Two Years

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In high school and college, I spent hours honing my ability to craft good introductions for my papers. I love finding the perfect first line for anything — essay, article, short story, blog post. However, I have found no good way to introduce the fact that Dad died two years ago today.

You try to convince yourself it’s just a day. Tell yourself it’s simply the combination of a day and a number in a month that happens every year. After all, people say that age is just a number. Weight is just a measurement of gravity. If we lived on the moon, our weight would be six times lighter. If we lived on Mars, a year would be almost twice as long. So then I wonder, Would that have given us more time with him?

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.
— Leo Tolstoy

I never really blogged about how that first year went. I didn’t really blog about anything, actually, for over a year. All those firsts came around: first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, a family funeral, first birthdays, first Father’s Day, a family wedding. To believe he’s  watching over us is comforting, but his absence at special occasions still leaves a gaping hole.

I’m not really sure there’s any trick to coping other than the clichés of getting out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking it day by day. Not long after Dad died, I sat in my Nurse Practitioner’s office for a regular weight-monitoring visit (that’s really more irregular) and relaying to her what had happened over the past few months. When I was done, she asked, “And how are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said.

“Really? You lost your dog, then your dad, then started a new job in the span of three months. Those are some major transitions and stresses.”

I had not stopped to think of it that way. Perhaps I wouldn’t let myself do that in order to keep myself from buckling under the pressure? Usually, anxiety doesn’t affect me until AFTER the stressful event is over. In this case, it came almost a year later.

Starting last July, I found myself overemotional, hypersensitive, panicky, irritable, moody… you name it. For weeks I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until after that first anniversary, during a journaling session, that the thought rolled out of my head, through the pen, onto the paper. As of 24th, I was more than a year removed from his presence. I could no longer say, “At this time last year, Dad was still here.”

Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.
— Earl Grollman

In January I felt ready to get out of the funk, to do something that made me feel as if I were actually living, not just existing. The process has gone more slowly than I wanted and left me beyond frustrated — proof that I am my father’s daughter. I had to take time off from the gym because of a knee problem, which then kept me from doing some physical challenges I wanted to do. That’s better now, so I’m trying again to get back in the groove. And I’m writing more as well.

I heard this song a week or so ago that summed it all up what I was trying to do. My favorite thing about music is how it can express so much of our own feelings in just a few notes and words. May it inspire you to get out of whatever funk you might be experiencing as well.

Facebook Can Kiss My Ass

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No, I’m not rage-quitting Facebook, but I am boycotting the whole “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” thing that keeps popping up on my feed. All apologies to anyone who has had a good year and created their own and shared it, but I just don’t care to relive my 2014.

Don’t get me wrong; I had some good moments.

But there was that horrible morning in July when we had to say good-bye to our sweet Domino, and I really didn’t get much time to grieve for her because Dad went into the hospital a couple of weeks later and passed away a few days after that.

On the one hand, I feel comforted by many thoughts. I imagine him in Heaven, in his cancer-free body, having tomato sandwiches with MaMa Grant. I am grateful to know that he never had to find out the cancer was back in his bone marrow, and I am thankful that he suffers no more. However, the pain from his absence makes even the best days bittersweet. There’s always this unpleasant aftertaste of what can’t be shared with him, and I don’t know if that will ever go away.

Grief sneaks up when you least expect it. It’s on a minivan on the road in front of you that’s decorated with “Happy birthday, Dad!” It’s the movie you didn’t explore enough to know about the lead character’s father having cancer and dying at the end. It’s the photo revealed in a stack of papers that you had forgotten existed.

Still, the Earth turns and revolves around the sun, and even if we wanted to stop moving, we couldn’t.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The faultfinder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms house as brightly as from a rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its doors as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.

— Henry David Thoreau

However, Thoreau doesn’t say anything about Facebook. Screw Zuckerberg and his attempts to pick out what the highlights were to my 2014. I pick my own AND set them to music — in this case, Emerson Hart’s “Green Hills of California.”

Here’s my 2014. It was… a year.

Unprepared

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IMG_1264Before walking became a “cool” exercise, my parents were all about going walking. I remember summer evenings marching around our huge back yard with Mom, Dad, and my brother for several laps multiple days every week. One evening my brother wanted to race from the very back of the yard to the back of the house. The four of us started to run, but Mom and I almost immediately fell behind. My chubby self has never been a runner, and Mom will quickly tell you that birthing two children dashed any hope of being able to run without piddling on herself.

My brother had a comfortable second place spot, but Dad totally schooled him on how far he had to go to catch up to his speed. His arms and legs blurred together as they dashed through the muggy summer air. The Six Million Dollar Man had nothing on him; the only thing missing was the bionic sound effect.

The memory played through my head as I sat by his bed in CCU and held his hand last Saturday night into Sunday morning, after the nurses told us he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. A breathing machine pumped oxygen into his lungs and multiple IV bags fed him a concoction of three antibiotics, fluids, sugar water and blood pressure medicine. What had started as a urinary tract infection Monday led to pneumonia by the end of the week, and his body, run down by months of chemo treatments and ten days of radiation for lymphoma, could no longer fight off what was going on. 

