Dad's One Year Orbit...

Today marked the one year anniversary of Dad's death. I suppose I've spent a lot of energy thinking about what this day would feel like...an entire year without my best friend and mentor. I've talked with a couple of friends and with The Unnamed Ones about it as well as my brother. We all came up with the same adjective...


It feels weird. Not like a year, longer than a year, as if it were yesterday, as if it had been forever ago...but when you get right down to it...it feels weird.

Now, it didn't take Freud or Jung to convince me there are no accidents in life...that many times the things we do "accidentally" are but bubbles bursting forth from our unconscious and rising to the surface, signaling our unresolved issues...

Whatever. I just know that my lunch today was no "accident." It was me, dealing with me.

Originally, I'd planned to spend the day alone, thinking or whatever. But at the last minute, I scheduled myself to go meet with a woman who is hosting a talk I'm supposed to give to a church group a couple of weeks from now.

She originally contacted me after hearing me read some of my essays about nursing home life. She thought the fact that I was both an author and a psychotherapist would interest her women's group. She thinks I'm entertaining and funny...but after hearing me read about Cookie, she thought I'd be good for her church lady group.

That was months ago. And I haven't felt at all funny in ages. In fact, lately all I've really felt is...you guessed it, weird.

Still, you do what you gotta do. You put one foot in front of the other and hope the disconnected part of yourself returns one day. You act "as if" your missing appendage was indeed, still there and functioning.

So I went to lunch. I year and 30 minutes after Dad died, I slid into my seat, ready to hear what these ladies might be interested in hearing from me.

Donna takes a moment to consider how to describe her group and I, in turn, study her. She is a very chic woman in her 60s with just the right blend of funk and Talbots to be noticed without being thought eccentric. The kind of woman you want to follow around because they have the art of arranging things and themselves effortlessly. A class act and a very quick study.

"Well," she says thoughtfully. "They're kind of into that spiritual journey stuff." And then she hastens to add, "But they drink wine."

I smile and nod my understanding. "You know what they used to say," I remind her. "Behind every four Episcopalians there's a fifth! I can say that," I add. "I'm an Episcopalian minister's kid.


Donna stares at me through her terribly hip glasses. "Your father died recently, didn't he? About a year ago?"

I nod. "A year ago today," I answer.

She asks what he had and frowns sympathetically when I say Pulmonary Fibrosis.

"That's such an awful disease." She tells me she has lost 3 dear friends this year and then says. "After watching that, I can tell you, wherever they are now is better than where they were before they died."

This is so true. I tell her how lucky I was to have that year with Dad before he died, how much I learned, how much fun we had...because yes, we did have fun.

It was scary, awful, heart-breaking and just a hell of a lot of fun, all rolled up into a big whopping finale to a huge, incredible life.

I tell Donna about my sister trying to sell Dad on her version of Heaven. "You see," my sister told him. "There are special occasion angels and regular everyday angels. The special occasion ones are bigger and they have nicer clothes."

I tell her about Dad's uncertainty that that sort of Heaven really existed. "Maybe we're all part of some sort of collective unconscious," he'd wondered. Either one was okay with him, but in the end it seemed the Special Occasion angels were winning out.

I tell Donna about telling my father I hadn't learned enough from him yet, that I didn't know the meaning of life and his attempt to answer the question. "Always follow the questions instead of the answers," he'd said. "It's the questions people ask that tell you about their interests and worries, not the answers they give. The answers are the dead limbs of the tree. But the questions, those are the new growth. "

"I learned so much from my Dad that last year," I tell Donna. "Now I find myself wondering what this life of ours is all about."

Donna says, "Me too. I think about that a lot, about who will miss me when I'm gone."

I think this is the theme of our 50s and 60s. Who will remember us and how will they do it? Did we even matter at all?

I tell Donna about Dad saying he saw himself continuing on in me and my kids, saw his own father in himself and said it all made sense to him then...we are on a continuum, a common, shared strand that flows from generation to generation.

"I am realizing it's not what we do in our lives that makes us memorable," I say. "It's who we are to the important people in our lives. I don't miss the things my father did," I say. "I miss his unconditional love, his laugh, his wisdom...just the way he was."

Donna says Pavaroti died last week. "And the next day he was forgotten because somebody else died!"

At the time, the question "Who will remember me?" echoed too loudly for me to hear the answer. But now, as I write this, I am thinking maybe it doesn't matter who will remember me, so much as it does that someone remembers me.

Pavarotti had a huge fan base. Well so did Dad. He had me.*

*In the interest of not being killed by my family...My father had plenty of fans who miss and remember him every day... my sister and my brother and my mom and hordes of others.I'm just saying, you don't need to be loved by legions to be remembered.


It Just Don't Get No Better 'N This...

I spent four days up at the cabin- trying to finish the first draft of my newest novel. One afternoon it finally rained. I watched the storm slowly crawl the lane, advancing across my neighbor's fields like the ghost of a Civil War soldier...

Slinging fat drops sideways across the back porch, its mist brushed my cheeks.


Snippets from the Home...

I slip into the dining room of the nursing home last Thursday afternoon, hoping to catch up on some paperwork and walk in on the "reality awareness enhancement" group. My favorite activity leader, a strong woman with a deep committment to her "family" as she calls the residents, is summing up the point of her lecture.

She leans forward, placing the book she's been reading from on her laps, facing the group of elderly patients before her. Mary is one tough cookie. She doesn't take any crap off the residents but manages somehow to baby and cajole them into finding something worth living for in what has become for most of them, a miserable existence.

She doesn't pity. She loves, bullies, rants...and today, she is preaching.

"So you listen to what I'm tellin' you. Ain't nothin' in this world easy. It's work. Life is hard but nothin' worth havin' comes easy."

I survey the crowd, those who are still awake, and spot Sara. She's paying attention but she's frowning. Her hands are twisted together in her lap as she peers over her glasses at Mary. Trouble is brewing. Delicious, lively, spirited trouble...an uprising from within the ranks.

I love uprisings- especially old people uprisings.

Mary hasn't noticed the murmurings of her loyal pack. But there are definate rumblings. They want Bingo, not reminders of how hard life is.

"Think about it," Mary says. "Who were the first people who taught us about living?"

"Our parents?" Someone answers tentatively. I am sure this is just what Mary's looking for, but oh no.

Mary frowns. "No. The first people to teach us anything about surviving in this world was the frontiers. They taught us how to plant crops and hunt. And it was hard. Remember what I told you. Nothin' good comes without that hard, hard work!"

And that is all it takes.

Sara slaps her hands down on either side of her wheelchair. "Yeah, and where did all that hard work get them Indians? Uh-huh! What they got to show for it now, huh? Taught them pioneers everything they knew and look what happened!"

If I had been carrying pom-poms, I would've been up doing the Break-Out cheer. Old People- 1, Nursing Home Staff- Zero.

"Okay, okay," Mary says, nonplussed. "Them frontiers was hard working people too, just like your parents..."

But it was too late. The revolutionaries were on the move..."I told you we should've been playing bingo," one grumbled. "All this talking, talking, talking," another one grumbled. "I'm going to go get me a nap."

And away they rolled.

But they're a forgiving bunch. They'll be right back in that dining room next Thursday at 2:30, and so will I.