Many moons ago, an old guy named John Dryden was quoted having said, “Dead men tell no tales.” Well, he dead azz lied. I've uncovered so much about my dad and grandfather in the past year that I could write novels based on their lives. No really. I could. One day, I may.
During my childhood, they both seemed so mysterious. Especially my father. Not living in the same house with him, having a ridiculously active imagination, and seeing his motorcycles/race cars, I created the person I wanted him to be. In my teen years, I witnessed him make an attempt at evolution into the man he wanted to become. Adulthood brought the reality that he was human. A flawed, complex, sensitive man with secrets who would die with all of them tucked away for me to find (because no one else really cared enough to look, but that's another post for a day when I've had liquor).
In the almost 2 years since my Dad’s death, I've learned so much about him (waaaaaaay too much, to be honest with you). Having to handle his business matters and sort through his belongings, I've had to put on my big girl panties and just deal. I've found things that most children would never care to know about their parents while simultaneously coming up short on answers to his life's questions. I knew my dad made some stupid decisions (he was always quick to tell me to stop being the parent), but I never knew how dumb until he passed. For instance, his taste in women was sketchy AF. (I found his journal a year after his death. He died unhappy and stressed in his last relationship; that plagues me as much as him dying in the manner he did.) His relationship with material things and money was love-hate at best. I realized that he wasn't forthcoming with himself on a lot of issues in his life and he most certainly wasn't open with me. I was so angry with him for so long after his death. I still have moments of anguish when cussing him out would do my body good. I believe that if my dad were honest with himself, I would've been able to deal with his passing better than I did because he would've been honest with me as well.
Before my dad died, I was all for letting my son stay in a child's place in all things until he's 18. Not anymore. I believe my son should know as much about me as appropriate when the time comes. I don't want him to happen to find material possessions that'll have him questioning my life's journey. I believe that if he knows I've made mistakes and done some things that I probably should regret, but don't, he’ll be better for it. If I can save my son from one negative emotion in my passing (disappointment in my decisions included), I'm going to.
My grandfather's death introduced me to a version of him that I hadn’t known personally. Four months after his death, I met my uncle, his biological son, who was younger than my dad by 4 years and conceived while Granddaddy was married to my grandma. You read that right. Grandpapa's stone was rolling. Finding this out after his death left me with so many questions for him that would never be answered. Since then, the secret uncle that I only met one time died, too...a couple months ago at the age of 55-ish. All of these mysteries and tales the dead men are telling! I'd love the first person accounts of the stories surrounding the men in my family; instead, just like my childhood, I'm left formulating my own conclusions and using my imagination. While everyone is afforded the opportunity to leave whatever legacy they construct for themselves and we aren't ENTITLED to know everyone’s business, is it OK to leave clarity? Where's the fine line between privacy and clarity as it pertains to death and dying? Especially for the loved ones who will have to pick up the pieces after we’re gone. What's off limits? I would've loved to have a relationship with my uncle in our younger days. He didn’t have to be a secret to me and I wouldn't have loved my grandfather any less for decisions he made half a century ago. Hell, we've all done ridiculously dumb shit. But the tales the dead men kept under wraps in life ended up being the ones that haunt me in their demise. The tales are always there, waiting to be told, in the dead man's words or someone else's.
Photo credit and painting: Me (Shantel Walz)