What About Hope?
I know of a man that died recently. He was three months shy of turning one-hundred and one.
He was an alcoholic.
Born in 1915 after the advent of the first world war, he lived through the Depression, the second world war, and the terrorists’ attacks on September 11th, 2001.
The man who died, lived one full century of the twenty-one centuries we’ve lived on this earth.
He outlived two wives, and in more recent years I thought he might outlive his ten children, but only one preceded him in death – my twin brother, Mark.
The man who died was my father and all that history stuff, is what one writes in reference to an un-lived life.
Like many families, we grew up talking about everything but what was really going on.
I wanted to have a relationship with my father, but it had to be based on truth, so I decided it was time to clear the air, to address his alcoholism and the abuse that it manifested.
That was almost twenty years ago; it didn’t go well. He wanted nothing to do with me from that point forward, but it was cathartic. I thought my problems were over.
Little did I know, they were just beginning.
I had a couple more years of my own drinking to do; more bottoms to hit.
As disjointed memories continued to whittle away my spirit, my drinking got progressively worse.
Dreams for a better life, one that wishes to find inner peace and contentment and the simplicity that an authentic life can bring, faded further into the shadows.
I was just like my father – at least in my drinking.
I wasn’t living; I was barely surviving, and the more I reached outside of myself to find what I thought I was missing, the more I drank.
I couldn’t bare the thought of admitting that I was just like him.
For so long, alcohol had been a great way to cover up the pain that I had passively endured in my life, but when the alcohol wore off, the pain was still there.
With each episode, the pain felt more acute and impenetrable; the repercussions of my behavior more irreparable.
I didn’t understand that drinking was merely a symptom of what was going on.
It was my thinking that was the problem and the behavior that followed my thinking.
It was my thinking that brought me to this dark place and dictated the choices I made, but the choices were all mine. The alcohol just made me forget that – temporarily.
I would never understand it, until it literally became a matter of life and death – my own.
Fortunately, after years in recovery, I’ve learned the true meaning of responsibility, of forgiveness and compassion, and that making amends is a gift that’s given without the expectation of receiving anything – including acceptance – in return.
While I left nothing unsaid in that twenty-year-old conversation with my father and ended up living only ten minutes away, I was able to tell him on that now distant day that I loved him; that we all missed out as a family, and that I wished him peace in his life.
He never reached out.
Strange and surreal, I’d occasionally see him at the local grocery store.
I even tailed him once a few years ago; heart pumping, hands shaking, I followed him around the store taking out-of focus pictures.
I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, but proceeded with great fervor.
I even held the door open as he left the store, but there was no acknowledgement. I could see it in his eyes.
I still didn’t exist as a daughter, but I didn’t exist as a polite stranger either.
Surviving this encounter with my father was painless by comparison, but the feeling of never belonging in the world was still an intricate part of my everyday life.
Feeling underserving was engrained in my cells, infused in my fibers, but surviving this experience?
It just meant deleting out-of-focus photos from the memory of my phone.
It was symbolic, I like to think.
But all I could think when I heard the news of his passing, was Stephen Hawking’s quote: “Where there is life, there is hope” and the sliver that I must have secretly held onto was gone.
As hard as I had worked to heal, hope was gone for good.
Like a carpet being snatched from underneath me, hope was being snatched from within me, but this time – the void and self-loathing that felt so colossal most of my life was as thin as the sliver of hope that dissipated in his death.
I’m oddly impressed by his stubbornness, but pray his soul is soft and at peace.
One of my brothers, who spoke at the wake invited anyone who wanted to speak to do so.
How could my siblings, or I, reconcile our individual identities and come together to stand with the family we were born into?
My brother was bravely and publicly acknowledging the dark side of my family – my father’s alcoholism.
I was shocked.
He was opening up a world of vulnerabilities, a world of possibilities; building a bridge that might somehow be strong enough to support all of us in our healing at any access point, and, for generations to come.
Was it a glimmer of hope? The invitation I didn’t know I’d been waiting for?
I became more determined to send this guy off without a single regret.
