Dear Dad…

featherii

Dear Dad:

It’s hard to believe three years have gone by.  It’s been a lifetime and an instant.  It’s been an adjustment that will never feel right.  But, we’ve done as you wanted and we’ve tried to move forward.  Some days have gone better than others.  Some weeks better than others.  And, in some cases, we had to take it minute by minute.

I’m getting to the point where I can focus myself on the good times before the bad.  I can think of our daily calls and texts without crying.  I can think about our summers just sitting around talking without feeling the crush of loss.  I can think about all the times you told me you loved me without feeling utterly lost.

I’m also doing my best to work on those areas of my life you always hounded me about.  I think you’d be proud.  I’m taking more downtime.  This was the first summer in my career that I am working less.  However, I haven’t mastered the art of just relaxing as you were always stressing to me.  I’m a work in progress.

I so wish you were here to experience first-hand all the wonder that is your granddaughter.  She is witty, smart, sweet and sassy, and just overall a beautiful little soul.  You knew that though.  I just wish you were here to see her.  I miss the times you used to call just to hear her babble.  Oh how she can talk your ear off now.

We’ve had some major hurdles since you’ve been gone.  But, we’ve done as you always asked and stuck together.  I made you promises and will always keep them.  Family first no matter what.

I promise we will keep moving forward.  We will honor you by living the fullest life we can just as you always wanted for us.  Please keep sending those little signs that I know are from you.  The feathers in unexpected places, the red cardinals that love my neighborhood and the strong presence I sometimes feel.  They keep me going, remembering and give me a little smile and reassurance.

I love you, Dad.  I miss you.  I always will.

Your Daughter

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What I miss…

dad and abigail

Busted!

 

Today I’m thinking about all those things I miss about having Dad healthy and here with us.

It goes without saying that I miss everything. Some things make sense in terms of what I miss, but others are memories that mean a lot to me and may seem trivial to others.

I miss his voice.  I do have a DVD with clips of family reunions where his voice is heard.  I play that more than I probably should.  I was devastated when I learned that my cell phone had automatically deleted his voicemails to me and there was no way to get them back.  I get scared sometimes that I cannot hear his voice in my head.  I miss his voice.

I miss his special ring tone and text tone.  We talked or texted everyday.  I’d hear his text tone and get a smile and welcomed the break to text for a few minutes.  Or, I’d give a small laugh after I made his ring tone drum corp and he’d call.  Yes, I miss talking to him and sharing with him.  But, I miss that sound that tells me he is on the other end.  It seems strange, I know, but when you are used to those sounds and what they represent you miss them.  No one else can be my “gong” or “Drum Corp” notifications.

I miss his reassuring hand on my shoulder.  Dad and I could have deep conversations about life and about things going on in the world.  Sometimes, during really bad times, at the of our conversations we couldn’t say anymore and he’d put his hand on my shoulder, his lips would be tight across the front and the only sound that would come out would be, “tut.” He got it.  I got it.  I knew we’d be okay.

I miss his fried potatoes.  Man, I do not know what that man did to those potatoes, but I’ve never been able to recreate them.  Hubby loved Dad’s breakfasts when we were home.  He did them right.  Dad would laugh and tell me they are just normal potatoes fried in a pan, but I don’t believe him.  He was saying something to those potatoes to make them so good.

I miss him complaining to me that I am messing up his lawn.  He would OCCASIONALLY let me mow the lawn at the house.  But, boy, he would pace (he’d exaggerate that pace to make it dramatic) but not really because he loved his lawn and loved having it “just so.”  Hubby now takes that task because, like Dad, he doesn’t think I can mow a lawn properly. But, I love being on the riding lawn mower at home and coming over every inch of the land he loved, but miss the ball cap being thrown to the ground (in a comical manner) and the clutching of his heart (Fred Sanford style) when I would mess up the mow lines.

I miss him giving Abigail Pepsi, ice cream sandwiches, candy, cakes–you name it–he’d give it to her and then tell me he “forgot” I didn’t give her that kind of stuff.  I miss him sending a weekly DVD for her.  I miss him calling just to listen to her babble.  I hate that my daughter will never know the kind of Grandpa he wanted to be.

