Presence in Absence

When my dad passed away, I felt sure that I was going to need time to adjust to the absence of his presence in my life.  But today, a friend said that it must be difficult to get use to his presence in his absence.   His presence in his absence.  My friend had confused his words, and quickly corrected them.  Through his confusion, though, I found some clarity that made me think about Dad’s presence that still remains, even outside of the sorrow of his absence.

I really have been focused on all the things Dad’s absence brought, all the voided space that his unseasonably lost life has brought to my life.  I have spent months missing our routine phone calls together and the daily routine of the last few months of his care.  These things are missing, not present.  How can a loss so great leave you still with some presence?

My friend’s words, however, made me face the facts.  I am getting acquainted with Dad being gone, which is heartbreaking to accept and comforting to make room for him in my life again too.  I am not embracing Dad’s absence, but Absence and I are getting familiar with each other through that slow and awkward dance of strangeness resolving to truth.  This conversation with my friend nudged me to think of how I still incorporate my Dad and his love into my daily life.  It is a little easier to talk about him and his life now, even though I’m certain I couldn’t miss him more than I do today.  I wish I still had him here for new memories and stories, but for now, I suppose I am grateful for his presence that still osmoses through my life, even amidst his absence.  And I come to realize, appreciate and embrace that some love is eternally present.

Daring to Keep Living: A Love Story for all Ages

Weddings usually bring to mind neurotic brides starving themselves to fit into a white dress and grooms wondering if this wonder-beast bridezilla will recede after the wedding or be bound to him forever.  But this weekend, I attended the most wholesomely happy wedding I have ever witnessed.

The bride, a spry young lady in her 70’s, wore purple with sequins and was escorted down the aisle by her son.  She finally got the church wedding that she wanted and that the war prevented in her earlier years.  The groom, nearing 80, was a hopeless romantic with tears streaming down his face and who was revived by the opportunity to find a partner for the next love story in his life.  The joy and the tears shed in that church were so pure and honest.  Both of the lovebirds had stood by their spouses through years of terrible sickness.  Carol lost her husband, Bill, about 4 1/2 years ago, and Larry lost his wife about 6 years ago.  They were wholly committed to their spouses.  They knew the sorrows that these vows could bring, they knew the joys, and they choose to give love another chance.  They have an understanding of their vows that most 20-year-olds just can’t yet appreciate.  And there they stood, in love, elated, young romantics again.

Beside the couple stood their children as bridesmaids and groomsmen.  It was not the traditional wedding in many ways, but it gives me some hope that my eventual wedding day would be happy too, even if my father cannot be there to walk me down the aisle.  I also ‘caught’ the bouquet.  This was largely because I was the ONLY single person over the age of 12 at the wedding.  Maybe some of the honest love shared between these two will dust off on me through the flowers I caught.  But regardless, I’m glad I got to be there to witness the continuing and living of life, no matter what the age. 

New Year’s Resolution– Overachievers Start in November

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next.  How do I appropriately and productively deal with the sadness that is still with me since losing my dad?  After mulling around a few months, I think it’s time to dust myself off and start to figure things out, and there is no better way to dust off than by spreading happiness.

First, I decided that I would do one thing kind for my family each day.  Seems easy.  Seems good.  Then, perhaps I should do one nice thing for a friend each day.  Then I wondered if I should do something nice for myself.  Now, I know that it seems selfish to include doing something kind for myself in that list, but I feel like I need to be gentle toward myself for awhile.  Since August I’ve lost my dad, ended a relationship with a long term boyfriend, moved households twice, and just generally had a lot of chaos in my life.  So, even though it makes me feel a little egotistical, I’m going to do something nice for me too.  So here I go on my next quest.  From now until the new year, I’m going to resolve to do one thing good for myself, my family and my friends each day.  Sure, I try to live like this regardless, but I know I rarely take time to breathe them in and feel solid in my actions.

So my charge to complete 3 kindnesses a day and take note of them began yesterday.  The whole day I kept questioning myself on if the kindness was big enough, meaningful enough to ‘count.’  But by the end of the day, I felt like maybe there is still some joy and meaning in my new life.

