Lest we forget

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. Last fall was a crazy mix of emotions. It was somehow a whirlwind and yet a slowing down of time all at the same time. Seeing as we are coming up on the anniversary, I feel like I have been doing a lot of remembering, reminiscing, and rethinking. As I think back to this time last year, I smile because the day before he died, we were given an incredible gift – a living celebration of his with, with him.

We got him home and somehow managed to get everyone around him to celebrate him. He told us stories we will never forget.

  • He talked about an obscure baseball player, Johnny Antonelli, who played with the Boston Braves in the late 1940s.
  • He said his brothers had come for him, but that Donnie was flying the helicopter and since Donnie doesn’t know how to fly, he wasn’t going to be getting in a helicopter with them.
  • He told us about French military soldiers wearing pots and pans on their heads, but needing to make sure they were rinsed out first so they did not have sausages on their heads.
  • He talked about a hot air balloon in the backyard ready to take him to heaven.

He told us tales of sorrow and regret as well as tales of celebration and joy.

He held us rapt with his poignant reminiscing. And made us fall over laughing as he told us to come back when we had more training or that he couldn’t eat too much because he didn’t want to gain too much weight in case he beat this cancer.

Recognizing that he was going to be leaving us, he talked about the things he would never get to see. I think we all hold the moment in our hearts when he held his great-grandson’s hand and, with tears rolling down his cheek, said how unfair it was that he was never going to see Nick grow up.

We laughed as we looked back with him, and cried as we looked ahead at what our lives would be without him.

It’s been a rough year, and this is going to be a rough week for sure, but for today I will celebrate the gift we got the day last year when family gathered, storied were told, tears were shed, meals were made, laughter was heard, and together – with my dad – we celebrated the life, the lessons and the love that he gave all of us.

Let’s always continue to remember and tell the stories and laugh and cry, lest we forget.

 

 

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There is a time

A time for everything

There is a time for everything. It even says so in the bible. At a recent prayer service, a friend of mine used the passage from Ecclesiastes 3 (NRSV)

Everything Has Its Time

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

This is a beautiful passage and probably one that is worthy of 14 different blogs, but the one that struck me at the time was “a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” For me it also connected to “a time to break down, and a time to build up.”

In my life, it was always a time for gathering stones and building big giant stone walls, fortresses even, around my heart, around my inner-most feelings and around my dreams. If I didn’t let anyone in, then I couldn’t get hurt. Or so I believed. But when no one is allowed in, the fortress becomes very cold and lonely.

There have been times in my life where it was really important to build up the fortress. There were people whom I thought I could let in – like a brother, and husbands – but once inside were there to damage and destroy from within. And so I became scared. I gathered more and more rocks, and built my fortress more and more secure. And buried myself further and further inside.

But slowly I have learned that while there was a time for gathering stones and a time for building up my fortress, there is also a time to break down and throw away stones. There is a time to open up and let others in. There is a time to share the sorrows and the scary times, but also to share the joys and the celebrations because you can only really share both the tears and the joys if you let others in.

Through all of the stone gathering and building, the cornerstone that has been my strength and my constant has been my faith in God.

timeIt was that faith that led me to an amazing church family, an incredible set of friends, and a strength in myself that has helped me to tear down my walls and begin to celebrate me.

There is a time for everything in your life. What time is it for you now?

Guardian Angel

My body throbbed. My pulse was racing. The bruises on the back on my legs and arms were pounding. Even though he was in the other room, I could still feel his grip tightening around my arms, pulling me back as I strained to get away. The tears finally stopped. I think I was literally dried up. But the fear and the anxiety were real. I reached up, sliding my fingers between the slats on his crib. I peered up over his mattress, he was still sound asleep, none the wiser that I was even in his room. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I just had to make it through the night. We both just had to make it through the night safe. Then I could figure something out. I could find a place to keep us safe. I could call my parents if I had to. I just had to make it through the night.

