He Flies

I’ve kept this to myself for more than a year and at the risk of sounding completely delusional, I’ve decided to share my secret, I talk to flies.  Not so bad?  OK, it gets weirder…  I talk to my dad as a fly.  Yep, I warned you, now hold your judgement and let me explain.

I know a lot of people who see signs, symbols or animals and remember a loved one.  Most of the time I hear butterflies or cardinals, usually creatures with less filthy and annoying reputations.  My dad always wished he had the ability to fly and beginning with the day he passed it seemed he was communicating literally as a fly.  After battling a cancer that ate away at his bones, robbed his ability to move comfortably and provided a hellish amount of pain, he was finally free to fly.

The police arrived after his last breath before 4 AM, a fly flew in with them.  It was early spring and the first fly I had seen that year rested on the ceiling in his bedroom as I sat with my mom, numb from the previous year leading up to that moment.

fly-machu-picchuBreaking the empty silence,  “I still want to go on the family vacation we talked about,” Mom said.  We had been trying to keep my dad encouraged during his illness by talk of taking a big trip to Machu Picchu, a place he had always wanted to see.  We promised him we would all go when he regained his health, as we all believed he would.  The fly took off from the ceiling and circled around the room several times before landing again.  Half joking, I identified the fly as “Dad” and stated he was showing his support of us going.

Over the months that followed, I continued to have symbolic moments with flies.  Times when I was overwhelmed with sorrow, flies seemed to appear in the most unlikely or random places.  I didn’t associate all flies with my dad and there was some frustration within myself for even recognizing the connection an insect could have with someone I admired so much.  Generally, the disgust I had for flies and what they represented before, turned to comfort and humor when I needed it during the darkest moments of grief. An early fly memory was watching as the creature floundered in flight, wobbling like a drunk as if it were learning to fly brought a smile.  I lost my natural instinct to swat away flies and instead forced me to tune into the present in those moments they appeared.

Six months after his death, I dreaded my parent’s anniversary.  I knew it would be unbearable for my mom and I figured she wouldn’t want anyone around.  The hopelessness I felt during his illness returned with the hopelessness I had knowing there was nothing I could do to help my mom.  For the better half of the day I debated whether I should bring her the roses I knew my dad would have brought to her as he did every year.  I agonized, cried and could not turn my thoughts to anything else as I sat at my kitchen table confused.  Of course a fly appeared and circled around me, maybe out of anger he wasn’t physically present and my mom was suffering, I left for the opposite corner of the house to let my tears continue to flow.  The damn fly immediately followed and rested on the ceiling above my head.  For the first time in six months I spoke to the fly, to my dad.  “Do you want me to bring her roses,” I asked.  The fly left the ceiling and flew into my raw wet cheek.  “Fine Dad, I will go get them.”  I can’t imagine they helped Mom much that day, but Dad wanted her to have them.

Without hearing his words, the fly has been his form of communication to quiet my emotion, to remind me to breathe, at times to let me know his disapproval and more than anything to signal he is and always will be with me.  As strange as I know it is, I accept my bizarre connection to this six-legged, giant eyed buzzing creature.

This past summer my uncle also passed.  My cousin, sister and I all decided to get a tattoo for our dads, likely one of the last things they would have wanted us to do for them.  My uncle even told his daughters “tattoos are like putting a bumper sticker on a Cadillac.”  I guess I think of my body as more of a Volkswagen bus with a statement to make.  Of all the words or imagines I debated to use as a tribute to my dad, one thing seemed make the most sense.  The fly sits high on my left femur, the bone which broke on my dad’s way to being able to fly.

Happy Birthday Dad, the flies are not much of a substitute for being able to see you, talk to you and feel your hug.  I appreciate them either way.  You are free from pain and at peace now,  I miss you today and always.

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Teddy Bear and the Nightmares

babyWhile both of my parents are significant influences in my life, I have to give the majority of the child rearing credit to my mom.  Mom fed us, dressed us, bathed us, got us to school, chauffeured to activities, read bedtime stories, fixed boo boos, and knew all the details of her three children’s lives growing up.

There are some memories I have of my dad during my childhood which stand out, like the time I ran screaming from him when he asked to do my hair during a summer trip to Colorado.  It was in fact the first and only time I can recall him showing any interest in doing my hair and it was my mom’s job…  Or so I thought, until she pointed out how upset he looked at my response.  Remorsefully I agreed to let him try to which he responded, “Nevermind.”

My dad may not have been successful at styling his daughters’ hair, though, he did have a knack at resolving my childhood nightmares.  I had a reoccurring nightmare which likely stemmed from cartoon watching and stranger danger lessons in early elementary school.  To a six year old, the Care Bears being kidnapped was a wickidly frightening dream and one I would wake up from crying.  Whether from brilliant parenting insight or just an effort to keep me from trying to sleep in my parents bed, my dad reassured me in a way I found strength and confidence.  My dad told me to fall asleep holding my teddy bear up to my head and it would scare the bad dreams away.

