My “long” run today was more of a trudge. It was a warm and sunny 36 degrees, but the wind was gusting at 30mph and cut right through my clothes. I took breaths through my scarf because my chest started to hurt from the cold. I wanted to do 5 miles and since this was going to be a rough one, I let my mind wander as much as possible to distract me from the wind and the heavy legs. I thought of the visit I had yesterday with a few of my lovely friends and how it truly lifted my spirits. I thought of the upcoming family Christmas party and how wonderful it will be to host it again since we couldn’t get together last year. Then I realized I hadn’t invited my stepmom yet…which led me to thoughts of my dad.
Today is December 12th. On this day in 1987, my father took his last drink. He had been a drinker his whole life, and looking back, he figured he was an alcoholic by the age of 15. His grandparents often gave him sips or actual drinks of beer from the time he was just a toddler. Eventually the addiction destroyed many of his relationships, including his marriage to my mother. He was such a different person when he drank.
This photo of my parents showed Dad in his favorite chair, wearing his typical outfit of a white t-shirt and suspenders. Looks like he was grooving to the music on the headphones. I’m pretty sure he was tipsy in this picture, but I could be wrong. Usually when he started drinking, he was ok. Sometimes fun-loving, a good time. But in the later years, he became angry and violent and it was a shit show.
But on this day in 1987, that all changed. I found out who my father really was. And he was the most incredibly kind man, who loved to laugh and loved his family fiercely. He spent the next 30 years of his life trying to make amends to those he hurt while drinking. Even on his deathbed, he regretted so many of his decisions and thought he had not done enough to apologize. But that wasn’t true. I believe he went above and beyond to reform, to admit wrong doing and to apologize. We tried to reassure him of this fact as he lay dying, and I truly hope he heard and believed us.
I don’t want this to be a sad post today. This is to celebrate my father and his courage and hard work to make his life better. While I thought of him on my run, I thought maybe of visiting his grave. But I don’t really feel him there. Not usually. Instead, I thought of the conversations we had on our Sunday visits during the last year of his life. While I trudged along on the dirt road, I thought of all the times Dad called to ask how the road was to see if he should drive to my house that way or the long way. Or the stories he told about that exact road and how when my parents were married, they got stuck on that road a few times while visiting my grandmother.
I just thought about Dad most of the day. Were there tears? Of course. But I also laughed out loud, thinking about my Papa and his silliness. I miss him. Tremendously. And I’m so, so proud of him.
Today should have been Dad’s 80th birthday. I say “should have”, although he would probably disagree. He was shocked to make it past 70 and he was 2 months shy of his 78th birthday when he died. I also should have run my first marathon today, in honor of Dad. But neither of those things happened.
Yesterday, just like with Mom on Mother’s Day, I visited Dad’s grave. Since it was a Saturday close to Memorial Day, there were a bunch of people in the cemetery, which I hated. Dad would have waved to most folks that were nearby and say “How are ya?” (although it would sound like “Whyya”), but I just kept my head down and set up our picnic.
Dad used to make whirligigs, some were funny, some obscene, and some were just cute. I didn’t plan well enough but for the moment I placed a few small pinwheels, just to have something moving in the breeze. I brought my dad Cheez-Its, which were one of his favorite snacks. There’s an inside joke between my husband and my dad and they used to exchange a box of these crackers nearly every Christmas. It all stemmed from the time my then fiancé drove my dad to Pennsylvania for my graduate school graduation, and my father ate a whole box of Cheez-Its…and proceeded to have horrible gas…and they were trapped inside this little Ford Escort with hours left to drive. It was something they both used to laugh about and bonded over as only men can.
