How I Met My Dead Parents
April 20, 2013 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Going through my parents' stuff didn't make me suddenly miss them, but I became more intrigued by them every day. I wanted to know more and more about them, to solve their mysteries. At the same time, I felt a corresponding, if conflicting, urge to speak, or write, about what many people seemed to think was unspeakable: my ever-present lack of grief. So I decided to combine these seemingly divergent impulses into an Tumblr blog called My Dead Parents, which I kept anonymous both out of respect for my family and because, after years of writing fiction, I wasn't sure if I could handle revealing so much about myself in writing.
Anya Yurchyshyn writes about rediscovering her parents through their letters, after their deaths.
posted by the man of twists and turns (12 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Just read the Buzzfeed article. Devastating. I'll have to come back and read the tumblr. I can't do it all in one go about now, but thanks for posting.
posted by sweetkid at 9:28 PM on April 20, 2013

I read this earlier today and thought it was an interesting piece. I wish she had talked a little more about the story she had of them in her head, before. In a way it seemed....I dunno, sometimes she seemed old to be learning the thing she was learning, because it seemed to me it was a thing we all learn. But maybe not; it's hard for me to imagine my parents as people other than my parents, too, in many ways, and since I like mine I'm probably not so invested in coming up with a version of them I can seal up and partition off from the rest of my life.
posted by Diablevert at 9:29 PM on April 20, 2013

Wow, what a great piece. I recognized a lot of this story in other peoples' stories that I know. When you have a dad who is that scary and a mom who can't seem to do anything about it you get a different conception of your parents. You grow up only knowing them as monsters who don't love each other and drink themselves to death. It takes actual hard evidence to start seeing them as actual people like you, who loved you and each other and the world, when you didn't see any evidence of it when they were around.
posted by bleep at 10:57 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

That was lovely, thank you. I lost my own father just over a month ago, and, whilst my relationship to him was radically different to hers, there is a lot in that process I recognise.

That paradoxical sense of letting go, but also embracing closer - along with the realisation that you can no longer embrace closer, any more, except perhaps as an expression or statement of identity: "The kind of person I am talks about his father like this; my father had X role in making me. I feel like this about my father."

On the one hand, for me at any rate, this can feel reductive - squeezing the complexities and ambiguities of my father and our relationship into something neater, pack-able, more of a story made for telling and re-telling. Almost a fable, with a clear understanding of what it all means. It can make me feel I'm losing touch with the messy reality of who he was and what we were, in favour of a more convenient fairy tale.

On the other hand, it can feel very affirming. The adumbral feelings of awkwardness that accompany frank affection for most Australian males are altogether banished by this narrative light. We - Dad and I - both knew these truths, to each other, but they were inchoate in our living relationship, hidden behind gestures and other discussion.

But now, I can bring them forward - to the forefront. Because in some ways, they're all I have. The flotsam of our day-to-day relationship is already fading, and without context is mostly meaningless, anyway. These... moral truths are the real meaning, and now I can - I have to - embrace them like I rarely could in life.

This also means letting go of certain things, not the facts of them, but the emotional facts. The frustrations, resentments, and disappointments must be set loose - they'll never be resolved now and clinging onto that pain will only form mental cataracts. But the good stuff actually gets better, stronger, more clear to me.

I've been feeling vaguely guilty about this - why couldn't I value my relationship with Dad so fervently and clear-headedly when he was alive? - but I've largely reconciled to it. I think it's inescable, to be honest.

So I recognised the process she went through, albeit on a more humble, less traumatic scale. And I think that process - deconstructing the existing narrative of your relationship, the one that was built haphazardly and reflexively, in favour of a conscious construction; a more careful one that says as much about you (or more) as the other person, one that you choose to build and believe in - I think that process can actually be a lovely gift to you, if you let it. The last, in some ways the most ephemeral and in some ways the most important, gift that a person can give you.
posted by smoke at 12:56 AM on April 21, 2013 [13 favorites]

What a great piece of writing the Buzzfeed essay is-- a well crafted, fine example of the art of memoir of the sort that I think is hard to find these days in the online media. I do hope this turns into a blog-to-book project. It unfolded so effortlessly, with nothing forced, neither too casual nor too overwrought.