It was a simple piece of advice from my dad and helped me sleep soundly through my childhood.  A few weeks ago I was fondly remembering how this memory made an impression on me when the realization hit me, my dad lied to me.  The teddy bear didn’t scare anything away, it was a false sense of security which tricked me into sleeping.  Now some people might say “so what, you got to sleep.”  Except my parents raised us with the belief and my dad maintains it is important to never lie to children.  He stands by the necessity of being truthful, not misleading with fairytales or disception.  Granted, this does not mean full disclosure to kids, there are times to limit topics into adult conversation.  For my parents it was important to set the example for always being honest.

In a quiet moment with my parents I broke the silence by asking my dad if he remembered this childhood advice.  I told him how I affectionately remembered the influence it had on me and my nightmares, he closed his eyes and smiled.  “It was a lie,” I pointed out, “The bear didn’t scare anything away, you lied.”  I felt so cleaver to finally uncover the one example in my lifetime where my dad was intentionally dishonest with me and hung to the thought for only a moment.

“It wasn’t a lie,” he said softly, “I helped you to change your perception so you weren’t afraid.”

As soon as he said it I understood what he meant, since a fear of a dream is unique from real danger.  The power I was given by the teddy bear wasn’t false at all, I was able to envision the protection it served me and it did provide me safety from my Care Bear nightmare.  The change in my perception gave me the confidence to control how I felt and what I didn’t need to fear.

Our conversation was broken up by a lab technician coming into the hospital room to take more blood samples from my dad.  He laid weak under the florescent lighting on an emergency stretcher, medical machines beeping with IV fluid being flushed through his body.  Dad’s skeletal frame had been deteriorating over the past six month, starting as a back ache escalating to full blown crisis.  Knowing what we know now, I wrestled with the guilt of thinking he just wasn’t trying hard enough to get well.

Dad was admitted to the ICU and the following few days were met with a whirlwind of doctors, blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, medicines and finally a bone biopsy.  For a man who had escaped injury and illness throughout his life, it was a nightmare come to life to watch him dependent on help from others.  My mom, siblings and our significant others rallied to support Dad during his hospitalization.  After an emotionally taxing weekend, we surrounded my dad when a doctor confirmed the diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

Six days after entering through the emergency room, Dad was sent home and began preparation for cancer treatment.  Taking advice from my sister-in-law to heart, I have not looked into the statistics of the disease and only focused my attention on gaining knowledge of treatment.  I am not naïve about his frail condition or the long road ahead, instead I am making a choice not to dwell in what we cannot change.  Dad’s advice of the teddy bear and nightmares seems to be relevant even more today.  By changing our perception we can develop strength and avoid fear, keep our minds open for opportunities and be confident about handling what the future brings.

My dad continues to reinforce life lessons and bring a positive influence into my life, as does my mom.  Through all of this, my mom has stayed the consistent caregiver.  She makes meals, helps dress, chauffeurs to doctor’s appointments, and maintains all the details of dad’s needs.  Mom even helps him with his hair.


For family and friends who are interested in knowing more about his diagnosis and treatment, Dad and I are keeping a journal to document the road to recovery on Caringbridge.  You can find him by searching his full name.

Urgent: Food Matters.

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“Saturday is going to be a busy day,” I acknowledged to my husband. We had just put my daughter to sleep and shared a moment to reconnect about the day and the weekend plans to get together with friends. “First the march and then the barbecue.” I finished.

“The march?” He frowned looking at me unsure of the reference.

“The March Against Monsanto,” I replied with equal questioning, wondering how he could have missed these plans.

“What’s Monsanto?” He asked, growing the frustration inside of me. First he was unaware of the March and now claimed no recollection of the company either?

“Monsanto? Really, you haven’t heard of it?” I said shaking my head in disappointment. “They are the largest distributer of GMOs.”

“Uh, what’s GMO?”

Exacerbated by the conflict in his love of cooking and his complete lack of food knowledge, “Genetically Modified Organisms.” I said just waiting to hear the next ignorant statement.

“Oh, that’s a good thing. I’m for GMOs.” And there is was, the uninformed opinion of a typical American food consumer. And so the purging of education on the food industry, Monsanto and GMOs began.

We all have to eat and we have the right to know where it comes from and how it gets to our table. Our health and lives depend on it and we need to be able to trust it is safe. However, as so many industries in the United States and the world are, this is a business of making a profit even if it means sacrificing the quality of the product. When it comes to consuming food, we need quality products.

Here are the quick facts you need to know about Monsanto and GMOs to be informed.

