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Instead of suicide, I’m throwing myself a Pity Party

My baby girl is getting married today. For her and her beau, it’s a day of joy and celebration. It would be for me, too, except for the fact that I have been told I would not be welcome there.

My future son-in-law’s parents are conservative and Christian. Rather than offend their sensibilities, since I am a Trans* woman, I have been told not to come. Instead, my “normal” younger brother will be giving my daughter away.

In a way, I’m not surprised. Indeed, I should have been able to predict it—after all, she was raised in a household dominated by her grandmother, who was definitely the controlling Alpha female. Indeed, it took me years after her mother and I divorced that I was able to see that I had been in an abusive relationship.

When I was involuntarily outed—by my ex’s brother—to my family, my father and my daughters immediately stopped all contact with me. It wasn’t until nine years later that my father reached out to me. My older daughter, with whom I had been reunited years earlier, called me and said, “You need to call your daddy. He wants to talk with you.”

My father had had a stroke the previous year, and his health had steadily declined. Now he was bedridden. He and my step-mother had attended a few therapy sessions about me, and he was ready. After an hour-long telephone conversation, we ended by telling each other, “I love you.”

That was a Friday. The following Monday, my wife suggested we drive down to see my dad. We live in upstate New York, and he in Maryland. Apparently my two brothers had flown in to visit him, and had already been there a couple of weeks.
Tuesday morning we loaded the truck and headed down to Maryland. We hadn’t been on the road 30 minutes when my daughter called. “”Your daddy’s gone,” she said.

We continued our trip in silence. Rochester to Hagerstown was about an 8 hour drive, with stops for meals and refueling. It was dark when we arrived, and after a couple hours of conversation, we found a motel and checked in. The plan was for all of us to meet at the funeral home the next morning.

My younger brother was there, as were my daughters and my eldest grandson, the one who had adored my father. I finally reconnected with my younger daughter. It was a loving reconciliation.

A year or so later, I made a futile attempt to move back to Seattle. Futile, because I had forgotten that under Washington state law, between first and last months’ rents, as well as a damage deposit, it would have cost me a minimum of $2400 just to move into the cheapest apartment available.

I ended up taking the train back to Rochester, but not before my younger daughter visited me a few times. I also got the chance to spend time with my older daughter and my grandchildren.

Then, as Don Henley once sang, “I got the call today I didn’t want to hear.”

I told myself it didn’t matter, that she would change her mind. I knew I was fooling myself when she didn’t even have the courage to call me herself. Instead, she saddled her sister with that onerous duty.

And so today is the wedding. At first, when my older daughter texted me how unhappy she was that I wasn’t there, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. After a while, I got up and got dressed, ate breakfast, smoked a couple of cigarettes, and knew that today was going to be a hard day for me. All of my mental issues—my depression, anxiety disorders, dysphoria—are beating inside my brain. The wolf is howling at the door, demanding to be let in. I’ve been crying off and on for the past two hours and considering my options.

As they always do when my depression spirals out of control, my first thoughts were of self-harm. I wanted to die. But then my mantra kicked in: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” and I knew that no matter how this day goes, I will still be here tomorrow. Hell, I don’t even have any razor blades in the house!

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?—Khalil Gibran, “On Joy and Sorrow”

And so I continue. Writing this story suffices for today’s therapy. I’m going shopping with my BFF later today, and we’ve got a full agenda…to be closed out with pizza for dinner….

I’m Still Processing Bad News

I got a phone call from my daughter in Seattle this morning. This never fails to cheer me up, but today was different. Her sister—my other daughter—is getting married in April…and I am specifically uninvited.

She and I have not had the best of relationships since her mother and I divorced when she was 16, and it was further complicated when I was outed as transgender. She has found religion, and both she and her fiancée are conservative evangelical Christians. I’m sure you know the kind: the ones who love everyone except those who don’t think exactly the way they do.

So yes, I’m hurt. But I realize it’s her choice, and as much as it pains me to do so, I will honor that choice.

