Tag Archives: Struggle

On Being an Orphan

I imagine that most adults, upon losing their parents, experience grief. I imagine that most are somehow confronted with thoughts of their own mortality too; it only makes sense.

Now, having experienced it myself, I can even comprehend less predictable results…like a certain sense of freedom (more on that later). But I wonder how many people feel this dull wonder when they realize that they have reached the bottom layers of potential pity and found it to be utterly hollow, useless and vain.

The pinnacle of all I could want in terms of pity (attention) without actually having to endure any kind of truly manly suffering has been achieved: he’s dead.

He surrendered to cancer almost 2 years to the day after Mom died. To say he “surrendered” is an irony in that he never fought it to begin with. Actually, he surrendered to the cancer decades ago. He chose this way to die when he was a much younger and healthier man. It’s just that after mom died, he stopped locking the doors and bolting the gate against whatever would sneak in first. He had agreed that it would be cancer long ago.

I watched him die.

I was squirting morphine into his dry, gaping mouth in a panicked effort to make his groaning and squirming stop. It was as much about my pain as it was about his.  His eyes opened during his stupid diaphragm’s last two attempts to suck air into his malignant lungs.

Stupid diaphragm.

His chest moved a little. His mouth moved a little. But nothing happened. He looked right through me and he died.

It was quiet but it was not peaceful. It was not just a “natural part of life”. Death is an enemy. While I respect those who choose not to engage in some vain, on-going fist fight against this inevitability, I do not embrace death as a friend or an ally.

We were not meant for this.

The weeks leading up to his death are a blur:

-Sleepless nights on the tiny bed in the room next to his.

-The sensation of his increasing frailty as I nearly carry him to the bathroom.

-His quiet, panicked gaze in the middle of the night.


-Charting medicines, food, bowel movements and emotions

…but one thing which stands out is a statement from Alick: “You, will find, Dan, that once he is gone, you will be released from certain bonds that you didn’t even know were holding you down. Don’t judge it. Just know that it’s coming with his leaving.”

It’s true. In his absence there is a void that I can only describe as elbow room.

Make no mistake: I would prefer to have him and give back this “space”, but the space is still a gift.

“Father” looms large in a man’s life. Even great fathers who got nearly everything about fathering right (like my Dad) can’t help but block out the sun to some degree. They steal some of the wind form your sails just because they ‘are’. Now I feel the wind blow stiffer, the sun is brighter too.

I must become who I am.

Simultaneously, as this realization blooms in the dirt of my grief, an old stink rises from the soil.

The mewling, cowardly beggar in me is measuring himself for a new suit of pity-clothes. This loss, in proximity to my marriage crisis, my mother’s death and all the other turmoil of the last few years, equates to the Mother Lode of attention getting pity.

How much pity do I need? Really? What’s the amount in pounds, or yards or hectares or giga-jewels? How many people whom I care about must die before I come fully into myself, before I get the attention I need to allow my image to come into focus?

I find myself at the bottom of an enormous pity-silo and I have used up all the contents. It’s been picked clean now. I can hear my own foot-steps echo off the walls as I scramble around looking for scraps…

…there’s nothing.

“But I’m trapped in here! I’ll starve!” I shout to the top of the silo, so far away.

“No you won’t.” I hear The Christ re-assure me, “I have provided for you.”

I expect to hear my own little voice cry out in protest, and it does…but a strange thing has happened: For the first time in my life, this whiny little voice is not dominant. In fact it’s not very loud at all.

The voice has been shown to be a liar. A fraud.

I will not dishonor my father’s life by using his death for my own ends. I can’t do it.

I’m so done with this shit.

I miss my Dad.

I miss my Mom.

I miss my Wife.

I do not miss the old Dan.

March 12th, 2008

I wrote this to Brenda but I can’t remember if I actually sent it to her or not. If I didn’t: Brenda, you need to know that the spirit behind this (even though it sounds quite melancholy) is really more peaceful resignation, like finally surrendering to sleep in the early hours of the morning after a long night with a sick child. It’s a welcome thing.

Today, (November of 2010) it reminds me of the thoughts I have about Jesus, who resisted only one thing: evil, and in everything else accepted (peaceful resignation) what the Father gave him. (John 5:19)

I translated the idea of the “monkey trap” http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/monkey_trap

into song lyrics that I hope someday to set to music.

Let me cut the suspense, start at the end and then start over with the details:

I’m not leaving. I’m not quitting. But I am going to “give up”. I surrender.

After more than a year and half, I’m exhausted, and I know you are too, so one of us has to quit or we’re going to ruin our children and the potential that comes if God works a miracle.

It’s been a long battle of attrition, fighting to get the intimacy that I want, that I believe we are supposed to experience, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s never going to happen. I’ve felt this way for some time, but in the last few weeks as I feel myself being pulled into a season of battle again. I realize nothing has changed on the most fundamental levels. There are still secrets, there is still little trust, and next to no understanding of one another’s needs.

As I laid in bed this morning, yet again, finding no honest way to span the gap between us that won’t require me to die to who I truly am…I considered writing down the history of how we’ve arrived here in this place. I sit here now, going back and forth on whether I should travel that road yet again, and I’m unsure.

After Mondays argument, (when I brought my best work to the issue…doing/being everything I know I should do/be) and still no movement, no progress, no change, I sat on the bed for 10 minutes hitting my own head and repeating the phrase: “It’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen.”

It’s like we’re both caught in a monkey trap…your fist clenched around some “prize” inside a jar. As long as you hold on to it, you can’t pull it (or your hand) free of the jar. The jar is chained to an anchor, so you can’t leave. You just sit and wait for the hunter to come and get you. But the truth is that if you just let go of the prize inside (that you can never have anyway)….you can walk away with your freedom.

For me…I’m clinging to the prize of truly winning you someday; of someday really having your trust and openness; of having you shower me with the reward of yourself; of saying to me…”I’m scared, but you’ve won me over. You’ve proved yourself…you have acquired enough “credit” to win my trust and I open myself to you…”

I LOOOOOOONGGGG to experience something like that.

I know…you would say that this has already happened.

I don’t know how to respond to that anymore. All I CAN say is: I don’t believe that’s true.

There’s more.

But the point of this particular letter is: Somehow…my desire for intimacy with you has turned into a very selfish need on my part. It’s become corrupted. It started in a beautiful, wholesome place 2 years ago. But it’s become a battle now. Now it’s just a fight I don’t want to lose. It’s at least to SOME extent about me getting what I want as it is about wanting you’re freedom.

I’m so sorry for that.

And so…right, wrong or indifferent, I’m letting go of the prize. I know I’ve already bruised it with my efforts to yank it free…and I don’t want to crush it all-together…that would just be wrong. Finesse hasn’t worked any better than brute force, and simply waiting for …well, SOMETHING to change is resulting in resentment.

So I’m letting go. I’m dropping it, I’m pulling my hand free of the trap, and I’m letting the prize drop.

The truth is: it feels like love is dead. To drop it, leaves me feeling nothing.

But which is better:

  • To leave the prize intact, un-touched, feeling nothing, but allowing for a miracle?


  • To continue yanking, manipulating, grasping and strategizing, thereby eventually crushing it altogether?

What would Sam do?