death, faith, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad, loss, parenting, religion, Uncategorized

dear dad.

I wrote this letter today, on the eve of the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m sharing it because it made me feel better and maybe it will help other people who have lost someone close.

Dear Dad,

It’s been seven years since we said goodbye to you. Seven years since we sat around your bed and told you it was ok to go and that we would be ok. I remember that day in the car after your doctor’s appointment a couple months before you passed  when you told me you were ready to go, but you were worried that we weren’t ready. You were probably right. I can only speak for myself, but I think we have all been managing as best we can, just with an ache in our chest that won’t seem to go away. I’d give absolutely anything to get you back or to just chat for a few hours. Even though we knew you were leaving us, there were so many things I forgot to say. There were so many questions I forgot to ask.

I’ve struggled with that question of why good people like you have to die so early when some really crappy people get to live so long. It’s a hard question and it’s left me with a pretty cynical and unfair perspective of the world. It’s left me with a lot of anger towards God. Maybe those people are still around because they need more time to figure out howsleeping to get things right. Who knows? You told me once that God is ok with us being mad at him because it means we are still engaged with him in some way(that probably isn’t verbatim, but that’s how I understood what you said). God and I haven’t been right since you left, but I’m still trying.

I heard Anne Lamott speak a couple years ago and she said when cancer takes someone from you, it’s like an atomic bomb goes off in your life. She couldn’t be more right. For me, it meant running a lot, then hours of yoga, then so much alcohol that I started to think it was ok to put vodka in my coffee in the morning. I would say I should have stuck to the running and yoga, but the drinking led me to get pregnant unexpectedly and though that was pretty scary at first, becoming a mother has forced me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I became a mother at 35. Talk about an atomic bomb! The nurses actually said I was of “advanced maternal age” and whispered it every time they said it like I had leprosy or something.

I named my daughter, your granddaughter, Isabella Grace. I read that the Hebrew meaning of the name is “God is perfection.” It’s such a perfect name for her. I chose her middle name because as she was growing inside me, I felt like she was God’s grace for everything I had ever done wrong in my life. We have frustrating moments from time to time, but no matter what, we tell each other “I love you” at least a dozen times a day. She tells me I am beautiful every morning and I think I’ve actually become more beautiful inside and out because of her. She brings out the very best of me.

We moved to Philadelphia and are living in the city now. She does really well with city living, but she loves the country and our visits to Central PA. You can tell it’s in her blood. She loves horses and animals in general. She especially likes to pretend she is one. This makes her come across as a little weird sometimes, but I absolutely love that about her. She doesn’t have a father in her life which is hard for me sometimes since I had such a good one, but she is surrounded by so many people who love her that she doesn’t seem to mind. She is an incredible artist and likes puns, so I know you would really like spending time with her. Sometimes she smiles or laughs and I feel like I’m looking right at you. Today was an emotionally rough day for me and I went to pick her up from her art school. I walked into the room and she was laughing and dancing to music and just fully enjoying every ounce of life without a care. Then, she saw me and ran across the room and gave me a huge hug. That made me think of you too. I wish you could meet her. I think you two would really like each other. I tell her stories about you all the time.

Aside from Isabella, my other big news is that I am finally working full time at a theatre. I’ve been there just over four years. It’s not always easy and the pay isn’t impressive, but I love the work. I think you might be able to relate. 🙂

The trees are changing here and it’s so beautiful. I remember that day just before you left when we drove through Cumberland County to see all the beautiful colors on the trees. I remember the brisk fall air and the feeling like life would go on and things would be ok. I hope the trees change where you are and that you are able to hike and fish and read all day. We sure do miss you here.

Love,

Rebekah

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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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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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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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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

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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