Day 111/365 Before and After

Facebook has a feature in which every day we have the opportunity to see the posts or photos we have shared in past years “on this day”.  I never posted very many pictures of my dad on Facebook simply because he wasn’t on Facebook to see them.  So I don’t get surprised by many photos of him that show up in this way.  What I have noticed, though, is that many times I will see photos from the past year and think, “Look at us, we had no idea what was coming. How can that be?” 


I am not sure why, but this photo of my mother and me from last summer struck me hard in this way. We look so happy. I search our faces for some indication that we had sensed a storm coming.

How could we have been having such a good time?

Why hadn’t we taken him with us?

We didn’t know.

We couldn’t have known. 

I guess that is exactly what is so disquieting…the recognition of the absolute fragility of our existence, and of our often complete lack of awareness of that.

Oh, the arrogance.

We tend to make assumptions about how our lives will play out, don’t we? When in reality we don’t have any idea what may happen next – to us or to the ones we love…

For better and for worse.

Not only are we not in control, not really – but we are also not promised any warning whatsoever when our world is about to be upended.

It can just happen – BAM.

Suddenly our memories – our lives – are divided into two distinct categories:

Before, and after.

I’m not suggesting we live our lives in fear, worrying about what may happen next.

We just don’t know.

We can’t know, so…

We have to make that okay – the not knowing.

How?

I suppose when woken up to this reality there are different ways one might deal with it, such as…blissfully going to sleep to it again, or living fearfully, neither of which appeals to me.

So, this is what I’m choosing for now…

Saying Yes to more things.

Yes to the small things, like, “Can we have pie for breakfast?” 

Yes to the bigger things like, “Should I take this trip?”

Yes to speaking from the heart…in ways both small and big. That is something I know I will never regret.

I think what it boils down to is…

More joy, less worry,

More love, less angst.

More YES.

Summer goals.

{I’m a work in progress.}

 

 

Day 103/365 Proof

If there was a place my father loved more than anywhere else in the world, it was Miskiania Camp.

It was in his blood to love the place, as it is in mine.

Three short weeks after he died, it would have been his 71st birthday.  I decided the closest I could come to being with him that day was to be there, at “Camp”.

It was a cool but beautiful January day, as I headed over for the afternoon. I took a long walk through his favorite pine woods, and then I came inside and made a fire.


As I sat by the fire, I looked through the Camp log books, which chronicle every visitor from 1909 to present. I searched until I found dad’s first visit as a boy, as well as the first time he brought my mother with him. I also noted the first time my brothers and I each made our inaugeral visits to Camp.

Finally, I found his last signature in the book (Thanksgiving weekend of last year), just weeks before he died.

His whole life seemed to be laid out before me in those books. It was inexplicably comforting to have a tangible record of it – of his every visit.

As if I needed proof…

He had been there.

He had loved it there.

I’ve since been back to the Camp a few times. I’ve noticed that with each visit, I feel less sadness and more of a sense of comfort in being there.  I’ve come to recognize it is in this place that I feel most connected to him.  I feel warmth, love, and appreciation permeate me when I think of my dad there, which is often.

I feel his presence more than his void.

He is there.

He loves it there.

And…

He loves that I love it there.

We will always have that.

I don’t need proof.

Day 101/365 Walk With Me

These walking sticks belonged to my grandparents. My grandfather carved them. Whenever I take a moment to stop and really notice them resting side by side, it is so bittersweet. They gently remind me that sometimes, love can be simple. After all, I think that’s what we all really want – someone who will always want to walk with us.

Day 100/365 Otherworldly

There is something about looking into the eyes of a new baby that transports us to another plane. I believe it’s because they have so newly arrived from the spiritual realm. They are pure light and love….truly otherworldly.

This weekend I was blessed to meet two new little beings of light.

Something about those experiences has made me feel lighter. Perhaps it is the simple reminder of where we are all started, and I believe, where we will all end up again.

I believe in reincarnation. I believe we return, over and over again, each time with the intention of elevating spiritually through the experiences and lessons of each lifetime.  I also believe we continue to incarnate with many of the same souls…we are meant to learn from one another, with one another.