Once I set out snacks and my water bottle, I just sat in front of Dad’s stone and plucked the grass around it and ran my hands over the smooth stone. I could hear people around me, including a man about 20 feet from me laughing into his phone. I tried to block him and the others out, when I started to cry. I was angry and overcome with that loss again–that emptiness I feel when I realize I can never have another conversation with my father. But also the absurdity of the situation. I was bringing my father treats he would never eat again. His body was far beneath the ground I was sitting on and I know this because my sister and I helped put his body in that fucking hole. And all around me people are planting bushes and flowers to sit around these stones with our loved ones names carved into them. But…why?
I wiped my eyes and started to talk to Dad. I told him I loved and missed him. Told him we were all surviving, how tall my son is, how work is going. The usual things we discussed when he was alive. But Dad also liked to have deeper conversations. For a man that never liked to read, he did like to deconstruct thoughts or ideas. And I know some of what he’d say about his grave and stone. He never wanted to be cremated because he said, “I’ll be close enough to hell as it is.” He was traditional in some ways, hence the funeral home visiting hours, the church funeral, the burial. All the stuff that I hate, but the stuff that he and his wife knew and understood. But as I sat there, I also got it, I understood. In a way, I do like being able to “visit” my father. I like being able to still give him things, even if that’s just a plant or a plaque or mints (my father always had mints of some kind and I leave at least one wintergreen lifesaver every time). I do talk to him occasionally when I’m home or somewhere else, so I don’t save that for the cemetery. Honestly I usually get upset when I go to Dad’s grave in particular because I can’t feel him. I’ve visited his grave on days that I just really wanted to talk with him, and I’ve always left even more bereft then when I arrived because he’s not there. I always think that I’ll feel something, like his spirit is somehow there, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. But…I also don’t even believe in spirits anyway! See how confused I am?
I just want to believe in something because it’s too devastating to think my parents and brother are just…gone.
No longer exist.
So…I continued to talk to Dad. Why the hell not? The cemetery cleared out, the breeze died down and the black flies started to swarm. “Dad, I’m going to go, ok? As you would say, the black flies are about to pick me up and slam me to the ground!” I kissed his grave stone and told him I’d be back next month.
When I drove home, I saw the sign for the Robyville Bridge–a historic covered bridge in Corinth. I had been there before but I felt the need to go there again. I just took a few photos, avoided the couple that was there as much as possible, walked then ran across the bridge. That need I felt to go to the bridge was like a need to feel alive, to experience something new. Even something as simple as looking at, admiring and running across a covered bridge fulfilled that need.
As I woke up this morning, the day I should have been running for hours and hours and had trained for for many months, I figured I might as well try to start training again. So far my leg is better (although I am now aware that could change at any time). My heart isn’t in it as much as before, but hopefully that will change. The run I took was just 4 miles this morning, but it was already 73 degrees and humid at 9am. It wasn’t a pleasant run for the first half. At the 2.75 mile mark, I had to walk (or shuffle) and drink more water. The sun was frying my brain and destroying my will to go on, until I heard the lovely tune of two geese squawking and flying in the sky just behind me. I have this thing for geese, and often wonder if it’s my family hanging out near my house. And today, after the geese flew over, the clouds rolled in and cooled things down just a tad and I immediately felt better. I laughed out loud and decided that my parents were giving me some support and urging me to keep going. So I did.
This afternoon, I took my son to an international food festival at the high school near where I work, and we ate SO MUCH. One or both of us tried a food from every single country they had (except for Japan because they weren’t ready). We couldn’t pronounce some of the foods, a few were things we had eaten before, and others seemed strange but were typically delicious. It was a fun experience and one that I know the rest of my family would have enjoyed. If food was involved, my father would have been happy. He might have been a meat and potatoes man, but he was willing to try just about anything. It was a great way for us to honor Dad today.
Then on the way home from the festival, I saw a turtle in the road. Over the years, my mother picked up many, many turtles and sometimes brought them home. I distinctly remember finding a turtle in our bathtub on at least two occasions. I always stop for turtles and try to shoo them to the other side of the road. Typically my son hates it, but today he helped me and we just walked behind the turtle, moving it along so cars wouldn’t kill it. Seeing the turtle felt like a little “hello” from Mom…if I believed in that sort of thing.
