Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This is for You, Daddy

"This is for you, Daddy." Stevie Nicks at the beginning of "Landslide" on "The Dance" Album

My husband and I are well suited to each other. Momma has often said that she couldn't have designed one better for me. We have a lot in common. This year we have one more thing in common. We've lost our fathers, and this has been the first Father's Day for each of us with no one to call or send a card to. My husband would admit - I was the one sending the cards. It became a point of humor for us. I would say, "You sent a card that said..." And he would grin, and say, "I'm so thoughtful." But cards or no cards, love exists.

"Tell me, where does the spirit go when you die?" "Annabel" - The Duhks
"Tell me, did you sail across the sun?" "Drops of Jupiter" - Train

My Daddy is gone. Momma said yesterday that she kept thinking she would wake up, and he would be there. I told her I knew exactly what she meant. Because I do. I think that puts us in one of those stages. My stage involves Hostess Big Wheels (that's what they were called when Daddy bought them for me almost every day my sixth grade year, and that's what I'm calling them), some Jack and Coke, and digging what's left of my fingernails into my palm to prevent tears. A friend once told me that we write to learn about ourselves. I've learned a lot this past year, but not written a lot. Another friend reminded me that the shower is a great place to sob. I am so very clean - so is the shower stall.

"Up all night, I could not sleep. The whiskey that I drank was cheap." "South City Midnight Lady" - The Doobie Brothers

"And I confess that I'm only holding on by a thin, thin thread." "Sad" - Maroon 5

"Life goes on. It gets so heavy. The wheel breaks the butterfly." "Paradise" - Coldplay

I wonder if I've been kind enough to others when they've experienced grief. This has been such a constant presence in my life this last year. We've not only lost our fathers, but my mother-in-law passed away, a favorite uncle, and a favorite aunt, a loved cousin, even our beloved dog. Our older son can actually write in his upcoming college applications that he lost three grandparents during his junior year of high school. What a dubious distinction. I will say it provides a certain perspective on the other stuff like needing a new transmission in a 2014 vehicle, the broken sprinkler head that was pointing towards the golf course flooding the green, the broken outside water faucet that was dripping for who knows how long (can't wait to see the water bill), the kid who ignored my explanation of how a car battery can be drained resulting in his first lesson involving jumper cables, poison ivy, bronchitis, flu, and the infamous 'I stepped on a snake' incident resulting in a new door mat - one not black and not so easily blendable with a black snake. When you've spent so much time dressing in black, hugging people you love, hugging people you don't remember or never knew, the other stuff just becomes adventures to laugh at. Sometimes the hugs are adventures, too. May I suggest that some people should keep their hands in reasonable places...

"I miss the sounds of Tennessee. I blink and while my eyes are closed, they both have gone away."  "House on the Lake" - Rosanne Cash

Some people are so kind it's almost overwhelming. Others are so clueless that your choices are to be amused or offended. I opted for amused, with only an occasional sprinkle of indignation. So I have even more stories then just the snake one, like the ex-girlfriend who showed up to my father-in-law's visitation flirting with hubby or the ex-boyfriend who tracked down my number, and called me. Which made hubby and I even-steven on the exes front - thank goodness - no need to inflate the man's ego. But really, people, funerals are NOT Eharmony...or a high school reunion. Perhaps you could pick another time to decide we were catches after all.

There's the tendency to question God, and his existence in all of this. That's not my way. I long ago gave up even attempting to understand. I don't get quantum physics, I can't comprehend how to engineer a part, and I for dang sure ain't 'bout to try to rebuild an engine so why should I know all the answers to God's universe. I get that. I'm also good with counting blessings. I had my Daddy for years longer then many people I know had their loved ones, and we were able to be at a good place when he passed from this life to life eternal. That's a gift not all receive though it was wrapped in the sideways paper of dementia.

