About Me

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In this blog I have created a haven, a place I allow my deepest emotions to go and sit. I can write easily about what I’ve accomplished. This biography I can recite in my sleep. But I’ve always written poetry and in diaries since I was a teenager. I continued to write poetry in my journals, and not until 2006 did I show them to anyone. I generally write every day, at the present in memoir form. I haven’t written poetry since my mother died in January, 2007. I didn’t write at all between her death and the death of my father three years later in January, 2010. On my father’s birthday in March, 2010, I began this blog, to honor my father and to help me grieve. But I also desperately needed to write, and this stream of conscious style emerged. I needed to find my organic voice.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A friend told me I'd begin to find some peace once the "big anniversary" passed. I didn't believe her, but thanked her for the words of encouragement. I read, just yesterday, an article in one of the fashion mags--I was getting my haircut--written by a young woman in her thirties, who had lost both her parents and what that's like around the holidays. She used the word freedom several times throughout her article, which was full of loving remembrances and some tear-jerking reminiscences (sp).

These two words, peace and freedom, have stuck with me, rumbling around in my head, my heart, trying to see if they have a home. I don't know, yet. But I can tell you it's an intriguing idea.

I went about my life, keeping busy, staying in the moment with my students...even enjoying an actual evening with my husband: Indian food and a Wallace and Gromet movie (The Curse of the Were-Rabbit).  But these little words kept popping back up in my mind, immediately to be followed by a shushing of my consciousness; those words, those feelings are not for you.  A week or so passed, and I had a little time for reflection, thinking back on the short time since the first anniversary of my father's death.  Can I have peace? Have I freedom in my life without my parents? Wow. This doesn't seem possible. But in fact,  it's happening. In little pieces and moments.

I am inhaling more deeply, yes, and more often.  I am eating now, a little bit, every day. I'm still losing weight but I am working on this with my therapist.  It was just recently that I went out with K to a screening of a documentary I was in --about a performance in which I sang the European premiere of a Holocaust Oratorio.  I have been cutting my hair shorter and shorter each time I visit my stylist, and now have a real pixie cut. More recently, I've been sleeping in my bedroom after having it cleaned out. (I even bought new bedding!) All of my clothes are new--not expensive, but new. Everything that I had in my closet while my father was alive is gone, except for my gowns.

It's troubling that I see these things as huge changes in my life, picking through each one with an analytical eye, checking the significance of each against the words peace and freedom.

There are measures of each word in my recent actions and evolution.  I love my cropped hair and pierced nose. I LOVE sleeping in my bedroom, after sleeping on the couch for a year. I do feel some peace every day and I smile a little more at home. (At school it still feels like the dog-and-pony show). I talk about my father in classes, when applicable, or when the mood strikes me.   I mean, I didn't need anyone's permission to cut my hair, or pierce my nose, or doing a thorough cleanse of old clothes. I haven't felt peaceful starving myself with a scary lack of appetite. I don't necessarily feel more peaceful eating a little bit at dinner.

Someday, I"ll start cooking again, and maybe even going out. God, I hope so. I want laughter back in my life, but all I seem to get are memories of myself laughing.  Hearing my father's laugh makes me cry. I can't believe I didn't say goodbye to my mother while she was alive.

Though all of this is true,  I have moments of peace, and I recognize them because they pop out of my day's Jack-in-the-box. Freedom, though, is a mystery. I've always felt like a free spirit, but honestly, I have always felt tethered to my father's opinion of me. This has served me well, so no complaints there. And there are the inevitable "what would dad do?" moments. I think about this, and sometimes I take a different direction. Like, maybe a career change,  or buying a beautiful piece of jewelry. Or stepping out in baggy pants and a huge sweater.  Big. Small. Changes. Evolutions. Peace. Freedom.

