One Year.

It’s been a year since my dad died. 365 days.

One year ago, on the night he died, I wrote down what I was feeling. I’ve been reluctant to publish these thoughts, but it seems right, it seems fitting to share them now, 365 days later. I hope you’ll indulge me.

I’m publishing this as written. I’ve made no edits, so please forgive any awkward syntax or repetition.

My dad died today.  More accurately, it’s 3:30 in the morning and my dad died yesterday, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me the semantics.

My dad died.  Even now as the words flow from my fingertips they don’t seem real.  This is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not to me.  If you know anything about me, you know that my dad and I had a tumultuous relationship; too much pride and stubbornness and not enough grace.  There is lots of blame to be doled out for the way that our relationship ended up, something I’m sure I’ll be working through in my mind for weeks and months and years to come.  I loved my dad, though.  I’ll never have those “daddy’s little girl” stories that some girls do, but I loved my dad.  In all that has happened in the last few hours, that fact has never been closer to my heart.  I loved him.  I loved him. I loved him.  I loved a man that was broken and damaged and hurting and suffering and fighting a battle he would eventually lose.  I loved him despite his weakness and his selfishness and despite his sometimes inability to express his feelings in a positive way.  I loved him for the man I knew he was, the man I knew he could be.  I loved him.

I know that in days and weeks to come, I am going to absolutely drown in pity.  I’m going to be inundated with well-meaning friends who bring love and help and food and the eternal question – how are you doing?

I’m not sure what I’m going to feel when the sun rises, or once I get some sleep.  But I can’t help but think that what I feel right now, this moment, is really, really important.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it isn’t.  But this is what I’m feeling.

I’m feeling numb.
I’m feeling angry.
I’m feeling incredulous.
I’m scared to go to sleep, worried that I’ll wake up tomorrow and this won’t be a dream.
I feel guilty, like I should have noticed something was wrong, done something different.
I feel the pain of loss.
I feel worried about the future.
I feel grateful that I’m not going through this on my own.
I feel for my mom, who never expected or deserved to be a widow at the age of 59.
I feel like I’m falling.
I feel overwhelmed.
I feel blessed to have the two most amazing neighbors in the world: one to take care of things, and one to take care of me.
I feel nervous about the calls I have to make tomorrow.
I feel tired, oh so tired.
I feel ashamed.


Suckerpunch Memories | The Guerrilla Warfare of Grief

Here’s the thing about grief: if you could schedule it, it wouldn’t be so bad. Hour-long sessions of remorse and pain sprinkled throughout the work week would be tolerable if you knew that when the bell dinged, you’d be done and on to the next task. Grief would join the ranks of exercise and laundry; unpleasant but necessary parts of life.

But grief is kind of a jerk.

It sneaks up on you when you weren’t expecting it, when your guard isn’t up, when you are showing your soft underbelly. It is vicious and unrelenting; it takes no prisoners and pulls no punches.

Like when you’re standing in front of your church body, preparing to launch into a praise set with your team. You scan the crowd of faces in front of you when, out of the corner of your eye, you see a ghost.

A friend of mine recently had the same spine surgery that my dad did right before he died. The recovery requires the patient to wear a hard plastic collar to stabilize the head an neck until they heal. He wore that collar for the last month of his life. He was wearing it when he died. Here it was, the same collar, around the neck of a man who bares a striking resemblance to my father, smiling in the second row.

Grief, you sneaky son of a tater tot.

I wish I could say that I handled it well. I wish I had some kind of 5 step list to handing the sudden onslaught of pain that accompanies guerrilla style grief. Honestly, I cried like a baby. By the grace of God and the power of adrenaline, I made it through the set, only to collapse into the arms of a close friend as soon as I was clear of expectant faces.

I thought I had my pain under control. I guess not. Damn.

A Little Less Lost | Nine Months

It took nine months for me to miss my dad.

There were flashes; I remember the first time I saw something funny happen and knew that he would be the only person as amused as I was. I actually picked up the phone and started to dial before remembering that there was no one on the other end of that call. Sitting at lunch with a friend, I told a funny story about my childhood and the pang of loss rippled through me like the lingering aftershocks of a notable seismic event.  But the moments were always short-lived and often poisoned by the anger and confusion that his death caused.

