A Wink From The Universe

Since Holden was about 4 weeks old and began noticing what was playing on the tv screen, we’ve made a marked effort to listen to more music. This will not be a diatribe on Modern Parental Guilt and screen time or anything like that, but it just seemed since we were just using the news for background noise in those early days, it was just as easy to have music playing.

[Also, if I’m being totally honest (and if you are doing the math) November 2016 just wasn’t a super uplifting time to be watching the news in our country if you were already feeling overwhelmed. So. MUSIC IT WAS! And I’m happy to report, among others, Holden already has a healthy appreciation for everyone from Technotronic (WHAT??) to the Wu Tang Clan.]

Hey look: Here’s Proof! (He definitely does NOT dance like that when Lester Holt is talking about Donald Trump, I promise.)

When I got home on Friday night, I told Garrett we needed to play Sultans of Swing for Holden, and he happily obliged. On my way home from work I had called my mom, as usual, and she was excitedly detailing how she found the 70s Music Station on Pandora. Usually she just plugs in a song or an artist, so she was pretty impressed with herself for curating such a varied playlist and she had spent the day listening to The Doors, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits and thinking about good times with my dad back in the day.

“I hadn’t heard some of those songs in years,” she said so sweetly. My dad had been a MAJOR music enthusiast, and it was cute to hear her talk about all the songs my dad used to know and love and talk about.

So we popped in Dire Straits as Garrett, Holden and I had dinner and reminisced. That’s about as wild as our Friday nights are these days — listening to old albums as the sun goes down, watching our baby kick and punch and wiggle along to the music. It’s not as busy as it once was and we are certainly more tired (that may be the first St. Patrick’s Day where were in bed before 9) but I think that lazy, hazy feeling only contributes to how special everything feels. When we turn the lights down and the speakers up, you can almost feel the nostalgia right there in the moment.

The next morning Holden made an expression that looks just like my dad, as he does often these days. He has my dad’s eyes and his round face and the way he photographs sometimes it is just so bittersweet. I love it so much, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tiny bit painful every once in a while. My dad would have loved being a grandpa.

Sunday would have been my dad’s 63rd birthday and, hungrier than usual to connect with his memory, I posted a great Flashback Friday picture of him that my mom had recently sent on Facebook and asked for folks who knew him to share their memories with me. For most of the weekend the stories kept rolling in and I was so touched by the tiny things people remembered and shared.

Facebook 1

On Sunday night, after a long day, I was scrolling Facebook in Costco while waiting on a pizza (#ParentLife) and a new comment popped up from a relative who lives far away and my jaw just dropped as I read it:

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I don’t know how to explain those things, or what it all means in the big scheme of things, but what I do know is that those little winks and nods from The Universe keep me feeling connected to him. It felt so good, but as I sat there I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Of course I felt like my dad was right there just beyond my reach and that immediately made me sad. But knowing my dad, somewhere in the back of my mind I could just hear him belly laughing and saying — “Mark my word, that little grandbaby of mine is NOT going to grow up to be a Justin Bieber fan.”

:)

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59

“My father is the standard by which all subsequent men in my life have been judged.” – Kathryn McCarthy Graham

During the summer of 1998 my dad gave me a small book of quotes and poems called The Love Between Fathers and Daughters. He signed the inside of it, I put it on my nightstand and beyond that, I’m not sure I gave it much extra thought. I was 19, I had a lot going on at the time — my friends and boys were very important — but even at the time I did think it was a sweet gesture.

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In August of 1998 he passed away and it became the last note he ever wrote to me that I kept. It goes without saying I pay a lot more attention to it now. I see how our handwriting is similar and it reminds me that he was always thinking of me. His only child, I was always at the center of his universe, and there was a comfort that I carried with me daily because of that relationship we had that I didn’t even realize was there until it was gone.

Holly and Dad 2

It’s been 15 years since he’s been gone and today he would have turned 59. There is part of me that mourns his loss a bit every year on this date, and this year will certainly be no different. But also today I find myself thinking more about how grateful I am for the bar that he set in my life. He was a spectacular athlete who made a successful career in the NFL when everyone told him it was impossible. He was a family man who never let a day go by without telling the women in his life that he loved him. He had the kind of smile and infectious laugh that you could hear from all the way down the street and he was willing to share it with anyone would listen. He was a loyal friend and the type of guy you could count on no matter what because he believe at the very core of his being that one should always do what they say they will do.
Holly and Dad 1
Also: He was my dad.