And now as I sit here, thinking about the days ahead, I am a bit relieved that there are a few weeks until Father’s Day and my brother’s birthday–they happen to fall on the same day this year. A double whammy. Maybe I’ll have a few more gains and pluses and good moments before then. Maybe I’ll have more bad days than good. No matter what though, I will keep remembering, keep running if physically possible, and keep my eyes to the sky. Because you just never know, right? You just never know.
Since my doctor gave me the go ahead to gently start walking and running again after my likely stress fracture, I’ve only been out a handful of times. Two weeks ago I ran and although it was tough and slow and my lungs hurt, it still felt glorious to have the freedom to run again. Then I took a few days off, rode my bike and lifted weights…and my leg started to hurt. No swelling, but a similar type of pain. So, once again, I took a few weeks off.
After a week of occasional walks, I just had to try again this morning. Sunday mornings have been my typical long run days since I started running a decade ago. I’ve done all of my half marathons on Sundays, and had hoped to run my marathon on a Sunday. I tend to feel antsy on Sunday mornings if I’m not getting ready to head out for a run. My body starts to zing a little, like I have this bit of nervous energy and I often get butterflies in my stomach.
But Sundays are also extremely complicated for me. My brother and father both died on Sundays, so emotionally I am not at my best. The Sunday my brother died, I woke up early that morning, knowing that it would be the last day I saw him and the last day he would be on this planet. The day my dad died, I was woken at 2am by a phone call from my stepsister to say that Dad was in the hospital and I might want to get there. That Sunday was filled with the phone call to my sister telling her she should come to the hospital, talking with doctors and nurses, and watching my stepmother having to make that decision no one wants to. So…yeah. Sundays still fill me with a bit of dread.
But this morning, after reading a book and eating a light breakfast, I geared up for a walk. Not a run. I just needed that fresh air and what little sunshine there was peeking through the clouds. But after a half mile, I needed to pick it up. Just a little. So I jogged for a bit, then walked. I did this for about a mile and a half, then realized our friend, Bam Bam was following me.
After chatting with him for a minute, I headed back home. I ran the mile and a half back with my hamstrings aching, my hips feeling tight, and feeling extraordinarily heavy. You know, I’ve been riding my stationary bike and lifting weights and walking when I can, but there’s nothing like a run to make you feel weaker and more out of shape than you ever thought possible!
But I finished the 5K, walked a bit, stretched, and felt…alive. And tired. Crikey, I was tired! But that good tired when you know you’ve exhausted your body to a point that muscles ache and your brain goes quiet.
I wish that running was not so intrinsically tied to my mental health. I wish there was something inside of me that could make me feel good about myself like running does. It’s something I hope to work on in the near future. But for now, I’m just happy I got to run. ❤
Yesterday afternoon after I got home from work, my husband and I helped our neighbor for a little bit then took a short walk. Once we got home, I went for a longer walk by myself. I listened to an audio book, anything so I wouldn’t think too much. Yet as I walked, I had an incredible urge to go to my father’s grave. I haven’t been there since we buried him in May, but I needed to be there at that moment.
As soon as I got home, I told my husband and son where I was going. It’s about a 20 minute drive through back roads in beautiful farm country. I tried to take in the last of the fall colors as I drove. When I got to the cemetery, I parked my car directly in front of the site.
This was the first time I’ve seen my father’s gravestone. It seemed so small to me. My father was not only a large man, but he was larger than life sometimes. He had a great booming voice when he wanted to and his love for his family sometimes seemed larger than the room you were in, you know?
