I Miss Him: Holiday Grief


*** Note to readers: this started as a Facebook status update and I decided to post it here.
 Missing this Irish man today.
Dad's article
He died 11 years ago in the middle of the night, technically December 11 at 4 am holding my mother’s hand. But I always feel like this is the day he died since December 10, 2003 was the last time I saw him and had to say goodbye to the father I loved for 29 years. Death sucks, but it is a part of life. Trying not to get all existential, but perhaps I should take this status update to my blog or journal. But you see I miss him. I miss him, and as grief has numbed the loss – a hole that death leaves, gaping in concave fragments of the heart, a sense of longing has replaced this. This sense of missing him, knowing he is gone. I miss him.

I miss seeing the veins on his hands, crossed in a holding pattern on his lap, a cigarette always tucked puffing solo in his lips. I miss his morning silence and two cups of coffee minimum rule: “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

I miss him.

I miss watching his gait, heavy to the left, limping, shifting the weight in stride to his other leg — the leg I now know had significant damage from frostbite from Korea. I miss his odd sense of humor and his incredible intelligence. I miss how he could talk to anyone. I miss his pride. I miss his pats on the back and how awkward he became when I insisted on hugging him.

I miss him.

I miss the way he could pack a car, no matter how large with flea market finds. I miss his Cuban wedding shirts. I miss his scarves which he always called mufflers and reminded me to bundle up on cold Wyoming winter nights before I left the house. I miss his anger, sometimes dark and black. I miss his garden and the flower pots he filled them with — stacked in neat rows around the brick wall around our house on Maxwell. I miss seeing him peaceful with dirt in his hands.

I miss him.

I miss the way he wrapped his shoelaces around his ankles, tying them pragmatically in double knots as an old man. I miss his grey hair comb over. I miss his kindness and Irish pride. I miss smelling Corn Beef and Cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day. I miss the strong scent of coffee in the kitchen of our home. I miss having a hell of a hard time trying to buy him the perfect Christmas gift.

I miss him.

I miss his voice and his ability to speak only when necessary in a conversation. I miss his knowledge and the statistics he could whip out on any baseball team in this century or the last. I miss that he could give the biggest compliment to me through a third person like when he told my best friend Heidi that she had to make sure I write because it is in my blood — “Make sure Megan writes; she is a writer — a journalist a poet. She is related to Percy Bysshe Shelley, you know? Make sure she writes — it is in her blood.” I miss his smile, sometimes rare and sometimes wild.

I miss him.

I miss watching him read thick books and biographies. I miss startling him if I walked up on him unexpectedly, giving me a sense he knew fear in the strongest sense of the word and I miss the sense of relief he had when he knew it was me. I miss his car — a long maroon Lincoln Continental plastered with proud Semper Fi bumper stickers.

I miss him: John Shelley Miller, my dad — the first man I ever loved.

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War,

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War, He is bured at Arlington Cemetery.

My dad and his friend from Korea.  This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad and his friend from Korea. This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad around Christmas time 2002 -- his last Christmas

My dad around Christmas time 2002 — his last Christmas

My father had a poet's eye.  I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My father had a poet’s eye. I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

Fence

Fences: I send messages to my father through the birds. Cardinals deliver same day mail. My father loved cardinals and I can’t help but think he sends me messages back when they whistle by me. My yard in North Carolina is filled with cardinals. I see one weekly — at least.

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

Photos from my wedding

Photos from my wedding

Betty and John were special people.  Anyone that ever met them knew this.  They were storytellers and magicians.  They made people feel good.  Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold.  My magic - my love.

Betty and John were special people. Anyone that ever met them knew this. They were storytellers and magicians. They made people feel good. Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold. My magic – my love.

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Blossom


"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." - Marcel Proust

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love." - Washington Irving

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

The photo above is the fireplace mantle in my bedroom. The elbow in the orange plaid belongs to my husband. The cards on the mantle are some of the bereavement cards I received after my mother passed away.  I finally (very reluctantly) took down the Christmas lights that were strung across the mantle. I had a hard time letting go of Christmas this year. My mother passed away on Christmas Eve. In some strange way, keeping the lights up somehow made her not dead. But she is.

