Monday, February 28, 2011

Serial Redecorationist

My name is Kelly.  I am addicted to painting and rearranging furniture.  It has been over a year since my last major move everything in the entire house project. 

I'm about to fall off the wagon. 

Just so you know.

I have this little girl who isn't so little anymore.  Her room is currently painted the most nauseating shade of pink in the known world.  I've despised that color since it went on the wall over five years ago.  The theme of the room?  Princess. 

Princess everything.  Drapes, bedding, wall hangings.  The girl even has a tiara suspended over her bed.  So.not.kidding.

Boy am I glad she is finally showing the hints of outgrowing it.  In large part, I am encouraging it.

Reason?

I need to paint something.

As crazy as it may sound, painting and nook and cranny cleaning and moving furniture is therapeutic for me. 

Then again, I have already confessed to being just slightly obsessive about these things. 

I love to paint.  LOVE it. 

I love that I hold in my hands the power to transform something.  It's a total control freak thing.  And right now, I need to believe that I can change something.  That I have some kind of control. 

Her room is up for changing.  Bedding picked. 

Paint swatches sitting on my kitchen counter.  As.I.type.this.   My husband brought them home.  He knows what is coming.  Part of me thinks he knows already that I need to paint something right now.

He doesn't quite understand my kind of crazy, but he's smart enough not to bother fighting it.   He's learned.

This time he's even encouraging it.

Mama's falling off the wagon.  And she's getting a shiny new paintbrush for this one.

Catching Up

Feeling a little out of the loop.

Okay, a lot.

I don't really know what is going on at school.  I don't really know what is going on with all the activities the kids are involved in.

I don't really know because I haven't been here.

It's amazing how much you can miss in a month.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

I also have a lot of people to say thank you to.  The people who made life as normal as it could have been for my babies.  The people who helped. 

They carpooled and playdated and caught my littles in the hall at school to give them a hug. 

They made my not being here a bit easier on the kids.   They made it easier for me to be so far away for so long. 

These people are the reason I can truly call this place I'm in now home. 

It's good to be back.

Thank you.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

This is the part where I pretend

To be okay.  To care. 

I have to. 

I am not sure whether it is better that I am forced to get back to routines and obligations and planned events so quickly because of the kids.  Or whether it would be better if I really had time to grieve.

Like, actual real time to mourn the loss of my father.

Without the constant distractions, without always being needed by someone, without already having things I need to do.

I don't know which would be better.

If I didn't have the kids, I could cry when I needed to.  I wouldn't feel like I have to hide my tears.

I could curl up in a ball for days or weeks if that is what it took, but I can't.  They have school and scouts and church and sports.  Their activities are my obligations.

The obligations that I don't care very much about at all right now.

Like today.

I have to get ready for a banquet for Cub Scouts.  The lovely downside of uninvolved parents generally is that those who are willing get stuck with most of the work, and we have.  Last year, Tom had to coordinate it without me.  I wasn't here.

Last year, I was sitting in a hospital ICU room the day of the Blue and Gold, a thousand miles away.  Wondering if my father, hooked up to a ventilator, would pull through. 

This year, he is gone.

For some reason, Cub Scouts tends to interfere with my sorrow a little more than any other activity the kids are involved with.  The day Dad was diagnosed with stage 4, terminal cancer, I had to gather myself.  I had to be composed.  I had to smile and be friendly.  I had to go to a Pack meeting and talk to a room full of people about selling popcorn.

As if I cared then.

I didn't.  And I don't now.

This is the part where I pretend.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

False Pretenses

I've had so many conversations recently with people about life.  Not about the trivial day to day things that occupy most of our time and energy, but the big stuff.  Love, honor, purpose, faith, family.

About what is harder.  To lose someone suddenly or to have them go as my Dad did.  I have to tell you, they are both terrible, both with their own sets of pros and cons.

In my Dad's case, he said he had been given the gift of time.  When he was first diagnosed, he was angry.  Angry about the cancer, yes.  But also angry that he wouldn't die as he always thought he would. He assumed he would have a massive heart attack one day and just be gone.  He hoped and wished for that, even after he was diagnosed. 

He didn't want to wither, he didn't want to fade.  He didn't want to rely on other people.  He didn't want to hurt.  He felt a little ripped off. 

With time though, he let go of that anger.  He knew that though we don't always understand it at the time, everything happens for a reason.  He was given the time he was for a reason.  He began to see that time as a gift, even if it brought with it unbelievable pain and agony. 

He figured he should make the most of it, not just for him, but for others.

He gave the gift of saying goodbye to his entire family.  Back when he asked them all to come up a few weeks back, it was under the illusion that it was for him.  It wasn't, though no one realized it at the time.

He knew how they hurt when my uncle and grandfather passed away suddenly, he knew how they'd never had a chance to say goodbye properly, he knew he didn't want that to happen again.  So, under completely false pretenses, he asked them to come. 
Our Family ~ The day of his funeral

And they did. 

He spent that entire day mustering all his strength and energy to tell stories, to smile, to laugh.  He was the one telling them all that he was going to be okay, that they were going to be okay.  He was doing the consoling.  They were crying, he was smiling. 

As much as he was grateful that they had all come, it wasn't really for him.

I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to see them all for the last time, knowing that it was.  I can't pretend to know how much it hurt.  All I know is what I saw from  my end.

He was being strong for them.  Just like he always was for me.

And he was being strong for them for one reason only.

Love.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Hope This Gets Easier

Funny thing about someone dying is that you forget sometimes that they are gone.

I know I have.