I lay on the floor because the bed was too far away, I considered moving the bed, or the crib, or the baby. But I didn’t want to wake anyone. And I wasn’t sure I had the energy to move anything anyway. I reached over and grabbed a quilt and pillow from the baby’s bed, never losing sight of the crib, or the door. I heard a creaking floorboard in the kitchen. I held my breath.

What if he decided to come into the baby’s room?

What if he came looking for me?

But he didn’t. He walked right by. I heard the slamming and locking of our bedroom door, and shortly after that the locking of the bathroom door as well. there were two doors on the bathroom, one from the master bedroom and one from the hallway. He locked both doors so I couldn’t get in. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t leaving the baby, not even if I had to go to the bathroom.

I lay back down on the floor exhausted. It was uncomfortable, but at least then I knew that if he came into the baby’s room, he would have to go through me to get to the baby. I settled my head on the pillow as best I could. I pulled the quilt around myself made sure the baby was sleeping soundly. Then I tried to settle in for the night, or at least a few hours.

As I looked up at the door, I suddenly knew I was safe I felt a wave of peace and protection wash over me, for as I looked at the door, I saw an angel standing guard. She was enormous. She shimmered in a golden translucent hue. Her wings reached right through the ceiling and she stood at guard with her sword of protection. She nodded to me, as if saying, “I’ve got this. You are in the arms of Jesus. Rest now.” So I closed my eyes.

 

I don’t really know how long I slept, but I remember hearing Matthew stir in his crib. He looked pleasantly surprised to find me sleeping on the floor next to his crib.

“Mama,” he giggled.

“Shhh my precious.” I whispered. “Daddy’s still sleeping.” I didn’t know for sure, but I sure hoped and prayed he was still asleep. I put my fingers up through the slats of the crib again and Matthew held on tight. He seemed to know I just needed to lay there for a minute. He laid his head down popped his thumb back into his mouth and played with my fingers.

Morning had come. We were both still alive. My body ached all over. Between the tension and worry of last night’s events, and the bruising and aching all over my body, I was worn out. I glanced at the door. The angel was gone, as was my peace. But I knew she had been there and helped us all to sleep. “Thank you, God.” I whispered.

We were safe. But I knew that safety was fleeting. I had to come up with a plan, and quickly. How had I gotten myself into this mess?

 

 

 

My dad

phd planIn looking at this cartoon about Ph.D. plan vs. Ph.D. reality, I can probably label each one of those bumps along the road. One might be when I started my new job. One might be my divorce. Another one might be for the medical challenges I faced. But that last one, that big one toward the end, I know exactly what that one is. That one is from last fall, when my dad got sick.

Just before school started I took the day off to go with my parents to see my dad’s orthopedic surgeon. He was supposed to have shoulder replacement surgery, but when they did the MRI, they found something suspicious. The appointment was to determine if he could have surgery or if he had cancer.

He had cancer.

The roller coaster began. It was doctors’ appointments, biopsies, and tests, tests and more tests. I sat with my dad as he staunchly told the nurse he had a DNR. I waited for him as he struggled to breath walking down the hallway, but too proud and stubborn to accept a ride in a wheelchair. I smiled and joked with him trying to help him keep his dignity as I undressed him because he couldn’t do it himself. I listened to what the doctor said. I asked questions. I tried to help my parents understand. i tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Then one Friday morning when I was at work, my mom called. Dad had fallen down in the bathroom and they were rushing him to the hospital. I left work. Raced home. Packed a bag. And went to him. I stayed with him in the hospital. They were trying to determine the primary source of the cancer. They were trying to determine how to treat it. They were trying to determine if they could treat it.

They couldn’t.

The next month was crazy. He went from the hospital to a nursing home where we struggled as a family to decide the best course of action, or inaction.

All the while, I brought my laptop and worked on my dissertation. I spent hours at night at the hospital or the nursing home sitting with my dad and typing away. He knew that I was close to finishing my dissertation and he was so proud of me. He had done all of his course work for his Ph.D. but never did the dissertation. I was the first in my family to finish.