So, perhaps it is as simple as being gently reminded that life goes on…and on, and on…

Those we’ve “lost” are not lost forever.  We will meet again.

Day 92/365 [Preach]

As my first father-less Father’s Day looms, I have been reading over some old letters dad wrote to me.  I hadn’t read them in years – most of them date back to my college years, and the year and a half I spent living in Colorado after college.

It’s hard to express (though some of you know all too well) what it’s like to hold a letter in your hand that was written by someone you love, who is no longer here. As I pulled the folded pages (yellow, legal sized pages, of course) out of each envelope, and saw his familiar handwriting, it was like…

Holding his hand for a minute.

Dad was funny, and a great letter writer. It was so moving to feel connected to him, and to laugh out loud at his stories and jokes.

What a gift.

He almost always signed his letters with a img_3121caricature of himself.

I love that.

Having his perspective on life and his personality come through in his letters is an invaluable treasure.

Reading his words expressing how he felt about me…

“You are special. Don’t forget that.”

It took my breath away.

 

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When my mother was cleaning out dad’s desk, she found a note I had written to him last year, on Father’s day.  This was only months before he left us so unexpectedly. Here’s what I had written:


Dear Dad,

As I reflect on what Father’s Day means to me (as a forty-three year old single mother) I’d have to say I’ve never been more proud to have you as my dad. As I go through life I am incredibly grateful to have a father with such strength of character.  I have been so humbled and comforted by your unwavering support, empathy, and humor in the face of my very unusual life.*

I love you very much.

Sincerely,

Your Favorite Daughter

(Can I claim that now that the dog is dead?)**

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Not only am I grateful to have the letters my father wrote to me, but I am so, so grateful that I told him how I felt while he was still here.

So what I’m trying to say [preach] is…

Express yourself;

Express your love –

And…

Why not write it down? You have no idea how much it might mean to someone you love – not only when they first read your words, but perhaps over and over again (even, or especially, decades later).

In the words of my mother, from whom I also received many wonderful letters…


* Trust me

**Dad always called the dog his other daughter, and cheekily refused to choose a favorite.

Day 90/365 The Hawk

Dad suffered a heart attack two days after Christmas. He lived for nine more days, but he never regained consciousness.

For over a week in the ICU we held his hand, talked to him, and cried beside him.  At his funeral I said I felt this was a true gentleman’s final act of graciousness – to allow us the time we needed in order to accept (if not to understand why) he had to go.

His prognosis was never good. He had been deprived of oxygen for too long. Looking back, I realize the doctors and nurses (especially the nurses) knew all along that dad was not going to wake up. The doctors were simply crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s – making sure they followed protocol. If I hadn’t been in shock, I’d have recognized it sooner…the expression on their faces – revealing that they knew the awful truth; they just weren’t allowed to say it. Not yet.

My mother would admit only after dad’s death that she knew he had left us on December 27th. I suppose one can feel such a thing in their bones, after loving someone for fifty-five years.  You just know when they are gone. She knew, but she stayed by his side – all day, every day. She never wanted to miss a moment with him. I think whether she was aware of it or not, she also wanted to afford my brothers and I the small comfort of allowing us to come to understand his reality in our own time, in our own way. She didn’t want us to see her waving the white flag.

My older brother, Billy, is a realist. I wouldn’t say he expected the worst, but he felt he needed to prepare for it. To him, losing dad wasn’t the worst case scenario. Having him continue to live without the quality of life he’d have wanted, that was Billy’s emotional burden. He worried that dad would come back to us in an altered state. He often sat on the floor in the hospital corridor, reading articles online about people waking up from comas with completely different personalities – not only physically and mentally impaired, but angry, hostile (the antithesis of our dad). Billy didn’t want our desire to hold onto dad to hinder our judgement.

Ryan, on the other hand, spent time reading about people who simply woke up, as if nothing had happened to them but a long nap. He wanted to believe in miracles.

To be clear, we all wanted a miracle, but Ryan, he hoped for it with such a raw desperation; it was both beautiful and excruciating to watch.

I wanted to believe, too. I never wanted to leave dad’s bedside. At first, this was because I wanted to be there when he woke up, but after the hawk came (yah, you read that right), I didn’t want to leave because I wanted to be there when he died.

