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What do you do with the grief that sneaks up through the fruitless past and the lost potential of relationship?

The call came on Saturday, May 12th.  2:18 p.m. Central time is when my dad breathed his last. 

Relief.  I’m relieved that he’s finally, really, truly, at peace.  I’m relieved that the waiting is over; he’s dead. 

Over the years I’ve thought about what it would be like when my dad died.  Would I have regrets?  Would I be torn up and sad.  Would  lost opportunities haunt me?  Would I even care? 

That man who could speak Chinese, French, Vietnamese, German, Spanish and who knows how many others; that man couldn’t speak to me.  He talked at me; but I don’t remember any conversation in which he heard me. 

As a Christian, I believe he is in a place now where he can truly hear me.  And that he is hearing in a way that he can understand.  I don’t understand how it works, but I believe it does.

As a daughter I’m sorry I wasn’t a better one.  I know some psychological and relational reasons that affected our time together and made it fruitless in many ways.   I had already told him the five things that the hospice volunteers had suggested were important: 1. I love you, 2. I forgive you, 3. I’m sorry, 4. Thank you, and 5. you’re welcome.  I told them in a way that suited us, I think.  He didn’t respond much then as he was mostly only saying "yes" or "no" to simple questions.

Before I left Chicago on April 28th, I had one last private conversation with him.  I told him I was sorry I hadn’t been a better daughter.  And I asked him to forgive me.  And his final words to me were, "I forgive you everything." 

And I too really forgive him everything.  I am sure I won’t forget it; I won’t stop wondering if things could have been different somehow.  But I hope he is at peace.  I think life was hard for him.  I think he was somehow ill-equipped for the relationship gig.  And I’m glad he’s not suffering it anymore. 

dad head shot

"Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen."

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

". . . let’s put men
dressed like European candy bars in jail for a traffic violation."

– Jon Carrol

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Why is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality
that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we
have told it to the same person?

  – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

For Just A Moment

by Brenda Penepent   

For just a moment
    I’m sure I saw
    a flicker of light ahead.
    Perhaps it was your smile.
    Though past now, remembered,
    in my heart
    like the small sound of
    a butterfly passing by.
    No night
    is so dark
    that can not be brightened
    with memories of you.
    Raindrops carry along
    your blessings from heaven
    to wash away my tears
    and bring me hope anew.


In 1870, after the devastation of the American Civil War, social
activist and poet Julia Ward Howe wrote the original Mother’s Day
Proclamation calling upon the women of the world to unite for peace. 
from Mother’s Day for Peace 

some sites for hope and peace:

no more victims
united for peace and justice
voters for peace
pax christi usa

Because sometimes you need a respite from the real….

          Friday Five: Potato, Po-tah-to Edition

There are two types
of people in the world, morning people and night owls. Or Red Sox fans
and Yankees fans. Or boxers and briefs. Or people who divide the world
into two types of people and those who don’t. Let your preferences be
known here. And if you’re feeling verbose, defend your choices!

1. Mac? or PC?

So, if I could choose, really choose, I’d go mac.  But, it’s not my choice, so PC.  I began my computing days on apples… LOVED them.  Had my own little Classic II named Lydia…. she was a dear, darling, portable little sweetheart.  Oh, how I miss her.

2. Pizza: Chicago style or New York

Oh, the goodness of the Chicago style pizza… preferably from Chicago, in Chicago with my Chicago-ey friends.  (Although I did have an amazing slice at The Famous Ray’s Pizza (of Greenwich village) in New York once with one of my excellent New York friends.)

3. Brownies/fudge containing nuts:
a) Good. I like the variation in texture.
b) An abomination unto the Lord. The nuts take up valuable chocolate space.

I’d rather not talk about it.  Brownies contain sugar…

4. Do you hang your toilet paper so that the "tail" hangs flush with the wall, or over the top of the roll like normal people do?

I claim to be normal… unless it’s the middle of the night.

5. Toothpaste: Do you squeeze the tube wantonly in the middle, or squeeze from the bottom and flatten as you go just like the tube instructs?

Why, just like the tube instructs.  I’m a rule follower…. Mostly.

Bonus: Share your favorite either/or.

