Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pizza Posts

Back in April, the day after the Boston Marathon bombings, I was "scolded" on Facebook for posting a picture of a pizza my family and I were enjoying for dinner. Of course, I never intended any offense. I had earlier written of my shock at the senseless act of violence and had said a prayer for all those affected by the bombings. But I found myself apologizing to the "friend" who told me that in light of the tragedy, that my post was unimportant. At first I felt embarrassed. I thought, “Wow. I’m truly insensitive. Of course, my pizza is a stupid thing to post today”. But then, I gave this more thought. The woman who had scolded me was someone I had met only a couple of times. I had never truly known her, nor had she ever known me. Her comment felt patronizing. Was I wrong to have posted something so frivolous that day? Bad timing or not, I was on a weekend trip with my family. What was I allowed to post? What was appropriate and what wasn’t? Who was she to critique my sharing of a family experience? The next morning,  I made the decision to "unfriend” this acquaintance.  It was something I did out of respect for myself. 

You see, it’s not that I can’t take or don’t welcome criticism when it’s warranted. I’m not so sensitive that I cannot listen to rebukes or challenges. I realize that the woman was hurting. She had a direct connection to some of the wounded. Maybe it was good for me to apologize to her the way I did and maybe it was insensitive of me to unfriend her. But I did both and I stand by my decisions.

Two weeks ago, when my Dad died the day before Father’s Day, I knew what the next day would bring. Everyone would be wishing their fathers a “Happy Father’s Day”. There would be last minute reminders to send cards and gifts that I would see on television and radio commercials. Facebook would be bombarded with pictures of happy sons and daughters celebrating their Dads. I thought of how I had planned to call my own Dad that Sunday and how his Father’s Day card would arrive on Monday, a few days too late for him to have received it. I thought of the bag of gifts I had purchased for my husband, a father of three, and the card for him I had not yet signed, and of all the future Father’s Days I’d see pass without my Dad. Despite this, I browsed the beautiful messages and pictures that came up on my feed on Father's Day. I didn't resent anyone's post.

This past week I witnessed disgruntled store customers making their way through cramped grocery aisles on the Fourth of July. I overheard people complaining about cell phone plans and broken appliances. And in the midst of my grief over the loss of my Dad, I have found myself smirking at all this. None of these concerns of people are “important”. But unless you are touched by tragedy, you don’t stop to think that way. And it’s my opinion that THAT is okay. It’s okay to live your life--proudly posting pictures of your Dad who is alive and well on Father’s Day or frustratingly complaining about cramped grocery aisles or broken appliances. It’s okay. Life goes on. And even when you’re the one affected by death, life’s reminder that none of us are immortal and that there are more important things to be concerned with, the world is going to continue turning. As it should. Pizza posts and all.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Several Funerals and a Wedding

With two elderly grandmothers, my great-uncle, and a handful of great-aunts, attendance at wakes, funerals, and cemeteries were a natural part of my childhood. I was never uneasy when I went to them. In fact, as my Mom used to tell people, at Aunt Irma’s wake, I even reached over my aunt in her casket and kissed her goodbye. I remember going to a number of funerals at St. Louis’ in Auburn. The ornate church was pink inside with numerous paintings. I can still recall sitting in the pews, gazing up at the beautiful arches. After the service, I followed my parents out of the church. Holding Mom’s hand, we stepped into a black limousine for the ride to the cemetery.

I never feared these services as a child. When I moved away from home, however, my attendance at funerals became less frequent, almost non-existent. There were a couple of heart-wrenching funerals for students of mine who died in accidents. At those, I steeled myself to face the faces of teens I knew who were also in pain. I went to a few wakes also, those for parents of a few of my friends. And then, a few years ago, my Dad called me at school, asking me if I would come home to sing Ave Maria at the funeral Mass of my Mom’s best friend, Pauline. I never considered saying no. So home I went. I stopped on the way to buy a dress and a new pair of shoes and I arrived at the church early enough to practice with the accompanist. I sang the song but I felt a little shaky. Instead of gazing up at the arches of the church, I saw the faces of Pauline’s children and grandchildren and memories of visiting Pauline over the years of my childhood flooded my head. In adulthood I had become so much more aware of the passing of time and of how sad it is to say goodbye to a loved one.

At my Dad’s funeral two weeks ago, I experienced something new. Knowing Dad had asked me to sing a few songs, I enlisted the help of my two daughters. I somehow knew that if I stood to sing alongside Sydney and Emma, I would find the strength to do as Dad had asked. I was right. Sydney played guitar and Emma harmonized as I sang my Dad’s favorite hymn, On Eagle’s Wings. The girls and I cantored the entire service and after Communion, I stood to sing Ave Maria. Unlike the way I had felt at Pauline’s funeral, this time I was completely calm. I sang easily. Every measure of music was an offering of thanks for the years I had with my father. I read my music but I looked out over the congregation of my family and Dad’s friends and I knew I was giving Dad the gift he had asked for. I think I even smiled.