The list could go on and on, but for some reason these are the ones on my mind.  But, I also miss something else.

I miss the person I was before he died.  The saying “Death changes everything.” is no exaggeration.  There is no way I can be the same person before as I am after.  I live a full life.  I laugh.  I joke. I love.  But, I’m not the same. You are fundamentally altered after such a loss.

While it will be sad to see another year pass without him, I will remember to laugh as much as I can during this hard month because I am so fortunate to have so many things to miss and love about that man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear

dogwoods

Today fear hit me in such a way that I am still processing everything that happened and my own feelings about it. Writing seemed the only way to be able to start reflecting on the events and a part of my new reality I haven’t confronted before.  One that is always in the back of my mind, but I never dwell on it instead choosing to believe it will be sometime in the far, far distance.

It was a regular day.  I was grading papers at my desk thinking toward my afternoon class.  My phone rang. It was Mom. Except when I answered it wasn’t Mom. It was her co-worker telling me she was having chest pains and needed to go to the hospital. I RAN from the office and probably broke a few laws getting to my Mom.

Mom on the gurney. Mom hooked to machines.  Mom looking SO pale and frail.  The calm nature of the doctors and nurses. Me screaming in my head as I observed all of this, “Why are you so calm?  Don’t you know this is my Mom?  Don’t you know this is the only parent I have left?”  Me speaking to the nurses in my own calm voice answering questions about her medical history, family medical history, current medication–so many questions.

Waiting–oh the waiting!  I thought answers about heart attacks would be quicker. Nope–a 3 hour wait to evaluate cardiac enzymes or whatever they are called. Pacing, sitting, standing, looking at my phone, pacing some more, sitting some more.

And then finally the non-answer. She didn’t have a heart attack, but the heart is a funny, funny muscle. She could have been feeling something but only tests from a cardiologist will be able to tell us more.  The ER visit today was to solely tell us she didn’t have a heart attack.  Then, he kind of made me laugh when he essentially told us he was also going to treat her for gas, because you know, it could also be that.  I brought Mom home and then proceeded to nearly give her a heart attack with the number of times I crept into her room to check on her.  And, I will likely do this for some time to come or until we have more answers.  I definitely will be these doctors worst nightmare in the weeks to come as we have these tests.  I want to understand every detail.

But, I’m also sitting here thinking about my support system.  Wow, these people cover me in love and concern when I need it.  Hubby was home ensuring Munchkin was happy and content and, above all, oblivious to what was happening. Texting and checking in.  Making me laugh even when I didn’t want to.  My sister–stomach all torn up with worry right with me–feeling the same fears.  Mind going a million different directions–none of them good.

Two other women, the most unlikeliest of friendships, like always were ready to do whatever I needed.  These two women have been the most amazing friends since we moved to town.  I’m the youngest, J is 10 years older than me and R is 10 years older than J.  I do not think I would have been able to stand, stay focused and be as healthy as I am without their constant friendship.  I do not thank these two women enough for being such good friends and strong examples to me about motherhood, friendship and overcoming challenges. They jumped in and took care of what needed to be done at work and then just kept in touch with me and would have been in that ER in 10 minutes flat if needed.

Later, I reached out to some family to let them know what was happening.  I was scared.  Just needed some reassurance.  They always provide the level headedness.  And, as always, I wish my Dad’s family was just a little closer distance wise during times likes these and that my sister in law was just down the road.

I got home and I reached out to my silent, constant–K.  She knows the deep rooted fear since she lost her father many years ago now. She was right there and you know what, I know with out a doubt in my heart that if I had said, “K–I need you here.” 8 hours later she would have been in my driveway.  She shared how she’s dealt with the fears.  The healthy ways she’s tried to channel it.

And there are many more.  I know that.  And I know I am so blessed in having this support.

But, I’m not going to lie.  It freaking sucks to have this fear of losing my one parent.  I have many friends who have already lost a parent or both and I think, “How do we do this?”  How do we keep all the fears in check or how do you keep the grief in check?  How do I make sure this episode doesn’t put me back into that dark place I was a year ago; two years ago? I just don’t know.

