Times of Joy, Times of Sorrow



“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So begins Charles Dickens great work, “A Tale of Two Cities.” Those words perfectly describe my current situation.

My mother’s health has greatly improved over the past few weeks and we seem to have finally gotten to the point where things are looking up. It’s been a long haul, as anyone knows who has been a caregiver or a patient undergoing chemotherapy. The symptoms can be horrific and frightening and there is nothing you do, but experience them if you are a patient, or helplessly watch, if you are a caregiver.

Neither position is easy and it wears on every aspect of your life in ways that you’d never expect. I began this blog to help me get through this experience because I simply could no longer go on carrying so much inside me. Release is good. It is also therapeutic.

Just a few weeks ago, my mother was so anemic that she could barely stand up, let alone walk through out house without assistance. Now she is not only able to do that, but has begun getting up in the morning to make her breakfast without any help from me at all. These may seem like small things to some, but they are monumental to us. Depression is very much a part of chemotherapy treatment for both patient and caregiver. My mother had pretty much given up at various points and it was hard to watch, because giving up is so not an aspect of her personality. Mom and I are both fighters, possibly because we’ve had so much to fight against and fight for throughout our lives. Sometimes we have difficulty recognizing which battles are worthy of your efforts and energies, because when we care about something or witness something that is wrong, we speak out whether or not anyone else cares. So when mom wouldn’t get out of bed because she had become convinced that she’d lost the ability to walk, it killed me. I did whatever I could to get her up and trying. I yelled at her saying I could fight anything but her giving up. I refused to let her quit and thankfully she didn’t.

Now she’s walking and the grip of fear that clenched at me so much is beginning to loosen.

It would be perfect except for this.

Two weeks ago, I received a phone call that my father wasn’t doing well. He’s in a nursing home because he’s suffering from dementia. I hadn’t seen dad in a few weeks because I was so busy taking care of mom and I couldn’t leave her alone for fear that she’d fall. No one in my family helped me or offered to help, so I was left with a pretty tough choice to make, but perhaps it wasn’t that tough after all.

My relationship with my father has always been problematic. He was abusive. He’s the reason why I walk with a limp, have chronic pain, can’t have children and have struggled all of my life to have healthy relationships with men. When I was a child, I thought all men were evil. My father had taught me that in every way imaginable and that particular lesson stuck. Thankfully, I have many wonderful male friends who have shown me nothing but kindness and understanding and helped me unlearn that horrible lesson. All men aren’t evil, and some would never consider doing to a woman, let alone a child, their child, what my father had done to me.

That said, I can honestly say that I love my father, though to be honest, this love ranges from love to indifference and back again. I am not a victim, I was once, but not today. My being able to love my father has come out of my healing from his abuse. My indifference comes from my ability to forgive. I have never hated him and I’m grateful for that. Somehow, I had the sense early in my recovery to recognize that I had to forgive my father in order to move on with my life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that my forgiveness was perfect or constant. I am human after all, and I have moments of anger and bitterness over what he did, but thankfully those moments swiftly pass.

My father is dying. Those are horrible words to write. Even with my situation, it is not easy. Though he was sometimes abusive, he was also sometimes a really great dad. I just wish he’d chosen to be that good father throughout our relationship, but he made the choices he did for whatever reasons and I’ve had to live with them.

My father is dying and I am already mourning him. Dementia takes people in pieces, first bits and pieces of their memory fade away, then their recognition of you fades away, then their ability to feed themselves or function fade away until there is nothing left by a body that breathes in and out until it finally that stops too.

I hold his hand remembering the times when I sought him for comfort. He was always the one who bandaged my scabby knees when I’d fallen down. I had suffered many falls as a child. I have no idea why, but yeah I do. My dad threw me down a staircase when I was a kid and though I limped around for weeks, my parents never sought medical attention for it. I was called dramatic and told to knock it off, but no one called the doctor. It wasn’t until I was in college after yet another fall, that it was discovered that I had a mass on the bone of my leg that had developed because of a previous fracture. Perhaps my dad being so gentle with me when I fell was his way of apologizing for what he’d done, perhaps not, either way I remember his gentleness and I mourn him.

Ironically, my mother was always a little rough with me in these moments. She has strong, tough hands and would always press a band-aid on too hard or clean a cut too vigorously.

