Monday, December 10, 2012

A Year of Kindness


A year ago I was blindsided by the death of my Dad. He wasn't sick, he wasn't old, he didn't have any medical conditions or a family history of any specific problems. He just died. Suddenly, unexpectedly. I'm glad he didn't see it coming, relieved he didn't spend his final days in fear. Selfishly, though, I wish the rest of us had known. I wish we'd known that those would be our last hugs, last kisses, last words. 

Not long after my Dad's death a person I'm not very close to said, "You seem to be handling it well." I don't know what she meant by that, I certainly didn't ask, but what I took from it was that I wasn't acting like someone who had just experienced a great loss. Quite honestly, I wanted to punch her in the nose and scream, "what do you know about how I'm handling this? You don't know me; you don't know anything about how I'm feeling or what I'm going through!" But what came out was, "I am right now." Because in that moment, in the company of a relative stranger, I WAS handling it well. It's the mind's protective strategy, I think - to only let in a little grief at a time in those first weeks. There were times when I was so consumed with sadness that I almost couldn't breathe, and other moments that nothing really felt different. Maybe it was just denial. 

Becoming a mother made me much less judgmental. I don't think I was super judgmental before that, but now? Well, unless you're putting your child in legitimate danger, there's no judgment here. Why? Because I don't know you. I don't know your situation, the kind of day you've had, what your life is like. I think I'm a good Mom, I certainly try, but there are also plenty of times that the way I handle certain situations is less than perfect, and I wouldn't want anyone judging me in those moments. No one is perfect. If I see a parent struggling with a child now,  rather than judging, I sympathize, and offer help if I can. 

And if being a mother made me less judgmental, losing my Dad has made me kinder. Why? Because you never know who or what someone else has lost. Last December, to a stranger, I seemed fine. I didn't have a special badge or signal that let people know my Dad had died. We all know people who have lost Moms, Dads, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends, children, unborn babies. Still others who have lost jobs or homes.
You wouldn't know it just looking at them. You wouldn't know unless they told you. So I choose to err on the side of kindness. I try to be more patient, more understanding. I try to smile more, help more, connect more. Because I'd rather be kind to someone suffering than add to their misery. I'd rather help than hurt. 

Losing my dad was devastating, especially while pregnant with a child he'd never meet, but I choose to be grateful for the time I did have. I choose to focus on the moments and memories that exist instead of lamenting the ones that never will. I miss my Dad terribly, I always will, and of course I'll always wish I'd had more time with him, but in the words of John Lubbock, "What we see depends mainly on what we look for."
Instead of looking for darkness, I choose light. Instead of hurt, I choose kindness. 

















Thursday, December 22, 2011

For Dad


So for anyone who doesn't already know, my Dad passed away very unexpectedly on December 10, 2011 from an aortic dissection. It still doesn't seem real. Ian and I were out of town at a wedding, and my Mom was with Isabella in Boston, which means that my Mom got the news from a phone call, and then had to call all of us.

We had already talked to Mom that morning around 8:30, just to say hello to Isabella and make sure that everything had gone smoothly the night before. The two of them were having a blast, and Isabella was so excited to spend time with her grandmother that I don't even think she noticed we were gone. So I told Mom to call us if Isabella wanted to talk, but that we'd otherwise leave them alone, let them have fun, and see them Sunday afternoon. Just over an hour later, Ian's phone rang.

I was getting ready to hop in the shower, and asked, "Who is it?" He said, "Hunter," so I stood there to see if I needed to talk to Isabella. On some level I knew something was wrong, because it didn't make sense that she was calling Ian. I watched Ian's face and I stood anxiously at his elbow asking, "What's wrong? What's wrong? Is Isabella okay?" over and over and over again. When he hung up the phone I asked, "What's wrong? Is Isabella all right?" already fighting back tears. Ian said, "Isabella's fine," and my eyes welled with tears as I asked, "Sadie?" certain that she'd run into the street and been hit by a car. "Sadie's fine," he said. And then I sat there and looked at him blankly, not comprehending what in the world could be wrong. My grandmother? My grandparents? They seemed the next logical answer.

