Grief and Gratitude.

If I said that I lost my dad sixteen years ago today, it might conjure an image of him wandering around a bookstore, hidden in the history section. Or, perhaps, in the Brown County art gallery he loved so much. He used to take an excruciatingly long amount of time staring at each oil portrait and landscape, so it would have been easy to lose track of him in our quest to find the fudge shop.

If his spirit has any agency over its free time, he’s probably there now poring over a Marie Goth, and I hope she’s standing alongside him answering questions about her technique. But on this day in 2001, we knew exactly where he was. It was the rest of us who felt lost.

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My cousins had lost their mom to cancer three years earlier – this was to be our family’s tragedy. To the extent that any grief can be, it sounded a warning as it approached: a macabre whistle trumpeting the train’s approach. When our grandpa died 20 months later (cancer for him as well), it was a dark display of cosmic timing. Another Christmas arrived, yet again with a smaller and more subdued group soldiering on in silence as Midwesterners do.

And then came our November, swift and silent. He left to pick up my brother from tennis, and in less than the length of a highway on-ramp, he had died.

It felt unearned and almost shameful, that grief. I was almost surprised to see my cousins and uncle at the funeral, as if they might be angry that we had taken their mantle of grief. The whole thing felt gaudy and loud and attention-seeking, and while I had spent hours practicing an Oscars acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror, I wanted no part of this sudden infamy.

I wanted my normal life, which now felt like a party that had ended suddenly while I was in the ladies’ room. I had turned away for a moment, only to return to soured punch and deflated balloons in an empty room that would never feel full again.

I tried very hard to push through, thinking I would find familiar normalcy on the far side of a year. I bore down, desperately holding onto my last finger’s grip on a cheerful explanation of how it had been hard, but I was fine. Surely this experience had deepened my faith or made me a stronger person. It had to have, because what if it hadn’t? What if it had just been a horrible thing that had knocked the legs out from under our little family, filling me with a desperate fear, sadness, and unease that I didn’t know how to sit with, which made people uncomfortable when they felt it leaking out of me?

Of course, I had to let myself fall apart and then slowly walk alongside my mom and brother in creating a new collection of traditions and ways of moving through the world, which I haven’t always done with willingness or grace. From a distance of almost half my life, it feels more like a bad dream – the kind that leave you uncertain of what’s real during your waking moments – than a fresh and urgent grief.

It feels a bit strange to live through this day and its bitter memories while also being grateful for the new family we’ve found as a result of this loss. Today, I’ll resist the urge to share tidy life lessons and morals of our story and simply say that I loved my dad and love him still. I will try to be forgiving and kind to myself for stumbling through sadness and proud of us for always moving, always trying.

I am grateful to have a loving family, and I’m lucky to be where I am: still moving, still trying.

 

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Page Turner.

Guys – I hope you had a lovely weekend.  Mine was great!  I hiked (more on that soon), went out with friends, and visited a neat bookstore in Denver’s West Highlands neighborhood.

Denver's West Side Books

This place (West Side Books) is exactly what a little independent bookstore should be.  The shelves were stacked with new, used, and rare books, with everything from dime store Westerns and romance novels to volumes about dinosaurs and presidential biographies.  Their kids’ section was my favorite, though: they had all the old Nancy Drew books, which were my favorite growing up.

I treated myself to a used hardcover copy of David Rakoff’s Half Empty only to realize after I got home that I already own this book on my Kindle and have, in fact, read it several times.  Oh well – somebody is getting a really great birthday present.

If you are ever in the Highlands, be sure to swing through!

Swing Dance.

During my morning run to Starbucks, even though I could see my breath, the air had that feel of Florida in the Spring, early in the morning before the sun has warmed the sand.  Sure enough, it turned into a beautiful day.  To take advantage of the blue sky and light breeze, I took a book and an apple to a nearby park.

