I miss you so much in ordinary little things…I’ll be deciding what to make for dinner, and thinking I’ll make something you like, and then suddenly remember that you can’t just drop in for dinner anymore. I will see someone in the corner of my eye wearing a reflective vest, and think for a second that it’s you, riding on your scooter. If a car goes by that looks like yours, my heart skips a beat, wondering if perhaps it’s you coming to visit. I still think, “Oh, maybe Dad can drive me to this appointment,” and then have to remember you can’t.
I was there when you were dying. I arranged your funeral and wept over your ashes when I picked up your urn from Kearney. I was there when you were buried, but my head and my heart are having a hard time catching up. It’s like I can’t really realize you’re gone. Often I say to myself, “I should really call Dad and catch up,” and then I remember that I disconnected your phone after you died, and why can’t I remember that? I feel like someone who is constantly waking up from a happy dream, only to have reality slap me in the face.
So many things remind me of you: the garden beds you built out front, filled with brave spring bulbs peeking out, and the planters in the backyard by the garage, your worksop, which contain the mournful remains of summer sunflowers and tomatoes, now scraggly and black, the little hooks on my cupboards which you hung up for my washcloths, and the many books on my homeschool bookshelves, which you were always bringing for the kids, whom you adored. It is hard to realize you’re gone because there are so many signs of your loving presence everywhere.
One night shortly after you died I couldn’t sleep, and went to read on the couch. I pulled a book from my Montgomery bookshelf: “Emily Climbs.” In it was an inscription from you to me as a child, “to my dearest ‘star,’ love + hugs–Dad.” Emily Starr was also very close to her gentle father, and lost him at a young age. Reading this always made me cry as a kid, because it felt like my pain in being separated from you after the divorce. I was four then, and now I’m forty, but I’ll always be your little girl, and being apart from you still hurts terribly, especially each time I momentarily forget, only to remember again.
Loving you always, and waiting to give you a huge hug in Heaven,
There is a common misconception that safety lies in control, and that the more powerful you are, the more you can control. But one thing my Dad’s recent death from cancer taught me is the bravery of surrender.
Let me back up a little to his last month or so of life. None of us realized quite how sick he was, although we had our suspicions. All of us, his family and friends, wanted to somehow rescue him, stop the disease, and make him get better again. After all, he had already recovered from the brink of death twice in the last five or six years.
But Dad, in his quiet, firm way, never making any drama or fuss, already knew. He spent this last year, this year of horrid covid isolation, preparing his apartment for me: purging papers, decluttering, labelling, sorting, highlighting his Marie Kondo books and covering his walls with mindmaps and plans for his home, putting everything in its place so it would be easier for me to deal with when he passed.
He kept telling me enthusiastically how many old papers he had sorted and gotten rid of, and still I didn’t realize. Perhaps it was too difficult for him to tell his only daughter the words “I’m dying” out loud.
When we went to the oncologist, and heard that his PSA’s were skyrocketing, I think he had confirmation that his fight was coming to an end, and he could now let go. He spoke to me of the peace of surrendering, but I stubbornly encouraged him to keep trying. His reaction was not despair, although I know now that the news hurt him deeply, but was his acceptance of a bigger plan, in which he no longer had to grip the wheel so tightly.
At first, when the pain intensified and his body no longer wanted food, he wanted to hide away by himself. He told me he felt like a grumpy bear who kept getting woken up while trying to hibernate.
But when I begged him, weeping over the phone, if I could not come and do something to make him feel better, not offering food or solutions, but merely comfort, he admitted he would perhaps like to be sung to.
So the next day, with the promise of a song and a gentle massage, he let me come and see him, lying in bed with his cozy toque and scarf, and very little able to move.
The next few days were a painful dance of trying to soothe, while also encouraging him to try to keep eating…pulling out all my best mom tricks, giving little sips of juice, convincing him to let me feed him minuscule bites of kiwi on a tiny grapefruit spoon.
“It’s your baby bird diet,” I joked, while blinking back tears.
After three days of this, I was able to speak to his oncologist over the phone and ask him the hard question:
“What is my role doctor, to try to save him, or simply to soothe him in his parting?”
His clear answer was given gently and honestly: “To soothe. Within a month, he will be with the angels.”
I was devastated—but also freed. No longer did I have to fight, but to surrender, and to walk my Dad as gently as I could to the gates of Heaven.
And Dad, you let me walk you there. You didn’t hide your weakness from me, nor your pain.
A few weeks before you had been hard on yourself, feeling like a terrible disciple, because you’d fall asleep every time you tried to meditate, even now, as you were trying to prepare your spirit for the next world.
Having a gentle, loving father like you has helped me understand the tenderness of God, so I said to you: “But Dad, don’t feel bad. God knows your heart, and he knows all you’re going through. He knows you want to spend time with him. Just tell him so before you settle in to pray, and it won’t matter if you fall asleep. Just imagine you’d come over to read to your granddaughter, and she, being only two, fell asleep on your lap. Would you be mad at her?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, it’s the same with our father God. He loves you and is so happy when you seek to be close to him, even when you’re asleep.”
Not long after, you found the courage to not only be a little child before God, but before me. You let me soothe your aches and gently stroke your head until you fell asleep. Thank you, Dad, for this honour.
Thank you, Dad, for surrendering to getting more help, when things became too much for me alone, playing nurse when all I know how to do is be a mom. The bravest thing you did was give up the comfort and control of your own home to enter hospice care, so that I would not have to worry that you’d be alone, in pain and unable to get a sip of water at 2 am.