I stood in front of Dad’s grave, said “hi Dad” then waited. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything back obviously, but I was expecting…something. I thought I would feel like he was there listening. But there was absolutely nothing. I felt nothing. I went back to my car, put my head on the wheel and cried. I just needed my father to be there. I needed to talk with him, but I really needed him to talk back. I was hurting and I missed Mom and I just needed my papa right then. I needed him to hug me and rub my back and tell me that he understood. He wouldn’t say it was going to be ok because it wasn’t, but he’d probably tell me how much it sucked, but I would eventually be ok.
Once I got home, feeling sad and tired and frustrated, I got out of my car and saw a small murder of crows flying over my house. I find myself looking for signs of my family everywhere now and I wondered if Phil and Dad and Mom were a part of this group saying “hey” before they went wherever they were going. I had this overwhelming feeling of being left behind and I whispered, “Wait!” They didn’t wait but flew away, as they should.
Foolishly, I decided then I should take care of Mom’s things I had from the nursing home and some of the photos we had out for the celebration of her life. I sat in the middle of my home library surrounded by her things and her photos and her smell that clung to the clothes I was unpacking. I only cried once, but I could feel the loneliness creeping into my bones.
My husband was in his office and my son was in his room. After I finished with Mom’s things, I started to fold laundry in the living room. When my son came out and asked me something, I got upset at him. When he asked me what was wrong, I broke down and in between sobs told him I missed my dad and my mom. My heart was broken but I didn’t want to tell him that. Instead I held the washcloth I was folding close to my heart and just rocked and cried. My poor boy put his arms around me as my husband came out of his office and sat with us. The three of us began to talk and we cried and we laughed and we just were.
As a parent, you raise your child or children and although you never stop loving or caring or worrying about them, you get to a point where you start taking caring of yourself or try taking time for yourself. That’s what running was for me when I started 10 years ago. But all of that came to a standstill over two years ago when I started to care for my mother. Even before my dear brother died in July of 2017, I was at my mother’s home more and more, trying to get her medication under control and taking her to appointments. I moved her in with my family later that year and the care increased dramatically.
Once Mom entered a residential care facility, I remember my sister saying to me that now maybe I could properly grieve for our brother and start taking care of myself.
That didn’t happen.
I continue to grieve for my brother, but I know that will be for the rest of my life. There are some things you just can’t fix. And as far as taking care of myself? I visited my mother each weekend, cared for my father every few Sundays, and still tried to be the best parent and wife and librarian that I could. I’ve stopped running and I don’t think I’ve been a great friend over the past few years, but something had to go.
And then Dad died. I found myself unable to sit still on Sundays because I felt like I should be somewhere else than at home. Then I broke my arm horribly in June. I had a great excuse to no longer run but the pain was so debilitating at the beginning that I truly understood why people want to die when they have so much pain. I just wanted it to end.
Then the pain finally got better but I was very down and frustrated and angry. I ate my feelings once again and put another 5 pounds–that’s 15 extra now since Phil died. Yet, I haven’t really cared that much. Not like before.
And now Mom is gone. The woman who gave me life, taught me how to bake, and tried so hard to instill all her confidence and love into me so I would be proud of and love myself, is no longer on this planet.
Three of the most important people in my life are gone–all their love for me is gone and all the love I have for them is bursting from my body and soul and it doesn’t know where to go. I didn’t think I could feel more lost after my brother died, but after each parent left this world I felt more bewildered and sad and shocked than ever before.
Last weekend we held a celebration of my mother’s life. It was sad and exhausting yet also exhilarating to hear new stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Once my son and I arrived home, we unpacked the car, got into our pjs, ate dinner and just watched tv. I napped a bit on the couch on and off, but I felt ok. At bedtime, we talked to my husband on the phone, but I told him I had to go because as I stood at the sink I started to feel woozy and knew I needed to sit down. Yet as soon as I hung up the phone, I fainted. I don’t remember falling, I just remember being on my kitchen floor and blood was dripping from my nose. My poor son was freaked out and helped stop the bleeding of my nose and cleaned up the mess. I twisted my right knee and foot pretty badly and apparently knocked my face on the counter because not only did my nose hurt but the area under one of my eyes is still sensitive to the touch. I got myself to bed and my boy called his father to explain what happened and to express how scared he felt.
