Wednesday, January 21, 2009


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.