DaddyFinally, though, I miss my dad. I miss his laugh. I miss the funny faces he would make when you tried to take a picture of him, and the ridiculous pose he’d strike as he facetiously challenged an aggressor with the interogative, “You wanna fight?” I miss the smell of waking up on Saturday morning to waffles and gravy and the exasperation of finding that he’d used every dish in the kitchen. I miss the sound of his heartbeat as I laid my head on his chest while watching a movie. I’d convince my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime, though I think they knew that I’d fall asleep halfway through and bedtime would be preserved.

I miss baby-fives, the only thing that was truly ours. He had big, strong hands that dwarfed my own even as I entered adulthood. When I was a child, he would gather his fingers together, the small grouping just the right size to match my tiny fingers. It became our symbol, something sacred for just us.

I miss the way he smelled. He wore the same cologne for years (except for that horrible Old Spice phase, but we try to forget about that). Brut, in the green bottle. It doesn’t smell the same when it’s not mixed with his body chemistry, but I’ll recognize that scent for the rest of my life.

It’s good, this pain of missing him. There is a homesickness for an earlier, simpler time. A time before I understood just how strong I could be. A time before I bore the weight of my dad’s actions. The pain is similar to the exhaustion of a hard day’s work; it hurts, but it means that progress has been made. I’ve been living in a haze of numbness for months, unable to feel much of anything.

So I guess this is a start…

Star Light, Star Bright…

I’m about to get super nerdy on you for a second, but then it’ll get poetic. Bear with me, I beg of you.

According to the most popular theory, solar systems form when a cloud of gas collapses on itself until enough heat and pressure builds up to spark nuclear fusion, which marks the birth of a star. This gas cloud starts out spinning very slightly, but as it contracts, it speeds up to maintain its angular momentum. The smaller it gets, the faster it spins (think an ice skater who pulls her arms in). In fact, it contracts so much that if it tried to hold on to all the momentum, it would eventually spin itself apart.

No man is an islandInstead, it transfers momentum to small globs of material, which eventually form planets.  Literally, the star cannot live without its companions.  Though they are minuscule in comparative size, these tiny bodies keep the star from coming apart at the seams.

It’s kind of beautiful, no?

I’ve found that the same is true of people. My INFJ personality means that I try to be my own, planet-less star, in favor of taking on the momentum of others. Refusing to let people get close to me results in the constant feeling that I’m spinning so fast I might spin apart at any moment. In recent months, with trauma and loss, I’ve finally given over to the inevitability that I am not, in fact, and island.  There is freedom in allowing others to share the burden. It builds new bonds and strengthens old ones, allows those around you to feel helpful and important, and relieves some of the stress of going at it alone.

On a recent weeknight, my friends Debbie and Ed had me over for dinner to fulfill a promise made months ago.  After my dad died, Debbie, a long time nurse, came to me with a proposition.  She knew that as I worked through my grief, there would come a day when I just needed to explode and she offered to be the bomb range when that time came. I found such freedom in discussing both the good and bad in a safe space.

Not everyone is worthy to be your companion, so discernment is key. Your star companions may even surprise you. The payoff for finding them, however, is worth the search.

Happy Tuesday!

Three Months.

So here we are.  It’s been 91 days since my dad died. 91 extraordinarily painful days.

But that isn’t the whole story.  In the last 91 days, I made a friend who is my inspiration to make the 120 mile round trip to class twice a week, especially when it’s raining.  I took on 5 new students, each of whom brings me joy in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.  I met A and the affection I feel for him makes me unconscionably happy.

And so I’ve struggled.  How can these be simultaneously the best and worst days of my life?

Then tonight I was sitting in choir practice next to my dad’s best friend.  Around us, talk had turned to the Christmas Eve church service and the role of the bell choir, of which I am a member. Mike (the friend) leaned over to me and this conversation happened:

Mike: Make sure you have your clappers.
Me: My copper clappers?
Mike: Where do you keep them?
Me: In the closet.
Mike: Are they clean?
Me: Cleaning woman Clara cleans my copper clappers.

