Tag Archives: family

We buried my father yesterday

We buried my father yesterday.  It was a long, difficult, emotionally draining day.  But there were amazing moments that will stay with me for a long time.  Because the funeral home in charge was in Delaware and the funeral was in DC, we didn’t have a visitation the night before.  Instead, the immediate family received the guests at the back of the church before the service began.

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

I was amazed at how many people were there – old family friends from my childhood years, who I hadn’t seen in decades.  Family and friends from all over the country – my mom and I counted 20 states and the District of Columbia were represented, if you include my cousin’s husband who lives in Minnesota but works several weeks each month in Alaska, and flew in from there.  The full list is: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington state, Texas, Alaska, and of course DC.  My Dad’s life touched many, many people and it meant so much to me that they wanted to be there to let us know how much he meant to them.

The priest gave a very nice homily, honoring Dad.  Then my brother and my cousin both gave eulogies.  I have to say, Terry, my brother, did an amazing job.  It was heartfelt, honest, humorous, and above all was a perfect tribute to my dad.  We laughed and we cried.  I only wish he was able to give me a copy so I could share it with you.  But he spoke from his heart, not his notes.  He didn’t have any of it written down.  And it never occurred to me to grab the iphone and record it – what I would give to have it to listen to when I want to remember his description of my dad.

After Terry was finished, my cousin, Shannon, who was one of Dad’s goddaughters, shared a few stories of times she remembered with Dad – also heartfelt and touching.  We then processed out to the Navy hymn, chosen by Mom to honor Dad’s Naval service.

From the church, we processed to Arlington National Cemetery, where Dad was interred with full military honors.  If you have never been to a military funeral, I am not sure I can describe it.  The solemnity with which they conduct the entire ceremony was incredibly moving.  First, we arrived at the administration building to make sure that everyone was there before we proceeded to the actual gravesite.  Once we were ready, everyone got in their cars and we drove to what was referred to as the staging area.

caisson

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

We stopped, got out of the cars, and watched as they moved the casket from the hearse to the horse-drawn caisson.  We then walked behind as he was taken another couple of blocks to where the grave was.  Marching in front of the caisson was the Navy Honor Guard flight – about 30 sailors in dress uniform with bayonetted guns on their shoulders – and a band that played as we walked, as well as at the graveside.

After the family was seated, the priest said a few prayers.  We then stood for the military honors. The Naval pallbearers removed the flag and held it tight over the casket.  While they stood there, a bagpiper played Amazing Grace, 7 men shot off 3 rounds each for the 21-gun salute, and then a trumpeter played Taps.  The pallbearers folded the flag, and it was presented to my mother. The Captain who handed it to her said, “On behalf of the President, the department of the Navy and our country, we want to thank your husband for his dedication and service.”  That flag will always be a reminder of Dad’s commitment to what he felt was his patriotic duty to serve in the Navy.

I have shed a lot of tears since that night in November when mom told me he was gone.  I imagine I will shed many more in the days and weeks ahead.  But I am glad that he is no longer trapped in a body that couldn’t walk and a mind that couldn’t remember.

view of AF mem

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

If I didn’t know it before, after talking to family and friends this week, I know that he loved me as much as I loved him.  I also know that he will always be with me – in my heart.  And I can always go visit him, at a lovely spot right between the Pentagon and the Air Force Memorial.  What an honor!

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Feeling thankful…

In 2010, I posted a gratitude per day on my blog.  Last year, I tried to do it on Facebook, but couldn’t keep up.  This year, several friends are participating in the Facebook meme of posting something they are thankful for as their status every day. The month is more than half over already and I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon!  Since Thanksgiving is just a day away, I thought I would just write one blog post about being thankful.

Despite having lost my Dad a couple of weeks ago, there is a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, I am extremely grateful for the care he received, both last year in Memphis and this past year in Delaware.  The staff at Cadbury, particularly the nursing staff, was amazing, caring for his physical needs while treating him with the kindness and respect that he deserved.

I am thankful that I was able to see him as many times as I did this past year.  The cost of travel, especially by air, can be quite prohibitive, but my mother made sure I was able to get there several times by paying for my tickets.

