Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Election Day

Today is election day in our city.

It also happens to be the first election since my dad died.

I expected to be a bit more emotional as I stepped into the polling booth, but this turned out to be one of those moments that you expect to be hard, but really isn't in reality. I'm sure it would have been different if he had been on the ballot of course, but today's election only represents what was to have been the half-way point in his term. 

Even so, my dad was so interested in this election and how it was going to change the face of our city council with three of the six seats up for election. He was so excited by the possibilities and some of the prospects of who he'd get to work with.

It's so hard to believe he isn't here to see it play out.

He did vote in the Presidential election last November. Interestingly, he decided to vote early one day after he got frustrated with a friend who was pushing him to vote for Obama. (He didn't, he went and voted for McCain.) At the time he told me, "you just never know... I might get busy and tied up with stuff on election day, at least this way I know I've voted."

His heart attack was Nov. 1, he was in the hospital on Election Day - but his vote counted.

It's hard to believe that it has been just a short two years since his own re-election as mayor. We worked so long and so hard on that campaign and for as long as I live, I will never forget the night he won. It didn't all end the way we had hoped, but I am eternally grateful that he was doing the job he loved when he died.

I will never look at a campaign sign or step into a voting booth again without thinking of my father.

But today, it felt really good to vote for the "next generation," so to speak... to vote for the people who are going to carry forward with the work my dad devoted so much of his life to. 

It was a small step, but it was a step forward.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Waiting for the Sun

Today is a better day.

The sun is shining and I slept until noon (with the kids right next to me playing the Wii on mute... LoL!) and now have a couple of windows open. It's amazing how fresh air can make you feel.

Sadly, the forecast for tomorrow does not look good for open windows... and so it goes again. Just when I start to feel like I'm getting somewhere, another setback.

It's as if the weather is a metaphor for grieving. Two steps forward, and then at least one and maybe three steps back. 

This winter has been for me - both literally and figuratively, the longest winter of my life.

My father had his heart attack and went in to the hospital on what was literally the last nice day we had before winter hit. When it came, it struck with a vengeance - taking our breath away with its fierceness.

We teased my dad about the change in weather and its correspondence to his hospitalization, and how he wasn't going to believe the difference when he got out. He hated winter, and we figured that at least this way he was missing out on having to deal with the time of year he so dreaded. We were trying to be optimistic, and still so full of hope.

We had no idea how much colder and darker the days were going to get.

As my dad's hospitalization passed through Thanksgiving and into December and then took its sudden turn for the worse, the weather also continued to only get worse. 

Appropriately enough, the sun was shining through a crisp, clear sky on the morning my dad passed away. We had waited through days of dreariness... told over and over again that we should "come right away" because the moment was near.

At least four times over the course of the 9 days he was in a medically-induced coma, we rushed to the hospital through the dreary clouds and wind.

But on the day the call was for real, the sun shone so brightly. It was so beautiful. And I thought to myself, "of course... I should have known. He was waiting for a day like today."

School was cancelled on the day of my dad's visitation a week later due to snow and ice, and things weren't much better by the funeral the next day. It made travel treacherous and even impossible for some. 

It matched my mood perfectly.

Even in that though, there are two things that stand out to me, comments made during the visitation that wove together the weather and my dad.

The ice storm that had hit overnight before the visitation had left everything in the city covered in a thin sheet of ice. Tree branches dripped frozen icicles and as the sun shone down, everything looked like it was covered in brilliant diamonds.

I knew that at any other time, I would think it was beautiful.

I don't remember who, but at the visitation someone told me that the icicles everywhere seemed to him as though our whole city was shrouded in tears for my father.

Beautiful.

Someone else said they couldn't help but think that as beautiful as the city looked that day... my dad *always* saw Pekin that way. He always saw the beauty and the good and thought it an almost magical place. 

He was right.

This winter has dragged on and sometimes I wonder if it's just my state of mind, but I know that even in a literal sense, it's been a bad one. A few weeks ago I took my kids to play in the sand at the lake near our house, last weekend six inches of snow were dumped on that sand.

