The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I have never been good at expressing my feelings, especially those surrounding my verbally and emotionally abusive father.  However, after I began communicating “My Ugly Grief Story” it set into motion life altering changes I never thought possible.  Emotions started to pop up, questions began to arise, and I started to recall good memories about my dad.

I remember that my dad would take me fishing and we would compete to see who could catch the most fish.   I remember how he used to stir the all-natural peanut butter for me when we were making sandwiches, and the way that he would cut my waffles in the morning before school (which is how I cut them now).  I remember how he used to sing a song to get me to brush my teeth, and when he read “The Hobbit” he would change his voice as he pretended to be the different characters. I remember the smell of sawdust when he was building, that he let me sit on the counter as he ordered his supplies, and how he taught me to paint when he was remodeling our house. I remember when we were on vacation we used to hunt for alligators so he could jump out of the car and take pictures of them, and when thunderstorms would roll in at night he would bring me outside to take pictures of the lightning. I remember bragging to my friends that I had the strongest dad in the world.  And sometimes, when I play drums I think about him because of the love for music that he instilled in me.

But the good memories stop there.

Bad memories, and sometimes an overwhelming feeling of sadness, often taint the good memories because I have not been able to understand why the father I once thought the world of walked away from a relationship with me.  As I learned to forgive him I realized that his choice to walk away was not my fault.  But I’ve often been left wondering how to reconcile these memories – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Despite my few good memories, my father’s legacy is one of anger, hate, and bitterness. In truth, I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully reconcile the two, but the process has given me freedom from his legacy and I’ve gained a few tools along the way.  In addition to continuing communication around my father’s life and legacy I have tried to learn from my memories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I try to connect to the good and consciously choose to be different from the bad and ugly.

Lessons from the good memories:

Serve others.  If all you do is something small like stir peanut butter or cut waffles, serving people has a lasting impact.

Teach.  Much like my dad taught me how to paint, take the time to teach others about the stories and skills you have learned from your life experiences. These lessons are part of the legacy that you will leave behind.

Make time for others.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives, take time to go fishing or share a love for music with those around you.  You never know how one moment will change you or the other person forever.

Life is an adventure…experience it! Chase alligators. Photograph lightning. There is a whole world out there for you to experience.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world around you.

Lessons from the bad and ugly memories:

Communication and conflict resolution are essential to every relationship.  It has taken me years to learn to how to approach conflict in a healthy manner. I used to turn and run in the other direction as soon as conflict arose, but I began to see that unresolved conflict is the breeding ground for more anger and bitterness.

Seize the moment and speak words of affirmation into people’s lives…frequently.  If you have something encouraging to say, say it. When we are struggling, the words of affirmation that we have received can be more difficult to remember than the hurtful words that have been spoken to us out of anger.

Ask for help and listen.  Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way, ask for help, and graciously listen to others.  The ability to be humble in hard situations is when you will grow and learn the most.

Through all of this I’ve learned that we have a choice in how we live our lives, interact with others, and deal with conflict.  Our choices not only affect us but they affect the people around us. We need to recognize and choose the legacy we leave behind.

Because my memories are full of the good, the bad, and the ugly I have come to love the word “and.” My father was emotionally and verbally abusive and we had good memories together.  It doesn’t change the past and it doesn’t change that his decisions were wrong.  It does help heal the wounds that are there and reconcile the good to the bad and ugly.  It gives me a full picture of who my father was. With this complete picture I choose to be different from the bad and ugly, and choose to cling to the good.

The reconciliation process is painful.  However, it is pain with the purpose of healing and growth. As I continue to reconcile my “ugly grief story” I’ve begun to experience an abounding sense of freedom from the pain of the past. With this freedom I will continue to share my experiences along my ugly, yet rewarding, grief journey.

Photo Credit.

11 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said on January 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm ... #

    Wow. Wow. Really thought-provoking. Nicely done. 🙂

  2. Bill said on January 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm ... #

    Super article! We can’t assume relationships don’t sometimes have an “ugly” side. It’s helpful making talking/feeing about it OK.

  3. lisette said on January 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm ... #

    Powerful ! Sharing a painfully ugly grief story can only help others deal with their own. Thank you.

  4. Tiffani said on January 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm ... #

    The loss of my mom and my ex-husband are also ugly grief stories. My mom was very immature and could be verbally and emotionally abusive when under stress or going through one of her frequent depressions. Now, sometimes I wonder if she was bipolar because she displayed many of the same symptoms. Nonetheless, she could be an awesome, loving , caring and vibrant mother that helped me discover so many joys in life. We had a very complicated relationship as I was growing up but seemed destined to be the best of friends after I turned 18, right before her murder. My ex-husband suffered from alcoholism and drug abuse. He died after a two year absence from me and my kid’s lives. I was devastated beyond comprehension because I had always pictured that day he would clean up and show up on our doorstep sober, ready to make amends. Now my kids will never know the multi-faceted, brilliant, friendly, kind man I once knew and will always love. Because we were divorced, people always disregard my grief over his death. Also, I’m still angry at his illness and abandonment because I feel we were cheated out of a relationship with him long before he was gone forever.