And I realize that today, some 20-odd years later, it’s time to attempt a reconciliation, and that I have to be the one to take the first steps. I certainly don’t want to be in the position I was in with my father who, after almost 10 years of silence, reconciled with me—four days before his death.

Maybe I’m feeling Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality:

We will grieve not, rather find
           Strength in what remains behind;
           In the primal sympathy
           Which having been must ever be;
           In the soothing thoughts that spring
           Out of human suffering;
           In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Or maybe I’m just feeling my age: I’m 67 years old, and I realize that it’s time to start thinking about end of life care, powers of attorney,

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea

As Ol’ Possum so eloquently put it.

Indeed, I’m composing this entry over a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Yes, it hurts. But it’s up to me to decide if it’s the pain of growth or the pain of an end.

I choose growth.

My Father: A Study in Selflessness

A Memoir

(The transcript of the eulogy I gave at my father’s memorial service)

My father once apologized to me and said, “The shoemaker’s kids go barefoot and the baker’s family goes hungry.” He was commenting on his 27 years as an Air Force chaplain, when his duty frequently took him away in the middle of the night to comfort a family which had just lost its father, or to tell a wife her husband wouldn’t be coming home from the other side of the world.

There was a time when his duties required his absence from my birthday—for seven years in a row. At the time, I hated him for it, and it took me years to get over that anger. Now, what little hostility I still feel is directed more properly at the US military establishment, which never seemed to have learned the truth of Milton’s words, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

My mother personified those words. He was absent from the family once for 15 months: his duties took him to Turkey for that time. My mother became for a time a single mother attempting to raise three children. Thank God for grandparents and aunts!

I understand that after her passing, Dad spent hours weeping over her grave, apologizing for what he saw as the hell that his job put her through.

He grew up in a hard time: the Great Depression. A time when roles were fixed, and people “knew their place.” On the other hand, I grew up in the ‘60s, and lived through the Nixon years. Dad was a lifelong Republican; if anything, if you need labels, I’m an anarchist. After Viet Nam and various other wars and “incursions,” I take everything my government tells me with a grain of salt. Don’t agree with me? That’s your right, and I’m not going to argue the point with you. Besides, you don’t scare me—I grew up in the ‘60s….

….which also entitles me to say, at the age of 65, “I may be old, but I saw the best bands!”

But regardless of anything a psychiatrist might say about my relationship with my parents (“Oedipus, Schmoedipus! I love, ya, Ma!”), the fact remains that they were my parents, and I loved them. And the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time happened last week, when I telephoned my father and we resolved our differences and effected a true reconciliation. For that, I am extremely grateful. Our last words to each other were “I love you.”

My father was greatly esteemed in his communities, both the Air Force and the church. I can offer no better proof of this than two stories.

Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was the first African America to reach the rank of general (4-stars). When he died, at his widow’s request, my father performed his funeral.

When Dad finally retired from the Air Force, and he and Mom were traveling around the country looking for work, he was unable to find a parish in the Pacific Northwest, which is where they wanted to settle. Finally, after they had settled in Lak Jackson, Texas, he learned that the reason no one would hire him was that the bishop of Texas had called all the other bishops and told them not to hire him, because “He’s mine!”

I know my father was disappointed that none of us followed him into the ministry. While I can’t speak for my brothers, I know that in my case it was because the shoes he left were simply too big to fill.

Thanatopsis

Every Death Is Different

My parents died 32 years apart, and I’m finding it interesting how different their deaths are. Or, to be accurate, how different my reactions are.

Because they’re truly different. I’m sure most of the differences lie in the fact that I’m not the person I was three decades ago. Then, I was much you get and had little first-hand experience with death. Know I’m older, and have lost more friends and relatives than I can easily count. So I guess the biggest change is that death is no longer the shock it used to be.

Another difference is that I had time to prepare myself for my mother’s death. She had fought cancer for so long that when she died, it wasn’t unexpected. Painful, yes. Devastatingly so. But I had had so long to prepare myself that it wasn’t a shock. And in a way, since she had been in such pain for so long, it was a relief.

