My dad ran off with a woman from California.
When you put it like that, it sounds salacious and a faux pax, but the reality is a lot less interesting. My mom died of cancer at the cusp of my adulthood, leaving me and a gaggle of siblings behind. Six months later, my dad met a widow in California, connected with her, fell in love, and decided to move our family to California to be with her. Two years almost to the day after my mother died, my father married my stepmother. (I have photographic evidence of the event, I was there.)
Sounds pretty sweet and romantic, doesn’t it? Something like Sleepless in Seattle? I know I should be happy for them, but there is an irreverent side of me that scoffs a little bit. Don’t worry, I’ve already been given and have given the spiel of “you have to be happy for them because they are happy” and “love is beautiful when it comes a second time” many times already. I know the drill.
Somewhere, deep down, I am very happy for them and am glad they are together. My younger siblings have a mother figure in their life and her children have a father figure. They are financially secure and will grow old together—something they will never do with their first spouses. Logically, I know they are a match made in heaven. You can see the joy that exudes from them and how deeply they love each other even after all these years. So, I am happy for them, but my father’s remarriage crushed me more than my mother’s death. It felt like I had lost two parents, one to death and the other to my stepmother.
Let me backpedal here . . . before Dad started dating my stepmother, he was in a rough spot. Before age 50, he had to bury his terminally ill wife and raise five kids on his own. There aren’t a lot of people who can share that feeling of displacement and loss. Then my stepmother came in. She was also in her 40s, with her own children, and also lost her husband to cancer. They clicked. Quickly, she became his whole world.
That’s where the hurt settled in. Somewhere amid their joy at finding each other, I lost my sense of placement in my own family. Dad found someone to love and be loved by, but amid their love, I stopped feeling loved by my father. (No need to go into gratuitous details, I’m in therapy for a reason.)
I will be the first to admit, I didn’t do a good job of voicing my needs. Everyone told me to be happy for my dad and that my depression was because I was still grieving my mother. I let the hurt fester and simmer until I couldn’t take it anymore. But by then, the damage already had been done.
So, what’s the point? Just another sad sob story about mommy and daddy issues? Through drawn-out therapy sessions, long conversations, and painful memories, I have concluded that love is a cycle, just like grief.
True love is an unbroken chain, but feelings will swell and ebb and how we love will also change. I know intrinsically that my father still loves me, but I know that it is no longer the same love he had for me when my mother was alive. That being said, it is a two-way street. I still love my father, but it is not the same love I had for him when I was a child.
Somehow death is an easier blow to bear than realizing that you are no longer loved the way you once were. Death has a banal finality to it. The final “I love you” my mother uttered on her deathbed is the closing of her story. Even though it is a painful and bittersweet ending, there is at least the closure of knowing she loved us in the end. It is a broken love story. I can’t begrudge her for the trauma her death caused—death comes when it will. However, it is easier to harbor the grief of her death than the grief of my father’s remarriage. At least with Mom, I know exactly where the story has ended.
My father running away with a woman from California is a stunning love story. Across the country, they found love in a place of profound grief. Now they have a beautiful, blended family and are extremely happy together. It is another link in the chain of their cycle of love.
It saddens me that we no longer have the same relationship we once had, but the reality is, that is okay. I have my own story apart from my father and for the first time in decades, I am truly happy. I realized I am happier and a better person without trying to maintain our broken relationship. Our love stories are on different pages, but it doesn’t stop me from loving and missing my father. We have to sit with our grief and take time to grieve the love that’s still alive.