And while I didn’t realize it at the time, the book that he gave me about the love between fathers and daughters did capture something incredible. Some of us experience that love for many years, and others of us get shortchanged. But if you are lucky enough to still have it in your life, hold that close to your heart today, because I will tell you what, it is something that I have yet to find anywhere over these last 15 years. It’s irreplaceable. And while there is a part of me that feels sad about it, I know that who he was lives on inside of me every single day of my life. And for that, I really do feel grateful. Some days I am so grateful that it hurts.

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Goodbyes and Hellos

This is a very grainy picture of the house where I grew up in Fremont, California.

We drove by it Saturday night and despite the terrible lighting and the fact that we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us, I insisted on stopping to take a picture of it. This is the sidewalk where I used to play hopscotch. The street where I learned to ride a bike. That window on the right is where our two golden retrievers used to sit and stand guard, waiting for someone to come home with their noses sticking to the window. This neighborhood is where I made my first friends, walked to school and indulged my teenaged entrepreneurial tendencies by starting a little babysitting ring. It was a good house, and I lived there from the time I was shorter than our kitchen table until the end of high school.

My parents sold that house when I was 17. I went away to college and never really got to come back “home,” although they stayed living in the same town. A couple of years later my dad passed away, and though I spent a year living back in this city where I grew up, I eventually moved on to Los Angeles and then to Sacramento (where I live now) because my mom and grandparents had made their way up there. This year I will have spent as many years away from Fremont as I did living there.

I moved to Sacramento to go to college and it was somewhat arbitrary. I didn’t imagine staying long and I never imagined calling it home. But then of course I met a boy. And slowly but surely friends and family starting moving up towards our direction. I’d run into high school friends at my job, and see the parents of people I graduated with at the grocery store. More family moved closer, good friends moved away from my hometown to other cities and states, and little by little there were less people to go back and visit in Fremont.

My Aunt and Uncle, however, continued to remain there in their home of more than 20 years. In my mind, that house is filled with just as many memories as my own. It is where my cousins and I would have sleepovers, where we would run around in the backyard. As I child I remember it was the fun house with cable television and the Good Cereal. (Sorry, Mom. Grape Nuts was not that exciting as a kid. :)) And when they sold it about a month ago to move up to a little town about 20 minutes from Garrett’s and my house I was ridiculously excited! More family nearby — YES! But also, there was a part of my that was just a tiny bit sad.

No more family in Fremont.

Saturday afternoon my mom and Garrett and I ventured back to Fremont for a big friends and family BBQ and one last hurrah at my aunt and uncle’s house. It is so exciting that they are starting a new chapter, retiring, moving closer to us, and building their dream house. But it also tugged on the heart strings just a bit that this chapter of my hometown was being closed for good. I grew up there. Many of my cousins grew up there. All of our parents grew up there. It’s where my dad made a name for himself, and where he died. There are memories around every corner, and now there will be no trace of us.

As with any goodbye, there is a little sadness. But when one chapter ends, another starts and that is exactly what we were celebrating on Saturday. There were family, friends and neighbors in spades all clinking their glasses to good things and good lives. Garrett and I did not resist the siren song of red wine as we thought we might, but after 32 days of clean eating and no drinking, it was a lovely day and occasion in which to imbibe!

All of us will miss that house and that town for sure, but we will carry the good memories with us as we all start our own families.

The Fremont chapter is over, but the book of our family is long and ever evolving.

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Time Flies Whether You are Having Fun or Not

The thing about time is that it just keeps moving. It doesn’t pause for anyone to get caught up, make their way or catch their breath. Every once in a while we stop long enough to do the math, count the days, sing Happy Birthday, note the month, marvel at years that have gone by — but even as we do it, time flies flies right by with no regard to your particular goals or agendas.

For me, today, 14 years have gone by. It’s a day where I always pause and note the passage.

