Life is a Series of Meetings and Partings

Three weeks ago to the day, my dad suddenly died.

This is hundredth time I’ve typed those words – my dad died – and it never, ever gets any easier. I tried typing words like “passed away” or “left us,” words that feel softer when said aloud but words that do not look soft in print. They look escapist. Treacherous.

Death is such a funny, terrible thing. This dichotomy of hilarity and agony is only amplified when you are the peculiar type of human who uses humor to cope.

Here’s a story for you. Three weeks ago, my mother and I sat in a hospital next to a bed where my deceased father lay, looking utterly peaceful. My sister, her fiance, my husband, and my grandmother were on the way.My grief was comprehensive and utterly overwhelming. I felt as if someone had reached into my chest, through the muscle and sinew and bone, and torn out my beating heart. I also felt as if that heart had just stopped in place. More dichotomies.

My mother and I sat, on either side of the bed, alternately holding his hands, sobbing uncontrollably, and taking turns assuring one another that somehow, somefuckinghow, it would all be alright. With tears in her eyes, she looked up and said, “Father’s coming to give him a blessing.”

The timing seemed a little off.

“Oh?” I said.

Moment later, Father John glided into the room. Father John is a man of average height, with a soft voice, compassionate gaze, and comforting demeanor. I saw my mother relax immediately in his presence.

After the blessing, he asked my mother about the arrangements. She told him that my dad wanted to be cremated and come home. “He loved being home.”

And he did.

Father, full of grace, nodded.

“I suppose we’ll go to the funeral home tomorrow to pick out an urn.” She began to cry again.

Father John placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, “That can be challenging, but there’s comfort in it, too. In bringing forth their wishes.”

“Yes,” she sniffed. “He wanted something simple.”

Silent until this moment, I chimed in, “Well, he always said we could put him in a Chock Full ‘o’ Nuts can and drop him off a cliff.”

Looking into the horrified faces of my mother and Father John, I experienced three fundamental realizations in one fell swoop:

1- Not everyone has seen The Big Lebowski.

2- Father John is the epitome of kindness for saying, “Well, it’s hard to know why people want what they want.”

3- I will miss my dad desperately every time I open my mouth to say something like that for the rest of my life.

My dad did always joke about the Chock Full ‘o’ Nuts can. He would have laughed explosively at that joke. Somewhere, wherever he is, I’m sure he did. “Damn it, Kate. You’re out of your element.”

I am completely without element, Dad. I don’t even know where to begin to look for one.

My dad was the funniest sort of person. He loved to laugh more than he loved most things –  a big belly laugh. In his eulogy I wrote, “You could tell him a joke – it didn’t even have to be all that funny – and he would erupt into that raucous belly laugh. He’d never leave you hanging, no matter how bad the joke. The effect was immediate and infectious. Dad never laughed alone.”

For some odd reason, this blog made him laugh. It always was a silly blog. In fact it was, without doubt, a compilation of the most ridiculous words I’ve ever written. But he loved it.

More than just this blog, he loved the fact that I wrote. This summer, he asked me at least a hundred times when I was going to start writing again, when I was going to start blogging again, when I was going to finish my novel. He was so passionate about this that he even suggested I go back to bartending to free up the brainspace to do it – and he HATED that I’d been a bartender. It wasn’t the nature of the work, mind you, but that he was a “girl dad,” a dad of all daughters, a dad who had once been a young man at a bar. “I may have been born at night, Kit, but it wasn’t last night.”

So here we are.

I understand that this is an odd return to blogging. I understand that this blog has, historically, been riddled with my opinions about a great many things about which I know nothing, pictures of my labradoodle, and tales of my hostile uterus.

But I’ve lost myself. A dear friend told me that losing her dad made her feel like all of the skin on her body had been peeled away, leaving nothing but thousands of exposed nerve endings. “Everything is agonizing.”

And so it is.

I feel that exposure. But the exposure also takes a different form. I feel as if I’ve lost my mooring. I feel utterly adrift. At times, I’m not really sure who I am anymore. I get the feeling that I might be searching for that answer for the rest of my life.

But this place, this tiny corner of the internet that once made him laugh and brought me such joy, feels like it might be a good place to start looking.

