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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.

Nice Shirt, Dad

Cataloging The Memories

Preface: I’ve been adding to this for a few days, but right now I’m on a bunch of cold medicine and exhausted from a lack of sleep. I apologize for any major typos or grammatical errors. This is the type of entry that’s hard to proof even when I’m feeling well, but when I’m tired and sickly, I just would rather not have to re-read this 100 times.

This time every year I find myself thinking tons about Dad. On February 10th, 2009, he was hospitalized with renal failure. He died 7 weeks later. I wrote a little bit here during that time, but not a lot because I was holding out hope for a miraculous recovery, and I was afraid he’d be mad about me cataloging his illness on my blog. I remember wanting to write SO DESPERATELY about what was going on, but I knew he’d be SO PISSED later. Not for privacy reasons, but because I was spending any time whatsoever thinking about him and his cancer. He hated the idea that his illness held any focus in our lives, even for the little time it did.

It’s been 5 years now, and I was recently scrolling through my archives during that time, seeing how little I wrote, but remembering VERY VIVIDLY how much I wanted to write about what was going on. Now I only have bit and pieces of faded memories documenting that important time in my life. I thought, maybe I should try to write them down now. Some of the things I’ve mentioned here and there, but in terms of trying to put that 7 weeks in some sort of catalog, I haven’t really done that. But I think I should, so I can remember it later.

