I'm writing this on Sunday, Father's Day. I just returned from visiting my folks, about 2 hours away. It seems that whenever the kids and I visit our extended family, especially on holidays, we end up having a debriefing of our thoughts and emotions on the ride home.
Before I start, let me share with you my own reactions to days such as this.
I love my family, and enjoy being around them. We always have a really good time, but at the same time, it is always a reminder of what I no longer have. All of them are married, and without thinking, they often begin describing what each spouse did, or bought, for them for whatever holiday we are celebrating. I sit there hoping none of them ask what I received for the holiday, as it is usually nothing. This isn't meant to be a sob story, just the dynamic of how things go down when you are widowed, or a single parent. And, like usual, nobody did ask me. So I sit there, forced to witness my perception of their idealistic life.
Tonight as I was driving, my 13 year old began talking about how he feels very jealous of all of his friends' families. He was explaining how they all seem so happy, and that they all get along so well. I reminded him that what he is witnessing is how those families act when a guest is present, which isn't necessarily how things are during private family time. At the same time, I tried to honor the reality of his perception.
I let him know that yes, our family has probably had more challenges than most. First, each of my children were born from a mother who had a severe substance abuse problem. So even prior to their birth, there were some givens as to the challenges up ahead for them. Next, within a two year period they learned of their birth mother's death, their step father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he later died. I also pointed out that up until 21 months ago, we had a full house. He had two loving parents, a big sister and an older brother, all under one roof. Now he finds himself living in a new home, with only his grieving father. His sister and older brother no longer live at home. What was a very noisy and busy home, is now a very quiet home for the most part.
My son then went on to share about how sad he feels at times. An example he shared was that recently his friend's pet rat had died. When he learned of this he began to cry. He said he felt like something was wrong with him, because it wasn't his pet, and it was just a rat. I reminded him of all the loss he has experienced, and how because of that he is always going to have a deeper response to any loss. I explained how a small, insignificant occurrence, can trigger these underlying emotions. He seemed to understand what I was explaining.
Later, after discussing many other things on his mind, I reminded him that given all that we have been through, that we are doing fairly well. I told him that I would try harder to bring joy into our home. I also acknowledged that I, as his father, have changed considerably since losing Michael. Right away he nodded his head, "yes, dad, you have changed." I reminded my son that I, and we as a family, are getting better, but that it will take more time.
How I wish things were different. I too catch myself looking at others around me, and wonder why they got the ideal life, and I got this one. More and more, I remind myself that no one's life is perfect, and everyone has their challenges. Yet even as I say this, I can't help but notice that there is not a single sound in the house, and since my son went to bed, not a soul to speak to.
Not so easy, is it?