I know I will have this fear, this far reaching, deep fear of losing my only parent.  I know that I have to recognize the fear, deal with it in a healthy way and then handle the future with the same calm on the outside with hopefully more calm on the inside.  I also know that I still have an amazing circle of people around me who will help me with whatever comes my way.

 

A New Start

rainbow

Letchworth State Park, New York State

 

I woke up on January 1, 2016 and I felt different.  I just felt lighter, more motivated and that inkling of “me”–the person I was before overwhelming grief.  the person I was before where I didn’t question every decision I’d ever made.  The person I was before where I didn’t feel an overwhelming guilt.  Even now, 25 days later I cannot quite put my finger on it.  I’m still grieving.  Today proves that–I’m having an angry day. I still have those moments where I question the decisions I made.  I still have a lot of regrets.  But, my outlook on the future, what I want to do with my family and what I want to accomplish professionally is suddenly clearer again.

I’ve found myself in the last 25 days reaching out to my friends again.  Over the last year and  half I just simply didn’t have the energy.  Not that my friendships take a lot of energy.  They don’t.  I have a great circle of women who just let me be.  They understood.  They knew I needed time.  They didn’t take it personally.  They loved me from afar.  But, even just picking up the phone and trying to explain how I was doing was a task.  I had no words to explain.  I couldn’t talk about how I was really doing when I couldn’t explain it to myself.  I turned inward toward my family–those who knew and loved my father best–and just sought their comfort.  I needed that and now I feel stronger and more able to articulate my feelings.

Hubby and I are making plans again.  We are thinking toward the future and the kind of lives we want to lead, the experiences we want Munchkin to have and we are actively pursing those.  We are taking steps to make our shared dreams come true.  We are actively seeking new adventures.  We are excited about potential opportunities.

I’m excited to start the semester.  The last two semesters I had no excitement of being back in the classroom.  This was nothing against my students.  I just didn’t have the energy like I normally did to give them all they needed.  I beat myself up for it.  I hated feeling like I was giving less than 100% in the classroom a place that holds my passion.  I hated feeling like I was putting on a show and going through the motions.  But today, 3 hours from my first class of 2016 I am energized and ready to go.

I also feel Dad saying, “Good for you!”  As much as I miss him.  As much as I want him here.  As angry as I sometimes feel that he’s not with us–I know he’s encouraging me to have a new start and take what I’ve learned about myself in the last 18 months and do good with it.  As he always said at the start of football season about his beloved Buffalo Bills, “This is our year” and in many ways I feel this is mine.  To continue learning to live without him, to enjoying my baby girl to the fullest, to continue going after dreams with my hubby and to be a good daughter, sister, niece, cousin and friend.

Here’s to 2016 and all it may bring–whether good or bad–I’m ready to tackle the future with a fresh, clear outlook.

Children and Grief

Dad_Abigail

Granddaddy and Munchkin

Munchkin was not yet 4 when my father died.  J and I knew that having her living in the same house where my father was in his last days was going to be difficult, confusing, and heartbreaking for her.  But, we saw no other choice.  Like many situations, there were just no good solutions.

In the days leading up to his death we talked with her a lot about Granddaddy going to heaven.  We tried our best to help a 3.5 year old understand the permanency of death and what was going to happen.  We didn’t believe in telling her half truths about what was going to happen.  She was going to see the full depths of my grief in the days, weeks, months to come and so we needed to try to prepare her for all that would entail.

Of course, initially we saw actions that we simply expected to see.  She acted out.  She regressed in her potty training.  She needed her Mommy and Daddy even more.  When my Dad passed, she parroted what we had told her about death.  We knew she understood pieces of it, but had many long conversations between ourselves about how much she was understanding and how she might really be dealing with it.  But, overall she seemed to do really well.  She liked to talk about Granddaddy and hear stories.  She would hug me and tell me she knew I missed him a lot.  She would also remind me that he was looking down on us.  We’ve bee in that pattern for the year and a half since my Dad passed.

Then, last night happened.

