Tag Archives: grief

On Father’s Day: Eulogy for My Father

On this Father’s Day, a month after the passing of my dad, I wanted to write something in tribute to him.  (It doesn’t have anything to do with autism. Here’s what I wrote about my dad and autism.)  And then realized I already had just a month ago – his eulogy.  Here it is:

Many years ago, I found an anonymous little wisdom essay originally published in a 1916 Old Farmers Almanac.  I loved it.  I clipped it out, saved it in a scrapbook, and read it many times over the years – to the point of having it nearly memorized.  And I know why it spoke to me – it described perfectly my father.  It reads:

“The Friend”

A friend is a person who is “for you,” always, under any suspicion.  He never investigates you. When charges are made against you, he does not ask proof. He asks the accuser to clear out.  Anybody may stand by you when you are right; a friend stands by you even when you are wrong.  He likes you just as you are. He does not want to alter you.  Whatever kind of coat you are wearing suits him. Whether you have on a dress suit or a hickory shirt with no collar, he thinks it’s fine.  He likes your moods, and enjoys your pessimism as much as your optimism.  He likes your success.  And your failure endears you to him the more.  He is never jealous.  He wants nothing from you, except that you be yourself.  He is the one being with whom you can feel SAFE. With him you can utter your heart, its badness and its goodness. You don’t have to be careful.  In his presence you can be indiscreet; which means you can rest.  You give to him without reluctance and borrow from him without embarrassment.  When you are vigorous and spirited you like to spend your days with him; when you are in trouble you want to tell him; when you are sick you want to see him; when you are dying you want him near.  Friendship is the most admirable, amazing, and rare article among human beings.  It is said the highest known form of friendship is that of the dog to his master. You are in luck if you can find one man or one woman on earth who has that kind of affection for you and fidelity to you. For if you can live fifty years and find one absolute friend you are fortunate indeed. For of the thousands of human creatures that crawl the earth, few are such stuff as friends are made of.

 It may seem strange that I am reading about friendship while speaking about my father.  No, my father was not one of those parents guilty of shirking being a parent in favor of being his child’s pal.  He was definitely a father, but, for all the reasons described in that essay, he was also the greatest friend I will ever have.

Over the past couple of weeks, so many of you – sitting here today – have called, written, or come by to tell me just that.  Eyes bright, voices rough with emotion, and sharing story after story of what a remarkable friend you knew him to be.

The thing that I liked best about my father was his ability to cultivate the most eclectic, yet loyal and happy friendships.  He didn’t care how well his friends were dressed or where or if they attended church.  He wasn’t the least bit concerned with their wealth, professional success, or level of education – merely pleased for them if they were doing well.   He cared only about character, wit, and a spirit of adventure in those whom he chose to befriend.  And, despite his widely known political views, several of his very favorite liberals are sitting here today, probably remembering some amusing and spirited debates.

Spread out across this church are many people I know a lot about.  For, if my dad mentioned someone, he would tell you a story or share his view of what he really thought about them.  Some of you right now might be thinking, “Uh oh”.  But you have no cause for worry.  Because he just didn’t have bad things to say about people.   I’m sure he held the secrets of many people here today, but he held them to himself.  He was, like the essay said, as faithful as a dog to those whom he called his friends.

For being such an analytical man, he rarely analyzed those he knew.  Whenever someone would apologize for some imagined offense, he would laugh and say, “You don’t ever have to worry about offending me.  I’m so unobservant, I likely won’t have noticed.”  It was true.  He wouldn’t have noticed.  But not because he was unobservant.  I think we all know just how quick his mind was.  But, unlike many of us, he simply didn’t choose to look for slights from others.  Even if those slights involved glazed and wandering eyes during one of his thrilling yet unabridged tales of Allied naval victories.

No, he wasn’t one to take offense.  Yet he was such a humble person that he also didn’t look for praise.  When told of something nice someone said about him, he was always somewhat astonished he crossed their mind in the first place.  I promise you, he never dreamed of the outpouring of fond memories and heartfelt sentiments so many of you have expressed over the past several days.  He never imagined the high esteem in which so many of you held him.  I know he would have been completely surprised and quite moved.

Yes, my dad was a beloved character all right – and one we liked to tease mercilessly.  Mainly because his playful spirit so enjoyed that teasing he would turn pink and belly laugh.  From his always-convenient ankle-strapped mini-Derringer to his ever-ready bottles of homemade datil pepper sauce, it can be safely said there will never be another quite like him.  As my dear friend Jen so aptly described his loss, “A wonderful man has left us.  A grand Southern gentleman, an intellectual, a thoughtful and wry wit, and a deeply loved man. The world is less today.”

I could stand here and speak all day about my Daddy – his stories, humor, philosophies, and kindnesses.  I could tell you of all the people in recent days who have poured out their hearts about what a fine man he was, how true a friend he was to them, and how much they respected him.  But, rather than hold you nice folks hostage, I will sum up everything I am feeling right now to this:

There are no doubt thousands of little girls, both young and old, the world over who hold their daddies to be men among men.  But I have had the honor and extraordinary experience of having so many others… agree.  I am so very proud to have been his daughter.

I’m Doing: On the Loss of My Father

I’ve been avoiding you.  Up until now, I really couldn’t stand the thought of addressing in words what I think or feel about anything.

When I taught writing, I used to have my students visualize a stage in front of a full audience.  I told them to look and see who was in the audience.  To question why the audience members came to listen to them.  And to try to come up with a way to grab and maintain the audience’s attention.  It’s how I have always written.

But four weeks ago, an empty seat appeared – front and center – in my audience.  I lost my favorite subscriber and my biggest fan – my dad.  For the last few weeks, I have visited my dashboard with plans to write.  But when I step out onto my mental stage, I just keep seeing that empty seat.  And the words don’t come.

Since the death of my father, I have been frequently asked by many people how I’m doing.  Several times a day.  No, I don’t resent the question or think it’s stupid.  It’s genuine concern.

But I find that, despite my standard response of “I’m doing alright, thanks”, I am struck by the realization that I really have no idea how I’m doing.  The past six weeks are a bit of a blur.  For me, it’s still the end of April, and I seem to have a lot of trouble fixing the correct date in my head.   June something.

I spent two weeks in a zone of automaticity – ICU, eat, sleep, repeat.   And, because my father’s chances for a full recovery looked so good, tears were not acceptable.  It was extremely important to me that he understood how well he was doing — which he was.  I knew he needed strength, so that’s what he got.

And then the second stroke attacked.

I had been home for a little over three hours on my stepsister’s night shift at the hospital, when I got the call to return to Gainesville.  A little over an hour later, I arrived and was informed of the gravity of the situation.  There were a couple of last-ditch efforts, tests, results, etc.  But I knew long before the doctors finally stated it that he was gone.  He would never have wanted to be kept alive artificially, so we declined to keep him on life support.  He died peacefully two hours later.

I cried all that day.  From the first realization in the wee hours of the morning until he passed that night. I hadn’t shed a single tear until then.  Daddy and I used to joke that there was never a need to fall apart until it becomes absolutely necessary.  But I fell apart that night alright.  The whole cycle of life struck me so hard.  I thought of how much my grandmother loved her little boy.  How much I loved her little boy as my father.  What his death will steal from my children.  How easily we roll and overlap from child to parent to child again.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was let go of his hand.

As we stepped out of the hospital a few minutes later, it began to pour –which struck me as oddly appropriate.  Like maybe the sky was crying too.  And I went home to learn how to no longer be my daddy’s little girl.

The past month has been another blur.  Flowers, cards, photos, music, out-of-town mourners, the visitation, writing his eulogy, the funeral.  Policies, accounts, closing his practice, probate.  The decision to return to work for the last couple of weeks of school.  I’ll admit – the thought of taking a personal leave was mighty tempting.

I have lost loved ones before, but I have never experienced a grief like this.  It’s profound.  Despite legally being an adult  for twenty years, there was a part of me that was still somebody’s little girl.  There was still somebody on the planet who had to take me in should I need shelter.  Somebody to bail me out if I got in a mess.

Now there is no one left to take care of me — but me.  Suddenly, every decision I make will come from my own analysis.  I no longer have the wisdom of my father, something I relied upon more than I realized.  I’m 38.  And, though it sounds crazy, I feel like a grown-up for the first time.   Feeling my mortality and a loss of innocence.

Through all of this, I have made a discovery.  I am more my father’s daughter than I even knew.  People looked at me strangely throughout the week of the funeral.  At the visitation, the service, and the reception.  People kept remarking about how “pulled together” I was, how I could still laugh and make jokes, and how they were amazed I could deliver the eulogy without crying — on the outside.  And it brought me back to when my father lost my stepmother to cancer.  I remember him going about the business of carrying on after her death.  Him going through the motions, but private in his life-altering grief.  I see him in me.  And I am realizing more each day how much of what makes me tick is inherited from him and his approach to life.  I loved him dearly.  But I liked him even more.   How I’m going to miss him liking me.

Instead of answering how I’m doing, I should just start saying, “I’m doing.”  Which is exactly what he would tell me to do.  Just keep doing.  Get up every day.  Go to work.  Take care of what is necessary.  Go to dinner with good friends.   Laugh with your children.  See a movie.  Until it isn’t such an effort to move about.  If you do otherwise, you’ll just sit and rust.  A concept my dad would never approve of.

(He used to tell people he would never retire.  Even if he just kept a handful of clients and worked one day a week.  He maintained that if you retire, you can never go on vacation.)

So, here I am stepping out on my stage again.  And, instead of avoiding the empty seat in the front row, I’m going to try to visualize him sitting in it still.  Still encouraging me in my decisions.  Still proud of me.  Still the greatest friend I’ll ever have.

And hope that he is still subscribing from far away.

I’m Okay: Autopilot Engaged

Disclaimer:  This is a thoroughly depressing, self-absorbed post, written in the ICU.  Read at your own risk.

I’m going to do what I said I didn’t really want to do and write a post about something other than autism. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy writing about other things.  I do and have.  It’s just that I’ve really tried to hold firm to that blogging guideline of defining your blog and sticking to it.  But something has happened that has removed autism from my mental train completely.  And it’s all bottled up inside my head with nowhere to escape but here.

Twelve days ago, I received an anxious call from my father’s secretary.  Apparently, the guy who mows his lawn saw an ambulance carry him away.  Having a terrifying clue what had happened (he had a stroke 10 years ago), I got my husband to drive me to the hospital and found my dad in the emergency department with stroke symptoms.  In short time, a CT scan revealed a very large hemorrhagic stroke.  A LifeFlight chopper was called, and we took off for Shands – where he had been accepted to their NeuroIntensive Care Unit.  I didn’t go further than a hotel a couple of miles up the road for 8 days.  A week into the stroke — though doing amazingly well neurologically — he developed some breathing complications related to just being in the ICU and has been completely sedated and on a ventilator for several days now.  All predictions from his neurosurgical team are that this is sort of par for the course for ICU.  And they have repeatedly stressed how great of shape he is really in – no apparent neurological or cognitive damage.  Most people in his should would be dead or in a coma.  He is very, very lucky.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride.  Each day there is some new test, new tube, or new worry.  First and foremost – pressure on the brain. Then there is a period of danger called a vasospasm window, the time period patients are at risk for what are kind of aftershock strokes.  Blood pressure crisis one day, oxygenation the next.  Fever.  Among several other concerns.  If I hear two steps forward one step back one more time I’ll scream.  But it is all too true and patience is the only option available.

I’ve seen some awful things he has had to endure over the past few days.  I’ve ridden in elevators with entirely too many sick children. I’ve met some very nice folks in the ICU waiting room, shared our stories and family member’s conditions, and seen their heartbreak as they made their final goodbyes.  I’ve been so very sad for them — and so very relieved I wasn’t in their shoes.  Daddy’s condition is, of course, quite serious, but he has apparently escaped permanent damage.  It looks like we will get to take our loved one home.  All of him.

I’ve watched people handle it all so differently as well.  The angry types — who demand entry everywhere and are furious when doctors cannot answer the unanswerable.  The dramatic types – who seem to thrive just a bit too much on an unfolding crisis.  The manager types – who talk loudly, take detailed notes while demanding the correct the correct spelling of every name, and attempt to conduct the emergency to their own satisfaction.  The wailers – whom you really should limit visiting the sick person, lest he think he’s dying.  The jokers – who are so uncomfortable with grief they use inappropriate humor in an attempt to deflect it.  And the doers – who immediately begin making contact lists, researching, making plans, signing paperwork, etc., with the express purpose of delaying the inevitable emotional crash sure to follow by just keeping busy.

That’s me.  I’m a doer.  An emotional autopilot.  I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve met others like me.  I’ve been acting as the family spokesperson – complete with a medical update email, investigating hotels, discussing rehab options.  But I’m starting to get the idea that I have a particularly bad case of keeping busy.  Over the past few days, I’ve noticed several people looking at me strangely.  I’m getting the idea that they are wondering what is wrong with me, why I’m not crying, when I’m going to fall apart.  I confess that I am wondering myself.

Because, I really could use a good cry.  The problem is that it is all bottled up in uncertainty.  I keep telling everyone who expresses concern that I will fall apart when it is called for or it’s over and that neither of those apply right now.  From experience, I know the difference.

Five years ago, pancreatic cancer – a cruel and often hopeless disease – robbed me of my stepmother.  A cheerful and devoted mother, grandmother, teacher, and friend, who dearly loved my daddy, was taken from us in just 5 months.  It was without hope from the beginning, and I began silently grieving from the start.  The last days of her life were pure hell – watching such a bright and beloved light fade from our world, leaving us all in devastation of her loss.  I had never known it possible to cry as hard as I did.  To this day, there are sights, sounds, and moments that take me right back to those dark hours.  I’ve never been the same.  There isn’t a single day that I don’t miss her presence and insight – especially now that I have children and a special needs child in particular.  I just know she would have been an amazing support for me and a wonderful grandmother to him.

But this is different.  We’ve got all kinds of hope here.  But all kinds of suffering.  Worries.  Progress and setbacks.  Fear of the unknown.  Steadfast determination to remain positive.  Nagging doubts.  Relief.  Anxiety.  It isn’t grief.  But it’s still a total and overwhelming assault upon one’s emotions.   And deepest of all those emotions is the helplessness of watching someone I love suffer.  It’s like the whole world is in limbo.  (Oh, wait.  Maybe this sounds like dealing with an autism diagnosis for your child after all…)

I feel just like a lost little kid in a big crowd, hoping my daddy will come find me and take me home.

Only I’m a mother now.  I have small children who need my stability – even when I’m not feeling it myself.  My little girl is very aware of how much I’ve been gone and keeps drawing pictures “for you Mama”.  And Callum seems out of sorts as well – a little grumpy and way more snuggly.  (Of course, I have been going home as much as I can and switching off with my step-sister and a couple of others. I swear I’m not abandoning my children.)  My dad, were he not sedated at the moment, would fuss at me to go away and just pick him up from the hospital if he makes it.  But you just can’t do that with the kind of dad who has rightly earned the name Daddy, now can you?  He is, after all, Autism Grandparent of the Year. :)

So, yes, I’m okay.  At least on the Official Press Release Statement.  In a few weeks, when we get him out of the rehab hospital and back to being himself, I’ll reconsider a nervous breakdown.  Oh, wait.  I have to work for a living, be a wife, be a mother.  Nix the breakdown.  I’ll just have to settle for a visit with my doctor and the possible publication of some whiny blog posts.  Darn those celebrities.  Don’t you envy them their psychiatric options?

A quote about fathers and daughters I love:

“…I’ve made it my business to observe fathers and daughters. And I’ve seen some incredible, beautiful things. Like the little girl who’s not very cute – her teeth are funny, and her hair doesn’t grow right, and she’s got on thick glasses – but her father holds her hand and walks with her like she’s a tiny angel that no one can touch. He gives her the best gift a woman can get in this world: protection. And the little girl learns to trust the man in her life. And all the things that the world expects from women – to be beautiful, to soothe the troubled spirit, heal the sick, care for the dying, send the greeting card, bake the cake – all of those things become the way we pay the father back for protecting us…” 
― Adriana TrigianiBig Stone Gap

Update:  The day following this posting, my father suffered a second, more devastating stroke.  He passed away peacefully.