Last week we spent a few days visiting E’s family out in Arizona. Except for brief work trips to California and El Paso, Texas, I’ve spent very little time in the Western US, so it was a great treat for me to see this part of the country. I loved seeing all the different cacti and other plants out there. I also loved the birds!
First, the hummingbirds. These little things zipped around the backyard, zooming from one bush to another and making these weird half whistle, half chirp sounds.
Then, there were two sightings of a Gila woodpecker – one in the backyard, and then this one on a hike in the White Tank mountains. Both times there were pairs, calling back and forth from the tree tops:
There were numerous sightings of the cactus wren, which is Arizona’s state bird:
Then there was this house finch – we see these at our feeders back in Massachusetts, but this particular one kept giving me the eye…
Finally, an owl! nesting in a cactus! I’ve never actually seen an owl in the wild, just at zoos or wildlife refuges, so this was particularly cool.
FYI, his was a hard shot to get – the cactus is a lot taller than it looks here, and that owl was snuggled right down in the nest. We hiked up a little bit past the cactus and, standing on my tippy toes as I balanced the camera on E’s shoulder, I was able to zoom in at the maximum level my camera allows. Here’s another picture, this time just of his eyes and ears:
It’s hard to tell in the picture below, but that big cactus in the middle, with all of the different “limbs”, is where the owl’s nest sits. Widly grateful to our fellow hikers who told us about the nest, because otherwise it would have been easy to miss!
Usually I love a good bout of end-of-year navel gazing, but 2015? Hoooo boy. Even after two weeks of vacation time to ponder, I’m not sure I’ve wrapped my head around it. And I feel like I must have stolen the title of this post from a book somewhere, but I’m too afraid to Google it and find out because then I’d feel obliged to change it. Frankly, there’s really no better way than to sum up this past year than “impossible”. If you had told me one year ago that in 2015 I would not only get engaged but get married, and that my seemingly healthy-as-a-horse father would not only be diagnosed with cancer but would die from it, I would not have believed you. And yet, here we are.
I had honestly expected the turn of the calendar page to be a relief, a letting go of all the bad stuff that 2015 brought with it. Instead, I find myself profoundly sad to see it go. Leaving 2015 behind feels like leaving my dad behind…2015 was the last year he saw, and now we move into the beginning of years he will not see. Years we will see without him. We’re doing all the things we’re supposed to do – being brave, putting one foot in front of the other, carrying on with things as he would want us to do. We celebrated the holidays and there were tears, but we soldiered on and remembered Dad; we spoke of him often and enjoyed each other’s company, as he would have wanted us to do. But, as many of you know all too well, there’s a hole there that may in fact get smaller over time, but it will never quite go away.
There were some other disappointments along the way in 2015 – none as significant to me as losing Dad, obviously, but sad in their own right, and I still struggle with them from time to time. I won’t detail it all here, but suffice it to say life isn’t fair and we don’t always get what we want. And sometimes even the good stuff brought stress — like E changing jobs this summer, and the wedding planning that got condensed into 3 weeks.
I barely knit or sewed anything, other than a hat for my dad during his chemo treatments and a few patchwork squares. I just didn’t have the heart for it. I also didn’t write here much – Dad was a pretty private person and didn’t want his illness spread all over the internet, and it was hard not to write about something that was occupying a good deal of my thoughts. I didn’t take very many pictures, either, in part because my camera wound up in a bag with a jug of apple cider, with disastrous results. I also am apparently the only person on the planet who failed the Kon Mari method of decluttering (note that there was never a “Part 2” post). Although we did make a big donation to the thrift shop and another to the Salvation Army, and we have done a good job keeping our living room fairly clutter free, we continue to struggle with Too Much Stuff.
Obviously it wasn’t all bad. I mean, we got married! And I’d do that day over again a million times. It was, as we like to say around here, a Really Good Day. And, shockingly enough for anyone who knows us, the anniversary tier of our cake is still in our freezer, untouched.
Also, I am physically SO much STRONGER! I’ve spent the past year working with a personal trainer once a week. It’s been a very up-and-down process because of various health issues, including the stupid sprained knee, but I am STRONGER! And, my blood pressure last month was 114/70, after running for YEARS at 125/80. Mind you, I weigh EXACTLY the same as I did when I started, but I dropped a dress size, and given the stress (and stress eating) of the past year I’m actually okay with that. Frankly, it’s a miracle I didn’t pack on another 20 pounds.
And then, the little things that make up a year: I discovered I like sushi – at least, the sweet potato and avocado kinds of sushi. (Still not a fan of raw fish.) I went to El Paso, and while it was a work trip it was still interesting, and I’d never been to any part of Texas before so I can cross another state off my list. We did our annual Baxter camping trip, and while I was in agony a good part of the time from the sprained knee, not much can beat sitting at the edge of a pond on a starry night in northern Maine, or driving the Tote Road at dusk listening to classical music and startling a couple of moose. I significantly scaled back our garden this year, because E was on a mission to move house (a mission he is still on, by the way), but I wound up with strawberries and three tomato plants that were successful (the peppers were another story). I saved a little bit more in my 401(k) than I did last year. We bought a new bed. We cooked more at home, a joint project that continues on (helped along by a number of nice kitchen-related wedding presents). We binge-watched Homeland and The Newsroom, and binge-listened the Serial podcast. And, possibly most important of all these little things, we got two of the cats to more-or-less coexist with minimal amounts of growling and hissing. It’s not perfect, but we’ll take it.
