Bitter Endings

We wished things had turned out different. They didn’t. History and personalities brought the drama of our aging parents to its only logical and painful conclusion. But as Linda Kriger points out in her heart felt article entitled Seeking Forgiveness (, the death of a parent hardly ends the trauma or internal dialogue that haunts us following a “bitter ending.”

My father and I parted on similar terms, incommunicado and mutually sorry about our biological connection. As James Joyce reminds us in The Dead, the departed usually prove more formidable after their gone. My father was no exception.

I have danced for years with the guilt, anger, and loneliness of the events surrounding his death. The fact that our relationship was never right from the beginning offered no comfort. Even his blatant failings, alcoholism, violence, and a perverse perfectionism were not enough for me to bid him a final and much needed adieu. Instead, my post-death relationship with him had all the qualities of emotional quicksand. I schemed and struggled only to sink deeper into complexity and emotional confusion.

Like all adult children who suffer bitter goodbyes, I found myself circling the issue of forgiveness but never getting it to stick once and for all. Having had zero nurturing from him during my childhood, it seemed next to impossible to find the emotional release I needed.

But as Kriger discovered, it’s never too late in the game to make one more pass at finding relief. My only word of caution is that these bitter ending are hardcore Greek tragedies of accommodation not assimilation. We can’t muscle away the trauma or will it into submission. These are first and foremost familial dramas that must be accommodated. The best we can do is orchestrate a “survivor’s compromise” that allows them to be who they need to be and finally gone.

2 responses to “Bitter Endings

  1. Hi David. Thank you for sharing this bitter passage in your life. You are brave to write about it, but it gives me insight into why you are so compassionate about the travails of othersw. When my mother was 85, I took the opportunity to write her memoirs with her. There were many challenging moments when the version of her story was painted with a rosy brush, or things were glossed over, to make her look “more proper or more saintly.” With all of that I was able to put to rest some of our unfinished business and the entire process brought us closer together. I am a firm believer in the writng journey between parent and adult child as a way to heal old wounds. But it does take some careful negotiating and a suspension of judgment. Share this with your readers if you want to. With warm regards, Loren Stephens

  2. This is a great blog dealing with some sensitive issues. I think this site can assist others not knowing how to deal with such sensitive issues. I spent 3.5 years working in an Alzheimer?s/Long Term Care facility in Utah and I know the difficulties and pains associated with caring for a loved one. I personally got to know some great people I helped care for and I also became close with some of their families. I also assisted with care planners. I?ve seen a lot of resources that help like this one. I know of one in particular that seems to be quite helpful:
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