Family

A Starry Night in November

November 17, 1991.

What was it about the air that day? Sharp and bright, laced with the scent of burnt amber leaves. The sweet promise of decay and death infused my senses, yet a bitter taste lingered on my tongue. Something wondrous and beautiful tugged at the frayed edges of my mind. Those worn gossamer threads were unraveling, and it chilled me to the bone.

Although 3,000 miles away, I already knew you were gone from this world. The moon and stars whispered to me as I crossed the dark field alone. Your universe has shifted, Dear One. I paused and looked up at the sky.

So much magic within that pause!

Standing over your grave, this air continued to fill my lungs, forcing me to breathe in spite of my urge to jump into the cold ground with you.

Why was the day we buried you so lovely? Why was the sun still there? How dare it burst through the clouds, igniting the caked soil on our feet with its dappled brilliance as we stood huddled and abandoned at the edge?

It was a fitting departure for you, Dad.

November was your favorite month.  It meant football games blaring in the background, turkey roasting in the oven, icy mittens melting on the radiator.

Now every year when November comes, the old familiar ache of dread begins again. First, it was a twisted knot of fear boring a hole deep into my gut.  Then for years only tired sadness would creep, casting heavy shadows in my eyes.

Finally, it gave way to something bigger than I ever imagined:

Peace.

For your luminance has roosted, nestled permanent and deep within my wounded heart. Keeping these bones of mine warm with the hope you’ll carry me through the many pauses yet to come.

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Family

Dear Dad

Part of a parent’s job is to make us feel safe. Comforted.  Accepted. Loved. Hopefully, this gives us the ability to venture out into the big bad world with little fear.

You did that for me. Thank you.

When I try to visualize your face, I see your smile and your twinkling blue eyes — like we’re sharing a secret joke no one else would understand.   “See? Life is funny!” you chuckle.  “Isn’t it ridiculous? Let’s laugh about it. It’s gonna be all right, Punky.”

You helped me to always find the humor in life. Thank you.

When I think of the person you were, I remember a quiet, intelligent, loving man who stood up to do the right thing. You always wanted to help others. No matter where their life’s path had taken them or their circumstances. You weren’t scared, you just did it. Actions speak louder than words. You weren’t looking for praise or attention. You did it because it was the right thing to do. You once told me, “Who knows, one day they might turn around and help you when you need it most.” What you put out there will come back to you times a hundred.

You taught me to reach out and help others. Thank you.

You gave me the power of having an open mind, to see all sides to things. You allowed me to discover my beliefs on my own, to keep questioning and learning while always practicing respect for another point of view. You taught me that being gentle to myself and others takes strength. Kindness is more important than being right.

You gave me the gift of compassion, trust and faith.  Thank you.

Compassion for others starts within. If you’re not kind to yourself, you can’t be kind to others. You will never resolve negativity you feel with others in your life — anger, resentment, jealousy — until you resolve those issues within your own mind, your own soul. The ability to love myself is crucial if I want to fully love and be open to others in my life.

You showed me to trust in myself. To love myself. Thank you.

Today  would have been your 75th birthday. And I know that wherever you are, in my mind you’re still chuckling, calling me Punky, and telling me it will be all right. And I know it will.

Thank you for everything you taught me.

I am the person I am today, I am the mom I am today, because of you.

Happy birthday, Dad.

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Family

Go On, Open It

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When I feel the darkness closing in, it’s hard to breathe; the crushing pain and tears threatening to break me into tiny little pieces.

Yet this rawness, this fear inexplicably opens me up, exposing my heart. I start to reach out again. I grab onto the positive, the light and hold it close. With patience and tenderness, I let it grow enough to warm my thoughts and soothe my worries. I choose to yield to its power.

I choose yes.

Will it be okay?

Yes.

Will the light always be there?

Yes.

Will love heal all?

Yes.

Yesterday, amidst a torrent of tears and sorrow, of endless doubts and fears, something told me to open the small gift under my Christmas tree. It was from my older brother, Daniel. I almost heard a voice whispering in my ear.

Go on, open it.

I raced downstairs and ripped at the silver paper.

“Oh!” I gushed, clutching the gift close to my heart.

Inside was my late father’s 1956 report card from Thomas A. Edison High School in New York.  As I unfolded the yellowed paper, I giggled in spite of my tears. He had received mostly Ds and Cs. The only classes he had high marks in? Math and photography.

Of course, these grades from so long ago mean nothing now. Mere lines on a piece of paper. They don’t begin to measure how he lived his life or the things he taught me about trusting in the goodness and kindness of helping others. These marks don’t even hint at the incredible man he was or the love he brought so many people while he was alive.

And the love he brings me even today in the face of stark fear.

I traced his name on the tattered slip of paper with my finger over and over, as if I could somehow summon his presence. I needed my dad. I needed to feel safe. I needed his love and his reassurance. I needed him to show me things would be all right again.

I flipped the report card over and underneath nestled in the wrapping paper was a DVD. It was old movie reel footage my brother had unearthed from 45 years ago, things I had never seen before. I popped it into the player and suddenly my dad was there in my living room with me again.

