Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bye, Dad. Letter to him and speech at memorial.

This will give you all an idea of how long we watched him suffer and how many goodbyes we actually had!  Sorry, some of it is redundant!

December 24, 2007

Dear Daddy-

This is a hard letter for me to write in a lot of ways. I’ve started it several times, and it never sounded right. But I think now is the time. I know that you are rounding the home stretch here in life, and as you do, I need you to know some things. Without you, as my father and my friend, I would have been an entirely different person. I have so many things to thank you for that invariably, I will complete this letter and then remember more. But I will try my best now:

*Thank you for my love of the theater. I will never forget going to the LA Theater Center with you to see what seems like dozens of plays. Some of them good, some of them not so good. But you have helped me be able to let theater and art into my soul, and make me feel, as nothing else can.

*Thank you for teaching me to laugh at life, especially the ironic and absurd. I can’t imagine my life without that ability. One of the best illustrations of that would be that dreadful Homecoming date I had when I was 16. Upon telling you of the horror, you tried to stifle a laugh, but just couldn’t hold it back. Then I started to laugh. Laughing at crap is the only thing that gets me through some days, and you are the one who taught me how.

*Thank you for being a playful parent. I have so many memories of you playing with us and being silly…not giving us something to do, but actually getting down on the floor and playing. I pray that I will be able to continue that with my own kids.

*Thank you for loving my friends. I don’t think you realize how much you have meant to them. Friends of mine who have only met you once always ask about you. And friends who you have known for a long time regard you as their second father. I hope you know that. Yours was the house where everyone loved to come, and always felt safe and welcomed.

*Thank you for demonstrating courage by quitting drinking and coming out as a gay man. You could have continued to hide, but you had the guts to say “fuck it” and be who you really are. That’s amazing to me, and I remember that when I feel stifled.

*Thank you for always being on my side. You always have been, even when I was the one in the wrong.

*Thank you for giving me freedom when I was young, freedom I probably didn’t earn or deserve, but helped me in the long run figure out who I was and am. You allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them.

I will think of more things later, I am sure, and regret that I didn’t remember them in time to add them into this letter. But I think you know how much I love you. You are the main person Dad, who knows me, the real me. Some others come close, but not exactly. You are my cornerstone. You are the person who has always been able to make me feel better, helped me to talk my way through a problem, or helped me to evaluate relationships. I will miss you so terribly, and when I can’t just pick up the phone and call you, it’s going to be very hard. But know this: I have never, for one day in my entire life, doubted how much you love me. Do you know how precious and rare that is? I am so lucky and blessed to have had you as a father. And although your body might be gone sometime soon, I know that you will always be with me. And although I would prefer it if you didn’t actually “haunt” me, I would like it if you would visit and tell me what Heaven is like, because I’m going to want to know!

I love you more than words can express, Dad. Thank you for everything you have done.

-Your youngest child.

Memorial service, April 17, 2010:

This is really overwhelming. Walking up here, the first things that pop into my mind are to try not to fall off my heels and wondering if my dad thinks this outfit works. The irony also strikes me because right now I’m wishing I’d taken some of my dad’s classes to get ready for this.

He had been really ill for some time and we’d all been bracing for the inevitable. We’d talked a lot about what he wanted to happen after he’d gone and how he wanted things handled. He’d told me he wanted to have a party at his house after the service and he said, “I don’t know, you think we should cook? Maybe we should hire a caterer and keep it light.” I said, “ummmm, Dad? You’re going to be dead. I think we can handle the details!” If there were two things my dad loved, it was a captive audience and a good party. I hope today he will have both.

In December of 07, I wrote him a letter that he and I jokingly referred to as the death letter. Joking aside, I wanted to make sure he knew how I felt about him and to still be coherent enough to fully absorb it. I’d like to share parts of it: Thank you for giving me my love of theatre and the arts, and helping me let it become part of my soul. Thank you for being a playful parent. I have vivid memories of you playing with us and being silly, and I hope that I can continue that with my own children. Thank you for giving me the freedom (maybe sometimes too much) to make my own mistakes and learn from them. I made a lot, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot. Thank you for welcoming, knowing, and loving my friends as though they were your own. Yours was the house where everyone wanted to come. A lot of them are here today, not just to support me, but because they loved you. Many of them regarded you as a second father, at a time in their lives when they really needed one. Thank you for always picking flowers from the yard to put in my bedroom when I would visit from college. That always made me feel so incredibly wanted and anticipated. Thank you for showing me what it felt like to be loved unconditionally, respected, and listened to. I think that knowledge had a lot to do with who I ended up marrying.

Of all the traits I got from my dad, one of the most valuable and definitely the one I use the most is the ability to laugh at the ridiculous and the absurdity of life and find humor in unexpected situations. When I was 15, I had a horrific date to the Homecoming dance. He was over an hour late picking me up, wouldn’t dance with me, and scheduled dinner after the dance so we had to leave early. Then he got on the wrong freeway to go to dinner, and by the time he figured it out, everything was closed. All I got to eat that evening was a Winchell’s donut. I went home feeling terribly sorry for myself. Later that weekend, I went up to dad’s house, ready to share my tale of woe and fully expecting 100% sympathy and comfort. That’s not what happened. About halfway through, I noticed he was stifling laughter. When I got to the part about the donut, he busted out into a full belly laugh, and then I did too. Without that ability, I don’t know how I would handle my chosen career, or being a parent, or just life in general.

A few years later, we drove together to move me up to SFSU for college. He got me settled in the dorms and I drove him to the airport to fly home. A few days later, he called to see how things were going. I said, “good.” There was a pause on the phone and he said, “You’re never coming home, are you?” I replied, “I don’t think so.” I’ve now been living in Northern California for 20 years. How did he know that after a few days? But he did, he could hear it in my voice, it was a better fit for me. When I was 24 and in grad school, I met my husband Mike. We’d dated for only 2 or 3 weeks, and I told my dad, “I think I might marry this one.” He said, “You know, he sounds different. I bet you will.” 15 years together and two awesome children later, again, he was right. He was my cornerstone, and he just knew me.

