Better Off Dead? Or Better Off Divorced?

In the aftermath of my dad’s untimely sudden death, I know that my mom meant well. She really tried to help me to put this tragedy into some sort of useful perspective. I’m sure she was completely at a loss herself, trying to deal with the loss of her dear husband, and learning how to be a single parent.

I do think she wished there were a few magic words she could say, or something she could do that would make me just get over it, once and for all…. Get over the fact that I watched my dad die. Get over the fact that I’d never see him again. Get over the fact that there was no one else around to balance out her depression and anger. …Get over the fact that my Dad would never see me graduate elementary school, high school, or college, or walk me down the aisle when I get married….

But I couldn’t just get over it. Not yet. Not that simply.

So, Mom persistently suggested new ways for me to think about Dad being gone, because feeling sad or sorry for myself was certainly not an option. After Dad had been gone about a year, when I still hadn’t “bounced back” or “gotten over” my dad dying, Mom tried a new angle. In fact, this was a spin she tried more than once:

“Just think — It could be much worse…” she said. “Look at the bright side.”

“Really?” I asked, intrigued. I wondered how it could be worse, and wondered what the “bright side” of a dead parent looks like.

“Your dad and I could be divorced!” Mom emphatically proclaimed, “Imagine how much worse that would be. That would really be awful!”

[Insert my confused silence here, as I tried to wrap my 11-year-old brain around that concept.]

Was she actually trying to convince me my situation would be worse, and that I would feel more pain, if my dad were still alive, but divorced from her?

“Think of your friend, Laura, dealing with her parents’ divorce…how tough it has been since the split, the fighting, the going back and forth between houses, the dad’s new girlfriend, how sad Laura must be and how hard that must be on her.” Mom explained, as if she were making perfect sense, “Compared to her, you are lucky. At least your parents aren’t divorced, so you don’t have to deal with… all that.”

My thoughts turned to my friend, Laura, the one with the divorced parents. True, she was naturally very distraught when her parents divorced. But, at the very least, my friend gets to HAVE two parents in her life – she has a mom, AND she has a dad. She also has two Christmases, two birthdays, and two people fighting for her love and attention, showering her with gifts and affection, to out-do the other parent…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to minimize the impact of divorce on children in any way whatsoever.  But, to my eleven-year-old self, divorced parents sounded like a pretty sweet deal, like a dreamworld compared to my reality, and the finality of having no dad at all.

If both my parents were alive, and divorced, at least I could see my dad. I could hear his voice, his laugh. I could even hug him. He could still read me stories and take me to the movies, play games and watch cartoons with me and do all the other kid things mom didn’t like to do. He could do still do all the Dad things he used to do, at least whenever I was with him.

The more I thought about it, no matter how I imagined it, I could not, for the life of me, see it any other way. To me it seemed perfectly clear that it’s far easier to have quality time with your dad when he is divorced, living, and breathing, as opposed to a having a dad who is pushing up daisies at the Eternal Gardens on Highway 29.

I tried so hard to see it the other way, because Mom seemed so convinced that I should be able to. And, my mom had this way of making you feel that, if you couldn’t see things her way, there must be something wrong with you, that you are just not thinking right. But, as persuasive and overbearing as she was, I just couldn’t get it. At the time, I couldn’t tell my mom that I didn’t agree with her, because I wasn’t really allowed to have my own feelings or opinions about most things until I was about 33 (which was, incidentally, after she passed away)…. but, today, I can unequivocally say that, at age ten, given the choice of “divorced dad”, or “dead dad”, I would have gladly picked option #1: Divorced Dad.

Of course, there was no choice to  make, or option in my life. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose when people die, so it was “dead dad” for me. But, to quote one of the most annoying cliches of our time, “it is what it is.” Or, it was what it was. We all dealt with it, as best we could at the time.

Meanwhile, I was relieved from this uncomfortable and confusing conversation with my misguided, but well-meaning mother, when there was a knock at the door. My ride was here, it was time to go!  I grabbed my overnight bag. “I’m going over to Laura’s house to spend the night,” I said. Then I walked out the door and hopped in the car with Laura, and her living, breathing, divorced dad.

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