Watershed Moment

Nineteen years ago today my father died at the top of one of his favorite waterfalls. This morning I found myself back in the forest near the spot, and while sitting on a rock in the middle of a stream, I thought back to how much my life has changed. Watershed moments are turning points. They are the dividing point in our lives that are often seen in hindsight, and it didn’t take me that long to figure out that life with my dad and life without my dad were going to be completely different.

On this day when the loss was new, I would dig out pictures of all the things I had done with my dad. I would go through memories diligently, and seek to remember all of the good to somehow erase the bad that today had become.

My father was lots of things before the day he died. My father was funny. He loved to make voices like Donald Duck and the Swedish Chef. He was kind. He would always drive friends of ours places and fill in on the soundboard at church anytime when asked. Dad was thoughtful. He was always plotting Christmas, even months ahead of time. My dad was caring. He loved taking care of us when we were sick. My dad was a great cook. His fudge was the best around the holidays. Dad was hardworking. He was often found working around the house hours after he came home from work.  Dad was so so many things that are way too numerous to list here. Then he died on March 9, 2001.

Things tend to shift when someone dies. If they die tragically, it seems even more so. The focus is taken off all the things they were when they were alive, and we tend to wrap up their existence into the day they died. As if that is the only day they lived… that is their life. It just isn’t so.

Even nineteen years later it seems like I can reach back in my brain to yesterday to something he said. I could sit beside him on the couch. I remember so plainly playing Super Nintendo and watching him beat levels as though it was a mere 48 hours ago. I remember him scrambling to bail water when I didn’t realize our dishwasher only used certain kinds of soap. I remember the day he threw the dryer off the back porch when I almost died in it. I remember so much in detail. Our brain plays tricks on us. Our brain does not want to admit what our heart so plainly knows. He is gone, and has been.

Now, instead of thinking of all the pictures I have of Dad, I think of all the pictures he belongs in that he is not. I find myself thinking of how much he would love the 5 grandkids he never got to meet. I think of how proud he would be of my brothers and their accomplishments. I consider myself lucky for the 21 years I had him, but there was so much more life left to live that he wasn’t a part of at all.

I sometimes wonder if he knew the implications for me when he chose the place to leave this earth. I wonder if he understood I’d spend my whole life chasing waterfalls on the outside chance I would get just one more minute with the greatest dad ever by sharing an experience he loved. I will always miss my dad, and today it cuts a little more than usual. He was truly wonderful, and I wish he could have seen himself through my eyes. He would have seen the life he gave me growing up, and I think he would have been proud of what he had accomplished. So, today I chased the small waterfalls to try and chase a moment long gone. I’m sad I didn’t know how to chase the small moments I’d one day miss years later.

 So, today I spend the day knowing it’s been another whole year since I’ve seen him, hugged him, or exasperated him with my talking. I miss you, Dad. It’s still not the same without you.  

Father’s Day Benediction

I recently told a dear friend of mine I hated Father’s Day because my dad passed away years ago. I soon realized I was preaching to the choir. You see, my friend had a child, an only child, and she too had passed away. His child was special for myriad reasons, but most importantly, she was special because she was HIS.

He didn’t get to choose her, but he would have. I feel pretty comfortable saying he’d do it all over again. His beautiful daughter had special needs and needed nursing care all of her 10 years she lit up his world. Now that she is gone, besides the gaping chasm left in his heart, she took with her his feeling of being a father. This led me to ask myself what a father really was.

I never met his daughter, but I can tell you about the gift she left us. She left us her DAD. Chad used to spend hours devoted to her care. Now, he cares for others ranging from lonely friends, to his parents, to students struggling (and I do mean STRUGGLING :)) with APA format. He shovels gravel with a smile, will make your universal remote behave with decorum, and read your favorite books just so he can talk about them with you. He will play board games with large amounts of instructions. He will watch movies adapted from books even if you warn him they are awful. He will drop off passion tea lemonade to a friend, and not JUST because that friend got him hooked on them. He will encourage small children, and he will encourage large children. Actually, he just encourages everyone.

Now, he’d be the first to try to deny all of this. For starters, he likes to argue just a little. He loves science and math and feelings are just not in any equation he likes to work. He prefers to be the behind the scenes type of person because that is who he is. He likes to pretend he’s a tough guy, and truth is he is a tough guy—a better tough guy than most tough guys are.

He’s the kind of tough guy that tells you to remember your umbrella when it is raining hours away from where you live. He’s the kind of tough guy that plays video games with a nephew and recommends books to his niece. He’s the kind of tough guy that will listen to your hurt and never hint of his own.

Being a good dad starts before the birth of a child. It extends far as far back as learning to be a good sibling. Being a good dad also reaches long after death, whether that is the death of the parent, or even when it is tragically the child’s. It’s the selfless nature, encouraging words, and raw love shown that proves a person is a real dad, even in the face of ultimate hurt when a child leaves the world her parent shares first.

So Chad, Happy Father’s Day to the best DAD I know. I’m so thankful you ARE a DADDY. It made you who you are, and the legacy of love you gave your daughter will live long after all of us in the quiet way you care for the people in your world. You don’t have to feel like a DAD to prove you are in the example you set for your family and friends. We know you are a dad because of the kind of love for others shown is the kind that lives on forever. I’m thankful for you every day.

(Ladies, he’s single. Can you even believe that? All interested parties can contact me and I’ll pass on your info!)

 

Lies I Told Myself and the Truth That Set Me Free Kicking and Screaming

Have you ever told yourself a lie?  Did you keep it up for days? How about months?  I think I reached gold medal status because I told myself lies for years.  I’m not sure how I got away with it, but I do know why I did it.