Her relationship with dad has been problematic too. They hated each other for years. She because of the abuse we’d endured, he because he blamed her for putting him in jail. Now, somehow they had forged a new relationship. Now they have grown to love each other. It’s pleasant, beautiful and awful to see. While I am happy that they are happy, I am also repulsed by my mother’s betrayal.

“Your father did wrong in the past, but that was then.”

Those words are like a slap.

I’m the one who had to tell her about that phone call. He had a stroke and it’s just a matter of time. I’m the one who comforts her when she cries and I’m the one who sometimes cries myself.

So far I’ve received two phone calls telling me his death was imminent and somehow he has fought his way back. He won’t recover, but this will not be an easy death. Dad is afraid of death. He believes in hellfire. I do not. There is no need for hellfire. He’s in hell now.

One of the things I’ve done to escape all that’s going on is to watch Netflix DVDs of “The Tudors.” Of course it sometimes takes me weeks to go from one episode to the next, I can honestly say that I love this series. I’m currently watching the part where Henry is beginning to have a change of heart towards Anne Boleyn. I know what’s coming. I love English history and know this story well. It’s really sad because I love the woman who is playing Anne; a lovely actress named Natalie Dormer. She has played Anne from an impish little tease all the way up to a powerful queen. It’s an extraordinary performance. I hate to see her go. I could stop watching the show now and just pretend that Anne and Henry lived happily ever after, but I know that’s a lie. Besides, I want to see the rest of this wonderful show, so I will keep watching.

There is no easy way out for my situation with my dad. His ending is inevitable too. I know it’s coming and there is no escape. My father is dying, my mother is recovering and I have to keep going on. I have to see what’s going to happen next. I have to face what I do not wish to face and I have to help my mother through it, while I try to process my feelings and continue to heal.

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24 Responses to Times of Joy, Times of Sorrow

  1. This was definitely a step of courage to openly admit your fears for everyone to see. I understand dementia because my grandmother has it. It’s frightening to see what happens to people you knew so well until they change into something you don’t anymore.

    Hugs and strength to you. You’re already the strongest.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thanks Carrie. I’m sorry about grandmother and yes it is scary to watch them fade away like that. Hugs and strength to you too.

  2. Gracie says:

    You are courageous and strong. Thank you for sharing your experience so deeply. Sending more hugs your way.

  3. Les says:

    I’m glad to hear your mother is doing better. Yet, at the same time sad about your father.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thank you Les. You’ve been such a good and supportive friend throughout all of this.

  4. Vanessa says:

    What a beautiful, heart-wrenchingly honest post. I understand your ambivalence toward your father; I too had to get to the part where we just say we all do what we think is right at the time. Too often, it’s not, but how strong you are to throw off the victim role and forgive. It’s healthy.

    Good to hear Mom’s doing well :-).

    You are so much stronger than you know. {{Hugs}}

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thank you Vanessa. I don’t feel particularly strong. Thanks for the good words.

  5. Wookiesgirl says:

    This post made me cry.
    As you know, my mother suffers from Parkinson’s and dementia. My feelings towards her are much like the feelings you have towards your father. My father was the abusive one… but she was too. I feel that I was harmed by her actions more so than his. She didn’t do her job as a mother to protect us. As a result I blamed her for years. I have let that go and have forgiven her. Today I focus on trying to be a good daughter to her. She can’t be a mother to me now. Watching her slowly lose who she is over time has been very difficult. My mother remains to be the strongest, smartest woman, that I’ve ever known.

    I miss those sides of her.
    God is carrying you and I through these things. Its life on life’s terms and walking through it is what shapes and molds us. We have a choice in how we do it. We can draw closer to God or we can turn away. Personally… I’d rather draw closer and feel his comfort.

    Love you honey!

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Love you too Michelle. I don’t think anything prepares you for taking care of a parent. Some people compare it to when our parents dealt with us when we were babies or teenagers, but we grew up and hopefully improved with age. What they’re doing is the opposite. Watching someone get sicker and disappear is tough stuff. Couple that with the bad parenting and past abuse and it only makes it that much tougher to deal with.


  6. Sarah says:

    What a courageous essay, Rachel. Hats off to you … I only wish that I could rise to the occasion as well as you do.