There was no wake. There was no casket. No limousine ride. No visit to the cemetery. Dad had been specific with what he had wanted for his service and as in life, he was frugal. But it was a beautiful send off. I saw Dad’s children and grandchildren taking part---reading, carrying his urn, singing, speaking, honoring the good man who had helped raise each of us, and in my brother John’s face, I saw Dad’s pride that I had followed through with Dad’s wishes and had sang at the service. I don’t think I will ever forget seeing my Dad in John that day.

After the Mass, as we greeted those who had come to pay their respects, I embraced Dad’s loved ones and listened intently to stories and well wishes. After the people left, as I gathered up flowers, music, and programs, I took one more look inside the church where my parents had brought me to Mass each week. I saw my Dad sitting in his pew. I saw him lectoring. I saw him serving as a Eucharistic Minister. I saw him walking me down the aisle on the day of my wedding. I gazed up at Jesus on the cross and I told Him to take care of my Dad, the man who had most powerfully led me to my own faith. Turning back to find my husband and my children, I then crawled into my own limousine, a dented black Grand Caravan, and together we drove away.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Oh Dad. You're everywhere.

Oh Dad, from the time I was a child, being forty years older than me,  you reminded me that you would not be around forever. It sounded morbid. But I understand what you were doing. You’d talk about the circle of life and of all the generations that had come before you. Still, Mom and I used to tease you for your serious matter-of-fact talk, “Where you going, Dad? Are you leaving us soon?” we’d ask. Mom would brush off your talk. But you gave me decades of preparation for this. And in the past few years, you ramped up that preparation. You set out your wishes. You made clear your intentions. You did not fail us children in any way. Oh but Dad. I wanted another summer of daily living with you. I wanted more time. But Dad, this summer I am seeing and hearing you everywhere. I just can’t believe that you’re really gone.

You were everywhere today. I saw you in the faces of old men who held the door open for me, and in the Maine Maritime football t-shirt I saw another man wearing. I thought of you making pancakes for us and I saw you again pretend to drop mine on the floor. Oh how you’d laugh at the memory of how I called you out on that-- the one time you really did try to serve me a pancake that had fallen. Oh how I miss your laugh!

I saw you ordering ice tea with lemonade and I heard you call the waitress “honey” or “darling” before you stopped, attentive to my lectures to you on how those names sounded sexist or too flirtatious.  I had a panini for lunch and heard you exclaim how delicious these warm sandwiches are--how the cheese melts and the bread gets so crispy. I remember how thrilled you were with all the different kinds of cookies I baked and packaged up for you and Mom this past Christmas. Oh how I will miss cooking and baking for you!

I hear you snicker at how I prefer liquid soap over bar soap and tissues over a cotton handkerchief. I see movies and books I want to buy for you. I think of the list of movies you borrowed from me for those long winter months, and the way you’d loved the first Ken Follett The Pillars of the Earth book. While out shopping today I even saw dresses for me that I knew you’d exclaim made me look beautiful.

I see you bend over the recliner to ask Mom if you have kissed her yet today, and I see you brush her cheek with your lips before you turn around to wink in my direction. I love how devoted you always were to Mom. Always a gentleman. I hear you telling Paul one more time to make sure he wears his retainer now that his braces are off, and how you wish you had worn yours like you were supposed to, all those years ago. I hear you telling Eric about the next project the two of you would do at camp this summer. I hear you ask me where your packets of Sweet-n-Low are in my cupboards, and I see your flashlight on my bedroom bookshelf, the one you placed there so you could use it to navigate your way in the “Walker Inn Suite” each Christmas Eve.

When we went to Goodwill today, I thought of your joy at finding another bargain at the St. Martin’s Thrift store. I saw your old red truck behind me on the road and I could have sworn I saw your yellow AARP Fraud Fighter t-shirt in the audience at Sunday’s matinee. I heard you singing the show tunes from my latest musical and asking the girls to write down the lyrics so you could learn them.