I am Becoming. A woman, a grown up, at 45.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Looking back one year, today

Good day. You all know this is the marker of my world going wonky.  Today a year ago, my father died, at 6.30am.  I didn't awake at this mystical hour this morning, as I thought I would, but it took me forever to fall asleep last night with thoughts, memories. Memories of that last night with Dad in the hospital. Another 12, 14 hour day. He was very sedated but feeling such pain and struggling to breathe. The proper life support tubes were in place, in every orifice. I don't know if he realized we'd said goodbye that night. So much pain medication to keep him comfortable.

The morning of January 13th I got a call ----we were all staying at my father's house-- at 6.30am.
We all buckled for a moment in the hallway, unkempt, sleep -deprived, and suddenly with a hole ripped right through us . "Do you want an autopsy?" "Do you want to come and see the body before we release IT to the funeral home?" I called my sister, in a panic, and asked her what she wanted. I was too numb to know what to say. She wanted to see him, in the hospital, before the funeral home came to get 'the body' formally known as my father, so we all got ready and went.

We all got dressed: karl and i , my aunt and uncle, and got to the hospital to see him unplugged, after three weeks of tubes everywhere. Machines were turned off. It was quiet. I asked how he died. The nurse said his heart gave out. From the pressure of the lung tumor upon it. But he was still warm.

My sister came, and we felt his warmth in the hospital bed, but there was a stiffness that wasn't there before. We kissed him and kissed him, his cheeks, his forehead, his hands. Had it sunken in? Suddenly a plate of cookies and a carafe of coffee came in from the hospital. Such a lovely gesture, but it could serve no purpose. We never even gave it a glance. We stayed for a while--don't know how long, truly--

And then I went into Warrior Mode. He had asked me to be Executrix.  And so I went: Delegating phone calls ---Karl to some, Ro to others, Me to others. An appointment with the funeral home, the stone mason, the cemetery groundskeeper, the paul bearers, the venue for the luncheon after: my father's favorite happy hour location--the one with whom he shared every Friday his closest friends, his soul brothers.

The three of us --me, my sister, my husband-- met with the funeral director to choose things. "CHOOSE THINGS". Casket, service, prayer cards, wake hours, obituary (which I wrote), burial next to my mother . Viewing date. Service Date. Interment date.  Skads of phone calls that my aunt lovingly made to our extended families up and down the east coast and out to Ohio.

I don't remember when the funeral happened, honestly.  At first we wanted no priest because my father had an open disdain for the Catholic Church. (N.B. We are descendants of the first two brothers in the Catholic Church to be cannonized together). I knew of my father's disdain; my extended family did not. At the last minute I asked the funeral home if we could have a priest open and close the ceremony with a proper prayer. I read excerpts from The Warrior of Light by Paulo Coehlo; my sister talked about him as a Poppi, or grandfather. Perfect . Our wonderful friends and family from all over came to tell us what a wonderful man he was.  The receiving line was hell. My sister and I barely kept our composure.  I did a little bit better, but I'm really good about putting up walls against people. My sister is very gentle.

We were all still numb. My father had us believing he was going to win. We all wanted him to win, and frankly if anyone could, it would be someone with his fierce character, his fierce loyalty to family and friends. It was a shock that he died, even though we'd had the meeting with the staff "there's nothing we can do but keep him comfortable"...

So he was buried next to my mother, who had died January 4th, 2007.  My father could not face seeing the stone mason to get a stone going for my mother--I mean, he was diagnosed to death so close after my mother died--and so, in Warrior mode ,so I went straight away, and decided on their name as a headstone, with their individual names  and dates. I wanted to add something personal, so desperately; my sister was so distraught, I didn't want to bother her. So I decided on beautiful roses, briar roses that are intergrown, and then the phrase, (or epitaph) "Beloved Parents." Beautifully executed on Connecticut granite.  I was not able to witness its placement, but the lovely stone mason sent me a photograph. (He was a paesan, btw) And I have seen it since.

