Tag Archive | grief

Grief Takes Away So Much

This morning, as I lazed on the couch with my cup of tea, I was idly scrolling through Twitter when a tweet caught my eye. “It didn’t surprise me, when my parents were dying, that I couldn’t write. But it shocked me…that I couldn’t read.” It was a teaser with a link to a NY times column, and it was so unexpected, and so close to home.

Four years ago, I was working full-time as a retail manager, but I was also a bookaholic. I read as much as I could. I’d grown up with books, worked in my mother’s used-book store for years, even went to a seminar for antiquarian book dealers. And even though I was no longer in the business, I still loved books. All kinds of books. My parents and I shared a lot of authors, too, mostly mysteries/thrillers. We shared Ridley Pearson, Carol O’Connell, Philip Margolin, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Kathy Reichs, Linda Fairstein, and so many more. I shared a lot of fiction with my mom: Maeve Binchy, Nancy Thayer, Elin Hilderbrand, Kristin Hannah.

Then, as many of you know, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. I still worked, but managed to get out to Arizona for a few visits. I remember one trip, on the way there, I read my first Lee Child book. Lee Child was my dad’s absolute favorite author, and he’d said this book was the best. I read it, and it was thrilling and gripping and tense, and I had a grand time talking to my dad about it when I got there.

My dad died in spring of 2012, and I stopped reading. For a very long time, I didn’t really read anything. I watched a lot of TV, I played stupid games on my phone. I learned to crochet a few months after my dad died, and that was my outlet. Then knitting. It was creative and soothing, and didn’t remind me of him at all.

Over time, I started picking up books again. My mom and I still share a fondness for fiction, and we swapped what we called “light, frothy books”. They were fun, didn’t require much thought, didn’t challenge me or push any of those grief buttons. I’m so glad I had you, Jane Green and Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella and Susan Wiggs, Debbie Macomber. I still love you, still read you all religiously.

I shared some YA books with my daughter. I’ve always loved YA books, and even though these were often darker subject matter, it was okay because it was different. Thank you, Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell, Laurie Halse Anderson, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins.

After a couple of years, I started reading heavier books again, ones that made me think and cry and feel extreme emotions, and it was good. And just the other day, the boy and I went to the library, and I came home with six books, and I plowed through five of them within a week. It felt marvelous to fall into books like that again, to get that feeling of utter escape, that feeling where you close the book and you’re still thinking about the characters hours later.

For so long, I wrapped myself in the soft cushion of yarn crafts, and it saved me. I still love it, still knit more than I read, probably. But I think I’m at a point where there’s more of a balance. I can be a knitter AND a reader. A yarnaholic AND a bookaholic.

But I still can’t read mysteries. Well, no. I take that back; I’ve read a few. Harlan Coben is still a favorite. But they’re few and far between. I’ve never read another Lee Child book. I have an O’Connell and two Fairsteins in my To-Be-Read stash, and I pick them up periodically, read the description, and put them back. They’re too dark. There’s too much pain and anger and ugliness in those worlds. And of course, they still remind me of my dad. I think I’ll get back to them, someday. Until then, there’s still a whole wide world of books to explore, and I’m so relieved that I could find my way back to it.

Three Years Gone

Today marks three years since my father died. I still hate those words. I will always hate those words. I’m not in pieces today, not like I was two years ago. Today it’s a mild, pervasive numbing sadness. It still hits me at times with a shock: he’s gone? Wait, how can that be possible? And there are times when out of the blue I just miss him. Miss his hugs, his smile, the way he loved all of us so much. But there are many more times that I can think about him, talk about him, with ease and fondness and laughter. That part has gotten easier in the last three years.

