20 years ago, my dad died on my lunch break.
Our relationships with our parents can be significant and impactful – in good ways, bad ways, and somewhere in between.
I know several people (actually, many) who experience conflicted, complicated relationships with their biological parents. Either I’ve met them in therapy, been their friend, or a stranger who felt safe with me shared their story in a short period of time because I was a caring and listening person for them in that moment.
When we experience complicated relationships with our parents, we might also have endured, experienced, and lived in a dichotomous world. Two competing truths presented themselves to us growing up or the realization came to us as adults. We realized our parents did the best they did with what they knew and what they had (or maybe we question this still) AND it’s still important to acknowledge that perhaps we still did not get what we needed as a child.
Sometimes we choose harmony over truth in our relationships, including our relationships with our parents. Other times, we may need to choose truth over harmony.
In conflicted relationships with our parents, complications can continue to exist long after a relationship comes to what appears to be ‘an end’ because of our own self-preservation or because our parent has died. It’s important to understand that even if we don’t have physical contact with a person, a relationship still exists. The relationship never really ends, because throughout the course of our own life, we will continue to engage with that relationship through our internal dialogue or through emotional ties.
Several months before my dad died, he wanted some pudding - but really wanted me to spoon-feed it to him. At this point in our journey, I was so tired and burnt out from being his primary person. I resented being so alone in those moments. I asked him to try to feed himself - and he struggled to do so.
The pudding incident haunted me for years after his death. Massive guilt would overcome me as I thought to myself, “I should have just fed him the darn pudding like he asked.”
Guilt is a funny emotion. It creeps in when we recall moments where we think we should have said “yes,” but our body and mind said “no.”
I still currently live in that dichotomous world where I think I should have said yes, but today I’m glad I said no. Thinking back to that time, I could have very well helped him get that spoon into his pudding cup. But my healing process has helped me extend grace to myself by understanding that it was okay to say no in a moment when my body and mind could not do it.
I was choosing my truth and risking harmony in that moment.
I recently read a post on social media about a spouse asking his wife to make chili, but she didn’t feel like it. Her friend encouraged her to make the chili because she had recently lost her husband and “you just never know what good deed or act you show will be the last they observe and enjoy on this earth.”
I get it. Make the chili.
But also do things out of love. When your cup is full.
When you are not completely exhausted, heading into crisis mode.
You have to know and honor YOU. And when you do this, your food will probably taste better too.
Getting rid of this kind of guilt is never easy.
I still think back to the time of the pudding cup, and intentionally envision holding grace and love – not only for my younger self, but for my father as well.
I like to imagine that my dad has made a friend in his resting place who helps him eat the pudding – or maybe at times, that friend graciously tells him to feed himself too.
I still love and miss you dad.