It was a regular, rambunctious bedtime.  We did teeth, potty and stories.  Up highs, down lows, in the middles, hugs, kisses and tickles.  J and I shut the light off and walked out.  About 15 minutes later she came out of her room and sought me out with just the biggest tears rolling down her little face.  She said,

“Mama, I miss Granddaddy.  I can’t remember him.  I can’t remember his face.  Our family is not the same anymore, is it Mama?  Granddaddy really isn’t coming back, is he?”

She worked herself up to the point where she was sobbing and having trouble breathing.  It broke my heart into a million pieces.  Of course, I wondered where this was coming from.  We are a year and a half from his passing.

Naturally, when I do not understand I head to the literature.  I spent time this morning reading about preschoolers and grief.  According to the article I found on helping children through grief from the National Association of School Psychologists, “Young children may deny death as a formal event and may see death as reversible.  They may interpret death as a separation, not a permanent condition.”  It hit me at that moment.  Her little mind was just now comprehending that Granddaddy was never coming back.

They gave some very important advice that we will take to heart and help our Munchkin as she is just now really taking in the events of the last year and a half.  First, the article notes that young children do not grieve in orderly and predictable ways.  This really explained the seemingly delayed response to Dad’s death.  As an adult I quickly understood the reality of death.  I don’t know why it never dawned on me that it would take her longer to process the reality of loss.  The article also suggests to allow Munchkin to teach us about her grief experience.  Allow her to tell her story and for us to be listeners.  This morning she told me she wanted to make a special frame for her favorite picture of her and my Dad.  Tonight we went to Michaels and I let her pick out whatever she wanted for this special project.  While we worked on the project she told me her favorite things about Dad.  She remembers a lot more than I thought she would.

I was 16 before I lost someone close to me.  J was in his 30’s.  Munchkin lived in a home where she experienced death first hand.  One day Granddaddy was in his room and the next day he was not.  Now that she is processing his death at a different level we begin a whole new phase of the grief process.

What happened last night was a shock to us all.  Mom was upset.  J was not only upset about Abigail, but also concerned with how it was affecting me.  We’ve entered into a new phase of handling grief.  The literature notes the importance of allowing Munchkin to talk to us, being good listeners, and being as open and honest as we can about death.

How do I find the words?

veterans

2010

My Dad was a five time commander of our local American Legion.  Working on veterans issues was a real passion for him.  We found out a few months ago that the leadership of our Legion decided to name a room in the building after my Dad.  I get to speak words to honor my Dad at the ceremony.  I’ve been working on the speech for a few days.  I have so much I want to say, but I can still hardly believe I have to write about him in the past tense.

“My Dad was…”

“Dad would have been so proud…”

“Dad loved being around each and every one of you…”

I read those phrases with a feeling of disbelief.  How can I possibly be talking about him in this way?  I know it is all too real yet the words are written in a dreamlike state.  The words for this speech are much more difficult a year later.  In writing and giving his eulogy I was dealing with the loss on pure adrenaline.  Now, I am in the midst of truly grieving him.  I’ve had a year to mourn all of the firsts–first day of a new semester without my pep talk, first Father’s Day, first Christmas, first birthday.  I am now going onto the seconds and then the thirds and then the fourths.  My heart hurts as I think of how many more monumental moments in life we will have without him by our side.

But, having this room named after him is truly a remarkable gift.  A year later and he has not been forgotten and there will be a piece of him forever immortalized in a place he loved dearly and served for many years.  A year later people outside of his family miss him and want to make sure he is remembered.

A year later…it seems so hard to believe.

A year later…it is still a deep, deep pain A year later…it still seems like a bad dream

A year later…A year later…A year later…

How in the world can it be a year later?

The Little Green Pill…

cloudy day

I was in a cloud…ready for the sun again…

There are so many messages out there about how to appropriately deal with grief.  Talk to someone.  Find an outlet to channel the energy.  Just deal with it.  Face it.  Don’t be afraid to cry.  Don’t cry too much.  Take as long as you need.  Be mindful of the stages of grief.  Pray.  Meditate.  Give over the grief.  I’ve heard it all from articles I’ve read, been sent or suggestions that have been made to me.  But what happens when you have tried all of the above and none of them worked so you take a route that isn’t as openly discussed?