Part of me is just sad that he doesn’t know me now. I’ve changed so much in the last three years, grown so much. I’m a different person in so many ways. I put my family first, and I try to appreciate every family gathering. I value truth and honesty and loyalty, which I always did, but now I don’t put up with the bullshit, the liars, the fakers. I worry less about how I may appear to to strangers, and more about how I’m treating the people I love. I’m not perfect, never perfect, but I try to admit it when I’m wrong. I apologize. I find more joy in a family dinner than I ever did at work. I live a quiet life now. A peaceful life. It’s a much richer life, and for that I’m grateful. I wish it hadn’t taken something like that grief to make such a difference, but at least it happened. I read somewhere that you don’t truly grow up until you lose a parent, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s true. It’s profound, or at least it was for me. Who else is such a big part of you? Who else is so instrumental in shaping who you are?

Today I’ll look at some old pictures, relive some memories. I’ll cry, but I’ll smile too. Tonight we’ll go out with my mom and siblings to have Mexican food and margaritas, his favorite. And when we raise a glass for a toast, in my head, I’ll thank him for bringing us all together. img031

Missing You

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. It was the third we’ve had since he died. He would have been 71. And I made it through the day. It wasn’t pretty, wasn’t fun, but I did it. It helped that I had errands to run, doctor appointments to deal with, things that kept me busy and kept my mind occupied. Of course it was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. And when I did have time, it was a different kind of grief than years past.

The first year, I kept thinking I was forgetting something, something I was really supposed to do that day. And then I’d remember: I was supposed to be calling my dad, but couldn’t. It was a series of sharp pains throughout the day. The second year, that feeling of forgetting something was gone but the loss was still sharp. We might have had cake but I’m not sure. This year the pain itself had softened, but it was joined by a pervading sense of permanence. No way around it, he’s really gone and I really won’t get another birthday with him. It was just a sad day from start to finish.

I’m glad it’s over, really. I woke up refreshed this morning, eager to have a better day today. No big plans, which makes for the best kind of day, doesn’t it? I see yarn in my immediate future, maybe a trip to Half Price Books.

Samson: A Special Dog

Many moons ago (in 2001) my parents moved from Missouri, where I live, to Arizona. A couple of years after they moved there, they found a dog running around and managed to catch him. They were able to contact the owner and somehow it was agreed that my parents would keep him. He was a big, beautiful brown-red husky mix that looked rather wolf-like, and he and my dad became best buddies. My mom loved the dog too, but she’s more of a cat person, and plus the dog was just…Dad’s dog. His name was Samson.img293The vet estimated he was around 2 or 3, and he was extremely well-behaved. My dad did a training class with him but didn’t need to work hard. Samson somehow knew what Dad wanted him to do and then did it. His one fault was that he loved to run, and would escape in a flash given the opportunity. I’ve since learned that’s very common with huskies. It made for a few traumatic experiences, but somehow Dad and Samson always got reunited.img215Several years later, in 2011, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went through several months of chemo and radiation and we were all optimistic for a while. But by early 2012, it was clear that he wasn’t going to get better. It took all his energy to get through each day, and he had nothing left for Samson. My mom was the same: she wanted and needed to focus on Dad, and she loved Samson enough that she wanted him to have a happy home and get some loving attention again. I didn’t want a dog really, but neither of my siblings could take him, and I couldn’t bear the thought of Dad’s dog going to strangers. And I think there was a tiny part of me that wanted the dog as a part of Dad. I knew I’d be losing him soon and at least I could hang on to Samson.