At first I worked hard because I thought I could finish it while he was still alive and he could see me graduate. But then I knew he wasn’t going to make it until the spring and I was doubly determined to finish it for him.

Writing was kind of a companion for me late at night. I like to think that while the beeping of the machines he was on kept me company, the clicking of the keys while I typed kept him company. He knew I was there.

At the end of October, just about two months after we found out he had cancer, we brought him home to say good-bye. As he was so fond of saying in the last weeks of his life, he wanted to die surrounded by his loving family, and he did.

I was there with him. We had all been there with him at the end. His loving wife. All six of his children and their spouses. All thirteen of his grandchildren and their significant others, and both of his great grandsons.

But his reach went far beyond his family.

He was a coach. He coached baseball and basketball right up until the month before he got sick. He coached hundreds of kids over the 40+ years he coached. But he didn’t just influence the kids he coached; he changed everyone he came in contact with. Opposing coaches and opposing teams came to his wake to tell us how he impacted their lives through the strength of his character. His entire baseball team, in their uniforms came to the funeral to stand proud for him.

Everyone was special and important to him. He always took the time to talk to anyone he met. As a kid, it drove me crazy that he talked to anyone and everyone, but now it makes me proud to realize the impact he had on people’s lives because he took the time to talk to them. I try to be more like him each day.

I miss him everyday. We all do. I will miss him even more tomorrow, when I walk across the stage and get hooded as the first doctor in my family and he isn’t there to hold me in his arms and tell me he’s proud of me. But he will be there with me in spirit. He will be there in the tears I cry, the shouts of joy, and the sense of pride and accomplishment.

I love you dad. This moment is dedicated to you.

Father’s Day

dad-fatherA friend of mine sent me a message this morning that said “Happy Father’s Day. You are both mother and father to your boys.”

What is the difference? Are moms the caretakers while dads are the disciplinarians? Hence the infamous line: “Wait until your father gets home!” I like to think that we have gone beyond many of the stereotypical mother/ father roles of homemaker vs. breadwinner. I think many families I know have created their own roles for mother and father.

So while celebrating father’s day, I got to thinking: what does it take to be a father? Beyond the obvious medical definition, what does it really mean to be a father? One of the definitions on dictionary.com is: “One who cares for another as a father might.”

So, what does that mean? How might a father care for a child?

Neither of my boys have their dads in their lives, but I don’t think they lack for a “father”. There are plenty of people, both men and women, who love them enough to care for them “as a father might.” Friends, uncles, cousins, grandfathers, who have played the role of father for them.

Those who have roughhoused with them, and those who have hugged them.

Those who were there when they got hurt, telling them to shake it off or helping them up.

Those who have laughed and joked with them, and those who have supported them when others laughed or joked at their expense.

Those who have given them “fatherly advice” and those who have just let them talk.

Those who take the time to tell them when they are wrong and celebrate with them when they are right.

Those who care enough to worry about them, and love them enough to make a difference in their lives.

I think a father is all this and more.

I developed a very different relationship with my father through his love for my sons. It has been an enormous blessing for us to grow in this way.

When I look at my boys on this father’s day, I hope they take the best parts of the “fathers” they have had in their lives and use the wisdom and the love they have been shown, to become the best dad’s they can be to their own children.

Happy Father’s Day to all those people who are “fathers” both biological and otherwise, in name or in heart. And especially to those who have been fathers to my boys.

Wizard of Oz

A student that I work with who was raped by her boyfriend almost a year ago came up to me and told me that the anniversary of that horrible event is coming up. And when she told me the date, I realized that on that date I would be sitting through two shows of The Wizard of Oz. And it made me think about the characters and what they are searching for in the play and what we are all searching for in life: a brain, a heart, the nerve and a home.