Ian said, "Your Dad had a heart attack," and I of course asked, "Is he okay?" to which Ian's impossible answer was, "No, honey, he's not okay. He died." At which point I began shaking and sobbing uncontrollably saying, "No, no, no," as if I could somehow will it to not be true, and Ian held me and said, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." And then came my flood of questions: "What happened? Was he at home? Was he by himself? Who found him? Was he alone? What happened? Did he call 911? What happened? What happened?" As if the answers could change something.

We did finally piece the story together. My Dad hadn't been feeling well the day before and had called 911 because of a pain in his sternum. The ambulance came, checked him out, everything looked good, and they gave him the option of either staying at home or going to the hospital. He stayed at home. He then drove my Mom to the airport so she could come to Boston. Back at home, he still wasn't feeling well, and he went across the street to our neighbor's house. They gave him some soup and a beer, did some massage, and feeling better, my Dad went home again. Not long after that, he became nauseated, got sick, and returned to the neighbors. Keith took my Dad to the ER where they sat for forever, and my Dad got sick again. Other than the pain and nausea, though, Keith said he seemed like himself, talking and joking around. Once he was checked into the ER, they ran an EKG, checked his vitals, etc., and everything still looked great. My Dad had the doctor and nurses stumped because he was walking, talking, and laughing, and didn't seem sick at all. Realizing that things weren't adding up, though, they kept him overnight for observation, gave him some medicine on a drip for his pain, and decided to run a stress test in the morning. My Dad insisted that he was fine and sent Keith home. While waiting for his stress test the next morning, laughing and joking away, my Dad coded, and they couldn't resuscitate him.   His aorta had torn, and there was nothing anyone could do.

There was nothing anyone could do. There was nothing I could do. But the guilt set in immediately. Ian and I wanted a weekend away and I had asked my Mom to come stay with Isabella. Because she was with us in Boston, she wasn't with my Dad in Virginia. Because my Mom is a selfless woman, she hadn't wanted to ruin our weekend away by telling me about my Dad calling 911, about him being in the hospital. There was no reason she had to worry. My Dad was in perfect health, and there is no history of heart problems in his family. She also knew that if she'd mentioned anything, I never would have let her get on the plane. The guilt. The overwhelming guilt. Because of me, my Mom wasn't in Virginia. Because of me, my Dad had died alone, in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses, but not anyone familiar. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in denial about the fact that he would have died anyway, but he would have done it with my Mom by his side. Is that worse, though? Would that have been worse for my Mom? To have to have seen that? To have been standing right there and been incapable of doing anything for him? I don't know. Who could know that?

We spent the rest of the morning on the phone, arranging my Mom's flight back to Virginia, calling to get coverage for Isabella, arranging my flight home the next day. And then, barely digesting it myself, I had to call and blindside half a dozen other people, including my brother, with the news. News no one was expecting. News no one understood. It sucked. There's no other way to say it. Every single phone call was awful, and every single phone call reduced me to a sobbing wreck afterward. I don't wish that task on anyone.

And then, in a fit of mental/emotional preservation, having ensured that Isabella was covered and that my Mom was on her way back home, we decided to stay for the wedding. It seemed selfish to me, and I second-guessed myself a hundred times, but it really was the right thing to do. At least for me. There was nothing I could do in Boston. I would be no good to Isabella, and she was with someone she adores, having a perfectly normal day. With me, her day would be anything but perfect and normal. I also was just not ready to deal with the crushing reality of all that had just transpired. I wanted to run away, to shelter my heart and my mind a little while longer.  I wanted to be surrounded by love and happiness and new beginnings, not sadness and death. So we stayed. We went to the church to be a part of the ceremony, and we went to the reception to be a part of the celebration. We talked and laughed and ate and even danced a little before I could no longer keep up the charade. I didn't breathe a word of our ordeal to anyone, and especially not to the bride and groom. We took a picture of ourselves before we went to the ceremony, because my Mom had given us explicit instructions before we'd left Boston the night before, and in spite of everything, I knew she'd be mad if we didn't do it. I won't share that picture with you. We actually deleted it. A picture of two people so overcome with grief that I don't know how we put one foot in front of the other. Two people with smiles that looked so out of place it was creepy. I didn't need that picture. I didn't want to be reminded of that feeling, of that terrible emotional space that was so easily readable on our faces, and no one else needed that either. But an amazing thing happened about halfway through the reception. The distraction, the mental and emotional protection, worked well enough that the smiles weren't fake, and the following occurred:


No, not our best picture, but honestly, compared to the one from before, we look like Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day. I didn't last much longer after this picture. I wanted to get home. I wanted to be near Isabella, even though she'd be asleep by the time we arrived. So we gracefully made our exit, "We have to get back to our daughter," and were on our way. I insisted on driving home. I had to concentrate on driving to drive. Being a passenger, I would have had too much time and space to think. So I drove. I listened to Coldplay. I can still see Ian's worried look, his questioning words that thought I was crazy for wanting to hear such melancholy music. But I needed music that would meet me where I was emotionally, and Coldplay was the only thing that fit the bill. So I drove, and I concentrated on driving, and I didn't cry. We got home, paid the sitter, crawled into bed, and I fell apart. I fell apart again and again, off and on throughout the night, until the next morning I thought I might truly break into pieces, and I woke Ian up so he could hold me together. And then Isabella woke up, and her tiny, two-year-old voice squealed, "I see Mommy! I see Daddy! Me so happy! Me so happy everybody home!" And so she helped hold me together, too. 


I write this more for myself than anyone else. Almost as if writing down all the details can prolong that moment just before I heard the news. That moment when my Dad was still alive, at least in my reality. Because in the end, that's what I really want to hold onto. I want to hold onto the alive moments. The memories that bring laughter and smiles, not tears. The moments that contain my Dad cracking terrible jokes, playing the trombone, walking me down the aisle, holding Isabella for the first time, snoring and waking us all up, playing volleyball, taking the world's most unflattering pictures, showing off his grotesquely deformed left foot, and reading Isabella the G-rated version of "Go the F*ck to Sleep." I love you, Dad. 



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

You should either get a barf bag or a box of kleenex.  Depends on how sentimental you're feeling.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scary Santa

Okay, so Santa Claus wasn't actually scary, but from the look on Isabella's face, he may as well have been. I mean, honestly, the way she carried on made it seem like he was shoving hot pokers under her nails. Poor Santa. I hope he doesn't hold it against her when he's making his rounds on Christmas Eve.

Post edit:
Just so you're not too concerned, Isabella recovered quite nicely from her traumatizing Santa experience. This is what she looked like about 5 minutes later:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Actually Pretty Warm Here...


Despite the fact that I've stocked up on winter gear and Isabella already insists on wearing warm hats, it's incredibly warm here, especially for September (notice the short sleeves).

What's really bizarre is that it was close to this time last year that we had our first snow of the season. Somehow I don't think that's happening this year, what with the 80-degree temps and all.


I am glad that Isabella likes her new hat. She can be such a serious model, though. Luckily, in order to elicit show-stopping smiles, all I have to do is say, "Smile for Mama!", and I get this:


Do you think she knows she's adorable? I'm guessing that she's heard it a few times here or there....

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lessons in Eating/Hairstyling - A Guest Post by Isabella



Lesson #1: Apples are delicious.


Lesson #2: They taste even better when you share.


Lesson #3: Yogurt makes for a really good styling product. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Daddy's Little _______

The other day at Target I (finally) found a cute t-shirt that read, simply, "I love Daddy."


You wouldn't think a shirt like this would be so hard to acquire.  You'd be wrong.  For some reason I can't fathom, the makers of baby girls' clothing have decided that any shirt bearing the word "Daddy" must somehow be incorporated into the phrase "Daddy's little ____."  Some of these phrases are pretty harmless - "Daddy's little princess", "Daddy's little angel", "Daddy's little pumpkin" - but I still find them slightly obnoxious, and completely unnecessary.  Why in the world does she have to be Daddy's little anything?  All of the "Mommy" gear says, "I love Mommy."  Simple, sweet, and what every mother wants to hear.  Are the Daddy's of this world all that different? 

The most appalling apparel yet, however, was recently on display in Old Navy.  It was a onesie that read, "Daddy's little flower."  No, I'm not kidding.  And yes, I did throw up a little bit in my mouth when I read it.  I'm not even going to start with how inappropriate that phrase is.  Gross.  It still makes me shudder. 

So thank you, thank you, thank you to the makers of the sweet "I love Daddy" t-shirt, because really, when you look at Isabella and her Daddy, what phrase could possibly be more appropriate?