I've visited their graves twice now: once in June when cleaning out my father's house as it needed; and once after. My dearest friend, M, set some flowers there once the home was sold. I asked her to say "thank you" to both of them. For so many things. Too many to number. I have the briar roses tattooed on  the small of my back. I may add "beloved parents" but I don't know. That's already in my heart.

I feel cheated. I still hear my father's voice on the other end of the phone "Hellooooooo!" And I see his smile and feel his hugs that had an audible component "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," whether in person or over the phone.
I've read his love letters to my mother; he kept all the cards I sent him every week for two years. I couldn't keep those.

My father was a man of substance, of principle, of loyalty, and above all, love. In my life, I will never know a man his equal.

Requiescat in pace, mi padre.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A New Year

Made it through Christmas. I was so happy to get presents out to everyone on time in the midst of total grading hell.  This year of searching brought some changes to my teaching as well. I wanted to make the students' experience mean more. No multiple choice final exam, nossiree. A project! A project that allows people to really synthesize the information of the entire semester. Writing, lots of handwriting. In a class of 130.

It took me three weeks just to grade the finals for that class. Boy, was I ready for Key West.

I was excited to bring Karl to Key West for Christmas. Yes, I was escaping reality a bit, but I was also trying to live in the moment. And my moment wanted sun, warmth, ocean, palm trees. And Karl. I did want an 'anti-Christmas' this year, low key, no santas, no carols, no joy to the world. None of that was for me, much as I tried. The Christmas spirit did not reside with me this year. Maybe next year.

Last year, at Christmas, we were all together at Dad's house, and he, magnanimous host, was spectacular with the grandkids and all their excitement and silly craziness. He looked dapper, and smiled a lot. He ate a little. And because he refused to wear the nasal canula that gave him oxygen while the kids were around, he went to bed very, very early. I think he knew then (and before) that he was dying. I knew two days after, on December 27th, a day I will never forget. The silent drive to the hospital, the phone call to my aunt, the fear unspoken on my father's face; the pain spoke volumes.  My gorgeous and soul-friend, Vidya, helped get him admitted into a room on the cancer wing, the hospice wing.

I still have not been able to look at the pictures from Christmas last year.

This Christmas, there was no breakdown, though I was decidedly sedate, melancholy. I tried to find joy everywhere, but what I found was a quiet happiness. I took that, drank it like water, and was grateful. My sweet husband, as ever, was enjoying everything, lapping up the new experience, new location, as he always does.  We toasted my father at the restaurant on Christmas night, and I think being in public was good. I cried a little, but not the soul-ripping that was to come on New Year's Eve.   We made it through Christmas, and flew back to town just after.

New Year's Eve brought such a flood of emotions; the word "emotion" cannot encompass what I was feeling. I'm sure each of you, each of you who's lost someone knows the depth of pain that escapes from your throat like a wild animal, ripping open the wound that hadn't even begun to heal.  I almost vomited from the intensity. I couldn't breathe. I cooked our New Year's Dinner while sobbing. My poor husband, stuck with an injured animal.  Last year, the full moon shone in an empty cold sky as I sat with my father in the hospital. My husband had flown home briefly, only to turn around and come back.  Looking out the hospital window,  I wondered what 2010 would be like, and I could conjure nothing. Now I know. I look back, and don't know what to think. How to describe it? Can one experience define an entire year. Hell, yes. It might end up defining the rest of my life.

I have gone through all the "firsts" this year, but one.  On January 13 it will be one year, exactly, that my father died and this journey began. 6.30am.

I have to teach until noon, but I will high-tail it back home for what I expect to be another round of gut-wrenching sob-fests. I am not embarrassed about this, although they are exhausting. My aunt (my father's sister) said to me the other day: "When I die, I HOPE people will be sad for a year!" And we laughed, both understanding what a gift love is, and what the cost of it can be.

It is now 2011. The first year without my father in the world. The first year without either of my parents in the world. And I, at 45, wonder if this will be when the flower finally opens, or withers and falls off its stem.