These are my thoughts for her…

A Brain

The scarecrow wants a brain. He fears he is only full of fluff and isn’t smart enough. He sings to Dorothy that if he had a brain, “Then perhaps I’ll deserve you, and be even worthy of you.” And isn’t that what brains or smarts are all about? Being respected and admired by others for our ideas. At the end of the play the Wizard gives him a doctor of thinkology degree and be begins spouting facts about isosceles triangles.

But I think the kind of brains or smarts that the scarecrow wants throughout the play is really more about wisdom than book smarts. He made a plan to save his friend. He thought about what would be the best way to free her from the witch’s guards. It wasn’t book smarts that freed her, but rather using his brains to think through a situation.

For me the importance of this kind of smarts throughout your life is essential. Thinking about possible solutions and the outcomes of those solutions helps you to make informed decisions to help your friends and to help yourself.

Having brains is also about recognizing a bad or dangerous situation, which is not always an easy thing, and finding a way to get out of it. The situation my student told me about was extremely difficult for anyone, but even more difficult for someone so young. This was her first significant boyfriend. She trusted him. She loved him. She didn’t really have a frame of reference for a healthy relationship, but she knew that something was wrong with the relationship. She knew that he was controlling and manipulative, but she didn’t know how to get out of the situation. He used her trust and love to manipulate her and get her to do what he wanted, or take what he wanted.

Abusive relationships aren’t about book smarts. Anyone can be fooled. It’s bigger than book smarts. But that’s because when you are in a relationship, your heart is also involved. And that is where the Tin Man comes in.

A Heart

We have read and rehearsed every line to the play over and over again. My favorite line to practice is when the Wizard is saying to the Tin Man that he doesn’t realize how lucky he is to not have a heart, because until a heart is unbreakable its not worth having. Then at the end when Dorothy is saying good-bye to the Tin Man he says that he knows he has a heart because now it’s breaking.

Given the fragile nature of a heart it’s a wonder any of us want one at all. Kind of goes against the brains because if you were smart enough, you would know you don’t really want a heart. And I definitely struggle with having a heart, and caring about others, or having the brains not to trust or love again. But I’m too much of a softie for that. I know I have a heart. Because it’s breaking all over again.

It breaks over again for my students. It is broken because someone took advantage of her trust and love and hurt her. He hurt her so deeply that there are days when she doesn’t want to ever trust or love again. And there are days when she wants that love back so strongly that it hurts for different reasons.

Having a heart is a tricky thing. When you experience love it can make your heart sing and make you smile for no reason. But when your heart breaks, it can crush you just as deeply and make you cry for no reason. And that brings us to the Lion and having the courage to love again.

The Nerve

One of my favorite lines that the cowardly lion has is when he says, “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. There’s only one thing I want you guys to do.”

The Tin Man and Scarecrow reply, “What’s that?”

The Lion replies, “Talk me out of it!”

To me this is what courage is all about. Being scared of doing something, but doing it anyway. It isn’t easy and doesn’t always make sense, but courage means standing up for what you know is right.

She had the courage to get out. It took her a while to understand what she needed to do, but she did it. She also had the courage to tell others and stand up for herself.

It took nerve, courage to get out.

She showed courage by standing up for herself.

It took love to get out.

She gave her heart over to him. But she knew in her heart she deserved more.

It took brains to get out.

She used her brains in sharing her story, as hard as it was and as much as she fought it. By sharing it and owning it, she took back the power and control he took from her.

But in the end, what I want, what she wants, what Dorothy wants, is a home.

A Home

To me the home that Dorothy is talking about is not the physical home, but the safety and security of being loved and cared for. The feeling of family and belonging. It is the basis for all things we want, a place to fit in and be loved.

Dorothy had it all along. She just didn’t realize it. Sometimes we need to look no farther than our own back yard to realize that we do belong, that we do have the brains to make good decisions for ourselves, that we have the heart to care about others and the courage to open up our heart and do what we have to do for the ones we love.

The wizard tells the Tin Man to remember, “that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” It feels good to know you are loved by others. But it takes courage to open up your heart and let others love you. But it also takes brains to know how to get in the right kind of relationship or get out of the wrong one.