The pain of losing a parent doesn’t get better. People tell you (and genuinely hope for you, I believe) that time will heal all wounds but the truth is that time is ruthless and unfeeling. And the relationship between time and pain is nowhere near linear. When it comes to healing, time actually fails quite spectacularly, in my opinion. I try and re-focus the sentiment in order to assuage my grief: Time does not heal all wounds, but it does allow you to find a comfort level with the pain. Yes, this sounds better. And in a way this is slightly more accurate, but it still doesn’t get to the root of the experience.

This week, as the date has approached and I have paused to feel that passage. I have again sought out a way for my mind to make sense of this experience. Of this loss. It’s a continuous adventure actually, trying to figure it all out, and the event itself is a tiny scratch on the camera lens through which I view every single day of my life. This year it feels very present.

We are trying to plan a wedding. We are taking steps towards having a baby. There is no way to get through these types of moments without being acutely aware that my father is gone and will not be a part of any of it. They are happy and momentous occasions, and to go through them without focusing on what is missing will take discipline, because no matter how you dress it all up, there will be an empty space where he should be.

But emptiness is not the only experience. I mentioned discipline, and the thing about this entire situation — this event that has shaped who I am in how I live — is that I am no stranger to discipline as a coping mechanism. In the past few years I have felt more motivated than ever to get my health in check. People ask me all the time how I stay so disciplined and I always struggle with how to answer. I hear on a regular basis, “How do you do what you do?” “I don’t have that kind of time or energy.” “I can’t be so extreme, but I appreciate that you are so focused.” And I totally get all of that. I wish I could tell you my discipline comes from a pill or a beverage or an inspirational quote pinned on a pinboard near you. But the truth is my discipline comes from a place of self-preservation.

What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning, or to get into the gym, or to eat strictly for 30 days like a crazy person is that one morning I woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast and watched my father collapse on our living room floor. I watched his lips turn blue and his face get puffy and the life slip right out of him in a matter of seconds. It happened in an instant, and from that day forward he was gone. No trace of our times spent together except for what has lived on in my memory. On that day he became a story. He became past tense. He became a bookended period of time.

Things change faster than your brain can process it, and this event for me that has left, among other things, an indelible drive to take advantage of my own life. A drive to make sure I do all that I can to make sure the hole I leave in the lives of my friends and family as small as possible. I am motivated and I am disciplined because it helps me compartmentalize my pain. It helps the world around me make sense. And it is not something that I would want to advise another person on. I am not trying to win at life, or prove that I’m the best or be an inspiration. I am just a girl who is trying to make sense of it all, and more importantly trying to make the most of her time.

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The Silver Lining

Today is my dad’s birthday, and he would have been 58. It’s hard to believe he has been gone for so long but I can honestly say that this has been a good year for me so far in the Grief Management category. I know that sounds silly. He’s been gone for 14 years and I’m still managing grief, but there it is. But today I don’t feel the huge pull of loss, as I have in the past. Today I am sort of overwhelmed with gratitude, so I’m going to make a right turn. Today, instead of talking about my dad, I think it’s high time I talk about my mom.

You see, my mom kind of gets the shaft around here. I mean, my dad has a category all to himself just because he isn’t around whereas I talk to my mom at least once a day and she has to share one with the entire rest of my family. Actually we were laughing about that this weekend.

My mom came into town on Friday and stayed a couple days, and while she only lives 30 minutes away it is so rare these days that we get to spend THAT MUCH TIME just hanging out. We had dinner at Roxy and there were cocktails and appetizers and goat cheese smothered burgers and great conversation. It was pouring down rain, but I am telling you nothing was going to dampen our Girls’ Night Out! Then we headed over to the 24th Street Theater and caught a performance of Legally Blonde The Musical and giggled until way past our bedtimes (Mom and I are early to bed, early to rise kind of gals!) and schemed about all of the cooking we are going to do this coming weekend in celebration of my Aunt’s birthday.

Saturday we got up at the CRACK OF DAWN, because that’s what we do when we hang out. There is never enough time so we always end up getting up at 5am and yapping and planning over our morning coffee. She went to CrossFit with Garrett and I since we had to squeeze our Open Workout and cheered us both on like it was HER JOB. And then we all came home and did some relaxing until she eventually had to head home.