I wish I could tell you I knew what happened, but I don’t. I think I fell from exhaustion. I ate plenty that day and had my usual 8 cups of water. But I was so tired and had a week of planning for my mother’s celebration, ordering an urn, picking up her ashes, getting paperwork for probate court and on and on. Plus I worked a few days.
And my mom was no longer here.
I think that was reason enough for my body to give out on me and say, “Fuck you. I’m done. Let me rest.”
So now…to take care of myself? My son is only 12 and I will still put him first and I’m trying to figure out how to care for him. He has also lost three people that he loved and idolized. His mental and physical health is my priority. But maybe with time, I’ll not only re-learn how to care for and about myself again, but I’ll have the desire to do it.
And maybe this blog will once again be about running instead of grief.
This morning, I woke up late because I flat out refused to get out of bed. I just didn’t want to face the day. Once I had my instant Maxwell House (also my father’s favorite), talked to my husband and got the kid up, I was kind of ready to get this day going.
I went for a run, or a semblance of a run, to clear my head. Instead self-doubt flooded my brain and I barely got to my turnaround spot just 1.5 miles from home and wondered how the hell I was ever going to get back. I just kept thinking about my dad and how much I missed seeing him and his laugh and his love. I thought, “I can’t get through this fucking run, how the hell am I going to get through this god damned day!”
So I walked then jogged then walked again. I started to think about the person Dad was when I was a little girl, and how much I feared him when he drank. But once I was in high school and he stopped drinking, I finally got to know the real man that was my father, and what a good guy he was. How much he changed his way of thinking when my brother came out, how supportive he was of us, how proud he was of every one of his children and grandchildren. He fiercely loved us.
These thoughts helped me to pick up my run again and keep going. I certainly didn’t make it home in record time, but I made it home.
And now I somehow have to get through this day and watch as they put my father’s casket into the ground. I know he’s not really there. Just his body. But you can say that all you want but it still fucking hurts. He’s still gone. He won’t ever call me on my birthday again and sing to me. He’ll never make up funny little songs for the grand kids again or hug me or cry with me about my brother or give me advice about my mom. He will never be here ever again and that fucking sucks.
I miss him so friggin’ much.
But I also know we’ll get through this awful, awful day. Right, Dad? You’d be telling all of us that we can do this. “This really sucks,” you’d say. “But you’re strong and you can do it.”
So….ok. Somehow. Some way. We’ll get through it. I love you, Dad.
When people you love die, how does one fill in those holes that they left? Not only the physical space that they left–at the dinner table, on the couch, at family parties–but the empty spaces that are now in your brain, your heart, or even your senses. The smells you miss, the sounds, the sight of them. You’re reminded of them when you get a whiff of their cologne or the soap they used or the cookies they made. But is that why you can sometimes hear their voice? Or see them in the grocery store parking lot? All because your brain is trying to fill in those gaps?
When my brother died, I ate everything I could to fill in those holes his absence created. I needed to feel good for just a few seconds, and sometimes that cookie or whipped cream did just that. Dad has been gone for four weeks, and although I think I’m doing ok, I find myself drinking more. And when I’m not drinking, I’m eating. And when I eat I often think, “Dad would have liked this.” I’m justifying all the eating with the thought that I need to eat for him now that he’s gone. Is it ridiculous? Of course it is. Yet I haven’t been able to stop myself.
I went to the doctor just 10 days after Dad died. It was just my annual exam, but with a new medical provider. When she got to the question about stress, I started to sob. Here I am naked, in a paper gown, sitting on a damn table, and telling her about my life for the past 20 months starting with Dad’s death and going backwards, ending with Phil’s death. I told her I need grief counseling but I just can’t seem to do it. It’s like how I treat my brother’s ashes. Many of my family members have necklaces with his ashes in them, but I have a pill bottle that sits in my vitamin cupboard. I don’t want anything permanent because then he’s really gone. Forever.