I thought about readings and poems to share, but in my day to day life, I think more in terms of song lyrics. My dad was so dramatic and moody and could go from being down to elated pretty quickly. About a week before he died, I downloaded a CD of Colin Hay’s. There’s a song called Beautiful World that reminds me so much of him. My favorite verse is this: “And still this emptiness persists-perhaps this is as good as it gets. When you’ve given up the drink and those nasty cigarettes, now I leave the party early, at least with no regrets. I watch the sun as it comes up, I watch it as it sets. Yeah, this is as good as it gets.”

To my ever present, often outrageous, high maintenance, hysterically funny, always available, sometimes embarrassing, sincerely warm, and endlessly supportive Daddy. I love you and I miss you. Thank you so much for everything you’ve given me, I can’t fathom who I would’ve become without you. I’d say rest in peace, but I don’t think you’re resting. I know you’re acting, dancing, singing, and laughing. Have a wonderful time!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Honey, I have something to tell you...

January 21, 2011

Today would have been my father’s 81st birthday, and he’s been gone now for 11 months exactly. Such a strange sensation. On the way to karate last night, I mentioned this fact to my ten year old daughter, and she was concerned about me being sad. I said, “Well, his 80th birthday was pretty miserable. I’ll bet birthday parties in Heaven are pretty cool.” She likes this idea.  Onward to the next story...

I moved to San Francisco to complete my years of undergrad at San Francisco State University when I was 20 years old, but frequently came home to visit. I came home for Spring Break when I was 21, and upon arrival,  Dad said, “Honey, I have something to tell you.” Okay…I sat down in his room and waited. “I’m an alcoholic, but I’ve quit now and am going to AA.” The fact that he was an alcoholic wasn’t groundbreaking news, we all knew it, really. He drank for as long as I could remember. He was never a mean drunk, in fact, he was often a funny, entertaining drunk. When I was really little, I remember him drinking Olympia beer, which I don’t even think they make anymore. I remember bringing him can after can with the upside down horseshoe on it from the kitchen when I was little. Later, when I began drinking myself, I discovered this was absolutely horrible beer…it tasted like carbonated dishwater. Regardless, it was cheap beer, and he drank a lot of it, for a very long time. I remember one instance when I had a friend over, maybe in 3rd or 4th grade and my Dad was sitting in a chair, finishing his beer. He then balanced the empty beer can on his bald head, which my friend found hilarious. With a captive audience, he began to rock his head from side to side, making the can wobble, but he never let it fall. He thought it was funny. We thought it was funny. So what’s the problem?

Years later he turned to wine. With such fine taste in clothes and antiques, you’d think he’d choose a fine wine, or at the very least, an acceptable wine. Nope. My Dad chose the HUGE jug of Gallo “Burgundy”. Again, as I began to drink, found out how dreadful IT was as well. I would equate Gallo Burgundy with drinking battery acid. It made sense as the years went on…if you drink THAT much, you’d go completely broke if you bought the good stuff. As I grew up and got to high school and then college, his drinking did begin to bother me more and more. There were endless evenings when I was staying with him that I had to go take the wine glass out of his hand, sometimes still somewhat full, because he’d passed out in bed while drinking. I would then put the glass on his bedside table, take his glasses off (if he’d been reading or watching TV), and turn everything off. Dozens and dozens of times I did this. I became even more concerned so I started to monitor how much he was actually drinking by keeping an eye on the ever-upscale and classy JUG of Burgundy on the kitchen counter, to see how quickly the line went down. It wasn’t until this April confession that he told me he’d hidden other jugs throughout the house, including his closet. I was glad he stopped, and proud that he was taking the initiative to go to AA and make his life better. He was 61 years old. The irony, of course, is that I was drinking like a fish at that time, high school and college, but considered myself to have MUCH better taste in alcohol. Did I drink too much? Yes. Was it a problem? Absolutely. However, much like my father, I thought I was fine, even while driving. I drove drunk more times than I care to remember. And while I don’t remember these events, my mother reports that our dad once drove all three of us kids home from our grandparents house on the wrong side of the street. Very recently she shared a story of coming home when they were still married, and all of us kids were asleep. Our dad had passed out drinking, AND smoking, and the bed was partially on fire. I have no recollection of any of this, so to me, Dad’s drinking wasn’t a big deal to me for a very long time. In fact, for awhile there it was great. We drank together. In high school, I had the coolest dad in the world because we could hang out and drink a bunch of beers. Looking back, I see things differently of course. Alcoholics don’t like to drink alone. It was NOT good to make alcohol so easily accessible to me. But at the time, I felt like we were bonding, and sharing an experience. I don’t hold it against him now of course, and we did have great talks and a lot of fun, but it was wrong. Deep down, he knew that.