Even if I enjoy(ed) a very different relationship with my own parents (including a fairly open-book policy toward the traces of their pasts and lives outside of their roles as parents), it set me to thinking about how we always view the people around us through the lens of our own needs. The closer those people are to us, the stronger the needs and hence the stronger the distortion.
posted by drlith at 6:47 AM on April 21, 2013

That was an absolutely beautiful and insightful comment, smoke.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:28 AM on April 21, 2013

"I also started to grieve for myself, and realized that in many ways I'd been grieving for years. I'd been grieving the fact that I didn't have the parents I needed, and that I could have really, really used them. Screw being independent, tough, and alone. At some point, I had to admit that I needed a lot more love and support than I'd gotten, and that, if I'd had different parents, or known how to have a different relationship with the ones that I had, I'd probably have made a lot fewer mistakes. It's painful to admit that, while everyone else relies on parents less and less, I occasionally find myself needing them more than I ever have. I recently moved back to Los Angeles, and in the first few weeks, despite being surrounded by friends who would do anything for me, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of being alone for I think the very first time, of having no one I could rely on, or ask for advice. I found myself wishing that there was someone I could call — not necessarily my parents, at least not as I knew them, but perhaps the Platonic ideal of parents, though I know no one actually has those — and be told that everything, all of the small and big shit that was swirling around me, was going to be OK, and that I was going to be OK too."
This is so powerful and scarily relatable. Not because I've lost a parent (I haven't) but because that grief she describes I think is something we all feel in some way, to some degree. It is disappointment and abandonment and the simultaneous holding onto and letting go of some Platonic Ideal.

She has brilliant insight and introspection...and yet at the same time she seems a few paces behind what it is she's actually discovered. I read what she's shared here and I feel like she's made it so I can easily see her at several points along a it was for her, her new perspective on looking back at what she's written, what's she writes, where she thinks she's going, and where it might actually take her.

It's also hopeful and healing, which is a huge relief. Because I read this and immediately identify with a lot of it and that kind of frightens the shit out of me. But I also see that she is many, may steps ahead down that long road and she's saying that it's going to be OK.

She also inspires me to not wait until it's too late to get to know someone.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:35 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

That's a wonderful article and I'm going to make my way through her entire tumbler. I spent a couple days organizing my father's art studio when he died. I looked at every bit of paper. I kept hoping to find something. I didn't really realize it at the time what I was doing and later, when I was all done, I had to kind of laugh at myself because, what could I possibly find that would explain anything about him?

One of the reasons I think I didn't want to have kids is because I didn't understand how people could behave a certain way in their families that was totally unacceptable anywhere else. I mean, with who else can you berate, abuse, fall-down drunk and shit yourself around if not your own daughter? (Thinking of the author's mother here.) Since I didn't know or understand what strange things happen between falling in love and wanting a family to then abusing that family, I wanted to avoid that fate. Once I felt sure enough of myself, I decided I did want children and now have a daughter.

And reading this tumbler blog, her family history, and her desire to square up realities, I just really feel for her. That's not a fair thing to do to your kid. There is no squaring the realities because they are all the same. It's terrifying as a parent to think you could fall down the same rabbit hole but I am so happy to feel that I will not be the type to go there.
posted by amanda at 1:40 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I lost my father to a heart attack when I was 19. My childhood was very different in many ways but had a lot in common with the author's in others (my father travelled a lot), and I found both the experiences she had in childhood and the experiences she had reconciling who her father had been as a person painfully familiar, to the point of tears.

Also what smoke said, a lot.
posted by immlass at 9:25 PM on April 21, 2013

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin
Yet, as it turns out, you can miss even former werewolves with whom you never had a grown up conversation.
posted by y2karl at 9:16 AM on April 22, 2013

That was really wonderful and timely. I just went through a scandalous relationship apocalypse with my daughter's dad, and I write about it a lot. I think often about what will happen when I'm gone and my daughter finds all of this writing. I wonder if, in a way, I'm trying to make my case or explain myself or bring some nuance to the whole situation. I'm also reading my grandmother's diaries, which go from 1928-1975, and this is having a profound influence on how I think about her, my family, and what we think we know about the people we think we know. This was such a moving piece for me. It's comforting to know that others are thinking about these things, too.
posted by staggering termagant at 12:17 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a lot here that, as a father and a son, is so very, very depressing, but perhaps nothing more than:

As I began to excavate their lives and search for what was hidden within everything they'd left behind, it was impossible not to think of how easy it would be for someone to piece together my life — all they'd need to do is hack my email.

For some reason, even putting aside the requisite "hacking," I don't think that the author's kids will be able to investigate her previous life in the same way she investigated her parents. The rise of digital communications has made the paper trail more difficult. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Maybe future generations will have total access to the full digital minutiae of our daily lives ... I'm not sure that's any less depressing.

Here’s a love letter my father wrote my mother while he was in London on business in ’71 ...

The big takeaway I had from this article/blog is that I need to start writing print letters to my daughters (1 and 4) and my wife, ASAP!

it set me to thinking about how we always view the people around us through the lens of our own needs. The closer those people are to us, the stronger the needs and hence the stronger the distortion.

I'm reminded of the Freaks and Geeks episode where Lindsey trashes her dad for being so much more positively supportive with Nick, whereas he tends to yell at her. His response, of course: "But he's not my son!"
posted by mrgrimm at 3:30 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

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