I always called my Dad on Wednesday mornings, to catch him up on what the kids were doing, see how he was.  I always waited until about 11:00, gave him time to go through the mail at work since he'd be annoyed with me if he was busy when I called. 

I called him other days of the week too, but Wednesday was always for sure.  For the last year and a half, Wednesday was chemo day.  I knew he probably wouldn't feel up to talking afterwards and wanted to catch him before he went.  I wanted to tell him I love him and make sure that he knew I was thinking about him all the time.

I went to call him this Wednesday, like I always did.

Then I caught myself.

I know that things like this are going to happen.  I was as prepared as I think I could have been for his death.  It wasn't sudden.  It wasn't unexpected.  In some ways, it was a very welcome relief for us all because he was in so much pain. 

And death is one of those final things.  No going back.

Sometimes your brain and your heart play tricks on you though, and you fall back into old patterns.  You pick up a phone and start to dial a number before you realize what you are doing.  And then you suddenly remember that there isn't anyone on the other end of the line anymore.

I hope this gets easier.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fear

I have spent most of my life in fear that one day one of my parents would get lung cancer.  I knew, even as a child, the dangers of smoking.  I tried with every ounce of my being to get them to quit more times than I care to count. 

Until I stopped trying.

It was too hard to keep hoping they would.  I had to let go of any expectation that they would ever do it for me or for the kids.  I had to hope that one day they would quit because it was the right thing to do for their own health. But I had to stop waiting for it. 

The fear never went away, though.

And then one fall day in 2009 my father told me over the phone that they found something on the MRI of his shoulder, just barely within the range of the image. 

My worst fear came true.  The thing that I dreaded appeared.  I knew months before any official diagnosis what was wrong.  I knew it in my soul.  I knew it was lung cancer.  And I knew it had spread.

Then my fear shifted. 

One fear confirmed, another began.

I started to fear the end.  I was afraid that he would be in pain.  And he was.  It was excruciating to watch, I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for him.

I was afraid that he would be there and I would be here and it would be over without my having a chance to say goodbye.  That fear, thankfully, was never realized.  I held my father's hand as he took his last breath. 

Now, I find a new fear.  Of the unknown.  Of the future.  Of what it holds.  Of where we go from here.  Of how we cross these bridges without him.

It's hard to be afraid without him here.

If you smoke, please quit. 

I'm not going to get on any soapbox and preach.  I'm not going to make an issue of it with anyone.  I'm not going to point fingers or assign blame.  But I'm also not going to get my hopes up again.

I just know what this disease did.  And I know the easiest way to prevent it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ashley.8

Eight years ago today, this little force of nature came into the world.  It doesn't seem like it can have been that long at all. 

I still sometimes look at her and imagine long blond ponytails that once were where her now trademarked bob haircut is.

She's a bundle of energy with an inquisitive mind.  She loves to run fast and she plays hard.  She can pick up any sport with a few minutes it seems.

As much as she seems to go and go and go at times, she is maturing too.  She has taken up knitting and loves to read.  She always wants to help with dinner and asks to bake treats for other people.

It seems like she has grown up so much in the last few months.  Not being home for a few weeks, I can see the changes in her.

She's turning out to be an amazing young lady.

Happy Birthday Ashley!  I love you!

Here are some of my favorite posts I have written about her over the years.

The Sidelines
Boy Legs
Stinker
Hanging On
Motivation
Skirts
Wings
Buttered
Super
Snaggletooth
A New Set of Wings

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

These Small Hours

There is a reason I have practically sworn off music.  Right now, it is too hard to listen to it.  It seems like everything is reminding me of my Dad, of some experience, of some memory.  I love music, but it just hurts to hear it.

We just spent the last two days driving back home, clear blue skies above, dry roads beneath.  Even a speeding ticket avoided.  Clearly we had someone looking out for us this trip.

The car, my Dad's.  He wanted us to have it.  As part of the long process he went through of tying up his loose ends, he wanted to make sure that we had it.  We needed another vehicle all the kids could fit into.  He bought it all those years ago when Aidan was a baby, and he bought one with a built in TV for the kids to have.

It has a VHS player connected to it, but we added a DVD player too.  I was glad for the movies.  No music. 

One of the movies we brought with us, one the kids had already seen many times before.  Meet the Robinsons. One that I'd seen many times before.  One that has this song at the end of the movie. 

And just like that, I was fighting back tears again, reminded of all the small hours.

Little Wonders, Rob Thomas
Let it go, let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know the hardest part is over?
Let it in, let your clarity define you
In the end we will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are made in these small hours
These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate
Time falls away but these small hours
These small hours still remain

Let it slide, let your troubles fall behind you
Let it shine until you feel it all around you
And I don't mind if it's me you need to turn to
We'll get by, it's the heart that really matters in the end

Our lives are made in these small hours
These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate
Time falls away but these small hours
These small hours still remain

All of my regret will wash away somehow
But I cannot forget the way I feel right now

For Dad

We were blessed to be surrounded by so many people at Dad's services, but know that there were many more who couldn't be there.  I know that my personal support network extends from Hawaii to Argentina to Europe and Canada, and I am grateful for you all.  This is a copy of the eulogy I gave at Dad's funeral.   I've been asked by a few people for a copy, by even more for the words taken from my father's poem.  I thought you all deserved to read/hear it as much as those who were there in person.  xoxo

Before I begin, let me say thank you to everyone for all your help, thoughts, prayers and more over the last year and a half. Each and every one of you has touched our lives in a way that we will never be fully able to express our gratitude for. Thank you.

