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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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I remember the faces.

Nikki and I have talked a lot about death recently. It’s been a weird stretch in my life where I’ve had several people close to me lose parents. So many that, when Nikki and I went to a service, she actually thought we were there for a different friend, at first.

But it was she and I attending that service that prompted one of the most important conversations, I believe, that we could have about death. And basically the point? “Be there.”

We had a weird schedule that night and she and I had to be somewhere together after the service. While Donnie didn’t mind bringing her to me, he really didn’t want to do that. So, she willingly volunteered to go with me, even though she’s 9 and death is scary.

So we talked a lot about these type of services and what purpose they serve.

DSC_0415See…before my Dad died…(That’s kinda how you permanently categorize your life after you lost a loved one, Before and After. Because so much changes in you, it’s always an important distinction to make.) I basically decided to go to a service based on how many people might be there. If I thought there would be a lot of people? Then I wouldn’t bother because there would be plenty of hugs to go around. I also skipped services if it was even remotely inconvenient because – let’s be honest – no one likes events surrounding someone’s death.

And then my Dad died. And things look so different now.

I’m an awkward person, socially speaking. Put me in a calm and casual gathering with people I know and trust and I’m still going to say something asinine and awkward. So, you can imagine I’m just a fountain of gauche if I’m in an uncomfortable situation surrounded by people I don’t know. So, talking to people about the loss of a loved one? Oh, man. Let’s just say that, on the list of memoir titles that are always running through my head? One of them is: “Why you shouldn’t talk about menstruating at a funeral.”

Been there. Done that.

But, as I told Nikki, I don’t remember many of the specific words people said to me at my Dad’s service. But – oh man – do I remember the faces. I didn’t matter what they said (although I probably would remember someone discussing their period) it just mattered that they came. Before Dad died? I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I didn’t live in the town he died. Yet…so many people from my childhood came and each and every one of their faces meant the world to me. Did it matter if they had the perfect words to share about grief and sympathy? Not at all. And if they gave them? I don’t remember. I just remember the warmth of my heart when I saw them there. And now…I want to always try to be one of the faces there for my friends and family.

It’s the faces that matter. They matter so much more than the words.

I have another service to attend today and Nikki actually asked if I could check her out of school to come too. It doesn’t really work out, time wise, but that meant a lot to me. She’s not the type that just loves missing school, so I’d like to think that she understood the talk and she just wanted to be one of the faces there in support.

If you’re ever uncomfortable or not sure what to say, just remember…it’s the faces that matter. Be one of the faces. The words will come, and they might be awkward, but the person will remember your face above all of that.

And also, remember, as long as you’re not talking about how bad your menstruation issues are? You’re doing better than I am.

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.

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The Sadz Demand To Be Felt.

I’ve found myself a little sad these last couple days because I seem to be missing my Dad a little more than usual. I’m dealing with the sads by eating all of the vegan foods in all of the land. I’m going to be the first morbidly obese vegan in the history of the planet.

So, I sat down to write yesterday morning like I always do and just couldn’t because I was all, “Wah. The Sads.”

It’s funny because, to my logical brain it makes sense that some days I’m going to really be sad about missing my Dad. He’s gone! I loved him! That makes sense! But the insecure emotional side is all, “FIVE YEARS, Kim. No one wants to hear you still whining about your Dad FIVE YEARS later.”

But Day 2 and I sat down to write and all I could think was, “Wah. The Sads.”

The funny thing is what has triggered this sadness. Well, one thing is funny and one thing is interesting. The first thing is: My laptop is dying. It’s been struggling for awhile but it seems it might be knocking on deaths door. It was a gift from my Dad and my Brother in 2008 and my Dad died in 2009. This means I am super-duper sentimentally attached to the thing and when I look at it on the table, knowing it might not power back up again (issues with batteries, power supplies, and fans…also the hardware is now too old for any updates in software) and I tear up a little.

Basically, my laptop is making me sad. Which my Dad would find funny.

The other thing which is more interesting than funny is that I’m really getting into Ironman Mode. Donnie has been training so hard for months already and we’re almost to the 6 week countdown. (That’s not a real thing to anyone but me, by the way.) And man, my Dad would LOVE to see this. First of all, he loved Chattanooga with all of his heart. Second of all? He loved Donnie. In 2005 he traveled out west to see my brother do an Ironman and he came home just fascinated by the whole thing. He’s the first one who told me about strippers. (I love saying that sentence. It never stops being funny.) Strippers rip the wetsuits off the athletes after they come out of the water. He thought my brother was insane, of course, but he loved being there witnessing the insanity. And I think he’d really love to see the same insanity in one of his favorite cities.

So. Laptop. Ironman. Missing Dad.

Thanks for letting me dump out my Sadz all over the place, I kinda annoy myself blogging about that stuff, but then the Not Blogging about it makes it worse because Blogging is my therapy so, you know, I’d save us all time if I just got it out on Day 01.

And so that I don’t just end this entry on a “Wah. I has the sadz.” note, I’ll add a little bit of exciting news to the mix.