Now, if you were/are a fan of Johnny Carson, you might get the reference. If not, please to enjoy:

I was born 20 years after this sketch aired, but I’ve watched it roughly 7,927,162 times.  My dad loved this clip. He loved that Carson couldn’t keep a straight face, but when Jack Webb almost breaks at the end, it was his undoing. He would chuckle until he’d erupt into an enormous belly laugh that left him shaking, tears rolling down his face and his mouth gaped wide, gasping for breath.

I got my sense of humor from my dad and I’m exceedingly grateful that I did.  He also gave me my musical talent, my attention span, and my tendency to be a bit of a dreamer. He was sensitive and emotional and creative, all traits he passed on to his little girl. I also look more like him than I ever realized.

My dad wasn’t a perfect man, but he wasn’t a villain either.  He’s gone now, but I carry parts of him with me.

I’ll tell you this though, next time I see him, I’ll clobber him.

I [couldn’t possibly] know exactly how you feel…

The facts are these:  I’m going through a season of grief.  This is not news. However, there are so many people who seem completely at a loss for what to say/do around me during this time, AND I’m in a unique position to be able to tell you what a person going through this might be feeling, so I thought I would develop a little semi-comprehensive list of the Do’s and Don’ts.  Sound fun? Delightful.

*Disclaimer* Everyone is different and experiences grief in a different way.  The following list is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease and should be taken at face value and exercised with caution.

In no particular order:
DO acknowledge the loss.  Especially in the first few days, it’s so hard to keep saying those words over and over. If you don’t say anything, is it ignorance or are you just trying to respect privacy? Effusiveness is not required (or appreciated, honestly), but a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss,” goes a long way.

DON’T be afraid to ask questions, but DON’T push.  If you’re interested in the details of my situation, I’m more than willing to tell you what happened, but I won’t be engaging in a post game play-by-play.  There are some people who don’t want to share at all, so tread lightly, and starting out with a blanket, “If you don’t want to talk about it, I completely understand,” is always nice.

DO offer to help, but be specific.  Few things are more daunting than a chorus of, “if you need anything, call me.” I’m sorry, but that Broken cardboard heart with staples isolated on white backgroundcall won’t come.  If you are serious about helping, offer something specific (Can I watch your kids while you make arrangements? Can I make calls for you? Can I clean your bathrooms?) Otherwise, you end up like my sainted friend, Carrie, who all but insisted that I give her something to do and wound up in my flowerbeds pulling weeds. An angel, that girl.

DON’T start any sentence with, “You should,” or “You need to,” or “You must be feeling.” You’re just trying to help, but leave it alone.

DO follow up. The first few days, or even weeks are a flurry of activity and it’s easy to hide in the logistics.  When the dust settles and everyone goes home and all that is left is a house that now seems entirely too big, the real pain starts.  That’s when your friendship is needed most. However…

DO call first.  You’re just checking in.  It’s very sweet and honestly so appreciated.  But entertaining is also taxing, so give a ring before you show up unexpectedly.  Otherwise you might stumble upon a truly world class meltdown, or a session of sobbing that makes middle school look like an exercise in puritanical stoicism.

DON’T expect comfort. This one’s harsh, and more than a little selfish.  You might be hurting too, but your hurting friend probably doesn’t have the strength to support you in your grief as well as bear the weight of their own.

DON’T be an Eeyore.  Put away your sad eyes and pitiful tone.  You cry, I cry, Jack.  Got it? Try to act as normal as possible, it really does help. Human beings are capable of amazing things and ought not be treated like porcelain dolls.  Along those same lines, DON’T keep asking how I am.  It’s a habit, or maybe a conditioned response, but honestly, how do you think I’m doing?  If you are really worried, ask someone who probably has insight on the matter.  They’ll be in a better place to field your questions.

DO be willing to listen, but DON’T judge.  You never know when a grieving person is going to want to talk, but if they do, just listen.  Recognize that one of the stages of grief is anger, though, and the words that come out of their mouth may not be all sunshine and roses.  Expect repetition and less than logical thought patterns.  Try to be patient and simply listen without trying to fix anything.

