Anniversaries

In some ways, my father’s life feels like we were living it together only yesterday.  His death feels a million miles away though.  Neither of these statements is really ‘true’.  The truth is it has been years since my dad was living a normal life with our family.  And the truth is he only died one month ago.

Anniversaries are so hard.  They stone wall with facts.  (It’s only been a month, and tomorrow it will be over a month.)  Yet, they also conjure emotions that aren’t always compatible with the stone wall facts.  Anniversaries for marriage, birth, death, life and achievements– we keep them all.  But today, I’m faced with the fact that it’s been a month, when it feels like we were just sharing our breakfasts days ago.

I guess I’ll get used to my half-orphan-hoodied-ness.  I think it’s different to make peace with it, when your shared experiences were so happy, so pure and so good.  In the meantime, I’m carrying on, as my dad would want me to.  I’m working, cooking, painting, dancing, and exercising with a freedom that has lacked for so long.  But the best part is sometimes, when I’m most quiet, I can feel my dad near again.  I couldn’t feel him for a long time.  And now, I can look at something, knowing my dad would love that, and over my left shoulder, I can almost feel him tell me, “I do.”

The Ungracefulness of Grace

Why is grace so miserably hard to accept?  Kindness, generosity, love, or concern- they are all painful to me right now.  I want, need and define myself by being ‘the’ caretaker.  Now I look around and not only is there nobody to take care of, but people want to take care of me.  What have I done to deserve this care and concern?  I have been a woefully inadequate friend over the last year.  I have tried, but the fact of the matter is, I have been physically and emotionally checked out from my normal social circles.  When my friends have been going away for weekends, I have been home with my family.  When my friends wanted to go hang out after work, I was too busy struggling to stay above water to have the extra time to spend in normal ways.  That said, I have done very little to cultivate my friendships.  So on top of the sorrow I feel this week realizing that my dad really is gone, I feel guilt.  I feel guilty that friends are cooking me dinner, listening, and taking me on walks.  I am the one who is supposed to be the cooker of comfort meals.  I am supposed to be the loving listener.  I am supposed to be the one who walks along side my friends.  In many ways, I am so grateful for my friends who have had long enough memories and understanding enough hearts to stick by me while I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off for the last year.  But in other ways, the loss of my identity as the caretaker is just another loss to choke back.  So I guess like it or not, I am stuck groping around in the ungracefulness of grace.  I just hope I find my footing again soon, and can pour care into something healthy and positive again.

Oceans

If you look out over the ocean and follow the deep blue far enough to where it blends with the light blue sky, you will see that the sea is placid.  From this distant vantage point, one could easily believe that the ocean does not have waves, chop or undercurrents.  Distance, rightly or wrongly, gives the perception of the ocean’s stillness as it meets its resting place with the horizon.

I have been the ocean today.  Yesterday my mother left my house in Durham after a short two day visit, and for whatever reason, so much of our loss came crashing in on me after she left.  Is this the new normal that I’m supposed to carry on with?  Everything is so quiet, so placid.  I have free time… free time for me.  I have not really had ‘free time for me’ in over a year.  This is depressing, and exciting.

I flowed through my day today, experiencing the rhythm of crashing and receding waves of grief.  I had moments of ‘normal’ happiness.  A pedicure that was to benefit all mankind (my feet could rival Fred Flintstone’s).  Lunch and dinner with friends who felt like cozy wool socks for my soul. Cooking in my own kitchen knowing that for better or worse I made a wholesome meal free of food borne pathogens.  Sleeping late in my comfy bed and waking to lounge with a book for two hours before getting out of bed…  I had lots of quality ‘normal.’

And then there were tough moments where memories of my father happy and healthy were so close and bittersweet.  Sometimes I still feel like I’m going to see him come around the corner with his head lilted back in his puckish laugh.  All the hustle and bustle has ended, and society has now demarcated this time as a time to carry on, even if you’re unable to move on or get over.

So carry on I will.  I accept that any intimate vantage point will show the rhythm of grief (waves crashing) and peace (waves receding).  I also choose to embrace the perspective that with some distance and time, I will seem as the ocean seems when it meets the horizon, placid and lovely.  I also accept that the truth is this loss will always leave me as the ocean with its waves, chop and undercurrent.  But for now, I will dutifully blow up my life raft, and let the rhythm of the waves roll beneath me, rock me to sleep and carry me forward.  

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, I am a Thousand Years Older After All

It’s happened.  I’m old.  Maybe not by calendar years, but it’s as true as the sun rising tomorrow.  Childhood left me many years ago, or perhaps, I left my childhood.  But this is different.  This is the loss of my youth, my youthfulness.  

My reflection peered back at me from the bathroom mirror at my 80’s style office building complete with security badge and leather briefcase.  My reflection grayer.  Not only does my skin seem grayer, but for the first time in my life, I saw more than one gray hair.  It’s well earned, I presume.  The gray streaks that hide themselves nicely among my brown and blonde pelt.  These I can only guess were gathered from the inevitable wear and tear of walking with my father down a path that inevitably lead to my feeling of half-orphan-hood now.