You need to trust yourself and remember, “There’s no place like home.”

Disappearance or disappointment

I have 2 sons (the pride and joy of my life) from 2 different husbands.

My oldest son’s father was the disappearing one. We left him when my son was only a year and a half old after disappointmentthe relationship turned violent. I tried to keep a connection for my son with his dad, but I couldn’t do it alone. He did not make the effort to stay connected, so he disappeared from his son’s life. I worried about my son and tried to provide him with father-like figures throughout his life. He had my dad and my brothers as father figures in his life and some of my great friends who were there for him as well.

But mostly he had me, as both mother and father. He is an amazing 19-year-old young man who is surprisingly well adapted and not bitter about his disappearing father.

My younger son has known his dad most of his life. He is 11 years old and we are only recently divorced. He sees his dad every other weekend. Every other weekend he is faced with disappointment from his father. He says it doesn’t hurt when his dad shows up late or cancels, but I know it does.

Being the one who’s home with his all the time, I sense a difference in his voice and his spirit when talking about his dad. He is careful and guarded. He is shy and uncertain. When he wants to make a change in his plans with his dad, he asks me to intervene. When he wants his dad to come watch him compete on his swim team, he asks me to invite him. And when he comes home from his dad’s, he holds me tighter.

I think that because he had a dad involved in his life for a long time, he misses the “dad” role more so than my older son did. He talks more about what kind of a dad he wants to be. I have a few friends who he looks to as a father figure. He talks about them to me and always tells me what he admires in them. He is constantly comparing and questioning.

He thinks things through very thoroughly. We were visiting with my sister one day and he asked her he could live with her if something happened to me. He had it all planned out. He told us all about it. First he would live with my sister and her family, then if something happened to all of them, he would live with my brother and sister in law, then if something happened to all of them, he would live with my friends. Then if he had to, he would live with his dad. He said to my sister, “You know, my dad is a pretty good dad, but he’s not a great parent, if you know what I mean.” Unfortunately, he does know what he means.

While both my boys are different and have had different experiences with their fathers, I think that the disappointment is harder than the disappearance. While my older son was probably disappointed by the fact that his father was not in his life, it was not a constant sense of disappointment every other weekend.

It will be a struggle to help my son deal with the constant disappointment. I will continue to give him positive role models in his life, both male and female. And I will continue to be there for him, as both mother and father. And I will continue to love him enough to grow into the wonderful young man I know he will be.

Strength

Strength comes in many shapes and sizes,

many forms and functions,

many ways and words.

Strength comes when a mom holds her baby for the first time and knows in that moment that she will do anything to protect her baby. It also comes when her grown baby is in tears because their heart has been broken, or someone has treated them poorly, or they had to learn for themselves that life isn’t fair, and knowing she can’t fix it.

Strength can be found in a grown adult sitting by their parent’s bedside while they are recovering from surgery, still waiting to find out what the next steps are. It can be found in the waiting room of a hospital in the family members hoping, praying, and just being there, being together.

Strength comes when a smart, beautiful, young lady spent her junior year of high school battling cancer instead of her grades. When she shaved her own hair before the chemo could take it away from her.

Strength can be found in the eyes of a 12-year-old girl who finally got up the courage to tell her father that she was raped by her boyfriend. And in her steely response when her father asked if she did anything to encourage the boy.

Strength comes when a woman stands up to the man she loves, the man who promised to love and protect her, but instead filled her with fear and terror. When she finally finds a way to protect herself and her family from the man who threatened to ruin it all.

Strength can be found in weakness, in tears, in fear. Because in those moments, when we are often at our weakest, it is then that we feel the strength to push on, the strength to move forward, the strength to ask for help.

Strength comes from knowing when to walk away, and when to walk towards.

Strength can be found in the arms of a friend, who doesn’t have to say a word.