He traveled well on the two-day road trip back to Missouri, curled up in his bed in the back of the minivan. He wasn’t eager to leave Dad, but wasn’t opposed either. The worst part was when he got home and Samson wouldn’t eat. I tried dry food and moist food. I tried people food I knew he liked. He just didn’t want to eat. He never had a huge appetite, but it worried me. After two long days, he finally started eating again, and seemed to start settling in to the family.IMG_0841I think he was happy with us. He loved the back yard where he could run around freely. He loved the big tree with all the squirrels. He loved the patches of dirt where he could dig big nests to lie in. Within a few months, he was acting much younger. He’d play outside, running after a ball or playing tug with a toy. When we went on walks, he’d get so excited, jumping and bouncing like I’d never seen before, and he pulled on the leash like he never had with Dad. I know part of it was that I wasn’t truly his person, his boss, but I think part of it was that he knew he could let loose now. He was careful and sedate with Dad because he sensed the fragility in Dad, especially toward the end. Instinctively, he knew we could handle more from him.IMG_0994 IMG_9509The kids adored him, and he loved them too. He was so patient with them, letting them do whatever they wanted to him. I sent happy updates to my parents so they’d know Samson was doing well, and I like to think it brought my dad a little bit of peace. And when Dad died in April of 2012, I was grateful to have Samson there to hug. I couldn’t take care of Dad, but I could take care of his dog.IMG_8433IMG_8503One of my favorite things was to watch Samson in the snow. Being from Arizona, he wasn’t familiar with snow, and the first time we got a big snowfall he didn’t even want to go outside. We lured him out on his leash and within moments he was bounding around the yard joyfully. It was wonderful to see. He was in his element and he was beautiful.IMG_9520Last year we got a big snow, and my daughter took him out for a long walk on Christmas Eve. He loved it, but the next day he seemed extremely tired. He slept a lot, moved slowly and with discomfort, and just seemed…not right. We chalked it up to him being an older dog, almost 11, and worn out and sore from the extra exertion. Within a day or so, he’d mostly recovered, though he still seemed to tire easily.

On the 30th, I let Samson outside and left to run a few errands. He often spent most of the day outside, happily curled up in his nest watching the squirrels, so when I got home and he wasn’t inside, I wasn’t too worried. But when I went outside and called him and got no response, I started to wonder. I called him again, going out further in the yard, and didn’t see him or hear him. I knew he liked the narrow alley between the garage and the fence so I walked back there and found him curled up. He looked up at me when I called his name again and slowly, carefully stood up. I coaxed him out to the yard, scared at how slowly he was walking. It was clearly a lot of effort for him, and I couldn’t figure out why the front of his paws kept getting folded up. I got him inside and called for my husband. We watched as Samson stood there, glassy-eyed and swaying, and agreed he needed to go to the vet. Stupidly, I said I could do it alone.

I got Sam to the car and struggled a bit to help him step inside. He was a big dog, probably at least 75 pounds, so I couldn’t carry him. By the time we got to the vet, he was lying on the seat and had no interest in getting out. I still don’t know how I got him out, but I did, and we made it inside. I signed in and sat down to wait, petting Samson and hoping against hope that he’d be all right. I kept thinking, “But this is my Dad’s dog. He has to be okay. This is my Dad’s dog.”

The vet called us back a few minutes later, but Samson was lying on the floor and nothing I did or said could coax him to stand. I looked at the vet, helpless, and she asked, “Is he sedated?” I shook my head and burst into tears. She came forward to help him stand, and suddenly one of my brother’s friends was there helping. Jake was there with his family and their dogs, and he had his wife hold their dogs so he could help me get Samson into the exam room. I’d always liked Jake and somehow it was comforting to have a familiar face there. He offered to stay with me, but I said I’d be okay, even though obviously I wasn’t.

The exam was quick. The vet noticed his paws immediately and said it was a sign of a stroke, that normally animals know exactly what their paws are doing at all times. He had a heart murmur, was anemic and had poor circulation. She took some fluid from his abdomen, and the blood that came out indicated cancer. By then, Samson was struggling to breathe. She offered surgery as an option, but we both knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.

I called Alex and sat on the floor with Samson while I waited for him to come up with the kids. We all sat around Sam, petting him and telling him we loved him, and then it was time. And even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I hated doing it.

The next day I got rid of every sign of him. It hurt too much to see the bowls, the leash, the food. I donated some of it and gave some of it to my brother for his animals. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting another dog. I hadn’t wanted a dog in the first place, I’d wanted Samson, and I’d lost him too soon. It was horrible. It was like losing my dad all over again, and I was lost in the grief yet again. I missed Samson terribly, so much more than I thought I would. I’d gotten so used to his easy company, his big body leaning against my legs. I regretted all the times I told him to get off the couch, and all the days I didn’t take him for walks. I wished I’d bought him more toys, more pig ears, more rawhides. I wondered if I loved him enough, and concluded that surely I hadn’t. But that’s always how it goes, isn’t it? You never know how much you love someone until they’re gone.