The following April, exactly a year later, I came down for Spring vacation again. I was home for maybe a day before I got another, “Honey, I need to talk to you.” Oh boy…what now? Big silence, and then a big sigh. Then more silence. “Darling, I’m bisexual.” Come again???? I did NOT see this one coming at all. It never occurred to me in the slightest. He never had significant girlfriends after divorcing my mom, but there were some here and there. My mom never had any significant relationships either, so that part of their lives were something I guess I just never thought about. Later in the day, he approached me and said, “Honey, I’m not really bisexual, I’m gay.” He explained that he thought telling me he was bisexual first would "ease me into the idea", when in reality it had confused me more.  At this point, (and he LOVED this story and retold it frequently), I replied, “Okay, Dad. Is there ANYTHING ELSE you need to tell me? Are you an international  spy? Are there dead people buried in the backyard?” We both burst out laughing, as we always did. Humor and laughter was how we dealt with life, even at seemingly inopportune times. Okay, I have a gay dad. I asked him if there was anyone special, there wasn’t. I asked if he was always careful, and he said he was. That was really all I needed to know. As it turns out, I was the last one to know. He’d told my siblings weeks before. My mother, reportedly, had always known, although I have my doubts. He was afraid to tell me, he said, because we were so close and he was afraid of what my reaction might be. That, in and of itself surprised me…we were all brought up liberal and open-minded, I had gay friends. I would never have thought less of him, I just didn’t expect it. I called my best friend and told her and she replied, “You know, I always kind of wondered…” Sheesh…apparently I had the world’s worst gaydar. A few years later, I had a conversation with my brother that made me laugh until I thought I would stop breathing. He said, “Dad loves clothes, the man owns over 50 sweaters and he lives in Los Angeles. He loves to decorate and hunt for antiques. We’ve grown up being forced to listen to Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli and Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand. We ALL know the lyrics to just about any musical production that has been released in the past 20 years. A Chorus Line. Guys and Dolls. Pippin. Company. How in the HELL did we NOT KNOW he was gay?”

As weird as it all was, I became so proud of my father for making these confessions and declarations.  It was also at this time that I made the connection between the two…he drank because he was trying to "drink away" being gay. After being sober for one year, he couldn’t deny it anymore, it’s who he was. Imagine waiting until you’re in your 60’s before being able to fully express and live who you are? Some people never get to do that. Sometimes it makes me sad as well. While being happy about the drinking ceasing, his health was never that great, he’d quit smoking at around 44, but a lot of damage had already been done. And as far as his fully coming out of the closet, it was LATE. If you’re gay in Los Angeles, you are required to be young and beautiful. Dad was old and handsome, but not into the “scene”, and never acted like a “stereotypical” gay person. So he died having never found a significant partner to share his life with after the divorce, which had happened 20 some years before. People came and went, but none were particularly meaningful or special. I wish that he’d had that chance.  I know he was very lonely a good part of his last years.

Through this, I have learned bravery and courage.  Any time I feel stifled, or as though I can't say or act like myself depending on who I'm around, I think about my dad.  If HE could make such dramatic changes and uncover truths that had been hidden for decades, then I can most certainly be who I really am.  Not everyone will like it, and frankly, I don't care.  He was my mentor in many ways, but being true to myself is one of the most important lessons I learned.  More grace.  Through oddness and certainly unusual parenting, came confidence and courage in me, although I'll admit it took time to develop.  I'm doing something now that scares me to death.  Thank you Dad.  And Happy Birthday!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Perhaps the first ill-advised decisions?

My dear father moved to California in the early 1950's from Newport News, Virginia to pursue acting at the famous Pasadena Playhouse, and to escape his oppressive Southern upbringing. Drama, and particularly musical theatre were his passion, and he wanted to make it his career.

My mother attended Stanford, under a bit of duress as I understand it...she started early, and didn't enjoy herself much while she was there. Both of my grandparents attended Stanford, and she was the oldest. It was as though she had no choice but to attend there, it was a legacy. But she has few fond memories of college, or at least has not shared many. Upon completion and earning her degree in English, she moved back to Pasadena with her parents,which was intended to be a temporary arrangement. She had BIG plans to move to New York to become a writer. But it was maybe 58 or 59? Single women didn't really do such things often back in those days.

My parents met at Vroman's, a historical bookstore in Pasadena, in which they both got jobs to pay the bills while they pursued their dreams. My mom chickened out with regard to New York and married my father, only 7 months after meeting, I believe. My mother was 22. She has told me in the past that one of the reasons she married my father was to get away from her OWN father, since she'd been living at home. My father was 30, and he loved her spirit and independent nature. They married on June 10, 1960. My sister arrived shortly afterwards, and a household had to be created and maintained, as well as provided for. Mom became a housewife, which I still cannot for the life of me even picture in my brain. For anyone who knows LA well or has ever pursued acting, it's well known you can barely make a living for one person by just getting small acting gigs. Providing for a family as an aspiring actor was just not going to happen, so my dad got a job teaching speech and debate, as well as drama, at San Marino High School. Three years after my sister, my brother came along. Five and a half years later, I came into the picture.

The reality? The possible ill-advised decisions? My mother gave up on her dreams and married a gay alcoholic. My gay father married a woman who really never wanted to be a housewife. Keep in mind the jury is still out as to when my mother realized my dad was gay. She says now she always knew, and she thought she could "fix" him, but I'm not so sure about that. So she faked being a happy housewife for a number of years, which I never witnessed directly. She was home when my sister came home from school, was a girl scout leader, and made dinner every night. Maybe at the time, she was enjoying it and not faking it, I have no way of knowing. At heart, she was a writer, a ferocious women's libber, and a free spirit. I don't think she wanted to raise a family in the same, mundane, traditional manner in which she was raised. At one point my father stopped drinking, and they decided to have another baby to celebrate (one of three stories I have heard about the reason I'm here, but okay...). I was conceived in 1969, the Summer of Love, in a Motel 6 in Goleta. However, my entrance into this world didn't end up fixing anything. As it turns out, married men from the South in the early 70's with wives and three children often don't want to face up to the fact that they are indeed homosexual. So guess what they do? They drink so they don't have to think about it. It didn't take long. So operation "sobriety celebration baby" was for naught. I write this with a smile on my face, because I was unequivocally adored by my father, so I in no way think I was a mistake. But the marriage ended about three years later. I have absolutely no recollection of them ever being together. When I hear stories about my parents from my siblings, who are older by quite a margin, it's as though they were raised by completely different people.

I know neither of them have/had any regrets that they had us....but I'm sure they've wondered...

What would have happened if Dad had remained single, and pursued acting with the likes of Dustin Hoffman, who was his roommate at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Gene Hackman who was also there at the time? Perhaps he would have come out of the closet officially much earlier than he did and could have had a happy life with a consistent partner and lived his dream of becoming a famous actor.