I can’t help but wonder if I have now crossed over to some level of undesirability.  If I have somehow managed to accrue enough baggage (and resulting grays) to make any potential future partner shy away from the level of complexity in my life.  I do not desire or wish for a savior.  I would scoff at anyone who spent one moment trying to coddle me.  But the loss of my father has left me feeling more alone than I ever have in my life.  I wonder if anyone will ever understand me so clearly again, just by the sound of my breath.  Or me understand them by the sound of theirs.  It is an immeasurable loss, masked by brave faces, and the resilient desire to carry on.

I’m not sure how long it takes for joy to come so easily again after a loss like this.  I hope that day will arrive.  I know my dad would want it too; I just miss him so much.  Love you Daddy, always.

Our Final Hours

Second have slipped to moments, moments to minutes, to hours and to days, and I still can’t truly believe that my dad is not going to walk around the corner and smile at me.  If it is possible to miss anyone more completely, I really don’t know how.

The night my dad went to his eternal home was exhausting.  My extended family was at a wedding a few hours away, my brother was in Tennessee, and his wife in Alabama attending a separate wedding.  My father’s breathing changed dramatically over the course of the day, so I made a few phone calls.  I called my sister-in-law concerned that my brother was alone.  We all agreed to ask Rob (my brother) to come home the next day, once Leighia (his wife) was with him again.  I also called my uncle Stephen, a physician, to find out when he was getting back into town.  He left the wedding and drove directly to my house, arriving a little after midnight.  I had tried checking my dad’s pulse, but it was so faint that I could barely feel it.  I had tried checking his blood pressure, but I couldn’t hear it.  My mother laid down and held my dad for a few hours while we waited on Stephen to arrive.  When he got here, he checked my dad’s blood pressure only to find after several attempts that it was 60 over some unknown low number.  (Normal is 120/80.)  No wonder I couldn’t hear it; I never even dreamed of checking so low.  His blood oxygen level was at 72 when it was high enough to even give a reading.  My uncle sat with me in the kitchen around 1 o’clock in the morning and told me that my dad at worst had hours and at best had 10 days.  He then sent me back to my dad, and my mother crawled out of my dad’s bedside to go listen to Stephen’s medical assessment, an unbearable message.  With the words of the end hanging over my mother and me, my uncle left to go to his house.

Around 1:30 am, mom held dad’s hand and told him she loved him.  She made a choice that I know she will always struggle with, and decided to sleep in a bed beside him about 3 feet away.  She told Dad that she was going to sleep beside him because he needed a good night’s rest and the bed was so cramped when she compacted herself into it.  She did it in hopes that he would rest better, but she had not idea that the end was so near us.  I slept in a chair about a foot from my dad.  We all slept fitfully.  At 2:30, I got up to check on dad.  He was still fighting for oxygen, but seemed about the same.  Then around 4 am, mom and I both heard him stop breathing.  I wasn’t sure really because mom wears a noisy c-pap to help her sleep.  Mom finally said, “Is your dad okay?”  I got out of my chair, knowing he was not okay.  I checked his pulse.  It was gone.  I held my hand near his nose and mouth.  The feel of his breath was gone.  I lifted his comforter from his bed to see if his chest rose and fell.  He was gone.  I held his hand so warm, and turned to my face my mother.  I told her that I thought she should come check him too.  I don’t know if I regret not telling her.  She watched my assessment, as I calmly and deliberately  went through steps that would demonstrate near death, very near death and death.  It was 4:10 am.  Mom’s assessment confirmed mine, and she looked up and said, “I believe he’s gone.”

The next hours are a blur.  I called my uncle immediately and began calling other appropriate people after dawn had broken.  My uncle came back over, despite a full dose of Ambien to help him sleep.  We waited for my grandparents to return from the wedding.  My grandmother collapsed on my dad crying out that no mother should loose her son.  Our friends descended on the house, and we prayed as a group.  My uncle flew out to go pick up my brother in Tennessee.  My sister-in-law and nephew began driving to us from Alabama.

When they came to take my daddy away from me, I held him in my arms and reiterated the last words each of us had spoken to one another, “I love you.”  I leaned over the bed, laying over him, held him, and wept and wept.  That was the hardest moment I have ever faced in my life.

In the coming days, we held both private and public receivings and funerals as well as a large reception after the public funeral.  We were surrounded by well over a thousand people, and the two receivings lasted about 6 hours total.  My heart was heavy, but showered with love shared from a life well lived.  My ears welcomed the fond stories of my dad, and ached from the number of people who spoke to me.  I felt anger with the people who used their phones to video tape the services and who stole flowers from the funeral.  I felt joy when my dearest friends quietly held my hand as I walked through the most difficult goodbyes of my life.  I don’t exactly know where I go from here.  Soon I will have to leave my mother, and return to the hustle of a more metropolitan lifestyle.  I will long for the days when the nearest memories of my father are not all from the struggle of the last  few months, but are intermingled with memories of happier, easier times and tales.  There will not be a day in my life, however, that I regret being here with my father; I just wish it had been longer.

Other tributes.  Darin Aldridge.  Ted Lehmann.  The Shelby Star.