I have never been good at expressing my feelings, especially those surrounding my verbally and emotionally abusive father. However, after I began communicating “My Ugly Grief Story” it set into motion life altering changes I never thought possible. Emotions started to pop up, questions began to arise, and I started to recall good memories about my dad.
I remember that my dad would take me fishing and we would compete to see who could catch the most fish. I remember how he used to stir the all-natural peanut butter for me when we were making sandwiches, and the way that he would cut my waffles in the morning before school (which is how I cut them now). I remember how he used to sing a song to get me to brush my teeth, and when he read “The Hobbit” he would change his voice as he pretended to be the different characters. I remember the smell of sawdust when he was building, that he let me sit on the counter as he ordered his supplies, and how he taught me to paint when he was remodeling our house. I remember when we were on vacation we used to hunt for alligators so he could jump out of the car and take pictures of them, and when thunderstorms would roll in at night he would bring me outside to take pictures of the lightning. I remember bragging to my friends that I had the strongest dad in the world. And sometimes, when I play drums I think about him because of the love for music that he instilled in me.
But the good memories stop there.
Bad memories, and sometimes an overwhelming feeling of sadness, often taint the good memories because I have not been able to understand why the father I once thought the world of walked away from a relationship with me. As I learned to forgive him I realized that his choice to walk away was not my fault. But I’ve often been left wondering how to reconcile these memories – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Despite my few good memories, my father’s legacy is one of anger, hate, and bitterness. In truth, I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully reconcile the two, but the process has given me freedom from his legacy and I’ve gained a few tools along the way. In addition to continuing communication around my father’s life and legacy I have tried to learn from my memories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I try to connect to the good and consciously choose to be different from the bad and ugly.
Serve others. If all you do is something small like stir peanut butter or cut waffles, serving people has a lasting impact.
Teach. Much like my dad taught me how to paint, take the time to teach others about the stories and skills you have learned from your life experiences. These lessons are part of the legacy that you will leave behind.
Make time for others. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives, take time to go fishing or share a love for music with those around you. You never know how one moment will change you or the other person forever.
Life is an adventure…experience it! Chase alligators. Photograph lightning. There is a whole world out there for you to experience. Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world around you.
Communication and conflict resolution are essential to every relationship. It has taken me years to learn to how to approach conflict in a healthy manner. I used to turn and run in the other direction as soon as conflict arose, but I began to see that unresolved conflict is the breeding ground for more anger and bitterness.
Seize the moment and speak words of affirmation into people’s lives…frequently. If you have something encouraging to say, say it. When we are struggling, the words of affirmation that we have received can be more difficult to remember than the hurtful words that have been spoken to us out of anger.
Ask for help and listen. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way, ask for help, and graciously listen to others. The ability to be humble in hard situations is when you will grow and learn the most.
Through all of this I’ve learned that we have a choice in how we live our lives, interact with others, and deal with conflict. Our choices not only affect us but they affect the people around us. We need to recognize and choose the legacy we leave behind.
Because my memories are full of the good, the bad, and the ugly I have come to love the word “and.” My father was emotionally and verbally abusive and we had good memories together. It doesn’t change the past and it doesn’t change that his decisions were wrong. It does help heal the wounds that are there and reconcile the good to the bad and ugly. It gives me a full picture of who my father was. With this complete picture I choose to be different from the bad and ugly, and choose to cling to the good.
The reconciliation process is painful. However, it is pain with the purpose of healing and growth. As I continue to reconcile my “ugly grief story” I’ve begun to experience an abounding sense of freedom from the pain of the past. With this freedom I will continue to share my experiences along my ugly, yet rewarding, grief journey.