  7. Blackbirdsong says:

    Thank you Sarah, and of course you can. I think we can all surprise ourselves when we are forced to deal with difficult situations.


  8. Lionel says:

    this site looks fantastic. heartfelt writes with a lot of layers. very touching blog.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thank you Lionel! That means so much coming from you. You’ve always been so supportive of my work.

  9. Arietta says:

    You are so right, we have to forgive them in order to move on. We have to forgive them for our own sakes. I’m almost forty and I still haven’t been able to forgive my mother for her abuse and neglect, even though I am aware I should, and I do try. It’s good to read things like this post to help me hammer the idea into my head, I guess, so thanks for writing it.

    I wish you all the best, and hope your mother’s recovery goes well.

  10. Maureen says:

    May I invite you to come to http://www.npr.org/ourcancer ? It’s a community of caregivers, people with cancer (at every stage), friends and family of people with cancer, medical professionals, etc. There is tremendous support to be found there. Your voice would be welcome there.

    Peace be with you.

  11. Christine says:

    Funny, I was just thinking about some of this stuff as I cleaned my teeth just before lying down with my lap top for some pre-sleep surfing. I found you via Ebert on Twitter.

    I was thinking about it because I have a friend staying here and she got a phone call from her father which I could hear from her end was light hearted and happy, any normal family relationship. She made arrangements to go see him for a visit in a couple of weeks and when she got off the phone, she laughed and said, Poor old thing is lonely.

    I think she has forgotten that she confided in me many years ago that her father abused her terribly in every way possible as a little girl. It is obvious she has completely forgiven him.

    I was thinking about how my relationship with my parents has been problematic but as they get older, I have forgiven them and lost my arrogance as i see the things my kids will have to forgive me for. My parents have changed a lot and that always makes it easier to forgive. My mother is in a wheel chair and my father has cancer. Once it was a central fact of my life that they had ruined everything and caused all my problems. Now they are frail old soldiers who have battled for so long and on so many fronts they are just tired.

    I was thinking about how life is a process of solving the problems our parents give us. It takes as long as it takes and there is no right answer.

  12. Jenny Talia says:

    You are umbelievable, truly you are.
    There are people in this world that wear their tragic childhood as a badge. They blame & they let it define them. In a lot of cases it’s completely justified. As it would be with your history
    But that’s not the path you have chosen
    I wish you all the best with this long hard journey you are on.
    I already know the ending though
    You triumph, amazing lady

  13. Sandy says:

    Roger Ebert tweeted a link to this. I wanted you to know how I found you.

    I admire you for what you’re doing and how you’ve responded to the things done to you. I don’t know that I would be able to do the same, though I agree it is what is required to heal and have anything resembling a normal life with normal relationships. My reaction to stories of child abuse is strong and angry and this is no exception. I find it hard to understand how anyone could think abusing a child is the “right” thing to do, or that it’s the best they could do at the time. But the human mind is complicated and I don’t pretend to understand it well.

    In any case, I wish you the best and I hope that when the current dreadfulness is over, you have peace and happiness.

  14. claudiusthegod says:

    Read your blog from Twitter. Thank you for sharing. You are a really strong person for writing about your experiences and I applaud you.

  15. Blackbirdsong says:

    Wow and thank you to everyone for their supportive comments. Thank you especially to Roger Ebert. Of course now I’m looking for every typo and mortified each time I find one. I don’t feel especially strong or valiant, but thank you for those kind words.

  16. Allyson says:

    Here from Roger Ebert’s tweet.

    Incredible writing, and I agree with everyone (but you) about your courage and strength. I especially admire your ability to forgive your father for the abuse and remember the times he was a good father. To do that without it owning your life must be so difficult. I wish you the very best.

    I’m entranced. Definitely adding a subscription to my Google Reader…

  17. Sarah says:

    Your story really resonated with me and I pray for you and your parents. I am sorry your family is unsupportive.
    My father was incredibly abusive as well and my mother is also battling an illness. I can relate to what u are dealing with and I know it’s not easy, and for me, it leaves me very conflicted.
    Know that you are not alone and if u need to vent or cry on an virtual shoulder, feel free.
    Sarah B.

  18. Rhea from Winnipeg says:

    I also found you through Roger Ebert’s tweet. I am sending you positive thoughts and energy your way. Take care.

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