Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that I’ve neglected to post in a very, very long time. Suspend your disbelief and read right past this disclaimer as if time wasn’t a construct and the last 2+ years haven’t been insane.
Today marks 9 years since my dad died. N-I-N-E years. Nearly a decade. I go back and forth over how impossible that is and how much longer it feels. When your heart shatters into a million pieces multiple times in his memory, it feels like there’s no label for time that fits.
I’ve been doing some IRL, old-school journaling lately and with today looming, I’d begun my usual list of things my dad wouldn’t be here to see (assuming they happen):
- When I buy my first house
- When I get engaged
- When I get married
- When I have children
And I inevitably think of all of my life’s milestones that have happened, that he hasn’t been around to see:
- Moving to San Francisco
- Changing jobs (a few times)
- Dating T (a few times)
- Turning 30 and 35
And I think of all of the things my mom and brother and nieces and … everyone! The milestones that have made up so many of the last 3,000+ days. The holidays and anniversaries and births and deaths and promotions and trips and all of those fantastical puzzle pieces that make up the experiences we all go through in big ways.
And then I thought, what about the mundane?
What I wouldn’t give for one more conversation with him about nothing. One more ALL CAPS EMAIL because typing one-handed was incredibly hard. One more urge to switch off Guy Fieri but letting dad have his pick of shows this time.
What I wouldn’t give to have any number of the most routine, bland, unimportant, ordinary, everyday, unexceptional, run-of-the-mill moments with him again.
Because (and I’m neither the first nor last to discover this) those moments are what make up the puzzle as well. They’re the things we don’t often celebrate or stop to appreciate. Which is understandable, when you think how incredibly tedious it would be to pause after every one of these micro moments. Or, if everything feels special then nothing does.
But if we pick one every once in a while – an inside joke, a conversation, a silly text, even a maddening email – it might make it easier to mourn the mundane long after they’re gone.
It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone six and a half years. I remember thinking you were so young to die at 63, and now today, you’d be 70. SEVENTY. That sounds so old somehow.
As you can guess from my 30 Before 30 series, I turn 30 in two months and three days.
When Mom was my age, she was giving birth to me. She also had a three-year-old son, who was with her parents in Daytona during the tumultuous delivery. She’d recently celebrated her seventh wedding anniversary with her college sweetheart. She was a few years into her teaching career, after needing to pivot from a criminal defense role in South Florida.
When Mom was my age, she was juggling being a wife, mom, educator, homeowner, and a million other adjectives I haven’t experienced yet. She was sacrificing some dreams and goals for those achievements, never once blaming or resenting us for the path she pursued.
When Mom was my age, she had no idea how harrowing this birth would be. She had no idea her husband would suffer a stroke in eight years, changing her marriage and parenting plan overnight. She had no idea what we’d become or pursue or achieve; she just did her damnedest to ensure we were brought up with strong morals and guidance.
When Mom was my age, she was on the cusp of 30 — maybe pursuing her own List of sorts before the milestone birthday arrived. She’d likely been to 10 concerts (now guess which one was fake) 😤 She’d experienced a lot, but still had so much more to come.
Although Mother’s Day is two weeks away, I couldn’t let today — the exact age she was when I was born — pass without acknowledging how grateful I am for everything she did for me then and has continued to do ever since. 143 always, Momma.
Since my dad’s death in September 2013, plenty of tears, questions and confusion has poured out of me. This wasn’t my first big loss in life, but it has absolutely hit the hardest. Yesterday, for example, wasn’t just Father’s Day — it was also my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary — and it was brutal.
I’ve read eons of articles about coping with grief, learning how to get by, and the like. I’ve had nightmares about all the milestones my dad will miss, including career successes, a walk down the aisle, starting a family, my own anniversaries, and so on. I’ve felt a gamut of emotions, ranging from anger to emptiness.
It wasn’t until earlier this month, when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s essay about the loss of her husband, that a new feeling emerged: hope.
In it, Sandberg explains the lessons she’s learned in the 30 days since her husband’s death. The emotions. The questions. The confusion. I read through blurry eyes with tear-stained cheeks and big, ugly sobs. This passage, in particular, spoke to me:
“I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was ‘It is going to be okay.’ That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, ‘You and your children will find happiness again,’ my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, ‘You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good’ comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple ‘How are you?’—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with ‘How are you today?’ When I am asked ‘How are you?’ I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear ‘How are you today?’ I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”
I highly recommend you take some time to read the entire essay — even if you haven’t dealt directly with grief, Sandberg provides excellent context for helping others deal with death.
Since September 2013, I’ve actively said that we as humans are not well-equipped to deal with loss. There is no manual, but Sandberg’s words are certainly a start.
OK. I’m ready to talk about it.
I’ve dreaded today pretty much since my dad died last year. Well, to be fair … I’ve dreaded many days since then.
And our family is uniquely challenged: Each milestone is not only our first without him, but our first with my niece, who was born 13 days after his death.
So here we are, another first. And as hard as it is sometimes to get up and face the day, I have my dad’s voice echoing in my head, pushing me to remember:
- Check the forecast: It’s not always accurate, but you’ll be better prepared knowing what storms are out there.
- Learn from mistakes: If you make the same one twice, it’s no longer a mistake. It’s a choice.
- Respect the past: The work ethic, loyalty and discipline defined elder generations for a reason and should be revered.
- Biology doesn’t make you a father: Uncles, grandpas, brothers, cousins, neighbors … every man who’s contributed to your growth has been a dad to you.
- Keep on cruising: Life might deal you some shit circumstances, but they won’t define you. What you do with those circumstances, does define you.