The treatment of mental health issues through medication is still a taboo topic.  Society makes jokes all the time about people who need their “crazy pills.”  Or, someone needs a, “chill pill.”  Hey–no judgement from me.  I will openly say I’ve been guilty of this myself over the years.  I really started to think about this taboo when I realized none of the touchy feely articles of how to deal with grief were working for me.

I had severe anxiety after my loss.  I would wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack.  I’d terrify my poor hubby with those episodes.  In the middle of the day another attack may present itself while I was doing something as simple as grocery shopping.  To top it off I was under a tremendous amount of pressure at work.  I was going up for promotion and tenure.  That is an extremely stressful time in the life of an academic.  I knew I needed professional help, but something was still stopping me from making the appointment.

Two of my dearest friends finally told me if I didn’t make the appointment they would make it for me.  They were witnessing my deterioration and they were very afraid for me.  They followed up with me daily to make sure I made the call.  But, I was still nervous about that first appointment and then this idea of “being on drugs.” In my mind I kept thinking, “I am a strong woman.  I have dealt with so much in my life.  Why can’t I just handle this?  Am I weak?  I am not THAT person” In turn, the appointment itself was causing anxiety.

A full five months after my Dad’s death I saw my primary care giver.  Heck, I was already self medicating with food. What did I have to lose?  My primary care giver never batted an eye when I told him all I had dealt with in the last months.  He was reassuring and walked me through several options in a clear manner.  We made the decision to start with two pills–one for everyday and one for emergency anxiety attacks.  He wanted to see me at two weeks, six weeks, and then six months.  I felt so reassured.

Now, let me shout from the mountain tops, I LOVE MY MEDS! After seven months of combining the medications to work on my anxiety and then relying on the coping skills I’ve used for years I finally feel more like myself.  I don’t know why I waited so long.  Wait…I do.

We need to have more open conversations about the necessity of proper mental health.  We need to call people out when they make fun of people who have mental health challenges.  We need to hold the entertainment industry accountable for their portrayal of people with depression, anxiety, etc.  We need to be mindful of those dearest to us and reach out to them if we notice drastic changes in behavior.  We also need to demand adequate coverage from our insurers for the treatment of mental health.  WE need to take away the stigma attached to mental health and the medications used to help people.

Because of two concerned friends I am well on the road to recovery and I fully attribute that to finally seeing my doctor and pairing coping strategies with a medication.  I encourage you–have the hard conversations with either yourself or maybe with a loved one.  Do not hesitate.  Do not delay.  Do what YOU need to do to be healthy again following loss.

A Year Later…

The peace of home…

I arrived home this past weekend.  My childhood home.  The home where I spent many happy summers with my Dad and Grandpa.  The home where I have always felt at peace.  The home where I get my grounding.  Even though the house doesn’t resemble the home I spent so much time in as a youth, I still get that same calming feeling as soon as I pull in the driveway.  This home is also the place where my beloved father and grandfather passed on from this world.  So, to me, it is much more than a house or even a home but where last year I was able to spend the last moments of my father’s life with him.

Dad left this world on June 22, 2014 at about 6:10 p.m.  He was surrounded by his two daughters.  We’d said all we needed in the days before. Were we ready?  Absolutely not. Not even remotely.  We were 30 and 35 years old.  But, I will say we were glad he was no longer suffering.

Our hearts broke the moment we realized he took his last breath.  We sobbed, we got angry and then we proceeded to make the phone calls that we had on our list for when he passed.  It seemed our family arrived in seconds though I know it was longer.

The next day I got up and started on the lists I had made before he passed.  I knew I ‘d never remember what I needed to do and I was glad for my notebook with all my notes.  We picked out flowers, delivered his suit, and made last minute decisions. We’d made the bulk of the funeral decisions even before he passed away. We also hung an American flag on every pole on our street in tribute to him.  People arrived to put up tents in our yard to host the people who would come to see us. Food started arriving to feed everyone that night.  We then spent 4 hours greeting the many, many people who walked through the doors to give us their condolences.  I don’t remember half of that night.

