Category Archives: Love

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life


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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Why I Keep Garrett Around

H:  Babe! Come look at this guy I had a huge crush on in High School.  He looks so old now!  We don’t look that old, right?***

G:  Of course not.  Maybe he’s a big boozer now or something.  Be nice.  Was he a boozer in high school?

H:  Well, yeah, but who wasn’t?

G:  You weren’t. 

H:  Oh, right. 

I’d probably forget my own name if he wasn’t around.

(***Don’t judge me. You know you do this too.) 

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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.”

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.  

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.  

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.  

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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Be Where You Are

I know, I know two posts in one day — you hardly know me anymore.  I’ll explain it with this complicated series of mathematical equation:

Training for a Half Marathon = Lots of running
Lots of running = Lots of time with my own thoughts
Time with my own thoughts = Notes to Myself = Blog Posts

So that pretty much sums it up, mmmkay?

Anyway I had a terrible run today which sucks, obviously.  It doubly sucked because my run on Saturday was so awesome that I felt like I was finally getting the hang of this running thing.  I was having all these grand epiphanies, feeling pretty great during the run, and fantastic afterward.

Today, however, was the pits.  I was supposed to run 3 miles and only ran 1.5.  When I showed up to the gym all the treadmills were taken.  When I went back a second time my brain had practically given up before I even got on the damn thing.  

(Sidebar:  I think treadmill running is sort of equivalent to water torture, but right now it is a necessary evil so that I can fit in some training runs in during the week and not totally kill my post-work social life.  And by social life, I mean time I spend CrossFitting, running errands, cooking dinner, seeing my boyfriend, oh yeah and sleeping.) 

Life is wild these days, my friends.  

So where was I?  

Ah yes, a sucky run.  My run was so sucky in fact, that it took me just as long to shower and clean up afterward as it did to actually work out.  And I spent the bulk of that primp time beating myself up for having such a crappy run — reminding myself that I would never get anywhere with a performance like that, and how the hell did I expect to be ready to run 13 miles by June if I can’t run 2 without bitching out on a Tuesday afternoon?  

But then do you know what I realized?  I realized that I did not sign up for this half marathon to add another item to my List of Things I Feel Bad About.  Oh, and Newsflash:  Beating myself up is not going to make me run faster.  So eff all that noise!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately since starting CrossFit and taking on a few more athletic endeavors.  He was a great athlete and super educated about all this stuff that I am bumbling around and trying to figure out and sometimes I feel really sad that he is not around to give me advice or that I can’t call him like I wanted to last night when I PR’d on my deadlift at CrossFit (255 lbs baby…Holla!)  But I know he is around and supporting me, and every once in a while I can hear him clear as day.  And today in that locker room was one of those times.

Be where you are, he said.

Don’t beat yourself up for where you aren’t.  
Be where you are.  
Own it.  
Build on it.
And you will kill it. 

Yes today’s run wasn’t my best.  But 6 months ago I made a tiny change by prioritizing fitness.  5 months ago I wouldn’t have gotten up and packed my gym bag to bring to work.  4 months ago  I wouldn’t have gone to the gym on my lunch break.  3 months ago I wouldn’t have gone back a second time when all the treadmills were full.  2 months ago I wouldn’t have run on that treadmill for 25 minutes.  

Had I not taken one tiny, seemingly meaningless step forward 6 months ago, I would not be where I am right now.  So I am just going to be over here where I am if that’s ok with you.  Not feeling a damn bit guilty.  And 6 months from now?  Who knows where I will be.

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Faces Only Mothers Could Love

So Garrett and I have been together for five years today.  I was feeling a little sentimental about that fact this weekend and because we have a million photos of us lying around the house, I thought I would head over to Target and pick up some new frames because they were on sale (holla!)Obviously we spent the weekend hanging them, and let me tell you, if your relationship can survive hanging photos on a wall when both of you have VERY different opinions of what the correct procedure is for hanging said photos — well then, I think your relationship can survive pretty much anything.  