I am incredibly lucky to have a job that, first of all, allows me to have time off in the summer and secondly, offers family medical leave during the school year so that I can spend time with my parents when they need my assistance.

I am always grateful for my loving wife (I can say that for real, now!), who loved my dad almost as much as I did and who supported my need to spend time with him.  She has been my shoulder to cry on when the grief threatens to overwhelm me.

I am thankful for my brother.  Even though we don’t have a lot in common and rarely talk, we know we have each other’s back and that counts for a lot.  I hope he knows how much I love him.  I am also incredibly thankful that he met and married his wife.  She has become one of my dearest friends – I can call her any time, day or night, and know that she will listen, offer advice when asked, keep my confidences if I need her to, and give generously of her time and talent.

I am also grateful for my students, who teach me something every day, if only how to be a better teacher.  They are kind, smart, interesting, caring, amazing young women who will help shape our community and our world in the years to come.

I am thankful that I am making healthier choices (most of the time) when it comes to what I eat and the activities I participate in.  Over the past year, I have made many positive changes and hope to continue in my journey towards fitness and health.

I am thankful that I have found a family of choice so far from my family of origin.  Without relatives closer than 800 miles, it could be very lonely here in the south.  But I have some wonderful friends who treat me like family and for whom I would do just about anything!

One of the best parts of this past year was the privilege I had of marrying the woman I love.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the members of the LGBT community and all the allies who have fought for marriage equality over the years.  Without their hard work, we would not have been able to legally declare our love and commitment.  As it is, we still have work to do, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of history – I have faith that some day (soon), we will be able to look back and say we were there.  And that the next generation will be able to look back and think “what was the big deal?”

As we head into the frantic holiday season, filled with TV ads, mailbox-filling catalogs, and incessant Christmas music from every conceivable corner of retail locations, I took a moment today to just sit.  Sit in silence, looking out at the water in Lewes, DE, and contemplate all that I have to be grateful for.  That includes you – my readers.  Thanks for reading about my life here in this little corner of cyber space.

3 lessons

I have heard the same message 3 times, from 3 different sources, this week.  I think I am supposed to be paying attention.

Samhain (pronounced sau’-in) was this week.  In more mainstream circles, it is known as Halloween, but it began as Samhain many years ago – a yearly marking of the turning of the seasons, often celebrated by those who identify as Pagan.

The Sunday service at my church was about this annual festival, at which the Celtic people celebrated the harvest and honored the souls of their departed, loved ones.

click for source

We were reminded in the service that we are a product of all those who have touched our lives, living or dead, friend or foe, intimate or acquaintance.  We are even a product of those ancestors we haven’t met – the many people who knew and loved the ones who knew and loved us.

Sunday evening, a friend posted a quote on Facebook:

Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming. Not a single interaction with a single person is left out of the process of your becoming.

Many assume that only pleasing relationships have value, but that is not the case. Your awareness of an unwanted situation evokes from you a clear Vibrational request for something different. And so, even those uncomfortable interactions with others form the Vibrational basis of your expansion.

People often believe that the value of interacting with others is mostly about combining talents and actions in order to accomplish the things that need to be done in a society, but your interaction is much more important than that. You are helping one another define the attributes of your individual and collective expansion. In other words, even the briefest of encounters with another person is actually contributing to your expansion as an Eternal Being.

I really like the first line of this quote.  “Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming.”  The idea that we are shaped by those who are in our past is not unfamiliar, but the idea that we are continuing to become the people we are going to be helps me realize that we are all a work in progress.  We are still being shaped – not only by the people in our lives now, but by the interactions we have experienced throughout our lives.

November 1st is All Saints Day in the Christian church.  I teach at an Episcopal school and we had a Eucharist service yesterday.  We sang a hymn I have always loved – “I sing a song of the saints of God”.  It is about finding “saints” not only in ages past, but in everyday life.  The homily from our chaplain was also about people in our lives, what the Old Testament refers to as our “cloud of witnesses”.   She reminded us that we all have people who are in our cloud – those whose lives had some influence over who we have become, both living and gone.  The image of a white fluffy cloud in a blue sky is a metaphor for those who have had a positive influence, those who have lifted us up and helped us grow.  She also used the image of the storm cloud, heavy and dark, to represent those people and situations that bring us down.  She asked us to remember, when faced with the dark clouds of life, the challenges and obstacles that get in our way, that we always have that other cloud with us and to hold the light of those who love us in our hearts.