I don’t remember much of the visitation at the funeral home. I put on a brave face.  I continued to act like I was in control of everything. I even told the minister he was not allowed to talk more than 11 minutes.  My eulogy was 11 minutes and no one could talk longer than me.

The day of his funeral is a blur.  I managed to get through his eulogy.  I said my goodbyes at the church.  They closed the casket.  I made it through the playing of taps, the salute and the presentation of the American flag to me. I went to the dinner that was prepared for us.  I hugged people.  I smiled.  I once again acted like I was in control.

A dear friend told me I would come to a point in this process it may be right after his death or it might be months or even years later where I’d have the sudden realization that the world is still spinning, but my world has stopped spinning and it will feel like hitting a brick wall.  One year from his death and I am at that brick wall. All the decisions have been made.  There are no more to make.  I don’t know what to do with myself.

I am no longer in control…I am finally feeling the deep, deep grief and loss that I would not let myself feel last year as I honored my Dad by taking care of everything I could as my final responsibility to him.

And now, what do I do?

The pain of loss and grief have no timeline.  There are no rules for how to live a life without your loved one.  Some days are manageable and others it seems the pain only gets worse.  Each individual has a right to walk the path as they need. But, I also know I have to move past the wall.  I can’t stay in limbo.  However, as I move on I will do so with intention.  I will live intentionally.  I’ve come to embrace this phrase as it was spoken to me by someone else who is figuring out how to create a meaningful world after loss.  I have so many purposes in life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, niece, friend, teacher and with each role I can create a meaningful relationship.

But, it does feel like my world has stopped spinning and it feels very hard to think about this new path that will not include the guidance of my Dad.  His death marks two distinct phases of my life. I think it is significant, at least in my mind, that I am feeling all of this at the time we mark a year of his passing. It is yet another chapter in a book that is half written.

I will live with meaning.  I will live with purpose.  I will live with intention.  And, I hear my Dad yelling in my head, “Loosen up–laugh–slow down–just relax” and I will do all of those things too.

Legacy

image

“A Father’s Love is Like No Other.”

This is my first Father’s Day without my Dad.  I was so fortunate last year on Father’s Day that he had a “good” day.  We talked, joked, watched Drum Corp and he even ate a little of the beef stew he requested. I will forever cherish that day.

Dad left my sister and I a beautiful legacy and last year I wanted to pay tribute to that gift. Giving Dad’s eulogy was the last act I could give to honor him.  I was absolutely determined I was going to speak to the family, friends and colleagues that had gathered about the important things our beloved father had taught us. I didn’t want anyone else speaking the words I had written for him. I needed everyone in that room to know from my mouth what a funny and loving Dad he was to my sister and I.  Now, as I face my first Father’s Day without him, I want to share with the world the words I spoke the day we buried the man I call my father–David G. Heron.

June 25th, 2014

Dr. Seuss once said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”   Today we are all fortunate to have meaningful memories that will keep us smiling and laughing even as we are grieving and hurting. It is through these memories that Tiffany and I will pass onto Abigail what my father taught us about life. As I reflected on those important lessons he left us I realized that even though Tiffany and I received the same lessons we have embraced and practiced them differently and in that it makes the value of what he has left us even more important.

Many of you probably have memories of my father’s humor. He taught Tiffany and me that we have to keep on laughing even through the hardest times. We learned that humor softens bad news, humor makes impossible situations easier to digest, humor helps us to keep perspective and humor, most of all, comes in being able to remember all the fun times we had with Dad. There are some things in life that Tiffany and I will not look at the same way and that will always bring us laughter because of Dad. Here are some of those childhood memories that may seem random but just make us laugh every time. My father ruined Boyz to Men for us when we were younger. He heard it on the radio and immediately called it “belly ache” music and started wailing something awful. The only thing I can hear if they come on a 90’s station now, is my Dad—sounding more like a cat than any kind of belly ache—just singing away. Later he added the most wonderful dance that was just for the 3 of us. But here’s the kicker. When Tiffany and I were sorting through his music this week we found every Boyz to Men CD.  It just showed us how important that joke was to him and that’s why we will always remember it. And for both of us anytime we were being forced to do something we didn’t necessarily like he told us, “You’re going and you are going to have fun, fun, fun whether you like it or not.” I can’t wait to use that one on Abigail. But, it will always stay with me that if you can find the humor in a situation you are going to be just fine.  Even in his last weeks, he tried to keep us laughing reinforcing how important humor is in hard times.