"Think about it. There must be a higher love. Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above." "Higher Love" - Steve Winwood

Now, I have to say, Daddy was not some perfection of a man. Like all of us, you got the good with the bad. The man had a temper, I mean he could really lay it on. And if he thought he was right, well, there ain't no way that YOU were right. He went almost a year with out speaking to me once because he thought I had made the wrong job choice. But I have that stubborn streak, too. Eventually he was proud when I made my way in a large company just as I wanted to do. I think he enjoyed my spirit, as long as I never forgot to say ma'am or sir along the way. Sometimes two people are too much alike...but there are lessons in all of that, too. Lessons I try to remember raising our teenagers - one is a little more like me, the other one a little more like Hubby. Makes life more interesting as long as we remember the love, and forgiveness. 

"Children get older. I'm getting older, too." "Landslide" - Fleetwood Mac
"Mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? I don't know." "Landslide" - Fleetwood Mac

The night of Daddy's visitation one of my cousins told me a story I had never heard. Daddy came from a large family. Such a large family means a large range in ages of the cousins, and this cousin remembered Daddy as a young man back from the Korean War. He told me that our grandmother said Daddy would wake up with what they called "night terrors" for months after he returned. I am at an age now that I can look back at how it must have been for my Daddy, not too much older then my sons, and be so impressed by him. This was a man who answered his country, did his duty, came back home, worked full time at night on the railroad while he attended East Carolina College during the day, and spent countless hours helping charities. He never spoke of Korea until dementia came calling other then to tell us that "M.A.S.H." was NOT the way it was. Only then did we find out that he rode trains laying down gunfire to evacuate the dead, and wounded. He led a life, life did not lead him, and there's a lesson in that also. Too much is handed to so many of us. He expected nothing to be handed to him. He became a college graduate. He became Master of his Masonic lodge, president of his Shrine club chapter, and if you didn't know that he was an ECU Pirate then you obviously had never spoken to him for more then two minutes, and certainly never spoke to him during football season. Even as he lay on his deathbed, we played an ECU football game, and he knew it was his Pirates. I could even con him into leaving his nasal cannula in place by telling him that we would beat UNC if he left it alone.

Daddy passed away on May 28. For years, Momma said it would be terrible if someone died and there was an East Carolina University game because none of us would come. Daddy died when there were no active sports going on for ECU. I think he planned that. But still we flew our flags and magnets. His last surviving sister realized what we were doing, and insisted someone put them on her Cadillac, and one of my cousins flew to her car, got them out of her trunk and put them on. No one wanted to disobey her. The last one, the last one of nine siblings. How hard it is to survive.

"We're the Purple and Gold. We are the PIRATES OF ECU." EC Victory Fight Song

The night of Daddy's visitation we had one of those DVD's going. All the good funeral homes do them these days. You send pictures, they set them up to loop through, maybe add some music. Daddy loved music. We all love music. Somehow it felt right that we asked for three songs to be set to the pictures on the DVD. The three songs were, "Sugar Lips" by Al Hirt, "Whipped Cream" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and the ECU Fight Song. Nothing else would have felt as right. He loved life, and he saw it in so many ways - war, and peace. He deserved music that reflected his love of life.

Our sons have been a wonder through it all. They have watched their parents grieve, and shown compassion. I will never forget the touch of our sixteen year old's hand on my back as I started a strangled sob walking in the funeral home or the introverted seventeen year old walking up to me, and telling me that he would stay beside me until I told him he wasn't needed.

"No, this child will be gifted with love, with patience, and with faith." "Wonder" - Natalie Merchant

In the bottom of Daddy's jewelry box was an id bracelet. One that had my name on it and was made for me at the North Carolina State Fair when I was a little girl. Long after I stopped wearing it, and discarded it, he kept it. That's how love is - we keep it. We always keep it.

Somehow in grief, we each make our way. We find love. We find faith. We find compassion. Somehow we heal. Each scar makes a stronger place for faith, and love to take root.

"Take this love, and take it down." "Landslide" - Fleetwood Mac
"So I will look for you between the grooves of songs we sing." "The World Unseen" - Rosanne Cash
"Are ye healed?" "Did Ye Get Healed" by Van Morrison

Each time one of us shares love, and compassion, each time one of us turns to God, we are healed. - me