So. I’m going to start writing about dads and uncles and death and other sad things, but I promise this ends on an uplifting note.
Father’s Day is around the corner, and I usually do think about my dad a lot that day, his birthday (October 23), and his death day (February 12). I think about him in between, too, because sometimes in my really sad or WTF moments, I ask the Universe to please let my dad come visit me. I like to think his presence is around me, listening, and quietly guiding me.
Quick background for those who don’t know me or this story:
My dad died in his sleep one afternoon while we were all at work. He’d been working a job as a night shift manager for a technology company and he’d come home as usual about 8 AM, made himself something to eat, checked email, and then went to bed with the History Channel on. He had congestive heart disease, was on gobs of medication for it, and had just had his regular check up about a week earlier in which he’d been given the thumbs up; everything looked great. But everything was not, because his heart stopped while he slept. He was only 54 years old.
At 9:30 that night when he still hadn’t gotten up, my mom went into his bedroom to wake him up and immediately knew. I was upstairs writing, and she asked me to try to wake him up. This wasn’t a fun task, because my dad was not a fun person to wake up (by the way: neither am I). When I walked into the room, I also immediately knew. It was just too quiet. There was activity but HE was too quiet.
I’ve had a lot of traumatic things and people happen to me in the years since, but I don’t think anything will ever compare to that moment. It’s been almost 20 years now, and I think not only am I still grieving him, I’m still recovering from that moment. It’s not just the loss of my father I grieve, it’s the loss of what could have been. All that needed to be said and never was. All that we needed to fix and didn’t.
My dad was a complicated man, but he was a great storyteller with a big laugh and a funny way of sneezing and a very gruff and strict personality that hid a very gentle, big heart. He missed his calling as a lawyer – his degree was in political science, but he’d have made a terrible politician; the necessary evils would have eaten right through his soul. Because he taught me integrity. I think that’s the biggest gift my dad gave me: a very deep sense of right and wrong, and integrity. I know when I’m doing something that’s wrong, that lacks integrity because the guilt I feel overwhelms me and everything I do. I spend a lot of time overthinking and over analyzing, over focusing on the thing or the person I’m participating in the integrity-less activity. I get really, really judge-y, of myself and the other person if another person is involved. I get angry. I feel out of sorts. Off kilter. The only way to stop is to remove that person from my life. So I can re-balance.
My mom and dad struggled in their marriage because of my dad’s anger and drinking. Mostly his drinking. It’s something I’m hyper aware of – how much I drink. At certain times in my life, I’ve turned to alcohol as a self-medication. Something that blurs the sharp edges of whatever it is. But I’m painfully aware of my family’s history – my dad’s father and all of his brothers except one were what we’d probably classify today as alcoholics. Calvin, the one brother of my grandfather’s who made it out of his 50s alive, always said it was because he chose not to drink. He spent his life being ostracized a bit by his brothers; not out meanness or pettiness, but simply because he’d be a drag…they liked to drink, and he didn’t so they didn’t invite him anywhere, not realizing it hurt.
My dad’s brother Joey died this week. That’s probably why I’m writing this…Joey’s death plus the deaths of two people I never knew. Joey lived far away and I wasn’t close to him. But a few years ago, he started calling my brother and me, and I couldn’t…I just couldn’t talk much. Partly because like all men on that side of my family, Joey liked to talk. And talk. And talk. And talk and talk and talk. But mostly because on my end of the phone, I’d be in tears. I could hear my dad’s voice in his. When I saw him on a 2010 visit to the Poconos, where my dad’s family is from, I could also see my dad in his face, his eyes and facial expressions. I wish I’d talked to him more now…today, having been through what I’ve been through over the last 3 years? I would have talked to him. Or at least texted.
Joey struggled with alcoholism as well. Magically, he made it to his 60s. But still died too soon, too young. But he also had a huge heart, a heart of gold. When I was little girl, I was shy around him, afraid of his beard. Today, I find it hard to resist a man with a beard…but my dad didn’t have one, and I think his just freaked me out – 1970s Uncle Joey was a bit of a hippie. But I can’t think of a single man on my dad’s side of my family who doesn’t melt around little girls. They’re tough on the boys. But they melt around little girls. (Patriarchy…but I’m letting it slide, because I’m a bad feminist.)
