It is almost the one year anniversary of Brittany’s death and I haven’t sat down to finish part 2 of the story of the big year of my favorite number 32. I’ve learned that writing for the sake of writing doesn’t really get down to the truth of the matter, for me at least. But I’ve been feeling this come for the last week. There are layers to the events that happened between November and my birthday in May. So here goes.
part 2 – Continued from on BEING
After Brittany’s funeral in early November of 2014, I returned to Minnesota with a determination to make this life really mean something. I was left with the groundwork of figuring out what that meant for me and how to begin. I had survived 7 years of stay-at-home-mom status and my youngest was now in Kindergarten. I decided a good place to start would be going back to work. In the previous months I had applied and interviewed for a couple of design jobs but didn’t get a single offer. Maybe I didn’t have enough relevant or recent experience. Maybe there was someone better, or I just interviewed poorly. Whatever the reason, I now believe it just wasn’t the right time for that yet. My husband called one November morning and told me to check out the school’s website for employment opportunities. I eneded up applying for and landing an interview for a position as a part-time para in my kids’ school district. And whaddya know?! I got the job! And a whistle. “Noon Supervisor” was the official title. I started right after Thanksgiving. Along with lunch room supervision, I liked to refer to myself as the “Playground Police.” I also helped the Interventionists with a handful of students when there weren’t kids in the lunchroom or on the playground. That was a great job for me at that time in my healing process. I worked 4 hours a day while my kids were in school. I had the mornings to organize my brain and my belongings, or just sit and drink coffee and BE still. I was still able to be the first one my kids saw after school, ask them how their day was, and cook dinner. That job has since led to a full time position as a special ed para. In just under a year of this line of work, I can’t tell you the joys (and some disappointments) that I’ve experienced. I mean, I literally CANNOT tell you because of this thing called “confidentiality.” But I can tell you that this is exactly where I am meant to be. This is important work – loving on kids that need just a little extra; listening to their stories; happily accepting their gifts of colored pages, found rocks, and dandelions; reminding them that they are a gift, they have a purpose, and, sometimes, that they can do better. It is in some ways similar to the relationship I had with Brittany. Full circle.
My husband and I had been looking at moving for a while. Okay. ONE OF US had been seriously looking and the other of us had been saying “NO.” A lot. I’d found a 1902 farmhouse in the country that I LOVED. We set up a viewing with our (extremely patient and understanding) realtor. But of course, that was before the poop hit the fan at the end of October and I ended up in NC. When we rescheduled after my return, I got the stomach bug. God has a funny way of telling me when it’s not time for something. With the holidays coming, I knew there was no way we would attempt putting our house on the market before the new year even if I could convince Hubs to love the farmhouse as much as I already did. I told our realtor we’d reschedule (again) for January if it was still on the market.
I had a dream around that time that Brittany – but not her face or body, more like her spirit or light – led me on a journey that ended at house. She/it opened the front doors, led me inside, and then to the back. I don’t remember anything specific about the house, but I woke up feeling so much peace. I had been SO consumed with wanted to move for a LONG time. The farmhouse deal wasn’t working out. I knew that. But something was going to. I had no idea how soon.
Sometime in early to mid-December, I saw a craigslist ad for a large lot for sale by owner that was close to the kids’ (and now my) school. It was right where we wanted to be (if not in the country). As it turned out, Hubs knew the seller and he agreed to give us time to investigate whether building would be feasible for us financially or not. By Christmas when we went back to NC for the holidays, I was furiously sketching house plans that would fit the lot size. We found a builder in January that was willing to work with my custom plan and in the following months we met several more times to finalize a plan that fit within our budget. In March we purchased the lot and the rest, as you know from this blog, is history. At the time I couldn’t believe we were contemplating building. It was a dream I wasn’t sure would ever come true. Not only was it exciting, but it gave me a new and creative focus that didn’t involve loss. It also didn’t involve giving so much of oneself with little in return, which is what my job, as much as I enjoyed it, required. Once again, it was exactly what was meant to be.
Daddy: (This one could be a post, or three, all by itself. Bare with me.)