Anyway, as I was looking at some of the nice photographs of us that we were hanging it reminded me of a complaint that I hear from my mom all the time which is that we always take the same picture over and over.   And here is the thing about that:  we kind of do.  But in our defense it is mostly because we don’t hang around the house taking artsy shots of each other with our expensive cameras where we look simultaneously look gorgeous yet deeply in love.  We just aren’t those people.  We’re the people who have photo album after photo album filled up with the same off-centered couples self portraits with the scenery of our current vacation in the background.  And honestly, we are lucky if we can even take those pictures correctly.  Ahem, exhibit A:

But I’m kind of ok with that.  We are goofy, and un-photogenic, and have a hard time standing in one place long enough to try and look attractive and in love before we burst into giggles, or someone gooses the other, or eyes start rolling — and really it is SO EXHAUSTING TRYING TO BE PHOTOGENICALLY FABULOUS, MY GOD.  I need a rest just thinking about it.

That said, this year instead of a sappy post about love and happiness, I thought I’d give you this:  

Holly & Garrett — Celebrating 5 Years of Not The Same Picture Over and Over, Mom, Really.  I promise.

Year One:  This was on our first vacation together ever to Pajaro Dunes.  We definitely loved each other, but I’m not sure we had actually you know, told each other we did at that point.  Aw, just babies.  Don’t you think it would be fun to get married there (hint hint, Garrett)…ANYWAY…

Year Two:  Our second major vacation together up to Humboldt County — the prettiest stretch of coastline in Northern California, and I will fight you on that one.  Yes, this is an off-centered couples self portrait, BUT THEY ARE NOT ALL LIKE THIS, I SWEAR.  

Year Three:  See I told you they aren’t all like that.  Apparently sometimes they are off-centered tongue in ear portraits.  Garrett may or may not have been questioning what the hell he had gotten himself into with this crazy chick at this point.

Year Four:  Because sometimes love just makes you want to jump off the end of pier, am I right?  Tell me I am right, people.  

Year Five:  Finally this year we got our act together and just had some professional photos taken, because as evidenced we certainly were never going to get a shot like this without some serious intervention.  This is one of the pictures I framed this weekend, and I can’t say enough fabulous things about the photographer who took these.  She definitely captured the best versions of us, and that is a hard task to do! 

But as I look back over these years of good memories, and silly faces, and badly centered self portraits, there is no doubt in my mind that the best parts of this relationship are rarely this polished.  And that is the thing that I am most looking forward to celebrating today.  

Here’s to many more years of un-photogenic, yet picture perfect love! 


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Happy, Indeed

I am 32 today which — I don’t know — just seems so novel.  So adult, really.  I feel like I’m pulling the wool over someone’s eyes a bit. 

In my mind there are parts of me that still feel like I’m about 21 and still wide eyed and trying to figure life out.  But then again every once in a while that little old lady inside of me comes out a bit too.  In fact tonight we are celebrating my birthday dinner at our favorite sushi place because I have a Groupon.  Holla!  Yep, I’m excited that not only do I get to have my favorite sushi, but with a coupon.  Ok, that little old lady probably comes out more than I would like to admit these days.

The other night I realized that when I met Garrett I was 25 and he was 22!  “We were just babies!” I told him, “You were barely legal!”  But it feels nice to have found someone to grow up a bit with.  I love that our relationship still has the newness and excitement that it did when we first met, but we also have 7 years of history together.  We have figured a lot of life out just the two of us, and that feels increditbly comforting. 

I recently rescued some old family home movies from my mom’s garage and transferred them from 8mm to DVD.  I had to wait 3 weeks to find out what was on them and if I’m being honest I was excited about them, but mostly I was anxious.  For one, it would be the first time I had seen any video of my dad since he passed away 12 years ago and I was a little apprehensive to experience something so emotional (and believe me it was incredibly heart-wrenching just to hear his voice again.)  But my other anxiety had more to do with seeing myself at around age 12 because ohmygod, AWKWARD!  Bad clothing!  Terrible hair!  Immature behavior! OH MY!  Why didn’t anyone tell me?  (Oh wait, they probably did.)  There really should not be any visual evidence left of anyone’s adolescent years, am I right?  

