Always Somewhere: Discussing Death With a Child

 

Edie and her other dad left town for a few days today, so I am home alone. This is a rare opportunity to relax, take long showers alone, listen to whatever music I want to listen to, and to lay around a bit in my pajamas in between cleaning and organizing projects. Thanks, Marie Kondo for making me feel like a failure of a homemakerhttps://konmari.com.I always feel a little anxious and sad when Edie and my husband are gone.

As previously confessed, I am a bit of a worrier and when they travel I am always a little worried about them while at the same time feeling guilty and simultaneously happy to have my own time. Parenting can be such an emotional roller coaster. I usually follow along with a flight tracking website to see where they are every little bit and am always relived when they land. Tim is very good at sending me pics and text updates. I like to know where they are, that they are somewhere out there. Being somewhere out there is a bit of the theme for this post.

I have talked a bit about my dad and his dying. He is still here on this plane or in this realm or whatever you choose to call this existence. He is still present. He sleeps most of the time and his communication is a bit loopy and confused, though often funny and insightful. To be totally honest this has been one of the hardest times I have had as a parent and as a person. The grief and sadness can knock me down at times and being a full-time stay at home dad doesn’t allow for much time to think, grieve, and process. My husband as always is everything and provides me lots of space, time, and support when he can.

I struggled a lot with how and what to tell Edie. I guess I am just a big ol’ WASP but for some reason I didn’t want her to know that my dad was dying. I wanted to protect her from it, I suppose. She has only met my dad a few times so it seemed unnecessary in a way. At the encouragement of many and with guidance I did talk to her about it and told her that I was sad. I told her that I was not going to see my dad again and that I had to say goodbye to him forever.

I explained that sometimes as we age or get a disease our bodies get very tired and they can’t do their job any more. I assured her that daddy and I were healthy and we try our best to take care of ourselves in order to be around for a long time. I also told her that I didn’t know what happened to us when we die. We like to be honest with Edie about the mysteries of life and spirituality and this is certainly one of them.

Yes, we are practicing Christians, but for me, at least, there is still no clear answer. I am not one of those literalist Christians (obviously) but I do believe in Resurrection, I just don’t know exactly how it works. Is it a physical one? A memory that lives? Isn’t every day a resurrection of sorts? Every season? Every kiss? I told Edie that Dad will still be somewhere out there, but also in my heart, forever, and in fact in hers too.

As always, Edie is the one to do the teaching and the explaining. One of these days I will learn to just ask her. She told me that since I was sad she could make me feel better by kissing me and hugging me and sitting with me. She is right. She can help me just by being here. That is how we all help each other. Perhaps that is part of resurrection.

When I was young I had a lot of trouble sleeping. Night time made me anxious and sad. I would feel safe though if someone was still up in the house doing something. I would wait and listen for my dad to light a cigarette. When I heard the sound of his lighter closing I knew that he was still up and I could rest easier. It made me more relaxed to know that my Dad was somewhere out there in the living room. I felt safer and less alone.

Soon, my dad’s texts will stop. His “good morning” and “just checking in” will be no more. He won’t be here anymore. What’s next is a mystery to all of us. I am holding on to hope that he will still be somewhere out there and that when I am feeling scared or alone I can still feel his presence, still existing somehow and somewhere. In the meantime I can sit with Edie and hold her and she can help with the sadness. Together, we can hope for resurrection. 

Update :

My dad died. It has been brutal at times. It’s has been peaceful and hopeful at times. Edie has been the biggest help of all through all of this. She has been insightful and supportive and kind. She asks me if I’m ok and will hug me and say “Are you sad today, Papa?” Edie makes new life possible. She is part of resurrection too.

 

What we leave behind.

This one is going to be a bit heavy. I have been listening to Joni Mitchell, it’s Monday, and my dad is dying. He has been for a few years, but is really sick now and I was just texting with him and he “really just wants to make it until Christmas.” He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis about five years ago and has been steadily declining since. There were several times we thought it was the end but this time it really is. He can’t really do much at all. He gasps for air and is uncomfortable. He texts and listens to music and plans for his cremation and memorial. In the evening, if he is up for it, he gets wheeled to the car and is driven around by his partner to look at Christmas lights.

Edie has only seen my dad twice. That is enough right there to leave me heartbroken and sad. My parents divorced about 14 years ago and I didn’t handle that so well. I was mad at my dad and let that anger eat away and ruin our relationship. Not that it was ever a perfect one, but it definitely had its positives. I have a lot of regret about those missing years and our lack of closeness. Some days it really gets me down.

Edie will not remember my dad. Even now he is mostly known through pictures and texts. When I tell her that he is my dad she laughs nervously as if she doesn’t know what to do with that information. He and I have made peace as much as we can and I’m so thankful for that grace. My dad had a really tough childhood and was emotionally and physically abused in some really awful ways by his parents. When I think of this and consider what a kind and gentle parent he was I’m amazed at his strength and tenacity and love.

I learned a lot from my dad. Sure, smoking cigarettes and flirting are two of those things. Thankfully, I haven’t smoked in 14 years or so and I rarely get the chance to flirt. But, I learned some really important things too. Some of those things helped shape me as a parent and will help Edie as a person too. One way I can remember and honor him is to share with her those things and tell her about my dad and all the things he helped me learn and be.

My dad taught me to love everyone. He didn’t stand for racism and homophobia and indifference or prejudice. He is kind and anti-war and violence. He never owned a gun. He’s never voted Republican.

My dad believed that his daughters and sons were equal in intelligence and ability. My dad loves hanging out with LGBTQ folks. When I came out, all the young gays who were often rejected at home had a warm welcome, a meal, and a place to stay with us. My dad (along with my mom) would even take us all to the gay bar for a drag show.

My dad stood up to institutions like the church and challenged them on institutional biases and prejudice. Eventually the hypocrisy grew too much for him and he left those institutions behind.

My dad taught me to love good music and to sing loudly and enjoy it. Some of my fondest memories are of Simon and Garfunkel being played loudly on the record player as we all sang and danced along. To this day folk music is still the epitome of good music.

My dad loves family. Though his parents were difficult my dad made the effort over and over again to show them love and kindness and forgiveness. My dad always put my sisters and mom and I as first priority. He worked very hard to provide for us, and we wanted for nothing.

My dad loves the ocean and the beach. We didn’t grow up in a coastal state but always vacationed on the shore. He knew how to just sit and listen to the waves or Bob Dylan and chill.

My dad loves Christmas. As his health started really declining almost a month ago, one of the first things he wanted done was to have his tree put up so that he could enjoy it for one last season.

My dad is cool. He has a strut. He is a music snob. He has a wicked and irreverent sense of humor. He is a smart ass. He loves passionately and deeply.

I will miss my dad. I already do. I only hope that I can pass on to Edie some of these great things that he gave to me. I hope that some day, she will have a similar list when she writes about her Papa’s legacy.

Edit: Dad died on February 19th, 2019 at home alone. We are still in the early stages of grief and it can be brutal. He IS missed. Now, to work on my own legacy with more intention and love.