My dad loved spring, and this year I can't help but feel it keeps eluding me. I need it, I need it more than I think I've ever needed it in my life. But a part of me is a little afraid too, because it will seem like such tangible proof that my dad is gone.

So I'm going to try to soak up the little teases I do get and continue to try to be patient waiting for the real spring to arrive and fervently hope it will bring with it some of the healing I am so desperate to feel.

Friday, April 3, 2009

My best friend, who happens to know a thing or two about grieving, suggested to me this past weekend that I should be journaling more.

I know she's right. But the thing about grief is that sometimes it's so exhausting just getting through the necessary "to-do" items for the day that it's hard to even entertain the idea of doing anything "extra," much less doing it.

Right now, anything "extra" in my world is defined as something that neither me nor my children is dependent upon for breathing and staying alive. Yes, that means my husband is kind of on his own!

We are heading into the four-month mark and there's something about this particular milestone. I remember reading it after Natalee had died, and trying to give Tammy ample warning. For some reason, I kind of forgot about it for myself until just recently.

The four-month phenomenon goes something like this: Four months have now passed since the death of your loved one. In that time, it's likely you've even gotten through the first significant holiday or other event without them. Other people who are close to you, but were not necessarily as close to the loved one, have moved on into their normal lives and are, on a subconscious level, anxious for you to do so as well. Certain behaviors, actions, and feelings that were ok in the weeks following the death are suddenly starting to seem odd. After all, it's been FOUR months.

A few weeks ago, a man I do not know wrote a very nice letter to the editor about my dad. The next morning I tried to read it to my kids - to illustrate to them another part of their grandfather's legacy - but could not get through the words without crying.

My 6-year old daughter, usually very sensitive and intuitive, said to me, "Isn't it about time we get moving on from this?"

I was stunned. Sometimes, as a parent, it's like a double-whammy in the grieving process and I guess that's something I don't feel some of family or friends really understand. In that moment, I needed to teach her about grieving - while dealing with my own. So I tried to explain to her that grief has no timeline and that it's ok if she's feeling better and not so sad, but I'm just not yet. And it's all ok. She immediately wanted to just drop the discussion, and was obviously remorseful she'd said anything at all. Now that's acting just like an adult.

Last week I attended the memorial service for my aunt, my dad's sister. When will I be able to get off this ride? She died March 19th, just about 3 months after my dad, after a brave battle with cancer. Her memorial service was beautiful and touching, but I don't think I've ever felt so emotionally removed from a situation that I should have been in touch with.

As I watched the video of pictures of her life play, my heart broke at seeing pictures of my dad. And my grandpa. And my grandma. And now my aunt. All such had such a huge presence in my childhood, in shaping me, in creating the person I am today. And all of them are gone. And I need and want them all HERE still. I felt like I was standing outside a window looking in at a life that couldn't possibly be mine. How is it possible to have everything I wanted in my life and still be so miserable and lonely?

I'm not in a good place right now, but there's really no place for that in daily life. When people ask how I'm doing I try to be honest but the truth is noone has time to hear it all. And everyone has their own life problems and issues to deal with, including grief. I'm hoping that by recognizing the depths I'm sinking to, I'm taking the first step in climbing back out. I never expected it to be an easy or short road - and truly the loneliness is the only thing that has caught me by surprise.

When Natalee died, I was angry with people around me who were having babies and just assuming everything would be ok. It got so that I stopped seeking out friends who were pregnant, because I just felt so frustrated with them. Now I find those same feelings starting to surface again... toward friends and family who are just going on with their lives exactly as they've expected to. Nothing about my life is what I expected it to be six months ago and none of it has truly been by my choosing.  And it continues on.

I've been giving some of my friends a hard time about upcoming vacations... it seems like 3/4 of everyone I know is headed somewhere sunny and warm for spring break. And the truth is, most of them need a vacation every bit as badly as I do - they also need a break from the strains and stresses of family illnesses and other stressful life events. In some ways, knowing that we all share those burdens is even more depressing. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being jealous, I would love nothing more than to escape this town for a few days and leave my worries behind - as much as one can anyway. But even that is not up to me, and a vacation right now is just not possible unless I feel up to doing it on my own with the kids. And THAT doesn't sound like much of a vacation, does it?

So here I am... trying to process all of this, struggling to get out of bed on the days I have nowhere to go and resentful of the days I have somewhere to go because I can't have time to myself and the life I used to know. 

So there ya go Tammy, I journaled it. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dreams

I believe very strongly in symbolism. I believe that everything has meaning, and that if you are open and receptive, you'll see it.

I also believe that souls carry on, and I believe in eternal life and the connection between this world and the world that exists after death.

I happen to believe in Christianity too, and of course these two things are connected.

My dad believed all of these things too. My dad was never overly-zealous about his religious beliefs. Many people who knew him well did not even know how very deeply religious he was. And while his conviction was strong, he also did not pass judgment on those who didn't agree. He worried about friends and family who did not believe in the tenets of Christianity. Not because he was worried about their souls and where they were destined to spend eternity - because he knew there is a certain kind of comfort and peace that covers you like a shroud even during the darkest of times, if you do believe. He worried about how those who didn't believe in an everlasting life could possibly get through the difficult times of loss.

My father's death has not shaken my faith. In many ways, it has strengthened it. I talked to my dad a lot in his last few days (this was a one-sided conversation but I know he could hear me, on some level...) and I talked about how I would need him to see me through these times. I told him I would be watching for signs... things that would comfort me with the knowledge of his presence in my life, despite our physical separation. I didn't need them for proof, only for encouragement.

In the days immediately following his death, it became a standard joke in my house that I was "overlooking" the signs he was sending me. We frequently see deer where we live, but usually in groups and always only does. The night my dad died, I happened to look out our front window and saw a single buck standing in our front yard.

The following day as I was riding with my mom to the mall, we passed under a tunnel of sparrows - thousands and thousands of them that had filled the road and then lifted up like a large sheet as we passed beneath. It was something I had never seen before. 

On Sunday, as I sat by the fireplace lamenting the lack of "signs" I had received from my father, a sympathy card fell from the mantle and hit me in the head. My husband joked, "there's your sign.." and then I remembered the deer, and the birds, and the bright sun that shone as my dad slipped away and the large moon that hung in the sky that night (the closest the moon will be to earth probably ever again in my lifetime was that night) and I laughed. Sometimes we don't see the forest for the trees, do we?

I felt content. I could almost hear my dad saying, "I sent you the deer, the birds... come on now I'm busy up here trying to meet people! I'm here. You KNOW I'm here."

A few days after my dad's funeral, I woke up in the middle of the night. I was awake, not dreaming, and I suddenly felt as though my dad was in the room. I felt him so strongly, and as the realization swept through me I heard his voice - clear as day - say, "Good-bye." Suddenly, I felt him leave.

The next morning, I felt angry about the experience. 

I have not yet had one of those moments so many people describe where I momentarily forget he is gone and have the urge to call him or expect to see him coming through the door. Instead, I am painfully aware every moment of every day that he is gone. 

So in frustration I asked, "why GOOD-BYE? Good-bye is painfully obvious to me right now, I GET that. Why couldn't you have used that amazing opportunity to say something, anything else?"

And then I realized that while I had the chance - many of them actually - to tell him good-bye, he had not. The part of his illness that took his life came on very fast and in the effort to treat him, he was medically sedated into a coma. There was no time when that happened to say good-bye. And even though there was nothing left unsaid between us and a deep level of understanding, I know he still would have wanted to say the words.

Last night, as I said my bedtime prayers, I again asked for guidance and direction from not only God, but from my dad as well. I drifted off to sleep and was startled awake just minutes later from a very real-feeling dream. I was sitting in my dad's office working at his desk and he came around the corner and said, "well... hi there!"

