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.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Catching up with my father

I don't know if there is an afterlife, but in this life, your birthday is coming up. A day I will celebrate by calling my sister and Ro Ro. And talk about how great a person you were, as a father, as a family man, as a brother and a son.

I drove by your house during my last visit to CT on the way to M's..The house looks good. The new owner kept your American flag flying. The big windows you loved to leave uncovered are still so--there's a large beautiful plant drinking in the sun and ... a cat condo, too. The man who bought your house understands it the way you did. I wanted you to know.

The year since you've gone has been a tough one. I"d always been able to confide in you, ask for your advice.  I've learned to fly a little blind but with the help of friends and beloved Ro Ro. And of course, Karl. Dad, he is my rock. A better man you could not have chosen for me. He loved you very much, and you inspired him, too. I really miss talking to you during the week, after work, and catching up. I especially miss our Sunday morning calls before Karl woke up. When we really talked about how things were going for you, how the cancer and treatment were doing, and handling side effects. I'm sorry I never asked you more questions, but I wanted any discussion of your cancer to be on your terms.

You'd be proud, Dad. After Ro Ro and I straightened up, cleaned and then staged the house for the realtor, I left on my sabbatical trip and accomplished some of what I could do. Part of me was devastated, but I know you'd want me out there, doing my thing.  Four months of travelling, ending up at a rental house on Sanibel Island, where I stayed alone for a week. Biking, walking, sitting on the beach. Drained. Empty.  Dad, that was the first time I really stopped to grieve, but I wasn't ready. I was still numb. After I got back to Minnesota, it hit me pretty hard. The estate business kicked in, and so I hit that, pushing my grief aside to get that work done. I know it's what you would have done.

The hardest day, after the funeral itself, Dad, was cleaning out your house. You'd already cleaned out Mom's stuff, but the house was still full of you. I found the love letters you wrote to mom; I never knew you were such a poet. Ro Ro knew, mom knew...they're beautiful, dad. Thank you for loving mom so much for so long through all the stuff that happened.  I needed help with the house, so Karl and I called Dion and company, and they came to help. It was hard to get going, to figure out how to begin the process of throwing things of Yours away. I took all of your clothes to a consignment store; the furniture was also taken for consignment. Michelle had a really hard time with this, so she was only in and out.

Each time I left your house, I kissed the front door like I was kissing your cheek. I never quite knew when the last time would be. It was July. That was the last time. Your house sold in November.  I saw it just recently, in March. The first and only house you bought and ever lived in. The house you really loved. The house I spent a semester with you the year before you died. The house we drove you away from for the last time as we took you to the hospital just after Christmas. The quietest ride in our family's history. We all knew, and wanted you to talk only if you wanted. We didn't know what to say. And thank god Vidya met us there.  How much more you remember,  I'll never know. The drugs, the morphine, the anxiety and ultimately, the life left your body. We got the call and came immediately.

So during this year you've been gone, I haven't done so well. I've poured myself into work--that you'd like--:o) both at the university at for your estate, but I've had an awfully hard time keeping my spirits up and my health reasonable. I've lost 30 pounds and am struggling to eat. I have worked for months to get to one meal a day and I think it's working. My health has been suffering, too, but I'm working to find some answers and I"m not giving up. After finishing the bulk of the estate work, I finally let myself start grieving, and it has been a time of deep, raw sadness that had to wait its time--a long time--until the important work was complete. And then I let myself go. Go to work, go home, go to pieces. I tell you this just so you know, not to complain to you up in the ether...

Over a year later, you are missed more than ever. Your furniture rests easily in our house, and the kitchen will at last look the way you imagined when you visited: beautiful, natural maple cabinets and drawers, cool dark countertops.  There are mornings when I wander around my house, opening drawers of the furniture from your house, and smelling Your house inside. Sometimes I cry, but other times it's just nice.  Dad, it's a rollercoaster for me. I should be, at 45, easily capable of moving forward, but honestly, the heart of me doesn't feel like I can without leaving you behind. And I can't do that, Dad. Leave you behind.

