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GriefShare Can't Save My Dad, But I Can't Either

My health was in the background all 2023. Instead, the entire year, I made it my mission to fix my relationship with my dad. He never accepted me as "I came out wrong," so he cut me out of his life as much as possible. Mom's death softened him and I think he has been making small efforts to try to be my dad, so I interpreted it as a chance to mend.

It's hard to read someone's heart, though. He is stony and never opened up to me even a little over the course of a year of accompanying him to his therapy group, trying to arrange father-daughter time, and regular phone calls.

It was more than wanting a normal relationship with my dad, though. I felt like I was sharing the gospel. Whenever I would suggest he pray about his grief, he would give vaguities like "I have been having conversations with God." That thrilled me. My dad, who used to disparage me for believing the Bible is true, is having conversations with God! I felt like I could convince him to pray, convince him to read his Bible, convince him to take spiritual matters seriously. I felt like I could share part of his spiritual life, like a healthy father and daughter should. I prayed for hours at a time that this would happen and got on my knees about it.

This was led by passion, though, not the Spirit, so no matter how tactfully I would bring up spiritual matters, he turned more and more vague until finally he used God's name in vain to shut me up.

Addicted to Group Therapy

He has been taking GriefShare for years. I can't review the whole program, but our local chapter explicitly doesn't encourage church attendance, prayer, or Bible reading. It shares an eisegetical verse or two, but a resounding takeaway is that all forms of grief are valid with the exception of substance abuse. Some people turn away from the church and can't read their Bible while grieving, and that's fine. Some people stop praying, and that's fine. What a horrible message to tell people! Tragically, the only testimonial guy in the weekly videos who seems to be weathering his grief well is the guy who claimed his mother raised him to never turn away from God or the church in times of trouble. If only GriefShare would encourage everyone to be like that guy and not turn away from the only source of real peace!

Worse, the people there were clearly there to pity themselves and not listen to each other. My small group at church is focused on Bible study rather than any kind of grief, but the ladies there are so supportive and warm. My dad's therapy group fails him so hard. The teachers were super rude to him, telling him to "get over it" and that his problems aren't real. His classmates talked over each other and never made an effort to connect with him or anyone else in the room. (Except for the lady who always had cute shoes. She was nice to me.)

To be fair, my dad was pretty rude, too, but he paid to be counseled not dismissed!

It was obvious to me that GriefShare was a fix-all in his head, and personal Bible time was redundant. He was so anxious, so angry, and he was never getting any better. He projected it on me, too, sometimes even raising his voice over the phone for me to stop bottling it all up. He couldn't drive anymore without getting in wrecks. I tried to be his personal Uber to protect him and other people, but his backseat driving and unpredictable yelling and thrashing around in the car caused me to almost get in wrecks, too! I never did, thankfully, but he totaled his car, totaled at least 3 other people's cars, and was making me pick him up from the side of the road a few times a week. He needed real help! And the only thing that helped me was prayer and Scripture and church!

Pray already!

If God helped me, He could help my dad. I was driven to encourage him to pursue spiritual matters on his own. Scripture and some time with the Lord is worth a thousand counselors. Presenting all of my problems helplessly before God and turning to the Bible and church blessed me beyond finding peace with Mom's passing. It's everything.

It's not even like his counselors are nice to him! They sent me passive-aggressive emails for being off topic when I shared Scripture to assuage a negative perception of God and again for quietly talking to the lady next to me during class. My dad had a bad reputation in the class, so maybe I never had a chance of being accepted to begin with, but come on lol. That was not an accepting or kind environment at all. Surely there is a small group at his own church (or mine!) that would be so much better for therapy. But more importantly, surely a private audience with God would be so much more of a sanctuary than that place.

Then his response hit me like a truck. He bluntly said God had told him he doesn't need to read the Bible. God said GriefShare is enough. It's held in a church, after all.

That's the third commandment, isn't it?

My passion caused the Lord's name to be used in vain, and I immediately felt convicted and dropped my mission. I had been in the wrong this whole time.

Never judge someone else's heart

I was acting like I knew his heart, when no one even knows their own heart but God. I judged my dad as unsaved and was taking it as my responsibility to work his salvation. We should never judge each other's salvation. Jesus told us to spread the seeds and perhaps harvest them but nothing more. He even told His disciples not to waste time on those who reject the Word. All we are to do is share the way then leave people in God's hands. No one changes hearts but God.

I shouldn't have done that.

He never changed

Not too long later, Dad came to pick me up for GriefShare, insisting that he drive us at least once. I was weak and agreed, knowing all the wrecks he's been in lately and how nervous he is when I'm driving, but my husband did not agree. He came out very insistent I do not get in that car. It led to a pretty crazy fight in our front yard, and I just know all our nosy neighbors were watching because they always do.

I want to be honest and hide nothing, despite being very much the kind of person to tip-toe around issues and easily fall for gaslighting in the past. So I stayed calm, spoke from the heart, and didn't allow him to say anything that contradicted my memory, especially ones where my husband himself was a part of. What resulted was exactly what I prayed for about a year ago - answers, or at least acknowledgement.

Honestly, the part of Mom's cancer diagnosis that probably hit me the hardest was that I would never get any answers about my childhood. I would never be old enough nor mature enough to have a real conversation with either of my parents, and Mom was by far the more reasonable and kinder one. I at least have had conversations with her about life, even if they were very seldom. Dad has never spoken to me besides to be abusive or incredibly fake and vague. I prayed hopelessly to God, the only person who could help at all, and He responded, "It doesn't matter." And in the sense of forgiveness, a new creation, and an identity defined in Him, everything in my past truly doesn't matter! Yet that conversation, I was suddenly old and mature enough to get a glimmer of my dad's inner world anyway.

