I am a liar and I have been one for many, many years. Even worse, I have no shame and no regrets about how much of a liar I am.
On April 1, 1980, my father died. He had been sick for a very long time and died from leukemia. I was four years and about 9 months old. As an adult, when I spoke about my dad and I would tell people I was four when he died, I discovered that I became pretty angry about their responses. While people were kind and supportive, they generally figured I was so young that I didn’t really remember him. There was empathy, but frequently a comment of, “At least you were so young you don’t know any differently. At least you don’t really remember.” It always made me think that my feelings were not terribly valid. I started telling myself that I shouldn’t really mourn my father’s passing because I didn’t know life with a dad. I told myself that I was just a kid of a single parent and I never really had anyone else.
When Daughter was four years and 9 months, I certainly noticed and started to think. I realized that there was no way she would forget Husband. The things he did for her every single day, the way he made her laugh, the utter joy they were for each other… no way would those memories leave her. My memories started to feel more valid. I allowed myself to accept the heaviness of that loss. I realized that there was a big part of me that wanted to have him in my life and l, without it, I felt deeply sad. So I changed my narrative. I started lying.
When people asked me about my father or if I brought him up myself, I’d say I lost him at five. Three months difference. That’s all. Three months. And it completely changed everything. People can relate to five. As soon as people heard, they had a connection: five years old is kindergarten. They remember kindergarten. They know things like what their teacher’s name was or what she looked like. They remember Christmas presents or Halloween costumes. They can hang their hat on it. They’d tell me how hard that must have been. Ask me if it’s still hard. If I miss him. Some would even ask for a memory. My anger became calm acceptance and, in the cases of telling about him, joy. So, I lie by choice any time I am asked.
Now, I am approaching the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Lovely people have been asking me about that, about her. I lie about that, too. I say I’m fine. I say, “I mean, wow. 85 years. We were lucky to have her for so long.” It’s all a sham. I’m NOT fine. We didn’t get enough time with her and, frankly, if I had her for the rest of my own life, it still wouldn’t be enough. One of the biggest lies is when I say, “We lost her before she passed because of the dementia…” No. Knowing she existed was sometimes all I needed. Her phone number is still in my list of favorite contacts because even when I couldn’t call her for help, knowing she was in the world was comforting. Of course every time I see it I become despondent and go down a path of self loathing for not calling her more. But I digress.
With my first graders last week, one of them asked me about my parents. I told them about Dad, and I said he died when I was very young. They don’t need numbers- they’re six and that’s scary. I said my mother died last year. One of them looked at me with tears in her eyes, serious as anything in the world, and she said, “So, you don’t have a family anymore. You’re an orphan.” Another student piped up saying that my husband and daughter are my family. I told them that’s all true. I told them about my siblings. I told them about my friends who have become my family. I promised them that I was not alone and certainly that I was ok.
In short, I lied. I definitely DO have Husband and Daughter as my family. I do have siblings. I do have friends who are my chosen family- though I didn’t tell them that I lost one of them this year, too. I said saying goodbye to parents is part of being an older grown up and that it’s just something to learn, live with, and grow from.
Sometimes we have to lie, because we can’t bear the truth. The truth is too messy. The truth is ugly and painful. The truth is that I am so very angry at the world. I don’t want to be without parents, even at my age. Is it normal? Well, yeah. And it’s also not even a little fair. So I lie. I’ll keep lying. This coming April 17th, Easter Sunday, I will tell people how fine I am all day long. I will lie. Because I don’t want to deal with the truth.