On my 2nd Christmas, Joey gave me a big stuffed dog. I named him Luff Pup Pup, because the tag on him said “Love Pup,” and apparently that’s how I pronounced love and he was a Love Pup pup. It made sense to my little brain, and that’s all that mattered. At any rate, Luff Pup Pup is still with me. His eyes are gone, except for one white button that I sewed on as an eye replacement (because I couldn’t find black or brown buttons in my mom’s sewing kit and he looked blind but at least he had eyes again). His ears chewed up by my dog Sassy, who’s long gone yet has left this legacy behind as a touchable memory. He had a belly button, a tail, and a big black nose, and a red tongue in 1974, but by 1984 these were all gone. Ripped off, chewed off, loved off. Luff Pup Pup is my Velveteen Rabbit – he’s real because he’s loved. He’s soaked up buckets of my tears, patiently laid beneath my sleeping body or head, or in held tight in my arms. He’s been shoved under beds, into closets, into attics in boxes. He’s lived in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Arizona, and Georgia. Traveled to Florida and other various states. Now he belongs to Miss M, who often asks for him when she’s scared. That’s his magical gift: helping scared and sad children feel better at night, so they can sleep and not feel alone.
So I’m thinking about my dad and my uncle. How they’re all together now. With their parents Joe and Hannah. And their little sister Kathy, who died when she was 2 or 3 – she wandered down the lane to my great Uncle Calvin’s farm pond and fell in. By the time Calvin heard her and got to the pond, it was too late. It may be why the men on that side of my family have such soft hearts around little girls. They feel the need to protect and save them.
Now, none of them need to be protected or saved. No more sadness, no more pain. Just quiet and peace. It sounds lovely, yes?
I think my dad struggled with depression – my mom found him in the bathroom once with some disturbing items that indicated he was making a really hard decision. I’m so thankful he chose to stay, even though the way he eventually left has left holes in my heart that will never really fill.
Depression isn’t bad. It’s very very normal; in fact, I have talked to and read and heard so many stories from so many people who struggle with it, that I actually think it’s abnormal NOT to have depression. Depression is simply an imbalance of brain chemicals, that’s all. I take two medicines every day to regulate my blood pressure; why is that not a stigma but anti-depressants are? This is odd thinking. I struggle with it. I anticipate Miss M struggling with it. I look at people who are always positive and happy, and I wonder about them…if it’s real, how blessed they are. But I often wonder how many people just fake it for the world. Because they’re afraid the world will reject them if they’re honest.
Anthony Bourdain died, of apparent suicide. Yesterday I ended what I wrote with a reflection on Kate Spade’s apparent suicide. Today it’s Anthony Bourdain. I liked this person’s spirit so much, and I wish he could have liked his spirit as much as I did. Because when I saw this news, I cried. I felt sad about Kate Spade, but I cried over Anthony. It was too much. Too much. Because life is really rough and hard, with a lot of sadness and pain. But there are also such good moments to it. When someone really makes you laugh or feel incredibly loved. Watching or reading a story or listening to songs that let you know you aren’t alone, this is all hard but also normal. When you find someone who sees you, really sees you. And likes you just as you are – you don’t have to change anything about yourself for them. They don’t want to fix you, they just like to be with you.
There are people in the world who are Luff Pup Pups, you just have to find them…or wait because more often than not they’ll either find you or you will both stumble upon each other.
I watched the movie La La Land last night and wept at the end, and at the part where they both say they’ll always love each other. And they did. That’s what real love feels and looks like: you’re happy for someone, you want them to have their dreams come true and be happy, even if you’re not part of it. That’s how I know I love D and not the man who hurt me and pushed me into doing something and being someone I’m not. I’ve been reflecting on that for the last couple of weeks…I thought I loved that person, but that wasn’t love; that was need, and need is really really fucked up. Don’t ever get so attached to the idea of someone you need them more than you love them. I would like D to be happy and safe, no matter what. That’s how you know. The mere fact someone exists in the world, helps you feel more safe and less sad, and even if you can’t be part of their whole life, you want their whole life to be happy. That’s how you know.
It’s magic to find your Luff Pup Pup. It helps the world feel better. Luff Pup Pups help us know we aren’t alone, there are guides here who can help you navigate and when they can’t they can at least just sit with you so you’re not as frightened or sad. And then stay. Don’t leave until Fate or God or Old Age or whatever decides it’s your time, Someone or Something will let you know. Stay with us. And if you need a Luff Pup Pup, Miss M and I will be happy to share ours with you. Or help you find one.