HOW OUR BLOG BEGAN, in AUGUST 2010: As many of you know, Phil has been struggling with a very complex series of neurological issues for about 5 years. This past spring, the issues became especially intense as a result of an unexpected cognitive decline and a fall on May 15th that resulted in a head injury and further decline. And then, on July 16th things catapulted to unbelievable, as Phil suffered from a severe "electrical storm" in his brain that essentially created a status of brain death for two full days. Inexplicably, the very morning that neurologists and other medical team members were planning removal of life support, Phil began breathing on his own and his brain waves returned to a stable, while still abnormal, level. Since then, each day has been a unique journey. And while he and his body continue to demonstrate a will and capacity to live, he continues to have severe deficits and it is quite uncertain as to the path he will take. As loved ones close in can attest to, it has been tricky to keep up emotionally with all of his changes, and provide the needed support. We can only imagine the hard work Phil has gone through as his brain has taken him through such roller coaster experiences. It is our goal here to keep family and close friends apprised of Phil's ongoing story, and to build connections that honor him.

AND THEN, SEPTEMBER 11, 2010....Dad's remarkable journey alongside us culminated in a gentle, generous death.

And so, my goal here now as his daughter is simply this: to record snippets...pieces of his life that my memory offers back to me, pieces of myself as I learn to live without a dad. I hope all who meander by find life, and hope, and peace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

i've been chipping away at a sudden identity crisis all day long. 

not because i am now a daughter whose father is no longer alive (although, it has occurred to me that this may be a contributing factor).

no, it's because i've realized i've fallen in love with this precious community that has evolved to follow me through my dad's unfolding life-death journey.  each time i read one of your comments, a wave of appreciation comes over me, in a flush, this sense of gratitude at your voluntary presence.  i'm not ready to write the final chapter.

but all of a sudden, the star of my story is gone.  sure, i could yammer on about how much i miss him.  but already today, not two full days after his passing, i feel strange in my own skin as i imagine myself in the act of the yammering.  dad modeled for me in our countless military moves how to take the past in all its dubious glory and quickly bring it into the promise of the current opportunity.  healthy adaptation is all about the skill and speed with which we bring the old into the new, dad taught me, never in a lecture but continuously through his example.  He taught me how to keep the past simple, light-hearted; a constructive context from which to thrive in the here and now.  and, happily: living fully in the present, for the most part, has kept my past from becoming unsightly, awkward baggage that bores the life out of even myself.

so now i experience an awkward shift.  dad's life-death-life dilemma has now resolved itself in death.  which is as it should be.  and in terms of a storyline, as best as i can anticipate, there are only two additional "official" pieces yet to tell:  (1) the experience of his funeral service, and (2) the outcome of his autopsy.  then what?

i'll move on from this tenuous place of loss, for sure.  and i'm okay with this.  looking forward to it, actually.  and, i'm even okay with not knowing just how and when this will occur.  this indeed is the thrill of life, the unknown.  but the daily living out of my grief?  i'd be happy to share, if it benefits you, but i can assure you that these details of my life will not hold my heart captive like my dad has these past weeks and months.  and if i am not enraptured, how can i expect you to be? 

i know when to let a good thing go.  but so quickly after losing my dad, it saddens me to think of saying goodbye to the safety and community you and i have created.  but why keep meeting here? our story is without a plot, and no beloved protagonist, by the mere suggestion of his presence, is begging us to return.  i'd love the privilege of building a long-term community; writing and relating have been lifelong interests of mine. but what would you want to read?  how do we sustain the continual coming back for more? a blog without an active readership is, in the famous two-word phrase of brother daniel, a fail.  better to craft beautiful journals by hand and leave them under the mattress for future generations to find.