I never knew if he had some kind of undiagnosed mental disability that prevented him from understanding or remembering the cruel things he did to me, or whether he was just a garden variety hypocrite. When he tried to build himself up on all these random good things he's done for me, I told him that he might be remembering doing those things for my younger sister (the favorite child by far, though she was raised without love either), but he never did them for me. Most of them were times when my husband (then-boyfriend) was present anyway, so my husband could back me up.

No, Dad, you did not give me $40 in college. No, you did not visit me and take me grocery shopping. No, you didn't visit people in my town behind my back and manifest a job opening for me, and you didn't do that for my sister, either. Yes, Dad, you hit me.

He confessed to it all. He really said he hit me, and he really said he was aware of it when he did it. And he isn't sorry.

That was important for my husband, but it was not so important for me. What is important for me is how cruel and disrespectful he has been to Mom's memory, only saying horrible things about her and never nice things. Only ever getting rid of her stuff and never cherishing any keepsake. Dating and remarrying so quickly. Mom wasn't perfect, but I loved her. Even if Mom wasn't lovable, she's dead now. It's over. There's no reason to trashtalk her in every conversation over a year later.

So I told him that it hurt my feelings. I told him I understand there are different ways of grieving and that that is clearly part of his grief (or at least, that's the gentle way GriefShare phrases it, even if it's not valid), but for me, it hurts me in my grieving to have never heard him ever speak respectfully of Mom's memory. I know he loves her (I don't) and I know it's part of how he's grieving (it's not valid), but it would be deeply healing for me to hear him say anything respectful towards her. Or to at least hear disrespectful things less often. Especially since he is always claiming to be so concerned about my grief more than anyone else's in the family because I "grieve wrong."

I don't know how else to phrase it without outright accusing him of being hateful. If I could get one little touch of healing out of this conversation, though, it would be respect for my mother's memory out of his mouth, so if I was speaking from my heart, I had to put that out there.

What he told me in response undid every little bit of growth I had imagined in him.

He spewed the most hateful things I have ever heard him say about Mom in my entire life. I grew up with them throwing things at each other, threatening divorce, and Dad calling Mom crazy and ugly and fat and old and senile and a conspiracy theorist and everything else. I put up with Dad claiming Mom's cancer must have gone to her brain because she was insane not share the cat photos I sent her with him. He had no line with her reputation. Then, after I revealed how much it hurt my feelings, he said the worst things about her I had ever heard and wouldn't shut up.

All the people I insisted to that my dad was gentle and had changed. Sheesh, I look crazy foolish.

My husband accused him of killing her, because the circumstances around her death are pretty inexcusable, if you really have to be honest about it. And Dad said she killed herself. Man, what a mess. Right in front of all of my noisy, gossipy neighbors. At least I didn't have to go to that stupid GriefShare class that week.

I think I'm banned from interacting with him now.

For real, right after that, I fell debilitatingly ill and was diagnosed with cancer 3 months later. I thought his words made me that sick. That was the last time I talked to him until he found out I had cancer, and I concealed that so hard until I was back home, knowing how he treated Mom in the hospital. It was probably a good idea because the moment I did tell him, he didn't stop yelling at me over the phone out of anger about it nor saying God was going to kill me soon until my husband, pastor, and friends encouraged me to set up boundaries.

I was buying his groceries for him regularly, but my sudden illness cut that out. He didn't want to be around me with cancer because he might make me sick or something, so all visits stopped for a long time. He never really picked up my calls anyway.

I was totally walled off from him the moment that yard fight ended, and I think that's a healthy thing for now. There was never anything I could do for my dad. Every encouragement I gave him to turn his problems over to the Lord soured him. Every father-daughter moment I tried to orchestrate ended in danger or abuse. Every positive tinge of hope I got from his words and behavior were false. The only thing I can do for him is pray, and I can do that from a very, very far distance just as effectively as I can at his GriefShare lesson.

Can he change?

I've heard lots of stories that go either way. Saul certainly never changed. The Apostle Paul certainly changed. My associate pastor and my friend's dads both unexpectedly came to the Lord later in life. But no one can take credit for these changes. My friends prayed and waited without forcing anything, and I have a lot to learn from them. It seems like a murky future, though. Saul was so deeply steeped in the Lord, prophesying in His name, serving as the head of Israel, and hanging out with the first prophet to emerge after a long period of silence. Yet, he was stony. But Paul, so thoroughly steeled against Christianity, who could foresee his mission to the Gentiles? My friends had similarly hardened parents. And some ultimately changed, while others never did. What makes the difference?

My pastor gave a sermon last week about spiritual blindness. How can you be a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, and generally respected, yet be utterly out of your element when talking about trusting in God? You can be spiritually blind if you are unable or unwilling to perceive and understand spiritual truths. It happens whenever you lose sight of God's presence, commands, and promises. This can be caused by disobedience and sin, which hardens your heart. It can also be caused by worldliness and materialism, a lack of spiritual discernment, becoming prideful or overly religious, and false teachings.

In particular, he talked about those who become dull of hearing. Those who ought to be teachers by now, but they still need to be taught the basic principles of the oracles of God. (Hebrews 5:11-14) You need to be skilled in the word of righteousness, continuously praying and reading the Bible. I think if Dad does those things, he will be less stony and more peaceful. I think if he pursues worldliness and materialism and leaves sins unaddressed, he will find no refuge in random prayers and verses. Maybe it's that simple?

May the Spirit draw on him, and may he recognize his need for a Savior. Regardless, I think my work is done besides praying and continuing to pursue God in my own life in the meager, insufficient way I can.