Instead of jumping out of my skin, I jumped out of my seat like a heat-seeking missile and found myself standing at the front of the room.
I would find my voice.
In the end, it’s not about obligation, it’s about inspiration, so I let love be the last word, blaming him for nothing and thanking him for everything.
What else is there, if not gratitude?
I understand more as a parent now how I can only teach what I know and do the best I can with the information I have. I need to love my kids through everything and try to forgive as unconditionally as I hope to love and be loved because Love is the only thing that matters.
Love is the only thing Absolute.
But what about Hope?
That’s a word I’ve only used to describe the future.
What happens when there’s no hope of changing the past and no word to describe the future? When the sliver of hope that you didn’t even know you had slips away.
Does hope spring eternal, or is it just a fairy tale?
What happens next, is wildly uncertain.
I have faith…
…and my sobriety.
THAT gives me hope, one day at a time.
Until next week,
Cheers to finding a little humor in our journeys, and to family and friends who believe in us until we can believe in ourselves.
Photo Credit: Me
Mo, I knew most of this, but not about your own struggle. You are brave to share all of this, as it goes on more than we realize, and people will know they are not alone when they read it. I love you.
I appreciate your words more than I can say; makes me feel like I’m not alone too, so thank you for affirming that for me! I love you too. Sending big hugs and lots of strength to you guys.
This is beautiful and hopeful for you. I knew your dad was an alcoholic, but never kew the extent of your pain and suffering. I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend to you, perhaps when you needed it most. I hope you continue to gain strength from your choices and family, and from the love you give and receive from others. I hope we can spend some time together in this next few decades left and have a few laughs and cries, and whatever else life has in store for us.
Thank you for sharing a part of you and for the gift of realizing that love is all we can give each other, especially our children. Not always easy in the day to day, but definitely the intention. AS a parent now, I realize that our own parents had a life, were young children, and may have suffered many ups and downs themselves, some not even known to us. Peace to you my friend. xoxox – Susan
Aww, thanks Susan. This is so touching. Thank you. One never knows what’s really going on, so we just do the best we can, with kindness hopefully. How wonderful now to be reconnected and to see each other and our growing families occasionally. I remember thinking the same thing about my mom, but it was more: “whatta ya mean you a life? I’m the center of the universerv!” Haaaaa Looking forward to seeing you in the not to distant future! xoxox
How honest and heartfelt! That’s what we all want…hope! My dad says a happy life requires 3 things…..Someone to love, something to do and something to hope for! I try to keep that in mind myself!
Gay, just found this and another one of your comments in my spam. 🙁 So glad I checked! (Hopefully, they won’t end up there anymore!) Thank you for reading and commenting. Both your mom and dad emailed recently to share some thoughts on my writing and teaching at the library recently. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness. I love what your dad says: someone to love, something do, and something to hope for… xoxo
Thanks for sharing such a personal and inspirational story, Mo. I constantly remind myself that when other people shun me or purposely hurt me, that it’s not about me. It’s always about them. But that doesn’t always make it hurt less. I’m so proud of you for being able to stay in a place of loving, and to be a great role model for your own children.
Thanks, Scott. You’re right. I was surprised that I felt anything when I heard the news, so I guess there was that sliver of hope that left room for the hurt – to heal by the time I got up to speak. I don’t have any excuses for anything anymore! 🙂 Appreciate you reading and commenting. Thank you!!!!
From the heart…love you.
Thanks, Sher, and for always be there to support! Love you!
I’ve been sober since 1985, the year my dad finally admitted to my brother and me that he was an alcoholic. Isn’t denial incredibly amazing?! He was not as stubborn as your dad and he made small attempts to tackle his illness. But in the end (the last 20 years of his life) he stayed sober only by applying willpower to keep from drinking. But I know the heartbreak of never getting to have the relationship you wanted. And I took my therapist’s advice and journaled about that. And I wrote the letter never sent. But that’s how I was able to talk to dad: spirit to spirit, soul to soul. (There is no distance between souls.) I still do. Does he hear me? If I told you that I know he does and why I know, well, you’d have to have the same experience to believe mine. My dad sacrificed a lot so that I might one day wake up and realize I was self-medicating just like him. It all clicked on that day he confessed his alcoholism.
