September 7, 2015

Dear Dad

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Tags: , , , — Ann @ 9:40 am
Celebrating Dad in the 1970s

Celebrating Dad in the 1970s

Dear Dad – I didn’t forget your birthday yesterday. It was the first one without you. I was aware of it in so many ways, some trivial: at the card shop several weeks ago a thought formed, “First time I won’t be picking out a card for Dad.” Walking by my 2015 calendar, looking at the “Dad’s BD” and red heart that I drew in the box marked September 6, remembering my way back to January 1 when I painstakingly drew hearts on all my family’s birthdays, never dreaming you’d be gone less than two weeks later.

Then, yesterday morning, logging in to Facebook, the “one year ago today” algorithm flashed your smiling face, your unexpected face, and I swear my body went numb. I thought of posting a tribute to you right there on my Wall but I couldn’t picture myself writing, “First Dad birthday without my Dad,” and I couldn’t have borne up under friends’ responses, so loving, so empathetic. Too much hurt, still.

I called Mom, not just because I wanted to but because I knew you’d want me to. We talked about how we both still talk to you, in our different ways. She retains the privilege of the loving-tender wifely scold — “where on earth did you put that?” — and I’m more inclined to tell you how much I still need you.

The family didn’t get together yesterday as on previous September 6th “Dad’s Birthday” days, but no doubt each of us felt your absence, thought about birthdays past. I remember when you turned 64 and I printed off the lyrics to the Beatles song, handed them around and made everyone sing, “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…” I’m not sure it went over all that well but no regrets because every time that song pops up on my Pandora it means one more link to you in a chain that already stretches from my heart to heaven in infinite strands of love and remembrance.

September 6th is still and forever your birth-day and it can never be eclipsed by your death-day because what you gave us over a lifetime is so much greater than what can ever be taken away by your transition to spirit. You live on in countless ways. The children and their children and their children who make the annual trek to the family’s holy stomping grounds of Hat Creek and Mt. Lassen; the songs you loved that pop up on my Pandora (and I still hear you say, “Oh, that’s so pretty” whenever “Shenandoah” plays); the “Clark face” that pops up in family photos shared on Facebook. It’s you, Dad. All around us, everywhere, every day.

I’m not missing you any less today because it’s September 7th. And we still have Thanksgiving to get through without you and dear god in heaven: Christmas.

But yesterday, because it was your birthday, I pulled your memory a little closer to me, like a warm comforter protecting against a sudden chill. I will never stop celebrating you.

June 13, 2015

Six months.

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Tags: , , , , , , — Ann @ 4:44 pm
My father.

My father.

Six months to the day since I (we, all of us) lost my Dad. I’ve received loving support in abundance, for which I’m grateful. Another reason to be grateful: my Mom’s friends and neighbors have stepped up completely to bring food and company. They show up at her door with a container of soup or a casserole saying, “I made too much last night; here you go,” and I know the “too much” was intentional and I love them for it.

In the past six months I’ve learned more about loss and mourning than I ever really wanted to know. Because words are my conduit to understanding — whether I’m writing or reading them — in these months I’ve studied dozens of articles and essays on grief, looked at countless quotes, and pored over my counseling books. The truest quote I’ve discovered to date is this one: “Grief does not change us; it reveals us.” The experience of loss becomes itself a question, and the answer rests in the lives we choose to lead in the midst of unspeakable sorrow.

My life is different now. How could it not be, without my Dad? And not just in ways we would expect after losing a parent. For me there is a deepening of the spirit, a desire to be closer to my truest self to honor my father and his memory. A part of who I am is set aside forevermore, dedicated to the role of living eulogy.

It’s so like my father to figure out a way to inspire me to try harder and strive more earnestly on a daily basis, even after his death. Six months since his passing and I think I’m a better person, or at least a wiser one. I want to say I wish he were here to know it but, first, even if he were here he would wave off any attempt on my part to convince him I need to improve (he thought I was perfect as I was). And secondly, more importantly, I think somehow he knows that I’m trying. Wherever he is, he knows. It’s my spiritual journey, it’s my path, but there’s a sense that Dad is walking with me, every step of the way.

April 5, 2015

Life: Mourning and Celebration

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Tags: , , , , — Ann @ 11:06 am
The light is always there.

The light is always there.

After my father died on January 13th of this year, my mind began to process thoughts and images at an accelerated rate. Some mourners describe feelings of “blankness” or “going numb” but for me it was the opposite: thoughts and visual streams were spinning their grief triggers at maximum speed. At times I felt as though I were experiencing the clich├ęd death’s-door experience of seeing my entire life flash before my eyes: childhood memories were a constant slideshow…things my Dad said, did, things we said and did together, images of he and my Mom, the family, vacations, conversations…thumbnail reminders of his presence in my life. And, of course, all of that re-experiencing was accompanied by a sadness so heavy that I felt pinned to the earth by Jovian gravity.

But among those thoughts and images, others emerged as well: happy memories in the making. Weddings, picnics, barbecues, engagement parties, baby showers, reunions — and these images had nothing to do with my father or my family. Instead, I was imagining strangers together, smiling, laughing, drinking Champagne, raising glasses, opening gifts, celebrating. It was as though, in the midst of unbearable grief, my mind wanted me to remember that somewhere out there, far away from me but out there nonetheless, there was joy. I needed to remember joy. And to believe that I’d be in the midst of it again someday.

Last night I attended a community celebration of Passover. The room was packed, the music was loud, the wine was freely flowing, and I was surrounded by the dearly loved faces of friends old and new. As I sat taking it all in, I remembered. My mind formed a thought: “This is joy.” I greedily drank in every sensory aspect of the experience; I needed to memorize it in case I forgot it again.

This morning, I penned a thank-you note to the person who sponsored my attendance at the celebration. I ended by writing, “After my father died, I craved the other side of grief. Last night was that experience, and I’m filled with gratitude.”

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