*        *        *        *        *

today as i meander through Borders (a favorite spot when i need to wander), i begin to formulate my sense of this sudden identity crisis.  the long and short of it is this:  when i began dad's blog, i only allowed myself the luxury of "immersion journalism"  because i felt it was the only way to do justice to my dad's compelling story.  in the words of wikipedia: to use personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the event being covered.  to go gritty and deep.  and besides, my dad's story was bursting from my soul.  the immediacy of the plot, the depth of the supporting cast, the countless twists and turns.  what other choice did i have?  reducing dad's remarkable story to a list of medical facts wasn't going to help any of us process all that had just happened and was yet to come.  but now, the immediate work has been done.  what a privilege!  what an experience.  two nights ago, my dad's story reached its potent climax. i am fortunate to have captured it in outline form that night, and (thanks to a stranger named anne) through powerful imagery last night.   a fan of suggestive endings, i know we've arrived. a pensive conclusion is in order. i realize this immediately...just about the time i realize, also, that i'm hooked.  I'm hooked on the daily structure of my writing sessions, the therapeutic outlet, the love i feel from and for each of you. 

sounds like a type of identity crisis to me, does it to you?

*        *        *        *        *

in a book i find a nugget that gives me pause:
in this modern world, we have never been taught to experience authentic grief.  we (and others) want our mourning to be tidy, polite, and over in a day or two so we can get on with our busy, outwardly focused lives.  we are afraid of grief's primitive rawness that can completely overwhelm us with its own agenda.  (A Beautiful Death, Cheryl Eckl, pp 255-56)
in a friend, i find a seed of hope:
i don't just come here for your dad's story.  i come to hear your heart.
*        *        *        *        *

i hope not to become that sad soul who gets stuck looping through those unattractive stages of grieving.  i hope not to be that stoic daughter who avoids the sting of her new dad-less reality.  and (most of all), i hope not to be that classic therapist who, in the absense of her story's hero, is afraid to let her friends and family see inside her heart.


  1. Karen, your father's story may have come to an ending, but your writings about him don't have to. I have very much enjoyed reading your posts, not in a way that I enjoy ice cream, but more in a way that I enjoy a sunset. The day is coming to an end, but it is a beautiful one, and The next day will be new and amazing in its own right. Perhaps you can continue your writing in a different direction, but the therapy it creates does not have to be without purpose, honor, or memory. Your identity is firmly awesome, maybe just slightly altered to start a different path.

    I hope that all makes sense.
    Much love,

  2. I kinda like the text you sent to me last night..a fat herless with no support...what exactly is an herless? I thought maybe you meant heiress..but I still wasn't sure how that applied to you. My 9 yr old Sophie was quite concerned that I kept laughing/crying hysterically while discussing the passing of my best friend's father. That could only happen with you Miss K. :) Jen

  3. Dear Karen,

    It has been a pleasure knowing your family. I would very much like to attend your father's services. You are all in my prayers always.

    -Kate King

  4. Hi Kate, i don't recognize your name, and couldn't find anything to spark my memory from your blogger profile. can you fill me in -- how do you know my family? thanks, karen

  5. I don't want to break any confidentiality so I will just say that you know me from the VA home because I have been very involved with your Dad' quest. I have 8 letters behind my name (hint, hint for my profession). I was at your niece's 13th birthday party in the lobby. Hopefully that will jog your memory.

  6. I can definitely relate to the desire to make the grieving process sterile and speedy. During the past week or so, I have found myself "annoyed" with the fact that dad had to pass just a couple weeks into an insanely busy first semester of engineering school. I stare at a physics problem for too long and before I know it, my mind wanders back to the mountains of GA, with dad as a highlight in every scene. As I struggle with the inconveniences of life, I quickly feel sheepishness and like a total selfish jerk. Obviously, there were eternal timelines in place here and I need to embrace "grief's primative rawness" and let it work it's course. Sometimes life happens quickly, but most often, it takes place gradually over time - like a well aged wine or cheese.

  7. KATE,
    of course -- kate!!!!!!! i've known and loved you only as VA Kate, never Kate King!! nice to fill in my full name knowledge gap. :-) and oh yes of course we would LOVE to have you at dad's service. it's friday at 3. if you want to text / call me on my cell i can give you details of where. 602-380-3377. thanks, always, for all the care you gave to my dad and my family. you are so good at what you do.

    JB: think i'm gonna dedicate tonight's post to you. it may address exactly what you described. thank you for your honesty. as you'll read tonight, the death expert says this is key to getting where you want to go (through the raw grief). we may not be able to rush it, but we can make it as pleasant for ourselves as possible! love you man. can't wait to see ya.