Over 10 years ago I lost my father to addiction.
I remember realizing my phone was actually ringing and it wasn’t in a dream. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the time and that it was my grandmother calling. I remember her voice as she told me to go get my mother. I remember being scared to go wake up my mom but knocking and shaking her anyways. I could hear my grandmother through the phone tell my mom, “He’s dead. Eddie died.”
And that was that. The rest moves so fast. The family gathers, you have a week of crying and planning services and reminiscing. Things like this bring life to a halt and everyone together.
But only for a short time.
What lingers is the grief, the heartbreak. What lingers on top of the grief when your parent dies because of their addiction is anger, disappointment and guilt.
“What lingers on top of the grief when your parent dies because of their addiction is anger, disappointment and guilt.”
Children of addict parents aren’t strangers to these feelings. In fact, we know them well. Our childhoods are marked with unfulfilled promises, prison visits and being stood up. But we have always had hope that things will get better. That our parents won’t always be “sick.”
Once they die, the hope is gone. The severity of the disease becomes evident to our once optimistic selves.
Some of us follow that same sad, repetitive path, blaming genetics and circumstances for the plight of our lives. Some of us, use our experience to make better life choices. To learn from the despair and decide to not give into the temptation of numbing our feelings. Some of us, somewhere in between.
Now that I am a parent, I feel a certain sadness for my younger self. As if we aren’t the same person. I can now see things without the filtered of eyes of a child trying to be too old and too tough for her breeches. I feel sad when I re-read the piles of letters from prison my father sent me over the years. They are all filled with “I’m sorry” and “Things will be different when I am home this time”. It is sad to imagine my younger self reading them and believing them. And it is sad for me now, knowing those things will never be true.
Now that I am a parent, I also feel a certain sadness for my father. A different level of understanding than I had before. I believe when he wrote those letters, that he was sober and he meant everything he said. I think he really wanted those things to be true. He was sorry for the choices he had made and he did want to do better. He had to have. I can’t imagine, as a parent, when he was finally sober that reality crashing down on him was at all easy to cope with.
“Now that I am a parent, I also feel a certain sadness for my father. A different level of understanding than I had before.”
I also feel sad for my father because my memories of him are more of the bad times than the good. I feel guilty that I can’t remember him in the way perhaps, that his cousins and friends can. I don’t want to remember my father as a drug addict but I can’t really remember far enough back to appreciate when he wasn’t.
I wish I could know my father now that I am an adult. I wish I could have had more honest conversations with him. To hear him talk to me as an equal and express his thoughts on life, the universe, the afterlife, what he wanted to be when he was younger, what his childhood was like… all of that stuff. I wish we could argue over politics and I wish he could have kicked the asses of some of the boys I have dated.
I wish he could see how I turned out.
It has taken me 11 years to sit down and try to put to paper my feelings about losing my father to a disease that I never recognized as one. It is now, that I have my own child, that I accept the severity of addiction.
It must be one hell of a fight to risk missing out on seeing your child grow up.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grievedifferently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.