Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

My Dad's birthday was a few weeks ago...and yesterday was Father's Day.  He hadn't wanted to celebrate either of those things lately, but maybe this year would have been different.  Maybe we would have done something together, the way we used to--perhaps a sushi lunch in Portland, or a trip out to Smutty for some kite flying.  Maybe we would have gone out for ice cream and, faced with 50 exotic flavors to choose from, he would have picked French Vanilla.  Maybe he would have come to my house and let the kids make him a cake, even though he didn't like cake and would have preferred lemon meringue pie. Maybe.

Right now, as we head into a beautiful summer, I'm reminded to focus on the amazing way he lived his life, and not the sad loss that was his reality at the end.  I'm grateful that, at his Celebration of Life, who he was became so apparent and the incredible depth of his talents and personality came shining through.  My dad touched so many people's lives, and it was really nice to be surrounded by people who remember him the way he was before depression took him away.

I've spent the past few weeks thinking about this juxtaposition, this seeming incongruity between who he truly was and who he became.  I've been wondering what would have happened in my own life if I had zigged instead of zagged at different points.   And what it comes down to is that any different turn would have put me somewhere else and I'm so, so, so very happy with my life right now.  As an example, I think all the time about where we would be if Sophie had lived.  To have her live, however, means recognizing that I probably wouldn't have Evan and I almost definitely wouldn't have Jordan. And my life would be SO horribly incomplete without them that in a strange, sounds horrible kind of way, I'm okay with her death. My father is gone--and as horrible as it is, the possible inheritance (assuming the house sells!) will open up a HUGE world of travel that has been knocking on our door for AGES. Megan has wanted to go to Scotland since she first learned about castles. Erin wants to see Mt. Everest. Even...well, Evan just wants to travel the country and see all the baseball parks--but that is still something! So I know know know that I'll look back at this twist and be thankful. I know Dad is much better off now than he has been the past few years. He had SO MUCH holding him back. So much that he wouldn't or couldn't change, and that is all gone now.

And while I'm still sitting in a place of pain because of everything that could have, should have, would have, I also know it will get more integrated with time.  I know this. I've walked this road before and I am intimately familiar with grief's path. My biggest hope is this--that in time, when I look back, my dad's death won't be a simple zig or zag...that it will be a significant life-changing turn for the better that I can look back on with the same yes my heart is broken AND it is FILLED TO THE BRIM with gratitude-type thoughts that I have about Sophie. My dad gave me so much in life and I want to make sure I come out of this fog of death a better person, as a final gift from my dad. 

All that AND, I wish I could stop crying because he is gone.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Now comes the hard part.  The part I have been dreading.  I have to continue to live the rest of my life without my father by my side.  How does that work, exactly?  Over the past few months, I've been thrown so many life lines--some I know are firmly attached at the other end, having been thrown by family and friends who have always been there for me.  Other life lines feel loose, like there is a risk of losing them again, as if they aren't as firmly attached at the other end.  The past few weeks, I have felt myself clinging to some of these and grieving again as they slowly drift out into the sea of life.  Each one that drifts now feels unrecoverable.  Maybe because it was attached to someone who knew me through my father but doesn't necessarily know me now.  Or maybe because it was attached to someone who lives far away and simply needed to head back to their life.  Whatever the reason, as they drift, I panic.  If they all drift away, how do I continue to feel my father's love and connection to my life?

