life lessons, Losing Dad

Dad’s Birthday 

These are my wonderful parents. The picture was taken on 11/22/1998, my 21st Birthday. My parents came to Philly to take me out for my birthday because that’s the kind of parents they are. It is one of my favorites because you can see the true love that we all got to see when they were together.
Tomorrow would have been dad’s 69th birthday. It’s the hardest day of the year for me. I revisit the anger, denial, and deep sadness that came from his sickness and eventual death. That physical ache in my heart shows up and I can’t eat or breathe right. The gaping hole that was left when we lost him pulses to remind me that it will never be full again. The crying that is accompanied by hyperventilation and then complete fatigue returns. Each year, it is his birthday that makes me feel like I’ve lost him all over again. Grief is funny that way. It likes to creep up on you and remind you that it’s still there to torture you.

My daughter never met her grandfather. However, I tell her so many stories about him that I sometimes have to remind her that he is gone. I like that this is the case. To her, he is still very much alive. He always said he would live past 100. In some ways, he was right. He lives in the old hymns. All I have to do is listen to “Come Thou Fount,” close my eyes, and I can feel him there singing along with me. He is in my head during a snowstorm when I realize my gas is on “E.” How many times does he have to tell me not to let it go below half in the winter?! He is in my daughter’s smile whenever she is really happy and her whole face lights up. I see him in that joy and excitement for life that fills her every being on a daily basis.

Because of this, I let her decide what we will do to celebrate him tomorrow. She said we should go for a hike and have a “Charlie Brown Birthday party.” So, we will do just that. Or, we will go for a hike, eat peppermint patties, and then search the city of Philadelphia for a cupcake or cake with Peanuts characters on it. I think my dad would approve!

Happy Birthday Dad! We love you and miss you tons!!

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gardening, life lessons, Losing Dad


FullSizeRender (1).jpgA few weeks before my dad passed away, I caught him eating a raw potato. A RAW potato. I jokingly asked him if he’d like me to cook it for him. I will never forget his response, “No. I like it this way. It tastes like earth.”

I lived in six different houses in six different towns growing up. Each one of them had an ample amount of Earth. At each house, my parents were adamant about having a garden, fruit trees, and plenty of green. My mom covered the house with plants of various origin and my dad focused on vegetables and fruit trees in the yard. From birth, I have watched the magic that happens when a seed becomes a sprout and a sprout becomes a plant, a flower, a vegetable, or a tree. It has always amazed me and been all the proof I need that there is something greater than myself. I remember living in York County, Pennsylvania, where we had a huge vegetable garden, and hiding between two rows of peas with my best friend. We would lay in the dirt and giggle as we filled our bellies with fresh sweet peas. There is nothing like biting into a crisp pea pod on a hot summer day. It tastes like Earth.

One of the reasons I love the garden and gardening is because it is one of the few places I can still sense my dad’s presence. Just as I can feel him smiling every time I open up a new book, my dad also lingers in the sprouting of a new seed and in each shovel full of Earth as I turn it over to start something new. When I found a house in the city with a big back yard, all I could think about was the garden I would be able to have. It would be the perfect way to honor my dad and share a part of him with Bella.

I definitely have my work cut out for me. In the first year of Bella’s life, I celebrated keeping a human alive while I mourned each plant and vegetable as one by one, they died a slow and painful death. Now I have a toddler that I still have to keep alive(not an easy task) and a yard full of weeds and random treasures that must be dug up and sifted one shovel at a time before I can even think of sowing any seeds. The process is slow and has required quite a bit of texts to mom, consults with experienced urban gardeners, and googling. I’ve also discovered that, for the most part, my gardening will have to be in containers and raised beds; something totally new to me and not exactly what I had hoped for.

There is actual scientific proof that having contact  with the earth through standing in your bare feet, sitting, or lying down on the earth, known as earthing or grounding, actually improves your physiological and electrophysiological health. In fact, when stressed or depressed, direct contact with the earth has been shown to improve your symptoms. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have actually been told that regularly walking through grass or soil will eventually improve my symptoms and balance the cortisol levels in my body. It makes sense. I spent much of my childhood barefoot and covered in grass and mud. There were many times my parents didn’t know where the earth ended and I started. “Earthing” is in my blood, but I have not done much of it in the past few years. It is a therapy I am willing to try and willing to create space for in my backyard.

