Lessons Learned

It’s been five months now since my Dad passed away. I of course still miss him daily. I find myself unable to see elderly men out alone, it reminds me of his loneliness, and that is difficult for me. I recently had to leave the produce section at the grocery store because there was a man of a similar age shopping alone. It moved me to tears. I found myself wondering if he had family, or if he was alone in this world. In Sunday’s New York Times there was an extensive article about a man named George Bell. He had died alone at home, discovered only because of the odor that began to escape his apartment. The article told of the procedures involved when the police discover situations such as George’s, but it also shed a little light on George and his life. George may not have had anyone in his last moments, but his story will stay with me, and in that he won’t be forgotten.

When you lose both of your parents issues of your own mortality come to the surface. You become the oldest generation in your family. It’s an odd feeling. Many years ago someone (who shall remain nameless since she seems to go out of her way to say not nice things) told me I was a bad mother. Why? Because I was too close to my children, and that in the end that would hurt them. I hadn’t yet lost a parent at the time. I sort of get it now, but I don’t agree. When you’re a parent the hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurt or in pain. It’s intolerable. Knowing the pain that my Mom’s death caused, and the recent loss of my Dad (more about that below), what troubles me most isn’t that I’ll die, but its knowing that my own children will suffer at my loss. The one pain in their lives I cannot heal. When I saw Titanic I wasn’t moved by the love story of Rose and Jack (they quite frankly could have gone down with the ship and I wouldn’t have cared…no offense Leo and Kate), what did move me, and resonate with me, was the scene of the Irish woman in steerage putting her children to bed knowing that they were going to drown and that there was nothing she could do about it. I can’t imagine her pain. Where I disagree with what my anonymous critic said is that as much pain as I felt eight years ago (and still do) and am currently feeling about my Dad, I wouldn’t trade my relationships with them for anything. My Mom knew I loved her more than anything, My Dad knew I loved him, and worried about him, and I knew that they loved me. Were they perfect parents? No, none of us are. They were human, but they both had a tremendous capacity for love and gave it to their four daughters. Would my pain be less if they were absent parents, or abusive parents? I don’t necessarily think so. I think that it actually might be more painful to lose someone and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what you did that they treated you as such. I have spent nearly thirty-one years as a mom. I have spent all of those thirty-one years trying to show as much love to my daughter as possible, and twenty-five years with my son. I am not a perfect parent, and like all families we have had our moments, but I know without a single ounce of doubt that my children will always know how much I love them, and that means I’ve done my job.

When my mother died eight years ago it sent me into a tailspin of grief. It was like being at the bottom of a well without a ladder or rope to climb. Long periods of sobbing, and of questioning myself with all the “what ifs”. Eventually I sought counseling, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My Mom’s death served as a catalyst for much needed changes in me. I guess you could look at it as her final gift to me. I came out of that mourning as a stronger, more open, and determined woman.

My Dad’s final gift to me? I tend to be a loner. I always have been. I am not someone with a large circle of friends.  I mentioned here before how much I talked to him on the phone. I have come to realize that I wasn’t just filling his time so that he wasn’t lonely, but my own as well. I need to put myself out there in the world a little more. Twenty years from now I don’t want my children to feel the need to call me incessantly because they don’t want me to be lonely, or God forbid because they are lonely. I want them to learn from this and keep friends in their lives. I also hope they will learn from me to find the strength within them that my Mom’s death gave me, but to find it now when they are younger.

Finally, reading the story of George Bell on Sunday gave me pause for thought. Instead of running from the produce aisle in tears, I think next time I see what appears to be an elderly person alone, I will engage them in conversation. I’ve done it before, and maybe mentioned it before, but I had an elderly friend. Someone with family, but family that was disinterested at best. Her name was Hattie Klipp, she died at 104. My kids remember her from when they were much, much younger. Hattie was very dear to me, a substitute grandmother in many ways. I met her when I worked in a grocery store. Lesson three, this one comes from me. You never know what gift you will find when you reach out to someone else. I highly recommend it.

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Starting Over

I spent this morning thinking about my Dad. I still miss our phone calls, but I am grateful that there are no unsaid words between us. I think in many ways his passing was easier than our Mother’s. We had no idea just how bad her health was. She chose to keep that to herself. I suppose like so many mothers, myself included, she put herself last. Unexpected complications from unexpected surgery, and she was gone inside three weeks. It was like a blow to the stomach where you find yourself winded and unable to catch your breath. Dad had his first open heart surgery in 1986, and from that day forward he tried to prepare us all for the inevitable. He planned and paid for his own funeral, including asking the undertaker if he could get in the casket and try it on for size. (He had quite a sense of humor, along the lines of a thirteen year old boy) His health had been failing in the last few years. A bout of pneumonia on New Year’s Eve was the final trigger. His health both mentally and physically rapidly declined. Although there were moments where we thought we saw glimmers of hope, the reality was that he was tired, he was lonely, and he was ready to go. My sister Colleen put it best. She said, ” The selfish part of me wants him to still be here, but the other part of me is glad he isn’t in pain anymore.” I feel exactly the same. The strange thing these days is not having parents. It does feel a little like we are orphans. Not in an Oliver Twist kind of way, but more that no matter how old you are, you still look to your parents for comfort and advice. I think we all want our parents to be proud of us. It’s almost as if we never outgrow “show and tell” from kindergarten. We share new jobs, new relationships, our homes and accomplishments, all in hopes of garnering their approval, a smile, or a pat on the back. As I struggle to unpack and move in to my new home, (I know, still at it. That’s a post for another day!) it saddens me to think Dad will never step foot inside these walls. I even miss the idea of him checking my paint job, and believe me he did. I know that both of my parents will always be with me, I need only to see a soccer ball, a yellow rose, to look at my face, or on those of my children, and I see them both. I also know that they will live on in my heart, although right now that hurts. The anniversary of my Mom’s death is in three weeks. It’s been eight years, and for Dad it is not quite two months. Even as I write this a tear falls down my face. I think that my heart broke when my Mother died; a break that I don’t think will ever really heal. Now with Dad’s passing I think the crack has grown a little larger. Time helps, I know that, but I’m in no hurry for time to pass. I will instead continue to try to make them proud.

I titled this post “Starting Over”, and that’s what I need to do. Between the move, and my Dad’s illness, and funeral, I have been feeling a little lost and overwhelmed. I haven’t touched a paint brush in months, (other than the kind used to paint a house.) I have done a little sketching, but I have really nothing to show for it, so it’s time to begin again. I made mention of restarting another 365 day project, and I still like the idea of it, but unpacking takes precedence. My studio is about 80% completed, as for the rest of the house…Yikes! At best I believe I’m looking at another week or two before I can begin. Time to regain control a little, and do what I was meant to do…ART!  There’s a lot of emotion bubbling near the surface these days. I hope I can channel it into some really good work.

I mentioned Dad’s sense of humor. It often showed itself in merciless teasing of Mom. That’s how I want to remember them, the laughter, the good times, and the love they have for each other. I believe it still exists, I believe God has brought them back to each other, the way they are meant to be.Christmas

Bernie's wedding

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