A year after you passed away, I am still trying to figure out how to move on and keep you with me.
I have good days, moments of joy and happiness. All of which I would normally have shared with you. You never taught me much about grief. I think I know why. How could anyone tell the story of grief? Dad, you saved and protected me from so much while you were well, even while you were sick. Grief has been a lesson I've  learned on my own. Decidedly so. We should all learn it on our own.  And you raised me to be a strong, independent woman. And so I am. But one who suffers daily, still, from your passing. A year later, Karl and I are stronger than ever, and have renewed our vows though living them. Life is very precious, and there are few people in the world who really matter. You showed me that--your family, soul-friends. I am working hard to get to know Michelle better; I don't know if she'll ever open up to me. She is drowning in her grief and won't let me help her.

I want you to know that I'll be singing in Carnegie Hall next year ; our trio is under management in New York City. And the concert will be mostly in English. You'd probably still hate it, but every note, every phrase, every bow will be dedicated to you. By the time this concert happens, another year will have passed since you left us. I know you will be in my heart that night; for now, my heart is still broken. Heartstrings are slowly growing, reaching like tendrils from one side to the other, and the mending may be beginning.  The neurologist I am seeing is requesting an echocardiogram. I wonder what it will show. A hole? A malfunction? I wouldn't be surprised.

But still, I'm here, Dad, doing what I do and dreaming of the future, doing things to honor your name and your legacy. You were just such an amazing person. I'd known you 44 years, always knew you were there, and a year without you feels like a lifetime now.  But I'm hanging in there. Some days, barely, other days are wonderful. And I thank you for the wonderful days--a day you would have been proud of me for carrying on, or laughing out loud, or being kind to my kitties.  Losing you, the most devastating experience in my life, has brought me closer to simpler happiness, needing more affection, and closer to the real me--the sweet girl you always knew hid behind the hard shell of the competitive singer. This sweet girl still loves you a ton.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Went to a Funeral, and it was like a Party...

Went to a funeral today. What a different experience it is from the ones in my family. This one was for my husband's 90 year old auntie, the loving, smiling, actor in the family of sisters.  I was nervous, pulling out my black dresses again, one for wake, one for funeral. Stomach muscles tightened, bladder spasmed, anticipating the heart and soul sucking void to reappear in my heart as we entered the funeral home. It was not a somber affair, but full of photographs, laughter, kids running round, people dressed in bright colors.  I thought for a moment that I had gone into the wrong room. There was joy, and nostalgia, people happily sharing memories of this wonderful, vivacious woman who is no longer with us. I'd be wrong to say nobody was crying or upset, but most were chatting, catching up...as if we were at a reunion and not a death.  

L's longevity certainly gave her family a lot of wonderful memories; she saw great grandchildren in her lifetime. She had her trademark smile and red glasses throughout her life; I couldn't help but smile at such joy.

We did these things for my father as well, at his wake and memorial service. Carefully we chose pictures to show, we had family and friends come round during the wake, quiet, hushed, gentle words to us. We were on the edge of breaking down, and if one person had said some platitude "Oh he's in a better place now" I might have come unhinged and really punched someone. There was very little joy at my father's wake and service. We were all devastated. Today, I am still devastated. I then think back three years earlier, at my mother's funeral, thinking "she's not suffering anymore." She let herself be taken over by something beyond her control and it was in its grasp, with only one journey possible. In this case, it seemed appropriate.  When we buried her, in a light rain, as the priest said his last blessings, a full rainbow blossomed from one side of the field to the other. We knew. We knew that was my mother telling us she was okay. We all wept.