Within four months, I was ready for another dog. I knew we wouldn’t find one as good as Samson. He was smart, sensitive, playful, gentle, intuitive, loving. Samson was everything good and nothing bad, and there are so few dogs out there truly like that. But there are a lot of dogs out there that come awfully close, and I needed that special brand of puppy love again. By the end of June this year, we’d found our new baby, Captain Jack. He’s not perfect, but he’s close, and he’s getting better with every bit of love and training we give him. Jack is my dog in a way that Samson never was. I am his person, and I love that feeling. Thanks to Sam, I know the special joy that comes from loving a dog, and I imagine I’ll be a dog person forever now.

I’m so grateful that I was able to take care of Samson until he could join Dad. I think of them often, picturing them together in the great big dog park in the sky. I’m grateful that this year, I get to ring in a new year loving a dog instead of grieving a dog. When the clock turns midnight, I’ll kiss my husband…and then hug my puppy. And I’ll send a little mental hug out to Samson too, to thank him for being part of our family.IMG_9553

Happy Yarniversary to Me!

That’s right, it’s been two years this month since Yarn and I fell in love, and I wanted to take a moment to celebrate our relationship. We’re very close now, but it wasn’t always that way. Another title for this post might be “Why did you learn to crochet/knit?”

In March of 2012, we lost my father-in-law. The next month, my father. The month after that, I left my full-time job to stay at home. My mother would be moving home from Arizona and I wanted to be there for her, and my kids were increasingly busy and I wanted to be there for them too. Mostly I simply couldn’t handle the job anymore, or didn’t want to put in the effort. You might say I had a wee breakdown, or whatever. In any case, after seven years I suddenly had A LOT of free time.

That first summer was delightful. We’d adopted my father’s dog, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with him and the kids and just being quiet and peaceful, trying to process all the crap going on in my head. There was little stress; I truly enjoyed having so much time to spend with my family.

Then the kids went back to school, my mother was settled into her new house, and it was just the dog and me. Samson was older, quiet, didn’t need much interaction throughout the day. What was I supposed to do? Sure, I did grocery shopping, started cooking dinner. I cleaned (occasionally) and I ran errands. But none of those things filled all my time.

I read a lot, of course. Lots of light, fluffy novels because I couldn’t handle the darkness in the mysteries I used to love. I shared book ideas with my mothers and my sisters. My daughter takes piano lessons from my BIL, so I’d sit there once a week and chat with Pam, my SIL, about books and her homeschooling and whatnot. In one conversation, we were talking about the struggle to find challenging, age-appropriate books for our kids, who are gifted readers. She mentioned a series she’d recently found called Chicks with Sticks by Elizabeth Lenhard, about a group of high school girls who start a knitting group. I love YA books so I read them first, and loved them. But more than the stories or the characters, I was entranced by the descriptions of the yarn, the yarn stores, the act of knitting, and most of all, the soothing, healing quality it had for the main character.

I wanted that. I wanted all of it. The yarn, the beauty, the healing. Soon after I finished the books, I went to a used-book sale with my mom. Laying there faceup in the crafts section was a book called The Cool Girl’s Guide to Crochet. I’m not a superstitious person by nature, but this had to be a sign. I bought the book. The next day I went to Joann and bought a learn-to-crochet set and two skeins of cheap yarn and set about teaching myself to crochet.