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Someone passed the swim test at the Y and finally got his white band! He didn’t stress as much about the test as his sister did (she can swim a 600yd workout and still hates that they make her retake the 25m swim test at Kid’s Night Out) but he hadn’t passed it yet because they don’t let you take a Swim On Your Back break as you cross the 25yd pool, and my kids love those breaks. I’ve taught them if they panic, or get too tired, flip on their back, don’t go to the side. So, great life lesson, not so great with passing the swim test so you can swim without your Mom by your side.

But he did it! He is so very excited!

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5 Years.

5 years ago today – my Dad died after a late-stage cancer diagnosis and 5 weeks in hospice care. It was a seemingly fast death, considering it was from cancer. The diagnosis had just been a few weeks before he went into hospice. This was the eulogy I read at his funeral and I share it out every year on the anniversary of his death. I was blessed to have had him for the 62 years, and I’m grateful for that, but what I wouldn’t give to have just one more day with him. I miss him so dearly.

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Eulogy: Read April 2, 2009.

Donnie and I were talking one weekend in the car on the way into town. We were discussing traits I may or may not have gotten from Dad. Things I’m proud to have inherited, like his love of geography and things that have caused me worlds of problems, like the insanely curly hair. I was thinking about how my parenting reflects the way Dad parented us and I said, “You know -Dad was an extremely selfless parent.”

I’ve been a Mom now for 14 years. Many times in those 14 years, I’ve needed to take breaks. Sometimes I take the kids to a babysitter while we go to dinner, or see a movie, or even just run errands. I have a lot of friends who are also parents and they’ll agree with me in those breaks being a necessity. I don’t know of anyone who has ever said, “A break? Nah, I don’t need one!”

Except for Dad.

Dad enjoyed being a parent so much that parenting was his break from the rest of his life. Not only did he NEVER take a break from being our Dad, no matter how crazy we were acting, but he always claimed parenting us was EASY. He said raising us was the easiest thing he ever did. This proved one thing for sure: Dad had a different definition of “easy” in his head than I did.

Dad went above and beyond the regular requirements of a parent. He coached soccer for both of our teams. This was especially difficult for me since I have absolutely no natural athletic skill whatsoever. He took me to gymnastics and both of us to piano lessons. He helped us with science fair projects (we always had the best ones, of course) and book reports. He took us to museums and to the library.

And that’s just the beginning.

As we got older he found ways to stay involved in our lives. He traveled to see us play sports all through high school and stayed up late many nights to wait for us to get home so he could hear how our school functions went. I remember one time, as a Senior in high school, he ended up driving a car full of my squealing friends from Camp John Knox to Knoxville and back one night so that we wouldn’t have to miss a Y-Teen rally for our Senior trip. If you’ve never been trapped in a car for an hour with more than five hyper-active teenage girls you many not realize how charitable of a gesture this was. You’ll just have to trust me. It is considered a war crime in some parts of the world.

The funny thing is? Dad loved it. He loved nothing more than just being a fly on the wall when C and I were around our friends. He often considered our friends and their parents his own peer group. He joked that when we graduated from high school he lost a lot of his social circle in the parents of our friends.

One time I volunteered Dad to chaperone a field trip for my biology class when I was a Senior. He was given a group of freshmen to be in charge of and realized immediately that it was more of a formality than anything. Those freshmen didn’t need or want him to be in charge. That didn’t keep him from trying his best to at least memorize all of their names on the way to Chattanooga. Dad didn’t know how to do anything halfway.

He took me shopping for prom dresses in high school. He even managed to fake enthusiasm (in between yawns, of course) as I tried on dozens of outfits. Let’s just say that raising a teenage daughter is a difficult task for anyone, but for a single Dad? There just aren’t words, I’m sure. And he still rose to the challenge.

His selflessness raising us to adulthood knew no limits. But it didn’t stop there. C and I both have leaned on his shoulder several times as adults. He continued to be our best cheerleader as he traveled out west to see C do his Ironman and came to Nashville to watch me run/walk my marathon. Even just in the last year or so he spent a week in Tucson helping C tile his home and spent a week in Alabama helping take care of Nikki when I was recovering from my c-section. Anytime we asked for him to help us, he did. Never once putting anything before us.

Essentially, he put his whole life on hold while he raised us, letting his own personal dreams and goals fall to the wayside. I think that’s the hardest part about losing him now, I don’t feel like he ever got to live his own life. Maybe if he hadn’t been so busy watching me try on hot-pink satin prom dresses, he could have hiked the Appalachian Trail or written a book.

But I’ll try not to focus on that and instead focus on the sacrifices he made for us and do my best to repay him by making similar sacrifices for my own family.

But don’t count on me driving a car full of teenage girls anywhere. I know my limitations.

I know I’ll face many pains in my heart in the years to come as things unfold in my life that I know he would have been excited to hear about. I told him everything, from getting picked on in 2nd grade to learning how to rack servers a few months ago. I told him about new books I discovered and new challenges I faced as a Mom. He was always there.

When trying to decide what to say today, I just thought this was a side of Dad worth telling you all about tonight. The side you may not have been aware of – the amazing selfless father who was more than just a Dad to us. More often than not – was our best friend.