Will you dance with me? The cost of bitterness...

by Michael Sanchez
(Los Fresnos, TX)

“Will you dance with me?”
The nearness of the voice surprises me; as does the strong and resolute tone of voice, as if she had to gather up her courage to ask. I look up to see a beautiful young woman holding her hand out to me. Her face has vaguely familiar features. I take her hand and allow myself to be led to the dance floor. As I hold her in my arms and we start to dance, there is a familiar, yet somehow alien, closeness to the contact.
The beautiful young woman is my daughter and this event, my oldest son’s wedding, is the first time I have seen her in eight years. Her mother and I were divorced when Kaitlyn was ten. Like so many angry divorcees, her mother executed a full court press to estrange my daughter from me as emotional and psychological punishment. I was billed as the implement of evil that was responsible for all the pain in my daughter’s world. I do believe that I was blamed for the Gulf Oil Spill and the Haiti Earthquake as well. The psychological blackmail levied against her caused my daughter to estrange herself from me, for fear of losing her mother. I hadn’t even had a conversation with her since she was 12 years old.
As we danced, there was a confusing mix of comfort and familiarity blended with feelings of loss and that disorientation one experiences from being out of touch. I knew her… but I didn’t know her. I knew the little girl who, when I would come home from work, would run to greet me; stop, back up, get a mischievous glint in her eye and then launch herself into my arms. But I did not know the young woman I was dancing with. The years I lost were so evident at this moment that a wave of sadness came over me.
As the music played, the years, the anger, the pain of estrangement and our mutual unfamiliarity with each other seemed to melt away. We chatted about dogs, life, and other small talk as if those many years of estrangement had never happened. I felt a surge in my heart of life’s cruelest and most destructive emotion… hope.
The song ended and my daughter went her own way. It wasn’t going to be that simple. She wasn’t just going to come to my table, meet my wonderful new wife and pick up where we left off. But her asking me to dance was an olive branch. It wasn’t lost on me that she waited until after her mother had left the reception before proffering this branch, but it was a sign nevertheless. The truth was that I missed my only daughter terribly. Her self-imposed absence from my life was something that troubled me greatly, and hurt me very deeply. I loved her as only a father can love his little girl.
My sons, who maintained contact with their sister, told me that after the wedding, when she was asked if she was ready to re-establish a relationship with her father, their sister simply said “I’m not ready for that yet”. But cruel hope grew in my heart. The dance was a small gesture that indicated that things were thawing out. All I have to do is be PATIENT. Give her time. She will see that she needs her father. She will see that her father loves her. She will realize that it isn’t possible that I was the devil incarnate and her mother was the sainted virgin. I just had to be patient… I had HOPE.
I am awakened from this memory by a sob. My eyes are closed, but the sound of a soft stifled sob was all it took to bring me rocketing back to the present and out of my day dream with a physical jolt. I open my eyes. I am looking at the Gulf of Mexico. Dawn’s first rays of sunlight shimmer on the quiet early morning waves in a way that almost adds volume and texture to the soft rasping of the waves as they lick the shore and then retreat. The scene is peaceful, but also ominous. There is a song stuck in my brain far down in my consciousness and I can’t identify it. The song is familiar and is repeating continuously.
I have a white rose in my hand. Reality set in with the intensity of a slap in the face on a cold day… I remember where I am and what I am doing. It is July 23rd 2012. That dance was 2 years, 4 months and 11 days ago, and yet it seems like yesterday. The hope that blossomed in my heart after I danced with my daughter has been absolutely, utterly and completely shattered. There is no hope in my heart any more. Patience won’t do me a damn bit of good now… and the pain is almost more than I can bear. You see, four days before, I was notified that my beautiful daughter, now 22 years old, was found dead. She was ripped from the world and our lives by a single gunshot. The hope that I desperately clung to for years mocks me now. The chance to be my little girl’s father again is gone, my daughter is gone. Neither will ever come again. Hope is very cruel.
I am already shell shocked from the loss of my daughter so young in life. I am also reeling from the devastatingly difficult fatherly duties that I had to perform subsequent to her death. From making arrangements for her cremation and seeing her body, to sorting through her personal property, to making arrangements for the private memorial service I am leading at this moment; I can feel my emotional resolve quivering under the strain. I have been strong up until this point. I am always strong in a crisis. But now I have to do something that I don’t want to do. Something I’m not really prepared to do. I have to let go of my daughter. I have to let go of the hope that if I were patient enough, she would be a part of my life again. I have to let go of all the hope that I clung to for so many years; and the pain is crushing me. All those years… all that hope… The song is still in my head, but it is moving closer to recognition. I can tell that it is a Kenny Chesney song, but I can’t identify it. It is distorted by the torrent of pain, sadness, anger and hopelessness that I am feeling right now.
Ok… The rose... I have to do this. Each participant in the memorial service was given a white rose. The rose symbolized Kaitlyn’s innocence in life and the peace that everyone who loved her prays that she has found now. After the memorial service is concluded, each person in their own way will say goodbye to Kaitlyn and throw their rose into the ocean; symbolically letting her go, releasing her to God’s care and acknowledging that she is gone forever.
Everyone took their rose and wandered toward the water. Each person immersed in their own pain, their own sadness and their own thoughts. The sob of one person is what jolted me out of my memory of that dance. I don’t want to let her go. I never even got her back!!!!! How can I let her go now? I want to go back to that dance. I gently press the rose to my lips and kiss it like I used to kiss her forehead when she was a little girl. I press it to my heart in an attempt to ease the pain I feel. In this instant, the pain is physical. I feel like an Aztec sacrifice, having his beating heart ripped from his chest. And the music is still there.
I hold the rose to my chest not wanting to do what I know I MUST do. With tears streaming down my face, with my composure teetering perilously over an emotional abyss, I kiss the rose again and gently toss it into the water. I watch the rose move gently with the current. A piece of my heart and the hope I held for so many years of being her father again drift away with the rose forever. I can hear the song clearly now, repeating over and over in my mind.
“...and if I'd a known that dance was going to be our last dance... I'd have asked that band to play on and on, on and on, on and on...”