Dad had a deep love for music. He could talk music all day long whether it is the value of new artists or his love for drum corp. He and Tiffany could talk for hours about different artists and the evolution of rock music from the 60’s onward. The amount of knowledge between the two of them on music still amazes me. It is something special that they shared that was just between the two of them. For me and Dad—it was drum corp. We loved talking about the ranks of the corps each summer as we’d follow their progress and attend shows. He would fuss about how “new school” the corps were becoming and reminisce about the good old days.  But there was something deeper to his love for music that Tiffany and I learned from him. For Tiffany she learned that music could be a great place of peace and comfort. For both Tiffany and Dad lyrics and melodies could comfort like home. For me I learned that music is a starting place to connect with people. That at its very base is another language that binds and allows us to explore difficult topics with a common ground as I use it in my college classroom.  He taught me that the simplest things can create a bond.  And again, he leaves us with powerful memories and a lifelong lesson.

 Tiffany and I had an amazing example of what it means to serve your community. Dad served both publicly and quietly over the years to this very community and last night at the funeral home so many of you shared the countless ways Dad worked in the community that we had been unaware of.  Thank you for sharing those precious memories.  My Dad loved to talk politics and service through political office. These conversations through the years shaped who I wanted to be in that I wanted to do something that served people. Our conversations about service also taught me speak up for injustices I see around me. His service also taught me that I could make a difference. We were both idealists in this way. Even though Dad served publicly, he also did many things in a very quiet way that helped people. For a while before he got sick it seemed he was attending several funerals a week to do the military honors in his capacity as the Commander of the American Legion. Every time we talked to him he’d either be heading to or coming back from a funeral. I asked him one time, “isn’t that hard?” He told me, “No. Those service men and women deserve that recognition and so I go.”  He worked tirelessly and passionately with the Legion. It was also the hours he spent making corn soup for this fundraiser or another. And, it was his willingness to do whatever Tiffany and I needed at any time and any moment.  He was there for us. But, I’m sure he did the same for many of you. And, it is in this quiet way that Tiffany also serves those around her. She’s not going to be a loud mouth like her older sister, but she will carry on the legacy of service in that quiet way that Dad did. He taught us both about service and we will teach Abigail.

Finally, the single most important legacy and lesson he leaves me and Tiffany is what he taught us about family.  For Dad there was nothing more important. From the time we were small he taught us that we stick together—that the only thing that matters in this world is family—that we never let anything separate us. We do not let arguments, bad decisions, distance, money, anger or frustration separate us for good. He taught us that you forgive because he knew he wasn’t perfect and neither were we. And he always forgave us no matter how bad we messed up and we always forgave him. He continually told us that in the end the only thing that will remain is our family. I appreciate that lesson more than ever today as the only thing that has kept us going in this enormous loss is our family.

When I was writing this Tiffany and I made a promise that we would teach Abigail how to laugh through tears, love music, become a servant and most of all cherish her family. His legacy will continue through family and for that I am thankful. We will make sure Abigail understands the core values that were her grandfather.

It broke our hearts to lose you, but you did not go alone. A part of us went with you, the day the Creator took you home. In life we loved you dearly; in death we love you still. In our hearts you hold a place no one could ever fill.

 I love you Dad.  I miss you Dad.  My life will never be the same.  Thank you for all you taught me.  Happy Father’s Day.

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July 20, 2002

When Kids Adjust: Help Us All

baby and mama

My happy Munchkin

With any great change kids adjust just like the rest of us.  It just seems we like to try to hold kids to a higher standard when it comes to these life changing events.  When my Dad got sick last year I was angry, heartbroken, frustrated, sad and not to mention the thousand other things I was feeling at the time.  I cried at a drop of a hat.  I lashed out at my husband.  I was exhausted.  I was eating pie for breakfast, chips for dinner and cold pizza as a snack.  With a role model like that it was no wonder Munchkin was clingy, downright mean sometimes, peeing her pants and a host of other emotions.  But, I still remember feeling frustrated when she did those things.

