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How I survived burying my father

How I survived burying my father

Burying my father was the hardest thing I ever did but I survived it. I hope that my story will help you to handle your own grief and will teach you that there’s a way out of it.

The Relationship

My dad and I had what one would call a long distance relationship at best. He didn’t much care for the telephone, and he moved to another state altogether. We spoke on occasion, and the talks were very brief. I tried on several occasions to engage him in dialogue, but my dad wasn’t interested in talking on the phone. After several attempts I decided to give up trying to engage him. This is a decision that I deeply regret and will have to live with for the rest of my life. I really wish that I had tried harder, and that we had shared more time together. My only comfort is that when we parted last, we did share time together, and we were finally able to talk as adults.

During my last visit, we sat at his quiet, plain apartment and he told me stories from his younger days. My dad had a very storied life, and my only regret about that day is that I did not record our conversation. I believed that I would remember all of the details from his stories, but I was wrong. He told me how he had seen me on television several times, and that he was proud of his famous son. We shared some more stories, and then I left him at the hospital as he was feeling slightly ill.

Days later after I returned to New York City from my time in Florida, my dad was gone.

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The Cremation

My dad asked to be cremated, so that is what was done. I wasn’t present during this request, so I don’t know exactly what he wanted to do. However, we cremated his body and my sister received his remains in Pennsylvania. After several months of driving around with my dad’s ashes in the back of her van, she decided that it was time to finally bury his remains. I was under the impression that we’d scatter his ashes in the ocean or something, but she really insisted on burying them. My sister happens to be somewhat religious, and it is her belief that the lord will return, and his servants need to be buried. I respect her views on this and I complied. I also paid for it all. Money comes and goes, but if I can give my little sister some peace of mind, then so be it. The entire day was a haze for me, I know I lived it, but I was in a dreamlike state the entire time.

I had a cold the night before, so I had to sleep on the couch. Using my cpap with a runny nose is not a good thing. I awoke relatively early, went through the morning routine, and I took the train out to Newark with my son. The only times I had ever gone to Newark Penn Station had been to visit my dad. Immediately after arriving there, I started to shed tears. My youngest sister called me, and I could barely get the words out as we spoke. Everything about this trip reminded me of visiting my dad, except that this time he’s in an urn. I couldn’t breathe, I started to hyperventilate. I told myself “breathe Angel, let it out.”

Dad’s Girlfriend and her faith

My son and I caught a cab and went to my dad’s girlfriend’s place. When we arrived I saw the cathedral where my dad used to work, and the building he used to live in. Last time I was here was a few years ago, before he moved to Florida. His lady moved to a new apartment, thank goodness, less pain. However, once we walked in, I heard the birds that have always been there. As soon as I heard them, I remembered joking with my dad about the angry birds that they have. My tears began to flow, she hugged me and my son. I couldn’t bare her looking at me, I know that she saw my dad in my face. When she looked at my son, I know that she saw my dad in his face as well. I saw my dad as I looked at her, then came more tears.

We sat and spoke for a while as we waited for my mom and sisters. She spoke about Jesus and the Christian religion. As she spoke, I heard her radio in the background, it was tuned to a Spanish Christian station. The speaker on the radio was intense, screaming and preaching. I was feeling overwhelmed and I just wanted to run away. She continued to repeat to us how good God was, almost as if she were trying to convince herself of this. She repeated how her faith and her love for the lord have guided her through this and many other difficult times.

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She shared a story with us. She said that 40 years ago she was an alcoholic, heavily drinking beer, wine, and whatever she could get her hands on. She said this happened when she was more or less my age. She then stated that one day she couldn’t take her lifestyle anymore, and she threw her arms up, closed her eyes, and begged the lord to save her from this living hell. Just like that, she said she was done with the drinking and dedicated her life to the lord.

Anyone who knows me, is aware that though I respect religion and people’s right worship as they will, I don’t particularly follow any religion myself. Though truth be told, I was raised as a Christian. As I listened to her, I could feel my son looking at me, he was wondering what I was thinking. I didn’t say anything, and I let her express her views uninterrupted. My son knows that I often speak my mind, but in this case, I decided it was best to let her continue without interjecting my own views.