Knit or Crochet?  I choose both, but knitting owns my heart and my hands.

Chicago in late April this year was chilly, breezy and wet.  I had brought all the appropriate clothes though I didn’t, in the end, need the ones I brought for a memorial service.  I had books to read, projects to knit, journals to write in and a digital camera.  I had my brother by my side (or was I by his?) and we were met at O’Hare by Judy, Dad’s former wife. 

Judy and Justin, my half brother, have taken care of Dad over the years.  They’ve lived closer and been more responsible than any of his other family.  They are quite the altruists, if you ask me. 

We got in late; we shared our recent stories; we checked on each others’ health and well being; we reconnected and it was kind of awkward.  I couldn’t then understand what impulse led me to dash off to Chicago.  I was baffled by the quick series of events which got me there.  Can you have jet lag from a four hour flight? 

Thursday: we went out to breakfast.  I had lots of coffee.  I’ve been drinking just buckets of coffee lately.  Then, after dawdling there, reluctantly, it seemed, we went off to the nursing home to see Dad. 

He seemed happy to see us.  He was in bed; paralyzed on his left side, monosyllabic in response to questions when he ventured any answer at all.  His eyes followed us and he would smile when we cracked a joke.  He was very thin.  And very still.  Conversations with Judy and the nurses indicated that he had just "given up" and didn’t seem to have anything to live for and so a few months ago he stopped eating regularly.  Hence the thin.

Over the next days we ate out; we sat by his bed, or stood in the hall.  I talked to another brother and another sister.  We kept vigil, I think.  Dad’s only brother, Myron, arrived with his wife and daughter (Audrey and Angie) from Iowa.  I’d not seen them for over 20 years.  And while we are, really, strangers to one another, there was a sense of family: the ties of our younger years of contact were strong.  We shared stories.  Well, Angie and Audrey shared stories.  I think they are the story-keepers of that side of my family.  They had many.  Angie would ask, "don’t you remember this or that happening?" and I would have to say, "no, not really," far too many times.

I don’t know why I don’t remember the stories she does.  Maybe they affected her so much more deeply than they did me.  I remember so much from my Illinois childhood: I’m one of the story-keepers for this other side of the family.  (Though my brothers and sisters say I have selective memory – well, and who doesn’t?) 

The care and gentleness with which Myron greeted his older brother was striking and touching.  Had I not been so tired and wrung out from my own grief about my mother, I think I would have burst into tears seeing it.  And I was reminded that these two men had once been young and brothers just as my five sisters and brothers and I had once been close as children.  Close and bickering; close and caring; close and careless about the time we had together.

One evening after visiting with Dad (who wandered in and out of consciousness) we went through a box of photos he’d collected and kept.  We found pictures each of us had never seen before.  There were photos from several generations back; photos that Angie and Audrey and Myron could identify; some that Allan and I could identify; some that only Judy and Justin knew.  There were maybe five or six photos of me that I have no recollection of ever seeing.  Pictures from my toddler years and the awkward pre-teen years when my younger brother and I visited Dad in his various apartments. 

There was a picture of me at a airplane show with another girl and I suddenly remembered how one summer I visited Dad in Chicago and this girl I’d met that year came with… she was more wild than I and we got into trouble with the manager of Dad’s apartment building when we played "elevator operator" to the annoyance of what seemed like hundreds of other residents.  I have no idea what that girl’s name is nor whatever happened to her. 

Many pictures featured my mother and her very small children.  There were pictures of her with her own mother; two copies of a picture of Mom at six months of age (what the heck was my Dad doing with that picture?)  And I was torn apart by the image of her as a young woman; a young mother.  I so desperately want to ask her about these photos.  Where was this house?  When was this one taken?  Is this baby standing on the table my oldest brother or my oldest sister?  Who is this shadowy man, standing just inside the screen door, in this shot of teenage you on the front stoop with your mom?   

Those years are gone.  That opportunity is gone.  Just like the opportunity my Dad had of forging relationships with his kids.  He squandered those opportunities.  I squandered a few myself.  That girl on vacation with me in that summer is a total stranger – I’d not recognize her again.  My Dad was, for the most part, a stranger to me too.  In many ways.  But not all.

to be continued.

May 2007