Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Don't Judge Laughter In The Dark

In my time of stories, I have never felt the desire to share about my very personal life (which is funny because I've shared a lot...But I suppose "very personal" in my land is about...parents). That word alone evokes so many different emotions in each person, it's amazing we haven't changed the name 'parents' to something else that doesn't raise blood pressure but hey, it keeps the therapists in biz, right?

*Disclaimer: Take everything humorous and morbid today, with a grain of salt; in some parts of my life, I have chosen to find humor in even the-very-dark but to some people, that is disturbing. I also know that because I, like everyone, bear wounds that are not altogether healed, and so some of my thoughts aren't necessarily true, while my feelings are valid. So, if you're in the mood for a good 'ol Lenten dark comedy, read on peeps.

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On this day twelve years ago, I lost my dad to a car accident. A horrific one. One bad enough to make the front pages; one bad enough that a week later, I found myself taking out all of my grief and nineteen-year-old rage on the reporter who snapped the distasteful pictures, revealing my dad inside the car. It's still traumatic, truth be told. Every single thing about my father and the situation at that time including his death, was really...messed up. Painful. Heart-wrenching...awful. My sister and brother were so little and yet too old for their own little souls. My mom was...broken by their divorce and the disastrous wake my dad's choices had left us suffering in. Clearly, right now I speak of things most people don't like reading about, or hearing about; it's nearly too much, isn't it? Don't give up on me--it'll get better.

Sometimes life though, is too much and the worst happens and...we survive. We not not only survive, we thrive maybe, and reforge, and laugh, and grow, and change. In a word, we heal. It happens.

On a day like today though, I recall lots of things bitter and sweet. And the lot of them I think I shall never forget. I recall the shock, the moment the shock ended and when sorrow and recognition hit my heart. I recall much suffering...But more than anything, I recall that I forgave my dad, several days before his accident. He had called and I'd pretended I didn't know who he was, and politely said I'd leave a message for my mom. He said he'd hoped I could forgive him someday and this last bit pulled me out of character and I was taken aback that he didn't know--"I already forgave you, Dad. Long, long time ago and every day in between...It's that you've really hurt us, I can't believe how you've hurt us...And we need space and time to heal." He began to cry, saying, "Thank you! Thank you!" and I knew that was the right thing. In every instance I could, I forgave him. Even in the repercussions that continued. And their were many; there still are many. I recall understanding when I learned about the accident, how profound and important forgiveness is; we need it. Our souls were...created to urge and yearn for purity; the purity of a clean conscious. Being forgiven and forgiving--it's written in our beings. Not just from God either, but from one another.

I'd felt like this huge boulder hit me with the knowledge that if he'd died, he'd stood before our God of Mercy and of Justice and that I, had absolutely no control or right, to judge him therefore. I prayed for God's mercy on his soul but resolved then and there, to forgive in this life to the best of my ability. That's not to say, that this forgiveness and healing hasn't been a life-long journey, and one wrought with loss of all the things he should have/could have been. I still tear-up embarrassingly, when a father of any sort, hugs me in some paternal way or takes interest in my personage; it takes me by surprise that, this longing for a father I never really had will also never be here on Earth. Yet, I want to be quick to say that, God has graciously stepped up to the plate...He's never scoffed or shied away from taking over fully. And in fact, that's one of the most beautiful (if I can call it that) bitternesses that came about: had my father not died, I never maybe, would've forgiven him and loved and understood him as I do now. And, my relationship with God is solidly a father-daughter relationship, with no one in between.

Let's talk about...Hope. I was told not long ago by a beautiful little soul that God meets our hope differently sometimes (than what we'd hoped for). She described the death of one of her twin babies and the thriving of the other (at birth) and how God met her hope still, that day. Perplexed, I said, "How? How did he STILL meet your hope?!" She thought and said, "Well...that [she] is now in Heaven yes; but even more alive and present in our lives there, than she could've been here under my care." If that doesn't blow you away, I dunno what WILL. Geeze--some people and their holy faith. Well, even though a very literal part of my flesh was dying that day, God placed life right there, at that funeral.
I remember with clarity, moments of beauty at the funeral. For example, my then future-husband showed up. And, he looked damn hot. That was unexpected. I remember my little sister crying and I holding her, and she looking up and abruptly, not crying anymore. She said, "Wow--who's that guy?" Gallegos Chicks. We're all suckers for hot guys, no matter what age. It touched my heart seeing Jim there, content to be waiting in the background. He didn't even know me then; we'd been in Psych class together and had lunch a couple of times thereafter. Yet oddly enough, he was the first person I called when I was notified of The Accident during that Spring Break on a charity retreat. His mom tells me still, that she remembers him telling her he'd have to postpone coming home because he needed to be there for a friend, and he was. I'll also never forget, that God also gave me that day, a Real Big Brother. I'd never had one until I met Joey. You know, funerals and death--it's all kind of awkward and he must've felt uncomfortable not knowing what to do with a blubbering teenager but he just, stepped in and hugged me, and let me cry. "I love you," he said. He meant it. That was officially, the first time a *male had said that to me genuinely. Lovingly. I mean it. I suppose I can't judge that my dad never ever meant it; but he was always quick to deflate it. I know my dad had love for me; be saying it? Never.

(*yeah, seventh grade boyfriends, 11th grade boyfriends, and little brothers coercing you to take them to Chuckie Cheese do NOT count.)

