Death is Complicated

Me (7 years old), Travis (4 years old), Steve Trulove (27 years old). We are wearing matching clothes (aren’t they adorable?!) made by my mom, who at the time of this photo had already escaped my father and was in California.

For some reason I took a look at my COVID Journal this morning. You guys remember my OYL posts (I’m gonna do a few more eventually) that drew from the journal I began during the pandemic? Well the journal ended up holding much much more from my life than I included here in the blog. Notes about online dating, and things going on with friends, and petty gripes and valid gripes and rants about how I can’t believe how stupid people can be, and a whole lot of stuff that I’d rather keep off my blog because it’s not helpful and also makes me look bad. I mean, it makes me look like the human I actually am.

I read the entry for October 12 exactly one year ago, and was shocked at how important it was. Not the whole thing, I actually blabbed on about a lot of Covid stuff, then one paragraph said, “My dad died.” And yeah, I had forgotten about that. My dad died last year. And my estranged brother started speaking to me again. This is what I wrote:

October 12, 2020 – exactly one year ago today: “My dad died at some point not too long ago. I found out from my brother Tanner, who found out from Cousin Dave. That’s weird. So I told my other brother Travis, who thought he was being slighted because someone told me and not him. But I set him straight – no, we just have a weird family. And oh. Did I mention that I’m talking to Travis and Bridget again? Fucking 2020. I swear to god it’s all madness. …OK, I checked in with Aunt Judy and he died September 28. I don’t know at what time, or from what. No one’s told me anything. I decided that with Pa gone, I felt safe, and was ready to go to the service. I worked it out with Tara’s dad to watch my house. I checked with Trav yesterday and neither of us has heard anything about a service. Weird.

My dad was verbally abusive to me all my life (a classic narcissist), and his parenting style could be described as “neglect,” and I did not want to be around him while he was alive, even while he was dying. Maybe it was because I would not go to him that my Aunt – who was caring for him – thought I didn’t want to know that he died. But with him unable to inflict more pain, I was ready to go and pay my respects and mostly to be there for my family, whom I knew would be mourning. But Travis and I never heard a thing, and so I guess there was no service, which is appropriate for a pandemic.

Is it coincidence that I decided to read my journal today, and am reminded that exactly a year ago today I learned that my Pa died? I don’t think so.

I think it is time for me to process my relationship with him some more. Having a parent die and being relieved and grateful for it is a difficult and complicated emotional state. I had to reach out to friends for help with processing my guilt. And it’s something I couldn’t talk to my brothers about, since they didn’t have the same experience. I don’t recall mentioning it to anyone in the family actually, because that’s a cruel topic when someone is mourning: “I’m relieved he died.”

I have family members, especially his sisters Judy and Patty, who are sad and frustrated with my refusal to go to him while he was in his last days. But I knew it would go badly, and I was strong enough to protect myself from his wickedness. Anyway, so I need to repair my relationships with my Aunts, who naturally feel hurt because I rejected their brother.

Furthermore, as I alluded to above, I have to work on my relationship with my brother Travis. I sent one particularly nasty email to Travis in 2010-ish. In response, my brother rejected all communication from me for an entire decade – an ENTIRE DECADE – and simply shredded my heart with his lack of accountability and apparent coldness in that he was willing to cut me out of his life forever. During my father’s sickness, Travis’ wife Bridget contacted me without his knowledge and begged me to connect to him because he needed someone while he was dealing with the inevitable death of his father. I am grateful she was willing to risk damaging bonds of trust with her husband to get us back together. But I had been blaming this on her the whole time. After a flurry of distressed phone calls, it became clear that the burden is more on my brother’s shoulders. Since he had intercepted all mail (including all cards and gifts for their kids) in those years, she said she had no idea that from 2011-2013 I had been desperately trying to mend things and apologize in every way I could think of. I had also left phone message and sent text messages to her, which were never returned so maybe it was all on him, maybe not. She says she never got those.

During our extremely difficult childhood being raised mostly by my dad, I took upon myself the role of protector of my baby brother. I adored him and was totally dedicated and loyal to him (which explains why I blamed the lack of communication on Bridget). When Travis was willing to cut me out of his life and my niece and nephew’s life so easily, it shattered me because I still thought of myself as his protector, and my perception was that he was rejecting my dedication to him. We had been fighting for a year when we saw each other the week that Mom died. And that was the last time I saw him. After ten years I no longer adore him, and after sending my last Hail Mary attempt to connect to Bridget in an email in 2013, I gave up trying to apologize. At that point it seemed more like he owed ME an apology for refusing to hear me for so long.

