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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

a little word looms large

so, here's the post i placed friday night into  love the peppy way i talk around the utter fatigue that grief brings?  me too! 

as i wrote and edited, one thing that i thought carefully about is the phrase at the end:  "as i rebuild my spirit in the wake of my father's death..."  i considered two things:  one, am i overdoing it, to suggest that one's spirit falls in disrepair after sustaining the death process with a loved one?  nah, don't think so.  not in my case, anyway.  the second:  what does the term "wake" really mean?  and does it fit here?  so here's what i learned about the different nuances of the word (complements of

WAKE: (n) 1-a watching, for some solemn purpose; 2-a vigil by the body of a dead person before burial, often involving feasting or merrymaking; 3-the state of being awake.

seems to me there's some paradoxical stuff going on here.  one, that a solemn purpose (watching over the body of a dead person) would involve a party; and two, that the opposing concepts of "awake" and "dead" would be intertwined in the same word.  makes me think of dad's spirit: when it was all said and done, his death process likely brought to him both awakening and merrymaking. 

yes, in some odd way i think the word is a perfect fit -- and hidden within it must  be some keys to the resolving of that utter fatigue.  a little bit of fun, anyone?  ahhhh, for sure, when the proper time has passed.


Interesting.  Tonight I ran across a journal I'd started on my birthday two years ago.  Apparently, I was preparing a year in advance for the beginning of a new decade.  I love to take time every so often (usually at New Years -- my favorite holiday) to step back and take a look at the global picture of my life: what's working, what's not, what I value, what I don't.  I love to get a visual picture of what I'm hoping for, so I know what to work toward.  The end of one era and the beginning of another can be especially delightful.  So...what better time to take stock in things than a year before the "expiration date" of a great decade?!  At least that must be what I was thinking that night as I placed my thoughts on the page:

My 20's:  I created and established the adult me. 
My 30's:  I discovered and labored within my life work.
My 40's: FREEDOM and JOY ----- and lots and lots of FUN !  (I have one year to figure this out.)

Ok, so I'm now one year behind schedule.  Not bad. 

Freedom and Joy, actually, are always with me.  They define the deepest part of who I am (thanks to all that hard work in my 20's).  But -- FUN?!?  Even worse --- LOTS AND LOTS of fun?!?  What planet was I on?  What foreign substance was coursing through my veins? 

Tonight, as my eyes arrive at that simple birthday wish of two years ago, I feel the Grief Haze heavy over me: I'm reading a language I studied as a kid and I can't quite place the word.   

F - U - N ?    
"F" as in Frank, "U" as in Underwear, "N" as in Nancy?    

What exactly is it?  A person?  A place?  A thing?  A feeling?  An idea? And what does it have to do with me?  Or my future?  Did I really want it?  Think I needed it?  Deserved it?  Nothing better to do with my time?  My heart?  My life?

The calendar on the corner of my computer catches my eye.  It's Friday.  Count the weeks: October 22nd, one week.  October 15th, two weeks.  October 8th, three; October 1st, four.  September 24th, five weeks; September 17th, six; September 10, seven.  Seven weeks ago tonight, Dad had one day left to live.  Seven weeks ago tonight, my sister had just flown in from Canada and we were soaking up our father, knowing our time together was coming to a close.   Birthday wishes?  Who would want them now?  Fun?  I couldn't think of anything more frivolous if you paid me a million bucks.  Lots and lots of fun? Ok now we've entered the realm of the obcene.

Could it really have been me that night, wishing for an abundance of such an innocent, idealistic, unneccesary 3 letter word?!?  A woman all of 38 years of age?  Seems like something an eager adolescent would ask for, not some well-established, mature, enlightened adult.  Could this really be the same woman who had, for countless hours and days of each year of her life, been brave to touch and tackle so many grown-up things?  Did she really fall in love with the man of her dreams?  Figure out how to stay permanently and gloriously in love with the man of her reality?  Start, re-start, and finally finish schooling?  Start a business?  Keep a business? Nurture friendships?  Build a home?  Care for her beloved Grandfather as he died a slow and careful death?  Help her baby brothers grow to become amazing young men?  Follow the antics of five nephews, one neice, no two, no three, make that eight adorable neices and nine precious nephews; with more who are sure to join the fray?

This woman's been to the moon and back, in her own unique and marvelous way.  So why would she now, nearly two full decades after her big adult life began, want to capture something so very very small?  How did she find the place inside herself to wish for it?  From whence did that youthful energy and ambition arise? 