DO be okay with silence, too.  Sometimes people just need to know you’re there.

DON’T be surprised by a sudden change in priorities or new fixations.  In a life upended by turmoil, some things may seem incredibly important now that weren’t before and vice versa.  Unless it’s something dangerous (in which case, DO intervene immediately) just let it ride.  Everything will probably go back to normal in time.

Anyone have one to add or think I’m way off base?

Monday Musings: Of sexiness, missed anniversaries, and over-priced underwear…

Here’s what’s rolling around in my head:

1) I’m going to make some people angry now.  Not on purpose, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I like feeling sexy.

Pitchforks down, villagers.

I am not, by an objective standard, what you might classify as “sexy”. Meghan Trainor and I can bond over not being a size 2 and I don’t have that “thing” about me that makes men spontaneously stop and tell me how beautiful I am. This isn’t a lesson in self deprecation and I am certainly not fishing for compliments (SERIOUSLY!), I’m just telling it like it is.

But I do have this thing that happens when people get to know me and they find out that I’m passionate about life and that I’m wicked smart with a biting sense of humor. Suddenly, the fact that I don’t look like Penelope Cruz seems slightly less relevant.

Girl holding flowerThat has always been my sexy, as long as I can remember.  And I like it.

Then a friend of the male persuasion (pitchforks down!) and I were having a conversation about…honestly, I have no idea…the other day and he suddenly stopped and looked at me and said, “You’re really pretty,” with absolutely no hint of sarcasm or irony.

I am a smart, accomplished twenty-six year old college graduate with a life and a cat and a very well developed sense of self who does not define herself by the impossible beauty standards set by our society, but I am not ashamed to tell you that I felt a surge of power and a little giddiness at being appreciated for something other than my brain.

2) The one month anniversary of my dad’s death was on Friday.  I really meant to publish a post reflecting on my journey so far.  I don’t mean that in a theoretical sense, I had every intention of doing it, I mean that I actually wrote and rewrote and edited the damn thing into oblivion before throwing in the towel because my thoughts were too jumbled to come up with something that even remotely expressed what I wanted to say.  The issue comes down to this: there are two distinct but related major themes in my life right now.  One the one hand, I’m dealing with death and loss and grief and the emotional roller coaster that is associated with all of that.  On the other hand, I’m navigating life, which is messy and beautiful and makes me laugh and cry and wonder and hope.  Forward and back, past and future, static and dynamic, this is the dichotomy.  I’ve talked about it a lot and I’m not going to harp on it, but sometimes, it makes my thoughts a bit fragmented.  Maybe I’ll get the post out, maybe I’ll just let it go.  We’ll see.

3) I recently had a conversation about the cost of underwear.  My life is strange, what can I tell you? The conversation centered around one person’s incredulity that anyone would spend $15 on underwear for any reason, and my concession that I might be willing to spend that amount if I really liked the garment in question.  What followed was what can only be characterized as the theater of the absurd.  Reflecting later on, I realized that ladies under garments are fairly expensive, but that we’ll pay premium prices to wear pretty things that no one can see.  Why?

I think it goes back to sexiness (see Item 1).  Like cosmetics, under garments are an emotional purchase that make women feel good about themselves, whether anyone else is going to know or not.

Weird, but true, like the blobfish.

Happy Monday!

The New Normal

This morning, I got up at 7:30 am.  I went to Jazzercise and got coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts next door (appreciate the irony).  I drove over to the farmer’s market to buy some fresh fruit, because they always have good produce, and for one other reason that I’m not quite willing to admit to myself.  It ended up being a terrible idea, though the produce was excellent.  Drove home while talking (hands free!) to Emily about a guy I can’t quite figure out, but who is becoming increasingly irritating in my lack of understanding.  Did the crossword puzzle with my mom, drank the coffee, ate breakfast.  Finished up a freelance job and made a plan for the day that includes laundry and studying for my astronomy exam on Tuesday.It was all so normal.  So why do I feel so guilty?