My father died on a freezing cold January night. None of us were in the room.  We all generally left the hospital by between 8 and 10 pm, to go home and grab some sleep before getting back to the hospital by 8am the next morning. That was our schedule for the weeks he was in the hospital.  The morning our phone rang at 6.30 I knew exactly what had happened. He passed away before we could get there to say good bye. I was devastated. I couldn't believe he'd been there, alone, with strangers, as he left this world. 
My aunt, his sister, said something very wise, as we were getting ready to go to the hospital. She suggested that perhaps in true Dad fashion, he wanted to spare his children from watching him die. He preferred to do it privately.  Do we have a say in such things as a dying person? If so, my father was a man I imagine could do that.  We had said all the things we wanted, forgiven one another, and reaffirmed our love and gratitude that we were a good family together. What else was there to say? And I was so exhausted at night, I crashed as my head was hitting the pillow and it seemed like the next moment the alarm was going off to start another day.

It has been a year and three months since my father has passed away. I was just in Connecticut for spring break with a mission in mind: cemetery first. Reaffirm it's true, they're gone. I still need this marble confirmation. To touch it, run my fingers through the letters carved so beautifully. Wondering if there's an afterlife, or are they just beneath me, returning to dust.  Saw my sister, still so troubled, and my heart breaks for her. She said she'll never get over the deaths of our parents, and doesn't really want her own life, anymore. This scares me, but I sure do understand what she means. I'll never get over it, either, but I am blessed with a steady, wise, and loving husband who let me be me--sweet, spiteful, angry, outraged, supportive--whatever it is I am.  We can talk about the impact of my father's death, not only on me, but on my husband, too. Spouses grieve, too. He not only grieved for my dad, whom he adored, but also had to experience my deep grief for my father. We are working through this together. It's been over a year and I can still hear my father's voice when he answered the telephone, and it brings a smile to my face. Those muscles have been severely underused over the past year.   Also saw  friends from high school, who have become my rocks and my lighthouse. I could not be myself with anyone but them; each of them took me in, each a week at a time. It's hard to recall what those two weeks were like, except I had food available, a warm bed, and leisurely mornings. These friends are my soul friends, with whom I can share anything, and they with me. 

What irks me about this, a little bit, is that we galvanized with my father's illness. I am sorry my father's illness got us all back in close touch. But I will not question this any longer. These friends have become my family, along with my sister. I hope, someday, to know my sister better, that she will open up to me. I am always watching my ps and qs with her. I don't want to anger her in the fragile state she's in, but if I knew what was going on perhaps  I could be there to support her. To help her find happiness-which she is sure is gone forever.   There are things in her life I cannot fix. They are not of my making. I hope when she feels stronger she will make some of the choices that will lead her towards happiness and feeling more fulfilled in life. 

It's hard to be fulfilled now. I just get through the day, hopefully without breaking down too many times, and I work until it's done, so I have time to sleep and then resurrect the dog and pony show at work.

My first trip to Connecticut in seven years that involved no dying, no hospital crises, no chemo treatments, not PET scans, no dignity stripping hospital stays, no labelling us the "anxious family."  I was worried I would jump back into crisis mode....I didn't but felt quite anxious, esp around the steaming pot of my sister's grief and anger. Hell yes, she's angry. I understand that. But it keeps you stuck. I do not want to be stuck in that purgatory. That is no life. I did, though, jump back into warrior mode because a friend is in need. I overstepped, apologized, and told her I loved her and I was there for her as SHE needs. 

I take my father everywhere I go. He is in my heart. His sensibilities and wise words are in indelibly etched into my consciousness. I do not feel crazy when I ask him questions, or for help, or tell him that I miss him, terribly. The furniture in our house that was his have become touchstone pieces for me. I am grateful. Some day, if he indeed gets to 'look down' on us, I hope he'll forgive me for the state my house is in. Still so many boxes, stuff in disarray, and proof of our disconnection from the world sits in piles on every countertop in the kitchen. We're still working to get back into our life full swing, but we're still trying to figure out if that definition has changed. I think it has. I am a pretty simple person who can put on quite the facade. I want the facade to come down and my authentic self to come out.