Comments for Will you dance with me? The cost of bitterness...

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Nov 21, 2013
what beautiful memories
by: Anonymous Joe's mom

Your story stirred my zombie-like heart...Especially the description of the sob, since when placing the rose on the table as symbolic of letting my son go, one gut-wrenching sob escaped me. I am so sorry Kaitlyn is gone and like you, the hope of all the happy moments of the future are dashed. I know your grief is yours as mine is mine, but know that my heart knows your pain and I wish you any comfort you might find in those beautiful memories. A big hug to you and your family.

Jun 18, 2013
Thinking of you
by: Emily

Dear Michael,
Your description of what happened so heart-rending, I find it hard to know what to say. Only, I wanted to say something. Your love is so moving and beautiful, and I feel inspired by your strength. I hope you can continue to draw strength from your relationship with your sons and to connect with others suffering grief.
Thinking of you - Emily.

Jun 16, 2013
reply to Kate
by: Michael Sanchez

Kate,

My counseling and helping my sons through their grief actually helped me to gain considerable perspective and healing in dealing with my own pain of losing my daughter.

I had posted "A Brother's Love" in the poetry section of this site. I hope it helps.

Mike Sanchez

Jun 16, 2013
Your daughter
by: Kate

Michael , I read comments and could not locate "the love of a brother" essay on here. My other 4children losing their brother has been so hard on them. Their dad died 19 yrs ago as well .
I am only 7 months along on this grief path and still so lost. At a loss for words many times,for myself and others but I do care. I wrote a poem on here called "Today" - I looked in the poetry part for your brother love essay but did not find. I read others posts because it helps me through somehow. Your tragic loss is very sad. Sudden death is very difficult,this I know well. Keep writing or reading because we are all on the mourning bench together,just at different times and places. We somehow go on. I'm wrapped in my grief but still feel for others pain. May God help us all as we face our individual hurt.

Jun 14, 2013
reply
by: Michael Sanchez

Pat,

Thank you for your kind response. This story is one of several essays that I have written as a way of dealing with my pain. As probably everyone on this site knows... I have no one to talk to about what I am feeling, because no one who hasn't lost a child can really understand.

My ex-wife twisted my daughter's mind out of pure hate and for no other reason. After 5 kids and 10 years, she cheated on me (rather a reversal of the usual story). I will tell you a little more of the story... In the divorce, my ex-wife asked the judge to let the kids decide who they would live with. She later said she had done this to grind me into the dirt when they all chose her... but it backfired. The three oldest chose me. This is not a testament to how good a father I am; rather, it is indicative of how bad a mother she was. The two youngest (boy and girl) stayed with her and the three oldest boys came with me. The youngest were both estranged and manipulated by their mother and they both backed out of my life. However, when my son turned 17 he reconnected with me. His mother told him to stop talking to me... he refused... she kicked him out of the house. So no matter how much Kaitlyn wanted to connect with her father, she already knew the price of disloyalty. A fine example of passive psychological blackmail.

Kaitlyn died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on my 49th birthday. As an experienced police investigator I find this highly questionable. Young pretty girls don’t shoot themselves in the head. They slash wrists or take pills... but the Sheriff's Department ruled it a suicide... case closed.
My ex-wife did not come down to where we live until after I had dealt with all the heartbreaking duties and details (and paid for everything). She didn't even have the class to offer to pay for half... I wouldn't have taken it... but I think she should have offered.

I have found a lot of healing in helping my four sons through their own pain (one of my essays is entitled “The Love of a Brother). While I have my share of pain, I am not bitter towards my ex-wife. One of my sons told me that he was very angry at her for what she did, and he wanted to see her punished. I told him that it isn’t his place to judge his mother and it isn’t his place to see her punished. When she stands before God and had to explain all of her sins… she has a lot of explaining to do. I pity her for being the bitter self absorbed hater that she is.


Doreen,

Thank you for the perspective from the other side of the equation. Your support means a lot to me.

Thank you both

Mike Sanchez

Jun 14, 2013
Dear Michael,
by: Pat in Missouri

As you said, you are shell-shocked. You are, literally, still in a state of shock. You should not expect to feel hope at this point, but it will come.

Are you a writer? Your words are so beautiful and blossom with the grief you carry. Your writing is so poignant. How appropriate that you tossed roses as you scattered your daughter's ashes. You express your feelings like a blossoming rose. If you are not an an author, perhaps you could become one, a true gift from your daughter. As I read your post, I thought it was a memorial to your daughter, until I got to the part about the estrangement and nasty divorce.

Please tell us why Kaitlyn's mother so clearly blamed you for everything in the world and led Kaitlyn to grow up without a loving father, but when she died, you were left to take care of everything. This really bothers me. It's like she wanted nothing to do with you and punished you by only telling Kaitlyn negative things about her father, but when she died, her mother left you to take care of what she would not allow you to take care of, when the child was alive. This is awful.

However, what's done is done now. We cannot change our yesterdays. We just have to create our todays and tomorrows. Your bitterness will grow into hope and it will come in the realization that Kaitlyn reached out to you and she left you a legacy. I do not know the circumstances of her death, but I would bet that she carried you in her heart and was following a path of which you would have approved. I am guessing that your daughter was killed by someone. This is horrible for you. I hope the police find the person who did it.

There is hope, Michael. There is always hope. Read the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The last line brings us all hope: "for it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life." Your daughter was and always will be a part of you. In time, you will start to feel her spirit. She will leap into your arms, as she did a small child and will dance with you often. You see, God gives us life, we live on earth, then we go to Heaven. It is only the physical body that dies. For it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life. You will see Kaitlyn again and you will share the relationship with her that you never had, when she was on this earth. I have lost 4 loved ones in the past 3 years. I know what I am talking about.

I send you many hugs and blessings. Let me know when you are dancing again. Pat

Jun 12, 2013
Your daughter
by: Kate

No one knows the depth of pain death can bring except another who has lost a child to the cruelty of death. My heart goes out to you in your huge loss. My son died Nov. 2012
It is a horrid journey to accept such a deep loss,I do know.
Sharing on here helps us each walk on somehow.

Jun 12, 2013
Will you dance with me? YES! MY FATHER.
by: Doreen U.K.