Long story--so stop reading if you don't have the time, it is going to take a while to explain all this, as it goes back to Amy's life and death.  Way back in 2010, after Amy stopped chemo but before she was too sick to live, she and I were hanging out in her apartment having just had lunch out.  We were watching stupid daytime tv, some show about the paranormal and ghosts and stuff.  In this episode, a woman was being kept up at night because her feet were feeling "wrong"--like they were under pressure or something like that.  It turned out (if you believe this stuff), that her deceased husband was coming back each night and rubbing her feet.  Apparently it was his way of telling her that he was okay and that he missed her.  Whatever--it was creepy.  Amy and I laughed and I made her swear that she wouldn't come back and haunt me like that.  This started an interesting conversation in which her final question was, "Well?  How am I supposed to make sure you know I'm okay?"  I thought a minute and then remembered something I had read in a Dear Abby column called Pennies From Heaven.  This is a collection of stories from readers who have found pennies with a year significant to them and/or their loved one in completely random places--places where they would later swear there was not a penny earlier.  Anyway, I told Amy to leave me pennies.  We sat down together and made a list of years that were important to the two of us; 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003....  We had about 6 or 8 years that were the most significant in our nearly 20 years of friendship.  Fast forward to two days after Amy died.  I was at a store buying something for her service and the woman in front of me was clearly in a hurry-the store clerk gave her some change and she moved too quickly and dropped it.  Although she glanced at it, she was already on her way out of the store.  I bent down to pick it up and hand it to her, but she was gone before I stood up.  When I looked down there were three pennies.  All three were on our list of significant years. Really. I did what any normal person would do--I brushed it off.  Coincidence, obviously, and way too soon for Amy to be sending me "our signal."  Three days later, I was out running, doing an out and back route on a low traffic, dirt road where running in the middle of the road is truly the safest option.  On the way back, there, in the middle of the road was the shiniest penny you have ever seen.  I'm quite sure I would have noticed it if it had been there on my way out.  I picked it up--1992, the year we met.  I stopped to catch my breath, but still thought it was simply a strange coincidence.

There were probably three more incidences like this one--pennies popping up at unexpected times.  Finally, about 2 or 3 weeks after her death, our whole family went skiing because we simply needed to spend some time together after the significant toll Amy's final weeks had taken on us.  This trip was made possible, in part, by some money Amy had left us.  On the final ride up the chair lift, I was sitting with Megan, who would have been nearly 6 at the time.  She was waving her mitten slowly back and forth, so I asked her what she was doing.  "Oh, " she said, "I found a penny down by the lodge and I put it in my mitten."  I looked at it.  You guessed it, it was on the list.

I finally told one of our mutual college friends about all this and she laughed, clearly having believed in the pennies much earlier than me.  She said, "If you don't start to open your mind to the message she is sending, she is going to resort to simply pelting you with pennies as you walk down the street!!"  I gave in.  I started believing, no, knowing that Amy is okay.  I know this because when I was pregnant with Jordan, I had 4 ultrasounds and not once did I fail to find a penny either going in or coming out of the office.  Not a single time. 

Now back to the reason I'm telling you all this--my need to continue to feel my father's love around me.  A few weekends ago, we were at a good friend's wedding.  It was such a beautiful weekend that actually started off as a parent's nightmare.  It was incredibly challenging to get there (the kids were tired of the car, Chris and I were tired of packing up and heading out, the driving is getting annoying, the kids fought and we yelled...)..But, we had promised the young, excited bride and her family we would be there, so we went, bad moods and all. We got there and it was at a beautiful YMCA camp that was deserted except for the wedding weekend people--there was a waterfront, tennis courts, a baseball field...basically my kids' version of heaven. We all began to relax a little. Of course we were late, so the girls and I quickly changed and went to the ceremony, while Chris played with and changed clothes on the little ones.  We all went to the reception which started off what would become, simply, a really fun family weekend.  Because the camp was empty, the kids were free to be kids, going back and forth between our cabin and the hall, or heading down to the waterfront to skip stones.  I was having fun reconnecting with people I hadn't seen in years, and began to feel the stress of the very difficult past few weeks start to peel away.  Then, while not paying attention at the reception, I found myself looking up to see the father/bride dance being announced.  As I watched them take the floor arm in arm, I suddenly became overwhelmed, panicked, weepy.  The weight of my father's death fell on me and I knew I couldn't stay in the hall.  I stood up and calmly and (hopefully) casually, walked outside, heading to our cabin. I felt as if I was suffocating, but I knew the feeling would pass if I could just get to my family. I walked over to our cabin where the kids were playing and in various states of bathing suits, pjs, and baseball gear.  Megan, who was wondering around the cabin, suddenly bends down and stands up again, "Hey mom! Look what I found!" She hands me a penny...1974 (the year I was born).  And while I never sat down with my dad and made a list of years, I'm pretty sure that was an important one for the two of us.