I am an optimist.  I love smiling.  I love the feeling when all is right in the world around me.  I believe when I see a pile of poop, there has to be a pony in it, right?! But what if that pony made a pile of steaming mess and left? What if that pony is not there anymore?  At what point is optimism actually denial?  And, at what point does that denial turn you into someone you don’t really want to be?

The word denial can mean the refusal of something requested or desired.  It can also mean a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.  The first definition is very simple, but it can also lead to the second definition.  If someone is denied something they really want, they can be in denial about it.  Denial begets denial.  Because no one ever wants to believe something painful, it is easier to just lie to yourself.  The lies we tell ourselves are the ones you have the greatest belief in.  You are invested in those lies more than you are invested in the truth because, let’s face it, the truth freaking hurts.

The first lie I told myself is probably bordering on the limits of pitiful and possibly institution worthy. I told myself my father, after committing suicide, wasn’t actually dead.  That’s common enough, I know.  Lots of people tell themselves that lie when someone they love dies.  I didn’t stop there.  I had a dream about him living in a little cabin at the top of the mountain where he died.  He asked me to come in and told me all about how he just wanted to live up there forever, so he did.  He had handmade all his furniture.  It was a beautiful little dream, and I didn’t want to wake up.  I had to pass the place he died on the way to and from visiting my mom several times a year ,and each time I passed the location where he died I would whisper to him I loved him.  I would visualize him up there on the mountain ridge and not really gone.  Twelve years after I first hatched this lie, I took a walk with a friend of mine to the top of the mountain where my dad died.  It was an emotional walk, and while I knew I wouldn’t find anything at the top of the mountain except nature, I wanted to see for myself.  The truth was hard for me to accept, and I didn’t do it all at once.  It took twelve years for me to admit to myself that there had never been a cabin, and my father had not heard me whisper my love for him all those times I passed.  I knew it all along.  But in seeing it, I finally believed it.

I told the second lie to myself for almost the same length of time and during the same years as the first lie.  After getting married at age 21, I knew almost immediately it was going to take a lot of sacrificial love and patience on my part.  My second lie was that my husband loved me, he just didn’t know how to express it.  I told myself this almost daily.  I read books about love languages.  I took personality tests.  I explained to him with patience how I needed love shown to me, and he just let me know in no uncertain terms that it was not who he was, how he was raised, and what I was asking was impossible.  I knew I had made a choice, and we had kids.  I told myself over and over that love was there.  He just didn’t understand me.  He didn’t understand himself.  Then I picked up my Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Now, you don’t have to agree with the Bible or believe in God to believe the definition of love in those words.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My husband was not patient with me,  and he was unkind about my likes and dislikes.  He was jealous of my friends.  As I kept reading I felt so defeated by the truth.  If he loved me, wouldn’t these things be true?  If he loved me, wouldn’t he be exhibiting proof of the love?  The day I stopped telling myself this lie was the day I started breathing in my marriage again.  Now that I knew the truth, I could save it.  But, sadly, there wasn’t much left to save.  Maybe if I had just stopped believing the lie earlier,  I could have made a difference.  I will never know, and I don’t need to know.  The most important takeaway truth I have from this experience in what love is not, is finding out what love is from the people that do show me those things.   Few people in our lives show us REAL love.  A lot of love is conditional.  People are offering that everywhere.  But I found out just how many people I had that would show up for me to show me REAL love when I needed it most.  Those are the people you keep.  My friends that have shown me patience, kindness, and kept no records of my wrongs I count more valuable than anything I have.  This past year they protected me when I needed it, trusted me and let me trust them, shared my hopes, and held up my head when I just couldn’t persevere anymore.  Grateful will never cover it.  ALL I gained outweighs what I lost exponentially after I stopped lying to myself about what love was.

The third lie was the most difficult lie.  I told myself I can’t do this.  What “this” was differed from day to day.  I didn’t know if I had a job from month to month. I felt like I couldn’t do a lot this year.  Being lonely has been the hardest.  I’ve talked to a stuffed unicorn at times. (Don’t worry, he didn’t talk back.) Each time I told myself I couldn’t do something I knew deep down that it was a lie. I called my mom one night crying and told her I couldn’t do this anymore.  She reminded me that women giving birth will sometimes say they can’t do it just before the baby is born.  The beauty of that set up is they don’t really have a choice by then.  Transitional stage of labor is what happens just before you push.  There is no rest between the contractions.  The pain never subsides.  It’s a constant reminder of what you are there to accomplish.  It is the storm before the calm.  This is when most women will start doubting themselves and want medication and possible mallets to the side of the head.  You feel out of control and disoriented.  You just want this to be over. But you know what happens on the other side of the transition stage?  You get this perfect, new life.  No matter how much self doubt you are dealing with, there is a new life on the other side.  It’s that way with life too.  We can have hope in that nobody ever stays in the transitional stage.  Something new has to eventually be born.  You just have to hold the pushing until it’s time, and before you know it all the pain will be in the past and all you will see is the new. In letting go of this lie, night faded away and I started to see the sun again.

So, I told myself a few lies.  We all do it.  We tell ourselves lies because the truth is just too painful.  Grieving a loss is sometimes a lot more healthy than just living with the lie.  We survive failures.  We can move on from the corner of disbelief and stubborn and have something more substantial. Sometimes we just don’t get what we want.  We could tell ourselves we will get the thing we want until we resemble angry toddlers who think if they say it loud enough it will just happen, or we can just adjust to the truth.  Tucking dreams in for the night is hard.  Tucking them in for a dirt nap downright sucks.  Truth is truth.  It sets you free, but first it puts you in a choke hold, throws a few punches, and makes you want your mama.  I’ve learned the hard way the easiest way to tell the truth from a lie is silence.   When everything is silent, what you truly know comes to the top.  Truth doesn’t change, just like real love.  Both never fail.