It is my belief that if a person’s faith is so powerful that it can actually stop them from doing drugs and drinking, that you should allow them to follow their faith. Who am I to try and steer her from that? Who am I to plant even the smallest seed of doubt? The only thing that I said jokingly as she prayed for my cold to go away, was that just in case God was too busy to cure my cold, I was going to take a cold and flu pill.

The Cemetery

Once the others finally arrived, we all piled into the car and drove over to the cemetery. My mom saw a flower store and wanted to get flowers, I complained that we were late and we should proceed to our objective. I think that I was overwhelmed and didn’t want to prolong this any longer than it needed to be.

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It was a dark and rainy day. My sister asked “Who is carrying the urn?” I immediately replied that I would. I am his son, and I will carry him to his final resting place. I picked up the urn containing my dad’s ashes and I carried them slowly up the hill towards his grave plot. The urn was much heavier than I expected. It had a rough grainy and salty feeling. It’s one of those eco-friendly urns that will dissolve in time. My youngest nephew asked my sister question after question as we walked. “Grandpa is in there? Why? How did he die?” She knew that I was upset, and she was concerned that I might snap so she told him to calm down. “Sorry, he doesn’t understand yet.” I nodded that I understood, he is a child after all.

The Goodbyes

Once we arrived at the plot, some men were there waiting for us. I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there holding my dad’s ashes. One of guys told me to place it on top of the plot and I did. Once I set them down, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I stood there staring at the ground. The men indicated that we should say our goodbyes and final words, but I had none. I took the lead position in the group, but I just stood there like a deer in the headlights.

What happens now? What are we supposed to do? There was no major procession, no priest, just me, my son, my mom, my two sisters, my nephews, and my dad’s lady. The one who actually said some religious words was his girlfriend. As mentioned before, she’s extremely religious and provided the parting words. I didn’t process a single thing that she said, “thankful and grateful he is free.” I was in a haze, she held my arm, my sister held my other arm, “I’m happy he is at peace.” I couldn’t process or say anything. I stared at the urn and thought “he tried,” and “this is all that is left of what was my dad.” No legacy, no grand event, not even a proper grave marker.

The Burial

One of the men picked up the urn, removed the green carpet and inserted the urn in the hole. What was happening? I think I was crying. “Are you okay, Angel?” I didn’t know who was speaking. They began to throw dirt on the urn. I began crying again. My sister was confused, “How will we find him?” The guy explained, she didn’t know these details, my pain became anger. I understood what was going to happen, we spoke about this before, she’s the one who explained it to me, why was she confused? I didn’t want to talk about this then, I thought she understood.

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I was getting angrier, but I came to my senses. She was distraught, she was hurt, he was her dad too. I became foggy again. I explained to the men that we understood, not to worry. My mom wanted to put a simple grave marker of sorts, again, the anger came forth, but she loved him too. I went through so many emotions. I was numb, angry, confused. We were there, but were we really there? Was this really happening. I was so very sad.

Since my dad was in an urn, they do things a little different and only provide a small little plot with no headstone, or grave marker, etc. They put their names on this big stone where the other urns are interred. It didn’t feel quite right to me, my dad was worth more than this. Are we cheating him in death? Again, I felt the anger and rage coming up from inside of me. We spoke about this, why did they bring it up? This made me feel unsure.

Part of me thought this was a fitting ending for a man like my father. He loved his privacy, and unlike me, he was extremely discreet and secretive. He hated people knowing anything about his personal life. Even as he was dying, and I went to visit him, he was suspicious of the other folks in the center. He never trusted people, he was extremely private. So I can’t help but think that he would prefer that we are the only ones who know where he is buried. I considered trying to find out if he could get a marker, but it seems like it’s not an easy thing to do, and like I said, I kind of felt he’d prefer this method.

What’s next

The whole day I felt weird, and I apologized to my loved ones if I was distant or not present. It was all a haze to me, and though I know I was there, I wasn’t. This was truly one of the most difficult things that I have done in my life. Today as I look back on that afternoon, I miss my dad, but I am thankful that we shared those last few moments together. I am thankful that I made him laugh, and that he was proud. I am thankful that I was able to feed and provide him some comfort in his last days. The most important thing that I know, is that my father felt loved, and he was not alone when he left this world. Isn’t that the sum of it all? The true meaning of life, being loved, and not being alone?

That’s how I survived burying my dad.

Featured photo credit: Angel Rodriguez via instagram.com

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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