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Holding On To Grief

I had to get up early for a work related task and as I was mulling over my blog post for the day I thought, Hmmm…maybe I’ll tell everyone about my spicy okra and beans from last night!

If I believed in any sort of life after death I would tell you that my Dad would see that thought and say, “Thank goodness. She’s finally going to let March 31st pass without some sappy entry about how much she misses me.” And while I don’t believe he’s watching over me in any way, it was a little jarring to momentarily forget that today was the day – six years ago – that he left me forever. It was especially shocking to have forgetten because Dad has been on my mind so much lately. Much more so than usual, as I’ve been feeling fresh waves of guilt the last month that almost feel like I said goodbye only yesterday. This has been a surprise, that the depth of the sadness can still feel so vast even six years away. But it has lately – really since the new year – it’s felt vivid and new and painfully raw. His new grandson, Donnie’s Ironman, E’s college experience, my Grand Slam, Wes’s basketball and Nikki’s vocabulary and dialog development…there are so many things over the last six months that have just made me scream to the clouds time and time again: WHY IS HE NOT STILL HERE TO EXPERIENCE THIS?

The sadness has tainted just about every breath I’ve taken these last few months and I’ll be honest – part of me doesn’t want to shake it off. Part of me has felt a renewed closeness to him with this fresh wave of grief, and I wonder if I’m holding onto it as a way to hold on to him. I know that over the last six years I’ve felt that before – a need to hold on to the grief when it hits. So part of me kinda got mad at myself this morning: Zoot! Okra? How could you be thinking about OKRA on the anniversary of your Dad’s death? I was mad I had momentarily stuck my head out of this fog of sadness and forgotten about how much I missed him.

OKRA!?

But I know that’s silly. If there’s anything this wave of pain has taught me is that no amount of time will fade the grief forever. While part of me fears that letting the sadness pass means that a part of him passes again, I know that is not how it works. I know that time does not build an insurmountable wall protecting me from sadness forever – it only builds small barrier that keeps it at bay so I can live my life. But the grief – it’s always there and letting go now doesn’t not mean I’m saying goodbye again.

I turn 40 in July, but in my heart I’ll always be a Daddy’s girl.

I miss you so much, Dad. Tears trickle down my face as I try to find new pictures of you that I’ve not shown before, because I didn’t know during any of these moments that you’d be gone so soon. I would give anything to have these moments back again.

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necklace

I Win The Battle Of The Necklaces.

A few months ago I sent my friend a message with this picture and said something like, “Hey…could you use some copper?”

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Because…you know…that’s a completely normal question to ask someone, right?

You see…my Dad grew up in a large family that didn’t have a lot and he was VERY MUCH of the No Waste, Ever mindset. If he came across ANYTHING in his day-to-day life that was even REMOTELY useful in ANY way…he kept it. We had stacks of yogurt cups on top of the microwave because they made good drinking cups for camping. He brought home wood crates that hospital equipment was shipped in, and he made furniture out of it. He made flashcards for us out of old punchcards used for programming.

So, needless to say, his house was full of a lot of things that he thought…ONE DAY…he might make use of. And copper, being just a valuable metal to begin with, definitely seemed worth keeping in his eyes. And even though we donated 90% of his stuff to the Knoxville Rescue Mission, I couldn’t let go of the copper. It didn’t take up much space in my life and I just felt like…some day…it might be useful.

Maybe that insanity is genetic?

But then my friend started a business making upcycled jewelry. And she did a LOT of work with metals….namely copper. She made jewelry out of pennies and I just fell in love with everything so I thought, “I bet she could do something with this.”

And she did. She took the tubing and made beads out of it. I have no idea the science or craft behind this task…all I know is that THIS is what she put in my hands last night and I freakin’ cried. We were in public, at a restaurant with other writers from Rocket City Mom and I freakin’ cried like a baby. Because y’all? My Dad would have just ADORED THIS. He would have been all, “SEE. This is what I’m talking about! Why throw this stuff away???”

And it would have totally validated every weird thing he had in his basement/garage.

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beads

You can click on the photos to open up bigger copies to see the details and the colors of the beading. SERIOUSLY. LOOK AT IT. It’s truly amazing. I can’t even contain the love I have for this piece of jewelry.

So…yeah. Don’t be jealous, is basically the point of this entry.

My necklace is the best.

Dad took selfies long before it was cool.

Birthday

Today is (would be?) my Dad’s birthday. I thought about doing a “Dear Dad” entry like I’ve done before, but that always rings a little false since I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife.