My parents were not spring chickens when they were surprised with the news that I was coming. That’s a nice way of saying that my parents are old. Daddy was 63 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. That was right after I moved to California at the ripe old age of 21 for design school. Only a few months after he retired from his job of nearly 40 years with the telephone company. A few years into Parkinson’s the dementia started to appear. He was about 18 months behind his older brother in Alzheimer’s symptoms. Their mom, my Granny, also had it. It is a DREADFUL thing to watch a loved one
live with suffer from. My mom took care of my dad and watched his steady decline for much longer than she probably should have. He spent the last four and half years in nursing care and on hospice. He didn’t walk, feed himself, or otherwise care for himself during that time. He mumbled at first but slowly lost the ability to communicate. The daddy that we knew and loved was essentially gone, but we were left with a shell of him to honor and care for. We knew that he could go any time. And yes, sometimes we even prayed for it. It was absolute torture seeing our patriarch in such feeble condition. Brittany’s loss combined with Daddy’s “life” was just too much to rationalize.
On a Monday morning in early May, my mom called as I was just pulling into work. I knew when she couldn’t speak what that phone call was about. Daddy hadn’t eaten since late the week before. His body was beginning to shut down and his doctors were giving him 3- 10 days. “Get your ducks in a row,” she said.
The nice thing about my job was the flexibility it gave. While playground policing is important work, it’s not life altering. If you’re gone for a while, the world keeps moving. I flew home the next day knowing I would be gone for probably two weeks. Hubs and the boys stayed back until service plans would be made. I was going home to say goodbye to my Daddy.
My sisters, and mom, and I sat around my dad’s bed from morning to night that week, making sure he was comfortable and well cared for. I am so grateful to the nurses of his facility. Daddy was indeed very well cared for. On what would be the last day of his life, I spent a long time talking with my oldest sister in Daddy’s room about many things. I felt a connection with her and an understanding that I hadn’t felt before. It was a priceless silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. That night before we left, knowing his time would be counted in hours now, not days, we debated whether we should stay or leave. Daddy, I know, would have wanted us to go, and pass in quiet. He was a quiet man, after all, and hated bothering anybody else with his business, even, probably, in death. We drove home mostly silent, but under the most brilliant full moon and crystal clear sky. At 6:30 the next morning the phone rang and woke us all up. Daddy had passed. The day before my 33rd birthday.
Daddy’s death was in many ways a relief. Especially after the tragedy of Brittany’s death. But of course I learned what everyone who has experienced it warns…”Losing a parent is NEVER easy.” I managed to speak a few words at his funeral that I’d like to share with you now. I wish you all could have known the man that I called Daddy because he was such a great man. Here’s a glimpse into the person he was. The man who helped mold me.
In thinking about how to honor Daddy and acknowledge the person he was, there are so many things that come to mind. Naturally, I might start by talking about his work ethic. How he truly enjoyed his life’s work and worked hard at it. I might talk about his strong belief in “doing the right thing” and expecting nothing less from those around him. You could say Daddy was a quiet man that avoided drama and conflict but enjoyed time with friends and loved babies. He had a great sense of humor and liked to tell jokes and share funny stories from his past. He was strong and steadfast, consistent and dependable. He hated being late and spending money. But he found joy in simple things: bluegrass music, walking, especially on the beach, gardening, playing horseshoes, and bowling.
I have many memories of Daddy. All of them are good. I remember little things like how his hairy arm felt when I would wrap mine around his. I remember how he would whistle and jingle the change in his pocket when he walked down the hall or entered a room that was occupied. I remember big things too, like traveling cross country with him when I moved to LA and when I told him we were pregnant. But the strongest memory I have of Daddy was about ten years ago when I was facing a decision and didn’t know what to do. Mom and I talked for a long time about ti while Daddy was apparently listening in the other room. When it was time for me to go, I went to hug Daddy goodbye. With tears in his eyes he said to me, “I know whatever you do, you’ll make the right decision. I just want you to be happy.”
Maya Angelou once said “People will forget what you said People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that was the thing with Daddy. There was never any doubt that he loved us. He lived his life by example that made the lives of the people around him better. The best way I know how to honor such a genuinely good man is to continue that part of his legacy with my own life. To teach my children that with hard work and good choices, service to others, and a healthy dose of laughter, we can leave this world a better place. Just like Daddy did.
After Daddy’s funeral, we enjoyed a southern barbeque lunch at the old church he grew up in. Then we went back to Mom’s and had a photographer get a few pictures of my whole big family. We hadn’t all been in the same place at the same time for almost a decade. It was a beautiful afternoon for us all after the losses we had experienced that year.