A Lifetime of Memories
As we went through all of the albums It warmed my heart to see him in different stages of his life and I forgot what he looked like in his youth (which was my childhood) mostly because he's looked the same to me for so many years now, I just forgot what he looked like when I was a child.
My Dad was one of my favorite people on the planet. Which is a full circle, moving through all the phases to completion (maturity) type thing. I have known this moment was possible-coming for several months and it's been a super intense process for me personally.
It's also been a strange and fascinating eye opener as it relates to myself, my family and a whole new level of how people react or respond when you need to talk about the fact that your Dad is dying. This is something I've been carrying and trying the best I could to accept for many months. It began with the word "curable," then shifted very quickly to stage 3. When that happened I spent a lot of time researching all of the things my Dad had going on medically speaking, in addition to what stage 3 means, his age, the Vietnam war (Agent Orange) , holistic remedies, and of course Miracles. All of it. I needed to understand the facts and I also needed to hope for the possibilities too. The problem was, because of his other health issues, the medical truth landed us/him closer to the 18 month time line. Yet one can pray and one can hope and one can dream. What we/he ended up with was less than half of that and that feels pretty damn shitty and what makes it so unexpected. Unexpected even though it was expected. That type of thing. Once my parents became aware of this and after I did all the research, I decided I needed to come here to be with them and mostly what I wanted was to help my mother as I spent time with my Dad. She had all the information, every little medical fact about my Dad and it would be her caring for him. I felt the least I could do was take care of her, perhaps clean and cook and go get the meds or drive or whatever they needed from me. I had it all planned out, was ready, had recipes I felt would help them both actually. However, the thought of me coming home made my Dad feel extremely stressed out. He could barely process or come to terms with his own reality and the thought of his daughter arriving from Hawaii wasn't something he could even begin to handle. That was not what he wanted even though that was what I wanted. His stress and upset about that possibility was also something that was added to my mothers stress. The last thing you want your parents to be during a time like that is for either of them to feel an added level of stress and when you know your Dad is dying and he's one of your favorite people on the planet, you do whatever the hell he wants you to do and you don't do whatever he doesn't want you to do. That's my motto anyway. To give him his dignity, to give him the respect I felt he deserved, to lighten the stress factor for them both-okay, that's exactly what I will do and I will do that with the awareness that anything is possible which includes the possibility of never seeing my Dad again. It was that part that I had to reconcile. I just happened to be blessed with a friendship circle/tribe that had the power to hold me through for several months. Some mornings I would wake up with a lot of anxiety and my first thoughts were here. When the treatments began (Chemo and Radiation) I felt bad for my Dad and I also felt awe towards my mother as she handled the tripod of health issues during this time. Treatment created problems with his other health areas. She had this incredible focus. Whatever discomfort the chemo caused my Dad she was already creating a plan to how to make that softer for him for the next round. When there was an impact on his other health issues she caught that too. When something new came up, same thing. In the space that existed between them in the privacy of their own home, the love and the empathy was like a boomerang. He felt bad for her, she felt bad for him. It was both sad and very beautiful. For my mom, she did not care what was required, she would do anything to make my Dad feel more comfortable. She had an awareness that every second counted. She decided to be kind in every moment no matter how difficult each moment became. To understand the choices a person makes when you know someone you love very deeply is in their dying process-you make these decisions and it doesn't matter what anyone says or thinks or what their opinion is, you've already made the decision based on who you are and how you feel about the person who is dying. While I don't have a clue on what it means to be with someone for 51 years, I do know what it means to make internal decisions from your own soul and what becomes the most important thing to you when you learn time is short. Many moons ago, my mother was in awe of me with Donovan. As she watched the decisions I made in my own soul as a young mother, she too was in awe of me. "You thought of everything, you thought of things I don't even know if I would have thought of." In this moment, I feel the same about her. To witness her love, dedication, kindness, strength of her heart in action. Then, in being here, as I listen to her heart, her feelings and how my father was all she ever wanted. To me that is beyond beautiful.
He is my father and that to me is sacred and it's also a secondary element compared to their marriage.
In my mind, they belonged to one another and we are a family, in addition to everyone else in our family. My perspective comes from being in an intact family my entire life. Growing up in a household with a mother and a father. It's always been "them." Their lifetime of choosing one another. Beyond the level of personality. Beyond the ebb and flow of hardships and good times.