We are here today, again in the middle of February, the hardest month for our family. 11 years ago, my Uncle Donnie passed, and it’s been 24 years for my grandfather, all within the same week. And again, we are here to celebrate the life of a man, gone too soon.

He was the third in a family of seven children, born to a man who believed that we could one day fly to the moon. He was a high school track star, one who held onto some of his records for decades. He was a guy who always loved a fast car. He was a business owner for over 35 years and took great pride in his work.

He was a son, a brother, a husband, a friend, a father and a grandfather. But he was so much more than that. He was his sister’s dance partner. He was his nieces’ godfather. He was the love of my mom’s life. He was my brother’s best friend. He was and still is the tooth fairy. And he was my Daddy.

He lived and he died on his own terms, that’s just how he was. Never one to let anyone or anything dictate things for him. Even in his final weeks, he defied the conventional wisdom of hospice. He refused every increase in pain medications, it always took some amount of convincing. He had to make his own choices, all of them. He wanted to be in control of his thoughts, and he was willing to sacrifice bodily pain to do it.

I could stand before you today and speak about his strength and resolve in his last year, but I won’t. He wouldn’t want it that way. He hardly wanted anyone to know he was sick at all. He didn’t want people to know how bad it was. He didn’t want or need anyone’s sympathy. And as much as I have spent the last month trying to honor his wishes, I will continue to do so now.

Instead, I will tell you stories. Stories about him and his life and the things that he loved.

Mom and Dad met and fell in love in high school. They broke up around the time that they graduated, Dad headed to trade school and Mom to college. It wasn’t until a chance meeting between Mom and Grandma Helen in a department store four years later that they both realized how much love they still had for one another. Mom had just called off a wedding weeks before, and was set to go on the trip that was supposed to be her honeymoon with a girlfriend. When she stepped off that plane, Dad was there. He told her that he was never going to let go of her again, and they immediately drove to her parents’ house to tell them that they were getting married. They have been together ever since.

When I was a rebellious teenager on a boy crazy streak, rather than express his ever-mounting frustration with me, Dad tried the reverse psychology of parenting. He pretended to like the guy I was dating at the time even though he couldn’t stand him. Dad came home from work one day and told me about some young man he’d seen in the waiting room of one of the dental offices that afternoon. Then he thought out loud, wondering why I couldn’t just pick nice boys like that. A few hours later, the doorbell rang, and it was the same young man who had been sitting in the waiting room. Dad knew then that he could never again complain about who I chose to love, and that young man became my husband. Be careful what you wish for, Dad.

When my son Aidan was in preschool, the kids were learning about the jobs that grown ups have. One day in the car, he started asking me what everyone in our family did. Some were easy, my brother in law is a firefighter, my father in law a policeman. I tried to find words to describe each job so that Aidan could understand. When I got to Dad, I wasn’t quite sure how to explain what a dental technician did, so I just said that Grandpa made new teeth for people who lost theirs. Aidan sat in the back seat of the car quiet for a few minutes, then asked in complete seriousness if Grandpa was the tooth fairy. My immediate response was yes. Of course Grandpa is the tooth fairy. I’ve never heard my Dad laugh as hard as he did that evening when I called to inform him of his new duties. It is a job that Grandpa still has today, he just has a halo to go with his wings now.

When Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, he started to assemble a bucket list. His list wasn’t like the ones in the movies, there were no trips planned, sights he needed to see. The only things on his list had to do with us, the people he loved. The first item on that list, he wanted to see the baby that my sister in law was pregnant with at the time born. It was put in jeopardy there for a bit when he fell ill last February and ended up in the ICU, but he fought his way back and greeted his fifth grandchild with joy just a few weeks later. The second item on his list was something he hadn’t been able to experience in too long. He wanted all of us to be together, at home, on Christmas. And he wanted a real tree. Though it was a complicated journey we will never forget, my husband and I got the kids here from Colorado just in time. The final item on Dad’s list, yes there were only three, was a late addition. Once he’d met Riley, he knew that he needed to be here long enough to see Riley walk. Riley took his first steps just days before Dad was placed on hospice. His list was complete, and just in time.

A few nights ago, Mom found a letter that Dad had written to her the night before he was sure his draft number would be pulled, in the spring of 1971. It’s two pages of hand written beauty, and I will share with you some of the words he wrote.

Keep your chin up, little darling
Keep your pretty head held high.
Things will work out as we planned, dear.
So sweetheart, please don’t cry.
As the tears begin to fall,
And she looks up towards the sky
There’s a face upon the clouds
And he’s saying please don’t cry
Though I must leave you now
It’s only just a little while
She beheld his dear sweet face
And upon it was a smile
There were angels all around him
They all sang a heavenly tune
And as he faded away he said
Keep your chin up little darling
We’ll be together someday soon

I find myself looking up at the sky almost constantly since he left us. I know that’s where he is. When I was a little girl, he used to tell me how much he envied the birds for their ability to fly.

I know you are up there now Daddy, enjoy the view.

Daddy, you were never one for long goodbyes, you would just get up and leave all of a sudden. You left us the last time the same way, and I’m going to do it here too.

Keep an eye on us all, we’ll still be needing you from time to time. Especially when someone has a wiggly tooth.

I love you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It Goes On

Life, it does. 

It has to.

Even now.

I need to go back to the place where home is now, to the place where my kids have grown up.  To life.

I have to get back into routines and requirements.  I have to get back on to schedules.

