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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How are you?

A while back a friend inquired, “Has anyone asked you any stupid questions?”

After the conversation, I was still left lingering on the thought.  In general people make statements and ask questions which may come across as stupid, when really it’s with good intentions or out of complete ignorance.  I know I am guilty of this at times too, we all have been there.  When it comes to sensitive topics, these stupid questions can come across as insulting and evoke strong emotions.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to brush off some comments and find the humor in them.  There is always one question I get stuck on and don’t know how to answer.

“How are you?”

This usually simple question has a much different meaning to it when people look at you with their head already tilted to one side and a worried frown on their face.  My mind frantically looks for a reasonable reply and I wonder if I should state my mood right in that moment, or an average of the past day or week?  I give a thoughtful pause but really it’s to internally criticize my own response before it escapes my mouth.  I don’t want what I say to be too positive and have someone judging me for being happy or too negative and risk they might think I’m not handling things well.

“How are you?”

Does someone really want to know it’s a struggle to drive in the car alone with your thoughts at times, that for some reason those are the moments when the regrets become their strongest?  Is it okay I have had fun days full of laughter and smiles when I have been present in what’s happening in front of me?  Should I tell people there are lapses in time when I have been completely numb and have proven to be ineffective at everything?  When is the appropriate time to say I haven’t been able to keep myself together when my daughter is full of sorrow and I cannot possibly fix what she needs fixed?  Is it unhealthy for me to have times when I think I am accepting and other times when it is unreal, it didn’t happen and it’s not true?  Do people want to know I can be fine one minute and completely loose my mind in a sobbing mess all while washing dishes?  Is it alright to tell someone “I was great until you asked and made me think about it”?

“How am I?”

Dad passed four weeks ago today, how I am is existing moment to moment.  Sometimes I am good and sometimes I am really not.  There isn’t really a consistent progression of things getting easier, one day may feel less emotional and the next day feels as raw as the day he passed.   The truth is I don’t know how I am doing, I know I am doing the best I can and things will be okay.

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My Father, My Friend

Early yesterday morning my dad passed at home in his sleep, he had been ill and fighting for his life for the past year except we didn’t know how quickly it would take him from us.  How unfair it had been for him to get sick right at the time he should have been celebrating his retirement and living well-earned carefree years traveling with Mom.  I keep thinking of other things I wanted to tell him, words I wanted hear from him one more time and other ways we would have handled things if we weren’t acting out of a paniced fear.  My Dad and I knew each other in a way no one else on earth could relate to and I can’t think too long about how lonely life will be now without his connection.

I knew he was dying, I could see life fading away and I felt helpless to know there was nothing I could do to take the agony away from his body.  He pushed his body past it’s limits while bones collapsed and broke with no effort at all.  Dad’s steps became slower, his body weaker.  Towards the end he was sleeping more and eating less each day.  I knew he was dying, I could see life fading and I still believed I had more time.  His appearance became more fragile, he avoided having visitors because he didn’t want others to see him and remember him so sick.  For months I avoided being physically close to him when I came to the house, afraid I would unintentionally infect him with germs and make him feel even worse.

In the past few weeks I returned to giving him kisses on the forehead or cheek when I said goodbye.  Being so close, I could feel his bones protruding through his face and still I wanted to believe he would rebound, this would not be his fate.  I realize now our final interactions were my last goodbye.  If I had known, I would have stayed for longer. I would have told him I’m okay with him going because I don’t want him to be in pain.  I know he knows this now.

There are moments when peace calms the house and I feel reassured, Dad is not in anymore pain.  He is not suffering.  Our family is together now and connected by hugs, holding hands and laughter.  Then there are waves of grief which catch me off guard and squeeze the air tightly from my lungs, how did we get here to this point, how could this have happened to him?

Seeing how family and friends have responded in the last day has made me observe I am not the only one who has a unique and special connection to my dad.  It’s both comforting and distressing to recognize how influential my dad was to so many people.  He taught life lessons, was an example for how to be genuine to people and a devoted husband, father, brother, uncle and friend.  His cancer spread to impacting the lives of so many who loved and respected my dad, the grief is widespread.