I used to pray a lot back when I was a believer, and I miss that feeling of just talking into the void. Some nights I start…and think, “Hey Dad…” but it just feels weird. Same as when my faith was fading and I would try to pray. When you don’t believe? You just don’t believe. And pretending doesn’t do anything for me.

These last few months I’ve been more stressed than usual, sleeping poorly, worried about more than usual – and thinking about talking to him just reminds me how much I miss talking to him. Then I end up just crying from the pain of losing him all over again.

He’s been gone over 5 years now, but at night, when I’m alone with my thoughts and that hole in my heart? It feels like it was only yesterday.

There are still so many things I long to tell him. From science news like the success of the first launch of Orion, to family news like Donnie’s new job. Man…I know he’d love to talk to Donnie about that…there are so many stories Donnie comes home with and I know my Dad would have loved to hear them. I think he would have been a software developer if he had been born in our generation, the logic of coding would have totally appealed to him.

I think the thing I wish he could see the most is E as an adult. He has turned out to be such an amazing man. Dad would have ADORED his since of humor. He would have laughed his ass off at this tweet:

He would have been fascinated by his college and the artsy-fartsy nature of the student body. Dad would have gone to the big competition of battling musicals in February and would have ADORED the battling cheers/chants/songs of the night. He would have been as intrigued by Greek Life as I have been and would have been amazed that E held down 3 jobs last semester and still ended up with good grades. Dad didn’t really know my other two kids, but he knew E and seeing the adult he turned out to be would have just blown his mind. He would be beyond proud and that’s probably the thing I regret the most that he can’t see.

Of course he would love our adventures in fitness and my trail running. Dad was an outdoorsman, hoped to hike the AT some day…but I don’t know if he ever knew about trail running. He was a 5K’er himself…ran that distance several times a week up until he got sick. He would have loved for me to show him some of my favorite trails. He also would have been at Donnie’s Ironman, covering the entire 16 miles on foot with me as we spectated the entire day.

I miss him terribly. I still cry regularly over the pain of missing him. Time does make things easier. I can think about him and not hurt every time. But, man, especially lately when I’ve just been so tired and stressed…I just miss him so much still. Some days I just need him to be here, to talk to me, to hug me, and I feel like if I cry hard enough…maybe he’ll come back? I guess the child in me is still banking on some sort of movie magic in my life that – if I need him enough – will give me just one more moment with him.

Alas, there’s no movie magic in my life. He’s gone. While he was alive, he and I took turns forgetting each other’s birthdays, but in the years since he’s been gone the birthday hits me like a ton of bricks every year. I wish I could forget it again, honestly. Especially weeks like this one where I’m stressed and tired and just an emotional basketcase to begin with…his birthday does not drift gently. It slaps me in the face with the painful reminder than the man who raised me is gone and my two younger children will never even know him.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Sometimes I’m really mad at you for leaving me so early.

Dad took selfies long before it was cool.

Dad took selfies long before it was cool.

Dad in the kitchen after one of his meals. Notice how little E is. *sob*

Roast and Turkey.

My Dad was NOT a cook by any means. He actually often discussed his confusion over why people would “slave away” in the kitchen for hours, just to create a meal that is eaten in 15 minutes. He once sat in the kitchen while I was cooking something and said, “So, where do you think this came from? You’re desire to cook meals like this? Because I know it didn’t come from me.”

He had a few staples. Frozen eggrolls. (Which I hated.) Frozen fishsticks. (Which I loved.) Cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. (Loved.) And Oatmeal. (Loved.) For the most part mealtime was just an “On your own” type of experience as I got older. There was always stuff for sandwiches. Always cereal. I don’t know…maybe there was more, but I absolutely only have memories of those options on an average day on an average week.

BUT! For some reason, he liked to roast a turkey and cook a pot roast at least once a year. And y’all? There is no one in the world who put less effort into both meals than my Dad, but because it was SO RARE and it felt like such a HUGE EFFORT compared to his other meals, I would always get REALLY excited. Those meals usually revolved around a holiday, and it just depended on how the holiday fell for us from year to year. Were we spending Thanksgiving with extended family? Doing Christmas Dinner with Mom? If so – then the Turkey or the Roast might actually be 2 days after Christmas. Or the Monday following Thanksgiving. Either way – at least once a year we had at least one of those things.