It was such a blast!

And on a day like today, where I am certainly feeling the loss of one of my parents, I continue to have gratitude in the fact that the silver lining of losing my dad is that there is no one I am closer to than my mom. We’ve been through a lot together, she and I. Some very tough and very dark times, just the two of us. And our relationship reflects that — there is no one I feel more proud of, or more protective of than my mom.

When you are an only child and you lose a parent, and entire third of your family is gone. What remains is the kind of bond that can’t be broken by a disagreement or some petty bickering. We don’t take our relationship for granted because we know how quickly everything can change. How in an instant, one of us could be all that is left. And then there would only be one.

So when we have the chance to spend a weekend giggling, indulging and spending some quality time together, when we have the time to just hang around and enjoy each others company — I can’t help but think that my dad would recognize what a gift that is. And since it’s his birthday, I think it’s even all the more appropriate.

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Fight Gone Bad VI

When I was 18 a group of my friends and I got together for a girls night out and headed to some seedy piercing parlor in Oakland where we promptly needled ourselves into some fabulous new face accessories. For me it was my eyebrow, tongue and that weird little tab on the inside of my ear. What’s that called again? I don’t know but it hurt like CAH-RAZY and I did both sides.

Look it was 1996, don’t judge me alright. This was not the stupidest thing I did at age 18.

What I remember most about that experience — aside from how bad it hurt the next day when my dad used his needle nose pliers from the garage to “help me” remove the damage I had done to my face (he let me keep the tongue piercing because he couldn’t see it – HA!), and how stupid it was to spend almost $200 on jewelry only to be forced to remove it all the following day (that’s what you get for still living at home!) — was the expression on the business card that the piercing lady gave us as we all departed.

“It hurts to be beautiful.”

Despite the fact that I have grown out of my desire for facial piercings (let me be clear: I’m not judging YOU, I just don’t like them for ME) I still use that phrase every so often because it gives me a little chuckle. Mostly I say it when Garrett shakes his head at me on a 100 degree day when I am standing under a hot blow dryer or when I am staring myself down in the mirror plucking my eyebrows. But I thought of this expression again this morning as I watched the recap video of last weekend’s Fight Gone Bad festivities over at my CrossFit box.

Here are all of these people push themselves to their limits — doing things they didn’t think they could do, lifting things they didn’t think they could lift. Pushing themselves for 17 minutes of anxiety and pain. I spent those 17 minutes stressing about jumping on a box that I wasn’t sure I could jump on (20 inches! That is HIGH for me!) and had never successfully done for an entire WOD.

But you know what, I did it! And so did they! We all set out to have a good time, make some goals and GIT’R DONE! (Ha! I hate that expression but sometimes it’s so appropriate.)

And in the end, it HURT. LIKE. HELL.

But when I watched this video and relived that afternoon in my mind, all I could think of was — Hot Damn! It does hurt to be beautiful, and there are a lot of beautiful people at this gym. Inside and Out.

(And then I secretly thanked my dad for making me take out my eyebrow ring, because…really? It was not a good look.)

Notables:
My very advanced strategy – :28
The Pain Begins – 2:18
How it felt (the visual) – 2:32
What we looked like when done – 3:37

Oh just go watch it already!

ARCFit does FGB VI- 09/17/2011 from American River CrossFit on Vimeo.

Totally perfect song, right????

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The Sharp Knife of a Short Life

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Pre-season football is starting. Children are returning back to school. August 23rd is here and inevitably another year has gone by.

I generally allow two days of feeling sorry for myself:  his birthday and today.  But to say that there are only two days a year where I feel sad over the fact that my father is gone is laughable. Laughable is such an accurate word, but the irony of that juxtaposition of emotion is not lost on me.

The tidal wave of grief comes and goes.  Sometimes there is a warning, but often times it happens so fast that it destroys everything in its path. Once again I am left to pick up the pieces, restore my emotions, and try to rebuild.  It is arduous, but I have come to appreciate that I get better and better at recovery each time.