What would have happened if Mom had truly moved to New York alone? Would she be a published novelist? A columnist or maybe even an editor at a prominent magazine such as the New Yorker or probably more appropriately, Ms. Magazine? I personally believe she never would have married, and possibly never had children. She recently had a short fictional story published in a local magazine that describes JUST that kind of character. An unmarried, single woman, who is a writer in New York who bumps heads with her own mother. My brother and I both have asked her if she was writing about the life she wishes she'd chosen. She denies it. "No! I have always seen myself as a mother." I'm glad to know she's glad we're here, but I'm just not totally convinced.

So were these the first of many ill-advised decisions that affected my very existence as well as the rest of my life? Or was this all in the plan? We'll never know for sure.

Despite other jobs and countless responsibilities, neither parent gave up on their passions. Teaching became a passion of my dad's and he taught for 37 years, influencing generations of students who came out of the woodwork to attend his memorial service. He was the favorite teacher, and everyone knew who he was. During and after teaching, Dad continued to go on auditions and acted in plays, commercials, and small films way past his diagnosis of emphysema until he literally couldn't stand or say an entire sentence without becoming out of breath. The movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" reminds me a lot of my father.

My mother, after divorcing my father became very involved in politics and women's rights, and was often so busy I rarely saw her. When I began high school, my mom had a calling. While still working full time, she began seminary and became an ordained Episcopal priest just as I was graduating high school. Retired and in her early 70's, she's writing quite a bit now, and I believe is working on a book.

Here was MY plan for my life...I love children and psychology. I wanted a happy marriage, and an intact family. I wanted a pretty damn conventional family, as a matter or fact because I was not brought up in one. I AM a school psychologist and work with children every day, have been happily married for 14 years and have two amazing children. However, I have also ALWAYS wanted to write. I have stacks and stacks of journals and stories and essays I have never shown to a single soul. At 40, what am I waiting for? Not pursuing this now would not be the first, but would most surely be another ill-advised decision.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Introduction and my 2010

So I am mortally terrified.  As a very old, wise friend told me, "You've wanted to write since we were in the 7th grade!"  SHE'S not old, we've just been friends since we were IN the 7th grade.  At the ripe old age of 40 and a half, I've realized a lot of things about my life, hence the title of the blog.  Pain, disasters, joy, fear, adventure, love, grief, incredibly moments of fun, and many, many lessons learned.  2010 was an exceptional difficult year for me, which prompted me writing a marathon  note on Facebook on New Year's Eve.  Which in turn, inspired a number of my friends to recommend starting a blog.  Do people read blogs??  I never thought they did, but apparently I am mistaken.  This is kind of like standing naked in a room full of strangers, considering most of what is swimming around in my mind to write about is incredibly personal.  Yet, it must be done, my friends.  So I will begin with my wordy 2010 note:

December 31, 2010.

Looking back over 2010, this may just be one of the most defining years in my life. 

It started in January with the memorial service for my dear Uncle Rhett, who passed suddenly of heart complication.  He actually passed in October, but donated his body to UCSF medical center, and his friends, all poets and artists, put together an unbelievable memorial celebration for him in the heart of the Tenderloin district, one of the most dangerous areas of San Francisco.  In fact, Rhett had lived there for years when he was jumped and beaten brutally in the 1980's which resulted in hospitalization and surgery.  In later years, he moved to the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco.  However, his heart never left the Tenderloin district, which was where he met lifelong friends.  He was a true Bohemian, but not the wannabe, in your face, screw the system manner in which so many young people define themselves.  He wrote.  He painted.  He saw the BEST in human nature, something that never changed, even after his beating.  He lived his life quietly, never married or had children.  He had a book of his poetry published which I cherish, but I must admit, most of his poetry is difficult for me to understand.  He was a man who was not of this world in many ways.  He was the youngest of four brothers, and my Godfather.  I believe he saw and understood pure love, pure beauty, and the miracle of life perhaps better than anyone I'd ever known.  His service was lengthy, he had so  many loyal, wonderful friends.  After everyone was spoken, a meal was served, and I believe at least one woman simply walked in off the street and loaded up a plate.  Initially this appeared so rude to me, she didn't know my uncle.  However, looking around, this was a community that was completely open.  If you need food, come in and eat.  If you need shelter, come in and rest.  None of Rhett's friend's even blinked at the presence of this stranger.  The location, I must admit, is a place that scared me.  Mike and I opted to take Madeline, but not Stephen since he was so young.  Upon arrival, we had to navigate around a huge, fresh puddle of urine.  Upon departure, we had to walk in between two people on the sidewalk who were clearly in the middle of a drug deal.  It's a place of unbelievably poverty, drug abuse, crime, and hopelessness.  But it's where my Uncle's life and artistic work flourished, as it did for his friends.  I believe that if a nice, clean hall had been chosen instead to hold the memorial, he would have been most disappointed.  I've never known another human being like him.  Heaven is a much richer place with him in it.  I miss him.

Later that month, I was given a very generous invitation to join my sister in law and some friends to a trip to Las Vegas.  It was to take place over the weekend of the 21st, which was my dad's 80th birthday.  My dad's dear friend Adam had tried to organize a party with friends, but it was nearly impossible to orchestrate, and a date was never nailed down.  I'd just been down to see him the  month before and couldn't afford another flight (Las Vegas was being paid for).  So I chose Las Vegas.  I talked to him on his birthday, but it wasn't the same.  And of COURSE, in retrospect, I would have gone down there instead, but I had no idea what the future held.  I did have an epiphany though.  While I loved the company I was in, I don't like Las Vegas.  It's incredibly depressing.  Young girls dressed like prostitutes, drunken, drunken, drunken folks everywhere, and old people, seemingly chained to the slot machines, reeking of cigarette smoke and desperation.  Don't get me wrong, I had fun.  It's just not my scene.  I saw Jon Stewart was going to be there in the couple weeks that followed and was sad.  Being as I'd marry Jon Stewart in a heartbeat if I were single, I would have made the sacrifice to go see him.  But it was not to be.