I did a lot of little squares as I learned each stitch and how to change colors. Then I learned tunisian crochet so I could make the cutest project in the book: a cell phone cozy with a long strap. This was for my daughter for Christmas.60728_10151172999095918_1005085249_nAfter that I was on a roll, whipping up presents left and right. I won’t say they looked good, even though I thought so at the time. I made several scarves, a baby blanket, and a Kindle cozy. I was a woman obsessed. My stash grew quickly as I discovered the benefits of yarns beyond the cheapest, scratchiest acrylic. I branched out into purses and shawls and baby bibs. I craved the challenge of new stitches and harder patterns. I spent hours with an F hook making this multicolor wave scarf.IMG_3187Within a few months, I’d finished my first yarn garment, the Chevron Lace Cardigan.IMG_2029The yarn was a wonderful distraction from my grief. I still felt it, but it was muted. As soon as I mastered something, though, it didn’t distract me anymore. That wasn’t okay. So eventually crochet wasn’t enough. No, I watched my SIL wield those two needles and I wanted that. Knitting produced a softer, squishier fabric than crochet. I loved the feel of it. So during one piano lesson, I sat down with my SIL and she taught me the knit stitch and got me going on my first knitting project. She was a great teacher, patient and thorough, and soon I had a completed cup cozy.IMG_1875Impatient to wait for another lesson, I taught myself the purl stitch and boy, was that awkward. I remember sitting there trying to knit a dishcloth and it was going SO SLOWLY and it was SO HARD to get my needle into the stitches. I was frustrated but I was determined to master this knitting thing, and hey, you can bet I wasn’t thinking about being sad!

Over time my tension eased and the purling came smoothly. In fact, I love to purl. I love seed stitch, switching from knit to purl and back again. Yarn fills my life now, even as I’m coming back from that deep valley of grief. I’m learning to consider myself a fiber artist, though it’s hard. My yarn has been with me on hard days when all I could do was watch TV and crochet. My yarn has been with me on happy days, when I’ve gone to family parties and chatted while knitting. I’ve made things that my family loves (I think) and things that strangers love and are willing to pay money for. I’ve petted alpaca and angora, mink and merino, bamboo and cotton. I’ve got a large, enviable yarn stash and a diverse collection of hooks and needles, but it’s never enough. I still want more!

I know all you other yarn-lovers have seen the articles proclaiming the health benefits of knitting and crocheting. I can’t say much about the physical benefits, because my wrist definitely lets me know when I’ve been crocheting too much. But the emotional benefits are huge. Yarn cushioned my fall and helped my pull myself back up. I’m not at the top yet (are we ever really at the top?) but I’m so much closer than I was two years ago. So thank you, Yarn. I owe you a lot.IMG_3443

It’s been two long years

Two years ago today, I lost my father. He’d been fighting lung cancer for a year and though he fought hard, the cancer won, as it does too many times. He lived several states away, so I wasn’t there when he died. My last visit had been a couple of weeks prior, and I was making plans to go back for a longer visit. I wanted to be there for him, and my mother. She said he wouldn’t have wanted me to see him that way but I wish I could have. As hard as it is, there’s a small perfect beauty in that journey, in being a part of that moment. 

I guess everyone wants as much time as possible, and I’m no different. I wanted to hug him again, hold his hand again like I hadn’t since I was a child, tell him again and again that I love him. I didn’t care that he was thin, that he was struggling to walk and breathe, that he’d lost most of his hair. I know he cared; he wanted me to remember him the way he was. And I do. But I remember him sick too, because it was such a full time. He and I spoke more candidly and honestly during those months than we ever had. I felt free to hold his hand like I never did, because we both wanted that connection. 

So yes, I remember him sick and well. I remember him every way. I remember him every day. I miss him every day. It’s been a hard two years in many ways. It breaks my heart that there are so many things he doesn’t know, that he’ll never see. He would be happy that I quit my job to stay home with the kids, if for no other reason than because I’m happier. He would love that I sold my boring hybrid to buy a faster muscle car, and he’d want to drive it. He wouldn’t like the purple hair, but he’d grin and shrug and say, “If you like it, it’s okay with me.” He would love my new dog, and have so much fun playing with him. He would love to see how kind and thoughtful my teenage daughter is growing up. He would love to see my son, his namesake, wear his ties with pride.

But I have to find other small comforts. I love to imagine his dog, who died a few months ago, running up to him in the great sunny dog park in the sky. I cherish the dreams he appears in, remembering the almost tangible hugs I’ve gotten in them. I am so grateful that his illness brought our family close again, literally and figuratively, and I try to do for them what I think he would want to do himself if he could. I’m trying to live in a way that would make him proud. Thanks for showing me the way, Daddy.

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