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Us eating his turkey and potatoes. That’s the table we ate at. And our place settings. I am not lying about our glamorous upbringing in the slightest.

The turkey: He roasted in the oven with packaged stuffing in the cavity and carrots/celery smooshed in and around it. BAM. That was it. No spices. No brining. Maybe a little bit of painting with butter but it was all packaged stuffing, carrots and celery. AND I LOVED IT. I still – to this day – think it’s the best turkey in the world. I tried to do exactly what he did one year but mine sucked. I think a lot of the “OMG THIS IS DELICIOUS!” memories I have relate more to the emotions than the actual taste. It may have been dry as hell (he did always try to make gravy but it was often a failure) but there was always boxed Mashed Potatoes to go with it and OH MY GOD…I LOVED BOXED MASHED POTATOES.

Basically – the point is – set the standards low for your children.

His roast was about the same. He had an ancient slow cooker – probably one of the first made – and he was still using it even up until he died. He put the meat, some potatoes and some carrots, and kept enough water in it to keep from drying, and BAM! Pot Roast! AND IT WAS SO GOOD. I remember telling him once, “This is way better than Dinty Moore Beef Stew” and he said, “Yeah, but that’s much easier.”

Which is hysterical because his pot roast was SO EASY.

Dad in the kitchen after one of his meals. Notice how little E is. *sob*

Dad in the kitchen after one of his meals. Notice how little E is. *sob*

My kids probably won’t have any specific meals stick out for them because we do cook a lot in this house. And I do a wide range of meals. And maybe this is good for their diets, but I’m sad that there won’t be any ONE thing that sticks out in the memories like it does mine. I’m just so grateful for those memories and those meals and I appreciate that Dad took at least 1 or 2 days a year to cook a meal that required SO MUCH EFFORT.

(Those of you in charge of Thanksgiving this year are probably thinking, “Man…if only I could put that little effort into MY turkey/dressing/stuffing.)

I think I mentioned once to Dad about my fond memories of those meals and I think he was entertained by it because – even he realized how minimal they were on the grand scale of things. At least I hope I mentioned it.

Do you have any specific memories of great meals your parents cooked?

fakehip

Who needs a/c when you have fake hips?

hipMy Dad worked in the biomedical engineering department of a hospital for my entire pre-adult life. That department was responsible for A LOT of things relating to hospital equipment and tools, but one of the “perks” was that they also tended to be privy to the waste from the hospital because there’s tons of tools/equipment you can’t just put in the garbage can when you don’t want/need it anymore.

And – as my Dad would always joke – he was the only one in the department without a wife at home telling him he couldn’t bring home stuff to play with, so! Our house was full of weird/interesting/unusual items rescued from certain death at the hospital. At one point in time the bookends in our living room were a radon detector and a microscope. He had a tool used in surgeries (an old one getting replaced by something new) to grab things – imagine a tiny trash grabber like they use on the side of the highway – that he kept in the kitchen. “What was it for?” you might ask. Well! It was a drawstring retrieval system, of course! When he would lose his drawstring in his sweatpants that thing was PERFECT to get it out.

So, yeah. Weird stuff in our house. We didn’t have central heat or a/c but DAMMIT…We had discarded blood pressure cuffs!

He really didn’t like seeing things that could be used, going to waste. He build pieces of furniture out of the good wooden shipping boxes some of the more expensive equipment would come in. He used bilirubin light bulbs that still worked but didn’t fit new machines, IN OUR HOUSE. We had one in our kitchen that served as a nightlight. A nurse friend of mine joked once, “Did all the jaundiced babies hang out in your kitchen?” He had TONS of interesting things he would try to make useful, or even sometimes just bring home to play with or save because he thought SOMEDAY! Someday this will come in handy!

Of course, when our house flooded in 1993 (don’t ask why/how) it became a water-logged disaster. He rented one of those bins to throw everything away in (after putting the roof on the house too) and the guys that came to pick up the bin spent hours digging through it first because it was filled with some of the CRAZIEST SHIT.

The fake hips/shoulders were the best. He had several of those. They all are marked “demo” or “display” so I’m assuming it was something a doctor used to explain the item to a patient, but who knows why they were getting thrown out or replaced. Either way, my Dad thought they were WAY too cool to go to the garbage. My brother has several of them and actually built a really awesome light out of them. I kept one. And it stays on my “Dad” shelf. I keep waiting for the one day someone comes over and says, “Wait. Is that a fake hip on that shelf?”

Yes. Yes it is. What do you ask?