I have been touched and shaped by so many people – family members, close friends, acquaintances, even strangers.   Some of these interactions have been positive, others negative, but they are all a part of who I am and who I am becoming.  For those in my “cloud”, I am grateful.  They help lift me up when I am down, bringing light to the darkness.

Hearing this message 3 times over in the course of 3 days can’t be coincidence.  I think I need to pay attention to it.  I need to remember those who have played a part in my life, being grateful for what they have taught me – what to do and what not to do.  I need to remember that I am playing a part in others’ lives, and can only hope they are paying attention too.  My wish for all of us is that we all be surrounded by our own personal “cloud of witnesses”, finding peace in the turmoil of life.

Planning a sing-a-long with Dad

I read a blog post today on Alzheimer’s Reading Room that brought back fond childhood memories of car trips to the Midwest.  My dad’s family lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but we lived in Washington, DC.  We would drive out to see them about once a year.  Mom would load up the car and we would take off after Dad got home from work that day, drive as far as Pennsylvania or Ohio, stop for the night, and get to my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ed’s place in Tomah, WI in time for dinner.

When my brother and I were little, we would ride in the back seat, and to keep us distracted from squabbling (as we were prone to do), Dad would sing.  There were some songs that became family traditions, and one of them was mentioned in that blog post I read – Shine On, Shine On Harvest Moon.  I can still hear his wonderfully deep voice in my memory.   Later, when I was old enough to help read the map, I would get to sit up front with Dad and serve as “co-pilot/navigator”.  I would pester him until he would start singing, even though he didn’t need to keep me and my brother apart any more.

The author of the blog writes about his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and that she started singing that song when she saw the full October moon – the Harvest Moon.  I decided that I would find the song, download it to iTunes, play it for Dad and see if he remembered the words!

When I started searching iTunes, it became a challenge to see if I could remember all of the songs we used to sing on those road trips.  I found 4 of them!  I still sing Barnacle Bill the Sailor – at least the chorus, which is all the words I think I ever knew.  (That is because Dad probably must have left out the “saltier” part of the song!)

A third song took me a little longer to find.  I figured out I was spelling Katy/Katie wrong!  “K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy! You’re the only G-G-G-girl that I adore!  K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy!  I’l be waiting at the K-K-K-Kitchen door!”

Another song I remember singing was actually Dad’s made-up version of H-A-double R-I-G-A-N.  He would sing “H-O-Gee-ee –A-N, H-O-G-A-N spells Hogan, Hogan.”  Even though they weren’t the original words, the song still helped instill my sense of Irish pride!

So today, when I go see him, I will have 4 songs to play.  Even if he doesn’t remember the words, I hope the music will bring a smile to his face.  It sure did to mine!

 

Looking for Myself: Part II

In the summer of ’93, I took a road trip from Virginia to Prince Edward Island, Canada, trying to reconnect to my past.  I spent about 2 weeks visiting friends and family, and sightseeing on PEI – a beautiful location that I hadn’t seen since I was 3 months old.  After touring the island and speaking to the nun who had facilitated my adoption almost 29 years before, I felt somewhat more connected to the place of my birth.  Although I hadn’t taken any steps towards finding my birth family, I thought I could return home feeling more settled about who I was.  But there was still a restlessness within my heart.  There was still a part of me missing.

My trip back to Virginia was somewhat more direct than my trip North.  I only made 3 stops – a hotel in Bangor, friends in Boston and an aunt in New York.  The stop in Boston is what ultimately made the whole trip worthwhile.  I had two friends from college who lived there – one of whom was out as a lesbian when we were in school together.  When I called to let her know when I would be arriving, I found out the other one had come out too and they were, in fact, dating!