WOW! Amazing, Jerry. Thank you so much for sharing this! I can totally relate, obviously. Yes, denial is an incredible coping mechanism for sure! I love your idea that there is no distance between souls – I believe that too. We’re all just trying to figure life out. Can’t wait to talk more. 🙂
Beautiful Mo! And I love you inside and out!!❤️
Aww, thanks, Dee! So happy and blessed that you guys are part of our journey! You’ve given us some of our greatest memories and good laughs! Here’s to the long haul, which is a big crap shoot! LOL xoxoxo
Mo, I felt your pain, agony, hurt, desperation in trying to heal in this blog. I guess I didn’t realize how badly you were still hurting. I am so sorry for not being more intuitive, or in tune to your raw pain. Your father died and I sent you a card not really knowing what to write inside. I remembered the story of your twin brother’s death and the alcoholism and the tears we shed in these memories. Please accept my sincere sympathy, love, and friendship. You are one amazing woman and your future holds a novel with this story in it. This is what I hope for you. Jenny
My dear, Jenny,
You are in tune; you always have been, so don’t think for one minute that your sweet card, your prayers and good thoughts could ever fall short in any way. No one ever really knows what to say, and I never expect anything, so your card meant the world to me, truly.
I’ve also had some time to process – twenty years – 🙂 so when it came time to write this, I had some distance, which I hope helped me find a balance in the writing/telling it. The scariest part was putting my own addiction “out there” in a larger way, but it felt like the right time – it felt freeing and unapologetic and respectful of someone (my father) who is part of how I came to be the person I AM today. Thank you for taking the time to write here and for being one of the people who has always supported me, near and far. xoxoxo
1 Corinthians 13.
You’re in good hands, Mo.
I love that I can always rely on you for, well, basically everything, but for always being able to give me a Bible verse to look up!
1 Corinthians 13: So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
So basically, I’ve rewritten the Bible. 🙂
I jest, OF COURSE, but I feel grateful to be reminded of this because it doesn’t really matter what religion, or race, or creed, etc. – the greatest is love, and the older I get, the truer it feels. Thanks for your support and reassurance. xoxoxo
Big hugs to you, my dear! xoxox
Thanks, Barb!!! Back atcha. 🙂 xoxoxo
Very proud of you! Well written and powerful..
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us…
Your heart is bigger than anyone I know.
Thanks, sweetie. Couldn’t do it without you. xoxox
I’ve heard parts of this story, your story, and I find I don’t tire of hearing it.
I didn’t know, or maybe I did and just didn’t realize that you were a drinker too. Wow, Mo, what an incredible person you are! You’re an inspiration.
Did you happen to read the article in this week’s new Yorker – the writer’s relationship with his now deceased mother? Sometimes we don’t or can’t fully appreciate people until they’re gone (tho it seems you extracted what you could from your dad) and then someone else so eloquently sums it up.
Anyway, I wonder if someone will come along and talk about your father in a way you didn’t know about him. I’m rambling! Love your writing 🙂
THANK YOU, Beth. You are so sweet and I appreciate your comment more than I can say.
There was a woman who did help care for my father at the end, who, just by coincidence, I happen to know through mutual friends in town. She spoke at his wake. It was interesting to hear her perspective – nothing but kindness. I was glad to hear it – made me think how true it is that we sometimes hurt the ones we love, but I was glad for him that he had a loving caretaker. Everyone deserves to be treated kindly and with dignity, most especially in the end.
In so many situations I think: Is he/she capable? Is he/she willing? In my father’s case he was neither (at least not with me) but my lack of relationship has helped me to be a better parent, and I guess, a better person; I have him to thank for that.
I would love to read that article in the New Yorker – send link if you can?
Where is the humor? There are tears running down my face. Very well written!
Awwwwww, Janet! I didn’t mean to make you cry. Just imagine if you had been tailing me, tailing my father – there’s a comedy skit right there! I actually did crack up a few times, thinking – this is my life – what else can ya do, but laugh. Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate it so much. 🙂