Actually, to tell you the truth, I can't exactly remember.  I don't remember why.  And I certainly don't remember how.  But I think I can wager a guess.  I think my yearning for that simple, three-lettered something has everything to do with being a kid again.  Because living large and all grown up isn't all there is to life.  Sure, I wouldn't want to give up my home, my work, my friends, my memories with my Grandpa, those awesome years with my brothers -- and for sure, you couldn't pry that priceless husband of mine from my heart if you tried.  But...I can only be an adult, a responsible, reasonable adult, for so many years on end before childhood comes knocking at my door once more.  I don't mind the heavy decisions and the gut wrenching sacrifices that brave adulthood brings.  In fact, I see them as a privilege and a gift.  But it's those blasted grown-up expectations of others and myself; its' those responsibilities and commitments that come because I didn't think to dig a little deeper.  Life doesn't have to be complicated.  No need for grandiose.  Just a simple soaking up of life.  To see the happy moments and linger there for just an extra moment or two. 

As I gradually rebuild my spirit in the wake of my father's death, I'm sure I'll be ready once again.  Maybe not this month, maybe not next year.  But when the proper time has passed (and surely before the next decade rolls around) my youthful ambition will return.  And then I'll be READY.  Ready for lots, and lots, of pure and simple, soul-refreshing FUN.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

FOR MY VISITORS AND FRIENDS:  Thanks for reading my post!  So, I'd love to hear about you.  What do you feel like you've lost?  What do you hope will return?  How long do you think it might take? 

p.s. tonight is the last time i get to say "last month my dad died."  from here forward, his death becomes, increasingly, a thing of the past.  funny how even the littlest of things can require one to work at letting go...ready or not.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

a whole new world arrives at my door

this week i stumbled onto a new community that has already meant the world to me.  it's a place built for children who are learning to live with loss.  specifically, the loss of a brother, sister, parent, grandparent, or other key person who played a crucial caregiving role in their life.   drownings, alcoholism, heart attacks, suicides, car accidents, death.  death, death, and more death.  all these tender spirits who have sustained the crazy-heavy blow of loss.  Not just any loss, mind you, but loss of the one they relied upon for all of the basics of their life: food, clothing, shelter, love.  or in some cases, it is actually a cocktail of loss.  take one of my new friends for example:  at 13 she lost her grandfather who took care of her, because at 5 she lost her father, and at 4 she lost her mother. 

so many awful stories.  so much pain and sadness.  and yet, to spend time there is to feel this oddest lifting of the spirit.  when i'm there i find my insides fill themselves with hope, with goodness, with fun.  hard to imagine isn't it?  i guess you gotta see it to believe it.

its the online community of a not-for-profit group that puts on camps for children who are grieving.  pretty cool, what this organization has created.  and how it helps those kids. and their parents.  and the volunteers.  and me.

it's inspirational, in the largest sense of the word, to connect with these precious kids and young adults. to learn from them how to balance the past in all its frail glory into the future with its endless demands of growth.  they gather themselves together, and they do it.  they tackle their futures,  those countless big, first-time grown up things:  they graduate from high school, attend their first class at college, collect new boyfriends, buy new houses, walk down the aisle. birth their first child.  each and every new task that life brings to them, they do without their father.  or their mother.  or both.  their courage empowers me as i begin  to craft my dad-less frame of life.  their friendship humbles me.


not only have i started "friending" people, and creating updates and commenting on the forums and posting cool photos, but i've fleshed out my profile and created an awesome memorial page for dad (if i do say so myself).  and what's more, i've found a whole new way to honor dad.  i've begun to blog.  and as i write, i find myself almost supernaturally filtering my thoughts and feelings in a way that allows me so soon in my grief to avail myself to a kid who might be able to learn from the story i have to tell. it's the most remarkable thing.   i'm speaking honestly.  yes.  i'm honest, vulnerable, raw.  but the me that finds itself on the page is a PG version of me.  it's the same me that found her voice here, but its a gentler, softer me.  

wait.  you don't feel the wonder of this gift that has found its way into my lap?  well, then -- perhaps you've never stared grief between its beady eyes. 

grief, i am sad to discover, is a twisted, unwieldy beast.  it doesn't surrender itself to chirpy wishes or soften when offered a vanilla-flavored dose of vague sentamentality.  it refuses even to bend itself to a heartfelt desire to remember the dead through a pure and simple lens of kindness.  oh no.  grief is not generous, steadfast or warm.  it is a fickle friend, at best; at worst, it is that enemy you must keep closer than a friend. 

so now do you see the beauty of this thing?  i have found another safe place to share my pain.  as i enter the world of these courageous children and teens, i find myself able to use my words to connect.  i don't have to water down the cold, cruel facts of my heart and thus weaken my sense of the truth.  my spirit, on a path all its own, is softening the message to match the heart of my intended audience.  and because it is, i am free to fully connect with them.  my ugly scruffy grief, when brought to the place where children live, is willing to take a gentler stance.  all brutality is set aside as i paint for them pictures of my father.  and me as his daughter.  thank you, grief.  you nasty tender bastard, you.

