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!!

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Standard
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

Quote
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Losing Dad

Purple Sneakers

When I was in second or third grade, my dad bought me a pair of purple sneakers. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas. It was just a regular day and he saw a pair of purple sneakers and thought I would love them. He knew I loved purple and assumed that I would love these sneakers. It was one of the coolest things he ever gave me. It was from the heart, random, and told me that he was thinking of me when I wasn’t even around.purple sneakers

Unfortunately, I was a stupid kid who was too embarrassed to wear the sneakers because in that time and place, unless your sneaks were white or black, you were weird. I was so concerned with what kids would say about the shoes that I cried after he gave them to me because I didn’t want to wear them. In my heart, I wanted to rock those shoes, but I always cared too much about what other people thought about me. I think, in all, I wore the shoes about 3 or four times in situations where I thought I was “safe.”

I’ve been thinking about those sneakers a lot lately. I loved them, but I think I hurt my dad’s feelings when I didn’t wear them that much. As an adult, I get that now. I am pretty good at giving gifts, but every once in a while, someone looks at you and looks at your gift and forces a “thank you.” I just don’t want to be that person anymore. I want to be more thankful and I want to wear purple sneakers proudly no matter what anyone else thinks about them.

Standard
Losing Dad

Weddings

Tonight a man walked into the restaurant where I worked and handed me a card. His Daughter was coming in later for dinner to celebrate her anniversary and he wanted me to give her a card from him. Also, despite the fact that he already gave her a gift certificate for $100, he gave me a credit card and asked that I put the first $50 of their bill on his card. This is something my dad will never be able to do for me. It was such a cool loving moment, but it made me a little sad. So, I have to say it. I have to say what I have been thinking.

No matter who you are, if you are a girl, you look forward to your wedding day. You can be like me and swear up and down that you are different then other girls and that you don’t care about that stuff, but you are only lying to yourself. Even though I am unconventional and in no rush to get married, I still have an image of what I want my wedding to be like and I still hope for that day. The problem is that that day was supposed to include my dad. He has been there for me at every step and marriage is the big step when a dad is supposed to be there to hold your hand down the aisle and let you know that this guy you are about to spend the rest of your life with is ok. Then, your dad is supposed to celebrate with you when you’ve survived each year and go running into a restaurant and ask the server to take care of the bill. That is just what dads do.

The fact that my dad won’t be there, won’t meet the “other man” in my life, hurts.

Standard