Strength comes in the familiar “ding” of a text message or email alert from someone who cares enough.

Strength can be found in the amazing people who are in our lives.

To walk with us,

to cry with us,

to celebrate with us,

and to just be with us.

I am blessed for all of the different ways I have experienced strength.

I try every day to accept the strength others give to me, and to be strong for them in return.

I’m not a very big person. I doubt anyone would describe me as physically very tough or strong.

But I have seen strength, I have felt strength, and through my experiences, I have known strength.

gentle strength

Giving

I love Christmas. I love all the celebration, the excitement, and the anticipation. I love the idea of giving. One of my most favorite Christmas Carols is probably one that many people are unfamiliar with. But it touches on this idea of giving.

For some reason my ex-husband was on my mind this morning. It was strange, I don’t usually miss him, and so I stopped to think about why. I realized that it was Christmas and how much he liked it.

Then I thought about why he liked it so much. He was all show. One of the ways in which he equates love is in buying presents for people. Giving equals love to him. He often tried to buy love. It was showy and pretentious and not a good way to love others.

He used to buy a lot of “stuff” at the holidays, but for some reason it never felt good or right. Because he did just that, he bought stuff, for the sake of buying it. He rarely took the time to think about why he bought something or even the person he bought it for.

But through his buying of stuff and his attempts to buy love, I learned a lot about gifts and about the real joy of giving.

I used to worry about how much money I spent on people and getting a bigger or better gift for people. But I’ve learned that the price tag isn’t important. I’ve learned that the best gifts are the ones that come from the heart and are thoughtful. I love when I have found just the right gift for someone. I’m like a little kid, I can hardly wait to give it to them.

My younger son and I have spent a lot of time this Christmas thinking about people and trying to buy, or better yet make, just the right thing for them. I’ve tried to teach him that buying something for the sake of buying it isn’t as important as thinking about the person you are buying something for and finding just the right gift.

This Christmas we have purchased some “just right” gifts as well as crafted a number of homemade gifts for family and friends this year. We have also spent time writing letters or sending cards from the heagiftrt this year.

And even though we have spent less money on gifts we have spent more time on thought on the people we care about this year.

Christmas is a time for giving … love.

Disappearance or disappointment

I have 2 sons (the pride and joy of my life) from 2 different husbands (not my proudest moment).

My oldest son’s father was the disappearing one. We left him when my son was only a year and a half old after the relationship turned violent. I tried to keep a connection for my son with his dad, but I couldn’t do it alone. He did not make the effort to stay connected, so he disappeared from his son’s life. I worried about my son and tried to provide him with father-like figures throughout his life. But mostly he had me, as both mother and father. He is an amazing 19-year-old young man who is surprisingly well adapted and not bitter about his disappearing father.

My younger son has known his dad most of his life. He is 10 years old and we are only recently divorced. He sees his dad every other weekend. Every other weekend he is faced with disappointment from his father. He says it doesn’t hurt when his dad shows up late or cancels, but I know it does.

Being the one who’s home with his all the time, I sense a difference in his voice and his spirit when talking about his dad. He is careful and guarded. He is shy and uncertain. When he wants to make a change in his plans with his dad, he asks me to intervene. When he wants his dad to come watch him compete on his swim team, he asks me to invite him. And when he comes home from his dad’s, he holds me tighter.

I think that because he had a dad involved in his life for a long time, he misses the “dad” role more so than my older son did. He talks more about what kind of a dad he wants to be. I have a few friends who he looks to as a father figure. He talks about what he admires in them. He is constantly comparing and questioning.

While both my boys are different and have had different experiences with their fathers, I think that the disappointment is harder than the disappearance. While my older son was probably disappointed by the fact that his father was not in his life, it was not a constant sense of disappointment every other weekend.

It will be a struggle to help my son deal with the constant disappointment. I will continue to give him positive role models in his life, both male and female. And I will continue to be there for him, as both mother and father. And do my best to love him enough to grow into the wonderful young man I know he can be.