Within moments the grainy and silent images flickered and filled my TV screen: my dad and mom getting married,  grinning as they playfully shared their wedding cake; my dad, a young man in his late 20s,  laughing as he twirled his own mother, my late grandmother, across the dance floor; my dad, puttering around the yard on a sunny Saturday morning, joking and playing with my older brothers.

And through it all, there was my dad’s face, his blue eyes lit from within. Shining.  I remembered his laugh.  I remembered how safe I felt around him.

As I sat there on the couch, I felt his love speaking to me.

It’s going to be all right. Do not worry. Do not fear. I am here for you. I will always be here for you.

I love you.

And that’s all that matters.

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Signals from Beyond

When someone you love dies, you tend to wonder where they are now, if they’re still ‘around’ in spirit, that sort of thing. It’s only natural.

My late father was a big goofball, very funny, but in a dry-as-toast humor kind of way (explains my sense of humor, I suppose). Before he died, we used to joke with each other about him possibly haunting me. Naturally, I told him not to ever scare me or freak me out once he was dead. I know, such a strange conversation to have, but us Mainers aren’t known for mincing our words.

He promised me he would only haunt me in the funniest or mildest way possible. And only if I asked him to, of course. I was and still am Daddy’s little girl, so I know he would never intentionally freak me out in any way.

Still, I ask him for signs here and there. Not often, maybe once every few years or so. Usually, when I’m thinking about him or missing him, like when it’s his birthday or Father’s Day, I might casually ask him how he’s doing…hey, what’s happenin’, Daddy-O?…stuff like that. I tell him about my life and what his grandkids are doing. Then I test him. Ask him to show me a sign he’s heard me and to prove that he still exists somewhere. (I’m a Virgo, cynical by nature, what can I say?)

When I’m alone, I actually talk to him out loud. This is key, I think. And before you think I’m a bit loony,  let me say this: I loved my dad more than any other man on the planet, save my husband. He meant the world to me and to lose him was devastating, as it is to anyone who loses a parent. So, to occasionally talk to him, like he’s around? It’s a normal thing for me, a way to grieve, stay connected and remember him.

He’s been gone now for 21 years–today is the anniversary of his death–and whenever I’ve asked him for a ‘sign’, he delivers. In a way there is no mistaking it was him. He was, and still is, a clever guy. He apparently hasn’t lost his sense of humor, either.

A few years ago, my husband and father-in-law were helping my mother move from her apartment in another town to come live with us. I had silently asked my dad for a sign that morning. Suddenly, my phone rang and it was my father-in-law, a man who isn’t inclined to believing in ghosts or signs.

“Darla, this sounds crazy but….”

Long pause.

“Did you ask your dad for a sign today?” he asked.

I felt my heart stop.  “Yes, I did! Why?”

“Did he have a connection with electronics? Like, say…with fuses?” he laughed.

My dad was a typical father back in the ’70s. He was always puttering around the house, fixing things, rebuilding things. We used to tease him because he had drawers full of junky old fuses, odd and ends. Always ready to fix anything at a moment’s notice.  He’d wanted to be an electrician while in the Navy, but his color-blindness had ended that dream.

My father-in-law continued chuckling on the phone, “Because we got out of my car, went inside to help load up the U-Haul…. came back and there was this old-fashioned fuse that looked like it was from the old days just sitting smack in the middle of my car seat. It wasn’t there before and we can’t figure out where it came from.”

My dad struck again.

Another year, the day I had asked my dad for a sign, I was playing a video game with my then five year old son. After I won the game, he turned to me and yelled, clear as day, “Good job, Punky!”

“What did you just say?” I asked. A chill ran up my neck.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged and turned back to his game.

I hadn’t heard anyone call me Punky since I was about eight years old. It was my dad’s nickname for me. Even my husband didn’t know my dad had called me Punky. Say what you will, maybe it was coincidence. But I know it was my dad’s way of saying he was there with me.

There are loads of other ‘signs’ he’s left me over the years, too many to go into here.

This brings me to this year’s sign.  Probably the best one yet. Definitely the most unbelievable.

I always have a very difficult time when his anniversary comes up, so to fight the darkness, I asked my dad for yet another signal: “Hey, Dad. How goes it? If you’re not too busy, how about showing me a sign you’re still around again? This time, make it a really good one, so I know it’s definitely you.” I laughed to myself because I knew he wouldn’t disappoint.

That night, I had a vivid dream he was talking to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. At one point, I started to slowly wake up from the dream, still foggy in that bizarre transition from dreaming to waking, when I heard him say plain as day, in a firm voice, directly into my ear:

I will call you.

As I stirred awake, I heard him say it again and again a few more times. I was fully awake now, my heart pounding. Keep in mind, this is not a normal occurrence for me. I don’t think I’ve ever received a message from my dreams, especially one that vivid before. I usually wake up in a complete groggy state and forget my dreams within seconds.

I will call you. His voice still echoed deep in my mind.

Hm. I thought. He’s gonna call me? Ha! I’d love to see that happen! I couldn’t help but giggle at the ridiculousness of the very notion. I didn’t even tell my husband what my dad said in my dream. I shook it off and went about my day.