Through the pain – through the fucking agony that is grief of this magnitude, a quiet refrain echoes in my head. “Life is good, Kitster.”

During chemo, after radiation, recovering from surgery, or when he experienced side effects so severe that even drinking water caused him discomfort – through the entire fucking ordeal – he would say, “Sure, this sucks, but life is good. Life is good.”

And so it is.

Life is good. Life is also hard. The days are long. The nights are dark. The winds of time are relentless and cold. The world keeps soldiering on. Meanwhile we, who grieve desperately, feel suspended. We are suspended between the disbelief that it can’t possibly have happened only three weeks ago and that ohmygod, OHMYGOD, it has only been three weeks. How can we endure?

But we remember him. Life is long – even when it isn’t – but life is good.

My dad was the man who, when told that a new tumor might render him unable to walk, turned to the neurosurgeon and said, “Well, Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, how did you enjoy the play?”

My dad was the man who, when told that he was a good “girl dad,” would reply, “I am utterly awash in the Estrogen Sea.”

My dad was a thumbs-up as you pulled out of the driveway, a tome of crossword answers, and the biggest, warmest, most ensconcing hug you’d ever had.

My dad was the man who always had a funny story for his oncologist, who made his nurses laugh, who inspired his surgeons. My dad was the man who made such a huge impression on people that his last nurses, who cared for him for a mere three days, came to his wake.He was the man who gave nicknames to his fellow chemotherapy recipients, who tried to make everyone’s day brighter every chance he got.

As such, it seemed only appropriate to begin his eulogy with a joke. “If my dad were to deliver his own eulogy, he’d probably open with a joke from Caddyshack. ‘I bet you get a free bowl of soup with an urn like that.’ It looks good on you though.”

That, friends, is the goodness of my dad. To the very last moment, he made the people around him laugh. To be honest, he’s still making us laugh.

He always told us that, at all costs, we should try to leave each interaction, each person, each moment better than we found it. In his eulogy for his own father, my dad said, “Everyone loved my dad. Everyone thought that my dad was their best friend. He made everyone feel important and honored and heard. And in that, maybe he was everyone’s best friend.”

Life is funny isn’t it? Because in my eulogy, I the same thing about my dad. Everyone loved him. Everyone thought he was their best friend. He made everyone feel important and honored and heard.

On the lid of his urn, a plaque reads, “May the work I have done speak for me.”

May the work I have done speak for me.

I’m not sure what this blog, some of the work I have done, says for or about me. I’ll figure that out in time.

What my dad’s life and work said about him, however, was simple.

Be kind. Love fiercely and without apology. Help others as much as your can. Eat well. Drink better. Plan as if you’ll live a hundred years. Live as if today is your last. And perhaps above all else, don’t forget to laugh. Laugh often. Laugh with abandon. Pass it on.

He was the first man I ever loved, my first friend, my buddy, my confidante, my compass. I loved him. I love him still.

He was my dad.

I will miss him desperately until the day I die. I know this to be true. I know this deep down in my very bones.

I also know, just as profoundly, that he has left a handprint on my heart. I carry him with me.

I will laugh. I will write. I will live. I will live well.

To you dad, wherever you are, I know you’re out of your element too, right now. We’ll get there. We’ll figure it out. The “kids” are alright. I know you were always worried about that. We’re alright. We’re awash in the Grief Sea right now, but the ship is yar, the hands are plenty, and life is good.

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Coloring Book Winner!

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How are you? Are you snowed in? Are you enjoying warm beverages indoors while you watch people pelt one another with snowballs, cackling to yourself about how much wiser you are than they – you, under a blanket with your hot coffee and your cross stitch and your wool socks and your angry pet fish?

No? Just me?

*sigh*

In any case, we have a winner for the Dogs or Cats in Sweaters coloring book giveaway! Heather Hart, come on down! (You’re being emailed shortly!)

Everyone else, don’t forget that AshleyRose offered Nested readers a coupon code in case they didn’t win! (NESTED30) The coloring books are each $5 originally. The coupon is for 30% off. That takes you down to $3.50/coloring book. Quite a deal if you ask me – especially considering the fact that it’s a downloadable pdf that you can print and print forever. Again, that code is nested30.

