I found some un-mailed letters that I wrote to Daddy. Written long before his death, they said all the things that I wanted to say in person: his emotional distance hurt me; he was too remote; I worked too hard for our relationship; he didn’t work hard enough; I wasn’t sure he cared for me, and I needed him. It was there, written but not sent. They were the practice letters.
I managed to mail one letter. Around my forty-first birthday and just before my second marriage, I told Daddy some of how I felt. But the words weren’t the right ones, still. They hurt him. One day on his front porch, in front of Mom, he told me that the two of us would be ok with each other if I would never write him another letter like that again. His voice was lower and scratchier than usual. I swallowed hard, and stared the old oak tree. I remembered it as a seedling. I remembered, too, as a little girl desperate for his attention, that I ran bird-flight circles around Daddy while he staked it down.
“Okay,” I promised, “no more letters.” Afterwards he talked more, and hugged me tighter when I came to visit, and looked at me with different eyes. My heart ached when I was around him. I was still that needy kid.
When he died, I felt I had failed him. Yes, I knew he was the parent. Yes, I knew what I had wanted from him wasn’t asking too much. But how had he felt about me when I was a child? Maybe I meant more than he could say. Maybe, like me, he couldn’t find the right words. Who knows the inner struggles of another if the words are not spoken out loud?
Revealing yourself to another is a risk. Setting boundaries, or asking for more communication are not bad things. They’re healthy and loving actions. Through the guilt-haze after a loved one’s suicide most everything feels wrong. That doesn’t make it so.