So, during 2020 I had my brother Travis restored to me, but as you can guess, it is a painful and fragile connection and needs more work.

It says something about the persistent trauma of 2020 that these huge things happened and it had slipped my mind. What we have all gone through, and continue to go through, is enormous and we all need to congratulate ourselves for still being here, walking through each day a step at a time. We are amazing! Even if you did the things I did: I was ungraceful at times, let myself sink into depression, drank and smoked too much, gained 15 pounds, said mean things about someone, backed out of a commitment, forgot someone’s birthday, turned my back on someone asking for help. We are beautiful and amazing humans.

We are all still living in the middle of a pandemic, and we are still figuring out ways to get through it. Maybe one of my strategies is to forget how awful things were when my dad died. But hell, why not? It’s a strategy, and I made it through.

15 thoughts on “Death is Complicated

  1. Oh, Crystal, you did made it through. How hard it must have been! And to think you said that you father sounded like a Slovenian (after reading my post on national characteristics)! I wish you continuous reconnecting with everybody who deserves it. You express yourself admirably. It must help as well.

    1. Oh I hope this isn’t interpreted as an insult to Slovenia. You listed these negative qualities, and I thought that they were nearly all qualities of my dad, ha ha. I had no idea at that time that I would be writing this post. I don’t want my comment and this post to be connected! 🙂 Thank you for your wishes that I strengthen my connections with my family. They do deserve it. Families are never entirely easy, and no one should be cut out because there is a disagreement – that is totally normal. So I will do my best. I am fortunate in that my Aunties are some of the sweetest people on this entire earth, and they have big hearts full of forgiveness. I appreciate your comment that I express myself well. Writing things out always helps me to work through problems.

    1. Thank you Jolandi. It is an ugly post filled with pain, I think. It was probably difficult for you to read. Sorry about that. All of this just poured out of me and the most difficult part was deciding to click “publish.” My childhood was yucky, and this is only a hint of it. I’m so mad at my brother, but he was raised by the same father, so of course he suffered too. I am grateful for your big hug ❤ and I want you to know that it is because I am much much better now that I am able to write about it.

  2. Wow Crystal, that was tough, both living it and writing about it. My heart went out to that adorable little girl in the photo. Writing about it, and sharing it is important. I’m glad you did. –Curt

    1. I was surprised to find that photo in my October pictures folder for 2020. I don’t know whose photo it is, or how I got a digital version, but it had to go into this post. And yeah, like you, I found myself looking at those cute smiles on those kids and my heart just went out to them because I know what they are in for, and I can’t prevent it and protect them. Thank you for saying what you did. I have been agonizing since yesterday that I should not have posted something so sad because you guys don’t deserve it. But I guess it’s a selfish post and I wrote this for me, more for me than usual.

  3. Families and relationships are HARD! I haven’t seen or hear from my brother since Nov 1999. Don’t even know where he is. My sister arranged that but once again being a sh*t to him. I got caught in the fall out. Father and daughter relationship problems leave girls struggling to make healthy partner connections. I took care of my brother like you did. It really hurts but I’ve let him go. His loss. Writing about it is good. I would love to find him before my life is over but doubt that will happen. I hear you. Growing up in abusive families damages many generations. Hugs and love. M

    1. You have mentioned your brother before but I wasn’t letting it sink in. You haven’t spoken to him for over twenty years. That is awful. You have no idea who he is anymore. How frustrating that it happened by accident because of your sister’s carelessness. Isn’t it especially painful when you look after your sibling, and then they reject you anyway? Somehow it feels like an even bigger rejection. Travis doesn’t know I got a job at the grocery store before school so that I could buy cereal and milk and toilet paper and toothpaste for us. He was too young to know, and too young to be told about that stuff. It would be good to find your brother again, there is always a chance. I’m sure he has moved on too, and at this point you could talk. But yeah, that requires knowing how to find him first. You are right about generations. My Grandpa Trulove was hard on my dad. I know I’ve passed some bad habits/behaviors/thoughts to Tara, but I’ve been aware of that risk, and have tried so hard to break that cycle. I’m sure you were doing the same with your own kids – trying to overcome the disadvantages you started with. We are both powerful women who are doing our bit to improve humankind. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Derrick. ❤ Of course you should keep some experiences to yourself. I am able to work through my challenging emotions by writing, and I am so grateful for that in my toolbox. I am not good at talking it through, not good at voicing things, my tongue gets tangled up in my throat. So the keyboard is where I can put into words my more powerful emotions.

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