A new hope was instilled--a little hope that I was lovable. That I was worth being loved, and that shockingly, someone had chosen to love me. I actually belonged on earth; before that, I'd felt that (a very long) beautiful umbilical tether between God and I in the eternal kind of belonging but...Hadn't known how it was then, that I quite belonged here if I didn't have love. The last gift I received there was...

(And now for it--God created laughter. He created humor and romance and all emotions inside of us. Obviously, there's vulgarity which is a twisting of good laughter and humor but that's not the kind I'm talking about. We can laugh at ugly things; God gives us the grace sometimes to have healing in laughter even when we feel insane sometimes. One of my favorite moments in a story of all time, is in Return of the King by Tolkien, when Frodo and Sam are just waiting for Mordor's fall to encompass them. They are there together, at the end "of all things" and suddenly, Frodo laughs at Sam. The quote is something like, "there had not been pure laughter echoing in that place for a long, long time...but there it was...Echoing against the walls and filth." So, that's my soapbox on humor...)

The best BEST thing ever, was that I'm pretty sure if my dad had been allowed to see the funeral, he'd have told God he was glad to be dead. I'm hispanic; not a very good one but one nonetheless. This does NOT mean, that my dad's side of the family fails to be Hispanic. At all. There was weeping, wailing, people passing out and falling on the ground like some televangelist had arrived and was zapping them with the Holy Spirit. Family that, hadn't even spoke to my dad for six months but there they were, to talk about how wonderful they knew him to be, and all, "we'll-take-donations-for-our-grief-please-and-thank-you." Then, there was the music...Oh dear LORD--the music...*Apparently, my dad's mom was in a harmonica club and insisted in her Mexicana Weeping state, the she was going to play for my dad, dammit. And she did. Amazing Grace by four little ladies whistled through the park, whilst butterfly balloons were released (BUTTERFLIES?!). My dad was a lottttt of things, but never a damned butterfly. The homily had been about some bullcrap about my dad having been in a cocoon and this death, freeing him into metamorphosis and unfortunately (because I'm a little shit), I burst out laughing. During the homily. And of course if you've heard me laugh, you know it makes other people laugh (because it's stupid) and so half of entire section of family and friends were laughing. (Probably, there is a little nook in Purgatory for me for wiles such as these.) Then, there was the embezzling. And the fighting over items. Only when I saw one of my dad's very old aunts actually in a tug-a-war with his mom, over a jewelry box of his, did I understand a little, the evil of soldiers casting die for Jesus' garments (and He wasn't even dead yet!). So we have the harmonica club playing, we have people sobbing, we have people tripping over butterfly tethered balloons, and my great-aunt and grandma (who had abandoned her harmonica) to physically fight over a box. I am pleased to say, that I marched over there, and promptly took the box myself, admonishing both of them. Then I spoke up in my grief-struck stupor and said, "Attention everyone: this music sucks, and I'd like my dad to hear something he'd actually like. This one's for you, dad!" I considered singing Billy Joel's Piano Man, but to avoid further scandal (since I left out the part where I argued with someone at the pulpit during his Rosary--they'd accused my family of being unforgiving and calloused...and too damn Catholic), I sang Shout To The Lord. My friends stared at me, wondering if I'd collapse or keel over or something.
Where was I...Right--embezzlement. Knew I'd left something out...**Apparently, when I'd signed my name over so that my dad's mom could take care of the funeral planning (I'd been assigned beneficiary, you see), one of them forged my signature (and stole some documents I was told by police) and made themselves beneficiary. My dad had left college money for me, and it was gone. Don't fret friends, as some philosopher said (no wait--it was Morpheus from the Matrix), fate is not without a sense of irony. Unbeknownst to all of us, he'd incurred so much debt, his assets were frozen so, my dad's family actually didn't get a penny of that money, and they were stuck paying his bills. Don't get me wrong--I never have nor ever will, wish any ill fate upon them. But, sometimes God's justice is swift, and that was a comfort to us at that time when we had no father, my mother with no husband, no money, and no  prospects of getting much help from anyone. God took care of us though; He really did. Even though my family didn't really feel it, I did.

*Apparently: they have CLUBS for that??!
**Apparently: my family put the ghetto in poor-family-acts-of-crime, who knew?

So, an amazing thing happened as time passed--my sister and I developed a sense of humor. I don't think this is a necessity in grief but for us, it was a sure sign that we'd allowed such pain and grief to pour out of every pore of ourselves (you can't just live every single day with that sort of grief) to an emptiness finally. Not really empty of course, but you know when you've cried yourself out? It doesn't mean there's no more sad, but it's time to stop crying. We'd allowed some of that reality to curl around our personalities, and therein, found our senses of humor about death, the roughest-toughest-ugliest-beautifulest-most-terrifying reality we (feel we) face. My sister and I, we have a lot of jokes about our dad being deceased. It is not to dishonor him but while that wake he left that I spoke of earlier has subsided, there will be ripples probably for the rest of our lives. We can either embrace them and find laughter in the darkness of it all, or go mad. So while there's a great deal of sad still, I'd rather just laugh. My dad loved to laugh. So it may upset, disturb, or anger you, but I called up my brother and sister this morning and sang, "Haaaappy Dead Daaaad Dayyyy!!!" they laughed. I cried. But I reiterate, I laughed. And hopefully today, in some beautiful place were he can spend his time praying for us, my dad laughed too...