There is the X on the calendar today but it is mostly unnecessary. It’s a date that looms and before I was even consciously aware of it, there was the usual emotional foreshadowing last week that let me know it was coming.  It has become almost a physiological response, like allergies in the spring or a cold in the winter.

But this morning I felt a difference.  A few months ago  I had a moment.  And just like on that day 13 years ago when my life was split into Before and After, that moment changed things.  It’s not quite as dramatic as the end of a chapter, but perhaps just the perspective shift that comes with a new narrator in the same book.

Time spent together does not determine the effect another has on our lives.

I have reached that tipping point where I feel I am doing a disservice to the time my dad and I did spend together if I carry on acting as if my life is full of loss.  Had you told me this 5 years ago, I probably would have neck punched you. But today this idea feels like a light bulb illuminating the path to my future.

I’ve tried a number of new things this year: CrossFit, training for a half marathon, going Paleo. I’ve begun to get more serious about planning our wedding, Garrett and I have taken a number of necessary steps to start planning our family. And even though I have done these things physically without the presence of my father, he has been there.

He’s been there when I doubted myself.
He’s been there when I needed advice.
He’s been there when I needed a reminder to have gratitude.

Frankly, we’ve shared a lot this year.

To act like these things haven’t been real or influential just because he’s no longer physically here paints such a fading portrait of the 19 years we did spend together.

He has always been here.

Yes, there are reasons to be sad. And I reserve the right to completely break down around the unfairness of it all. But also, there are things to celebrate. And there is still wisdom left to gain if I can just be open to receiving it in a different way.

Losing a parent is the ultimate amputation, instantly cutting you off from a portion of your past and leaving a gaping hole in your present. But what I’m realizing today is the incision was clean. And for the first time in 13 years I feel like the wound is healing. There will always be a scar, but today instead of seeing the remnants of an old and painful wound, I see a familiar reminder of a wonderful time. Something that has given me character. A perfectly healed time capsule of infinite love that will always yield a good story if I need one.

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Self-Help Serendipity

On Saturday Garrett and I ran errands and then grabbed an impromptu bite to eat.  It had been a balmy day, and falling into a comfortable chair and sharing a cocktail early in the evening felt sort of magical.  As we headed out, bellies full and thirst quenched, I signed the credit card slip and was struck by how identical my signature looked in comparison to the memory I have of my dad’s signature.  It was a fleeting feeling but a strong one.  One of those moments that I have come to cherish where out of nowhere, for a brief, comforting second I’ll feel just the slightest shift in the electricity around me and know my dad is there. 

Sunday morning I woke up and was sitting on the couch in a sleepy haze drinking coffee when my attention was drawn to the bookshelf in my living room.  There are a few books on that shelf that belonged to my dad and I pulled one down because I thought I remembered his signature being on the inside cover.  It turned out to just be a pre-printed bookplate with “From the Library of John Woodcock” written on it in a loopy cursive font, and though I was disappointed I began to flip through the pages.  

The book was Hugh Prather’s There Is A Place Where You Are Not Alone and if you are not familiar with Prather or his work, you are probably familiar with his Saturday Night Live alter-ego Jack Handy.   It’s about as cheesy as Self Help gets, but there are a lot of great kernels of wisdom too.  There were dog-eared pages and underlined passages and it was wonderful to see the words through another’s eye.  I giggled to myself in spots in an effort to combat the lingering feeling of loss that inevitably bubbled up, because access to his complexity is one of the things I miss most about no longer having my dad around.  He was just so much than met the eye.

He was the definition of masculinity, yet he was raised by four women.  He made his mark on the world as a professional athlete, yet he was one of the gentlest people you could meet.  One of the most complex parts of his personality was that he was plagued by philosophical questions.  Though raised in a Christian household he explored other avenues of spirituality with a guarded curiosity.  He could quote bible verses just as easily as he could quote the advice of famous coaches.  He truly sought to understand the meaning of life so that he could act on it efficiently.  Shortly after he died my mother and I looked at each other and had the most hysterical laugh over the fact that at least NOW HE KNEW.  He finally had all the answers to those questions that plagued him, and it was honestly a relief.  It was the kind of dark humored full body laughter that brings such comfort in the wake of tragedy, and to this day whenever I ponder the magnanimity that is the human condition, I am always a bit envious of the fact that my dad knows how it all works.  It’s a shame that he and I will never have a drunken fireside chat.  