As I saw him, a feeling rushed over me... and I thought to myself, "there you are!" as if he had been lost. I felt such relief - not that his death had been a mistake or a misunderstanding, but that he was there to help me through.

There is comfort in these dreams and in these signs, but there is some distress as well. They make me aware of feelings and issues that lie far beneath the surface, beyond the abilities of consciousness. They force me to deal with those issues even when the more mundane tasks of everyday living need to be accomplished. They make me grieve at the most unexpected moments and remind me that I am only in control to the extent that the universe deems it. 

I am wading my way through. Sometimes a day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time. 

But I know that while he is gone, my dad is still very much with me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Bamboo

A year and a half ago, my mom and I bought bamboo at the Pekin Marigold Festival.

Mine was two stalks actually, held together with twisty ties to make a sort of heart near the top.

The bamboo has sat in a little vase next to my kitchen sink ever since. A couple of times a week I refill the water - to just root level, per the directions. With no more attention or care from me, they have flourished.

Everything in my life has been total chaos since mid-October. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to town and my dad and I dove in, anxious to be a part of it all. Just about a week after the big "move that bus" day, our church had its annual Pancake and Sausage event. We met my dad, who joined us for pancakes after his shift making them was finished. We had a nice talk, good quality family time together.

On the way out, my dad put his hand on my shoulder to guide me first through the door, ahead of him. As he touched me, I felt a shock go through my body. Not an electrical shock, a shock of realization... in that moment, I was certain something was going to happen to my dad that day.

Around 3pm he called me and I missed the call. I decided to wait to call him back, but 15 min. later his neighbor called. My dad was in trouble, she had called an ambulance.

That was the beginning of a very long story that unfortunately, has no happy ending. For the next six weeks my life was consumed with traveling to the hospital, talking to doctors, and enduring the endless roller coaster of emotions. Things around the house started to change, or become amplified. Laundry was behind - way behind. There was more fast food and carryout for dinner than even before.

One of the bamboo stalks started to show signs of distress. I changed the water, made sure the level was right... did all the things I'd done before. As the weeks went by, the bamboo got worse. Only one though - the other continued to hold its own, still tied to the struggling bamboo and showing some signs of stress but largely doing ok.

Until early December, I truly believed my dad would recover. I truly believed he would be home for Christmas. But things took a bad turn and after all it had been through, his body could not stand up to a horrible infection.

After 8 days in a medically-induced coma and 10 days after our last actual conversation, my dad slipped away. As I type the words, I still cannot believe they are true. But I am painfully aware of this every moment - every second - of every day. He is gone.

The second stalk of the bamboo is gone too, browned and wilted and dry - it looks nothing like it did just a few months ago when it was growing strong and healthy.

But it is still tied to the stalk that is thriving. I took off the twisty ties and tried to separate them, but their roots are intertwined. They are still joined together, they are still a part of each other. The heart shape they formed is broken, so they aren't together like they were. And yet the thriving stalk is finding a way to go on.

Yesterday the kids returned to school, Edgar returned to work and for the first time since mid-October, I got a glimpse of our "normal" life. Normal is re-defined now, of course. Nothing here is the same.

Including the bamboo.


Edit: Today a friend pointed out to me that this was posted exactly one year before Ainsley's birth. I find that amazing, and the message is so clear.

Sadly, I no longer have the bamboo. Although the second piece continued to flourish for many more months, it did eventually die. Again, I don't think I ever cared for it any differently, but I think it is still symbolic - despite my efforts, fate intervened. Eventually, there are certain things that we have to let go of - including in some respects, the people we used to be. It was a hard day when I threw away that bamboo, but I recognized it as a positive step in my healing as well. It was ok to let it go. There was a baby on the way. Nothing is the same. I am not the same, he is not the same. But we are still connected.

In many ways, I've just had to start over. I've had to build a new relationship with my dad.

So this year maybe I'll buy another bamboo.