We are now experiencing some of that once again with Mom and Pup-Pup moving in.  Our routine of 3 people has now been expanded to 4.5.  We haven’t been as diligent about our rituals and routines.  Our house is slightly more chaotic.  And this all has an impact on our smallest member of the family.  I can see her testing the boundaries and wondering, “Will I really get in trouble with Nana sitting right there?”  See, she knows front stage and backstage as well.  She has a new defiant glare.  She has also started the “If Mama and Daddy say no, let’s try Nana.”  All of this on top of the normal 4 going on 5 stuff that a parent encounters.

In times of change or crisis, we most of the time just figure it out on the fly.  There is no time to consult blogs, experts, articles and such because you are just trying to survive.  But, this time around I can be a little more intentional about how we handle her adjustments.  I can use some of what I learned last year and also what the world wide web can offer.  So, here are some of the things that worked for us in the past and we are trying now as Munchkin adjusts and tests every ounce of our patience.

1.  Listen

We expect our kids to listen to us.  But, I think sometimes we forget that we must also listen to them.  They speak a different language than us though.  They cannot express the anger, sadness and frustration they are feeling in the same way.  They scream at you and then chunk their favorite toy at your head.  My first inclination is to lose my cool.  But, she is telling me something and I need to listen.  Last summer my baby girl was also broken about how sick her Granddaddy was at the time.  She was not acting defiant to spite me or make life harder she was simply dealing with the change in the only way her little mind knew how.  And, she is doing the same now and I need to listen.

2.  Work with them in how to express their frustration

Last year this was difficult because she was still 3 and it would really be asking too much for her to sit down and think about how she was reacting.  But, this year I can talk to her about why the specific way she is reacting to the change is not good and suggest other ways to deal with the chaos.  So, with this is a mixture of both listening and correction.  Munchkin responds best to these talks after she has time to calm down which I will make her to go her room to do.  We still need reminders and follow up but she is more capable of listening and correcting her behavior at this age than she was last year.  But, I have to remember it will take time and patience which are short when you yourself are also stressed out.

3.  Make time for just you and your child

This has probably been the most effective for us.  Last year it was simple ice cream dates or just going outside and playing when I couldn’t leave the house.  This week Munchkin told Nana point blank that she didn’t want her to come to the pool that she wanted to go with Mommy only.  As Mom wisely told me, we just need to let her tell us those things and not make her feel like there is anything wrong with that request.  Munchkin needs the security that she can make those requests without fear of hurting anyone’s feelings.

4.  Make sure you are taking your own time

This is something I did not do last year.  I rarely left the house the house on my own.  If I left the room the baby monitor was right next to me so I could monitor every sound Dad made.  If I left the house my phone was in my hand. But, this time around I can take more time for just me.  So, some days I leave work an hour early and just go walk around a store.  Or, I will write in my journal in the local park and then come home at my regular time.  I also need to remember that J and Mom also need that kind of time as well.  When we are relaxed our children take their own cues from that feeling.  I know, easier said than done but in order for all of us to keep our cool we’ve got to take this time.

5.  Keep laughing

My Dad taught us that humor can do a lot in a situation.  When I want to blow my lid I have to find the humor in the situation.  My Dad even did that as we were facing his death last year.  I have to remember this when I want to pull  my hair out on rough days.  I’m not as easy going as my Dad was (okay, understatement of the year), but I need to try to relax and calm down as our household gets back into a routine.  Dad would always try to get me to slow down and see the humor in life.  I need to constantly remind myself of this or I can work myself into a nice little rage.

I am also going to try a new behavior chart I saw a colleague doing with her child who is the same age.  This visual reward system may work well for Munchkin.  I’m scouring the internet to find other ways to help her to learn healthy skills at adjusting to the curve balls life throws.  What have you done with your own child in times of change to help them?  Help a mother out!

Until next time…