So as the caffeine perked me up, I curled up on the couch, eyebrows furrowed, and nodded my way through various pages of “deep thoughts.” When I got to the end of the book I read something that just instantly stopped me in my tracks.  It was in a section coincidentally about Early Deaths and I could almost hear my father reading it aloud:

You who have seen another go so quickly, close your eyes for just an instant and remember some moment when this loved one felt near to you and yet was physically far from your sight.  That feeling was not an illusion. You will see him again.  He has only left a little while.  There was a special work that required only him and, although you don’t remember now, you wished him well and gave him your blessing as he went.  His thanks for your understanding remains a warm and gentle place in your heart, and whenever you wish, he will support you on your way, even as you did for him. 

Cheesy self help or not, reading those words felt like a hug that I desperately needed.  We don’t sit down and chat — I can’t stop by to see him or call him on the phone — but when I connect with him, the feeling is not an illusion.  It was nice Sunday morning reminder that even though we are no longer physically close, every once in a while we can still sit down and have a little Coffee Talk.

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Alphabet: A History – (A) Advice

This is a series of autobiographical vignettes inspired by Dear Wendy’s series of the same name. The idea is loosely based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

All of my stories can be found here.
***

In one of my earliest memories my dad picks me up off the ground and throws me over his head. He is wearing a matching red Adidas track suit with black stripes down the side. It is the early eighties and this outfit is worn without a lick of irony. There are many Adidas track suits in my memories, actually. Also baggy mesh shorts, and soft heather grey muscle-shirts sporting XXL across the front. There are practice jerseys and logo’d sweatpants from just about every team my dad every played for.


Our garage contains an array of fitness implements — an incline ab-board made of shiny red leather, a pull up bar I enjoy hanging from and a bench press that is fun to lay on. A worn looking speed bag by his work bench has surely seen better days, but so have the hands that inflicted all that damage. There is an inversion table, and another medieval looking contraption in the middle of the room where one must wear gravity boots to hang upside down.  All at once they are the tools of the trade and the side effects of his 7 year NFL career. As I child I assume this is how everyone’s garage looks: one part home gym, one part work bench, one part archive of a suburban life packed neatly in matching boxes.


I am about 9 when my dancing begins to evolve into a more competitive outlet, rather than a social hobby. Since our rehearsals become more intense, my dad rearranges his equipment in the garage to assure I have a space of my own. My hot pink stereo plugged in at the tool bench, I am free to tap and twirl at all hours of the day. We spend hours together perfecting my craft, and while he is well qualified for the coaching job, I hardly believe this is how he envisioned using his years of hard won competitive experience.


You would never know considering the time he dedicates to my dancing. There is at least a five year window where he spends each Super Bowl Sunday driving my family up to a dance competition in a Sacramento Hotel that will be one block away from the building where I nail an interview and get my first real job 15 years later. Rather than join the other dads who are off at the hotel bar cheering on their teams, he stands in a banquet room cheering on Team Holly hoping all the while that I employ the breathing techniques he learned while playing in the playoffs.  He promised they would work when my nerves would try and take over.


Back at home his disciplined athleticism shows up while I rehearse. When I have trouble nailing a certain routine, he teaches me how to close my eyes and visualize. When he tucks me in at night we sit together and meditate as I see myself executing perfectly it in my mind. I will use this technique again and again to comfort myself in my adult life when the anxiety of something impending keeps me up at night.  “If you can see it, you can be it.”  When I confess that I am nervous about an upcoming performance, he tells me over and over, “What the mind can conceive and you can believe, you can achieve.” And I am certain he is one of the most brilliant men I know to dream up a philosophy that rhymes.


Of course when I lose my focus, he is right there to call me on that too. When I am half-assing it, he asks me if that is how I would do it if I were in front of a table of judges. Would that performance win a 1st Place Rosette? Or do I have something better inside that I’m holding back?  Being the smart-mouth that I am I tell him that I don’t need his opinion. “I KNOW dance, dad. You know football. The two are very different, obviously.”   I am annoyed with his hard nosed approach in these moments and I tell him I no longer need his help.


