The last two days I couldn’t breathe. Tears came when I watched a comedy on television. Unaware at the time of what it was, I surfed ads for a puppy. Or, make that two puppies. Two dogs in the house would be good. They’d fill the quiet with laughter. Maybe I should sign up for a class. Where could I go? What could I do? What could I get? Then I woke to this meme on Facebook. Today, I won’t think about any of those things. They are all part of the avoidance of my grief. It’s only been a week since my daughter’s memorial service. It feels like a lifetime ago. It seems like yesterday. It feels bad. But today, I will endure. I will accept the new me, a new life, that won’t include her.
I was born into a world of secret keeping. It still comes naturally for me. But I’ve learned that with secret keeping comes isolation, lack of trust, and paranoia. Writing my memoir was the beginning of breaking the cycle. It has not been easy. There have been consequences, as well as good things: I was able to write my last post about the death of my daughter. I never could have done that before.
I mostly kept my daughter a secret from others–as though she didn’t exist–ever since she became a teenager. I felt shame for the choices she made and that I couldn’t stop her or help her. I blamed myself and felt others would, too. I’ve since learned that when you share what has caused you the most pain, those are the things others will relate to. We all need to hear of the human experience at large. We find out we aren’t alone in our suffering.
Angela took her last breath at 4:17 a.m. last Sunday morning. Forty-six years old, mother of five, she was my daughter.
We had a tumultuous relationship ever since she was a little girl. I blamed it on our broken home–her father and I first separating when she was just a year old. By the time she was seven, she had begun seeking attention by being ‘sick’– wanting her arm put in a sling because it hurt, insisting on crutches because she couldn’t walk, begging to go to the emergency room when there was nothing wrong. She was 11 the first time I found hidden alcohol bottles in her bedroom. I sought counseling for both of us only she wouldn’t go. I took years of parenting classes, desperate to fix whatever I might be doing wrong.
Angie’s first suicide attempt came at age 14, thus beginning many years in mental health units for her self-destructive behavior. Through it all, she remained loved as her stepfather and I fought to get services to help our daughter.
She cut me out of her life one last time six years ago. I eventually accepted there would be no chance of reconciliation. But then, two weeks ago, I got a text from her. She had gotten accepted into a rehab center where she could recover from alcohol and pain medicine addiction and get her life where she wanted it–to be happy. Two days later she was taken to the hospital: organ failure. I was able to get to the hospital and talk with her for a few hours, take a few photos of her, and we expressed our love. The next morning all feeding and fluid tubes were removed, and she began palliative (comfort only) care.
In her final week, I sat and watched her chest heave with the gradual reduction in respirations. I was so thankful we’d had a final goodbye. How tortured I would have been had we not. Now I don’t need to torment myself, as I have the last forty years, about what went wrong with the beautiful girl I was so very happy to have brought into the world. Was it a broken home, mental illness, did I do something to cause this little girl have such a miserable life? None of that matters now. In the end, we said I love you many times. That will have to carry me through.