES to give gifts, it was a slap in the face. I reached a point where I would only agree to cook a nice meal for him if he was choosing to visit.

A few years before he passed away, I got him tickets to a New York Yankees game in Philly as a Father’s Day gift, even though the game would be roughly two months later, if memory serves me correctly (I still have the ticket stubs somewhere.). I scored excellent seats, mainly because no one was attending Phillies games at the time, but being in close proximity to New York, there was a lovely mixed crowd of sports fans. Surprisingly enough, my Dad made the trip out to spend the weekend and we went to the game together. I had additional tickets, but my brother didn’t want to go.

When we got there, batting practice was still going on, so we got to enjoy it. Jimmy Rollins, I want you to know that my father’s first comment during that game was “The shortstop for the Phillies is an absolute STAR. He’s an incredible infielder.” He was so impressed. It was the truth. My father called it; Jimmy would go on to win a World Series with the Phillies in 2008 and was traded in 2014. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw that Gabe Kapler is the Phillies current manager, but I digress…

It was a blisteringly hot day, and my “perfect” seats were in direct sun the entire afternoon. Halfway through the game my father said “Now I know why I like my baseball at home.”, which I understood. He had gone to games as a kid, but he wasn’t well, and he thought he was masking this from everyone, but he was the worst liar.

We left the game early, worn out and badly sunburned. For me to get burned is a testament to how intense the sun was that day. I was completely covered in sunscreen and had a hat on. My father, in the midst of battling cancer, only wore sunscreen to pacify me and purchased a Phillies hat once he saw how necessary it was. My father, who never donned a single article of non-New York sports attire. It’s pretty funny when I think about it now. It was even funnier because he brought a hat back for my brother from the game. He threw it back at him and declared “I can’t be SEEN IN THAT!” My brother now works in and around Philly and cheers for Philly teams. I pretend not to know him when he does this. I currently live in Massachusetts, but you won’t ever catch me cheering for the Red Sox. Some things are sacrilegious.

A few years later, my father would be gone, less than two years after his brother passed away, also due to cancer. That day at the ballpark is one of the most prominent memories I carry because it wasn’t a negative experience. For maybe the second time in my entire life, that day, he was just a father with his daughter. I’m sorry my brother chose to pass on the experience, but maybe there was some cosmic reasoning involved.

Father’s Day opens up wounds for me. This year, I choose to put what I can behind me and move forward. Believe me, the last thing I need is another reminder.    

copyright © 2018 Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.