“Always be coachable, Holly or you open yourself up to getting beat. If you already know everything, you don’t have anywhere to go. Appreciate feedback in all of its forms. Show me someone who is defensive and I’ll show you someone I can beat. The person who is always willing to learn how they can be better, always has a chance to be the best.”


I’m sure I sighed and walked away rolling my eyes at the time, but 20 years later what I would give to have just one more piece of that advice.

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It’s A Happy Life But Someone Is Missing

I’ve been told I read a lot of depressing books, but it is mostly because I find many of them comforting in their ability to articulate loss.  Most recently I read Elizabeth McCracken’s book about her experience grieving over her stillborn child.  She mentions that death doesn’t just change your physical life, it changes the entire landscape of your life.  She acknowledges “that life goes on but that death goes on too.  A person who is dead is a long, long story.”
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This morning I went to the library and sat down to flip through some magazines.  I came across an article about Gwyneth Paltrow in In Style where she discusses her new cookbook (what doesn’t that woman do?) full of family inspired recipes.  The interviewer asked her if this process made her miss her father and her reply struck a chord.  Obviously I’m paraphrasing but she said something about how the saddest part of losing someone is when the memories fade.  And how when she thinks about her dad now, she thinks about how he wouldn’t know where to find her.  He doesn’t know where she lives and has never met her husband or children.  The family home that they shared is gone and that she sometimes feels more worry than sorrow because he would probably feel lost.  
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Right afterward I read a snippet in the new O Magazine about Meghan O’Rourke’s newest book The Long Goodbye, a memoir about losing her mother.  She says, “After a loss you have to learn to believe the dead one is dead.  It doesn’t come naturally.”
_________


Today is my dad’s birthday.  He would have been 57 and even though he has been gone for 13 years I am still learning to believe that he is dead.  O’Rourke is right, it does not come naturally.  His loss is something I have to remind myself of daily, and inevitably I do.  It has absolutely changed the landscape of my life in every way.  Grieving is this never ending drive down a long and curvy highway.  You get further away from the point of origin, but you never really stop traveling.  And no matter where you end up, it is always measured in relation to where you started.  
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The year following my father’s death I spent a lot of time driving.  I was commuting to a town 30 miles south of where I lived for school, then back up to a town 20 miles north of where I lived for work.   I spent hours on various highways in my cute little pink Jetta that I had bought all by myself 2 years prior, crying all the way to school and work, only pulling it together at the last possible minute so as to be presentable to the public.  Each time I opened the car door to get back inside I was overwhelmed by the weight of the sadness that waited inside.  
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McCracken says in her memoir that you can’t out-travel sadness, “You will find it has smuggled itself along in your suitcase. It coats the camera lens, it flavors the local cuisine. In that different sunlight, it stands out, awkward, yours, honking in the brash vowels of your native tongue in otherwise quiet restaurants. You may even feel proud of its stubbornness as it follows you up the bell towers and monuments, as it pants in your ear while you take in the view. I travel not to get away from my troubles but to see how they look in front of famous buildings or on deserted beaches. I take them for walks. Sometimes I get them drunk. Back at home we generally understand each other better.”

Shortly after my dad’s funeral my mother’s good friend Marilyn gave her some scalloped edged handkerchiefs, “For the land mines,” she explained.  “You won’t always see them coming, but at least you will be prepared.”  The land mines are always there, no matter how much time has passed.  And when they hit, it’s like a punch in the gut that makes you sob until you feel like you can’t breathe.  This year, one of the biggest land mines that I’ve uncovered was right there in the the library reading about Gwyneth Fucking Paltrow.  My memories are fading.  They are all that is left, and even they are no guarantee.  It’s not that I don’t remember who my dad was, but the little details are getting fuzzy:  how he said my name, the way he smelled.  I think I can remember them, but I can never really be sure.  And the fact is, I will never be sure again.

Uncertainty is just another part of the landscape of this journey.  Another chapter in the long story of the dead.

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