Complicated Grief – My Dad’s Eulogy

My relationship with my dad could be summed up as fun, contentious at times, but aways honest. He was an alcoholic who fell apart after my mom died, so I had a lot of resentment towards him once I became a parent. But our relationship grew and changed as did I. Our bond might have been complicated, but it was ours and I was ok with it.

Eulogizing my dad actually came quite easily. In remembering the good parts of him (because let’s be honest, no one wants to hear about the bad), I was able to realize the impact he really had on who I was in positive ways. I sent him off the best way that I knew how to, with sarcasm and sass. Just as he would have wanted.

Being the youngest Fletcher daughter, it’s only fitting that I should speak last. Hi, I’m Sheri and I survived my childhood as one of Hank’s children. The three of us girls may have different memories of our dad, but I’m sure that we can all agree that growing up with Hank as our father was more like growing up with Hank as a younger brother.

Not many people can say that the life skills they have learned from their father include giving a good wet willie and crossing their eyes. On vacation one year we got into a huge prank war where toilet seats were covered in Saran Wrap and you had to be careful turning a fan on in a room for fear of what would come flying off of it. The man taught me how to TP the neighbors house and was the king of mooning us kids out the front window as we rode by on our bikes. To say that Hank was an unconventional father would be an understatement.

My childhood consisted of learning to walk, talk and water ski. There was nothing that my dad loved more than being on the water with his girls. When I was a teenager he bought a Boston Whaler, taught me how to sand the bottom, seal and paint it and then set me free in Mt Sinai Harbor. Life was always an adventure and he honestly showed me that anything is possible. And even though he REALLY wanted a son (especially because I’m daughter #3) he never made me feel because I am female that there were any limits to what I could do.

There were days when I would tagalong with him at the shop and he would set me up to sharpen chainsaw or circular saw blades. When I was in college I did a whole report on welding and he was happy to give me the helmet and torch and show me how to make a smooth bead.

He also begrudgingly sat through years of dance recitals (I think mostly to watch the women dance around in tight costumes) and school plays. He was heavily involved in the drama club at my high school and was a little horriffied when I landed the part of the ‘temptress’ in the school play as a freshman. There was one night we were at the school working on the sets and I had to practice grabbing this senior guys backside, with my dad standing 2 feet away, armed with power tools. Definitely made up for all the wet Willie’s he gave to me that night or the amount of times he goosed me as a kid. He would always say, paybacks a….female dog.

I’ve heard that as a girl you seek to marry someone just like your father. The day that my husband Parker and my dad met, things just clicked. I remember Parker getting involved in a brotherly squabble between my dad and my Uncle. Anyone willing to jump into a Fletcher disagreement at a first meeting is a definite keeper!

Parker and my dad bonded over all things mechanical and would spend hours in his shop during visits futzing around. Their common interests lead us to buy our family boat and be able to share his love of the water with our children.

My dad lived life large and by his own rules. My childhood consisted of tickle wars, random backside grabs and water fights. He taught me not to take life too seriously and to enjoy all the moments. Even when you’re knee deep in baby poop, everything can still be shits and giggles. He taught me about the type of parent that I wanted to be for my children, relentless, embarrassing, inappropriate, but above all fun!

Because my kids are so young, I will have to try my damnedest to make sure that we are able to keep my dad’s memory alive. Most people would do that by sharing stories and man are there some doziies. I can mention how he tried to vacuum toilet water with his mom’s Electrolux Vacuum to see if it would work (it does) or the countless times he dressed in drag, of which there is ample photographic evidence. But what they need to know the most is how my dad loved with all of his heart. He loved his family more than anything, maybe even more than the latest crude joke. He stood by my mom and took care of her when she was sick and he supported Sharon through her treatments. He may not have been the perfect person, but his capacity for love and how he showed it were real. Every time I spoke to him on the phone, the conversation would start with hey girl and end with I love you.

