“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” I replied to the complete stranger in a suit. As the stranger walked away, I wondered – not for the first time – what I was supposed to say. I wasn’t sorry he was dead. He had been abusive to both my mom and me. At least verbally and psychologically. I suspected physically, too, but I hadn’t seen that personally. I wasn’t sorry at all; I was happy. I suppose that makes me a bad person.
My mom felt the loss. In spite of everything, she said she loved him. Her tears were real; I had seen them often enough to know. For her sake, then, I acted sorrowful, played the part of the grieving step-son.
I clung to that “step-“. Step-son. Step-father. I even used the phrase step-husband, but not in front of her. My real father had to have been a better man, a better person. If only he hadn’t died when I was an infant, how much better would our lives have been?
So when people expressed sorrow for my loss, I chose to understand it as sorrow for the loss of my real father. For the life we would have had. For my childhood. That way, I could say “thank you” and mean it.
My mom came over to me and put her arm as far around me as she could. I returned the gesture, putting us into half a hug. Her eyes were red and watery. “How are you holding up, honey?”
“I’m okay, mom. How are you doing?”
“Oh. As well as can be expected, I guess. Thank you for being here.”
“Of course I’m here.”
“Well, I just know the two of you didn’t always see eye to eye.” My mom, the queen of understatement.
“Be that as it may, I’m here for you.”
“You know he was proud of you. Always bragging to his friends. He did love you.”
“I know.” Why argue? She was in mourning. I wasn’t going to fight about reality right now. My mom needed me, nothing else was important.
She pulled away and gave me her serious look. “He did.”
“I said I know.”
“Why don’t you believe me?”
“What do you mean? I already said I did.”
“Uh huh. But I can tell you don’t mean it. A mother can always tell. I think you should leave.”
“What? Mom, that’s crazy. I want to be here for you.”
“But not for him. You shouldn’t hold grudges, especially against the dead. Forgive and move on. I thought we taught you better than this.”
“That’s not fair…”
“If you want to help, leave. Let me grieve without your disapproval making things worse.”
I was stunned, confused as to how things had gone so wrong so fast. But it was clear she wasn’t kidding.
“Okay, mom. I’ll go. Just know I love you.” I gave her a hug she didn’t return and left the funeral home. One last way for him to ruin our lives.