You surrendered and let yourself be carried to the hospice by the friendly ambulance guys, and after six more days, in an atmosphere of peace and prayer, you let yourself be carried to Heaven.
Since you let me accompany you to the steps of Heaven, I know you’re still so close to me while I’m on earth. Together we struggled, we surrendered, and in the end, everything was perfect.
Of course, after admonishing our kids not to wake up too early for Christmas (they once woke up at midnight to open the stockings on the ends of their beds) it would be me, their mom, who woke up at 2:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So silly, as the kids and I had worked so hard to prepare ahead, had finished wrapping and had even stuffed the stockings and stowed them in a box days ago, so I wouldn’t have to burn the midnight oil playing Mrs Clause. Yet I woke up. Was it pregnancy heartburn, excitement, or insomnia?
Whatever it was, I decided Santa’s tradition of the post-midnight snack was a good idea and got up to have an angel sugar cookie and a glass of milk. I’d say I had a snack with Santa, but you’d know from Google Santa Tracker that he was already safely back home in the North Pole by this hour.
So while I’m up, I thought I’d take this quiet moment chance to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, despite everything, and a lot of hope for better things to come in 2021. Thank you so much to all our family and friends who supported us from afar this year, as we went through the pandemic, and through the illness and loss of my Dad, Bob, to cancer. Your loving words, encouragement, cards, flowers or food dropped at our door have meant a lot.
Shortly after my Dad passed away, in the morning of November 9th, it began snowing, which is rare on the rainy coast. “Mum, Mum,” said the kids with excitement, “Grandpa is sending us snow from Heaven with Josephine!” It’s amazing how positive and resilient kids can be in the face of loss. Here are a few pictures from our house, where we have tried to find all the joy and sparkle we can this Advent.
May God in his humble nearness at Christmas surround you with blessings and give you the eyes to see them, so the little hidden miracles of each day can shine and bring you hope.
Lots of love from all the Eastlands here at Just East of Crazy Land! Thanks for being here, making me feel less alone as I eat cookies and milk at 3 am, and await the sparkly madness of Christmas morning with 7 kids! ✨🌲✨🎁✨🌲✨
Going to your apartment shortly after you died
I gather your important papers,
the things I’ll need to help take care of everything for you,
but I don’t want to touch anything else
or unsettle your calmly organized cupboards
covered with labels in your sweet hand:
“Tea,” Spices,” “Cups,” “Bowls.”
My sweetest scatterbrain Dad,
who worked so heroically hard this past year
—reading Marie Kondo and likely highlighting half the pages—
to make everything organized for me
because you knew you were dying
even when I couldn’t let myself believe it.
To me your home feels like a shrine
a testament to all the things you did last—
where you hung your bathrobe, your plaid shirt,
the dirty baseball cap that you’d wear doing carpentry in my garage.
I want to hug everything—
the blankets and sweaters that smell like you—
but don’t want to take anything
except the fancy grapefruit spoons with jagged little edges,
tiny teeth which I used to scoop out that half kiwi
which you allowed me to feed you slowly
your last week at home,
and that little quarter of yellow mango,
your baby bird diet
which I desperately hoped would somehow sustain you
when your body was too tired to eat
and your soul was ready to surrender.
These little grapefruit spoons
I tuck in my purse
and flee your empty apartment
where I wish you would come back
and let me feed you again.
Just when the weight
and I no longer knew what to do
to make anything better at all,
and the pain was becoming too much
for you to bear
and me to see,
Just when words failed me
and I was running out of songs to sing you
while I massaged your aching back
or gently washed your face,
a comforter came
who spoke such words of consolation
that he drew from your own aching heart
words of hope.
Just when I cried out that I could not carry on,
could no longer bear
these birth pangs of your transition
into a new and deeper life,
the pain ceased—
a gentle day came
and you slipped out of this world
sweetly, like a baby in sleep.
Just when I felt so inadequate
to bring you any closer to peace,
everyone’s prayers kicked in
and suddenly lifted you,
as I’d promised,
straight up to Heaven
in a hot air balloon
filled with love.
The hospice room is quiet
I can hear my dad breathing steadily in his sleep.
Not wanting to disturb him
I sit there in the half light coming from the bathroom door
clutch my hot tea
and try not to flee the stillness—
the pain that waits in quiet corners
to roll in hot tears down my cheeks.
After I eat the cookies that the sweet care attendant gave me
there’s nothing to do but sit and listen to him sleep
the way he must have so often listened to me sleep
when I was a blond and rosy baby.
Back then, all he had to do was hold me
and I was safe.
Now, all I have to do is let him go
and he is safe, too.
aching with love.
In my last post, “Spot the Difference” I posted two pictures that my daughter drew of our family, and asked readers to spot the difference. Perhaps you’re all too busy with summer holidays to read or comment, or were simply hesitant to wager a guess, so here are a few more pictures that should make things a little more obvious.
And here’s the family member who isn’t in the photo, for the simple fact that this little bean didn’t exist yet, except, as the saying goes, as a twinkle in her father’s eyes. ✨
My sister has dubbed our new little one Timbit, because this is how James and I announced the baby to our other kids: we brought home a box of Timbits and told the kids we had a little piece of news for them, one currently smaller than a Timbit. After several guesses about things like Daddy buying me jewellery or something, and a hint that the news would not stay the size of a Timbit, the excited kids realized it was a baby.
Yup, it’s kinda crazy, but at this point, may as well own the crazy. Thinking of getting such a jersey for the baby to save trouble at the grocery store: “Oh, how cute! Is this your second? Third? Fourth?”
You get the idea. Lucky #9!
Then she updated it. Can you spot the difference? 😁