For myself, I went to paint with some of my girlfriends.  We laughed, drank some wine, ate some cupcakes, and produce… ‘art’.  I think Monet has a solid hold on his place in history; none of us are the underdog’s who might steal his glory.  But regardless, it was nice to be nice to myself.  I felt a little bad that it was so easy to find something to do that was kind, for myself.  Shouldn’t I be a martyr?  Shouldn’t it be hard to be kind to myself?  But, I let those feelings go, and enjoyed the company of my friends.

For my family, I flipped off the Genworth Insurance headquarters building as I drove by.  (Genworth gave my mother so much grief when we were trying to care for my dad.)  I told my mother about it, and we laughed and laughed.  Okay, I admit, not the classiest move, but it sure felt good.

And last on a more serious note, for my friend, I listened as she told me a heart breaking account of some abuse that she recently faced.  I spent the whole day wondering if my kindnesses towards my friends counted as ‘good’ enough.  Then, when she came to me with her story, I put all that aside and felt so grateful that she would feel safe enough with me to finally let go of carrying this huge burden alone.  She’s such a beautiful person, who should be loved and celebrated, and I hope talking with me will begin the long journey towards feeling at peace with herself again.

Today, I’m off to a good start.  The gym for me.  Cooking dinner for a friend, and I believe I’ll send a card in the mail to a family member.  I’m hoping the process of being more mindful of my actions will help pull me back around to a more centered me.  So happy pre-New Year.  I hope I can keep this resolution.

Big Bird Snuggles

Man, I love having a birthday on Halloween!  It’s really the best.  How could I possibly remain in a funk when Big Bird ran over to me to hug me on my birthday?  Big Bird and I embraced at the end of slow run towards each other, and then chatted for awhile.  We were joined by Elmo, who came over to giggle a bit.  They both showed me the signs on their backs that read, “Disclaimer: these costumes were purchased before any political comments were made, and does not reflect any political philosophy.”   We laughed and talked about how much fun it is to work for a place that has men walking around as fireplaces and women with 3-ring binders on their heads (binders full of women.)  Much to my chagrin, I realized later that I had been joking around with the president of our company.  Sigh…

Despite my desire for denial about aging another year.  The day was good.  I faced it armed with the opal my dad gave me on my 16th birthday.  And it was made complete with precious kids who turn into serious monsters on their 50 piece of candy, as well as a bloody hand in my office chair when I came back from lunch.  A little laughter always goes a long ways.

Hope your Halloween was good too!

Mighty Mouse(tte) Lost Her Head

I admit it.  I’m weird.  I don’t know what it is inside me that makes me simply a complex enigma, but that I am.  Maybe it’s that illusive Y chromosome, which could have made me a little less ‘off’.  Or perhaps, it’s that southern charm instilled in me during the age of feminism; both of which I pride myself on.  But regardless of the cause, it remains the same…  I’m weird.

I feel like I did as well as could be hoped when it comes to soldiering onward while caring for my dad.  I remained outwardly patient, even when I internally wanted to rant and rave hysterically against my mother, my brother, and even God at times.  But now it’s been over two months since I lost Dad, and there are more and more days that I don’t know where my head is.

When all I could do was “carry on,” “move forward,” and “soldier on,”  I did gracefully.  But what now?  Shouldn’t that have been the hard part?  Now, I can’t help but look at my life and wonder.  From the outside, I own a home, have a great career where I’m respected, appreciated and able to contribute to the betterment of humanity, have a loving family, and have a dog who thinks I’m the Queen of Quitealot (especially when I have treats in my hand).  Heck, I own a washer, dryer, fenced-in backyard and all the amenities which would be the envy of June Cleaver.  I worked in slums with abject financial poverty, counseled parents with abject spiritual poverty, and worn fine evening gowns to balls with people of great emotional poverty.  I’ve danced on my Dad’s toes, climbed mountains and waterfalls, and loved deeply and profoundly.  And yet now, as I approach my 28th birthday, I wonder if it’s enough.