Thank you everyone so much for being here today to say good bye to Hank, the man, the myth, the legend. In his own words, were off like a prom dress.

Love you Dad.

My Grief Process – May Madness

I remember wondering after Benny passed how I would navigate through my grief. How would I handle all of the holidays without him? Could I survive his birthday?

Benny was born in May, a big month for birthdays in mine and my husband’s families. We start with Mother’s Day, which I had just finally stopped grieving once Darcy was born, throw a whole bunch of birthdays in there, including my father’s and Benny’s, and wrap it all up with the day my mom died. All of this happens within a span of 13 days or so. It. Is. A. Lot.

Every year around Benny’s birthday in May, we do a gathering at the cemetery and then something small for the kids back at the house. We sing happy birthday and share memories. I want to celebrate the fact that my son lived, not focus on his death. I have one child who barely remembers him and two children that have never met him. It’s complex and confusing and we muddle through this new world as best as we possibly can.

Every May I am sent into a tail spin. I will add as many projects to my ‘to do list’ as possible. I spend hours on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist looking for bargains that I can transform into something.

I need to keep my hands busy. I need to keep my mind clear. I just need to get through the next 13 or so days. I am in survival mode.

It’s as if I begin to notice everything around me that needs to be fixed. Oh, the cats destroyed the couch?

I got this! I just noticed that the kitchen looked very blah, looks too much like every other new house. Time to add a backsplash!

I’m desperately trying to fix my surroundings in an attempt to fix myself. It’s not possible. I cannot fix this.

No matter how much planning I do, no matter how much I think I have done, I will always add something to Benny’s celebration of life. In part it has become my way of still planning a party for my son, even though he is not here.

I try to find the perfect book to be read at the cemetery. I look for a creative craft for the kids to do in Benny’s memory. I am constantly looking for new ways to celebrate his life. Which is hard because it was so short.

Is all of this crazy? Sure. Do I need to put more pressure on myself to what is already a month heaped with emotional grief? Nope. But here’s the thing. This stuff, this trying to fix things, this need to plan a celebration of my son’s life, it helps. It helps me feel the tiniest bit like I can have control over something, anything in my chaotic life. I like keeping my hands busy and my mind focused. It’s like meditation to me. It gives me a chance to be truly present in the moment.

This is my process. This is how I have learned to make it through an emotionally charged month of ups and downs. My husband and kids have learned to take it all in stride and just accept that this is what I do. This is what I need. And for now it works. Maybe some day it won’t and that’s ok too.

There is no guidebook friends. There is nothing to make it all better. But if you can find something constructive to make it tolerable, you do you. Do what feels right.

Dust

There’s something so beautiful and haunting about this song. I’m curled up on the couch hearing the fan above and listening to this on repeat. My mascara is smudged and my nose is runny. And that’s ok.

You see, I’ve lived with my mom’s death now for 23 years. My dad’s death is new, even though he’s been dying for quite a long time. Today was a good day until it wasn’t. I was just finishing up a show when this song came on.

And now I’m sitting here wondering how long it’s been since I had a good long cry. It feels like forever. It’s exhausting holding it all in all the time.

I’m realizing that I’ve lost both my parents. And I’m feeling it. I’ve been independent for so long, but this still hurts like hell. I’m not even 40 and my parents are gone. I still cannot wrap my head around that. It’s a lot to take in.

I’m getting kind of tired of death.

My Very Own Grief

I have come to the realization that my father’s death will be the first one where I can have my grief all to myself. I am only in control of my own feelings and my own journey. As it should be in any healthy, normal relationship. You cannot control others grief, but oh how I’ve tried.

When my mom died I was 16. She had been sick for 2 years prior, so I had slowly been becoming more independent over those 2 years. She knew that she wasn’t going to make it, so she tried her hardest to prepare me for life on my own. I think she knew that my father was in no way equipped to handle her death. I sure wasn’t, but I was just a kid.

