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julie butler

Grief, Guest Posts

Practising Grief

September 11, 2017
dementia

By Julie Butler

I’ve braced for my father’s death my whole life.

Dad was two decades older than my friends’ fathers. As soon as I could understand mortality and average life expectancy, I counted down the years and milestones I might have left to share with him. I became a child who practised grief.

As a teenager, I snooped through the folds of his wallet to find the neat, white envelope where he kept his nitroglycerin, as though keeping a secret inventory confirming that he had slipped a tiny tablet under his tongue might protect me from shock if his heart gave out. That was the threat in all my worried forecasts; a sudden, massive, lethal myocardial infarction.

There were times I believed I’d arrived at that eventuality, bursting through the backdoor, my bare feet descending two porch steps at a time. I anticipated the snip of pruning shears that would prove to be too much exertion. Yet, Dad’s heart defied my worry. So focused on what may come suddenly, I did not consider that death may slowly claim him, and in minute pieces. There was no rehearsal for dementia. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing

Girl Adrift

October 9, 2015

By Julie Butler

I learned how to be a girl from atop a coffee table.

“Sing us a French song,” Dad would call to me as visitors sipped tea in the living room.

My mother would shift uncomfortably, offering up an argument to discourage the performance, “It’s nearly her bedtime.” Sometimes, she would slip into the kitchen to freshen the pot, abandoning me to his insistence. I don’t know if she was aware that I didn’t want to sing, or if she felt the second-hand shame like I could.

Dad would ignore her weak protest, lifting me in my Mary Janes onto the impromptu stage. He was always too eager, too enthusiastic. “Sing the one you sang last week… Do that little dance,” he’d press, stepping back expectantly. I rarely put up resistance. I did not want to appear disobedient or whiney or disagreeable with those adult eyes on me. “Do it for Daddy.”

I blushed for him more than for myself. He needed it. He wasn’t enough without my song. Perhaps he didn’t have enough witty things to say to the visitors. Duty put breath in my kindergarten lyrics and exaggerated gestures. I tossed out my own boundaries to him as flotation. I could feel him relax and smile contentedly if I remembered all the words, but I couldn’t bear to watch him, watching me for long. I soaked in his desperate, overcompensating need, rather than a father’s pride.

I felt embarrassed by the visitors’ mild dismay as Dad clumsily interrupted conversation with my act. I felt humiliated when they were not as impressed with my talent. Of course, any child in Madame Bisnaire’s class could have done as well. We all knew Banana Bateau. We all shook our tushes at the chorus. It felt phoney. It felt invasive. It felt guilt-ridden because he could so love and admire me while he couldn’t love himself. But, it was the bargain I made to be his girl. It’s what I learned to do to be anybody’s girl. Continue Reading…