  • Monsanto is a company created in 1901 and began working with chemicals in the 1920’s. They are best known for their production and sale of Roundup for killing weeds. Their science in the last two decades has focused on genetically modifying seeds to make them resistant to Roundup. Essentially making the food crops able to be sprayed with toxic chemicals to prevent growth of weeds. Monsanto is the largest conventional seed company in the world and has control of over 90% of the produce grown in the United States, contributing to many of the products you consume on a daily basis.
  • Monsanto was the company responsible for providing Agent Orange to the U.S. Department of agent_orangeDefense during the Vietnam War. Monsanto claimed it a safe means to defoliate the dense forest and prevent guerrillas from using it as their cover. The direct result was over 500,000 children born with birth defects and the Vietnam Red Cross estimates up to one million individuals are disabled or have health problems related to Agent Orange. A clear example of putting profits before ethics.
  • Rat TumorA recent study published in The Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal used trace levels of Roundup in the water supply of lab animals, deemed safe and appropriate by the FDA and USDA. Rats developed large tumors, suffered premature deaths and organ damage. Other animals demonstrated reproductive failure including smaller/fewer offspring, great rates of infant mortality and even hair growing in mouths. For more on this click here.
  • GMOs have been linked to cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, Parkinson’s and other diseases. Click here for an article published by the International Journal of Biological Sciences comparison study.
  • If it’s really all true and it’s so bad, why aren’t we being protected from it? A rational consumer might ask. Well Monsanto has their hands in this too, dozens of Monsanto employees have been making their way back and forth from leading positions with the company to leading positions in congress, FDA, EPA, senate and more, establishing a substantial conflict of interest with the business of profit over the health of consumers. For a list click here.
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  • On March 26th, with pressure on the government to pass a new spending bill the Farmer’s Assurance Provision was carefully slid into pass as law too. It has become better known at the Monsanto Protection Act, preventing federal courts the ability to halt the sale or production of controversial GMOs.
  • While our government passes a bill of protection for Monsanto, 27 other countries have bans in place prohibiting GMO products while another 61 countries require products to be labeled GMOs.

Now that you have the information, here is what you can do about it:

  • Join the March Against Monsanto, Saturday, May 25th (TOMORROW). Drop everything and makemonsanto plans to be at a March, there are 372 taking place around the world and in a city near you. If you are in Kansas City the March Against Monsanto will be starting from JC Nichols Fountain at 1:00pm at the Plaza. For a list of cities click here. Tell your friends they must be there too.
  • Sign a petition. There are already over 2 million signatures of people who care about their food and want to protect the health of America. Click here to add your signature now.
  • Send a letter to your representative letting them know you don’t support what is happening with your food. Click here for a draft of a letter you can use and send immediately online.
  • Avoid Genetically Modified Foods. There are already hundreds brands and thousands of products in the grocery stores which can be hazardous to your health. Click here to find out how to shop and avoid GM products.

What we eat matters to our health. Spread the word and make sure everyone knows about Monsanto.

Lost Without My Mom’s

I hear a lot of women complaining about conflicts with their mom’s or with their mother-in-laws, and while any two people can’t see eye to eye on all issues I have to say I am eternally indebted to these two women in my life.  I am continuously amazed and appreciative of the love and support of both my mom and my mother-in-law.  Last week was another reminder of how I would be drowning without their help.

nanajacksonParker and I both came down with stomach flu-like symptoms, except her illness came first and included some diarrhea and mild fever.  When my flu came it hit me hard like a bad hangover only without the fun drunken state before hand.  I actually had to run out of a wedding reception to get sick and thankfully crawled my way back into the hotel room we reserved in the same building to begin my flu coma.  My mother-in-law had planned to keep Parker for the night to let us enjoy our evening as an adult couple, and despite my reservation leaving her in a not so perfect health I also knew there would be no better place for her to be than with her Nana.

When we finally made it home Sunday I quickly realized I was in no shape to care for myself and continue to clean up the messes in my daughter’s pants.  On Monday morning I alternated between resting and preparing to go to my parents.  It took all of my strength to get Parker loaded up and drive over to my waiting mom.  She played with, toileted, washed and fed my girl for the next two days while I faded in and out of conciousness letting the illness pass.  On Tuesday the symptoms of flu were gone; weakness from days with no appetite and great appreciation for my mom’s who helped me through the storm were what remained.

It still is astonishing to me how my body and my daughter’s body reacted to the same germs so dramatically different.  Parker sang and danced through her flu, while I could barely stand.  Is it a testament to her young healthy immune system and doing our best to protecting her from toxins for two and a half years?  Or is it a sign of my emotional stress taking it’s toll on my physical self?  Either way, I would be lost without the support of my mother-in-law and my mom and I am so thankful for them both.