Swings

When I arrived, the playground was deserted, so I sat on one of the swings overlooking a nearby pond.  How long as it been since you’ve been on a swing?  If it’s been a while, you should remedy that straightaway.  I gripped the metal chains and kicked off the wood chips, enjoying the familiar squeak and whine of the metal and the exciting rush of gaining speed and height.

Once I finished swinging, I walked down to the pond and watched the wind ripple the water towards the shore, around a half submerged tumbleweed.  It was so calm and quiet.

Pond

I found a bench and ate my crisp apple while reading my book.  The wind kept blowing pieces of my hair in my face, but I was so grateful to be sitting outside that I didn’t care.  I simply enjoyed breathing deeply, listening to the distant shouts of exuberant teenagers, and feeling the warmth of the sun.

Hallelujah, By and By.

Do you ever get that feeling, when you’re looking at one of your parents, when you just love them so much that you fear you can’t hold it all, and surely something inside you will explode from the beauty and glee and gratitude and fear?  I felt that way earlier as I watched my mom look through photos of her own mother, who passed away on Sunday morning.  (I have a funny relationship with that term, “passed away,” but I use it deliberately here because “died” has too much finality.)

Life sometimes feels like a series of tangents.  Sentences that you start with the intention of finishing, and then they’re forgotten halfway through.  As we flipped through crumbling old albums, laughing at the perms and the oversize eyeglasses, we remembered an old favorite dress, or a long since broken toy.  The sound of a voice you haven’t heard in fifteen years speaks again, preserved in the mind’s mysterious channels.  You remember the warm scent of Belgian waffles still crisp from the iron, and the pure pleasure of dipping a spoon into a half-frozen glass of milk.

You can feel the scrape of the rough plaid basement carpet on your feet again, and the panicked joy of racing your cousins up the stairs, or around the yard in search of Easter eggs.  You remember hours around a nicked up old kitchen table playing Uno, Skip-Bo, Racko, or Euchre.  Or sneaking into the kitchen after Grandma was asleep, using up all her vanilla extract in uniformly unsuccessful cooking experiments but never getting into trouble for it.  You remember riding in the back of a car that always smelled like Trident gum, and listening to talk radio.

These memories are but a tiny sliver of a life that began in the hills of Virginia and traveled so many unexpected paths, including the one she is surely on now.  Religion can be a touchy topic, and my own beliefs have certainly changed and grown along with me, but  I truly believe that her husband and daughter greeted my Grandma in Heaven with a hug and a hearty “Welcome home.”

A Quick Note.

Hello friends.  I might not be around this week, so I thought I’d give you all your valentine a little early.

Valentine

(Sorry it’s not chocolate – still waiting for someone to invent Wonka-vision.)

I feel blessed to have such an awesome family and so many wonderful friends.  My life is filled with more love than anyone could ask for.  Thank you all for being you.

Barred for Life.

So close...

So close…

Do you see that sliver of silver in the photo above?  That, friends, is Barr Lake.  As you may remember, my first attempt to reach the lake was unsuccessful, as was my second.  On this sunny Saturday, I decided to try again.

As I drove towards the lake, flocks of hundreds of geese flew overhead across the blue sky, streaked by delicate clouds and jet streams.  I pulled into the lot at the edge of the park, hopped out of my Honda, and took a deep breath of warm February air.  (Yes, you read that right – it was almost 60 today.  Have I mentioned how much I love Colorado?)  A line of pine trees led to the lake, which I could just glimpse across the field.

Before I stepped three feet from the car, my spidey senses detected movement.  Camouflaged movement.  Turns out those geese overhead weren’t just for decoration.

After hearing the first loud pop, I turned and saw a flash of fire from one of the hunter’s rifles as he shot at the geese flying directly over my car.  Something (BULLET SHRAPNEL?) landed and skittered across the lot behind me.

I promptly turned on my heel, got back onto the car, and decided to return to Barr Lake when the only thing in season is sunshine.