By Trinda Jocelyn
It was abnormally late when I picked up the phone. My mother’s name was lighting up the screen. I tapped the green dot, put the phone to my ear, and heard her voice say,
“Your dad passed away today.”
That was five years ago.
I don’t remember much of the conversation after that, I do remember the feeling. Sadness and relief at the same time and then guilt for feeling the relief. My father and I were not close. He was not close to any of his daughters. He left shortly after I turned thirteen and I only saw him once in the decades since. He struggled with substance abuse and mental illness along with a slough of health problems that stemmed from both the substance abuse and his mother having rubella fever before he was born. Ultimately, it was complications of post-cancer surgery that stole him away.
Our relationship was complicated and reconciling was always going to be tough. It takes two to reconcile and now that he was gone, what was I going to do? What if that hope of coming together in kinship dies right along with the person you were out of sorts with? I think my dad wanted to reconcile and so did I, but we had trouble giving each other what we needed to move forward. We used our hurts as an excuse to armour our hearts against the other. Neither of us could move toward the middle. The older I got, the angrier I felt. Watching my own children grow into the beautiful people they are, I couldn’t imagine leaving them and thinking it was for their own good or any good. It was difficult to relate to him or understand him and so, I quit trying.
I finally went to a therapist and put in the work, wading my way through some of these hard things. Through that work, I have come to appreciate some things about him that I never could before. He used to call me around my birthday each year and I would dread those calls. It brought with it so many feelings I didn’t want to feel. My change in perspective came when my therapist mentioned maybe those phone calls were the one thing that he could do to show me that he thought about me and he loved me. I had never thought of it like that before. Through my therapy sessions, I have come to see him and his life with a fresh perspective. I have forgiven him. He can now rest in peace within my heart. The anger I felt for so long has been subdued.
I will never have the chance to sit down beside him and say, “I love you and I think I can do this relationship thing with you now, but please be patient. And hey, tell me about your day, tell me about your life.” What I have been able to do is to begin the process of learning more about him and to gain a deeper understanding of his life experience. With my anger removed, I began to feel curious about him in a way that I had never allowed myself. Who was he before he was my dad that left and broke my heart? Who was he during my adult life when we were apart? What was his favourite colour?
I can’t reconcile with him personally and I can’t make the wrongs right, but I can reconcile with my memories of him. I can change the narrative of who he was in my life, looking past his decisions that seemed so selfish, to see the person. I can’t have him back. I get no do-overs. But I think, like anyone struggling with mental health and substance abuse, we can offer them some dignity and see past the top layers of their lives. And when reconciliation is no longer an option, we can learn to forgive them and ourselves, work past our own regrets and change the narrative we once believed unchangeable.
About the Author
Trinda Jocelyn is the creative, behind the scenes girl. She has spent her whole life on the prairies and longs to some day see a vast portion of the world. For now, though, she will stay put with her amazing, homebody, level-headed husband and the three people she is most in awe of in this world; her children. She is constantly questioning life while navigating her faith and is shown daily just how God has woven Himself into the fabric of her life. She is quietly, slowly, and sometimes painfully learning to become the child God intended her to be.