This piece-of-earth project is not only for me. I want Bella to have the opportunity to ground herself daily. I want her to know what a tomato seed and flower look like. I want her to remember happily hiding in the rows of peas while she bites downFullSizeRender.jpg on a piece of earth. I truly believe an essential part of good parenting is figuring out a way for your child to connect to the earth somehow. Most people my age grew up “earthing” daily and we didn’t even know that what we were doing was actually beneficial to our health and well-being. Today, however, many of us have to work to make that happen for our kids. We are fighting against computers, and smartphones, video games, and bigger flatter TVs with more to entertain our kids every day. We need more hikes, walks in the park or on the beach, and weekend camping trips. And, if we have the space, or even just a pot of soil in the kitchen, we can fight that pesky technology with a nothing but a seed, some soil, and a little water and sunshine.

So, despite the fact that we may not see our first sprout until sometime next year, I’m looking forward to the hours of digging and weeding that Bella and I have before us this fall. I’ll be doing it with my dad’s old garden tools while I think of all his corny jokes and remember how excited he was the first time his fig tree produced fruit. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will be telling you about our very first potato and how Bella and I sat in our garden and ate it raw while we talked about Grandpa Wilcox and how truly delicious the earth tastes.

 

“For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light;  
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

 

 

It Tastes Like Earth

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad

bella blooms.

I’m not going to make it a habit of blogging more than once a week, but since I am determined to do this and do it right, I think I should provide a little background to the blog as reference. I started by moving my old blogs over to this site so I have everything in one place. While writing has always been my passion, I started the blogging five years ago when I found out my dad had only a few weeks left to live. It helped to talk about it even though it often exposed some pretty intimate emotions publicly. As someone who has suffered on and off with anxiety and depression, I have a strong belief that being public about emotions is healthy and much better than bottling things up until we break. Or worse, faking happiness and perfection.

The blogging continued to be helpful through my pregnancy and my favorite part of that process was my inbox full of stories from other parents.  I felt like I joined some new club and it was wonderful to find out that no one in the club was perfect and the stories people shared were mostly about times they had royally screwed up. Personally, I feel like those are the kinds of stories we should share more publicly. My social media feed is full of posts about how great and perfect everyone’s life is, but hearing the weird and unpleasant stories, especially when we can laugh about them, is richer and a little more fun.

It is what makes us human.

I’ve been on a hiatus from blogging for a variety of reasons, but I am excited to get back to it. I live alone with a 3-year old, an old grumpy dog, and a cat who was born without balance or grace. As if that isn’t enough, I am a parent and a person who constantly makes mistakes, but is able to laugh at myself daily and walk away believing I am still an ok person despite my numerous flaws. My goal for this blog is to share a little about solo parenting(both toddlers and fur babies) and a little about my attempt at bringing the country girl inside me into my very Philly back yard.

Six months ago, I bought my first house. It is what I consider the best of both worlds. It is still less than five miles from the heart of Center City and no more than a 10 minute drive. Yet, it is still far enough out of Center City that we rarely have to deal with tourists or politicians disrupting our daily lives. The house is an old Philly row home that is original on the outside and completely flipped on the inside. It feels like a brand new house, but unlike many of the new condos popping up around the city, it was built in a time when things were built to last. It has survived over one hundred years of hurricanes, blizzards, floods, and heat waves. I was looking for a classic and although I originally wanted everything on the inside to be the original work as well, I must admit I am starting to like the facelift the house had before I bought it. I’ve never lived in a house where no one else has used the appliances or bathroom, or even walked on these floors. It makes it feel even more like it’s really mine. The biggest thing that sold this house for me, however,  was what was outside: a huge fenced in backyard that is rarely found in this area. I have a raised lawn that is 30’ x 10’ surrounded by a substantial patio all shaded by a massive Magnolia Tree. It is not the acreage this Central PA girl would prefer, but it is just enough to give me a place surrounded in green.