There is the relationship I had with my Dad, the full circle of it and then there are other people's world views. It's so fascinating.
A few years back I reconnected with a childhood friend. She knew me when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Our fathers were friends.
When we reconnected, I think I had just turned forty or was about to. She somehow remembered and still carried my 8 or 9 year old "I resent my Dad" mantra. You know he was hard core about many things. This is not a big secret.
However, she was speaking to me "as if," that is my reality now. She hasn't had any access to the relationship I had with my Father for forty years, yet she was talking to me as if I was still an 8 year old child. I felt she was violating the relationship I shared with my Dad in our now.
Yet I also felt a deep compassion run through me because she had lost her father and she never got over it.
It seemed she needed me to be stuck in childhood because she was stuck in hers. There was nothing I could do or say to have her recognize what was true for me. All she cared about was her memories, not mine.
I remember this moment and it is moments like this with other women who didn't have the honor or the privilege or the reverent time with their own fathers to move through all of the life stages that help women grow in their own development with their own Dad's that I ended up recognizing how utterly grateful I was to have mine, that he was still alive and available to me and he was always there to move through the stages of my development, no matter what I said or what I did.
"I remember you then, I remember that" Well, clearly we remember the memories we experience as children, particularly when we are a witnesses however, what the heck are you doing holding my Dad hostage for what an 8 year old said or experienced when I am not even doing that and it was his and my experience anyway?
Ask me. Ask me because if you ask me instead of telling me, there is an additional forty year thread where my father and I moved through all the stages and there is so much beauty in there, you may actually learn something about what it means to do your own inner work and that may help you too. Yet, I don't say that and I don't say that to a woman who is stuck and still grieving the loss of her own father, I don't want to hurt them or make them feel bad.
It makes me wonder how many people are running around holding other father and daughters stuck in their past moments with no room for the stages of development to move in their natural order? Although, through my work I already have access to that in a very specific way.
To give the thread of any connection the respect it deserves, particularly when it isn't yours: Ask the person. You just never know what has gone down in the forty years in between....These people aren't just my parents, they are also my sons grandparents. The thread continues to grow and shift and change and mature through that experience. It sure is a beautiful experience to watch the joy shinning out of your parents when they look in the eyes of your child. You can see and feel their love for you shinning too, through that experience. I have that experience as well. Gifts, lots and lots of gifts to be very grateful for.
Many moons ago...it was my fathers voice through my experience with Donovan that I remember the most from start to finish and beyond. In the hospital, in a room full of doctors trying to explain to a young woman what was going on, it was my father's voice in my ear that helped me understand what was truly happening. His voice cut right through my confusion. Had he not been there with his rigorous compassion or his straight shooting voice to penetrate my cloudy brain, it would have taken hours for me to comprehend what the doctors were saying and that would have been less hours of time I had to be with Donovan.
(Again, please ask me)
The morning Donovan passed, it was my father who came down to check on Donovan and I. When he discovered Donovan had already passed away in my arms, he sat down and put a lot of thought into this moment. What is the best thing to do? Do I wake my daughter up or do I just allow her the dignity to wake up on her own and have this moment with her baby?
What would serve her best in this moment and through what will be one of the hardest moments for her to recover from moving forward?
He opted to not interfere. At that time, I had an obsession about Donovan dying in my arms or his fathers arms. The weaker his little heart became, the more obsessed I became about him being in my or his fathers arms. For some reason it felt critical to me that this baby die in the arms of the two people who created him. It just felt like the only right thing to me at that time. Again, when someone you love is dying you do what feels right in every moment. We couldn't do anything for Donovan except what felt right in every moment and every moment, the clock was ticking.
Once I woke up to discover this, again...it was my Dad who just kept doing the next right thing. He went into action. He did a lot of the stuff we couldn't do in that moment. He made the calls etc.
There was no one in the room in that moment who could do or say anything to me. He was one of those people and no matter what I did or said....he just kept doing...the next right thing. It doesn't stop there...
Post-Donovan, Post-divorce, it was my Dad who came to my house once a week to sit with me to work through some grief steps.