In February, Mike and I decided to take an additional trip to Disneyland, alone.  We'd taken the kids a couple months before, and it was fun, but it's just different going alone.  We've both always loved the place, and had an amazing New Year's there in 1995, the year before we were married.  This time we flew to Orange County and rented a car.  The weather was hit and miss, and I knew we wanted to go visit my dad.  In good traffic, it's only about 45 minutes or so.  We got there, and although we'd seen him in December, he looked different.  Although he'd been confined to bed for nearly four years, he was always well groomed, and this time, his beard had gotten out of control and had grown down his neck.  I asked him about it and he said, "Do you want to shave it for me?"  Absolutely not...I had a totally traumatic experience several months earlier trying to simply clip his fingernails!  But his skin was smooth.  His eyes were clear.  I showed Mike a drawing of my father from 1934 that he'd never seen, which is the spitting image of our son Stephen.  I handed it to Mike, who immediately said, "Holy shit!" and took pictures of it with his phone to send to his family. Today it hangs in our living room.  At the time Dad was on so many medications, and I think the cure was often worse than the disease.  The steroids made his arms black and blue and purple, and his arms looked like a Halloween decoration.  His thighs were about the size of my upper arms.  "Honey, I look like a cadaver!" So weird to think back now, he was mere weeks away from becoming one in reality.  He was such a proud man, bordering on vain at times.  He was not up to long visits, we probably stayed an hour.  When we left, he said to me, "Honey, I just wish I could breathe."  "I wish you could too, Daddy.  I love you, and will see you soon."  Walking down the steps, I began to tear up.  Mike asked if I was okay, and I said, "Yeah, it's just hard." That was the last time I saw him, and in a way, I think I knew that.  Dad had a to-do list. He'd said for months that he at least wanted to make it to 80.  He also said he'd wanted to watch the DVD of Rhett's memorial, which he had with my sister at some point recently.  A couple weeks later he called to wish us a Happy Valentine's Day.  This was slightly odd...families acknowledge different holidays, and Valentine's was not one we'd ever really recognized.  We had family over, celebrating a birthday.  I talked to him, but felt that I had to cut it short because we had guests.  "I love you, Daddy, talk to you soon."  That was the last time I spoke to him. And I know now, he was calling to say goodbye.   

Less than a week later, my mom came to visit to see the kids, but also to go and see the Sandhill Cranes land.  When she lived here, bird watching was something she often did with Madeline.    Mom, the kids, and myself set off in the late afternoon to see the cranes. It was FREEZING. I hadn't seen this before, and it really was something to see.  Beautiful.  They all fly in together at dusk, (chirping? cawing?) to each other as they land.  Sometimes they "dance" together, which is part of their mating ritual.  We took pictures of the cranes, and the kids, and there was an awesome sunset that night, which I got a picture of.  I felt odd at one point, looking at the though I were having a "moment".  The next day in the late afternoon, I got a call from my brother that Dad's nurse called and said he needed to come over right away.  "What's the date today?" he asked.  We'd had DOZENS of these calls over the years, so it was impossible to know when to become TRULY alarmed.  Upon hearing of his little brother's death the prior October, dad became so upset that he was rushed to the hospital, and honestly, I thought that was when he was going to go.  But he hung on.  So predictions were useless.  About 15 minutes later, my brother called me back and said, "He passed away."  It was February 21, he was 80 and 1 month exactly.  ??????????  What?  For all the times I prayed for Jesus to take him, and I loved him so much and hated seeing him miserable, he was GONE?  Wait!!!  I want to be there!  I want to say goodbye...he'd been sick so long we'd had dozens of goodbyes, including a letter I wrote him two years before.  I believe my words to my brother were "Okay.  What am I supposed to do now??"  I told him I'd book a flight and be there in the morning.  I hung up.  My mom was still visiting, which was very awkward being as they'd been divorced since I was 3 and she was not exactly a fan.  She was somewhat paralyzed...she didn't know what to do.  I walked into the back room and called my sister to tell her.  Her first words were, "Oh, poor Jun is out of a job!"  That was Dad's nurse.  I couldn't get my dad's dear, close friend, so I texted him. I don't think I called or texted my best friend back east, it was late in NY.   I called my other best friend and left her a message.  She called right back, but we didn't talk long, I told her I was going to clean the shower.  She said, "You do whatever it is you need to do right now." Suddenly, I felt that cleaning the shower was the most practical thing I could possibly do.  So I did.  I don't even remember if I cried. While in the shower, my mother came charging in.  Our bathroom is totally open to our bedroom and our shower doors are glass, and I was IN the shower, cleaning at the same time.  She said she needed Mentholatum because her nose had begun to bleed.  "The air is so dry here."  ?????  Ummm, can you give me a minute?  I can't say my mother is unemotional, but she rarely visibly emotes.  She'd been with us for over two days and her nose was fine...I'm convinced that her nosebleed was a physical reaction to the news of the father of her children dying, yet she couldn't even hug me. When I got out of the shower, after delivering Vapo-Rub (all we had) to my mother, my dad's dear friend called crying.  He drove over to my father's house immediately to say goodbye although he was already gone. I flew down the next morning and met up with my siblings at my dad's dining room table.  His empty bed in his room was a terrible sight, but luckily I think that we're built for grief in a way.  I was numb.  We decided to aim for April for the service, a week before I was to turn 40.  Grand.   My sister and I went to the mortuary to arrange the cremation.  The next day, I went to the church to arrange the service.  We all began to go through his things, but we didn't do any of it together.  I went through his closet, which was a tangle of decades of dog hair and dander and old dusty clothes. My father's dear friend came over and brought us both lunch and I gave him some of Dad's things. We went to the park for awhile and talked.   My brother said he'd come by to help, then come by to say goodbye since I was flying home that night.  When I called to let him know it was just about time for me to leave, thinking he'd come by, he said, "Okay, have a nice flight!"   My brother was suddenly all business, no emotion.  My sister arrived about ten minutes before I left, but this wasn't her fault...her family was in the process of moving and she'd had to attend a meeting about getting her daughter into a magnet school.  When she realized I'd been going through the closet alone, she said how sorry she was and gave me a huge hug, which was sincere and comforting.  Overall though,  it was odd.  I felt alone. I had thought that the three of us would have spent more time together during this time, and it just didn't go down that way.   My sister was going to witness the cremation the next day, which was something she offered to do, and was something I knew I could NOT do. I encouraged her to have someone with her, she'd originally planned on doing it alone.  However, her husband and our dad's nurse both accompanied her, and she was grateful for the support, I believe.