So, the down933F7610-DD2A-4D86-B54F-AD3BF5C9190Cside to this yard is that, like the house, it was abandoned for 6 years. Squatters filled it with garbage and with each rain, more “treasures” surface. To date, I have found diapers, a beheaded statue of Mary, shattered wine glasses and China, Christmas ornaments, broken toys, the rusted contents of a tool box, nails, cigarettes, cobblestones, pieces of a railroad, casino chips, bricks, and other random trash. Now you are probably wondering why I would want a house with a yard in this condition. The fact is that when I came to see the house, I looked outside and saw the incredible potential for the space. As I sift through it one shovel at a time(using my dad’s gardening tools), I find interesting pieces of the past and the good earth that still lives below the surface. My goal with this space is to fill it with clover and surround it with a container garden and some raised beds. This project will take a long time and since I am not an experienced gardener and barely have any idea what I am doing, I expect things to get interesting and most likely frustrating.
I see the yard as a physical representation of my life. I think that’s why I love it so much. I have also gone through some rough years and have some garbage to clear out of my life as I begin growing something new. So, as I figure out how to keep a kid, two pets, and some plants alive and growing, I’ll fill you in on the fun parts. 

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Losing Dad, Preggers

good morning.

Tonight is the eve of my dad’s birthday. I used to stay up till midnight to wish him a happy birthday. Tonight I decided to just be alone and think about him. Last year, his birthday hit me like a brick. It was the hardest emotional day for me following his death. It made things real and I have a feeling tomorrow will be no different. So, to make things a little bit easier, I figured I would write a little something about who he was. In his honor, I turned on some hymns, closed my eyes, and thought about what I could share.

For those of you who knew my dad, you knew him as a friend, a pastor, a preacher, a reverend, a doctor. You knew him as the man who always said “good morning” no matter what time of the day or night it was. To him, it was always morning, always a new day, always good. He had three bouts of cancer and he still said “good morning.” You knew him as that guy with the bushy beard, flannel shirts, fun ties, huge smile, and corny jokes. He was the guy who did your wedding or comforted you when someone you love died. You knew him as the guy who always came to the hospital to visit you, even when he was sick himself. You knew him as a good tipper because, as he said to me one day at a restaurant, “I probably make more than our server and I am on medical leave. She works hard every day and she needs that money more than I do.” You knew him as the man who was always reading more than one book and always wanted to know what you were reading. You knew him as the guy with the fig trees. You knew him as the man who, even after 43 years, was still head over heels in love with my mother. He was quick to laugh and smile and slow to anger. He did not hold grudges, he forgave, he loved, and he encouraged all of us to do the same.

I knew him as dad. I knew him as the guy who rarely went a day without calling me or texting me to see how I was doing. He remembered my friends and he remembered their stories. He listened. He was excited about everything I did. He was excited about what I was about to do. He never hesitated to tell me how proud he was of all of his children. He said we were all so different, but he loved us all the same and was so grateful that he could consider us his friends. Even when I worked in a bar, he was proud of me and saw past the work I was doing to see how I connected with people there. He was my weather channel. He warned me about bad weather and reminded me how to drive safely. He gave me updates when the Susquehanna was slowly creeping up its banks and getting dangerously close to my house. He showed me how to pump my gas, how to change my headlights, put air in my tires, fill my fluids, and replace my windshield wipers. He taught me how to find a stud and hang a picture. He taught me how to do my taxes. He went with me every time I bought a car and he taught me what questions to ask and how to choose the most reliable and sensible car.  I think he saw early on that my independent and stubborn nature would probably keep me single for a long time, so he taught me things to help me survive.

He took me to the Indian buffet, the Chinese Restaurant, and the Mexican restaurant and I watched him sweat through every meal. When the food came, he always looked at me and said, “You pray, I’ll pay.” Perhaps he knew I needed to pray more often. Perhaps he just wanted to take his almost always single daughter on a date. Whatever it was, he made me feel important. He taught me not to give up on people. He said, “People will let you down. They will disappoint you. Sometimes you will give them a chance even though you know they are going to let you down. Still, you need to give them that chance, because everyone needs someone who believes in them and sometimes that is all it takes for them to surprise you.” I wonder now how many times I was that person for him.