In this year plus, I have learned so much about myself: I am a happy homebody; I do not enjoy socializing; I like my time alone; I'd rather spend time with Karl over any other person. I am not willing to waste time on ANYTHING that is not relative to my own growth or that of my students. In this year of learning about myself, I've finally come to terms with not having children. I was most concerned that I hadn't given my dad any grandchildren (luckily my sister did), and feared it impacted his feelings towards me. Thank god I brought it up in the hospital, and I know his answer. 

Some of this time has given me a look inward, and it's dramatically changed my outward appearance. It feels lighter, easier. My weight is still an issue; at just around 100 pounds, I'm on the edge, but I am working on it. Now I fear getting old, for the first time. With both parents gone by age 66, what does this mean for me? While nervous, I feel cautiously optimistic. The therapy, physical exercize (promise, that's coming) and experiencing the grief bursts whenever they appear, all help me come to terms with this. 

I will miss you, Mom and Dad, and will always wonder what the rest of my life would be like with you in it. How Mom would dress up and tell her friends about my upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall; my father would tell his friends, too, but in  desultory way: "She never sings in English, but I think she's good. Why can't she just sing in English?"  For you Dad, our Carnegie Hall program is almost ALL in English.  If it's not on the written program in will be in my heart that the concert is dedicated to you.

Tired. Lots of loud, exhuberent (sp) midwesterners, sad but happy. Revelling in memories. I am wiped out, with the memories of my own. Ciao.  un bacio

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Venturing Home

I've spent time thinking about what my trip to Connecticut might feel like. This one is entirely for pleasure: to see dear friends, and my sister, brother in law, and sweet niece and nephew. This is the first trip there for fun in almost ten years. I think back to when my mom was sick, in and out of the hospital--I'd fly back from the midwest in an emergency situation. Several emergency situations. Upon my dad's diagnosis, (just months after my mother's death), I spent a semester at my father's , teaching online. And the trips after have all been grief-inspired. Time has passed.....................healing has begun. And yet I find my self a little uneasy about this fun trip. No trip to my hometown will ever be uncomplicated. A stop at the cemetery with flowers. Moments of memories fly by. Sometimes I've spoken out loud to my parents, and others, not.

I'm nervous, too, about visiting my sister and family. We have dealt with our grief very differently, and I'll see the kids, now, too--how they're doing, are they talking about Poppi and sometimes Mimi? I know I'll be emotional seeing the kids--I love them as if they were my own. I wish I could more, be more, for them.  I want to hear all about school, their friends, and then maybe play with their most current toys, or games. There will be some tv involved (with lots of energetic explanation!)  Crying is generally frowned upon at their house, but I won't curb my tears--that 's how I've gotten through all of this--feeling my emotions and letting them take over now and then. It's painful but I think it has helped me. I know I"ll be glad I took time at the cemetery.

After this visit I'll be heading west to Torrington to my dear friend M's house. During the rest of the week, we will go about the days meeting a friend for brunch, welcoming another friend into town, and yet...I have no expectations. It feels good to operate this way. I have no expectations about what it'll be like at my sister's either. It will be as it is, so no use trying to make it some way or another. I love the people I'm visiting so it's all good!

And it is ALWAYS good to get out of Minnesota in February, early March.  

The time will be short; just over a week.  My husband will be staying home to work... And this trip I cannot fit in visit my aunt, whom I dearly love. I'll have to arrange a trip when the weather is better.  Maybe going home now, under these circumstances, will bring some joy back into this trip, so for the future, an new sense of optimism and excitement comes with me. I know I will drive down our former street, drive by my late father's house, slowly, almost wishing I could knock on the door and she what he's 'done with the place,' but that's even weird for me.

I am looking forward to expressing my happiness and love, giving lots of hugs and kisses in gratitude and greeting, and giving in to my inner child so I can play how the kids play.