In October of 2015, my dad passed. Although painful at times, the healing journey has been fruitful for me. Recently, during our family’s’ weekly video call, some emotions were stirring.
At the moment, I was unable to connect with them. Later that day, I was driving to Target as sadness began welling up inside. By the time I got to the store, the tears were falling, and it was surprising at first. After processing the situation once home, it was a reminder that grief loss changes more than it ends (Wright, 2011).
Once or twice a year, the emotional seesaw shows up. Typically, I follow up with a call to my brother. He knows what the tears mean because he has been there for most of them and has similar pain. Although only he can fully perceive his own emotions, we have a shared experience. His understanding, kindness, and humor have brought much healing to me.
Particularly in 2015, as I was oscillating in and out of all the stages of grief. I suppose being a therapist means there is no stone left unturned when you get the opportunity to grieve a loss (sarcasm for emphasis).
Albeit challenging at times, making the time to process through the acclimation and adjustment, emotional emersion and deconstruction, and reclamation and reconciliation phases, serves me well today (Rich, 2001). While knowing my dad’s passing left a mark, and full restoration is not possible. The journey brought the gift of reconnection, renewal, and reconciliation with my brother. Without my dad’s passing, I am confident we would still be embracing conduct and behavior that would shock my ten-year-old nephew. Next, the blog might as well take a look at that…
Similar to a highly trained airport sniffer dog that narcs on passengers, my dad would identify just about every dispute. I can hear him on the phone saying, “Your brother said you hadn’t called him in a month, and he thinks it is because you are mad at him. Can you two get along? You’re making me smoke too much! Please give him a call.” Before the call, my brother would often connect with him to gain an ally. As the well-adjusted second sibling, I would NEVER do such a thing (more sarcasm/humor for emphasis).
As an only child, my dad played a similar role to interrupt the anxiety of his parent’s discord. For him, it was comfortable to accept the role again once becoming a parent. Now, the focus was on bringing peace to our sibling relationship. The more he would intervene, the greater my brother and I maintained the aspects of the relationship that my dad wanted to change (Miller et al., 2004). The behavior is a reminder to us all that one person playing the role of an ally cannot change the relationship between two others in a family system (Miller et al., 2004). For our family, that concept was proving accurate. Well, that was until November of 2015. The first occurrence of emotional turmoil resulting from my dad’s passing was about three weeks after his funeral. I began crying for no apparent reason as I ate [rigatoni] pasta. After gaining composure, I wiped the drool and tears away. Then, for some reason, I decided to call my brother. Up to that point, we never had the kind of relationship to support this moment of vulnerability. Further, it was the first time we had talked since dad’s funeral. This “[rigatoni] incident” would change this dynamic.
On the call that day, my brother suggested that eating my dad’s favorite pasta might be triggering for me. How was I blind to this fact until now? After all, we grew up in an Italian culture that would ONLY eat pasta twice a week. My tears turned to joy, envisioning my dad eating while providing his “the twelve essential [rigatoni] recipe combos.” Then my brother threw in some humor. If you have ever seen the movie Forrest Gump, there’s a scene where the main character, Forrest, is listing off all the ways to cook [rigatoni]. My brother notes that “dad is like the Forrest Gump of [rigatoni].” He then quotes the movie, adding his twist, “There’s pineapple [rigatoni], lemon [rigatoni], coconut [rigatoni], pepper [rigatoni], [rigatoni] soup, [rigatoni] stew, [rigatoni] salad, [rigatoni] and potatoes, [rigatoni] burger, [rigatoni] sandwich.” This interaction was a divine encounter as the sadness of the grief loss brought me much needed tears, humor, and most importantly brought me closer to my brother. Over the years, we realized that we could change how we respond and take responsibility to forgive and reconcile. After all, my nieces and nephews are watching. We were also able to help others in the family deal with the reality of the loss and adjust to changes (Rich, 2001). We took the responsibility to make this happen, choosing to discuss an approach and reinvest our energies into honoring our roles as brothers. In the process, we learned everyone heals differently from grief loss (Rich, 2001).
Finally, our action will not solve the over thirty years of problems in our family of origin. Maybe more meaningful endeavors need an ally from the past anyways. An ally who is on your side and your “enemies.” One that is waiting until the last second to leave behind a legacy no one saw coming. Maybe we should have listened more to the [rigatoni] talk growing up?
If you are currently experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one, our compassionate counselors are here to support you. Contact Symmetry Counseling to arrange an appointment with one of our skilled Chicago therapists today.
Miller, R. B., Anderson, S., & Keals, D. K. (2004). Is Bowen theory valid? A review of basic research. Journal of marital and family therapy, 30(4), 453-466.
Rich, P. (2001). Grief Counseling homework planner. John Wiley & Sons.
Wright, H. N. (2011). The complete guide to crisis & trauma counseling: What to do and say when it matters most!