About the hawk –

One morning before dawn I was sitting on a metal folding chair beside dad’s bed in the ICU, holding his hand and resting my head on his bed. I’d say I was dreaming, but what happened was too visceral to be a dream. It was otherworldly. A hawk swept over my head, wings outspread. It flew so close to my face that I felt its feathers brush against my cheek.

I believe the hawk was in fact a messenger from the spiritual realm (if not dad’s actual spirit), letting me know dad was ready to leave his broken body.  Maybe you don’t believe in this sort of thing, but it was real. So real. I understood then that dad was not coming back.

After that it became incredibly painful to watch Ryan talk to my dad, pleading with him to come back to us. I often had to step out of the room, for my heart was breaking.

I understood it was what Ryan needed to do. He wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he hadn’t tried to get dad back, and he did. He tried with everything he had.

One night when Ryan and I were alone, I gently suggested that maybe dad couldn’t come back. What if he wants to, but he can’t? Maybe what he really needs to hear us say is that we love him, and that we are going to take care of each other. We are going to take care of mom.

Maybe he is waiting to hear that he doesn’t have to worry.  

We will be okay.

This was hard for me to say, and harder for him to hear. The next day, though, he told me he’d thought about what I had said, and he agreed.

So, while we waited for those final tests from the neurologist, we talked to dad. We told him we loved him. We told him if he couldn’t come back, we understood.  We would take care of each other. We would take care of mom.

We told him not to worry.

We let him go.

My mother, brothers and I – we all took different routes, and different amounts of time, to get to the place of acceptance…to the place of reconciling what we knew in our hearts to be true.

At some point in our lives, we all must go through the processes of letting go, of grieving, and of beginning again in a new reality. The truth is we really don’t know, until we’re there, how we will navigate a situation we never dared imagine…and there is no wrong way.


(Photo credit Betty Lou Harvey)

Day 82/365 Grave Humor

It was a beautiful sunny day and I decided it was time. I hadn’t been there since the funeral. I parked the car and walked toward the entrance to the church. I knew the best way to remember where to find him was to retrace the steps of the funeral procession.

His grave is still unmarked.

I don’t remember a lot about the service. I remember making eye contact with Lynette as I walked down the aisle, my arm linked with my mother’s – holding each other up.  When my eyes met Lynette’s, I saw that she was already crying. I knew then that I wasn’t going to be able to look at anyone for the entire service, if I was to try to maintain my composure. Since my brothers and I would be giving the eulogy, composure seemed important.

After the service we all processed up the hill, straight up, and to the right. I remembered that (at least I thought so). I knew he was buried under a tree; I remembered thinking that was nice. So on this sunny day, six months later, I took those same steps up the hill, and there, under a tree was a new(ish) grave. I laid down on my back in the grass beside it, somehow imagining this was Dad’s “view” now – the tree, the clouds, the blue sky.


I tried talking to him there. I do talk to him now and then, and I wondered if talking to him there, where his body was, would feel different. It didn’t. It felt forced, actually – like that was what I was supposed to do. Like in the movies.

I heard some people talking nearby and I sat up, feeling a bit self-conscious. Maybe they found it odd that I was laying down in the cemetery.

I suddenly became amused by the possibility that I was actually laying next to the wrong grave, trying to talk to the wrong person. Dad always teased me about my sense of direction. He’d have been having a good hardy laugh over me weeping over some other guy’s grave.

I suppressed a laugh. It felt like we were sharing a joke, he and I…and we were.

I realized then that for me, dad would never really be there, in that cemetery plot. Those are just bones. That is nothing to me now.

 

Later, I was telling my mother and Ryan about my thought – of dad laughing his butt off if I were at the wrong grave. Ryan laughed and said he’d had the same exact thought when he visited.

We are going to be okay, all of us – one inappropriate laugh at a time.

 

New to this blog?  Read what it’s all about here.