Anyway, so the other night I put in one of the DVDs for Garrett and together we had a good laugh.  With that 7 years behind us, he has not only gotten to know me well, but has become very well acquainted with all the members of my family so I think he was especially excited to see all of their awkward moments as well.  The 90s were such a goldmine of bad fashion decisions, I cringe, but it was hysterical to enjoy all of us at our silliest.  Well at least until I realized that we were watching video from 20 years ago and — OMG, WHERE DID THE TIME GO WHEN DID I GET SO OLD? 

One of the many home videos on the DVD from my dad’s 37th birthday.  His arrival home from work and subsequently getting the dogs all riled up and excited as he was wont to do.  My mom narrating as she filmed about all the fun things in store for the evening.  There was vido of him admiring the banner that I had painstaikingly illustrated in Print Shop and printed on our black and white dot matrix printer.  It was just a real slice of Americana, and it was so odd to think that this was our lives then.  Even weirder to think about was that on that day my dad was turning 37 — only 5 years older than I am now.  I can remember it so vividly, standing excitedly in my denim cutoffs and my Stanford sweatshirt — at the time I was sure that was where I was going to college (BAHAHAHAHA!).  

Then came the rest of the family, and of course all of it was on film, my grandparents showing up, my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Everyone spending the evening clinking glasses in celebration.  My dad was just so damn happy to be celebrating with his family, eating cake, cracking jokes, opening presents — and just being his normal happy go-lucky self around his peeps.  It was wonderful to see and remember.  Knowing the backstory, he had a lot of stuff going on in his life right then, but you never would have known it because on that night he was just so present and enjoying the moment of celebrating with the people he loved the most. 

That touched me for a million reasons that I won’t even get into, but the most powerful takeaway for me was that he was turning 37 that year — and sadly only 5 short years later he would be gone.  You just never know how long you have or how many of these precious and fleeting moments you will get to enjoy, you know?  And no matter what is going on, I want to enjoy those moments just like he did.  Today, even though I am a year older and it’s fun to whine about all of that, I am also trying to remind myself all day how lucky I am just to be here.  How lucky I am to have adorable coworkers make a big deal this morning, to have my family send cute text messages all day, to get emails from friends, cards in my mailbox, to have tweets and Facebook messages find their way to me, and to be having dinner with my favorite guy (WITH MY DAMN COUPON!).  This is a splendid life that I get to live and I don’t want to take a minute of it for granted. 

I want 32 to be a year of being present and grateful.  


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August 23, 1998

I will type this date over and over again today.

August 23rd.

It is a normal Monday around here, there is nothing particularly notable happening. I will go to work, I will see some friends. I will hit the gym and cook dinner. I will take a long hot shower at the end of a full and productive day and although it will certainly feel relaxing it will never wash away the memory of this day 12 years ago.

The memory of my father sitting outside by the pool in his blue t-shirt and shorts, breathing in the fresh air pondering why he felt under the weather. The way he walked into the house with a look of fear on his face. The way his 6’4 frame crumpled to the ground quicker than my brain could process what was going on, the way the hue of his lips and face changed almost instantly and began to match his clothing.


Panic in the abstract it seems like it would be this quick heart palpitating adrenaline rush, but in real life, though panic does lights the fire, it is a slow, steady and painful burn. Time stops when you evaluate the fact that there is a person at your feet who isn’t breathing. The seconds tick by as your protector becomes the person who needs to be protected. You assume this new role with every fearful breath your own body takes. Emergency calls are placed but it’s like talking underwater — these words that are coming out of your mouth are unrecognizable, you hear them, but they can’t be yours. This can’t actually be happening. In seconds there are strangers in your home, someone else is in charge. There are needles on the ground, sinking into the carpet. There is nothing quick about panic — time actually seems to be moving in slow motion, so much so that you become aware of everything. The smells and the thickness of the air become overwhelming, but the more you breathe, the more you are reminded that not everyone is so lucky.

