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Closure, It's Everything It's Cracked Up To Be

Sitting alone with my thoughts just days after the passing of my father, I remain conflicted. I'm trying to focus on the good times, but the difficult times are always there, dominating my memories. It was those events that defined and ultimately changed my life. They made an indelible mark...

In the obituary, I was referred to as an "estranged" son. It was a "gut-punch", a hurtful choice that could've easily been omitted. It's that one word that has prevented me from finding the closure I need, the closure I deserve...  

Ed Vebell. Getty Images.

Growing up my sister never referred to me by name, she simply called me "Brother" and I never believed it was a warm choice, even back then. There were things that took place during my childhood that remained private, some of which my sister wasn't aware of. When I was 11, I played Little League baseball on the Pirates in AA (Minors) while my father coached the Cardinals in the Majors, two divisions up. After I had a few good games in a row playing for the Pirates, one of the coaches in the Majors desperately needed a catcher and he had his eyes on me. Out of courtesy, he called my father to ask if it was okay to bring me up to catch for him. It had been my father's plan to let me finish the season in the Minors and then draft me the following year. When he was faced with losing that opportunity, he told the coach he was going to bring me up to play for him immediately. He gave his regular catcher to that coach so he would have a catcher on his roster and it ended up being a trade. When my father handed me a Cardinal's cap like the one he wore, I couldn't have been happier.

I was young to be in the Majors, but there were a few others my age, mostly position players who could pitch. He didn't make me a starter right away, but after a few games as a substitution, I became the starting catcher. The big difference between AA and Majors was in the Majors runners could steal bases. I practiced with my father and my throws were improving.

In one game against the Yankees, with two outs and a six-run lead in the last inning, the Yankee player at the plate walked. With nothing to lose, on the next pitch, he tried to steal second and I made the throw but it sailed over the shortstop's head and into centerfield. My father immediately called for the Umpire to stop the game. As I stood behind home plate I turned my head to see what he was doing and looking directly at me with a face full of anger he told me to, "Take off the equipment". As I began removing the shin guards he motioned to Stu, our right fielder and back-up catcher, to come in. While I completed taking off the catcher's gear, Stu jogged in from right. When he got to home plate he made eye contact with me and I could tell he didn't want to be part of this, his sympathies were with me. He was just doing what his coach told him to do. I looked over at my father, who then tossed me a glove and said, "Go out to right field".

Parents on both sides of the field sat in silence as did the players on both teams. It was only a few pitches later that the batter hit a weak tapper back to our pitcher and the game ended uneventfully. Being the coach's son, I packed up all the equipment, including the catcher's gear, and after I was done I  began walking across the diamond towards left field and the parking lot just beyond the tennis courts when a player and friend on the Yankees ran up behind me and said, "Your father's really mean". I didn't respond, I just kept walking. I knew the ride home would begin in silence like it had many times before, but then he'd start rehashing everything I did wrong. I never got to speak, I just listened in silence…

My father's attempt at making me perfect resulted in making me the flawed person I am today, and I'm okay with that. Despite everything that happened between him and me, including the many years of silence, I still loved him…

My father's funeral was private and I did not receive an invitation. Funerals are for the living, a way to find closure, and I was intentionally left off the guest list. I shouldn't be surprised, when my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer nine years ago, only my Uncle Mike sent a card. My wife received hundreds of cards weekly and after I retrieved them from the mailbox each day, I read them out loud to her as she sat on the couch, her life hanging in the balance. I credit those kind words from friends, co-workers, and her family members with giving us the hope and encouragement we needed to overcome our fears and beat the disease, which we did.

Shutterstock Images.

It was after all the cards trickled in and the one from my parents never arrived, and there weren't any calls or emails, that I stopped speaking with them, again. That was nine years ago. There had been many times over the last 45 years when we went long periods of time without speaking. Along the way, while attempting to make amends, I told my mother that "when a kite crashes to the ground and you want to fly it again, first you have to untangle the string". I wanted to talk through our problems before moving on, but my mother said my father, "never looked back, only ahead". I desperately needed to untangle the string first…

It was after their absence during the time my wife fought for her life, had a lengthy surgery, and then underwent chemotherapy, that I made the decision to stop beating myself up like I had my entire adult life, and take a step back. Some might call that "estrangement", but to me, it was necessary for my health and survival.

Back in the early '80s, I worked with Sherman, a sharp old guy with gold-rimmed glasses and silver hair, and every morning he'd ask me how I slept the night before. Immediately after I answered "Okay…", with great enthusiasm he'd say, "I slept like a baby and you want to know why? Because I have a clear conscience!" I've never forgotten that bit of wisdom. He was right, having a "clear conscience" was so important to getting the restful sleep we all need to survive. When I made the decision to step back and stop beating myself up nine years ago, my sleep improved as did my well-being.

The last few days my mind has been racing, especially at night. I know how important restful sleep is to well-being and survival…

I'm gonna have to find closure on my own. It'll take some time, but I'll figure it out…