In my presence he just kept showing up, just kept doing the next right thing. He never withheld, never backed down, never stopped, no matter what and trust me, I was a nightmare because I was so raw at that time and he just kept coming back. He was worried about me and he was also deeply worried about his grandson, my son. He didn't like that I left my sons father. It did something to him to his core because he had parents who opted for divorce and he lost his father at a very young age. So he felt this deeply and didn't want my son to grow up with similar struggles he grew up with. That was very important to him at a core level. He didn't like to see children go through divorce situations. He was hard core about many things yet what lived underneath the hard core of his personality was his rigorous compassion, his sense of what was right and wrong. I felt a lot of empathy and compassion for my Dad because I knew his heart, his history, and why he felt the way he felt but I also knew I wasn't his mother or his father and I needed to find my own way through this mess I created in my own life aka leaving a marriage during a very intense time frame.
Through the temporary years where I was trying to handle the aftermath of the loss of Donovan, combined with my choice to change my son's reality, as I was maturing, healing and moving through my own stuff, I was also gifted with another man who came into my world when I needed a father figure during my healing/growth/maturity.
That was deeply painful for my father to endure but I needed to find my own way. That's just what I needed at that time and that never meant I didn't love him because I absolutely did.
Yet much of the work I was doing on myself I was able to do because it was the appropriate time for me to take responsibility for my own life. He actually taught me to do that and then had to endure the pain of his own teaching. That's parenthood for you.
I experienced a similar thing with my own son at some point as well. It's like right...I did say you can tell me anything and then when he did tell me anything I was like "Why? Just why?" lol....you know... There just comes a time where we as parents endure the pain of our own teaching and that can come in any form.
As for my Father, our history, our forty eight years (to the day) history, please ask me and give me and my father the dignity our connection deserves based on all the phases I was lucky and blessed enough to have had with him because that is what I would give you and your father too. And I would do that no matter what stage of development any person's relationship with their father lives in.
My Dad was tender, loving, encouraging, supportive, deeply thoughtful, never forgot a holiday, a valentines day or a birthday and he was also a straight shooter. You never had to worry about my Dad not being direct, honest and very clear about where he stood, how he felt or what he believed. This made him deeply trustworthy. It didn't matter if I agreed or didn't agree with him, he was still trustworthy because he just always told you his truth. If you pissed him off he said you are pissing me off. There was no hiding with him. No withholding. No bullshit and I actually prefer that.
Now that I think of it as I weave my memories together....
When we were kids and didn't do well in school we had every National Geographic Magazine at the bottom of our book shelf and he would pick one, make us read and write an essay on what we read. This worked with me (I don't know how that landed on my brothers though and I don't even know if my younger brother experienced that or not because he came on the scene five years later and it felt like he was a baby for such a long time since time moves differently when we are children and it did seem like our parents were in a different phase/place when he was born. Sometimes my older brother and I were like "who are these people?" when we watched them with their "baby."
Yet, my point is....to this very day, I'm still excited about learning and still reading anything and everything I can get my hands on. This connection thread just came to the surface and I'm once again...grateful
The two days of his services were tragically beautiful. Much more beautiful than I anticipated. The impact of who he was and how he contributed throughout his life, every part-was all honored and that felt really good to me.
It was wonderful to see him be so respected for being a football coach. To hear from the people he touched all those years ago and how he taught them things that stayed with them the rest of their lives and the other coaches who truly respected him.
As a young girl, for me, my only experience was "Ewww, boys are gross," Helmets, uniforms and even jock straps took over our home. And football was just...not my thing. A father, two brothers, football ...for me that was way too much man stuff. While I was a cheerleader for a while and we did cheer for the football players...still..I never really made the connection with football. I did like watching my little brother play though.
What existed with that....what I did like:
During that season....my Dad was so dedicated, so busy, so passionate and so on purpose that he wasn't home to know all the things I was doing wrong haha. Because I was the type of kid who got caught on everything. I couldn't get away with much. Some of it was I wasn't very smart at the time, and the other part was he just knew everything. I resented that a lot as a child, but also as I developed, I did get a little smarter. I would sneak out of my house at night when my parents were sleeping and I would bring our dog with me. This way our dog wouldn't bark when I returned. I would also flush the toilet so that when I was sneaking down the steps, any creeks wouldn't be heard. I never got caught which if you knew my Dad that was this massive win for me.