 Being told my father was gone in a bright white hospital that had sunshine busting through every single window was like a joke with the most offensive punch line. His heart stopped, there was nothing else we could do.  They call Time of Death and it feels like a bad television show.  I look at the clock and recognize it as the same clocks from elementary school.  I wonder if they all order from the same catalog.  I am clinging to anything familiar.  We sat side by side, my mom and I, in a sad little office in leathery uncomfortable chairs as we listened to the doctor.  Here is a pamphlet that explains what happens next.  I feel sad for whoever has to write those pamphlets.  Knowing their work is going to reach people when they are at their worst.  It’s thankless.  The hospital will store the body until you can make funeral arrangements, do you know who you are going to call?

The body.

I wonder how they can call him a body while my mom crumples beside me, the second crumpling parent I’ve seen today. It is freezing and I am overwhelmed by the smell of chemicals. I am 19 with my whole life ahead of me, yet I can’t even fathom what life will look like anymore in this moment. Do people often know who they are going to call in these situations? I can’t imagine people carrying around funeral home information in their purse, but maybe I am wrong.

Though I would like to believe I am, and have spent hours trying to convince others, I am not an adult. And today, I finally realize that. Today I woke up as a child, but that chapter has been slammed shut without my consent and all of that is now changing. You cannot remain a child when you have to leave one third of your family in this cold, dead environment, knowing that you will never see him again.  You cannot remain a child once you have experienced this kind of loss. 

How do you go back to the house that is filled with him – with his warmth and his laughter, with his hamper full of just worn clothes and his pillow that still smelling like him? What do you do with his cologne on the bathroom counter, the one’s he let you pick out because you were his little girl and he always wanted your opinion? How do you look at his handwriting all over notes that he has left to you and left to himself? Notes that were once reminders and are now some of the only reminders left.

How does one do this at the age of 19?


For starters she puts her mother back in the car and drives her back home to the house. She puts one foot in front of the other and picks up the one remaining needle on the living room floor. She stops to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and to cry at the devastation. She gives hugs and gets angry. She protects her memories as she falls off to sleep each night. She sees family and sees friends. Eventually she goes back to work. She hits the gym and she cooks dinner. She takes long, hot showers at the end of productive days.

But twelve years later, she still wakes up and can’t believe that he is gone.


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A Reason to Eat Cake

He was the first man to hold my hand.
He was the first man to kiss my forehead.
He was the first man to protect me from harm.
He was the first man to call me Princess. 
He was the first man to tell me he loved me. 

He taught me to be humble while still having confidence in myself.
He taught me to be coachable instead of defensive.
He taught me to be silly and to laugh, most often, at myself. 
He taught me how to catch.
He taught me to include everyone because it doesn’t feel good to be left out.
He taught me that integrity is worth more than money.
He taught me that education can never be taken away from you.
He taught me to parallel park in a Suburban.
He taught me to live for adventure.
He taught me to be relentless. 

He told me that one day I would appreciate a cold beer on a hot day.
He told me I was smart, and I shouldn’t let guys take advantage of me.
He told me to follow my dreams whether people said I was crazy or not.
He told me I should respect my elders. 
He told me that one day I would be as beautiful as my mother. 
He told me that everyday was my masterpiece. 
He told me to always remember that family was the most important thing in life. 

He gave me the gift of gab.
He gave me a laugh that’s contagious.
He gave me unconditional love even when I was bratty.
He gave me lectures when I wanted to pierce my tongue and get a tattoo.
He gave me shit for loving New Kids on the Block. 
He gave me everything I ever asked for and never asked for anything in return.

He would love that I grew up to be a ball-breaker.
He would love that I graduated college like I promised when I told him I was dropping out. 
He would love that his nieces and nephews grew up to act like siblings. 
He would love that I FINALLY learned how to grill.
He would love busting Garrett’s chops. 

He would have walked me down the aisle with pride.
He would have hugged me tightly during the father/daughter dance at my wedding.
He would have been the world’s best grandpa.
He would have been proud of what I’ve accomplished.
He would have high fived my mom over a job well done.
He would have been my biggest cheerleader. 

He would have been 56 today.

Happy Birthday Dad. 

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