Michael your pain has touched me to the point of sorrow for your loss.
Kaitlyn was 8yrs. and as you say she would greet you when you came home from work and launch herself into your arms. She couldn't forget your relationship from the point when her mother cruel to you but also to her to take her away from her father. as I said in my first post to you. This is what my mother did also. I was the same age as Kaitlyn. I had a discerning spirit and knew Right from Wrong and Kaitlyn would have known her mother was wrong to take you from her. Who knows what sorrow she suffered from not seeing you or having you in her life. This loss of you in her life would have left her scarred. I can feel my scars also. When my mother died 10 years ago. I Loved her with the Integrity of a daughter. But I also would not tolerate her Injustice at turning her children away from their father. My father is slowly dying now at age 91yrs. and his daughter's all 5. Still Honour Him and Love Him.
Kaitly CHOSE to come to you when her mother left the room. This speaks volumes to me. I can see a daughter deprived of her father and waiting for the opportunity to prove this. Kaitlyn would never forget You as her father and how she knew you to the point of losing you. No matter how bitter your wife was. She could never totally destroy Kaitlyns image of you. In the same way my mother could never destroy our father in our eyes. Bitterness is what destroyed your chances at renewing your relationship with Kaitlyn. I would not let Bitterness destroy our relationship with our father. Kaitlyn came back to you one more time before she was cruelly taken from you. The way you feel is raw grief. But in time you will be able to FOCUS on the finer points. You will gather the positive elements from that first and last dance. Kaitlyn had come Home to you. and this is how she died. WITH YOU. & NOT AWAY FROM YOU. Kaitlyn had come HOME. She is at Peace now. I HOPE in time you will go on to FIND PEACE from YOUR PAIN, SORROW and LOSS of your BELOVED DAUGHTER Kaitlyn. May you find PEACE in Life.

Jun 12, 2013
Will you dance with me? The cost of bitterness...
by: Doreen U.K.

Michael I am so deeply sorry for your loss of your estranged daughter Kaitlyn. What a TRAGEDY!. This is such a sad story of BETRAYAL and INJUSTICE towards a father who was robbed of having his daughter in his life. As I was reading your story my heart was breaking for you. I know only too well of a bitter mother divorced and wanting her children on her side and running their father down so she has the support. In reality Children know deep down inside their souls who is wrong. In this case it was your ex wife. Children also have an inherent belief in the TRUTH, but often can do nothing about it. In my case if we had given any credence to our father our mother would persecute us. But we still deep down from a distance HONOURED OUR FATHER.
Kaitlyn would have been too young to make up her mind where she wanted to be and children are caught with DIVIDED LOYALTIES. In this case one person will always lose even if they are the innocent party. I know how you feel. There is nothing worse when someone makes you out to be a bad person and destroys your credibility and there is nothing to can do to clear your name. INTEGRITY will always win and I am sure that Kaitlyn HONOURED YOU WITH THAT FIRST AND LAST DANCE. I can understand you would want this to go on and on FOREVER. You didn't get the chance to father your daughter. you didn't get the chance to nurture her and now you have lost her.
Kaitlyn CHOSE to have that dance with you. That DANCE spoke more than a thousand words could ever have done. Perhaps you were only allowed by God to have this short time with her. Thank God you had this TIME. WE will never know why some people we have in our life for a short time and the unsavoury ones we have around us too long. But such is life.
I lost my beloved husband 13 months ago and I wish I could have had him here FOREVER. I will never know why God took him the way he died and without time for his retirement. But often we have to live with acceptance of what we cannot understand. Face your life with COURAGE, STRENGTH, and WISDOM. You didn't get the chance to know how Kaitlyn felt. But that DANCE SAYS IT ALL. She was communicating with you. "Father I have missed you. I had no choice in not having you in my life. I didn't agree with mother for the way she behaved. But she was my caretaker and I had to do things her way. Father I have got you back by My Choice. I am not fully ready to embrace a relationship with you. But I will when I am ready." She might have been so sad all these years without you which is why she came back. She didn't have to dance with you. BUT SHE DID BY CHOICE. This is deep communication. Be at Peace and know she Loved you as much as you did her. You will have to grieve this loss of not only her death but also loss of relationship. I am sorry for your loss.

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