Losing Dad, Uncategorized

grief is a jerk.

Today I was driving down a tree lined suburban street. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, and it was still morning. I pulled up to a stop sign and an older gentleman waved to me to indicate he was about to cross in front of me. I smiled and waved him on. I watched him as he slowly walked in front of my car. He was tall, handsome, and probably in his early 70’s. He was wearing white socks pulled halfway up his calf and white sneakers. His face was wrinkled from years of smiling. He was exactly what I imagined my dad would look like today. And grief, that sneaky little jerk, made my heart swell up and tighten my chest and made the tears burst from my face. The ugly crying began and I lost control. Just like every other time grief sneaks in, I was completely unprepared for his visit.

When you lose someone you love, people start talking to you about the stages of grief and even giving you books about the stages. They make you think that you just have to 

FullSizeRender_3work your way through each stage and then you will be good to go. I feel like the stages of grief are more like the stages of cancer. The moment my dad took his last breath I felt a dull ache in my chest. From there, things inside just started rotting little by little. It didn’t effect just one part of my life, it slowly crept into every inch of my being. We had more than three years to prepare for my father’s inevitable death, but we could have had twenty years or one day. It made no difference. Just like there is no preparation or warning to what happens to your body after childbirth, there is also no way to prepare to lose someone. Like cancer, grief is this little ass hole that just goes around hurting innocent people and flipping their lives upside down.

We are closing in on 6 years since we lost Paul Wilcox. I honestly don’t feel any better about it. You can still find me crying, “It’s not fair!,” when I look at slideshows of my dad. I still hear his voice and that contagious laughter. I still want to wake up and find out it was all a dream and see him walk through the door. FullSizeRender_1I still want to see him lift up my daughter and swing her around the room or even just read her a book. I still have moments of shock, denial, and bargaining. I still see sweet old men with their socks half way up their legs on a hot day and burst into tears. The stages of grief keep looping around. There is nothing final or linear about them.

Grief is hoping you never have a wedding because the thought of walking down the aisle without your dad is too much. Grief is buying figs at the store even though they are

FullSizeRendertoo expensive and you only kind of like them, but they remind you of your dad’s fig tree. Grief is watching your daughter blow out birthday candles for the fourth time and still wishing your dad was one of the people standing there singing to her. Grief is finding it hard to go to church because you can’t go there without thinking of your dad and all those Sunday mornings of him standing in the pulpit. Grief is wishing you had asked more questions or taken more videos or spent more time listening back when you had time. Grief is wishing you had said “I love you” just 10 more times.

The best explanation I have heard to explain this unfortunate part of life is that losing someone is like losing a leg. You do learn to walk and run and dance again, but you do everything differently now. You still feel pangs of pain from time to time and you still long for your missing limb and reminisce about the days when you felt whole.  

No matter how grief hits you or no matter how long it stays, I pray you let it do it’s thing. Even when it is painful, it reminds us that we once loved and loved deeply. We loved someone deep enough that even years after they are gone, we still remember that love and long for it.

 

dad fishing

“Down the middle drops one more
Grain of sand
They say that
New life makes losing life easier to understand
Words are kind
They help ease the mind
I’ll miss my old friend
And though you gotta go
We’ll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out
One comes in”

~Jack Johnson

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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, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

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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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Losing Dad

The Magic Hat

When my dad dies, there is one thing I want. It is not a trust fund or a car. It is not his computer or his cell phone. It is not the expensive Turkish rugs or antique furniture or house. No, when my dad dies, I want the old wool dress hat in the closet. You see, for a long time, I called it “the cancer hat.” I was four and five the last time he had cancer. He lost all his hair and he wore this hat. As a child, I believed that it was magic somehow. I believed he survived because he wore this hat.

I cannot tell you how many times I have taken that hat out of the closet and smelled it. The smell has remained the same for the last 30 years. It NEVER changed. It is, by far, the best thing I ever smelled. I believe it is the smell of magic. I believe it is the smell of hope.

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Losing Dad

A Man Who Loves a Woman

In the song, When a Man Loves a Woman, the lyrics say, “When a man loves a woman, spend his very last dime tryin’ to hold on to what he needs He’d give up all his comforts, sleep out in the rain If she said that’s the way it ought to be.” I used to hear this song and think, this is what it means when a man loves a woman. Anyone can say, “I love you, ” but to show it is way beyond words.
This morning, my dad fell. He fell hard. It was hard for him to tell me he fell. He showed me his bruises and cuts. He told me that he woke up and tried to get out of bed, but stepped on a pair of pants he laid on the floor. He slipped on the pants and ended up on the floor. He is very thin and weak, so this wasn’t a surprise to me. He told me that he laid out the pants because he didn’t want to wake my mom when he was ready to get up for the day. There is nothing shameful about the fact that he fell. His fall was amazing. It was the result of real love. He thought ahead about the fact that my mom might want to sleep in and he didn’t want to disturb her sleep.

Sometimes my dad buys flowers for my mom for no reason whatsoever. He defends her. he kisses her everyday and every night. There love is beyond what you see in the movies. They sacrifice and give to one another. I have never seen a better example of love.

Today I realized that love exists. Love in the purest and best form can happen. My parents are an example of that love. I am looking for that love. I will not settle for less. I deserve the best and so does everyone else. No one should settle for less and no one should give any less.

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Losing Dad

In Waves

When you are about to lose someone you love, the crying goes in waves. Last week and the week before I cried in the bathroom at work, in the car, in the shower, as I fell asleep at night….pretty much all the time. I hoped for a busy night at work each night so I could occupy my mind with something. The crying comes from knowing I will soon have to face a world without my dad, how I sometimes feel unsupported through all of this, and from the fear of what happens next in the family, in my job, and in my relationship. In addition to the crying, there is a loss of appetite or an over aggressive appetite.

There is a complete lack of desire to get out of bed in the morning and there are nights when sleep just won’t happen. I spent one whole night holding my phone and crying because in the 10 minutes I had fallen asleep that night, I had a dream that they called to tell me that my dad passed. It was so real and scary that I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. I went to a wedding that night and was feeling guilty for going. I thought I had been so selfish to go when I could have stayed with my dad. The next morning, I went to work pumped up on Red Bull and made it through. When I got in my car 8 hours later, I started crying and continued to cry for about three hours.

This week is a good week. Dad seems stronger somehow. He seems almost normal like nothing is wrong. Also, I ran three days in a row this week. I paid for my tickets to take a trip to Florida and run a half-marathon this week. For the second time, I went over my dad’s wishes for his funeral with him. The first time, I ended up sobbing and crying and telling my dad I just wasn’t ready. This time, I made it through. It’s been a good week and seemed more well-rounded.

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