I know that normal won't seem that way for a long time.  I've been through life changing experiences before.  I remember not caring much about the day to day stuff for a long while afterwards.  I'd imagine this time won't be different, except that it has to be. 

This time I have them, my babies.  And they need me to get back to normal so that they can too. 

It's been a long and hard month for us all. 

Life will never be the same again, but it goes on anyway.

It has to.

Wish us luck on our journey back home.  At least this time we have a guardian angel watching over us.

Love to you all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reason Number 437

I've written my views on religion before, I won't go rehashing them here.  I didn't go into as much detail as I could have about my thoughts on Catholicism. 

I could probably write a book just on that subject.

If it wasn't for the fact that I very much so will probably always associate myself with the Catholic church, I would just convert to something else.  Or consider myself to be non-religious and separate myself from the church altogether. 

But I don't. 

As I've said before, I am a self-confessed hypocrite in this department.  I struggle with so many things about the church, and yet I send my children to religious education.  My oldest daughter is set to make her first communion in a few weeks. 

My biggest pet peeve with the church right now is the inconsistency in parishes and the adherence to rules that some person created then forced onto other people.  There is a very valid reason we moved our wedding from one church to another here in town.

Now, I've been to a lot of Catholic funerals in my day, and the one for my father was beautiful.  But it wasn't at all what he wanted, or what we wanted for him.  It was, all of it, dictated to us by the sort of people who pat you on the head and condescend to you.  I don't do well with that.

The women from the church completely took over the rosary services, though we told them we had someone set to do it already.  She spoke about Dad's life, omitting many key details, screwing up others, even calling me by the wrong name.  Why go to such great lengths to pretend to know someone you've never met?  Just because you are supposedly providing a service for which we are expected to be grateful for?  That we didn't want or need?

Then she cut short the time given for people to come and speak.

The funeral wasn't any better.  We were not permitted to select the readings.  We weren't permitted to choose the songs.  "They" knew what was best, pat, pat, pat. 

We were told presenting roses to my father's urn would disrupt the service too much, by yet another of the church ladies...who felt the best time to present that information was when both my mother and I were crying after the rosary.   Again, I've been to a lot of Catholic funerals in my day, presented roses to the deceased before, never once did it interrupt anything.

Every other funeral mass I have been to, including the one that I have personally delivered a eulogy at before, there was nothing said about any sort of time limits on the speech. This time, at the funeral for my father, I was told I could speak for no more than 3 minutes, as if some divine hook would come from the side of the altar and pull me off at the end of that time. 

None of the rigidity here was the result of church teachings.  None of it written in any bible. 

It came from people. 

People who condescend and control things they don't need to.  People who are so wrapped up in their own "service" that they can't see how it only creates distance between them and the people they need to keep coming.  Without butts in the seats, there is no church.  It's just a building full of ego.

This is only one of the things that is hurting the Catholic church. 

Reason number 437...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Today, the thing that is happening right now...

It's hard to just live in the moment when everything reminds you of some other time.

I try to do that as much as I can, even outside the currently crappy situation that is my reality.  But it's not easy to do.

It's easy to get caught up in living in the past, in relishing the memories, in telling stories, looking at pictures.  It's easy to wish for that time back. 

It's harder to imagine what the future will bring.  I have long since given up trying to control or predict it at all.  I learned that lesson.  Maybe sometimes it's just my unwillingness to imagine what the future will be like, my intentioned halt of those thoughts.

Harder still is just living in the now.  Taking each day as it comes, remembering to go through the motions.  Sometimes you have to focus all that energy on just making yourself take the next step, find the motivation to keep breathing.

I want to live in the now.  I want to absorb all that I can from my experiences.  I want to really see the joy on the faces of my children when they see something new, learn something new, go somewhere new.  I want to be with them, wholly with them, now.

But now is hard.  Because now I am reminded almost constantly of the one who isn't here.

We went to the aquarium today, the last place that Dad wanted to go to with all the kids.  The last place we went when he was well enough to go.  Is it strange that I found myself looking for him there?  That I leaned on some of the walls he leaned on when he'd get tired?  That I stood in a crowded dark room full of tropical fish tanks, held my little girl's hand and cried?

I want to live in today.  I do.  I want to be here, now. 

But it's hard.

It's damn hard.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Way Up High

Somehow I made it through the last couple days without completely losing it.  There were chances that I would many times.

Like yesterday when I had to preview the movie my dear friend made with pictures of Dad and songs we had chosen.  The songs that make me cry ordinarily.

Or when I took Mom to run some last minute errands in her car and a particularly depressing country song came on the radio as I pulled up to a red light.  I looked up to the gray sky in an attempt to will the tears to stay put and saw yet another perfectly formed heart shaped cloud.

Or when I walked into the chapel last night, saw the engraved box at the front holding the ashes of my father and realized that I hadn't told my kids he was being cremated. 

Or when those same children, the ones that I quickly explained things to before the service, decided to get up one at a time in front of a room full of people, stand behind a microphone and say goodbye in their own way.

Or when my sister in law saw the movie playing in the chapel for the first time and her favorite song was playing.

Or when I knew last night that my husband had just really begun to deal with the full gravity of what was happening and saw the sadness in his eyes.

Or when I hugged four of my best friends from different places in my past this morning, knowing how far they had come to be here.

Or when Ave Maria filled the air in the church, the most beautiful song in the world.

Or when I stood before my family and friends and spoke about the life of my father.

The only explanation that I can find for my ability to stay composed all the times I needed to, to say all the things I had to, and to quietly let out my tears when no one else would see is this:

He made me strong. 