If I’m being candid, my father failed my sister and I. He was the adult and he fell completely apart. He began drinking again, he began dating almost immediately. I was only 16, but I was able to recognize that his behaviors were not healthy. He was never around and when he was, he was drunk.

I tried my damnedest to make things easier for him. I tried to step up and help out. I put my grief on the back burner while I tried to navigate this new normal. It was extremely frustrating and exhausting. It was probably easier for me to deal with him than it was for me to deal with my own grief.

It took a lot of years for me to make my peace with this and be able to forgive my dad. It was a lot of counseling and trying to look at things from his perspective. It didn’t make it ok, it just made it a little more bearable to live with.

When Benny died, I was once again consumed by everyone else’s grief. I am Type A and always need to feel a sense of control. I was so focused on my husband and my daughter’s grief. It was easier than dealing with my own feelings. What I learned is that control is an illusion.

Being at home for a year is a long time and eventually I had to begin to allow myself to grieve. I couldn’t push this down so far and hide it behind my family’s grief this time. I had to face it head on. It took a bit, but I finally let myself give in.

So, here I am grieving my dad. Alone. There’s no alcoholic to take care of, no husband or child to worry about. Just me. And this grief feels so free and so terriffying all at once. It’s all mine. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

To be honest, it’s kind of lonely. My family hasn’t stopped and wallowed like in the past. Life is still moving along for everyone. Grief and little kids don’t mix together too well anyway. You cannot just stop when the baby has a fever, or your tween is struggling in dance. Or when your husband gets heat stroke.

I had this idea in my head because this grief was all mine that I would be able to sit with it, yell at it, scream at it, cry with it, maybe even laugh with it for a bit. As usual, life had other plans. That free feeling I felt in the beginning is more like a drowning feeling now as I try to navigate this alone. And that’s ok. I’m used to doing things alone. Sometimes I actually prefer it.

But tonight I will go to a Support Group at Hope Lives Here. I will laugh and cry and probably leave there feeling a little bit lighter. These are my people. They get it. And I absolutely hate that I have to go there, but love being there, if that makes any sense. I’ll feel a little less alone in this.

23 Years of Grief and Growing

It’s amazing to me how you can grow up somewhere, spend your entire childhood there and feel absolutely no connection to that place. Maybe I’ve been gone for too long. Maybe the memories have faded too much. I’m not entity sure.

I’m sitting on the ferry leaving the place of my youth and I feel nothing looking at the beaches that I used to play on. Maybe I’m just getting old and have lived in Massachusetts for too long. Maybe it’s because that childhood chapter of my life closed when my father died yesterday.

I’m still pretty numb, because that’s what happens after death. Grief is so damn complicated for me in general, so this is going to take time. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but he was my dad and now at 40 I’m an orphan. Which sounds ridiculous but no one prepares you to lose both of your parents.

When we lost Bennett we lost our hopes and dreams for the future. Losing both of my parents now I feel like I’m losing my past. I’ve always really struggled with not knowing much about myself when I was little because my mom was gone. I constantly look at my kids and wonder if they’re like me.

So I’m sitting here on the ferry, a trip that I’ve taken a million times before in my life and I’m taking a moment to breathe. I’m taking a moment to enjoy the rumble of the engine and the chatter of the people around me. I’m taking a moment to realize that this is once again out of my control.

I’m going to sit here and smile for the life that my father lived. He did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, unabashedly. While I didn’t always agree with his choices, he never stopped being who he was. Before he was sick, he certainly lived life to the fullest.

So this is going to be sad. And this is going to suck. But this moment, right here, right now, this moment is ok. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Maybe I will appreciate his death for what it was, because he didn’t suffer like my mom. Who knows what grief path I will take now. I do know that for the first time in my life I feel prepared and emotionally healthy enough to deal with this one head on.

It’s taken me 23 years to even begin to understand grief and how it affects us. And I’m still learning. This is a process that never ends, just like your love for those lost never ends. And I’m finally beginning to come to terms with that.