It wasn't until I was on the plane to come home to my own family that I began crying. As the plane began to back up, I felt that I was deserting him.   I cried, hard, during the entire flight. Luckily I had a row to myself and the attendants left me alone. I sobbed like a crazy person on the drive home, screaming cries, like a toddler.  I wanted my Daddy.  My husband was waiting for me,  I was still sobbing, saying crazy things like, "I have to make him proud of me!"  He just held me and said, "He IS.  He always has been." He died on a Sunday evening, I returned home on Tuesday morning.  I feel like I stared at the wall for a couple days and then returned to work.  To add to the surreal-ness of the situation, we'd planned weeks ago that we would be hosting my lovely niece's baby shower that very Saturday.  So on Saturday, I was on total and complete autopilot.  It was nice...I only remember a few people who were here...did we cook anything?  I vacuumed.  I just don't  remember!

March was a blur.  And I had an "Oh crap!!!!" moment when I realized my son's 5th birthday was the 9th and we hadn't planned anything!!  We managed to piece together a family party and a party at the bounce house at an odd time, because it was the only time left.  I felt awful, but it went fine.  The remainder of March, besides working and caring for my family, revolved around contacting as many old students of my dad's as possible, and planning the ceremony, choosing the scripture, trying to write what I would say, and making approximately 89 phone calls to let people know he'd passed.  I must have gone back and forth with the church regarding my dad's memorial a dozen times, from how many speakers there would be, to the assistant consistently getting things incorrect, to trying not to take personally the fact that my siblings don't share the faith my father and I shared. There were so many emails, back and forth, on how things might be done.  The three of us are so different, and rarely totally agreed on much.   It was SO MUCH WORK.  I don't know that I've ever been that worn out, that fatigued, and that "soul tired" in my entire life.  I started to lose weight.  I had to take the dress I'd chosen to a tailor to be altered, but I still had to find fabulous shoes.  I had a lot of people asking me how I was. My stock answer was, "Okay.  It sucks."  Reading the posts on my father's memorial page  FB had me in tears on nearly a daily basis.  I didn't know how much he did for the kids he taught in high school...the unconditional love and interest and support he showed me, and my friends growing up was not limited to just us, it was for everyone.  I really, truly didn't realize the depth of this.  In the midst of all of this, my beautiful niece delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy.  I'd been on her case to get it rolling...I remember telling her, "I need a little happy, can you tell him to hurry it up?" 

April came.  Dad's memorial was the 17th, and it went beautifully.  I love what I wrote for my speech and meant and mean every word still.  The outpouring was amazing.  It was a blur, that day.  And I felt tremendous pressure, to look perfect, act perfect, BE perfect.  But what struck me the most, were the amazing blessings I have in my life.  Grace in the midst of unbearable pain. The friends of mine, you know who you are, who came from New York, Hawaii, Idaho, addition to friends from Pasadena that I hadn't seen for decades.  Unbelievable.  I also learned that grief is sometimes so overwhelming, someone very close to me just couldn't face it head on right away. She'd lost her own father a couple years before, and she didn't make it to the service.   Although angry and hurt at the time, I came to understand, and forgive.  My husband's family all came down...I felt as though I had an army of supporters.  SO lucky. SO blessed.  We returned home, and exactly a week later, I turned 40.  Boo.  While I'd thought of going to see The Black Eyed Peas, or a trip with a friend, or a big party at the house, I no longer wanted to do anything.  It was a Sunday, and my friends at church knew I was over it, so I got a lot of whispered "happy birthday!"s.  A couple weeks later, I went to the women's retreat at church and discovered something else about myself.  I'm not a big group kind of gal, I think I'm better with people one on one. I'm not crafty.  I don't do karaoke.  And while I did get something out of it and broke the CARDINAL rule of not sobbing in public, as well as received the love and support of two amazing ladies, I don't know if I'll go again.  Too much....and maybe a little too soon to really have perspective.

