For the past 2 years of my life, I've been dealing with the grieving process of losing my last remaining parent.
That 2 year wait for dad's ashes is over. I picked them up earlier today.
Since August of 2006, it has been a journey of trials and triumphs. It has seen happiness, tears, anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, the effects of greed, the effects of stress, the gain and subsequent loss of a job, the loss of my family home, 2 cars, a boat, 6 pets, and 3 relationships.
I've gone through periods of plenty, when there were lots of folks around and things looked great. Vacations that were more than simply taking a weekend off from work but staying home. People who called regularly to hang out. All of the bills paid, and still having enough to put food on the table and take in a movie every now and then.
I've gone through periods so poor that I was alone for all intents and purposes, and living without even most of the things we here in the US consider necessities - like electricity, and running water, heat in the winter, a working phone, and regular meals.
Somewhere in the back of my brain, there was this niggling little voice that kept saying, "If you just hang in there and Survive, you'll wake up from the nightmare, and mom and dad will be there, and life will be Normal again."
Even during this past 2 years, after I was notified of dad's death, and went into waiting mode for his ashes to be delivered, that little voice still existed. Going to the luncheon, and subsequent memorial service, hosted by the Body Donation Program of the local medical school, there was still that little voice saying, "its not really REAL - this is all just some bizarre movie plot you've been caught up in, and any second now someone is gonna throw back a curtain and yell 'You're on Candid Camera!"'
I didn't have this issue - that unrelenting sense of Unreality - That VOICE in the back of my head - when mom died in 2002. I was there at her bedside in the ICU when she took her final leave. I watched the heart rate monitor slow and finally stop, to set up that infernal wailing of the alarm letting the nurses know that someone was no longer Here. That machine scream that says a heart has stopped pumping blood, lungs are no longer drawing in air, brain is no longer sending signals to the rest of the body.
But I wasn't there when daddy died. I was... Busy. I had made myself Busy for more than a year, when dad had his final stroke. Alone, warehoused in a nursing facility, wondering why I never answered the letter that he sent 2 months before, and why I never came to visit any longer.
I made myself Busy, and tried my damnedest to ignore the fact that he was still alive, and still expecting his daughter to show up and simply Talk to him.
I made myself Busy, and reminded myself of just how Frustrated and Angry I had been with him, while he was back home on Hospice, for being an insufferable dick. And for dumping all the responsibility in my lap by getting sick and then not having the good grace to die Quickly instead of lingering for years in a half alive, half dead, brain damaged state.
I made myself Busy, and reminded myself regularly of just what a Hassle he had become, what with dealing with doctors and nursing homes and insurance companies, and Adult Protective Services, and my idiot brother screeching about how I was Wasting His Inheritance by paying for dad's nursing home care.
I made myself Busy, and told myself there was still Time, that he was simply too cussed mean to go ahead and finally die and get it over with.
I made myself Busy, and told myself I would go see him once I figured out how to explain to him that I'd managed to lose the family home that he and momma had worked so hard to provide. And I told myself that I'd figure out how to tell him that, once I figured out how to get him to understand that his raising hadn't helped keep my brother from setting up the circumstances that cost the house, in an unrelenting show of greed and self absorption.
I sit here currently trying to sort through all the things I should have said, all the things I should or could have done differently, all the times I copped out and made excuses for myself to avoid going to the nursing home to see him.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda - the missed opportunities are gone. They will never be back, and I will never again have a chance to look at my dad and tell him how much I loved him. The only thing left is a plain, black box filled with ashes, with his name and a pair of years on an unadorned sticker on the front. A few memories, some fading photos, and guilt.