I recently put the finishing touches on my latest travel memoir and had to edit out certain stories that didn’t exactly fit. Most notably, I edited most references to my father’s debilitating stroke. I only kept the briefest mention of his condition and deleted anything beyond the trauma that actually unfolded. The following is an excerpt that landed on the cutting room floor:
My folks were forced to live their own separate lives ever since the night my dad suffered a major stroke when I was 14 years old. My parent’s drawn-out tragic drama existed as a backdrop to my existence for the next 18 years of my life, and I always struggled with how to deal with the horrors of critical illness. My mom never fared well since the night her husband lost his mental capacities, and as a result, she lost her grip on her mental faculties as well. Mental illness was a disease that I was forced to get intimate with, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I didn’t handle living with my mother very well. Ours was a strained relationship, and I often pushed her away when I should have drawn her close. I didn’t deal with the situation of my father being in a nursing home any better, and I openly admitted that I hated visiting him because he never seemed to care whether I was in the room with him or not. Brain damage is a curious thing, and I never found it curious in a positive way. I could only see the negative effects of what losing half of one’s brain looked like, and it often made me angry that someone could be so injured yet remain so perfectly alive.
I got into a routine after a while and visiting my parents got a hell of a lot easier once everything fell into a predictable rhythm. Living in a different state took the stress out of the relationship with my mother, and we eventually learned to appreciate each other once we weren’t constantly down each other’s throats. Having a father in a nursing home never got any easier, and the guilt of seeing him languishing there never went away. It was always hard for the both of us to see him in the dilapidated condition that he was in, for both of us clearly remembered what he was like in his far better days. The ghost of who he was always hung over him like a shawl, and we always hoped for the day when he’d “snap out of it” and become his old self once again. Alas, that day would never come.
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