May arrived, and while I had mixed feeling about it, I went out with my friends from work to belatedly celebrate turning 40.  As I was walking out the door, I received a phone call that upset me.  So I took more anxiety medication.  The evening progressed, hallmarked by some of the worst decisions I'd made in a long time. I was so angry about the year, I was so wanting to just feel normal and party and FORGET about fucking everything. A combination of medication and alcohol (yes, alcohol), resulted in me becoming violently ill and I threw up all over Sacramento.  I later discovered I could have had seizures and ended up in the ER.  My poor friends desperately tried to sober me up, toast and no avail, I was shaking and couldn't stop and couldn't stop throwing up.  It was quite a glamorous way to turn 40, I highly recommend it...I wish I had photographs.  Around 2:30, I receive a text from my husband, "Are you okay?"  For those of you who don't know, my husband and I don't's a pact we made before we were married because it was a problem for both of us and had resulted in DUI's, etc.  So I knew I was up the creek...I had to text back, "No.  I can't drive.  Friend is driving me home."  I got this response: "WHAT?"  Crap.  I came home to a very angry, betrayed husband.  We talked....I was still not in my right mind.  He slept on the couch.  Sometime during the night, he came back to bed, hugged me, and I'm pretty sure he was crying.  I scared the living daylights out of him.  Not just for the night, but for our future, for our family.   We both grew up in alcoholic homes.  Drinking used to be a HUGE part of our lives before we were married. We'd seen firsthand how drinking affected our friends and nearly destroyed their families. I think he was terrified I was going to start all this up again and the family we'd always wanted and HAD would be ruined.  What he didn't know, was I GOT THE MESSAGE.  The next morning, we drove into Sacramento to retrieve my car.  And, because Amgen and Lance Armstrong were racing, my car...was gone.  Towed.  Fabulous.  Kids asking, "Why didn't you bring your car home, mom?  Where is it now?"   LOW, LOW point.  Both of us had to be late to work Monday to get my CAR out of the towyard, which HE had to pay for (I just didn't have it).  My car also had my laptop and testing materials in the trunk, including loads of confidential information...and I continued to feel as though I'd been hit by a truck for about 3 more days.  My husband had not yet gotten me my birthday present, which was to be a tattoo that means "God is King".  Although after this experience and having to pay over $200 for my car, he said, "there's your birthday present."  Couldn't say I didn't deserve that.  In retrospect, I'm 100% convinced that my dad and Jesus had a sit down...I picture it at a conference table (?) although I'm sure they both would have chosen somewhere more aesthetically pleasing, like a garden or a forest.  Yet, I still see a conference table, a big one, yet only the two of them are sitting there. Dad asks, "Okay...what can we make happen to Jane tonight that will be bad ENOUGH for her to get the message that she CAN'T EVER drink, but not so bad that someone gets hurt or her marriage is affected to the point where it can't be fixed?"  I think Dad chose me getting drunk and sick out of my skull, and I think Jesus threw in the car being towed.  To both of you, THANK YOU!!!  It was horrible.  But it truly had to be that bad.  I'm done with alcohol, it's just not a friend of mine.

In June, I drove alone back down to my father's house to pick out the things I'd like to have, that would fit in my car.  A friend of mine is storing a chair.  It was one of the most depressing trips I've ever made.  The house was empty and cold, piles of boxes and pictures and random furniture.  There were still white roses in a vase from his memorial two months before, but they were all browned and dead. I was staying with dear friends who were not at the best place themselves...I meant to stay two nights, but stayed only one, never wanting to get home more. Oddly, I didn't see my brother or his family either, even though they knew I was in town.  I took the few things I'd taken from Dad's, and put them away, under the bed, in the closet, out of sight.

In July, the kids and I had three weeks off.  We did a lot of swimming, trips to the zoo, trips to the river....My sister in law did a lot of this with us, along with the kids' cousins.  And I could NOT enjoy anything.  I went, I smiled, I took pictures...but just couldn't enjoy.  It was not a good feeling, and I started to wonder when I was going to be able to enjoy anything again.  The kids started school late in the month (my boy in K!) and I worked extra days, not only for extra money, but to occupy my head. 

August I don't remember much...when someone passes, there is so much BUSINESS to take care of, especially with finances.  Nearly all of these responsibilities were thrust upon my brother as an attorney and the executor of his estate.  I don't think he even knew how much it would entail.  We met with a financial planner to help us navigate all these little accounts that were popping up, like from the VA.  I'd all but forgotten dad was EVER in the military, albeit drafted during Korea, and he never was deployed.  Unless you really stop and think about it, just because something is left to someone in a will,  it doesn't mean they HAVE it.  For instance, Dad left his grandchildren money for college.  He didn't already have it saved and put'll have to eventually be distributed out of his overall estate, which won't happen until his house is sold and all his other accounts are settled.  No one knows when this may happen.  Work kept going, and I did my best to keep going. During this entire period of time, I mostly learned the art of autopilot, switching my brain off, and just kept moving.  Certain songs make me cry like a madwoman, missing my dad.  So I downloaded them, and would schedule my mourning.  I'd tell my family I needed some alone time, go out by the pool with my ipod and sob.

September.   I continued to throw myself into work and leading a Bible study, which again, I felt I was participating in and leading underwater...I just wasn't there.  Another niece gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby boy named and my darling 6 foot something tall 19 year old nephew, who was the ring bearer in our wedding and who I've adored since he was 3 left for boot camp in the Marines.  This happened in the same may have even been within a couple of days of each other. I took the exam to become a Licensed Educational Psychologist after going through a long application process and studying for months and FAILED IT.  They actually print out a page with your picture on it, and the word "FAIL" is next to my face.  No way.  Ka-BAM!!!!!!!!!  What?  I've told myself that I needed a little humility, and this was a good way to get that message across, but I'm still upset about it!   I haven't failed at something in a really long time, especially something that I put my full effort into. I still need to take it again. I remain bitter.

The dear friend of my father's who is now one of my closest friends came for a visit at the last minute, which was a blessing and an emotional need of mine I couldn't have predicted.  He was medicine for my soul at that point.  My dad orchestrated my friendship with him when he was alive. When Dad knew I was coming to visit, he'd call his friend to come over so we would bump into each other.   We're both convinced he KNEW we'd get along and would comfort each other in his absence, and he was 100% correct.  I enjoyed every moment with him, and consider him one of my most cherished friends on earth.  I can never repay all he did for my father, or thank my father for introducing us.  I feel like I've known him for 20 years.  I love you, dude, you know who you are.  You ARE my family and always will be.  And know that that delights King to no end!