The running joke in the family. Dad could drift off to sleep just about anywhere.

The running joke in the family. Dad could drift off to sleep just about anywhere.

We were all struck dumb. How could he have gone from sitting up in a chair three days before to not being able to make it through the night? This man mowed an acre-and-a-half lawn a couple of days after his first chemo treatment. This man once rebuilt a VW bug engine and almost single-handedly lowered it back into the vehicle. This man once beat all the bigger high school football players with the most pull-ups.

All the tests had showed that the cancer was not making major advances in his body. How could he suddenly be not strong enough to fight? Why was his body giving up now? There was supposed to be more time. The treatments were maintaining the cancer. We knew a day would come when they would not be effective, and then we would talk about Hospice and pain management and DNRs and living wills.

We were unprepared for this.

We had to make the decision to disconnect the breathing machine and IVs. Once the tubes were removed, he was physically gone in a couple of minutes. I continued to sit and hold his hand while other family members came in to say good-bye. Part of me wanted to run — out of the CCU, out of the hospital, across the streets of downtown Greenville. I wanted to run and scream  and cry in anger, in confusion, in shock, but I stayed because running away meant letting go of his hand. The hands that repaired hundreds of printing presses and copiers over a 40-year career, fixed at least a couple dozen cars on weekends, put together a short-wave radio for my seventh-grade science project, built a two-car garage and a back porch sunroom, carried the heavy stuff into my dorm room in Columbia during the miserable days of August. He was a man who worked with his hands and was more interested in action than words.

IMG_0923When I came home from college on weekends, I liked to rent movies to watch on Friday night, and being the English major, I often picked the introspective ones. I remember him getting up from the den one night during a movie (don’t remember which one) and saying, “They talk too much in this movie, Carla.”

In his CCU room, discussions took place about how the mortuary would arrive in a half-hour to take him. Mom eventually asked if I was ready to go, but I shook my head. “I don’t want to leave him,” I said, and then I broke down, repeating the same sentence over and over.

Other family members left, but I was unaware of their absence. Four of us were left there with Dad — Mom, my brother, The Husband, and me. Somehow I found the will to stand and, after a few more minutes, let go of his hand. When I did, I knew I had to walk out of the room and not look back. Exiting the hospital and riding home still feels like a blur — perhaps from shock and perhaps also from fatigue since it was after 2 a.m. on Sunday morning.

We got home around 3 a.m., and because I knew some friends on Facebook would ask, I typed the only words I could manage at that moment: “Dad’s gone.”

I’ve always heard the statement: “We pay our respects for those who are left behind.” I’ve probably said the same thing myself a few times, but I never really comprehended the importance until this past week. From my aunt, uncle, and cousins who came to the hospital Saturday night and stayed until after the unthinkable happened to all the family and friends who came to my parents’ house in the days that followed.

I remain blown away by the thoughtfulness and support. My mom’s office shut down Tuesday afternoon and every one of her coworkers came to the funeral. My college roommate drove two hours from Camden. Another former coworker and close friend drove down from Charlotte. One of my brother’s best friends drove up from Charleston, twice — for the weekend where Dad took his downward spiral and then the funeral. The Husband’s boss and two other coworkers came. I simply can’t express my appreciation enough for all who have done so much to bring us comfort. My gratefulness knows no bounds.

IMG_2690This next stage of our lives is one huge question mark. It is still unfathomable to think that when I come up my parents’ driveway, Dad won’t be stepping out of the garage, sitting on the porch, or rocking in his glider in the den when I open the door. He will not be there at Christmas to say his line: “Before we know it, it’ll be the Fourth on July.” And on the Fourth of July, he won’t be there to say, “Before we know it, it’ll be Christmas.”

However, I do know that we are a close family and a strong family. We have amazing friends and loved ones, and no matter what the next days, weeks, months, and years bring, we will get through with their help and with God’s grace.

A Farewell to the First-Born Fur Baby

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So I got up here. Now how do I get down?

So I got up here. Now how do I get down?

She was born on Christmas Day 2000, one of six puppies from Momma Dog’s second litter. When the first litter was born six months earlier, The Husband and I lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so we told his youngest brother (main caretaker of the dogs) that if she had another litter and we were somewhere where we could have a dog, we would take one. By that Christmas, we were renting a house from a friend who let us have pets, so we had to live up to our agreement.

Five weeks after she gave birth to the puppies, Momma Dog (a collie mix) had had enough of nursing. Appalling behavior for humans, but perfectly acceptable for dogs — go figure. It was time for me and The Husband to go pick out our puppy. We drove over on a Saturday afternoon and walked up to the outdoor pen where The Husband’s grandfather, Papa, had built for the pups. I knelt down in front of the little bundles of fur that clamored for my attention, but before I could get to any of them, a fawn-colored bounded over all of them and started licking my hand. Later I would learn that I had picked the alpha female.

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