The rain held off until after the funeral today, and then it poured for an hour or so.   My children, out there dancing in it of course.  Then, all of a sudden, the clouds parted just enough for a few rays of sunshine to squeeze through and produce the most magnificent double rainbow.

The double rainbow over the hills of Simi Valley, the afternoon of Dad's funeral
Everyone who made their way back to the house was able to see it, and everyone who did knew exactly why it was here.  Only then did my eyes fill with tears I didn't try to fight back. 

The song on the movie today, the one that made my sister in law cry and forced my tears and made all the sense in the world after what he showed us?  Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Iz Kamakawiwo'ole.

Keep on sending these signs, Daddy.  I'm going to keep looking for them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It hurts

I don't even know where to begin writing today.  I am tired.  I am sad.  I am hurting.

Literally and figuratively. 

I woke up yesterday morning with a slight pain in one ear, tried to dismiss it like I've done to every other ache and pain in the last month.  I managed to ignore a migraine that lasted well over a week because I had to. 

Then I woke up this morning and knew immediately that my ear was worse.  And it's the left one.  The one that I had trouble with a few years ago.  Considering the fact that I never got ear infections as a child, I'm pretty lucky I guess.  This is only the second one I've had as an adult...but the last one was so bad my eardrum ruptured. 

I don't know how many of you have ever experienced that kind of pain, but it is terrible.  I've done natural childbirth and this was worse. 

I figured I couldn't ignore my ear anymore, and went to urgent care tonight.  Even though my husband and my babies are here.  I was in a waiting room, explaining to a complete stranger why I need my ear to be better right now.  Then explaining why I am already aware that blood pressure is sky high and that I know I need to be on a higher dose of my medication, but that I haven't been to the doctor.  That I haven't even been home in almost a month.  And then telling him why.

And saying the words out loud.

My father died.

Something about saying it out loud makes it seem more real, not that I ever was in denial about anything. 

I walked out of the doctor's office, told them I would convey their sympathy to my mother, and thanked them.

Then I stood outside in the rain and cried. 

Really cried.

For the first time in a few days.

And that hurts more than any physical pain ever could.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For a Little While

It rained a bit this morning, the sky full of gray.  It's supposed to rain and rain and rain some more over the next few days.  The worst of it due the day of Dad's funeral.

I guess it's only appropriate.  I haven't been to too many funerals that took place on a beautiful day.  Some, yes, but not many.

Rain has always been welcome in my life.  As a child, I looked forward to the days it rained and would play outside until I was chilled to the bone.  As a mother, I've taught my own children to do the same.  We don't run and hide from the rain in this family.  We dance in it.

Always have.

This afternoon though, for just a little while, the clouds gave way to a bright blue sky.  The warmth from the sunlight almost immediate.  I sat on the back patio with my Mom and ate lunch sitting in the same chairs where my Daddy sat just last week.

I looked up at the sky, as I seem to so often these days, trying to fight back the tears in my eyes.  Up there, in the middle of the vivid blue, a cloud shaped like a heart.

As quickly as it formed, it was gone.

But it was there for a little while.

And so was he.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Only Way

I have four children.  A thousand miles away.

It's tax season, so my husband is mostly unavailable.

The kids aren't exactly old enough to drive themselves to school, cook dinner or do their own laundry.  Not yet, anyway.

How then, am I here, while they have been there?

This is why:

My Mother-in-law between my parents, February 2010
Only because my in laws made a choice to step up and help.  They postponed their vacation, they have sacrificed sleep, they have been reminded daily of how exhausting it is to be involved in daily parenting of small kids.  They urged me to go and do what I needed to, they said it was okay. 

Without them there, there is no me here.

I will never be able to repay their kindness.  I will never be able to say thank you enough.  I will never be able to tell them how much it meant for me to be able to spend the last few weeks here, helping my father. 

I have missed my babies, but they have been well cared for. They have been loved and cuddled, fed and washed, tucked in and kissed goodnight. 

I have missed my babies, but I have known they are okay.  And that knowledge is the only way I am here.

Ken and Kathi, thank you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just Tired

I'm tired of always being one of the first people I know to reach the next phase of life.  In my circle of close friends, I was the first one married.  The first one with kids.  The first one to buy a house.  The first one to lose a parent.

Always the first one.

I'm tired of being first.  

Just once, I'd like to know what it's like to see everyone else get somewhere first.  To not understand what they are going through when they get there. 

I'd like to have more people to lean on when I need to, to ask how they got through when they were in that place. 

I want to hear someone tell me it is going to be okay only when they know that for sure.

I don't mean it of course.  I don't really wish for anyone to suffer before me, especially the people I love.  I don't labor under the illusion that life is going to get easier or less complicated the older I get. 

I am just tired of being first.

Mostly though, I am just tired.

A New Set of Wings

After my husband was able to get all the kids together and tell them the news of their grandfather's passing, I talked to them on the phone. 

They knew it was coming, they knew why I was here, they have known he was sick since the day he was diagnosed.  We always thought it was better to be upfront and honest with them. 

We used the real words, like cancer and chemotherapy and dying. 

It's a lot to digest for an adult, let alone a child.  And they have all had a different experience with this process, by nature of their varied ages, their dissimilar personalities, and personal memories with him.

They will be okay.  They are okay.  We've been preparing them for this for a long time now.  We've already surrounded them with a support system they can turn to for the times they don't want to talk to us.  Usually, though, they are open and honest with us.

They figured out Dad was dying before we formally told them.

When I talked to them on the phone, they were sad, their voices a little shaky.  Ally had clearly been crying.  Aidan was quiet.  Ashley teary when I spoke with her.

