April 8: Dad

My dad died today. My sisters and mom and I sat by his bedside all night last night, listening to his labored breathing, holding our own breath every time he stopped too long between gasps. He never woke up. So we chatted amongst ourselves and cried intermittently and finally, around 2 am, requested pillows and blankets and tried to sleep on wooden folding chairs. There’s something exhausting and guilty-feeling about waiting for death. The constant wondering if the next moment is going to be the last one together. Just after 5 am, when it was just my mom awake by his side, my dad simply stopped breathing. My mom said she had just told him he didn’t have to hold on any longer. He could go, and so he did.

I have to admit that when I first got the call yesterday that my dad had taken a turn for the worse and maybe wouldn’t survive the day, I didn’t want to go back to the hospital. It wasn’t that I had just made the three-hour drive back home, it was that I didn’t really want to face it. I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the strength to watch my dad die. But then I knew that whatever I felt didn’t matter. What was real was that the man who spent his life taking care of me and my sisters and my mom would be gone within hours, and I had the privilege to be there by his side. No matter how much it would hurt to see, this was a gift, to say a final goodbye.

I’m thankful my dad was a Christian. He believed that he was headed to a better place and had absolutely no fear of death. I know that made his final days easier for him. And I’m sure he was looking forward to seeing the many people he had lost in his almost 67 years: his own dad who died too early in his 30’s, his mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s, his brothers, his son, his best friend. It must have comforted my mom also, allowing her the strength to tell him to go to the others she believed were waiting for him.

The world lost a wonderful man today. A man with a hearty laugh and a deep love for people and animals and the Lord. A man of strength and honor and commitment. A man who loved my mother and her children as his own. He was my stepfather, but I never thought of him that way. To me he was always my dad. I’m thankful he entered my life so long ago. And I’m thankful I was there when he left so peacefully this morning.

March 11

I took my kids out for dinner tonight. We don’t do that very often. In fact, all three of us have crazy schedules, so we rarely sit down for a dinner together anymore–at home or elsewhere. I miss that. When they were little, I tried to have regular family dinner time. Sometimes we’d play games like “I spy” or “I’m thinking of an animal…” Sometimes we’d tell jokes or I’d ask what they learned at school that day, and when they responded with “nothing” I’d ask why I bothered to send them, which always ended the same way, them asking to stay home and me giving a list of worse things they’d have to do at home than at school. Sometimes things would get a little out of control, like the time we had a spontaneous burping contest before realizing that the Schwan’s delivery guy was standing at the open door and could hear everything. Or the time I asked them to tell me something I’d never guess about them, and they unwittingly revealed doing things they shouldn’t have done like climbing to the roof of the barn or playing with knives. Of course, in the interest of fairness, their responses generated discussions on the dangers of certain behaviors instead of punishments after the fact. Smart kids.

Now dinner conversations are different since my kids are basically adults. Tonight we talked about a certain person from our past whose name is rarely mentioned. The topic came up because they ran into an old friend while shopping with their dad over the weekend, and this friend asked about him. Wondered if they ever see him or talk to him anymore. Sadly, my kids’ reactions were the same. They both admitted to never even wanting to think of him, let alone talk about him. Said they don’t even like his name anymore. It’s heartbreaking to know that we share such a painful relationship, and even more so knowing that I was the one who let this person into our lives, never dreaming of the damage it would leave us. But it was something slow moving. In the middle of our conversation, Bree said this: a frog will immediately jump out of hot water if dropped into it, but if you start cold and turn up the heat, it will sit in hot water a long time without realizing it. A perfect analogy. We were living with a person who was internally angry and whose method of coping was breaking down the people around him. And maybe he didn’t know. It doesn’t really matter now. Thankfully, we moved on and don’t have to see him again.  And tonight, we all admitted that we were ok for having endured this pain. Both kids said they learned valuable lessons. Both said they immediately forgave me. They get it. I hope they carry this maturity into their own relationships and are able to instantly know when something is not right or good for them. I’m thankful we had this conversation tonight. I learned that they may not want to talk about him, but they aren’t worrying about the past. Smart kids, still.

New Year

Today I could say that I’m grateful for a new year and new beginnings and all the typical stuff. It would be true, of course. However, today I’m really thankful for the past year. Specifically, I’m thankful for all the painful moments–and there were a lot of them.

In the middle of last year, I came to the realization that I needed to walk away from the man I loved. The end of any relationship is difficult, even when it’s a mutual mess and both sides are at the point of hating each other. It’s harder, I think, when you realize that loving each other isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s simply not good for the soul. Although the heart wants what the heart wants, it doesn’t always know what’s good for us. Walking away from this relationship was difficult for me on many levels, but mostly because it meant making myself a priority. Not an easy decision for someone conditioned otherwise.

The painful moments of that choice have led me to a point where I’ve learned to be on my own. Not just on my own, paying the bills and taking care of the house; I had done that before. But being alone. As Alanis Morissette sings, I declared a respite from the toils of liaison. Strangely, I didn’t yearn to fill the void with another relationship, although I had plenty of lonely moments. Instead, I spent more time with friends and more time by myself. I learned to appreciate being solitary.

In fact, last night I didn’t go anywhere. I had some invites, but I chose instead to stay home. I built a fire and watched bad tv. I ate whatever sounded good at the moment, which included strawberry pie, rutabaga, rice pudding, and wasabi pecans, and drank a Chocolate Cherry Bock. (Thankfully, I didn’t puke later from the combination.) I rearranged a bookshelf. I sang karaoke in the dark. (It was an easy crowd). Then, at midnight, I stopped flossing long enough to say Happy New Year to myself in the mirror. Overall, it was a good New Year’s Eve. I spent it alone, and that was ok. I’m not sure I would have been happy with that a year ago. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be.

So while I hope for more good moments in 2014 than painful ones, I’m grateful for the turmoil of last year. I’m entering the new year a stronger person.