At Dad’s funeral, I stayed near his casket until it was time for them to take him away. When they tucked part of the lining around Dad and closed the casket forever, my knees started to buckle and I had to sit down. There may have been the sound of keening coming from my mouth, but I don’t remember hearing anything. I know I had my niece on one side of me and my mother on the other and we were all crying, but that memory holds no sound.
My medical provider has lists of counselors “for when I’m ready” she said, but also offered an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication which I refused. I know I have to take some control of my life and stop filling in those empty spaces with food or alcohol, and I figure it’s not the right time to introduce any kind of drug I might enjoy too much. I’m not a complete mess, I promise. I’m ok much of the time, but I have to learn once again, to find my new normal.
Last night was the first night I’ve dreamt of my father. It was kind of a funny dream, where he had on a holey t-shirt and I had to encourage him to get a new one on, but he smiled and laughed and was wearing suspenders. Parts of it felt like a memory, but it wasn’t. It was just so good to see him and hear him again. I miss the Williams men so, so much. As long as I can hold onto memories and stories about both Phil and Dad, then I should be ok, right?
As I sat beside my father’s hospital bed last Sunday, I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 6:30 am. I thought about the local Irish pub that was already opening up because it was St. Patrick’s Day, their busiest time of year. I found it quite ironic that my papa, a recovering alcoholic of over 31 years, would die on a day when people around the country would be celebrating with booze. I can imagine him shaking his head and give a little cynical chuckle at that.
For over 18 hours my father’s family gathered beside his bed to relax him and soothe him and to say our goodbyes. Dad was not conscious throughout much of the day, but when he was, he told all of us how beautiful he thought we were and that he loved us. But a few times my dad said things in this semi-conscious state that just broke my heart. When my stepsister was swabbing the inside of his dry mouth trying to give him some relief, he said, “No. I’m not worthy.” That took my breath away. Did Dad really not believe that he was worthy of a little kindness and relief from his suffering?
Dad made many mistakes in his younger years and when his children were young. He had a deep remorse for his actions while under the influence, but I always felt he made amends for everything he did. He found God shortly after becoming sober and although the church or his religion were not my cup of tea (nor my siblings), it was good for him. He was still Dad. He loved to laugh and constantly made us laugh (see where my brother got it from?) and he was a really good person. He taught nearly every one of his children and grandchildren how to fish, and his love for all of us was always evident. So as we sat beside him just one week ago, I smoothed out Dad’s forehead and told him what a good man he was, that he had righted all of his wrongs, and that it was ok to go. My stepmom assured him that we would all be ok, and I told him he had people to see. I may not believe in much, but my father did. So if there is an afterlife, he needed to go find my brother and hold him tight.
In a way, I feel like Dad gave me one last gift by allowing me to be there when he died. I was not there when my brother died, but I was able to say goodbye to Phil while he was completely conscious. I still struggle with knowing that I didn’t say enough to him, but he knew that I loved him and I suppose that has to be enough. I don’t know if Dad really knew I was there. My stepmom thinks he did, but I have my doubts. Yet….I was there. I don’t know how much comfort that was to him, but it comforts me in a way I can’t fully comprehend yet.
Dad supported and encouraged me throughout my high school and college years, and although he could never financially support me, he always told me how proud he was and happy he was for me. He was even excited for me when I got my library director position just last month. His obvious joy for me made me even more proud, if that makes sense. So maybe me being there for him during his last hours was just a small way that I could repay him for his love and support for me over the years? I don’t know.
I will miss my father every day. I am still having a hard time at the thought of never seeing him again. Never hearing his laugh or his singing ever again. I am hoping beyond hope that there is a recording of my father’s voice somewhere that I will be able to listen to. I don’t want to forget, but I am afraid that I will.