The last year has been a hard one. I miss his calls and texts. I miss his smile and his laughter. I miss the way my dog’s ears perk up when I say “grandpa.” I miss the weather updates and reminders to put my wiper blades up before it snows. I miss our dinners out and the way his voice sounded when he said, “wonderful!” I miss him every time I see my daughter kick through my skin because I want to call him and tell him how amazing I think life is and how this little thing inside me is such a miracle. Although he would not have been thrilled to learn that I had sex before marriage and that the father of my child was nowhere to be found, I like to think that the idea of another grandchild would have made him absolutely elated no matter what the circumstance.  I like to think that he would have bragged about her arrival.

Though I miss him, I still see him and sense him around me. Today I saw snow on the blooming daffodils outside my house and it made me think of him. I saw them and thought about how dad would see that and say, “Excellent!” Then, he would call me and tell me to stay off the roads and put my windshield wipers up. Just as he did when he was alive, these thoughts of him made me smile.

So, now that it is officially midnight and officially my dad’s 65th birthday, I simply send out into the universe a smiling “Good Morning!” and a sounding “Happy Birthday Dad! I love you!”dad

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Losing Dad, Preggers

My Silver Lining Playbook

 I am not perfect. I am broken. I am a mess. I make mistakes. Sometimes I make major mistakes. I hurt people. Sometimes I am a little crazy. The thing is, so are you. So are all of us. We are all human and there isn’t one of us made without flaws and who doesn’t make mistakes. We all have ugly parts, ugly things in our past, and maybe even in our present.  The best we can each do is to try our hardest and move on when we make mistakes.

I just watched a movie with one of my best friends called The Silver Lining Playbook. I am a single pregnant woman and my friend is going through a divorce. We went to high school together where we talked about our dreams for our future. We talked about meeting Mr. Right and marrying him and having a house and kids and being happy and healthy. Neither one of us ever dreamed we would be in the position we are in right now. We both trusted men that were not Mr. Right and are hurt as a result. This movie was something we both needed. In the movie, the two main characters have had bad things happen in their lives and they both respond by being just a little crazy. Still, they also both have positive outlooks on their futures and are striving to heal themselves so they can move on in their lives. They embrace their crazy and admit and accept it as part of who they are. They are both looking at the clouds and seeing the silver lining. They see the light coming through and make a plan in their life to clear the clouds.

I am alone with a baby on the way. I don’t know exactly what my living situation will look like. I don’t know how my work schedule or social schedule will look. I don’t know what it feels like to drop a newborn baby off at a daycare center. I don’t know what I’m going to do when my baby gets sick the first time. When she takes her first step and giggles for the first time, I wonder if I will be the only one who will be there to witness such an incredible event. I wonder if my daughter will resent me for being a working mother. I wonder what I will do the first time her school holds a “daddy and daughter” event. I wonder if her father will ever come around and be in her life. I wonder and then I stop. If I don’t stop, the craziness creeps in.

We cannot live our lives worrying about the “what ifs” and thinking about all of the worst-case scenarios. We cannot be afraid of everything that “could” happen. We can’t because that is not living. For three years I went to the hospital with my dad, saw the poisonous Chemo enter and destroy his body, and listen to the doctors say there was no cure. For three years the diagnosis never changed. I was going mad trying to figure out how to make it all stop so I wouldn’t face that inevitable day, but I had to have hope. For three years, I believed some kind of miracle would happen and my dad would live. It didn’t happen and the day came when I watched him take his last breath. Had I continued to worry about that moment and dwell on the fact that I was going to lose him, it still wouldn’t have prepared me to live through that moment any easier. If anything, having a blind hope that something amazing and wonderful would happen and I would never have to watch him die helped me get through each day.