  5. Zoe said on April 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this. My dad passed away two years ago suddenly. I had not talked to him for the three years before his death not once . This was due to him being abusive, the bad, the ugly . The line you wrote, about chhoseing to cling to the good had me crying my eyes out. I’ve been struggling alot with my love hate anger mixed emotions towered dad, no one understands this, not even my mum who is ” glad he’s gone ” and try finding a greif book or councillor who can help with this ! Ugh ! Anyway the point I’m making is that I want to thank you for being so open and honest it reallyoved me andade me feel Luke I’m not alone . Thank you for rinsing it’s ok to love and cherish the good morts, how few theyay be . Thank you

  6. Zoe said on April 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm ... #

    Oh dear iPhone comments with auto correct are not good lol anyways long badly typed story short THANK U

  7. Rhonda said on September 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm ... #

    Thank you. I can so relate to your story. My father walked away from us when I was a young girl and I have had limited contact with him over the years. As he’d gotten older (and sick with cancer) I found him calling and “ordering” me & my sisters around on what we needed to do for him. There was so much bad & ugly from my childhood that has been in my heart for the last several years. I thought that maybe I’d have a chance to try to resolve it with him before he died of cancer. However, he was killed just two weeks ago and in planning the memorial & talking with his friends over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself remembering a lot of the good. He was not a perfect man, he made a lot of mistakes, but I do think so many of the mistakes he made have shaped the way that my sisters & I have tried to be there for our kids and those around us. This article was so perfect for me to read. I wish that I could express how I feel to my other family/friends as well as you’ve expressed your thoughts. Thank you so much for writing your story.

  8. Katwin said on February 19, 2012 at 11:51 am ... #

    Thanks…your thoughts are so insightful and helpful to me as I have struggled for years to come to terms with ignorant and insensitive actions by all of the adults around me at the time of my fathers death when I was 10 years old….your words will help me move forward…

  9. VO said on February 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm ... #

    My son was shot and killed two years ago. You would think that would help change the relationship I had with my mother? You would think as she loved her grandson, we might grow closer, take the opportunity to be intimate, share our pain? No, that’s not what has happened because that’s not how SHE is and will always be. Maybe there will be a miracle? I am over expecting that. Maybe I am selfish and self-centered as she and her stepdaughter say? Can you tell I am angry? Yeah, I am and i used to think I SHOULD get over it. I am now into accepting it’s a normal response from having a parent completely drop the ball on parenting. It is a pity that we won’t have that fairytale relationship. I don’t believe in TinkerBelle anymore. It is what it is.

  10. TerBear said on July 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm ... #

    I just lost my mother and share your mixed emotions. I have been grappling with what to do with my feelings for her as they have been so intense and full of anger. My mother and I shared a good and loving relationship for the most part; but the moments of criticism, pain and hurt she caused is ever present in my mind too. I hope as time goes on the wretched feelings I have for her will dissipate and the good feelings will be all that is left. No, I will never romanticize what she was but I hope I can release and forgive her her human frailties.

  11. Elizabeth said on November 18, 2013 at 9:59 am ... #

    I get how the conflicting emotions create a certain terrain of grief that is hard to navigate. My father was manipulative, controlling, prone to drunken rages, and fundamentally unable to be for anyone except for himself. Even on my wedding day, he gave me a note extolling his new girlfriend’s daughter–how wonderful and bright she was. He could never admit he’d done this, though I still have the letter. He was also charming at times, strong, very creative as a builder, interested in a lot of things, and well… a narcissist, when it comes down to it. He controlled all his children from two marriages by tethering them, or trying to, to his dreams, without being in the least truly interested in anyone else’s dream. It has made it nearly impossible for me to feel separate from him, and in fact in many ways I was the only woman in his life (as his first daughter), who stuck it out with him, despite how many times I stormed out (even not speaking to him for a year, though he’d call my phone number looking for me, if not leaving messages). I am not sure who I am without that conflicted relationship–the battles for myself that simply couldn’t be won with him. It is perhaps only now, since he’s died, that I have a chance to develop an identity without him. On another note, my relationship to my mother, who died of alcoholism, was equally as difficult and it took me over thirteen years to actually grieve her passing. Then one day it struck me I could never walk back into her last home and hear her call out, “Is that you, Bets?” with that hopeful cheery voice she had… I knew she loved me, even if she was as self-centered as my father. I also know my father loved me, in his limited way.

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