In one of the moments of calm yesterday, I looked through the photos on his cell phone.  As predicted there were pictures of his grandchildren, of him with my mom, of his motorcycle travels with his brother, of the only cat he says ever loved him “Mozie,” and of the countryside in Italy where he took his last international trip.  Some pictures made me sob to see the joy on his face and the love in his eyes, knowing I wouldn’t ever see this in person again.  Then one image seemed to stand out from the rest, a heaven sent message from my dad for exactly this moment.oksign.jpg It hurts so much right now to think about him being gone and I know down the road everything is going to be okay, even if I can’t see it or feel it today.

Reflections Fit For Father’s Day

That’s me and my dad (1982). You will see not much changes, he still wears the same mustache.

I have an older brother and a younger sister, none of us look a thing like my dad.  We are all three reflections of my mom and her side of our family.  My mother is beautiful and looks the same now as she did in pictures from twenty years ago, except better because she is without a helmet perm and enormous eye glasses.  She is incredibly kind spirited and generous to all living things.  She is bursting with creativity and is more motivated to follow-through on tasks quickly than anyone I have ever met – which easily demonstrates why she has been so successful in her own interior design business.  My siblings and I have observed these characteristics in her and have absorbed parts to benefit us each in unique ways.

For better or for worse, feel like I am the only one in my family who has acquired some personality traits from my dad.  So, in honor of my dad on Father’s Day – here goes…

*HUMOR*

I’ve always heard stories about my dad’s dad and his family of brothers, my grandpa passed away before I was born although I feel I know him from these memories shared.  My grandma told me while she was dating him she would eat at his family’s house for dinner and her stomach would ache the next day from laughter.  She talked about how each brother would seem funnier then the next and how his mom would top them all with her punch lines.  I can almost imagine the scene, the sarcasm and the ridiculousness.

The Mady Brothers. My grandpa is the handsome one, third from the left.

At our family dinner table I know when my dad is about to tell a joke before he even opens his mouth.  So I find it exceptionally entertaining when I can make him laugh or encourage him to be gullible in an outlandish tale.  Part of what makes my humor is how people don’t suspect it from the sweet look I got from my mom.  I can make a silly request or develop a whole unbelievably, outrageous story leaving the other person looking dumbfounded before they question my innocence.

About to ride The Tower of Terror 1995. Looking so cool – Dad in his member’s only jacket and me in tapered jeans.

*ADVENTURE*

My mom, brother and sister are perfectly content  staying with their feet firmly planted on the ground, and without risk or fear.  My dad and I are not.  My dad and I rode roller coasters on family vacations while the rest faked illness for a seat on the park bench.  We took scuba diving lessons while the others were beach bound.  He escorted me and my friend’s to haunted houses before we were old enough to drive ourselves. And while my family came to support and watch me skydive, I think my dad was slightly jealous to not be strapped to a parachute too.

Without my dad being at my side through the early adventures, I may not have gone on to pursue my own later – canyoning, paragliding, river rafting etc.  Don’t get me wrong, some of these risks have been terrifying to me.  It’s overcoming the fear for the adventure which makes it exhilarating and worth it every time.

*QUESTIONING*

My dad always wanted us to think for ourselves.  Sounds like a great thing for a parent to want to teach their children, except if you are the child and you just want to know how long before we stop.  And what you get in response is “Well, we are driving at a rate of 68 miles per hour and have another 150 miles to go.”

As a double major in biology and chemistry it was important for him that we didn’t just get answers, rather  we would know how to solve the problems.   This would lead to thinking outside the box and questioning what was already known.  Around middle school or high school age I began to understand from my dad there is a lot more happening in the world then I would get from public education.  I gained confidence to speak my mind, ask direct questions and point out what didn’t make sense to me in school, at the workplace and in general.  It’s not always cool to be the one who is trying question the flow of the popular opinion.  Being cool isn’t important to me though, I would rather not conform back into a box.

I am an extremely lucky individual to have the parents I have, who have supported me so much in life, and who have blessed me with the inherited and learned characteristics which make me who I am.  I love them both, and today – Happy Father’s Day Dad – I appreciate you in so many ways.