Then Ashley asked me if it was okay if she asked me a question.  Of course, I said.

She wanted to know if Grandpa was still the tooth fairy.  I asked her in return what she thought.  This was her reply.

Well, since he is the tooth fairy, he already has a pair of wings.  He got a new set now because he is an angel.  So, if he can wear a halo too, he can still be the tooth fairy.  Right, mama?

Absolutely.

He became the tooth fairy quite by accident all those years ago, before any of my kids even had a loose tooth.  He is still the tooth fairy today.

And like a lot of things which have been made clear to me in the last few days, there was a reason.

Fly home, Daddy.  But don't go too far, we've still got a lot of teeth you'll be needing to pick up.

Love you.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Slept Last Night

In a bed, a real one.  For the first time in weeks. 

I didn't sleep soundly, I didn't rest fully, but it is a first step towards normal.

Whatever normal is now.

I guess I have to start figuring that out.

Friday, February 11, 2011

After

Over the last few months, we started to use the word after

It was never really necessary to clarify what we meant when we used it.  Everyone, even the kids, knew. 

When you have a family member with a terminal disease, you start to use words like that.

You know what is coming, at least to some degree.  And eventually you figure that you should start to try and prepare yourself for it.

I thought I did. 

In a lot of ways I succeeded.  I knew Dad pretty well, predicted with an eerie accuracy how his last weeks would play out.  

I knew he'd want to keep working past the point where his body would really let him, and that he would need help to do it, but that he wouldn't ask for it. 

I knew that he'd hang on and hang on until he'd tidied up the things he felt he needed to, and that it was just better if I helped him as much as he would let me.

I knew that he'd want to be in control of as much as he could for as long as he could.

I knew that he'd lie about how much pain he was in.

I knew that once he turned the corner, he'd go quickly. 

I knew all those things.  I knew what this disease was going to do to him.  I armed myself with as much knowledge as I could, surrounded myself with people I could turn to with my questions.  I knew it was going to be rough, but I knew that he'd be more at peace if he was in a calm environment, so I did the best I could to make that happen.

I knew how much I hated what was happening to him, to us. 

I knew how much it already hurt.

What I wasn't prepared for, not at all, was how much it still hurts now.

I know a lot of things now, after.  I know that he is in a better place.  I know that he is still with me.  I know that he isn't hurting anymore.  I know that he was at peace.  I know that I did everything I could to help him.

I don't know how to fix this hole in my heart. 

I don't know how to begin to imagine my life without him.

I do better being strong when I need to.  I do better when I feel like I am making some contribution. 

He's gone now, no one to hide my tears from anymore.  There are no more medication schedules, no middle of the night cell phone alarms.  It's quiet.  No oxygen machine, no nebulizer, no constant crime drama on the TV.  No more trips to the lab.  No more.

I feel a little lost. 

And I don't know how to fix that.

After is a hard place to be.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dear Dad,

Tomorrow the sun will rise on the first day of my fatherless life.

You died today, on a beautiful Thursday morning. 

The sun was shining, it wasn't the middle of the night like you had dreaded it would be.

Fearing that you would be alone at the end, you weren't.  Gary and I were on one side, Mom on the other. 

The last sounds you heard were probably the giggles of the grandson you weren't sure you'd ever get to meet.

You had steak and potatoes for dinner.  Last night.

For a few minutes yesterday, you came outside, sat in a chair, bathed in the glow of the afternoon sun and were able to just be.

You had all the intentions in the world to still go in to work today.

You somehow managed to tell Mom you loved her one last time.

You fought harder than anyone ever would have asked, you believed longer than conventional wisdom dictated, you inspired all of us to keep going until you could go no more.

As you began to turn the corner last night, the winds picked up.  They blew with fury all morning.  As your earthly body left the house today, the winds calmed.

They'd done what they came here to do.  They took you.

It's strange to be sitting here in exactly the same place I was last night, just 24 hours ago with no idea what the next morning would bring. 

I had no idea you'd be gone now.  Soon, sure.  But not today.

24 hours ago, you were polishing off a bowl of peanut butter cups.  Now, you are the guardian angel you'd promised you would be.  Who knew?

You relished every moment when you needed to, you went quickly when it was time. 

Thank you for being the most amazing father I could have ever asked for.

Your fight is done, Daddy.  It's time to rest.  I love you.

Forever your little girl,

Kelly

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Late Night Alphabet Soup

I mused a few days ago on Facebook, asking how many emotions the human heart is capable of having at the same time. 

Apparently, the answer is a lot.

Just for fun....let's see if I can come up with something for each of the letters of the alphabet that is relevant.  Something I've felt in the last couple days.

I am sitting here in the dark...and I've got a medication reminder set to go off in 45 minutes anyway.  Might as well keep busy.

A- acceptance
B- boredom
C- complacence
D- disappointment
E- empathy
F- frustration
G- guilt
H- helplessness
I- irritation
J-joy
K- kindness
L- longing
M- modesty
N- nervousness
O- obligation
P-pride
Q- quirky
R- remorse
S- sadness
T- trust
U- unhappiness
V- validated
W- worry
X-xerophytic (bet you look that one up...but hey, it's x!)
Y- yearning
Z- zapped

Insanity

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. 

I've dealt with my fair share of insane people over the years.  I could tell stories for days about the clients I encountered working in the legal aid clinic or the families of patients in the county hospital. 

The kind of people which make you think you live an exceedingly normal existence. 