October arrived, and we'd decided to give my daughter an early 10th birthday present of getting to go to the Justin Bieber concert with  me. It was the most fun, and the most joy I'd felt in a VERY long time.  Seeing her face, singing along, explaining the whole concept of an encore... Remembering how awesome it was to be young and how exciting concerts were.  That moment right before the act comes out and all the arena goes black and everyone screams.   Loving the fact that she still liked doing things with me, as I know my days could be numbered.  Admitting, ahem, that Justin Bieber is a talented kid and I actually enjoy some of his music.  A moment like that will never happen again.  It was awesome, and a blessing. There is a song of his I truly like, and when it comes on my ipod or in my car, never fails to make me smile.  A big, listening to Depeche Mode outside of the Rose Bowl in the rain smile with my best friend in high school, a Duran Duran at the Coliseum smile, a Prince concert in high school smile, a REM and Sade at the Shoreline in college many awesome memories.  And how FAST youth goes!!!!

November.  Because of finances, another close friend and I weren't sure that we'd do our annual SF shopping trip, but we made it happen.  Hell, she'd turned 40 the month before, we'd officially been friends for 21 years.  I just didn't shop as MUCH.  Before I left, my sweet husband gave me a generous wad of cash, 7 months after my birthday...he was finally ready to give me a gift, it just had to be in his own time. Later in the month, we went to my brother's in Pasadena for Thanksgiving. The evening was nice, but overall it was difficult.  My brother's expectations and rules for the holiday were ridiculous, and inhospitable.  I felt as though I couldn't do a single thing to please him, and the spirit of the holiday was gone. For me, the worst part was that no one mentioned dad.  Before we ate, there was no prayer, no words, no moment of silence.  My sister and I had kind of expected someone to say something, but assumed our brother would take the lead since it was his home.  It didn't happen. Pasadena has not been home for me for many, many years, but it feels that way even more so now that dad is gone.  We got to see some dear friends.  One of the most important things, to me, was to see the plaque commemorating my father's ashes in the church in which his memorial was held.  However, the church was locked for the duration of our visit, and I was unable to spend any time in that room with my father's remains.  This broke my heart.  Pasadena is an amazing place, and was a wonderful place to grow up.  But it isn't home, and I can't even estimate when I may be down again, so this was a blow.  I just wanted to spent time with him in that room.  But it didn't happen. We learned when we returned that Gray, one of Dad's other brothers died the day after Thanksgiving.  Months before, I had spoken to him on the phone, expressing how difficult it must have been for him to lose two brothers and his wife within 6 months.  So he cashed it in.  I don't blame him.  I keep picturing people knocking on front doors...Dad and Rhett and Peggy going to answer, and seeing their loved ones unexpectedly.  What joy that must bring!! What are you doing here???  And not pearly gates...a front door.  I don't know why.  I picture Heaven as the most comfortable, warm, open hearted home you could imagine.  Perhaps because that's what my father's home was to me.

December arrived.  Here we are.  My baby turned 10.  I have finally been able to begin framing pictures of my father, as well as other things that I took from his home.We visited Sassman's farm and I left an ornament for my dad.  Christmas, which I dreaded, being the first one without him, was one of the happiest in recent memory.  My in laws love me unconditionally and give me wonderful support...One niece was home from Tahoe with all three kids and boyfriend, and is doing 100% better, I'm so proud of her.  My other niece and her husband and their beautiful boys hosted.  My nephew,  home from boot camp, and his sweet girlfriend was there with him.  Everyone was together, healthy, happy and PRESENT.  Later, we went down to dear friend's house, which we do every year.  They're our second family.  SO relaxed, so casual, but so filled with love and acceptance.  Their children are incredible and I so enjoy their company.  I've continued to shrink...kind of trippy.  This year I've gone from a 10/12 to a 6.  I'm not complaining, just somewhat perplexed.  I eat, take lots of vitamins, but have lost my sweet tooth entirely and just look at food differently.  I still enjoy it, but mostly look at it as something I need to do to live...weird. I'm healthy.

I'd prefer to not have another year like this, but I truly believe I have learned a lot about myself and the world. 
  • I am not above total and complete failure and backsliding.  I could lose the amazing life I've built for myself in a heartbeat if I choose to make stupid decisions.
  • Great souls never die, and they come in so many different forms.  From a lovely neighborhood in Altadena to a pee-stained sidewalk in the Tenderloin.
  • The friends I have are the most amazing people on the planet, and I love you all. You have all BEEN my family, when my own family life was so challenging when we were all growing up. People turn to all kinds of things in high school when their family isn't optimal.  You guys were my salvation during that time.
  • Grief wigs people out...there's no right or wrong way to do it, and you have to give people space to do it in their own manner. It's frustrating, and can hurt, but it's not up to me.
  • I've had to re-evaluate a lot of my relationships in my life, and it's a good thing.  Who feeds my soul and supports it? Who sucks from it and takes every iota of energy from it?  As I sometimes say, "Sometimes you just need to clean house."
  • I can listen and respect other points of view without having to agree with them. 
  • It's important to shy away from making arrogant statements or insisting on being right.  I've observed this more of late than partaken of it, but it has certainly underscored what NOT to do.
  • When in doubt, take the high road.  This often requires silence.  Silence isn't ignoring, it's a pause.  Pause, and breathe.  Then determine if a response is even necessary.
  • Love is everywhere, and doesn't die when a person dies. I felt my dad's overwhelming love all day Christmas Day.
  • Life is SHORT.  Try to enjoy, treat the people you love well.  Be kind. My children will be in their teens and then be adults in SECONDS.  I will try to stop the million things I have to do to truly enjoy their beautiful spirits, and my father's spirit in them.
  • During the hardest year in my entire life, Jesus has not left me for a SECOND.  I praise Him and know He's with me, always.  Thank you.
God bless every single one of you who may have read this.  It just poured out today...Glad to say goodbye to 2010.  But I know this does not mean death and disappointments and failures will cease.  It's life.  And there's beauty in every part of it if you look hard enough.  Happy New Year, dear people.