These little nuggets of Slick Rick’s wisdom have helped carry me through the hardest of times, even helping me to smile today.
Especially for Brother, who celebrates his first Father’s Day with his beautiful baby girl. He — among others — may not realize it, but being a father figure in my life has truly saved and shaped me.
Wishing you and yours a happy Father’s Day. God bless.
In the five months since my dad’s death, there are many things I’ve left unsaid. Many blog posts I’ve drafted, many journal entries I’ve crafted, many people I’ve shafted.
There have been countless tears without nearly as much closure as I expected.
And isn’t that so stupid? How can I expect anything?
Sure, I’ve been to more than 20 funerals for various friends & family — but nothing prepares you for the loss of an immediate family member.
I’ve gone through many stages, sometimes simultaneously. My laughter over a fond memory bubbles up anger and resentment for not flying home more often in the three months between his diagnosis and death.
The anger continued last night, when an NBC reporter questioned Olympic skier Bode Miller about his brother’s death. Overcome with emotion, Miller was unable to finish the interview.
I was reeling over the reporter’s inability to recognize she should stop asking questions and just shut the hell up. But Miller is more gracious than I, and he understood she had no idea he would break down at that moment.
Everyone deals with grief differently … that’s no surprise. What is surprising, though, is how often people make these situations about themselves.
They don’t know how to deal with the loss. They can’t handle seeing you cry. They can’t imagine what you’re going through.
What they don’t realize is that sometimes, they don’t need to do anything — just be there for you.
I’ve held my tongue and left many things unsaid in the months since my dad died.
Part of me wants to let go of my guilt that I didn’t say enough when he was alive.
Part of me wants to lash out every time someone tries to change the subject, when I really just want to cry it out for a few minutes.
Part of me wants the words to come out, free of judgment, instead of bottling them up for fear of burdening someone else.
And all of me wants him back here just for one day, just so I can say everything I didn’t.
Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s death. I was in Ireland (her homeland) when the cancer won. I still struggle with the difficult decision I made to stay abroad and miss her memorial services.
It’s been more than a thousand days since, but it breaks my heart every time I think about that choice.
So, here’s a dedication to my mom’s mom: A woman so fiercely sharp and sassy, she put most to shame.
- A Margarita (on the rocks, no salt): Her signature drink; I’ll never indulge in a margarita without thinking of my Grammy. As any wondrous woman should, she ordered them exactly the same way for years. Cheers!
- Cruising: Married for more than 50 years, my grandparents sure knew how to vacation. Their travels took them many places, and we were blessed to come along at times. Our Bahamas trip the summer I graduated high school was far and away my favorite
- Girls’ Night: My mom and grandma spent a lot of quality time together, and I relished any chance to join them. From bingo nights to “AP conferences” (secret beach getaways), so much of my life is defined by those memories.
- White Elephant Gift Exchange: Our family tradition carries on every Christmas Eve, but it’s not quite the same. I won magnets, which I fastened into hair clips, two years in a row — and I’ve never treasured silly Dollar Store gifts more.
My grandpa used to sing her this. We love you, Peggy.
Today is my parents’ anniversary.
33 years ago, they held hands in a church.
They vow to love and support one another so long as they both shall live. Friends and family — and God, lest we forget — witness the start of a long road ahead.
3 years later, they hold hands in a hospital room.
And they hold their baby boy — the first grandson for her family’s side. He will be a pioneer of many things: fearless, curious and stubborn as hell. He will challenge and change their lives forever.
4 years later, they hold hands in another hospital room.
They can’t hold their baby girl —the doctors deliver diagnoses much faster than they delivered the incubated infant. She will be a fighter: for life, for independence and for respect.
8 years later, they hold hands in ICU.
He’s suffered a stroke. She awoke in the night to find him lifeless. The ambulance sirens screamed, waking their children. The kids don’t understand why Daddy doesn’t recognize them. They can’t comprehend the doctors’ advice that Mommy should make funeral arrangements. They have no idea the impact this day will have.
10 years later, they don’t hold hands often.
The kids have moved away, forcing a harsh spotlight on an imperfect marriage. Their separate interests have become time-consuming; missed festivities, massive fights and mangled feelings are all too common. Their love and support is routine, but no longer remarkable.
8 years later, they hold hands on the beach.
Their son and his beautiful wife vow to love and support one another so long as they both shall live. Friends and family — many who were there in June 1980 — witness the start of a new road ahead.
Less than a year later, they hold hands in a waiting room.
He’s got Stage IV liver cancer, the doctors say. He can beat it with chemo, they say. He’s in the best possible care, they say. Everything we inherited — being fearless, curious and stubborn as hell; and fighting for life, for independence and for respect — we’ve never needed them more.
Today is my parents’ anniversary.
And I just pray for another 33 years of hand-holding and kept vows.
It is with sheer joy and absolute excitement I can share the following news: Brother and Sister-in-Law are expecting! They’re set to welcome Baby in late September.
My first thoughts after the happy tears dried:
- Brother will be responsible for another life. We must get this kid a helmet.
- SIL will be a great mom. Her experience (and patience!) with children is incredible.
- We need grandparent names for Magz and Slick Rick. I’m campaigning for “Gam Gam” and “Gumpy.”
- I’m going to have to learn how to deal with kids.
Many will offer their varied opinion on everything from the baby’s name to nature versus nurture, and the list goes on.
Lucky for the parents-to-be, I have nothing to add. I’m deeply unqualified to care for a child — but I’ll be damned if that kid isn’t the best-dressed baby in Florida.
And just as I learned last Christmas to not joke with children about presents, so I’ll learn how to be an awesome aunt. I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome the next generation of Wittyburg kids to the world.
And I’m absolutely OK with that.