ApologizeI’m stuck in this place now, the place where I know that I can’t go back, I can’t undo what has been done, and the place where I feel horrible for planning for the future, as if moving on with my life means that my dad didn’t mean anything to me.

I miss him.

No doubt, if he were still here, he would have made me angry at least a couple of times already today.  He would have said something annoying or callous and I would have bristled and gotten my feelings hurt.  Then he would have cracked a joke and I would have almost smiled, trying not to give him the satisfaction.  The joke would have been funny, or at least funny in how truly terrible it was.

But I can’t go back there.  I can never have that again.  From the point two and half weeks ago when the bottom fell out of my world, my life has taken a sharp course correction that can never truly be righted.  Whatever happens next, whatever I become, will be shaped by this.  I have no intention of becoming cold or embittered, it’s not what God wants for me, it’s not what I want for myself.  I’m desperately trying to find my way in a world that doesn’t really make sense to me anymore, and I know that I will.  I have an amazing support system in place.  Truly and completely amazing.

I hope that you don’t mind that for a little while, some of the posts coming from this blog are going to be a little more introspective. Not all the time, but I think that maybe sharing bits of yourself makes it a little easier to get a handle on who you are.  I’ll get back to the witticism and baking, and I have some interesting DIY ideas lined up.  I may even school you on the relative merit of Weight % Oxides (but probably not).  I’ll talk about my future and my cat and why I’m considering a new duvet cover.  I promise, in time, I’ll be as close to the old Simone as humanly possible.

All I ask is this: have a little faith, and don’t give up on me.

I’m going to make mistakes.  You are going to get tired of reading about them.  It’s going to happen.  But I’ll find my way, I promise, and when I do, I’m sure you’ll all be the first to know.

One Week.

It’s been one week and since my dad died.

I am finally alone after being inundated with family and friends for the past week.  Beside me, an orange tabby sleeps peacefully; my house is still, despite the three other people in it, each grasping a few hours of sleep before the incredibly early wake up to drive to my dad’s final resting place.  Then it will be done, the life and death of a man I’ve known my whole life, yet, in some ways, I never really knew at all.  Nothing left but picking up the pieces and pressing on with life, one day at a time.

I don’t begin to believe that this marks the end of my grief, or that even such a delineation exists.  This is probably just the beginning.  I will eventually feel compassion for a man who loved me, but not quite enough to stay.  I will allow Intellectual Simone to convince Emotional Simone that there was nothing that I, or anyone else, could have done to save him, that he lost a battle with an illness as real and as devastating as it was unpredictable.

I’m not sure what I should be feeling right now.  I don’t think there is any kind of rule book or manual that dictates feelings in these situations.  I do know this: my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude.  I am full to bursting with appreciation for the army of family and friends who have descended en masse to cover my family with love and hope. View More: These people are my lifeline, they are the reason that I’m still standing, one week later.  They have done everything from bring food, to sit and listen, to cry with us, to pull weeds from our flowerbeds.  They have been the surrogate fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, overflowing with grace and kindness.  They have been there in the still moments, the wee hours when the awful reality starts to kick in and nothing calms better than intertwined fingers and gentle strength.  There aren’t enough modifiers to describe this kind of outpouring, and for that I could not be more thankful.

I keep hearing over and over how strong I am.  I’ve been told that I am walking through this period of my life with grace and poise and that I am a rock.  The selfish part of me wants to scream every time someone says that.  I don’t feel strong.  I don’t feel gracious.  Poise is the farthest thing from my mind.  I am tired and I’m worn and I feel as though my nerves are rubbed raw.  I want to throw myself on the floor and dissolve into a full on temper-tantrum the likes of which most parents of toddlers have never seen.  I want to snuggle up into the chest of someone stronger than me and let the world melt away.  I want to be protected and cared for and held like a child.  I want to ugly cry in an embarrassing way while someone tells me that I’m still beautiful.

I miss my dad.  The pain is visceral and all-encompassing.  It spreads through my chest in a heaviness I’m not sure will ever lift.

Until it does, I cling to the hope of a new day and the knowledge that God’s grace is enough.

I guess it’s just us now.