if i've learned anything from my arcadia families and all my precious neices and nephews, i've learned that kids must be given the truth in a way that nurtures their unformed curves.  their tender developing selves cannot absorb a truth in a form that crushes or cripples.  Our imperfect stories -- yes, even pieces of our darkest, saddest stories, can and should be given to our children as humble gifts of love, but they can only be delivered in the best possible way.  life's hardest lessons colored in gentle, lighter, warmer shades of the harsh, original hue.  of course.  that's where we get baby blue.  and pastel pink.  and lavendar. and lemondrop yellow, and seafoam green.

*              *               *                *                *

so what to do with this space here?  well, perhaps, in order to keep this as my permanent dad memorybook, i'll reprint my Hello Grief posts here.  and perhaps, in keeping with the me that flows like an extension of my body the moment i sit down at this screen,  i'll attach a prefix or a postscript for you.  if i can, i'll add an unfiltered, true-blue take on the topics i'm tackling for myself and those brave souls in my new young world. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

what a great place this is

wow!!  what a great place this is.

over the past weeks, i have been collecting multiple ways to stay "tapped in" to dad and the amazing process of living within his life and death story. 

* Grief Share (a church-run support group that friend jen introduced me to.  which, by the way is very cool in that it is in the back office of a church run coffee house.  never knew that coffee houses had back offices complete with sofas, dvd players, and tissues for tears.  as if coffee houses needed another reason to be cool!)

* Books (still loving the two i found during my quiet days right after dad's passing: Awakening from Grief, by john welshons and A Beautiful Death, by cheryl eckl.  And have spent a few moments in sister cheryl's all-time fav, Heaven, by randy alcorn)

* Tim (turns out, he's got sadness issues of his own to muscle his way through, as a result of his love and care for dad during his final days)

* Dinner Dates with dear friends (whether half the night is all about dad, or i receive just the briefest moment of dad-specific care as a friend imagines my months of just can't beat surrounding yourself with people you love who made tough choices to walk through loss alongside you)

* Mom and Me, at our new ESL -- that's English-as-a-Second-Language -- class at her community church (ok, dad, this one's not directly about you....but i miss working with mom to tackle your story.  so, in your absence, here's something that i just know you would have been so supportive of.  you always got excited when you thought of things that mom would be so good at doing.  which was always held her in such high esteem!  as a young kid, about 5 or 6 it seems, i actually felt sorry for you -- i had this sinking feeling you just weren't the sharpest tool in the shed.  we can say this one's got YOU written all over it, were always contrasting mom's brilliance with your own, well, not-so-shiny skill sets.  it was spelling, and english, i think, that did you in.  course within about 7 or 8 years i began to see all that flying of the planes, and all those shimmery buttons on your mess dress uniform, as evidence to the contrary.  what a clever way to help your kids admire their mother!! and -- outside of your design -- in time, it helped your kids come to admire their father, too.)

Tonight, I find myself back here. 
Here, at the place where i went each night to clear my heart in preparation for what lay ahead when i awoke again to a new dad day.  the past several weeks, i've not come to visit.  i guess my heart was spinning in other directions and it didn't seem right to bring it back to relive the details of dad's passing.  but tonight, i come to check just one small thing and before i know it, i'm back.  not fully immersed, but fully partially immersed.  it's September 11th, and September 17th, and the 5 posts in between, that fully partially capture me.  i don't need to relive my sensations (i'm not that very far removed yet) and i don't need to comb the place for new insights (i'm still stumbling over the ones that are already staring me down).  even after hanging out here for an hour or so, i guess i still don't think i need to be here tonight.  But....i must say...MAN IS IT NICE TO BE HERE AGAIN!!! 

i'm kinda surprised:  i'm not reliving the pain, i'm reliving the love.  maybe someday i'll take the time to get back into the heartache etched in all my many words.  but tonight...what amazes me is the love. 

wow.  i remember again why those impossible days weren't unliveable.  the connections made here were powerful.  sustaining.  God's love passed through His people's online presence.  karli, jen, gail, cheryl, D, jb, beth, and so so so  many other good kind souls.  107 comments all told.  pretty wild-cool.

ahhh, i love how God, how He lets life advance, and new things take hold.  new, big things that touch us all...squishy-techy things like blogs and facebook love.  and new, medium-sized things that touch a few.  like gifted authors, and coffee house secret spots, and ESL.  and new, small things -- big things -- that touch just me.