My father was
dying—or at least that’s what my sisters were telling me. I was now 37 and I
had only spoken to him a few times over the past several years… “He’s been
diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But Dad thinks he’s dying.” …
I didn’t cry
as my sisters delivered the news. I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t.
How do you
care about someone being gone when, while they were present, they already
You could fit
my memories of Dad as a father in a teacup, the good memories in a thimble. I
remember a friend telling me of the way her father would come into her bedroom
each night and snuggle with her, pray with her, and say good night. I had no
idea what she was talking about, though it sounded nice.
How do you
grieve for someone whose death will end a relationship that never really began?
that tree-in-the-forest conundrum; if it falls and nobody’s around to hear it,
did it make any sound when it fell? Likewise, if a father dies and nobody had
ever noticed him actually being a father—defending you, teaching you,
encouraging you—did your father really die or was it just some random guy?
How do you
come alongside someone who only came alongside you when he ran out of tricks in
I wanted to
say, Where were you when I needed you to tell me not to worry about the monster
under the bed, to snuggle with me and tuck me in? Where were you when I was six
and already a latchkey kid? Where were you when I graduated from high school
and struggled to make a start in life? When I had cancer or was zapped out on
Prozac? When I just wanted it all to end and prayed that God would let me die?
was that Dad had never been there for me. And now my sisters were suggesting
that I was the wisest choice—the only choice—to be his caretaker.
said. One word. That’s all…
As I write in my memoir, The Relentless
Courage of a Scared Child, I eventually reluctantly had my ailing father move
into our home. And my soon-to-be husband, the psychiatrist and brain imaging pioneer
Daniel G. Amen, MD, decided he absolutely had to scan my dad’s brain.
surprise but Daniel’s, my father had been misdiagnosed. He didn’t have
Alzheimer’s; he had pseudodementia, severe depression that masquerades as
Alzheimer’s disease. It’s typically triggered by a toxic combination of
medications that should have never been prescribed, medications that made him
worse, not better.
We got him
off the meds and got him into exercising, eating clean, and taking the right
medicines and supplements. The process was tedious at first, but as he felt
better, his progress picked up pace.
depression all his life, but now his mind was bright and focused. He had a
renewed faith, a repentant attitude regarding his shortcomings, and a renewed
sense of purpose. Soon he started attending a church not far from our house and
eventually started leading seminars and became a mentor.
But he let me
down once again. On the day I married Daniel, my father didn’t show up even
though he promised he would. I held on to resentment until he was on his
deathbed and I asked him why he was a no-show. His answer surprised me.
think . . .” He teared up, the words stuck in his throat. “I didn’t think I
deserved to be there, not after the kind of father I’d been for you.” He
sniffed and rubbed his eyes with his fingers. “I was ashamed to come.”
For me, that
was enough. I was able to release my pain from the past, knowing it wasn’t
nearly as bad as the pain, shame, and guilt my father carried from a lifetime
of bad decisions.
Are there people in your life that you’ve been
judging? C’mon, we all do it. Maybe you’ve labeled your parents, siblings, or
former spouses as jerks, losers, or heartless. What I learned through my
relationship with my father and what I’d love for you learn also is that your
opinion may change if look past the bad behaviors to try to understand what’s
driving those actions.
Here’s a quick exercise to help you get off
your judgmental high horse. Think of someone you think of as “bad,” and find
out more about their past.
All of these things can impact a person’s
ability to behave appropriately. When you have a better understanding of
others, it helps you stop judging them as bad. This doesn’t mean they aren’t
responsible for their behavior, or that you have to allow someone back into
your life, but it does let you see things through another lens. Ultimately, it
can help you learn to forgive others, and even more importantly, to forgive
The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child is written by Tana Amen, a New York Times bestselling author, neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and vice president of Amen Clinics. In this compelling and candid memoir, Tana shares how she was able to find healing after experiencing a terrifying childhood of abandonment and abuse and how she has become a champion for others who have experienced trauma. It offers an inspirational look at what’s possible for anyone in need of healing and hope. Order your copy here.
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