It was different with my father. We had been estranged for years, only reconciling the week before his death. I knew that he had had a stroke, but I hadn’t been aware of how much his health continued to deteriorate in the following year. And unlike with my mother, I hadn’t had the opportunity to tell him all the things I wanted to say. I never got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me, and what an honor it had been to be his daughter.

And Every Death Is The Same

Sadness. Anger. Disbelief. Numbness. I felt all of these following my parents’ deaths. What I feel now, as I am writing, is a dull ache for my mother, but a sharp, stabbing pain for my father. I know that over time this pain will become the same dull ache that I feel for my mother. And I also know that it will never go away. But that’s okay; I don’t want it to go away. I want it to remind me of the two people who loved me more than anyone ever did.

Because if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is this: no matter who else they meet in their lives, no one will ever love your children as much as you, their parent, does.

Maryland, My Maryland

Last night Stacey and I got home from our trip to Maryland to bury my father. Except we didn’t bury him. Joyce, my stepmom, will do that in the spring. She’ll take his cremains to Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, and inter them in the same plot that holds my mother and my first stepmother, Carol.

My father and I had been estranged for several years, beginning when I was outed to him as transgender. But I was able to speak with him last week on the phone, and we reconciled. We told each other we loved each other, and I began making plans to drive down to visit him.

Alas, that was not to be. On Tuesday, February 9, as Stacey and I were about two hours out of Rochester, my father died.

When my mother died, I knew it immediately. And later, talking with my brothers, it turned out that they did, too, as did several other close family friends.

But with my father, nothing. I wonder if it had anything to do with the way each of them went: Mom’s passing was peaceful, in her sleep, while Dad had a hard time of it, struggling for each breath.

Reuniting

My daughters were there as well. Both the one I’ve been in constant contact with and the one who, like my father, had stopped speaking with me—and for the same reason. But when we saw each other, and hugged each other, that separation, too, disappeared, and all is well with us again.

Then there was my cousin—daughter of my father’s brother. I was worried how she would react to my changes, as I had not really been in contact with her for a long time. But I needn’t have worried: she said when her son came out as gay, they had no problem accepting him for who he was, and the same applied to me—no matter who I am, she loves me still.

About Maryland

It’s a strange state, this Maryland. It is considered the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States. Facts about the state are far too numerous to mention here, so I suggest you do what I did when I started my research, and check out its Wikipedia page. Ironically, despite the fact that Maryland remained on the Union side during the Civil War, it was a slave state, and as such, was not affected by the provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation, as that decree only applied to those states in the Confederacy…a fact that wasn’t taught when I was in school.

Driving around the state—especially on the back roads Stacey and I frequented—you’ll see numerous old barn-like buildings in various states of disrepair. They’re not barns but in fact old tobacco-curing sheds. Maryland had a large tobacco industry at one time, but a state buyout greatly reduced its presence. It’s curious to note that although the sheds are no longer needed nor in use, it’s illegal to destroy them. And so they stand, mute witnesses to a past era.

Controversy Over the State Song

Periodically, efforts are made to change the state song to something less martial. As Wikipedia says,

Due to its origin in support of the Confederacy, it includes lyrics that refer to President Abraham Lincoln as a “tyrant”, “despot”, and “Vandal”, and to the Union as “Northern scum”, as well as referring to the phrase “sic semper”, which was the slogan later shouted by Marylander John Wilkes Booth while assassinating Lincoln. For these reasons occasional attempts have been made to replace it as Maryland’s state song, but to date all such attempts have met with failure.

Summing Up

For these two Northerners, Maryland’s road system was a nightmare…and we weren’t the only ones to think that. Navigating via GPS didn’t help: it was always a case of “Turn left in 200 yards…Duh! You missed it! Make a U-turn at the next intersection.” There were many cases where it told us to make a turn onto a given street even though we knew from past trips that we still had 1/4 mile to go before we would even reach that street.

It just validated my own strongly-held belief that GPS will never entirely replace a decent map.

Thanks for reading,

Robyn Jane