So, that was 2015. A truly watershed year. It changed me in ways I don’t think I fully know or understand just yet, and probably won’t know for some time. The Indigo Girls put it best, I think, with their aptly-titled song “Watershed”:
Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
Cause the crossing is chilly and wide
Twisted guardrails on the highway
Broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone’s tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it’s never too late
But you don’t, you don’t get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness
And feed the hunger
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And there’s always retrospect
(when you’re looking back)
To light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life
And I have a good laugh
You start at the top
Go full circle round
Catch a breeze
Take a spill
But ending up where I started again
Makes me want to stand still
On to 2016…
Every once and awhile I look at Erik and say, “Hey. We got MARRIED!”. Losing my dad so soon after the wedding took the wind out of our sails, to put it mildly, and certainly took the focus off being married, at least for awhile. It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven weeks since Dad died, and we’ll celebrate our two-month wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving Day. One thing I’ve learned is that things do get better, whether you want them to or not…you worry that letting go of the sadness means you are forgetting the person who died, even though you couldn’t forget even if you tried. I know, though, that Dad of all people would not want us moping around, so we have to press on, in our own way and in our own time.
That said, there are still pockets of time when I get really sad; it tends to hit me when I am alone in the car. I’m not really sure why but I’ll just start sobbing uncontrollably while, for example, barreling down 495 on the way to work. Dad would have a fit if he knew; crying hysterically while driving 70 mph isn’t exactly safe. On the plus side, I’ve found the one thing that helps is playing music from our wedding. The music was really important to me — I have always had a soundtrack in my head my whole life, for different people and different places and different situations. (I once told someone a song “sounds like you look”.) Our wedding was no different, except that it wasn’t so much “MY” soundtrack as it was “OUR” soundtrack. Alas, E and I don’t disagree about much, but we have completely different tastes in music, and so there was more discussion about music than probably any other aspect of the wedding – including writing our wedding ceremony.
Ultimately we decided that since the wedding was so small (and we had such little time to plan) that we would forego a DJ. Instead, I spent several sleepless nights downloading songs onto my phone from iTunes, trying to find ones that would make everyone happy. (At this point we knew my dad had very little time left, so that’s why I wasn’t sleeping well.) We wound up plugging my phone into my nephew’s guitar amp, which probably wasn’t the best solution but it worked. During the wedding and dinner, I had music playing in the background, trying to incorporate suggestions from everyone. There was stuff on that playlist ranging from the B-52’s to Frank Sinatra and back again. Here were my selections:
Other songs that I added to the mix…both typical wedding fare and not:
[I expect that a week from now half of those links won’t work anymore, but in light of the fact that I dropped and smashed my iphone on Saturday and I’m not 100% convinced my playlists will transfer onto the new phone, I’m writing the list down here in case I forget.]
So here we are, almost a month since my dad died. I cried every day for three weeks, and then I wrote my blog post and felt a lot better. Writing is cathartic for me, and it helped that so many people read it (mostly via a Facebook link) and said they knew exactly how I felt because they had lost a parent too. So, there’s that.
Mostly right now I’m trying to balance catching up at work with being a bit careful with myself — trying not to get too tired, too hungry, too stressed. Trying to find joy when and where I can. There’s a fine line between feeling the pain and not wallowing in it, and sometimes distraction is key. Here’s what I’ve been distracting myself with:
Ten days after our wedding, my dad passed away.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected; we knew he was sick, and we knew that at the end of August his doctors had given him 2-3 months to live. However, he didn’t even make six weeks. And while he clearly wasn’t feeling well, was very tired and losing strength, we thought we had a little more time. So much so that when the phone rang at 3:45 in the morning, I assumed my mother had called me by accident.
He wasn’t going to get better. That’s simultaneously the worst part of it and the blessing in disguise. We wanted him to get better, but it wasn’t happening. Something put those cancer cells into overdrive, multiplying so fast the chemo couldn’t keep them in check. And he was so proud and independent that he would not have wanted the level of care he was clearly going to need within the next day or two. I don’t really know how much, if any, control we have over dying, but in the past few weeks I’ve heard many people talk of patients “hanging on” and, conversely, “letting go”. It’s fairly clear he was determined to make it to our wedding, and I expect that, to the best of his ability, Dad let go when he needed to.
It wasn’t going to get better.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that I change the channel every time one of those cancer center commercials comes on TV, the ones that make cancer seem like something anyone can live through if they just get themselves into one of their facilities. They enrage me. Dad got the best care possible and still died.
