Friday, July 30, 2010

What's Important

I've spent the past two days cleaning out my dad's office and some of his house with one of my sisters and my brother. The box you see is just one of several boxes of cards and photographs and newspaper articles that my dad saved. Cards from us, articles about us, photographs taken when we all got together or sent to him.

In the cabinets, we found several such boxes of things that he got when his mother died, when my other grandparents died, when my great-aunt died. And in them, the same things: photographs, articles, cards, lists of people who brought food or made memorial donations. We've made a decision to throw a lot of it away, especially legal papers about things that happened in the past. Things like photographs of people we don't know and minutes from church meetings.

It has brought home to me that what means something to me, what I'm saving, the cards my children sent my dad, the church bulletins that he put in a drawer because one of the children was christened that Sunday, the newspaper pictures or articles about our family, may not mean anything to my kids. When I die, when my husband dies, they may go through the boxes of things I'm packing to bring home, look at everything perfunctorily, and decide they don't need to keep those things anymore.

It has made me ask how long something carries meaning for a family. Two generations or three, four at the most. There have been a lot of things I've thrown away fairly easily, but some of it I need to keep. For my children to keep or throw away.

I will say that the most meaningful things we've found are letters. And I wonder what people will find meaning in now when emails are the main form of communication and we delete them after we read them.

It has been a rough couple of days, but I've learned a lot about what I think is important. I appreciate my dad keeping all those things, so I could decide.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Let's Change the Subject

I haven't been able to think of much to post about that didn't have to do with my dad, but I've thought of something: MUSIC! Now you all know how much I love music, and I spent most of last Sunday listening to my husband's gospel band play at two different churches. Some time ago, on this blog, I mentioned that he sings "Stand By Me" and this seems the perfect time to post this YouTube video of him singing with two wonderful backup singers. On one of my computers, it played fine; on my laptop it had some streaming issues; but you'll get the idea.

This song is so meaningful to me right now because he has been a rock for me during the past two or three months. He has been under the same stress that I have, with work and my breast cancer and the death of my father, a man he loved and admired, but he has been there 100%. For me.

Standing tall by me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Place of refuge

I never lived in the house that my father lived in when he died. The family moved there forty years ago, when I was a freshman in college.

During the two weeks that we stayed there last month, I made one of the bedrooms into a refuge. I brought my computer, my IPod, a few books to read, my journal. My husband brought me one of his copies of The Runner's Bible, and I put it on the bedside table. I had a fan to drown all the noises of the house. I hung my clothes in the closet with our old prom dresses and my mom's furs, and wedding presents from the seventies. I put my makeup and vitamins and hair spray on the dresser. Every morning I opened the shades to let the sun in, and every night I closed them for privacy.

When I would get home at night from the hospital, I would be totally buzzed. Literally vibrating. Tired, sad, worn down to the bone, I would enter that room. The music would be playing, the fan would be blowing cool air. In bed I would meditate or read or whatever it took to calm down.

This room that had never been mine became mine so completely that I didn't want anyone to come in. I was as protective of that space as a teenage girl with a room full of secrets. It became my room in a house where I'd never had a room.

I'm grateful that I had that safe space during such a troubled time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I guess you noticed the new look on my blog. I tried it on for size and now, though not completely happy with it, can't figure out how to get the old look back.

This is what my life feels like right now. There's been a change and I can't make it go back to how it was before. Every morning I get up and I think, My father is dead. In my mind's eye, I see him coming in from my driveway in his flannel shirt and corduroy pants, limping a little, carrying pimento cheese or oranges or a DVD he's made for me. I listen to his voice on my voice mail saying, "You don't need to call me back. Talk to you soon. Love ya," over and over. The church calls and asks could donations go to new choir robes and I remember the funeral, his seat in the choir draped with his robe, and I lose it.

People say, "He had a good life" and "You're so lucky he didn't have to go to a nursing home" and I know this is true, but I want to scream back that that isn't a consolation. I'm in this little cocoon; I don't want to talk to people about him or have visitors bring things.

My dad wasn't perfect. There were years when I was so irritated by him that it took a great deal of control to be nice to him. But in the past few years he was the father I've always wanted: kind, wise, compassionate, gentle. And that's hard to give up.

I won't belabor my sadness here. Others' mourning is not interesting. But I'm just going to say this and be done with it: I miss him. Damnit.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Being Born

During the time we spent at the hospital, much of it waiting for my dad to breathe his last, a few people compared the process of dying to that of being born. Moving from a known, secure place to the unknown. Long and arduous process. Hard work.

I would say that our role seemed like coaching a birthing mother. The day my dad died, as we were around his bed, it felt as though we were moving him on his way, helping him be born into his new life. We touched him and talked to him, let him know that we loved him and that we would be all right when he left. We breathed with him, quick intakes of air that left us feeling lightheaded. And when he breathed his last big breaths punctuated by seconds of silence, we breathed big breaths too.

Another thing about the dying process that has resembled birth is that I have forgotten how painful it is to lose a loved one. Just as I've forgotten how painful it was to have a baby. It seems new, this sadness. And I'm waking at all hours of the night and as weary as if I'd been taking care of a newborn.

I'm grateful to all of you for taking this journey with me. I've felt your love and prayers and empathy and sympathy. It has helped more than you'll ever know.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Courage to Do the Right Thing

My dad died this afternoon. When it finally happened, it was quick, peaceful, and all but one of his children were there. Because I'm still processing this, I want to tell you about something else that happened today.

My sisters and I will talk to anyone. My brother has teased us incessently since we've been going to the hospital about our need to say hello to every hospital employee who has done anything for our dad. Sometimes it can be embarrassing (and ridiculous) how forward we are.

Today the five of us were eating in the local drugstore. My sisters kept staring at this one table where a man, four young girls, and two older women were eating. One sister kept saying that the man was being totally inappropriate. Another said he was creeping her out. Finally I looked over and the man had the twelve year old in his lap and had his hand up her shirt in the front. Then in the back. Then he rested it on her rear end. It was very disturbing to watch.

One of my sisters is a therapist who specializes in women who have been sexually abused. She wanted to confront the situation. We were horrified and didn't want her to get involved. She said, "God, if you want me to do something, create an opportunity." Oh sure. In the crowded drugstore there was going to be a chance to talk about this to someone in that group.

A few minutes later, we figured out that the man was the father of the girls, and the situation assumed even more importance. The father kissed one of the younger girls on the mouth, then he and the girls and one of the women left, leaving the other woman there to pay the bill. She said, "See you tomorrow," so we knew they would not be coming back in. My sister said that she was going over.

She started talking to the woman. And for about three or four minutes the woman stood, protesting slightly, but attentive to what my sister said. After it was over and the woman had left, we talked about what had been said and I was astounded at the skill with which my sister had handled the conversation.

I would not have had the skills to do what she did. But beyond that I would not have had the courage. My sister may have changed the course of that young girl's life, and that of her sisters too. I can't give her enough credit for the risk she took. Hats off to her for standing up for that child. What an example she set today.