Sorry, everyone, for the long silence. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I promised myself I wouldn’t write until I could be reasonably sure I wouldn’t be immediately interrupted. We spent most of last week in Texas, because on October 21 my father passed away. Even though we knew he had cancer and this was possible, it was not expected at the time or in the way that it happened, so it has still been a bit of a shock.
The Thursday before he died, Dad was feeling really well. Then he started running a slight fever, which, because of the chemo, meant he had to go to the hospital. They kept him over the weekend, and I last talked to him on Saturday. He sounded good and was watching the Texas-OU game. I didn’t call Monday or Tuesday to see if he was out of the hospital yet, and on Wednesday Mom called me.
When Mom left the hospital Tuesday night, Dad was fine. He had not gone home yet because his white cell count was low, and when it got back up, his platelet count was still low. Wednesday morning the hospital called Mom to tell her that Dad had had a fall during the night, and was now in the ICU. She rushed over, and found that the hospital staff had spent most of the night trying to get Dad back to consciousness and figure out what was wrong. This went on until around 2:30 in the afternoon, when he let go with my Mom, his brother, and his brother’s wife and daughter at his side.
I missed Mom’s call the first time, but something (my angel?) told me to check the cell phone just a few minutes later, so I talked to her before they had even finished taking out all the tubes and IVs and such. I took the girls outside and we waited for Craig. (Actually, I called several people to try and tell him not to go to his Campus Ministry meeting, but it had been canceled anyway.) I must have explained to Lucy twenty times that Grandpa had died while I pushed her on the swing. I think that helped it sink in, having to say it over and over to her.
Well, we packed up and went to Baton Rouge and Craig’s parents’ house for the night, and then drove on to Fort Worth Thursday. We were able to see Dad that evening, then he was cremated and there was a graveside service the following Wednesday. We think there were between seventy and a hundred people at the service. Apparently that is a lot, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to, since I had never even been to a graveside service before. For some reason, my parents thought they could sneak their funerals by without anyone noticing. My dad taught almost everyone in our town, and two and even three generations of some families. Sneaking by was really not possible. The ladies at St. Peter’s put on a nice lunch for the family and a few of our friends, and the next day we drove back to Baton Rouge. The girls and I stayed there, while Craig went back to N.O. for school on Friday, then joined us in B.R. for a baby shower, birthday party, and Trick-or-Treating. And finally we are home again, the house is back in some semblance of order, and life is returning to “normal”.
Those are the basics of what happened, but there was so much more. The outpouring of love, plants, prayers, and food was nearly overwhelming. (And thank you for all those things!) Knowing how much my Dad was loved and respected is wonderful, but in some ways I think it makes it even harder to miss him now, and to wonder if I appreciated him while he was here. Believe me, it’s hard to write, or even think, anything of substance without tears. There are a thousand little things to miss. I know I haven’t even discovered so many of them yet.
I wrote down thoughts as all this was going on, on a note card which I’ve pinned to the bulletin board above the computer screen. They are some of the things I’ll be thinking about and working out over the coming weeks. But the most glaring thing I’ve noticed is, how can anyone grieve with little children around? When they aren’t keeping you busy with diapers and other basic demands, they are snuggling, laughing, and doing outrageous things that keep your mind from wandering. There is little room for moping, or sitting and thinking. I’m having to devise a new way of grieving, both for a new kind of loss and a new situation. It’s different. I feel almost guilty for the hours I spend without a thought of my Dad, and the joy that wells up so often in spite of what I think I “should” feel, but the moments of realization are strong and effecatious. I’m sure that is the wrong word, but I can’t think of anything closer. And I remind myself that maybe now Dad’s enjoying watching Samantha walk (which she started doing in earnest in Texas), and Lucy run and laugh and learn more than he ever could here on earth.
And I question why I ever wanted to be so far away from my family, what pride made me think I was too good for my hometown and needed a bigger, better place.
Meanwhile, Samantha is walking. She’s a different baby (toddler!) from when Dad last saw her. Craig got a part-time youth ministry job in B.R. at his parish from high school, St. Jean Vianney. Which means our ends really do meet again, and our schedules will be getting tighter. The JustFaith group I was possibly going to lead fell through, which in light of Craig’s new job may actually be a blessing. Life goes on. This might be the hardest part to deal with so far. The world doesn’t stop when someone dies, even someone very special and very important, at least to me. My girls keep growing, the boys Craig teaches keep being boys, bills are still due, Fall keeps marching towards Winter. The Saints keep winning. We still need groceries and diapers and soap. And tomorrow is Samantha’s first birthday. It is difficult to keep it all in perspective, or even to hold it in (or near) my mind all at once.
So for now, we press on. It seems anti-climatic, and maybe it is. Where is the climax to this story? Where was the climax to Dad’s story? I’m not sure he thought he had even reached it yet. Do our stories even fit the narrative structure we learn in literature classes? Maybe it’s not the building to a climatic moment, but rather the small, quiet nows that make up a life. The story might not play well on screen, but it wasn’t designed to. It was designed to play in a human body, in a family, among friends and a community. There is an online guestbook attached to the obituary in the newspaper, and there are so many people who commented that Dad touched them as a teacher or principal. They were just small moments for him. But clearly each of those small moments, each of those few words, each of the smiles he gave so generously made a difference.
If it is the small moments that matter, I have a lot of work to do. If our magnum opus is not so much a single tower as a meandering pathway made of small, carefully laid bricks, I must be much more careful how I make breakfast in the morning, how I speak to my girls, how I welcome my husband home, how I treat the lady working the check-out. Merton, among others, speaks of focusing on living in the “now”, being present to the people and situations around us at a given moment. That seems especially hard right now, but also especially important. I can’t change anything I said to my Dad, no matter how much I dwell on it. But I can still decide how I treat people today and tomorrow and the next day. I can make them feel special and important like Dad did for so many of his students.
It’s good to write, even if it gets to be rambling. I don’t realize what I’m thinking sometimes until I see it on the screen, and there it all works itself out. It’s a strange way to think. But anyway, thank you for your patience, and especially for your prayers. Please keep praying for me and my family. We are missing a large part of our selves right now. But I don’t doubt that the prayers help. I know that they are that little push I get when I need it most these days. So thank you. Believe it or not, I don’t have anything else to say!