So head on over to AshleyRose’s Etsy store, Fox and Crayon, and pick up your copy at an amazing price. The coupon is good until February 1!

I know that my fish and I will be spending our snowy afternoon coloring. He has commanded that we color from the Dogs in Sweaters book. Cats make him nervous. I can’t imagine why.

Congratulations, Heather! Everyone else, treat yourself to a discounted coloring book and relax away! (It’s gonna be a long week).

Happy coloring, kittens!

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Pets in Sweaters – An Adult Coloring Masterpiece Giveaway

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Hello, friends!

Are we ready for the snow? Do you have 30 gallons of milk and 15 loaves of bread? Do you have 37 bottles of wine? Excellent.

I have none of those things. I do have bourbon, though, so I think I’ll make it.

IMG_1794I also face this snowstorm armed with the most gorgeous, whimsical coloring books ever made. (It’s science.) Double bonus: they were lovingly hand-drawn by one of my dearest friends in the entire world, AshleyRose. The subjects? Cats and Dogs. Wearing sweaters.

I’ll give you time to stop squealing. No, no. It’s fine. Keep on. I’ll wait.
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When AshleyRose first suggested the idea of these coloring books, I knew they’d be amazing. When I saw the finished product, however, I was blown away by just how amazing they were. AshleyRose’s attention to detail in crafting these animals and their sweaters (some sweaters being straight from the 1990’s closet of Danny Tanner and Co.) is nothing short of perfection.

Recently, a lot of attention has been paid to the benefits of adult coloring for managing stress and anxiety, boosting cognitive function, and promoting happiness and well-being. Those of you who know me know that I not an un-anxious sort of sprite. Coloring has become a major outlet for me. At the end of a long day (or sometimes in the middle – I won’t lie), I’ll sit down and color a page or two to help me unwind and unload. It feeds all of my creative urges and needs without requiring me to set up all of my paints or easel. I just open those Crayolas and get to it.

IMG_1795I approached AshleyRose about providing a copy of one of her books for a giveaway and she graciously accepted. Call it a late holiday present from us to you. The giveaway opens tonight at midnight and closes Sunday, January 24 at midnight.

Because she’s the best, however, she’s offering all Nested readers a 30% off coupon, which can be used to purchase either of her books from her Etsy shop. The coupon code is Nested30 and it’s good until February 1.

May the odds be ever in your favor and the colored pencils always in your purse! While we wait for a winner, be sure to visit AshleyRose’s website and Etsy Store, Fox and Crayon.

Enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stay warm!

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A Farewell to Alan Rickman

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Alan Rickman, beloved actor (among so many things), has passed away. The news is fresh, raw, painful, especially on the heels of the death of David Bowie.

Both 69.

Both to cancer.

I haven’t been here in a while. I keep meaning to come back to it but I haven’t made it a priority. And yet, when I read the news of Rickman’s passing, I felt this insatiable need to write my way through it. Not because anyone is particularly interested in what I have to say about him and certainly not because I think I have anything new to add to the conversation, but for the simple reason that writing helps me process the world as it happens to and around me.

As I sat down to type this, I hopped onto Facebook. (Why? Don’t ever ask that question. I ask it every single time. I never have a good answer for myself). Already – ALREADY – there was a critical post.

The poster said something to the effect that people needed to stop posting memes and photos of Professor Snape because Alan Rickman was so much more than just Professor Snape.

Fair. True, even.

Everyone has their favorite Rickman. The man was precision and professionalism incarnate. He was exact, expert, endlessly talented – whatever role he assumed. But let’s set something straight – Professor Snape isn’t just anything. He’s everything.

For so many people, especially people of my generation, the role of Professor Snape will always be his most iconic – and for good reason. Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape was the person that perhaps first taught us that things are not always what they seem, that people are not always who they seem. He taught us that people can change, both for better and worse and then sometimes back again. Snape wasn’t perfect. He held grudges, which we resented. He wasn’t pleasant, which we resented. He was relentless, which we resented.

And yet  – AND YET – he also taught us that life is hard, that grief lasts a lifetime, and that, most importantly, we will do anything for love. We will do anything for love and that is one of the most important elements of the human experience. All of that texture exists in Rowling’s books, certainly, but Rickman is the face of all of that flawed humanity.