More frustrating now is the expectation of insanity from others.  The idea that we are supposed to keep repeating the same things over and over and over again, waiting for a different result.

I can only bang my head on the wall so many times.  I can't keep doing it forever.

I'm not insane.

At least not yet.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Magic 8 Ball

My little girl cried on the phone yesterday.   Broke my heart.

Her asthma acting up, she received a card I sent her in the mail.  From what I am told, she started crying almost immediately. 

I've missed her first confession at church.  Last year I was in very much the same place I am now, and I missed her birthday.  She's already worried about that happening again.

Last year, we were also in a very different place in terms of Dad's fight against cancer. 

I know that I have helped here.  But I also know that no matter how much I help here, I can't make it better.  I can't make Dad healthy again.  I can't fix it. 

I know that I'm needed there.  I've been gone over two weeks already.

I feel like if I leave and have to turn right around and come back, it will just be harder for the kids.

I don't know what the right answer is. 

There is no Magic 8 ball in real life.

I never get any kind of validation that tells me I am making the right choice.

Have I mentioned that being a member of the sandwich generation sucks, especially when the distance  between the pieces of bread is over a thousand miles?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Life and Death in the Virtual Age

This world we live in currently is a strange one, almost surreal sometimes.  So interconnected and anonymous at the same time.  I think about how different things were when my grandparents were ill or passed, the last only 9 years ago.

This world we live in now is very different than even it was then.

Now we have things like Facebook and Caring Bridge.  We send emails and post updates online. 

People share that information, it gets passed along the virtual grapevine.

It makes things easier in some ways, negating the need for constant phone calls.  People don't need to call the house to find out how Dad is doing.  The rings don't wake him up all the time.  We don't have to talk in whispers.  We don't need to constantly rehash the same information, repeating and repeating and repeating.  When we've hosted blood drives or he's been hospitalized we've been able to let a lot of people know those things at once.

So, yes, in some ways it is easier.

But in other ways, it is strange.  There really is no other word for it.

All kinds of people having a view into a very personal process.  Some have come out of the woodwork, absent from our lives for decades or more.  Now they, like everyone it seems, want to stay updated. 

It's a false sense of closeness, almost a voyeuristic thing, at least for some people.

I am grateful for the ease, even if a little unsettled by what it brings sometimes.  Trying to reconcile the two, figuring that in the end it won't matter anyway.

This is, after all, the world we live in these days.  Not much ever happens to just us anymore.  It happens to anyone and everyone who knows, however that occurs.

At least the phone isn't ringing all the time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Extraordinary

I had french toast with a side of bacon for breakfast this morning.   It was the best breakfast a girl could ask for on her birthday, or any day for that matter.

I sat in an ordinary cafe filled with ordinary people and had an ordinary meal. 

Today the ordinary was extraordinary. 

I had breakfast with my father.

The Best Birthday

Yesterday, I got a birthday package in the mail.  In it, a little note from my amazing mother in law and a gift.  Thank you....you both are giving me the greatest gift just by allowing me to be here, honestly.  I will never be able to repay you for that generosity and kindness.

There was a little card with a flower on the front, not colored in of course (she hates to color), but drawn, by my baby girl Ally.  Inside that card, a birthday message from her.  I can tell she is working on her lower case As.  Her signature at the bottom, her full name, with the S pointed the right direction and everything.

Then a card that I initially thought was from Aidan.  He's my funny card maker, but he's got some company now.  It was from Ash, and she wrote about how I am the best mommy in the whole wide world.  I'm glad she still feels that way even though I've been gone two weeks now.  I miss her quirky sense of humor.

Aidan opted to make me something other than a card.  Instead, he constructed a little paper turtle, one that can stand up on it's popsicle stick legs.  He's always been my little turtle, and though he isn't little anymore he made his mom cry last night.  He's so grown up....I'm still not sure how that has happened.

I woke up this morning, stretched my back a little and peeked over to the other side of the living room.  Dad had just woken up, he waved.  His voice is shaky, doesn't work so well, especially in the morning, and he didn't try.

I rearranged all the furniture that I do every morning, opened the drapes and got dad's place all situated.  He made his way over to his chair, gave me a hug and wished the best daughter in the world a happy birthday.  He said that even though it's my birthday,  I have been the one giving him the gift these past few weeks.

And that made today the best birthday ever.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

This Wish

It's almost my birthday.

I'm not home. 

I'm not with my husband and kids.

There's no homemade cake covered with more sprinkles than any one cake should legally be allowed.

There's no big party, no real celebration.

I've got bigger fish to fry.

Being a grown up really sucks sometimes, and it's not like I need to necessarily be reminded of my age right now.  Getting older isn't much fun.

Though there won't be a cake, and there won't be a song, tomorrow night I will close my eyes and make a wish.

This wish has nothing to do with me.

This wish belongs to him.

This year, I ask you all to send the wishes you'd be sending my way to him instead. 

He needs them more than I do.

Calling You Out

Since my babies are back home and far away from me right now, I am missing them something fierce.  I talk to them on the phone and all, but it's not the same.  I miss how they smell.  I miss seeing them smiling.  I miss watching them just be.

Lucky for me, I happen to have what may be the most adorable nephew in the entire known world.  And he's here.   And he helps.

He's at my very most favorite baby age right now, in between crawling and walking.  He has a personality that can light up the room, a giggle that can come from his toes and the most precious delicate blond curl in the back of his hair.

Just last week, he learned to wave bye bye, though sometimes it looks more like he's calling you out.  Sometimes the wave is just a finger in the air.   Like, hey you in the back there, yeah you, how you doin?