As a young teenager, I stayed out all night one time, I had the best time and was doing things Fathers don't really like their daughters to do. I was prepared for the worst. When I walked in that Sunday morning, my Dad was at the head of the dinning room table, he looked at me, smiled wide "Ah Christina Marie, my lovely Daughter, are you just coming back from Church?" I thought holy crap. I can't believe I just got away with staying out all night and he thinks I was up early to go to church. I can't even tell you how guilty and lucky I felt in that moment cause if he knew what I was really doing, he'd be both livid and deeply disappointed in his daughter. Oddly, as tough as he was and as much as I didn't want to get in trouble and I thought of all kinds of weird and twisty excuses... It never felt good or right to me when I lied to him. More so when he believed my lies. I think because underneath all of it, I did respect him. He just had this massive presence that warranted respect. So much so, our next door neighbor, when her son's behavior was concerning, she would say "Do you want me to call Mr Hines?" And he would cry and say "Noooo!" and he would stop whatever behavior he was doing. His father traveled a lot for work so his mother was alone a lot of the time.
He really did not care all that much about being liked but he absolutely cared about children respecting their parents and everyone loved him a lot. He cared very deeply about the development of character.
If he needed to be disliked in the moment and that built you or the quality goodness inside of your character, he was more than willing to be disliked in that moment. There is a goodness, a sense of one's self when....we feel the strengths of our own characters.
One of the football coach who came to pay his respect looked at me after talking to my mom and thanking her for sharing him with the boys club (which I feel that acknowledgment was so perfect) Because my Dad helped mold a lot of young men into having good character as far as football was concerned...This coach, looked at me and in our conversation I mentioned something about how I didn't play football...his response was something to the effect of how, if my father could, he would have put me in football too. That was so funny and most likely...not true.
Growing up in Philly, we had the mummers parade and my Dad had experience being a mummer. He was upset when they changed the rules and women could be mummers too. Mostly because he didn't like it when traditions shifted and he carried a hard core sense of what it means to have access to events that helped bring men together in brotherhood. Something he was taught in the military. A deep profound sense of brotherhood. That was also important to him and being here now in my parents community and all the men who are feeling the loss of their friend and the depth of their pain at his passing. As a witness thrown into his community now, I get to see how true that remained to be for him. How age didn't change that in him. His need to be a part of a brotherhood and that's pretty cool for me. Do you know my Dad would walk around with hershey kiss's in his pocket and he was known for giving the people in his community these kiss's? Some of his players left a coaching whistle with him and someone also left a few hershey kiss's too. The things people did that touched us. He touched their hearts, they touched ours. It was just so beautiful.
And the eulogies. My aunt (my dad's baby sister) her words were so deeply meaningful to me. I felt tears rolling out of my eye balls the entire time. Like water washing away the grief. She touched me so deeply. Her words were absolutely gorgeous to me. It was like listening to a beautiful artistry of a life time of truth being shared in the most beautiful way. She weaved together three generational threads into this incredible story that just touched on the pure essence that lived underneath so much. I loved her words because as I went through all of my phases with my own father, all of what she had to say was known to me, held as why my Dad was the head of not just our family but of the entire tribe. Their story is just so beautiful to me and she really touched something in me that allowed me to heal. I will never forget her eloquence. My cousin's too. She and my father always had such a special connection. He wasn't just her Uncle, he was also her God Father and he loved her so very much. My Dad's boss also spoke and I adored his words and listening to how much my Dad meant to him. How much he cared for my dad "His friend" and how my Dad's leadership helped the over all department. That was just as beautiful to me.
Then there was my younger brother too. I couldn't have been more proud of him.
I was going to go last, however, there was something about the way my brother impacted the entire room and the beauty of his eulogy that prompted me to end the eulogies with him. Right there, as it was. As I leaned into that moment, I thought...this is already perfect. With the awareness that my love of expression exists in writing and I can do that at any time anyway.
We were to call all of his friends Mr or Mrs. He was very hard core about that.
Much of the time, his friends would say "Come on Bill, lighten the hell up!!!! she can call me by my first name" and he would say "No, she can't" and they would feel sorry for me which was so funny because I never actually minded his stand for us to be respectful of adults or to respect our elders. I loved the elders in our family very much, respecting them felt natural, easy and effortless anyway. It felt good to me most of the time and I often wondered why people were giving him a hard time for something that felt good to me. So the military thing was a thing the entire time, laced all the way through since the moment I was born. My entire life thread has that in it.
Prior to the service I had a lot of anxiety about "hearing," taps because taps is always so sad to me and I couldn't imagine how much sadder it would be to hear taps being played for my Dad.