It is the dailyness of life that we seemed to appreciate most when we were together. We were relaxed and natural in our time together. No formalities. No need to impress. They say that when a loved one dies, there are so many regrets. But, I don’t know, Dad. I know I never liked listening to you discuss the world I’d live in after your death, but I was listening, Dad. More than you may think I was. And one thing I know for sure, is that the only regret I truly have is that we do not have more time to enjoy all the little things we would have continued to share together. But I promise you, Dad. I am going to live and love this world fully. I am going to continue to appreciate each day and I am going to love my children fiercely until the day I join you again. Be ready for me when that day comes, Dad. I owe you a pancake with special seasoning.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sleep well, my dear daughter

The past few years have been challenging, to say the least. The security of my home and my family’s well-being was turned upside down in 2011, after I took on the care of a troubled teenage girl. My beloved dog of nearly 17 years died that year too. The following year, we learned we would lose my mother-in-law to cancer. She died a day before my son’s 13th birthday last November. My husband had a tough school year after that and that stress took its toll on us. Then, this past month a mammogram directed me to have a breast sonogram which now leads to a biopsy tomorrow. In the midst of these various cancer tests, my Dad had a massive heart attack and died. Yes, it’s been hard couple of years, but I will not say that I have had it any worse than anyone out there. We all have our battles, and my blessings far outweigh any hardship I face. I fully understand and appreciate that.

However, feelings are feelings. I have a right to feel what I feel, and I give myself permission to express those feelings as I need to. You see, those challenges I have faced, and continue to face, have taught me incredible lessons. The most important lesson I have learned is that I know who I am and what I am made of. I know that I turn to writing to make sense of my feelings. In writing and in sharing my feelings with others, I heal myself.

I also know that I am strong and I am brave. I am trusting and loving. And when I open my heart, it does not happen without full acceptance of the consequences. Do I get hurt? Of course. I am not immune to heartbreak and pain. But I am not afraid of being hurt, because I know I can work through any injury life throws at me. I am not inviting pain; it’s just that I know I must risk being hurt because by opening my heart, by trusting, and loving fully, I reap great joy and I find peace.

So why am I writing these words tonight? Well, because I promised myself that as of July 1st, I would start writing blog entries again. But I made this promise prior to the unexpected death of my Dad on June 15th. Two weeks and two days later, I see the clock and it tells me I have less than 45 minutes before it is July 2nd. I’ve been thinking of this promised post for awhile now. I tried writing it a few days ago, only the words would not come. I felt scared. Threatened. Silenced. What could I say? How could I possibly write about my loss? And if I tried, how I could I ever find the perfect words?

Today, as I drove with my husband, we talked about my Dad. My words got caught in my throat at times, but I told Eric that one thing I am happy about, is that I was always honest with my Dad. We were honest with each other. We laughed, we talked, and yes, we sometimes argued. He was bossy at times but I can be bossy too. And he knew that I was smart and opinionated just like he was. He and I had a lot in common. We were both fierce and determined to meet our goals. We worked hard but we were affectionate and demonstrative with our loved ones. And whenever I could not say what I needed to say in person, I turned to writing and I shared openly with my father. My Dad also turned to writing and he always gave me credit for the way in which he began keeping journals in the last few years of his life.

Last January I was hurting. I was completely distraught after having a bad day complete with car problems, but more than anything I was suffering from an overabundance of guilt. I wanted to do more for my Dad and yet I could not. He was caring for my Mom and it was a lot of work to do so. As I cried to myself, I heard many voices late that evening. Voices telling me not to write to my Dad, not to share my feelings with him. Voices that tried to tell me to keep my feelings away from him, to not be so selfish in putting my own troubles on him. That I should hold back and keep quiet, out of some sense of protection of him. He had enough to deal with in caring for my Mom. But as I sat with the rest of the world asleep, I trusted my gut and I wrote to my Dad. I poured my heart out to him, just as I always had. I told him about my day and of my anxiety. I told him I had always envisioned doing better by he and Mom. I finished my email letter and I shakily hit “send”. Less than an hour later, just as I was about to power down my computer and head to bed, my Dad sent a reply. His letter to me gave me absolution and reassurance for all that I was going through, for all that I was feeling. After telling me that sometimes he wonders how I do everything that I have to do, day after day, my Dad wrote: “Sleep well, my dear daughter--I love you”.

Others may judge me for being as open and as honest as I am, for sharing my heart the way I do, and that’s okay. My way is not the right way for everyone, but it is right for me. And in regards to what I am feeling now? Well, I know what I had with my Dad and I know who I am and what I am made of. I am my father’s daughter and he is proud of me. There are no perfect words for this return to my blog writing. There will never be perfect words to fully express the love I have for my Dad or for the feelings I am feeling as I mourn this loss. But I am going to continue to trust my gut and to know that my father always had my back and he will continue to understand me. No voices will convince me otherwise. I realize that I’m far from being able to say everything just right tonight. But I’m being honest. And Dad, I will sleep well tonight. I love you.