So I pushed my dream to the back of my thoughts. Later on that day, my husband was in the living room and I was in the bedroom. Suddenly, my cell phone rang. Which is odd because I have an old pre-pay flip phone and rarely use it. I have it for emergencies only. No one ever calls me on it, unless it is the school with an emergency about my kids.  I don’t think I’ve received a single phone call on my phone in over a year. I didn’t even realize what ring tone I had until it went off that night. Yet, there it was, ringing and ringing, cutting through the silence.

Neither of us made a move to answer it.

“Is that your phone?” asked my husband, laughing to himself.

“I don’t know, I guess. Who could be calling me? Where is it?” I yelled from the bedroom.

“I think it’s coming from your purse.”

“Huh. That’s odd.”

It stopped ringing, so I went back to reading my book.

About an hour went by and when I walked into the living room, my husband asked, “Hey, who was calling you on your phone anyway? Did you check?”

Oh, yeah! I walked over and dug my cell out of my purse and flipped it open to see who had called me on caller ID. I scrolled down to “missed calls”.

It was my own cell phone number.

Calling me.

Calling myself.

My cell phone called my cell phone? Is that possible?

“What the hell? It’s my own number?  How could my phone call itself?” I asked my husband. “Maybe a button was somehow accidentally pushed in my purse?”

Granted, neither of us was anywhere near my purse when the phone started ringing.

I stood there trying to figure it out. I decided to dial my cell phone number on my cell to see if it would ring (as crazy as that sounds) and of course, it went straight to my voice mail. How can a phone dial itself? I’ve had this phone for years and years and never once did it ‘call itself’. I was positive it must be a glitch.  Right?

It took several minutes before it dawned on me.

I will call you.

And you know what?

I think he did.

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Family · inspiration · reflections

The Breakthrough

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The helicopter overhead was distant–the propeller’s thumps a low murmur seeping into my mind, stirring up dread, thick and suffocating.

I stood inside my grandmother’s old house and gazed at the peeling yellowed paint on the walls and the layers upon layers of dusty photographs covering every inch. In one black and white photo, a young pig-tailed girl’s face beamed, sitting on her father’s knee, her face forever frozen in mid-laugh. In another– a girl in her teens, blowing out the candles on the cake, her father resting his hand on her shoulder.

A splintered mirror on the wall reflected an older woman. A woman now startled by the creases circling her hollowed eyes and the raw bleeding wounds dotting her scalp.  The wounds my mother gave me.

Hot red anger flashed as my fingers frantically tried to cover them with tufts of matted hair– but there were too many, they just grew and grew, and bled and bled.

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A soft breeze blew the front door open, rustling the photos about like leaves.  I shuddered as the leak of fear dripping in my mind ran cold. A rush of wind swelled and the hardwood floor beneath me groaned, each floorboard lifting one by one, rippling like waves. I turned to look out the window.

It was coming.

Lazers of red light pierced through the tiny holes and cracks in the floor, casting blood-orange spots around the room; the thundering pulse of the propeller almost on top of me now.

I opened my mouth to scream, but only a raspy gasp escaped my lips.  The photographs began to flutter and fall to the floor, forming tiny swirling tornados that danced and circled around the room; the blackened edges of each photo curling unto itself until each one disintegrated into a thin gray dust.  Vibrations rippled through me, my body nothing more than an empty shell as the helicopter’s relentless chant filled my ears.

whump-whump-whump-whump

Bracing for impact, I shut my eyes and turned away, the taste of choking dust filling my mouth. It was outside the window now–a spinning black steel spider hanging from an unseen web growing bigger and bigger until it was inches from breaking through the glass.

Suddenly, it stopped to hover, frozen in mid-flight; as if the web’s sinewy thread was pulled taut. I felt a hand on my shoulder. My breath stopped.

It was my father.

Dad. Dad!

Dad?

I searched his face, unbelieving. He was young again; his face smooth, his smile warm and knowing. A sparkling white light radiated from his eyes.

Don’t be afraid, he said without moving his lips.

I will help you.

Watch me. I’ll show you.

Churning back to life, the helicopter continued its path toward the window. I closed my eyes, imagining it tearing through the house, shards of exploding glass, wood and metal showering down, consuming me in flames.

Look, my dad said. Here, look.

I opened my eyes.

He stepped in front of me and raised one arm, his hand shielding me from the spider. In response, it reversed, the broken shards of wood and glass flying backwards with it.  The thundering pulse of the propeller a soft murmur again as the helicopter vanished into a small black dot swallowed whole by bright blue sky.

I sucked in the air and a sweet coolness spread across my face, into my lungs and down my spine.

Silence.

I was standing on the precipice of the tallest mountain. Below me, an endless sea of jewels, sparkling blue and green.  I drank in the beauty as it flowed through my veins.

I floated. I was free.

My dad grabbed my hand and smiled. We were back in my grandmother’s house again.

Do you see?

I looked down, wisps of my hair were swirling to the floor like feathers. I tenderly touched my head. My wounds were gone, replaced with pink skin–warm, soft and new.

I do, Dad.  I see.

Thank you.

I looked out the window and into the bright light.