But here’s what is the hardest for me: the hours between five and nine pm. I was single for a very long time, and Dad was a worrier, so almost every night I had to call and check in, so he knew I wasn’t lying dead in a ditch somewhere. It was a little ridiculous, I know; many of my friends talk to their parents weekly, if not monthly. But it seemed like such a small thing, a quick phone call so he didn’t have to worry. And when he was alive it typically was a small thing – often it was a quick hello, an update on the weather in whatever state I happened to be living in at the time, and a quick update on our individual days: a dump run for him, an intolerable meeting for me. Sometimes there would be things I would see or do where I would make a mental note to tell my dad, because he would either find it funny or interesting. But there were also long conversations, about many things, both on the phone and in person. For all his quiet nature, Dad was a talker, and he liked to talk about things. Even hard things, like war, and hurts, and losses. And even death, when he had to.
After his own father died, Dad said what he missed most was talking to him, and now I know exactly what he meant. It will be three weeks, tomorrow, and I can tell you that in all of my 44 years I have never gone this long without talking to my dad.
The day dad died, and the next few days afterwards, were quintessentially beautiful fall days. The foliage peaked; the air was cool but not too cold; the breeze that blew carried the smell of leaves. I kept finding myself humming the song “Today”, which in the weeks before his death Dad declared as his favorite song. He preferred the New Christy Minstrel’s version; I prefer John Denver (who, early in his career, was part of the New Christy Mistrels — as was Kenny Rogers, which I find baffling).
Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrow’s shall all pass away
‘Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today
Dad worked hard in the last few months of his life to find joy in every day. Visits and phone calls, funny pictures of my sister’s dog, finding something that actually tasted good to eat (chemo does weird stuff to your taste, apparently). And he was grateful for every little thing that he could count as joyful. I’m pretty sure that if Dad could send me a message from the other side it would be to look after your mom, take good care of your new husband, find some joy in every day…and for pete’s sake clean out your car.
Now, I probably don’t have to tell you that I’m the sort of person who has repeatedly tried to start gratitude journals and wound up flinging each and every one of them aside after day 2. I HOLD GRUDGES, PEOPLE. But for dad, I’ll make one more attempt at finding joy every day, because he’d want me to. I’m trying to post a photo every day on Instagram (username: lorifindingjoy), but not all joy can be captured in a picture. So on some days, you’ll just have to trust me. (Yesterday I took a two hour nap on the couch and it was blissful.) Some days, I expect I will have to dig deep to find joy. I’ve had a couple of those days, and right now my fall back is to remember our wedding, and be joyful (and grateful!) that dad was able to be there, and was able to walk me down the aisle, and was able to yell “yahoooo” after the ceremony was over. And I’m eternally grateful for photos like this one:
So. We got married on Saturday.
In no particular order…
I loved that my dad was there to walk me down the aisle.
I loved that it was small and intimate.
I loved that we wrote our own ceremony, peppered with inside jokes and quotes from the likes of Carl Sagan and Madeline L’Engle. I loved that we tweaked Edward Monkton’s “A Lovely Love Story” to include video games and knitting.
I loved that we found a way to include all of our siblings in our wedding ceremony.
I loved that my Aunt Linda married us.
I loved that we got married outside, on the shores of Kezar Lake, under a cloudless, blazing blue sky, under very tall pine trees and the outline of the White Mountains.
(I did not love picking the pine needles out of my lace wedding dress. But totally worth it.)
I loved the Pleasant Point Inn, I loved Papa’s Florals, and I especially loved Molly Breton Photography. I loved our chocolate, raspberry and buttercream cake from Frosted in Maine, and I loved Meghan Breton for doing hair and makeup for me, my mom, my sister, and my nieces. (Meghan doesn’t have a website, but if you are in the Sebago Maine area and need hair/makeup done, let me know.)
I loved that Erik’s brother was able to fly out from San Diego at very short notice to be best man.
I loved my friend Diane and her daughter Lorelai for stepping in and helping with all the setup stuff because my mom was busy with my dad and 87-year old grandmother, and my sister had to drive up from Massachusetts that morning.
I loved our dinner with Erik’s siblings the night before the wedding at Ebenezer’s pub.
I loved that my nephew gamely tried to help with a torn quad muscle, and that my brother-in-law was able to step in and deal with our music situation.
I loved that Erik’s sister Carol lent me her diamond earrings so I had something borrowed, and his mom gave me an antique ring so I had something old. (My shoes were blue and the dress was new.)
I love that in almost every picture I’ve seen that I am literally beaming from ear to ear. (I worried that I would cry hysterically all day.)
I loved our post-reception campfire by the lake, under the stars, with s’mores.
I loved that so many people were understanding about needing to move the ceremony up due to my dad’s illness, especially those folks who couldn’t make it due to their own health issues or prior commitments. I loved that despite the fact that we threw the wedding together in three short weeks, it didn’t feel that way.
I love that we get to call each other husband and wife now.
I especially love this picture: