Choosing joy

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It has been just a little more than a year since we lost my Dad. There are still the occasional waves of sadness and loss, but mostly there are smiles and gratitude.
Smiles because of the love and care he lavished on his family. He was not particularly demonstrative, but we always knew he was there for us and that he would help us learn and grow. And we always knew that he loved us.
And he loved dogs, especially our dogs – first the dogs we got when I was three, and then the dogs his daughters acquired over the years. Even on those days he was confused or in pain, his face would light up when one of us was there with a dog or two.
I miss him terribly, and I always will, but he also taught me the importance of joy, in the big things, certainly, but especially in the little things.
The sound or a tennis ball hitting square in the middle of the strings,
The sight of a moose calmly walking through the woods (as long as we were out of range),
The lovely patterns of the petals of a rose opening to the morning sun,
The grace of a dog running with abandon just for the sake of running. With joy.
My father rarely spoke of any hardships or troubles or sadness. He chose to focus on the good things in this world and making as much as he could possible for as many people as he could – especially for his family.
He chose joy.
There is still sometimes a tear or two as I indulge in these memories, but more important is that I remember the love and the joy, not the sadness.
He taught us well.
I choose joy.

Dear Dad, redux

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A year ago, I wrote a message about, and to, my father. What I did not know then was that within four months he would be gone.

This will be my first Fathers’ Day without him.

It is an odd feeling, not quite like being adrift, because he made sure his daughters could always keep our bearings, could always find solid ground. Not quite loss, because he will always be part of us, I see him every time I look at my sons, my nieces and nephew, my sisters. I feel his strength, his humor, his commitment throughout my daily life, in every decision that I make.

And I miss him.

I envy those who can give their fathers a hug, a kiss, a card on Fathers’ Day. I know that in many ways I am more fortunate than many in that my father was someone who gave all of himself to his family and keeping his family safe and secure and strong. His lessons will always be with me, as will be his smile, his laugh, his devotion.

I mentioned at his funeral service that he always made me feel that I had a guardian angel. I did. I do.

Though he is not here physically, I will still celebrate him this Fathers’ Day. With joy, and not a few tears. And marvel at my great good fortune of having him for my father.

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Like most everyone else, I will be reflecting this weekend (as I do often) on the impact my father has had on my life.

From him I got my stubborness, determination, obsession with detail and the need to plan. Though at times those traits drive even me nuts, they have also stood me in good stead for a very long time.

My father never tried to be anything he wasn’t. What you saw was who he was. The only time he has ever struggled with himself was during that period when he realized he could no longer manage complex finances, though he couldn’t understand why.

All of his life he has taken care of those around him, until the past few years when we have finally been able to return the favor. He took pride in being able to provide, and provide well, for his family, even in those years when thankless teenagers tried his patience no end. Even when he was disappointed or upset or even mildly disgusted by our choices or behavior, there was never any doubt, nor is there today, of his love for his family.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him was to let my own children know that no matter what, I would support them and love them. I may not have liked all of their choices but they have my unconditional love and loyalty — and, just as my father has, I take great pride and joy in the wonderful people my children have become.

There is no way I can repay everything my father has given me, the foundation he has provided for my life. Except to pay it both forward and behind, to live my life with honor and compassion and loyalty and strength, a strength borne of knowing the difference between right and wrong, of hating evil done but forgiving those who make mistakes, offering a hand up and an open mind. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

Dad, thank you.

Dad, I love you.

Thanksgiving – a hard year, and yet…

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This is going to be a very odd Thanksgiving.

A year ago my sweet Sophia was diagnosed with cancer and I lost her less than three weeks later.

In July we moved our parents into an assisted living facility near two of my sisters and both Mom and Dad promptly ended up in the emergency room. The move meant leaving the house where they had lived almost 60 years, the only home I had ever known until I left for college.

Though both parents bounced back from the stresses of moving, in October Dad died, and I’m not sure that I have really gotten through even the first few steps of grieving.

In March I welcomed Hagar into my home. He’s settling in, finally, still a goofball, still a challenge at times, but a sweet, silly Berner boy.

And I remain thankful, even in the midst of grief and stresses and a complete lack of time and organizational fortitude, for how incredibly lucky I have been.