  • I was boarding a plane for a solo trip to Chicago associated with this blog when I realized I had a voicemail from my Dad’s doctor looking for my Dad. I can NOT express to you how weird this was. Partly because Dad never went to the doctor, but partly because Dad ALWAYS answered his home phone. If he was home and not answering? That was a HUGE PROBLEM. I called the doctor back, before I was asked to turn off my phone, and he informed me had some results on my Dad’s recent bloodwork but he couldn’t get a hold of him and it was basically an emergency. I was Dad’s emergency contact since I was geographically closest. And here I was, about to board a plane to Chicago. (Didn’t even know my Dad had been sick.) I called my brother so he could keep up with the news while I was in air, and I called my Mom who was the one who went to my Dad’s house to check on him and let him know he needed to call his doctor. Then, I took off.
  • The event in Chicago was a blogger event, a pedicure night, and I have very vivid memories of the faces I encountered that day associated with that event. I remember being very torn about trying to be fun and social, but being worried to death about my Dad. The people who flew me to Chicago were super-accommodating and did what they could to get me an earlier flight home. These people probably have no idea how much a part of my memories they are. And how often I wish they’d seen a better side of me.
  • Dad was admitted to the hospital and was vocally irritated with how my brother and I were trying to get to Knoxville. I can’t remember if we got the Multiple Myeloma diagnosis before we all got to Knoxville or not. Isn’t that funny? I remember the blogger and her husband who drove me back to my hotel when I was in Chicago, but I can’t remember even what state I was in (Illinois? Alabama? Tennessee?) when I found out my Dad had cancer.
  • My brother and I spent quite a bit of time Googling Multiple Myeloma from his work laptop. This was before smartphones and I often think now how much easier it would have been then because the WiFi connection in the hospital was crap. We had to take the laptop to the chairs by some random entrance for good reception.
  • Dad was a big asshat while he was in the hospital, after the diagnosis. He was always very good about acknowledging when he had been an ass, and apologizing for it. I’m still learning to do that. Anyway – he was a giant asshat. To everyone. Family, siblings, children, medical staff. So, when he got his discharge orders and I needed to help him get settled in at home, I knew it was going to SUUUUUUCCCCCKKKK. But, it seemed the asshatedness had faded and he was very grateful and very open about needing help. I had never seen that side of him. I think that day I kinda new he wasn’t going to really pursue treatment. He was going home with an Rx for a pill type of chemotherapy and a dialysis schedule. He would never take the first pill, and only did dialysis twice.
  • When I took him home and headed out to get his Rx filled, I asked him if he needed anything. Dad had never openly asked for anything…EVER. But he was very calm about all of the things he needed. His stomach was a mess so he wanted to try something like the Ensure they had given him at the hospital. He wanted me to see if I could find a cane. Crackers. Gatorade. I was so – almost excited – to be able to help him that I think I drove all over Fountain City making sure I could find everything on the list. I had NEVER been in that roll before for him, and it felt like a tiny bit of payback for the years he was a single Dad to me. I was willing to do just about anything he asked, just for the joy of getting to finally do something for him.
  • When I got back that day, we talked. We talked a LOT about life and diagnosis and prognosis and the future. Again – I look back on that now and really know he had already made his decision to NOT continue on with treatment. But, I didn’t realize it then. We talked a lot about how his body and the microfractures on his skeleton and his kidneys, would probably never recover. He pointed to his backpack and brought up he’d never probably be able to carry that again. Would he even be able to work? I could tell he was hashing it all out in front of me, and again, I had never been in that position before. And I remember contemplating every response, desperately hoping it was what he needed or wanted from me. I agreed a lot with him, about how much it was going to suck. I wonder if I shouldn’t have? Should I had been less honest and said, “No! It can still be great not being able to live that life you had before!” I many times offered for him to come stay with us. I hope I never forget the small smile and laugh in response. It was something that said, “I love you for offering, but you and I both know that’s never going to happen.”
  • I drove up a few days later to take him to his first out-of-hospital dialysis appointment. I remember being FREAKED OUT because I hate driving my Dad places. I can feel his nervousness with my driving and that makes me an even MORE high-anxiety driver. I was 33 and still felt the same way as when I drove him around at 16. But, again, his personality was so chill and contemplative. And appreciative. Another thing I add to the pile of obvious behavior that he was NOT GOING TO KEEP TRYING TO LIVE. I waited for him at dialysis, he came out and mentioned how much he hated it. So boring. So sickly. How do people do that for years? He just didn’t understand it at all.
  • He was supposed to get his sister (who lived in Knoxville) to take him to his next dialysis appointment. I remember getting ready to leave work one day (a day or two after the first dialysis treatment) when he called me and asked if I had a moment. “Kim, I think I really just want to die.” He didn’t say it with sadness or regret. He wasn’t even crass about it. I could tell in his voice he was much more concerned about ME than about him. About how I’d take it. Just like before, at his house, I was trying to respond the way I knew he wanted. “I understand.” I didn’t sugar-coat a potential future or beg him to fight. I often wonder if I should have. I think that day at his house though, as he hashed through the diagnosis before me, I think that prepared me. I think it let me see a side of him that really didn’t want to live like that. The small sadness at realizing he couldn’t carry his backpack. The subtle tone of defeat that he needed a cane. So, I just stood in my office, trying to get my shit together to leave so I wouldn’t sob at work, and told him over and over, “I’m sad, but I understand.”
  • Donnie was out of town because that’s the way our life has always worked. We have weirdly timed catastrophies that always keep us for being there for each other. I remember trying to get a hold of him and couldn’t. I eventually got a hold of his Mom and sobbed to her. I somehow got a message to my brother that I wanted to talk to him, but I can’t remember if he had talked to Dad yet. I just remember lying in the dark in bed that night, finally talking to my brother about the diagnosis. I think Wesley was in bed with me (he was still a baby nursing at night) so I was doing a lot of whispering. And crying.
  • Dad’s sister got him set up with a wonderful hospice facility. I remember heading into town to get him settled in, but I can’t remember if I drove him or not. I remember my brother and I sitting with him around the table as he was still in street clothes and maybe even eating some food. I remember we were talking a bit about his impending death. Maybe we were assuring him we’d be okay? Maybe he was assuring us? It’s very foggy, probably because the whole thing felt surreal. There he was, in a button-up and jeans, in the room we knew he’d die in soon. That was the last time I saw him out of the bed in the room.
  • It was hard to say how long it would be before Dad died. Basically, he was going to die of kidney failure, but it could take 3 days or 3 weeks. It really depended on how bad his kidneys were to begin with. His siblings came back in town to see him/say goodbye. I was glad because it gave them a final memory of him that was NOT the ASSHAT memories from when he had been in the hospital. I was terrified their last memories of their baby brother would be him at his worst. The visit in hospice was quiet but at least peaceful. Dad was simply ready to die. He was at peace.
  • Sometimes (maybe most times?) he was irritated my brother and I were still there. He didn’t want us putting off our lives to watch him die. He did check in on the process of us clearing out his house. He jokingly said we should burn it down. I think he was pleased that the Rescue Missions wanted so much of his stuff. He was also pleased when we told him his ashes would be buried in the same Memorial Graveyard his brother was buried in. He always thought that it was so pretty there. He seemed honored to get a military burial, even though that part of his life was so long ago.
  • A childhood friend of mine who still lived in Knoxville stopped by to see Dad one day. She brought truffles. He was super-thrilled about this, he always loved her and her family. He was just mad he couldn’t stomach the truffles. I’ll always be grateful that she made that visit because it seemed to really bring him joy in his last days.
  • I brought my kids in at the end, after debating it a bit. I didn’t want their memories to be of him like that, but I also knew everyone should be able to say goodbye. I don’t know if any of them remember it now.
  • Dad had that LAST GOOD DAY the night before he died. My brother called to tell me about it (he was staying in Knoxville while I went back and forth) and we even contemplated the fact that maybe his kidneys were fine. He had perked up, wanted to go home, as acting more lively than he had in the weeks prior. The funny thing is, I had read about those “LAST GOOD DAYS” in all of my dying research, but still, we found part of ourselves getting weirdly hopeful. I didn’t sleep at all that night, contemplating the “what ifs” – is he fine? What do we do if he just doesn’t die? Do we call the doctor to come check on him again? Is this torture leaving him there if he’s actually fine? ALL NIGHT LONG I was thinking about this stuff.
  • I got the call after I was already at work a little while the next morning. He had died in the night and they didn’t know, so I needed to hurry because they really need to call the funeral home. I had been packed for the call, grabbed my husband and my kids and we hit the road. It was the longest drive of my life. I didn’t want them to move my Dad until I got to say goodbye to him. My brother and aunt were there already, everyone was just waiting on me. Donnie dropped me off at the hospice center and took the kids to Moms. I walked in and there he was. I felt so many feelings. Sadness, of course, but also relief. Watching someone die is hard, but watching someone die who just wants to die already is exhausting. The first few days we would visit Dad in hospice and ask if he needed anything, he would joke about needing to die already. After that first week it stopped being funny, he was just ready, and sick of waiting. So, his death brought unexpected sense of relief. And then a horrible wave of guilt for feeling relieved.
  • My brother and I laughed more over the few days planning for Dad’s services than I ever would have expected. Ordering flowers, preparing the announcement for the paper, we just kept finding the stupidest stuff to laugh at and know that would have made Dad happy. He would have been laughing along with us. Having a sibling to go through that with, someone who is suffering the exact same loss, is the only thing that kept me sane during the whole ordeal.