I’ve watched and loved Rickman in so many roles. He was a master of the craft. But when I think of him, when I think of the role that had the most impact on my life and heart of any of his characters, Professor Snape comes to the front of my mind. I can live with this. Professor Snape, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, honest-to-God made me look at my world differently. I can’t express enough gratitude for that.

In some ways, I feel as lost as I did when we lost Robin Williams. It feels as if another bright light has gone out. More than once this week, a star has gone dim. We have to live with that. We have to move forward and keep on. Rickman said, “I think there should be laughs in everything. Sometimes, it’s a slammed door, a pie in the face or just a recognition of our frailties.” That frailty, that flaw, all of that Snapeness, resonates. I hope we do laugh, because I have it on good authority that Mr. Rickman dearly loved to laugh and wasn’t half as serious as we liked to imagine him being.

May he have peace.

We’ll miss him. Always.

 

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Long and loud and clear.

This week.

*sigh*

This week has been rough. I say this and yet, looking back, we’ve had a spat of some really challenging weeks in this world of ours. We don’t need to talk about it. We’re all talked out, probably. I know I’m bordering on burnout. The struggle to educate over scold, to reach for compassion and empathy rather than frustration has been a real drain. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s taxing.

I’ve been thinking about humor in all of this mess. I’ve wanted to blog every day since Friday, but just…. couldn’t. I didn’t feel worthy, I guess. Or, truthfully, I think I worried that it would be disrespectful to write something aimed at humor in the midst of such crisis and turmoil.

Here’s a story for you.

My grandmother had Alzheimer’s. At the time of this story, she had gotten to the point where she’d walk up to random strangers at the craft store and talk to them about the tornado of 39. She’d eat three breakfasts because she’d forgot she’d already had one… and two. She’d get lost easily.  She forgot instructions as soon as she received them. She often didn’t recognize me.

This was unbelievably hard. If you’ve never witnessed the grip of Alzheimer’s on a loved one, take it from me – it’s a real shit sandwich.

One day, my aunt and grandpa were painting the steps from the back porch to the back door. For as long as I can remember, these steps have been a vibrant green. My grandma was in the house, sewing or circling individual letters on her word search puzzles. My aunt had just finished the last coat of paint. She and my grandpa stood back to admire the steps. At that moment, a shadow appeared in the doorway. Grandma ignored their pleas and stepped out on to the very wet, very freshly painted top step.

“Don’t move! The paint is wet!”

“DON’T MOVE!”

But she did. My sweet grandma clopped down those steps and walked all the way across the concrete porch to stand next to my grandpa and face the house.

“What are you two looking at?” she asked.

As my mom tells it, they all just looked at each other. Then they looked at my grandma. Then they looked at the bright green footprints tracking across the porch.

Then, they laughed. Hard. Like, that belly-clutching, gasping kind of hard laughing. And my grandma, lucid for a moment, looked at the steps and then at the porch and then at her shoes, and she laughed too.

Alzheimer’s had taken so very much from my family. It had taken our joy and stolen our laughter. In the end, it took my grandma. I don’t remember my grandma laughing so much towards the end. I don’t really remember anyone laughing much towards the end. I regret this. I regret that we forgot how important it is to laugh.

For that brief moment, however, they laughed together. Even though I wasn’t there for this event, thinking of it makes me smile. Every.Single.Time. Had I been there, I would have been hiccuping right along.

Terror has taken so very much from us. It’s taken our joy and sense of safety and, given the swirling cesspool on social media lately, it’s taken our very common sense as well. Let’s not let it take our laughter, too.

As my dad says, “Don’t let the bastards win.”

Let’s keep laughing. Let’s keep looking at baby animals and instagramming pictures of our dinners. Let’s be kind to each other and consider how we can make room for everyone rather than how we can close the door. Let’s keep searching for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers said, and never stop looking at all the beauty all around us to be happy, as Anne Frank wrote.

In doing so, we will remain and we will rise. If I learned anything from my childhood, it’s that rising is a hell of a lot easier if you’re laughing.

What made you laugh this week?

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