Call me crazy. Tell me I am not facing reality. Tell me that my hopes will only hurt me. I don’t care. My silver lining playbook is my hope that something amazing will happen this time. I will drop my daughter off at daycare and it will be hard, but I will get through it. My daughter will have an audience the first time she giggles and walks. She will get sick and I will have someone with me helping me when she does. She will be proud of me for being an independent working woman. And, at some point, her father will show up. I believe that in my heart and I will be ok if that is not how things work out. I will no longer feel guilty for my mistakes and beat myself up for them. I won’t let others make me feel guilty either. From this point forward, I embrace my messy, ugly, crazy past and mistakes and I accept that they are part of me. From now on, I will look for the silver lining in everything and hope for these clouds in my life and my daughter’s life to clear so that we both may bask in the sun.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose Infinite hope.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Losing Dad, Preggers

The Absense of a Father

My father called me just to see how I was doing. He called me often. Sometimes he texted. There was never a reason, he just called. He got me. He understood me. He always seemed interested in what I was doing even if he didn’t quite agree or understand what I was doing. He asked me about my art. He remembered all of my friends names and usually remembered details about them. Sometimes he asked how specific friends were doing even if I hadn’t seen them in years because he knew I liked to keep in touch even when I wasn’t around them anymore. To my dad, I mattered. He called me to warn me about icy roads and dangerously hot weather. He always wanted to make sure I was safe and knew how to handle any weather that came my way.

My dad made me meatloaf and oatmeal. He took me out for Chinese and we always had to order more duck sauce. He took me to the Indian buffet and we’d sweat through the spices while we caught up and laughed. he hung my pictures. He fixed my doors. He was the man in my life when I didn’t have one. He drove me out to Chicago when I decided to be a nanny one year. It didn’t work out and he knew it wouldn’t work out, but he drove me out there anyway. He told corny jokes and he wore silly ties sometimes. He told me he was proud of me.

I lucked out. I had an amazing dad who was also an incredible man. A lot of people can’t say that. A lot of my friends don’t say that. When he got sick, I had hope  and believed they would find some cure. Having to imagine this world without him in it was something I couldn’t comprehend. I also knew how much time he spent caring for other people and loving other people and loving God. He was honest. He was kind. He gave to others and helped others. He was a man of integrity. Surely, I thought, God would have mercy on him and give him more time.

When he died, I went numb. He was sick for so long that it just seemed unreal when he wasn’t there anymore. It’s been more than a year and I still think I am going to see him walk through the door. More than anything, I want to see him walk through the door of my hospital room and sit in the chair to hold his new grandchild. If I could have him for just one more day, that would be the one.

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Losing Dad

A Box of Chocolates

I haven’t written in a while. Dad died. It was three months ago. He died on November 9th and I still think I’m going to see him walk through the door at any moment. If I am working through the stages of grief, I am stuck somewhere between denial and depression. I am trying so hard to live in the moment and work towards the future, but every moment brings thoughts of the past. The way my dad sounded, smelled, laughed, and smiled. How I long to see his smile again. How I long for one more hug, one more conversation, one more roaring laughter from his lungs.

Picking out the coffin, the flowers, the tombstone, and the pictures to show at his funeral all came so naturally. So naturally, that I think I may even have the opportunity to tell him how it all went and why we chose what we chose. It’s such a weird sensation to try and believe I will not see him again in this lifetime. I haven’t grasped it yet. I can’t.

This week was Valentine’s Day and I got chocolates. I couldn’t stand now knowing what was inside, so I cut each one open and only ate the ones I was sure I would like. I used to be able to open a box of chocolates and dive in. I laughed when I got a weird one like raspberry cream and I hummed from the enjoyment of the dark chocolate caramels. The point was that I tried them all and didn’t care which were which. It was exciting to have no idea what I was about to bite into.

Somewhere along the way, the idea of not knowing was one I couldn’t face. I needed to know what was going to happen and I needed to know when. I didn’t know when dad was going to die and up until a few weeks before he died, there lived a sliver of hope within me that believed he would survive. Even two days before he died I remember thinking I still had a lot of time left with him. Actually thinking and feeling through the thought of losing him was not an option.

I wish I had known what was coming and when it was coming. I wish it had been as easy as cutting into a piece of chocolate and choosing whether or not I wanted to proceed with what was before me……

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