I spent the weekend getting reacquainted with them both.  They were the first female couple that I knew (well, the first that was open about it) and I was able to talk to them about my confusion.   They took me out to the end of Cape Cod – a beach village called Provincetown, known to be a gay-friendly area.  While walking around, we saw couples – same sex couples – holding hands, pushing strollers, generally living their lives, completely comfortable with who they were.  It was eye-opening and liberating.  I felt like I had come home.  I realized that I could accept myself and that it was possible to find others who would accept me too.

While the process of acknowledging my feelings had been a long one, once I was willing to admit to myself that I was gay, I couldn’t wait to figure out what came next.  I was still scared – I had been turned down the one time I had expressed an attraction to a woman, so how would I know who I could trust, who else might be gay?  The friends I was visiting explained a concept to me known as “gaydar” – a sense I would develop over time.  In the meantime, they suggested I look in the local gay paper for support groups for those coming out.  They also said that there were likely to be social groups centered on common interests – I should just find something that I enjoyed doing and join a group for that activity.

When I got home to Virginia, I was a changed woman.  But I still felt lonely.  I wasn’t sure who I could trust with my new-found knowledge.  So I took the advice I had been given and sought out a support group.  I tried a few on for size before settling on one about 20 minutes from where I lived.  I got to know a group of women who were going through a similar experience, trying to come to terms with their identity and facing the coming out process with friends and family.  I was at a meeting one week when a woman stopped by with flyers for a lesbian bowling league that would be starting up the next month.  I remembered the suggestion that I find an activity I enjoyed in order to meet more people, so I decided to show up.  It was at that bowling league that I met the woman who I now consider my wife!

While I was feeling more and more comfortable with myself over the course of that Fall, I was still feeling unconnected to others.  I tried to keep myself separate from friends and family who didn’t know my secret.  I still wasn’t sure how people would react and I was scared of being rejected.  So I avoided my parents, my close friends, anyone outside of my support group and the bowling league.  In hindsight, I realize I was scared of saying something that would “out” myself before I was ready.

Over the years, I have grown to realize that I wasn’t doing myself any favors, trying to live 2 lives.  I slowly started coming out to family and friends.  The first person I told, outside of my new circle of friends, was my brother’s wife.  We have always been very close, but I was still scared.  Her reaction – “so?  Is that supposed to change the way I feel about you?” – gave me courage.  A few months later, I told my parents.  Although they had a hard time with it at first, they never rejected me or made me feel unloved.  16 years later, they are completely supportive, accepting my partner as part of the family.

This summer, I took another trip.  This time, I went to visit my brother’s family and while there got to reconnect with one of the friends from Boston who is now living in a different city.  I think that reunion is what got me thinking about that trip from 17 years ago.  It was truly a life-changing event.  I discovered the freedom to be myself and my life has never been the same.   I left on that journey seeking roots, and what I found were wings.

Driving with Dad

I started learning to drive when I was about 9 or 10.  I know that seems early, but my father would take me out to some farm land he owned about an hour outside of town and let me sit beside him on the front seat of the car — back then, cars had front seats that went all the way across — and help him drive.  I would hold the steering wheel while he worked what he called the “foot-feet”.  As long as we were on the small road that ran through the center of the property, I got to steer, but I had to turn it back over to him when we got to the road that had the lines painted on it.  After about a year of practice, he started letting me steer when we were on the lined road.

The first couple of times, I was pretty nervous.  Many years later, as a country music fan, I heard a song by Ricky van Shelton that summed up how I felt and how my dad helped me calm down.  The first verse goes something like this:

He was sitting beside me in the passenger seat
As I looked through the windshield at the quiet little street
He was smiling so proud as he gave me the key
But inside I knew he was as nervous as me
I said Daddy oh Daddy are you sure I know how
Are you sure that I’m ready to drive this car now
He said I’m right here beside you
And you’re gonna do fine
All you gotta do is keep it between the lines

Keeping it between the lines was not as hard as I thought.  When you are sitting in the middle of the car and looking out over the hood (it was a ‘69 station wagon, so the hood was really long and wide), the line on the right (next to the shoulder of the road) should line up with the right front fender.  Back then, the front fenders of cars were a lot bigger too, so it sort of stuck out over the headlight.  The line down the middle of the two lane road should look like it is coming out of the exact middle of the hood.   There was sort of a peak in the middle of the hood, along with a hood ornament — it was a Chrysler, so it was a pentagon shape with a point on top which gave me a point of reference to use for that too.   In any case, it was really easy to line up the car with the lines on the road.   After a while, when I was driving — or I guess I should say steering, since that is all I was doing — when I was steering from that position, I got pretty good at keeping it between the lines.