He brings joy.  If only it was possible to bottle that up and save it for all the times that we could use some.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What I See

I've seen things that most people wouldn't imagine in the last few weeks.  Things that people would never want to see.

There are more to come, for sure.

I try to remind myself almost constantly why I am here.  To help.  To safeguard his dignity.  To help him find peace.  To keep him comfortable. 

And then he goes and does things like he did yesterday and a little piece of my heart breaks silently.

This is what I see.

He has lost so much weight his wedding ring, already wrapped with string, is falling off again.  In the time I've been here, ten more pounds at least have vanished.  He gets smaller and smaller each day.

Yesterday, he brought a few bandaids back from the bathroom.  And he sat, hands shaking, and struggled to open the wrappers.  Refused help.  He methodically trimmed the bandages until they were just the right size. 

Then he wrapped them around the ring until the layers built up enough that it wouldn't fall off.  For now.

I didn't cry in front of him.  I'm not crying now just in case he wakes from his sleep, opens an eye and peeks in this direction.  I won't cry.  Not until I am done and this is posted and I have quietly turned off the computer and walked away from where he can see. 

He needs me to be strong.  He doesn't want me to be sad.  So I won't be.

At least not when he can see.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Unlikeliest of Places

So I'm not much in the mood for writing today, which for me is rare.

I saw this a few nights ago, and automatically took a picture of it.

Inspiration in the unlikeliest of places.

It's simple and beautiful. 

And right now, it's just a reminder of what I am doing. 

So what if it was taped to a bathroom door?

Sometimes

Sometimes, no matter what else is happening, I can write.  I can write about other stories from my past, about things that I see in the world around me, about the current situations I am experiencing.

Then there are the mornings like this one.  Where I could sit and stare at a blank white screen forever and ever. 

The words I'd write too hard, too much. 

Everything else escapes me.

Today is one of those days.

Maybe tomorrow I'll find funny anecdotes again, pose insightful questions, share my journey.

Apologies.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Together

I challenge all of you out there to ask yourself a few questions tonight.

Ask yourself what matters.  What really matters.

At the end of the day, what does it all boil down to?  What are the things you can't imagine living without?  What are the things you want with you on the last day you spend on this earth?

I guarantee you that that list will shorten and shorten until it contains just a few things.

And none of those things are things.

They are people.

Look around you tonight. 

Hug your children.

Hold the hand of the one you love.

In the end, all that matters are those people.

Be together now.

Preparing

There is currently a call for writers out in the publishing network I am part of.  They want people to write about their experiences preparing for something coming up in the future as part of an ad campaign set to post sometime next month.

The examples they used were things like birthdays and vacations and reunions and anniversaries. 

The things that most people, at least to some degree, look forward to.  The things that we set weight loss goals for.  The things we anticipate with lots of planning, even if accompanied by some nervous energy too.  The things that we justify buying new clothes for. 

I'm preparing for something right now, and I could write a fantastic submission about this journey, but I'd imagine it isn't exactly what they had in mind when they asked for pieces. 

The thing for which I am preparing is the death of my father. 

I've been vague and nonspecific about him here, for a long time because he asked me to be so.  He's the reason for all the trips across the country in the last 14 months.  He's the reason for all the worry and heartache, sudden reevaluations of all the choices in my life.  He's the reason for my occasional outpouring of love and gratitude to all those around me. 

He's the reason that I am here, back home, again.

In November, 2009, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer.  The prognosis at the time, terminal.  He wanted to buy some time by going through treatments, and he did.  He made it to see things like the birth of my nephew and one last Christmas with his family.  He met all the goals he set for himself.

And a few weeks ago, the end of the treatments was upon us all.  The cancer spreading, his body unable to withstand any more.

Hospice was called, and I came home.

Before I left this time, I was faced with the reality that I needed to make preparations there before I could leave.  I feel like I've been making them them entire time I have been here. 

I came to help him accomplish the things he still felt like he needed to.  I came here to help my mom get through this time.  I came here to take some of the weight off the shoulders of my brother and sister in law. 

And I came here to say goodbye.

Death is an inevitable part of life.  Even when you know it is coming, it hurts like hell. 

All I can do is try to prepare myself, and those around me, for what is coming. 

I'm not sure this is what my publishing network had in mind when they put the call out this morning, but right now it's all I've got.  We'll see if my preparation is something to be celebrated.

I'd argue that it is. 

It's just as important, if not infinitely more so, as any of the preparations that they think they are looking for. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inappropriate

Through my entire life, I have had an appreciation, albeit a strange one by most accounts, for inappropriateness.

I like to watch people squirm.

Always have.

I was the kid who asked uncomfortable questions.  Who bucked the system.

Who got kicked out of Catholic school.

Who was born different and embraced it.

I enjoy weird.  What can I say?

And I love inappropriate.

It is something, really the only thing, that has made me laugh today.

My brother's friend, the one that has been with him through damn near everything, the one who has had such a hard time dealing with everything going on, came over today.

He's been reluctant to, afraid of intruding or hindering anyone else.  I told him to forget all that, and to come over whenever he wants.

He is one of the only people left that can make Dad laugh.  While everyone else seems to be so serious all the time, Nathan is anything but. 

He's completely inappropriate, and in the process, hilarious. 

I love him for that.

Only So Much

Right now, there is only so much I can do.

It seems like it is never enough.

Never full relief from what hurts.

Never real rest.

The nurses keep telling me I am doing a good job, and I'm doing the best I can.

Just doesn't ever seem like enough.

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