Twenty eight seems oftly young to feel as old and used up as I feel this year.  And the great shame of it all is that I not only feel used up, but I also feel so unaccomplished.  As long as I was forced to go on, it came naturally.  But the pauses, the pauses have always been my Achilles heel. Despite having more free time, options and opportunities open in my life than I’ve had in years, here I am approaching my 28th birthday feeling so old.  Now, please don’t taunt me with how much life is still left to live at 28.  Age might be the calendars years you’ve lived on earth, but it does not perfectly correlate with the feeling of youthfulness or oldness.

I guess I’ll have to take the opportunity of my birthday to pull together an image, a dream, of what my life would look like once I feel more together again.  Because regardless of age or oldness, I suppose now is always a good time to take steps towards the life I dream to live.

Happy Birthday Mattie Bug

If there is one thing my brother has ever done extra “right,” it’s that cute little boy in the center of this picture. He is a giggling, pooping. climbing machine who knows how to melt Aunt Bonnie’s heart. Being an aunt is the BEST! It’s pure joy mixed with some rubber ducky bath times and a dash of dirty diaper bombs.

Matthew, or “Mattie Bug” as I like to call him (much to my brother’s dismay), turned one last week, and we celebrated in style. We went to a petting zoo, a punkin chuckin contest, a hayride, a pumpkin patch, and we topped it all off with cake to be worn, not eaten. Now if that’s not a way to roll in your first birthday in style, I don’t know what is.

For those of you unfamiliar with the sophisticated intricacies of the redneck ways, let me enlighten you on the science– dare I say art- of punkin chunkin. Punkin chunkin is a pressurized cannon loaded with pumpkins and straw which are launched into open cow pastures. You are judged for distance or accuracy, but the real fun comes in making bets on the safety of the BMW parked a little too close to cow pasture. The best part was how Mattie Bug clapped and squealed with us as we watched pumpkin spray all over the field. Proof that the fruit don’t fall far (from its Daddy; Mommy was covering her ears).

So, happy first birthday to my favorite nephew! You are a joy who makes it worthwhile to get up every day, as well as 7 times every night. I LOVE YOU!!!

Celebrating One Mic Down

The week we celebrated.  Celebrating is still so tough.  Many of the bands my dad played with over the years got together and hosted an evening of music.  There was bluegrass, blues, jazz, folk, gospel and a dash of old school rock ‘n roll (think Elvis Presley era).  Band after band played music Daddy loved.  Each band left an empty microphone where my dad would have played with them.

The night was wonderful, but it was also tough on mom and me.  We shared a scarf as tissues, each of us blotting our eyes with one end of the scarf.  My mom is always a resourceful thinker.

The performances were made up of a motley crew; I’d go as far as calling some of the men gruff.  Men that despite my needling can’t seem to give up smoking or worse yet, nasty chewing tobacco.  They’re big and burly.  The kind of men who would polish up a shot gun when their daughter brings home a new boyfriend.  And here these men stood, bleary eyed, soft as marshmallow fluff.

They told stories of how my dad would be the only man in Shelby strutting down the sidewalk wearing a Hawaiian shirt because he believed that every day might as well feel as good as a vacation.  (My mother gave him these shirts in one of her infamous, “Relax Dammit!” moments, and the shirts stuck around.)  They wrote tribute songs to him.  Some cried on stage; others took a quick stage right as needed.  And the audience gave mom (and me, but mostly mom) a standing ovation when a Heritage award was given to my Dad for his service cultivating arts from the heritage of North Carolina.

Most of the work bringing the night together has to be given to a dear friend, and near brother, Darin Aldridge.  He’ll always hold a special place in my heart located somewhere between my father, my childhood and pure love.  He organized it all, bringing together generations of friends for a night of pickin’ and grinnin’.  And when they all got on stage, and their eyes rolled back in their heads because they were so in to the music, I knew, “Dad would love this.”

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.