I found out soon enough, though, that you have to keep your eyes on the lines at all times.  If you were to notice a pretty Fall tree off to the side, or a billboard that you wanted to read more closely, or a person walking down the side of the road, and you looked at it a tad too long (i.e. more than a millisecond), the car tended to start drifting towards that obstacle.  Fortunately, I never actually hit any of those things, but I also learned that it was very easy to over-correct once I realized I was heading in the wrong direction.  I almost ended up in a ditch one time when I had drifted towards a tree and had to swerve to avoid it.  So the best course of action was for me to just keep my eyes focused on the front edge of the hood, making sure the lines on the road lined up just where they were supposed to.

A couple of years later, when I was about 13, Dad actually let me sit in the driver’s seat.  WOW.  I thought this was the big time.  I was really nervous about having to coordinate the steering with the “foot-feet” and about remembering which was the gas and which was the brake.   Now, I am not known for my coordination, in general, so I had every reason to worry.  It turned out, it also wasn’t as hard as I had anticipated.  I had mastered the steering pretty well, so I didn’t have to think too much about what to do with my hands.  I just had to pay attention to what to do with my right foot.  And we still were on pretty small, low-traffic roads.  All in all, I did pretty well with the coordination thing.  I think the thing is to practice one skill first, and when that is mastered, add the next skill and then the next and the next and eventually, you will be able to drive on a busy interstate, back up without hitting anything, and even parallel park without sideswiping the other cars.
But back to my story…

The hardest part of that next step was not the coordination, but the change in perspective that came with being behind the wheel.  Remember, I was used to lining the car up using the fender and the hood ornament.  When you are sitting in the driver’s seat, the lines look different than they do from the middle of the car.  You have to adjust your thinking when you are the one in charge of the direction you are heading.  I no longer had the precise locations – the front corner and the hood ornament in the middle — to line up with.  In fact, when I tried to use those points of reference the first time, I found myself almost running off the road!  I learned one of the most important lessons in driving — and in life.  To keep it between the lines, you may not have the guidelines you are used to using so you may have to re-focus your attention.  The problem is, where should you focus?  Here is my advice.  You shouldn’t just focus immediately in front of you.  You’ll miss the big picture and might not see what is coming at you.  Since I now had control of the brake and accelerator also, this was an important change!  And you shouldn’t focus too far down the road.  You can easily lose your concentration and drift off course.  There is a middle ground to watch — about 30 feet in front of the car when you are driving —  that will let you see what is going on around you.  Staying focused there will keep you between the lines and get you where you are going.

I got to thinking about all this over Fall break a few years ago when I was driving to DC to visit my father in the hospital.  I had 900 miles to cover each way, and having just turned 40, I realized I had been driving legally for 24 years, but had actually been practicing long before that.  I also realized that the lessons Dad taught me about how to handle a car also helped me handle the medical emergency that precipitated my trip.  I stayed focused, not on myself and the fact that I had a very different trip planned for fall break, and not on the what-ifs that run through your head when you hear a loved one is in ICU, but rather on my father, what his needs were and what I could do to help.  That was my point 30 feet out, and by putting my energy, thoughts and deeds into meeting that goal, I was able to “keep it between the lines” and be there for him when he needed me.  Thankfully, he came home and made a complete recovery.  The best part was I was able to spend time with him, as well as by myself, reminiscing about a fond childhood memory.

I share this story with you so that, as you steer yourself on your life journey, you will hopefully remember the lesson of driving with dad and the words of Alan Jackson  (I told you I was a country music fan, right?) in his song Drive:

It was just an old worn out Jeep
Rusty old floorboard, hot on my feet
A young girl two hands on the wheel
I can’t replace the way it made me feel
And he’d say, “turn it left and steer it right,
Straighten up girl, you’re doing just fine”
Just a little valley by the river where we’d ride
But I was high on a mountain
When daddy let me drive.