Pat just had a massive stroke; he’s in a coma on life support and not expected to make it back to us. Knowing that he wouldn’t be talking to me (but who knows, might be able to hear me) I stopped at the hospital today to visit him.
His son, whom I’d heard about but hadn’t met, eagerly accepted my meager offering of stories-about-his dad while I held Pat’s hand and hoped maybe he was enjoying them too. My favorite story about God & Pat & me is one I shared here five years ago (and I’ll say it’s worth a read—not for the writing, but for the wow-factor of a true story).
Another favorite that I shared with Pat’s son was one he used to tell, about his days as a cop. Whenever someone came as a ride-along, the officers would put him in a hat that said “JAFO,” and explain that it meant “Justice Affiliate, Friend of Officer.” It would ensure his safety, they explained, by making sure other cops knew who he was. It actually stood for “Just Another Fucking Observer.” Pat always led to the point that each of us should engage in our own Recovery, rather than being a JAFO in our own life.
I’d say he took his own advice. He survived being shot twice, beat throat cancer, was riding his bright orange Harley Davidson last time I saw him… I’ve often sat in the back row of A.A. meetings between two men who totaled 80 years of Sobriety between them. (I always figured it’s a good seat if I’m book-ended by “old-timers.”) Pat’s daughter committed suicide just weeks after my husband Keoni did, and the two of us sat through a lot of meetings holding hands and crying together. I’ll miss my bookend. And I promise, Pat, to keep LIVING so I don’t merit a JAFO hat.
Post-Script 1/3: Pat passed away shortly after my visit. I’m so glad I went.
My mother used to tease that she had found me in a pumpkin patch, and my sister under a cabbage leaf. Secure in our elementary knowledge of biology (and the baby-book photos of her bulging belly) we didn’t think twice about our origin, despite her joke.
I used to make a similar wisecrack when my teens were small, asking them (usually in moments of amused exasperation), “Who spawned YOU?!” …which always prompted a giggly response of, “YOU did!”
With a shifted perspective, those jokes come to mind now… I am eagerly observing the emerging personhood of a little guy who grew in his mommy’s heart instead of in her tummy. I’m always greedy for news and photos of him, delighted by his smiles and grateful for his medical progress…
He’s not my son now, but I’m the pumpkin patch where he grew.
For most of my pregnancy this boy was my baby. After all, it’s a natural assumption, when you find yourself “in the family way,” that this new person will, in fact, become part of the existing family. The pregnancy was NOT intentional (I’m in my 40’s—and did I mention my kids are teens?)… but it’s not the first time that God’s plans have trumped mine, and I do my best to roll with that.
I dreamed last night that I was back in Safe Haven, the psych-facility where I recently spent ten days, and the dream felt comforting. The place is well named.
My cell phone was one of the things I missed most in there—not for calls, but for Google (I hadn’t realized how many things-a-day I look up!) and for the camera, and for texting. This post gets doodles instead of photos, because I didn’t have my camera!
We were allowed, between group-sessions and scheduled activities, to take turns using the phone at the nurse’s station. My first day (when I was still miserably trying to claw my way out of there) I was calling my husband nearly every other hour. That’s a lot of calling for someone as phone-phobic as I am, but I was raw and out of my comfort zone and looking for the balm of his voice.
Technically, I could have announced my intention to walk out at any time—despite the lock-down conditions, I was on a voluntary hold—but I was looking for someone to tell me it was okay to go. Let me be more honest: I was trying to manipulate the psych-doc into telling me it was okay to go. But by the fourth day, I told her I was maybe doing TOO well. She mistook my announcement for another attempt to get myself released, but I corrected her interpretation. “I’m actually afraid to go home right now. I think I’m feeling TOO good.”
Yesterday my dad should have turned seventy. He passed away this year on my birthday, so this weekend we’ve been missing him on his.
Ironically, I could still practice my favorite joke-ritual, which was not to call my dad (whose depth of phone-phobia was rivaled only by my sister’s and my own) on his birthday. I even found him a card one year that offered a “no-call” option as a birthday present. (Actually, I usually did call anyway—and this week I’m glad of that.)
One of the horrible ironies of memorial services is the fact that grieving people are expected (worse: expect themselves) to brilliantly and eruditely sum up LOVE, as it applies to a suddenly-missing person, at a point in time when their hearts are most broken and their brains are most fried. In such a case, the best you can hope for is that God will get some of the right words into your mouth (or out of your pen), and that the other people missing him will be able to fill in the rest through their love and memories.
The single story I most wanted to share about my dad didn’t seem appropriate for either the obituary I wrote nor the eulogy at his service. Somehow, alcoholism (in either the speaker or the deceased) doesn’t seem like a welcome subject in those venues… But this story says SO much about my dad, and here’s a place where I can tell it. Continue reading “Addendum to a Eulogy”→
There are some phone calls in life that a person wishes never to have to make. Three months ago I had to make several of those calls on a Sunday morning: breaking the news to Keoni’s children and his parents that he had just shot himself.
