Finality.

Of all the words that I never imagined I’d say, “I buried my dad today” are among them.

I buried my dad today, surrounded by friends, family, and strangers.

I buried my dad today, sitting with my husband and my children. My brother, his wife, and their children. My sister and her husband. Uncles, cousins, in-laws, distant relatives I never see.

I buried my dad today. We listened as the Deacon gave his sermon based on the information I had provided: “Joe had heart. He was a bit of a creature of habit. He loved his family.”

He loved his family. He loved his children.

I buried my dad today. I heard the eulogies, and I gave my own – one that I wrote over and over in my head and it was simply never good enough. Would it ever be good enough? Could it ever be good enough?

I buried my dad today. I watched as my baby brother, my husband, and four other pallbearers carried his casket from the chapel to the hearse, from the hearse to his final resting place.

I buried my dad today. Final words, final prayers; flowers placed. Casket lowered, dirt sprinkled. Irreversible goodbyes.

I buried you today, but I’ll see you in the next one, daddy.

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In Praise of my Father, Joseph G. Lamberti
03.08.1945 – 11.11.2015

“He was a good man. He was a kind man. He was a proud father. He was my mentor. He was my best friend. He was my Daddy Joe.”

When I took on the unfortunate task of calling friends and family to inform them of my father’s passing, those are just a few of the words I heard – Good. Kind. Proud. Friend. Daddy. That is a testament to the man that he was, for he was all of those things to a lot of people. And yes, he was in fact all of those things to me, but he was also so much more.

The first Christmas after my mom left, money was really tight. I remember asking for a Teddy Ruxpin. It was this creepy talking bear that “read” stories via a cassette player in his butt. I was sure I wasn’t going to get it, but even in the hardest of times, my dad did what he did best – he provided. So he went to Toys ‘r Us and found the last Teddy Ruxpin on the shelf, but it was broken.

Most people would give a sigh and find something else, something second best. But not my dad. So being the master negotiator that he was, he talked the salesperson down in price and walked out with a bear that did everything but talk; being the tinkerer he was, he brought that bear home and repaired it; being the daddy that he was, he had it ready for me on Christmas morning.

Over the years, my dad has given me a lot – my first bicycle, my first Walkman. When I was 13 and wanted to learn how to play guitar, he took me to a pawnshop and bought me a little acoustic thing that would eventually grow dust in my bedroom. He put dinner on my plate every single night for 19 years, and we ate as a family almost as often. He drove me to school, took me to the ER when I split my chin open, rushed me to urgent care after I fell off of my bike and fractured my wrist. He was there for every cold, every bruise, every break-up, and every subsequent tear. He talked me down from the cliffs of adolescent insanity – and believe me, there was a lot of that in my house. He stood steadfast through some pretty uncomfortable moments as a father dealing with a teenager daughter – emphasis on pretty uncomfortable. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding, and tried not to laugh as I swore and cursed in his ear because I was so incredibly nervous.

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He did all of these things not because he had to – he GAVE me these things because he wanted to.

And once I had children of my own, he did his best to give them what he had given me. He adored my kids and I am so blessed that although his time with them was cut short, it was time of quality and meaning.

It’s no secret that of the three of his children I was something of a black sheep. While my brother and sister walked the line, followed the rules, and were home at curfew, I was the daughter who rebelled. Growing up I made it a point to do exactly the opposite of what my father asked of me. I wreaked havoc, caused fights, stomped, stormed, and slammed doors. But instead of fighting against me, my dad fought for me.

When others would have left, my dad stayed.
When others would have given up, my dad fought.
When others would have cried, my dad laughed.

But perhaps the most significant, most important thing he ever did was give me the gift of a father who showed up, a father who was present, a father who, despite all odds, despite the times he himself felt sheer defeat, he told me I was worth something – he showed me how to believe in myself.

He was a good man. He was a kind man. He was a friend, a teacher, a workhorse, a fixer, and a fighter.

He was my constant.

He was my champion.

He was my grown-up.

He was my dad.

And I’ll miss him every single day for the rest of my life.

 

Fight or flight.

Mothers aren’t supposed to leave. Or perhaps I should say mothers aren’t supposed to leave on purpose. But mine did when I was 4 years old.

You know how there are moments in your life that encapsulate every single sense of your being? I mean you can literally feel the moments when you think back to them. Maybe that’s what they mean by “sensory memories” because you can see them, you can smell them, you can almost touch them, or rather, they touch you. And most of the time, those moments aren’t the good ones. They are the painful, ugly moments that you just want to forget.

I vaguely remember the time leading up to that night. To be honest, the only real memory I have of my mother prior to her leaving is the day she picked me up from preschool. It was drizzling outside, and we were walking, holding hands, and singing, “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” all the way to the car. It must have been a short while later, perhaps the following summer, when one single instant became the basis for every relationship I’ve ever had.

It was late. It had to have been. My brother, sister, and I were in bed, or maybe getting ready for bed because I remember pajamas.

Then a front door slamming. Then yelling.
My father taking us all to the living room and turning on the TV, not concerned with what was on; his only concern was getting us out of the way.

(Enemy Mine was on. A movie starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. The things we remember, right?)

The yelling turned to screaming turned to a physical altercation between the two people I trusted most. I vividly recall trying to squeeze my way between my mom and dad. I pulled them close to me, trying to get them to stop, to make-up, but I was pushed to the side.

We were all crying. My brother was only 2, and he had absolutely no clue what was going on. My sister, 7, and probably seeing a very different scene than I was. But the fighting continued and then suddenly it stopped. And my mom was gone.

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me and mom on a school bus, 1984

She never came home. She found a new place to live, with new friends and new boyfriends. We’d see her, don’t get me wrong. But seeing her and seeing her always meant different things. There were a few years of stability, years when she had a solid relationship with a solid man, and during those years we would see her semi-often. But those years were short lived.

My mother suffered many abuses. As I grew up I began to see what a very sick woman she was. She’s never consistently been the same person for long periods of time. She was always changing and I tried so hard to keep up, even when my own safety was at risk. There are stories of some of my visits with her when I was a teenager that have yet to be shared with anyone, and I’m not sure they can be.

She’s missed out on a lot of my life. She’s met my daughter a handful of times, and my son only once. Most of the time I don’t know if she’s living or dying, but the truth is I think she’s been dying her whole life. I’ve always been compared to my mom. We share  a lot of the same personality traits, and we’ve both experienced the death grip of addiction and mental illness. In a lot of ways we had lived parallel lives up until I found sobriety and a really great shrink.

I think it’s a normal feeling that moms have, to want to run away, take a breather, get some space. I’ve felt it more times than I care to admit, and every time I feel it, I wonder if everyone was right – am I just like my mom? Could I just leave, and live freely. I mean the idea sounds so absolutely epic sometimes, you know? But when that urge to take flight engulfs me, when the exhaustion and frustration and irritation become so immense that I feel like I’m going to explode, that’s when that sensory memory returns and I have to remind myself:

I am my mother’s daughter, but I am not my mother.