And I’m not okay.
Last June, my mom went into the hospital for a colonoscopy. She’d been having bleeding problems for a while, and her doctor sent her to the ER. She had had many health problems over the years, including a Hepatitis C infection from a blood transfusion in the late 80s and a stroke in 1995, but we didn’t have any reason to think she was critically ill. After the colonoscopy, however, the doctor told her that, even though her lab work was not critical, she would probably need a liver transplant. The next day, my dad went into the hospital to find her in convulsions and unresponsive. She was rushed to the ICU and put on a ventilator. I flew down the next day, and she died two days later. She was never conscious while I was there, and I never got to say goodbye. She was only 60.
The following weeks were incredibly painful for me, but I was glad for the support of my family. My siblings, my dad’s children, came down from Detroit for a while, and all of the family was there for the memorial service. For a couple of months, it seemed like something positive might come out of this horrible pain. My dad, who got divorced from my siblings’ mom when they were children and was distant from them for most of their childhood, talked about spending more time with his kids. He planned to rent a cottage in Michigan for the summer, planned to make more visits to Detroit to see his grandkids. For all the sorrow and loss, we thought at least we would get some quality time with our dad.
Then a couple months later, my dad tells me he’s been seeing someone named Mary from church, that he’s been going out to dinner and movies and taking dance lessons. The news hit me hard, and after a week or so I told him as much, that the idea of someone sitting at the dining room table where Mom used to sit made me want to cry and scream and throw things. He was genuinely upset to hear this, and he told me he never wanted to hurt me, but that he felt happy for the first time in a long time. He promised to keep the lines of communication open.
But gradually, the phone calls turned less and less to how he was doing and more to what he and Mary were doing. My sister and I planned out the holidays so he wouldn’t be alone, and he flew to Detroit to spend Thanksgiving with them. But he was on the phone five times a day with her, and he flew back a day early because she was sick – not because she needed to go to the hospital, but because she had been laid up with a kidney infection and hadn’t had time to go shopping for party supplies for her daughter’s baby shower. My sister called me a few days later, a little disgusted by his behavior, but we agreed to reserve judgment until after we’d all had a chance to meet her at Christmas.
My family and I few down to spend four days with him right before Christmas. I could tell he had changed quite a bit since this summer. He’d lost weight, he’d bought a Miata, and as my wife put it, “I’ve never seen your dad so happy. He’s positively glowing.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment.
My wife and I went out to dinner on the 21st for our anniversary, and while the original plan was for my dad to watch our kids, my grandmother offered to watch them instead. So right after we left, my dad left to go have dinner with Mary and “do some last-minute Christmas shopping.” My wife and I got home about 11:30, and Dad still wasn’t home. He walked in at 12:15, hair mussed, shirt unbuttoned. Yes, my dad did a walk of shame.
The next day, Dad picked up Mary and we all drove to my grandma’s house for dinner. Mary was polite and good with our kids, but they spent most of the night petting each other. Dad either had his hand on her thigh or around her shoulder the entire time. My daughter, who is 7, didn’t seem to notice, but my 11-year-old son, who was very close to my mom, did notice, and didn’t like it. We made pleasant small talk and the evening ended without incident, but we spent the rest our time down there mostly in an awkward silence.
Originally, my dad was going to fly to Detroit after Christmas and spend a few days with family, but since Mary’s family is in Grand Rapids, she invited herself along. They flew into Detroit on Friday around 5, but my siblings didn’t see either of them until almost 9, when Dad invited them to the hotel bar. (Originally, Dad was going to stay at one of my sisters’ houses, but after he told them Mary was coming as well, they told him it would be best for him to get a hotel.) There they met up with Dad and Mary, who were drinking brandy – very unusual for him – and they left after an hour or so. The next day, after going to brunch with his siblings, Dad went to my sister’s house for dinner. She had invited him over around 5, but they didn’t show up until 6:30, and they left around 10. Even though they were spending the next day in Detroit, he told them he was planning to show Mary the sights, and they wouldn’t see him again before he left. They drove to Grand Rapids and now they’re in Chicago, “on vacation together”. What was supposed to be several days of quality family time turned into about six hours total of face time between my siblings and our dad.
My siblings are pissed, and I’m pissed. We’ve tried to talk to him about all of this, but he keeps saying that we should be happy that he’s happy. Yes, it’s true, I’m glad he’s not horribly depressed and withdrawn, but this is anything but appropriate. The rest of my mom’s ashes are still in the house, in a box in her art studio. I asked Dad more than once to please wait for me before spreading the rest of them, and I had originally planned to do it while we were down there, but I told him I couldn’t do it. It would feel too much like getting it over with now. I asked him to wait until next summer. I don’t know if he will.
Dad says he felt like this was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss, that if he let Mary pass him by, he didn’t know when he would find someone. But frankly, my dad is a wealthy, retired bachelor living in a big house on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mary is a high school English teacher working two jobs, and I think if he had told her he wanted to take things slow, she would have waited. I wouldn’t be so concerned about the financial aspect of it except for things Mary herself has said. She told Dad his house was so big, it needed two area codes. Dad told me this as an anecdote to demonstrate her sense of humor, but I don’t think he realized how it sounds. And when they were in Detroit and talking about going to Chicago, she jokingly told my sister, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend all your dad’s money shopping!” I can’t believe she doesn’t know how that comes off.
So now we don’t know what to do. My sister plans to tell him how upset she is, and I need to talk to him too, but I don’t even know where to begin. For those of you who managed to read this far (thanks for your perseverance) and can relate, how did you deal with similar situations?