Yet, I actually felt an odd sense of rightness along with a surprising momentary soothing in my heart. What I heard when I heard taps being played was the one promise We/I had ever promised my Dad. I don't know how else to explain that but it was shocking to me that the sadness I always felt with taps just wasn't there in that moment.
Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of something else. A promise being completed. That was something else about my Dad, he kept his promises as far back as I remember, if he didn't feel he could do it, he would not promise it.
Many say he didn't talk about the war but he actually did on the rarest of occasions.
Once when he first came home. He and my mother stayed up all night as he unloaded all that he experienced with his wife. That was the only time he was willing to share all of it and I imagine, he needed to share all of it.
And if I had to guess...that contributed to the why in why he opted to be a psychology major in college. As a way to not just heal himself, but to be able to help others too. I don't know that, I am for sure making that up..... but it seems to me like..that would be one of the most natural thing to want to do. (That's an entire added dimension to the mix. When your dad is a psychology major in college and you're already born and around..... you learn things you wouldn't normally learn and that stuff also interested me too, it was a part of my childhood. I think originally it was just a way I could connect with my Dad and eventually, our conversations just got deeper and more rich.
There was that extremely rare occasion that he would share one or two stories and when he did my ears got very BIG and my listening got very sharp because it truly was...that rare.
The thing is, he would never ever do that or go there.... for the sake of someone else's curiosity.
There needed to be an important or a bigger reason and you needed to tell him what that bigger or important reason was. Which was how paying attention to the psychology part as a young girl became very useful.
His yes's meant yes and his no's meant no- in general and especially about sharing his time in Vietnam.
The stories he did tell me, a part of me regretted asking.
It made me feel very sad on my insides to understand the reality and it also made me feel a lot of empathy and compassion for the whole scene but mostly for my Dad. He was so young. When I think about me at 17 and what I was doing...I was sitting in my bedroom with my own phone line talking under the covers late at night with my friends laughing and caring about school and cute boys.
My son did a project in school about his grandfather and my Dad was willing to sit down and give him the information my son needed too. To my Dad that was a "Bigger reason," his grandson's education. His ask had an actual purpose.
I am very grateful to our Uncle, (My Dad's Brother) who is also a veteran. He handled that for his brother and by doing so, he handled that for us. We knew it would be handled.
We also had our cousin, (Our Dad's cousin) who offered to hand our mother the flag. He offered this as soon as he heard about what happened. I'm grateful to these men for honoring my Dad and for soothing my mother.
Initially, the visual of my mother receiving that flag was so ( I don't actually have a word for that moment) but then something happened that I was not expecting at all. Our cousin was on his knees in front of our mother as the flag rested on her lap. Next thing you know, he grabbed our hands too. Placing my brothers and my hands on the flag and on top of my mothers hands. Woah...and I do mean WOAH!!!!
I felt the depth of sorrow for the loss of our father in a way I will never forget and I also felt like I was experiencing the most incredible very last moment where our family was a family. There was something very beautiful about his doing that and I'm very grateful to him for that. I don't know if that's just what people do or not. I have no idea. I just know that really was just so meaningful to me personally. It did something good. Some kind of healing. I could feel it.
Today, what I feel is:
I feel honored, privileged, and grateful. While we didn't get what was promised (at least 18 months) and this has been a deep profound heart break....what my father did get was to remain ever having his dignity intact.
His dignity. Something that meant so much to him as the man that he was.
One minute he was getting dressed as my mother and him were so happy, joking and there was much light heartedness (after some very scary, hard and difficult days.) Their last moments were happy moments and then he was gone. It was that fast. So fast that he didn't suffer in that moment. It happened so fast that he was gone before my mother even realized he was. While I can't imagine what that was like for her, I can't even begin to imagine what that would have been like for her if they were in the car or had gotten home and she was left to experience that moment without being right there in the hospital. In this way, I am also grateful because my mothers grief is hard enough, to not have to endure that extra element that many people do have to endure....that to, to me...is it's own gift.
In these ways, I really do feel blessed. For him, for her and I will deal with whatever comes as it comes with myself.
I'm grateful to be here with her at this time for many reasons. Being with my mom is actually super easy and to me, the least that I can do.
We all have, like many other families....a new reality to learn how to be in....
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name....
has a whole new meaning and I am grateful