Monthly Archives: September 2018

Imagine Seeing You Here

I’ve had two more dreams about my dad in recent weeks. Both times, he came to visit during a family dinner.

In the first dream, he was 70 years old and sitting at the center of a long table. Family members were spread out to his right and left, and the composition of the room and the group reminded me of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. (Dreams are weird. Also I’m obsessed with them.) We were filling my dad in on all the news of the family, but we realized as he talked to us that he already knew all of it. He was very aware of the things currently happening in our lives.

In the second dream, he was young and healthy, in his forties. He was sitting on a white couch from which he looked up, grinning at me. My jaw fell open and then I grinned back. I exclaimed, “I am so happy to see you!” Then I woke up.

Both dreams left me with a sort of glow. They were warm and lovely, though brief.

The second dream essentially washed away the gritty angst I’d been gnawing on for a few weeks prior. I’d felt so angry and blue and just blech about his loss. I just couldn’t shake the feeling. Until the dream. Then the awfulness evaporated.

Meanwhile, Truman is struggling not only with school but with eating anything besides dinosaur nuggets, with attending church, and with frequent meltdowns relating to hunger/anxiety/social situations. He’s also regressed with toilet training. He’s smart as a whip and super adorable. He has friends at school and at church. But autism and anxiety are rearing their rotten toothy heads and making things difficult in all areas of family life at the moment.

I’m going to write more about this, but first, an important vignette:

Last month, two of my sisters and their families backpacked and kayaked into a certain lake in the Grand Tetons. It was a favorite hiking and camping location of my dad’s, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll know why. It’s pristine and exquisitely beautiful.

On the last day of their trip, Sarah waved goodbye to Kate and Oliver as they paddled away. She stood on the shore of the lake and watched a golden eagle swooping down low. Just then, a canoe skimmed over the water to where she stood.

The person paddling the canoe was my dad’s dear friend and business partner, Dr. Keller.

In the middle of the wilderness. Randomly. At the same campsite and at the same moment.

“What are you doing here?!” Sarah exclaimed. Dr. Keller went to find his wife, Jean, who was walking in on the trail, taking her by the hand and telling her, “I’ve got a sweet surprise for you.”

There were hugs and smiles and photos, and Sarah said, “Imagine seeing you HERE, in this place.”

Jean responded, “It’s the exact right place.”

The Kellers had spent the day reminiscing about my dad as they begin their journey into the lake. While Sarah stood and talked with them, a yellow butterfly fluttered and landed between her and Dr. Keller. It stayed there the entire time they spoke. Sarah felt that the eagle and the butterfly were signals from our dad, telling her that he was there, in that beautiful place, with people that he loves.

Now remove your mind’s eye from the splendor of said lake and return to the present, specifically my car, as Truman wails and yells about not wanting to go to school. It was a Friday, after many days of dragging/fighting/cajoling the boy to first grade. We were all pretty exhausted. Jeff was along to help carry Truman. Almost-seven-year-olds who don’t want to walk into school weigh a lot, you know. Especially when they kick and hit.

I was driving. Jeff was saying the prayer. As I reversed from the driveway, a yellow butterfly flew by and stopped, hovering by the windshield, directly in my line of vision. It stayed there for the duration of the prayer. When we finished the prayer, it flew away.

As it fluttered off, I distinctly felt that my dad was showing me, in a way that made all sorts of sense to me, that he would be with Truman that day. I didn’t need to worry about Littlest Boy. Grandpa was going to help him at school.

All of these things have educated me in the beauty of family bonds, which last beyond death. They last. They’re real. They don’t end. People don’t end when their lives on earth do. They still exist and they still care. They know us and they are close to us.

This is pretty ding dong amazing stuff. I’m awed by it.

And feeling pretty loved, too.

40-year-old dad paddling us around in GTNP circa 1985.

Dad and Wes Keller. Ye Olde BFF’s.

Me and Dad. I think this is 1979.

This is Where We Talk about Hardship & Relisience

I’m beginning to realize the shape that this blog is taking, now that’s it’s no longer the Survival Journal of My Daily Life Raising Jack.

I can see, nearly a year and a half since Jack entered full-time care, that this is a forum for continuing the conversation about Being Human. This is where I can continue to talk, in no particular order other than the actual unfolding of my life, about hardship and resilience, vulnerability and recovery. And Jesus, duh.

There are people who read this who have some connection to disabilities, but I’m seeing that mostly people return to my weird stories because they also face really difficult things in their own lives.

Being challenged by life is the common denominator, it turns out. And I am here to talk about it.

Having said that, here are a few things that have happened in my life, of late.

  1. My youngest child has struggled and continues to struggle with transitioning to First Grade. Kindergarten was a breeze for him. First Grade is turning out to be the opposite of that. His daily struggle feels like my daily struggle. The feet-dragging, the noncompliance, the whining, the stubborn refusal to cooperate, the crying, the running away, the belligerence, the yelling, the proclamations that he hates me, and the clinginess–they are all manifestations of anxiety and, in some ways, of the rigidity of thinking inherent in autism. So I am learning a) empathy for my son and the way his brain views the world, particularly when the world seems really scary and big, and b) really creative ways for assuaging fears and physically moving a resistant kid into his classroom. This hasn’t ended in week three of school. It seems to be getting incrementally better, but the real improvement is that I’ve stopped looking at the possibility that this may continue all year long and into perpetuity. I’m being mindful, yo. I’m living one day at a time and teaching Truman to do the same thing. That’s my Littlest Boy Update.
  2. I’ve begun to see everything that happens this fall as One Year Since _______. Soon it will be one year since the last time I went to the cabin with my dad. Next month it will be one month since I got the text while teaching, from my sister, saying that my dad was going on Hospice. On Halloween, it will be one year since I sat by my parents as the Hospice workers entered their sunny living room and started palliative care services. And thus it will go until the night before Christmas Eve, which is when he died. Grief is like the ocean. It’s vast and it’s deep. Sometimes it shimmers way out in the distance, blinking in the sun. Sometimes it heaves and crashes and drags you under. I asked myself the other day as I scrolled through my Facebook photos, “When will seeing images of my dad not be painful?” I can’t answer that question.
  3. In other news, I’m amazed at my mom’s strength and perseverance in the face of this great trial. She is generous and giving. She is upbeat and curious, despite living with such an enormous loss. She is a stabilizing force for her entire family, and I’m glad she belongs to us.
  4. I’m realizing that with age, I am becoming a) more patient with people and their neuroses and idiosyncrasies while also becoming b) less patient with unnecessary work, programs, expectations, and cultural traditions/concepts. This means I see you as a person and I feel for you and want you to succeed. It also means I will give you a giant lecture on the counterproductive-ness of pointless things. What can I say? Some things are worth understanding and spending time with. Meaning, people. Other things aren’t worth our time as they distract us from the people who are worth it. I would like to simplify the whole world. That’s all.

What things are happening in your life, right now? What have you recently come to understand?