 

 

Day 78/365 No Souvenir Required

It wasn’t the first time since dad died that I had visited the law firm he had shared with my older brother and their two other partners.  I had been in the building on other business a couple of months ago, and I stopped in to see my brother. I remember walking into the office space and feeling the crushing weight of my brother’s daily life.  He was steeped in loss five days a week – imagining my dad coming around the corner every day. Listening to their administrative assistants answer calls, “Did you mean William Harvey Jr or Sr? Oh, well I’m afraid I have some bad news…”

I didn’t go into dad’s office that day.

There we were, though, eight o’clock on a Thursday night, just Bill and I, there to pick up some files I needed. The files were in Bill’s office, so there was no need for me to go into dad’s…but the sunset was hitting the windows in his office in such a way that it gave the illusion that a light was on in there. A warm light spilled out the door, beckoning me.

Of course, the light wasn’t on, and he wasn’t sitting at his desk, ready to call out, “Hey, Bethy!” (the only person on the planet who has ever called me that). The tears poured down as I rounded his desk and sat down in his chair. I ran my fingers across his desk, took in the view from what had been his daily vantage point.  I fondly remembered hiding underneath this huge desk as a kid, playing with the mini cassette recorder he used to dictate letters to his assistant. Six months ago my girls hid beneath the same desk, giggling and waiting to surprise him.

The office itself was in a state of half-life. His pictures still hung on the wall and his antique law books still filled the shelves, but my brother had been slowly trying to clear things out. I opened the desk drawers – what was I hoping to find?

In the top drawer, there were three silver letter openers, and his Notary Public embossing seal. I picked up the embosser, found a piece of paper and pressed it down, revealing the words William R. Harvey, Notary Public. I touched the raised letters. For a moment I considered taking it with me, that seal. It seemed important – a part of him.  Then I realized how silly that was. I mean, of all the things dad was, “Notary Public” was not of particular significance.

It’s funny how we can get caught up in holding on to things – literal things, as if the possession of material items owned by a loved one will help us to remember. As if letting those things go will effectively strip away our loved one from us, item by item.

But it’s not true at all, is it?

My dad was not an antique law book, nor a silver letter opener. He certainly was not an embossment stamp.

The things he possessed that are worth holding onto are the bits of him that are found within my brothers and me, within his grandchildren – as we are all made from him.

They are found within my mother, planted there from fifty-five years of devotion.

They are found within every single person my dad touched with his kindness, generosity and grace, the stories of which are still unfolding, as people in the community continue to share their experiences with, and gratitude for, the wonderful man he was.

His indelible mark was left on us all.

No souvenir required.

New to this blog?  Read what it’s all about here.

Day 76/365 Ruthless

“YES! I’m back, baby! Look out!”

I grin as I pass the dice to my oldest daughter. “You are just like Papa,” she says, smiling and shaking her head as she rolls her turn.

I was taken aback by the comment. It filled me with a sudden warmth.

I welcome any opportunity to be cast in the same light as my dad – even if it is relative to insufferable game play.

God, it was so much fun to play games with dad.

You see, he was one of the kindest, most gentle and selfless people you could ever know. Game play was the one area in which he allowed himself to be completely obnoxious, and we loved every minute of it.

(Editor’s note – no one in my family finds my obnoxious game play to be endearing. I’m still working on that).

What I loved even more than being compared to “Papa” was being gently reminded that my girls really had the opportunity to get to know my dad. We are all incredibly lucky for that. It is my intention to make sure they don’t forget him.

If I have to do this by continuing to be an incredibly obnoxious and ruthless game player, so be it.

It will be an honor.

Day 70/365 Dancing King

I need a little cheering up this evening. I’ve been sitting here staring at my screen. I like to write from the day’s events and inspirations, but I’m still processing my day. I’m not ready to talk about it yet. So here’s what I’m going to share instead…

img_2945My dad loved to dance. Loved it. He was not a skilled dancer, per se, but he gave it his all, and dancing with him was so much fun. He especially loved Motown music – The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, etc.

Seeing dad (or better yet, being with dad) on the dance floor was a lesson in letting go, and not giving a shit what other people think. He would sing along at top volume as he laid out his moves. All that mattered was laughing and letting the music move through him. Just thinking of him on the dance floor makes me smile.

So, I have a whole bunch of dancing photos and I am sharing them here today.  Maybe they will make you smile, too.


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