I was given two sets of parents, and I consider that a gift. When I talk to people about my parents, I refer to them by the names I gave them early on; my dad, my pops, my ma, and my mom. I detest prefixes or exclusive titles, and the way some people refer to people in their lives. Assigning titles such as, “real” mom or dad, and “step” mom or dad. I also detest the way some people will stop me in the middle of my telling of a story to ask something like, “do you mean your real dad?” All four of my parents are “real” parents. They have each taught me lessons about life, all valuable lessons, and although some of those lessons were difficult I am thankful for each of them. People’s need to know the legal relationship of someone in my life often reminds me of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit.
I lost my Pops to suicide on August 13, 2016. My Pops has taught me many lessons since his death. Deep pain has a way of leveling the field, stripping away the inessentials, and making room for the discovery of what is most important in life. Going through this type of tragedy makes identifying your tribe painfully simple.
My dad has been in my life since my birth. My Pops has been in my life for the past twenty-plus years. I am the only daughter to both, and the only child to my Pops. My dad taught me the value of honesty and working hard to create a good life. My Pops taught me the importance of perseverance, humility, and that it’s possible to pick yourself up after a life-shattering fall and come out stronger on the other side. They have both been with me through critical times in my life. They have both loved me, supported me, pointed out things I could have done better, and cheered me on during times of struggle. They have both told me they were proud of my achievements, and they both hold a special place in my heart. Another thing they have both done and one of the most valuable lessons they taught me – by their actions – they both made room for the other in my life. Neither has ever spoken a bad word about the other, and I have always felt free to express my love for each of them without fear of hurting their feelings.
The past few days have been healing for me, in a way I needed to heal, and in perfect timing. My dad flew in on Monday to spend a few days with me before he and my husband left on a hunting trip. Tuesday it was just my dad and I. He planned on helping me fix several things around the house and yard. We made a list of stuff we needed and before we left to travel into town, I noticed two flowers had grown on a plant that was brought to my Pops memorial, one that now sits on my front porch. I cut the flowers and took them with us.
Our first stop once we entered town was the cemetery. My dad didn’t ask what we were doing; I suppose he knew. As my dad and I walked down the path toward Pops marker, we started talking about the past. I tended to the task at hand as we talked. After placing the flower into Pops vase, I stood up and began to walk away, but noticed that my dad stood in place in front of Pops space. I stopped, and my dad and I continued our conversation. I wish someone could have captured that moment in a photo – it will be forever etched in my memory. My two fathers; secure enough in their positions in my life to be at the same place, at the same time, to help me through this grief process. It was the most powerful moment of healing for me thus far. Ironically, as my dad was telling me that he felt he needed to apologize for things my mom has done, I realized that there were only two common denominators in both relationships; one is my mom and the other is me. One destroyed both men in a way, and the other hopefully made it worth going through that period of hell.
Gratitude comes in many forms, and it’s often a matter of perspective. I will always miss my Pops, and his absence will forever be a source of sadness. As bad as it hurts, I wouldn’t trade the pain for anything if it meant never having him in my life. I am grateful that I have a dad who is here to help me through the loss of my Pops. I’m grateful that my dad wants to know about the pain, is eager to be in this uncomfortable space with me, and will sit and listen to my silly stories about Pops. I am grateful that there is another person who speaks my Pops name with me, and I am beyond thankful that today the other person is my dad.
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
© R.J. Belle and Transfer Of Pain, 2017, 2016
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