I got to spend more than 57 years with the support and love of two of the best parents anyone could hope for. They have challenged me, helped me, guided me and given me a foundation in life that I have been privileged to pass on to my own children.

I have three of the most remarkable sisters on the planet. We often disagree about the little stuff, but we all understand the importance of family and being constructive and being there for each other. I don’t think any of us could have gotten through the difficulties of this past year without each other.

I have sons of whom I am unapologetically proud. They forgave my mistakes in childrearing and embraced the lessons passed on through me from my parents, and have become thoughtful, considerate, wonderful young men. I’m not sure exactly what I did right, but I’m so glad I did.

And then there was Sophia.

As I approach the anniversary of her death, I feel her loss more strongly than ever. She was my beautiful silk scarf, a little exotic, a little fragile, definitely exquisite in her grace and joy in life. We had a bond that was born of struggle, as we worked through her pain aggression, her food allergies, her hip and elbow dysplasia and finally her cancer.

She taught me patience, determination, forgiveness, and faith. She approached each day, even when I knew she was in pain, with such courage and strength that I was in awe. She knew how to stretch the envelope – whether helping convince my vet that a raw diet was not some sort of fringe cult behavior, or helping me learn about canine health, positive reinforcement, and not leaving eyeglasses or Pringles cans or First Editions of books out where a curious puppy could get to them. After all, exploration is the the start of knowledge!

Even with four other dogs in the house when I lost her, and then the addition of Hagar, I miss her more than I can begin to say. As a friend wrote when she lost her own Berner, as much as she appreciated how lucky she was and as much as she appreciated the outpouring of sympathy and support, she just wanted her girl back. I still wish I could give her one more, ten more, 100 more hugs, hand her a few more turkey necks, cajole her a few more times to come back inside so we could go to bed.

But she isn’t coming back. And it hurts.

I still feel so lucky to have shared almost eight years with her. I know that few people have the kind of relationship with their dog that I had with her. I still see her, hear her, sense her presence in times of both quiet and chaos. I know that she, like my parents, my sisters, my kids, will always be a part of me, a part of who I am and what I do, and for all of them, I give thanks.

Thank you for being here, for sharing so much with me, for helping me be a better person. Were it not for the love, there would be no grief.

 

Loss, love, life

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Eighteen days ago my father died. It has, since then, been something of a whirlwind of activities, emotions, travel, tasks – enough so that it is hard to come to terms with the very permanent change in my family’s life.

I wrote a post to him at Father’s Day, and since then have realized more than ever how much a part of me, my sisters, my sons, and my nieces and nephews he is and will always be.

He truly provided the bedrock on which our lives are built. He gave us the tools to continue that construction, he was determined that he would make sure his children were safe and secure. He did.

I closed my part of his memorial with this comment, and it is one I believe all that more strongly after returning home and seeing the tail end of a rainbow.  I know that some of you know what that told me.

My father always made me feel that I had a guardian angel. And I did.

I do.

Dear Dad

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Like most everyone else, I will be reflecting this weekend (as I do often) on the impact my father has had on my life.

From him I got my stubborness, determination, obsession with detail and the need to plan. Though at times those traits drive even me nuts, they have also stood me in good stead for a very long time.

My father never tried to be anything he wasn’t. What you saw was who he was. The only time he has ever struggled with himself was during that period when he realized he could no longer manage complex finances, though he couldn’t understand why.

All of his life he has taken care of those around him, until the past few years when we have finally been able to return the favor.  He took pride in being able to provide, and provide well, for his family, even in those years when thankless teenagers tried his patience no end. Even when he was disappointed or upset or even mildly disgusted by our choices or behavior, there was never any doubt, nor is there today, of his love for his family.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him was to let my own children know that no matter what, I would support them and love them. I may not have liked all of their choices but they have my unconditional love and loyalty — and, just as my father has, I take great pride and joy in the wonderful people my children have become.

There is no way I can repay everything my father has given me, the foundation he has provided for my life. Except to pay it both forward and behind, to live my life with honor and compassion and loyalty and strength, a strength borne of knowing the difference between right and wrong, of hating evil done but forgiving those who make mistakes, offering a hand up and an open mind. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

Dad, thank you.

Dad, I love you.