And “breaking” is precisely the word for this. Utterly in shock myself at my sudden and unexpected widowhood, I heard hearts break with every one of those calls—the daughter’s screams, the mother’s anger… And I felt at the time as if I were the instrument of all that breakage. As my own shock wore off a little, my thinking shifted: yes, I’d had the heavy task of imparting news, but I wasn’t the one who’d made the choice that created that wake of heartache.
There’s no way around it: the sound of that single shot, fired inches from my face, signaled the abrupt alteration of every aspect of my life. It was literally the starting-gun to an entire new (unasked-for) chapter of Life, with an entirely alien new set of labels… Widow. Single mom. Unemployed. I had to close our restaurant at his death, and I was suddenly out a living as well as a spouse.
For now I won’t rehash the three months of grieving—and ongoing healing—except to say that it feels like it’s been a lot longer than three months. It seems like I’ve lived three years since that Sunday morning, and my grief counselor (knowing I have a biology degree) even explained the brain-physiology behind my apparent mental time-warp. I shared with her at one point how messed up my sense of time was; as an example, I’d called my doctor’s office in those first few weeks for an adjustment to my antidepressants, and then found myself wondering later why I hadn’t yet heard from the pharmacy in the week or so since I’d made the request. It took some focused thought to realize that it was only 3pm on the same day I’d called the doctor—but it honestly felt like a week. That severe “time distortion” continued for a good month and a half—so I felt as if nearly a year had passed already.
My grief counselor also commented that I could be the “poster child” for having the tools already in place to heal from trauma. With a lot of prayer and unfailing support from friends & family, along with the social network and tools-for-living found in Alcoholics Anonymous, healing has been happening.
I won’t lie: I know now more than ever that it’s messy being human! I was so relieved to find laughter again in a day, but felt guilty at the same time. All too often, missing-him took the form of being angry at him. In packing for the move to a new home, I came across what seemed like a million mementos from the five years of our marriage, and I could never predict whether any one of those memories would make me smile, or rage, or crumple up crying.
I will also say, though, that I have been determined, even from that first week, that I AM NOT DONE LIVING.
(I hope that the other people who loved and miss him will not take it amiss that I prefer today to talk about living—and finding joy—rather than dwelling on grief or bereavement. The grieving process is by no means done, but “Grieving Widow” just isn’t a role I feel meant to wallow in—and I don’t intend disrespect to anyone by making the conscious decision to focus on Living rather than on Loss.)
Those of you who have been reading here over the years have heard me say (repeatedly!) that God’s plans (especially in times of crisis) are better than anything I could come up with—and there’s a reason why “God’sHumor” is a good-sized tag in that sidebar to the left… Chief among the things I wouldn’t have thought to plan for myself at this point would have been meeting someone new. No, let me say it straight: coming to love someone new.
Wouldn’t have been my plan, but I’m at least wise enough not to turn away from the Blessings God puts in my path… I met Dustin in A.A. shortly after Keoni’s death—he’s Sober and Spiritual, fun and feisty, intense and energetic, and (no question, the seal on the deal!) my kids took to him instantly.
Our first “date” outside of time spent at our A.A. home group was a demanding hike up Boise’s Table Rock plateau with my son Christian, followed in short order by stringing Christmas lights and putting up a tree (things I hadn’t done for seven years—and now I know the kids had missed it), family poker games, home magic shows, trampoline basketball, hiking and playing games of “Capture the Flag” in the Boise Foothills…
We were having dinner at the kids’ favorite cafe recently and I noticed the older couple at the next table watching us closely. When they finished their meal, the wife came over to us to say (actually with tears in her eyes) that we were sitting at what had been their family’s regular table, and it was a joy to see kids and parents actually talking and laughing together. “You have a beautiful family,” she told us as she left. It was that same evening that Elena Grace (who usually takes forever to warm up to people) chirped brightly from the back seat: “Mommy, you should marry Dusty!”
Even when the kids aren’t around, I’m enjoying our playful spontaneity… Just before Christmas we spent an evening at a local entertainment place (“scouting” before bringing the kids… yeah, that’s our story!) playing laser tag and racing go-karts. A few nights before that we sat on top of Table Rock to watch the sunset and moonrise. We play poker (always with something significant at stake; my new short haircut is the result of one of those games!), spend evenings singing country songs together, read aloud to each other, work out together… We laid down the “ground rules” right off the bat that Parenting & Sobriety absolutely come first in the relationship—and we’re beginning every day with coffee & prayer & A.A. reflections, and hitting an A.A. meeting together every day.
And yes—Living from the Heart, I’ve already followed my daughter’s directions.
Quietly, in the back yard with just the kids and an ordained friend to officiate (after Dustin asked Christian’s permission) I married him.
When Dustin shares during an A.A. meeting, he often wraps up with a favorite quote of his—and as we were slow-dancing in the half-packed kitchen at midnight (among stacks of packed moving-boxes) I was thinking we need this one on a plaque on our wall:
The Secret to Life… is to LIVE!
EDIT November 2016: OK, it felt like a happily-ever-after when I wrote the above post, but there have been some twists & turns & lessons & LIVING in the two years since. In other words, there’s more coming…