I knew I had to remove the Christmas lights from the mantles in both my bedroom and our parlor. The parlor is where we eat. It is the center of our 1880 Victorian home. Oak wood floors, curry yellow walls, my husband’s grandfather’s table that has seen generations of family meals, the cherry wood buffet with a pinkish marble counter top flanks the room on the southeast wall. My mother and I bought this buffet together at an antique flea market in Cheyenne called The Avenues. I loved that flea market. I used to go there with my mom all the time. She had a booth there. Betty (my mom) knew how to barter proper. She knew her antiques. I remember marveling at her when she would flip over a china dish or tea saucer and know exactly, right then and there, its value and worth. She would cross reference names and brands in her antique books.

I eyed the beautiful buffet, sliding my palm across the cool marble counter top. My mom smiled at me, aware of my interest. Immediately, without saying a word to her, she said, “Offer them $100 less, that you will pay cash, and that you will pick it up today.”  The buffet was marked down. Betty followed with, “It’s marked down. The vendor wants to unload it.”

Shyly, I went to the counter where the owner of the flea market was sorting tickets — placing vendors’ sales tickets into piles. “Hi Betty,” she said to my mother. They launched into a short conversation about what my mom had sold that week in her booth, doling out names of antiques and flea market treasures like a diner waitress does to a well-known menu.

“$400 cash and I will pick it up,” I said awkwardly. Betty stood next to me, quiet.

My beautiful redheaded mama I adore and love

My beautiful redheaded mama I adore and love

“Let me call the vendor. What is the vendor number on the ticket?” the antique shop owner said. My mom jumped in with a name, as she knew all the flea market vendors at the Avenues. The Avenues was located on a curving turn that arched to a left, right across from the Cheyenne airport. I had taken this curvy turn hundreds of times, as it also is a turn that takes you to Cheyenne Frontier Days Park.

“The owner of the shop verified Betty’s hypothesis — Betty’s gut instinct. Yep, the vendor wanted to unload it. I just got a deal, I thought to myself. How I love a deal. That is one of the charms and alluring pulls of flea market antique shopping. Bartering is where you earn your flea market stripes. I had just earned my first. Don’t get me wrong, I was a garage sale barter champion. Heck, I would barter for a shoelace if I could. It just came natural.

I felt the rush of the bargain. We arranged a time to come pick it up with my husband. He had the truck. He had the muscles.

My mom had a confidence to her that was unmistakable.  Most people felt very comfortable in her presence, unless you crossed her. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” she always said. Although she always gave people the benefit of the doubt. Her heart was large. Her laugh was larger. I miss it. I long for it. I wish I had her laugh recorded.

These lovely artifacts (antique books, trinkets, letters, objects) punctuated her life. They were just things when she was alive. Now that she is gone, they are maps of who she was. It is interesting what we take for granted when we have our loved ones live in the flesh and blood. When they are gone, physical objects sometimes act as sieves for our love for them., filtering the pain of the loss and acting as windows to transport us to memory — to love.

My mother’s ashes are on the mantle in the parlor. We are still waiting to hear from Arlington Cemetery on her funeral arrangements  The mantle in the parlor was flanked by two Santas my mother had given me and that were present at childhood Christmases.  Colored Christmas lights resembling brightly colored sugary balls — twisted, twined, and wrapped in fake garland — snaked along the mantle between the Santas and my mother’s urn. Well actually, the garland and lights rested over her walnut box urn since I was afraid if I put the garland behind the urn box, that somehow it would make the box fall to the floor.

I plugged in the lights every night after her death, sometimes leaving them on all day, well past traditional Christmas light season. It was my ritual. I would plug them in first thing in the morning and say my prayers and send my love to her. Sometimes I would weep at the mantle, longing for my mother’s words, embrace, smile, laugh. I talked to her sitting at our parlor table. I wept at the parlor table. At night, before I went to bed, I would unplug the lights and kiss the wooden box of ashes. I took down the lights last weekend and forced myself to take down the Santas that flanked both sides.

My February Memorial Mantle

My February Memorial Mantle

For some reason I can’t really explain, I knew it was time to take down the Christmas lights and Santas and embrace a new flower that is emerging from this loss. I am not saying I am hurting less, but the pain is less acute and more obtuse — surrounding me with its wide angle, enveloping me in sadness. A bud is emerging and flower petals are wrapped tight around the bud. Creating a cleaning space for my grief will provide the necessary sunshine to get the reluctant bud to open. The process of grief is not linear. I hopscotch back and forth between anger, denial, acceptance. I do realize my mother is somehow (beyond my understanding as a human on earth) with me, within me, and above me watching me grow and blossom.

I just will never be able to explain it nor completely understand it.

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Azalea blossom in my front yard.

“Grief is the price we pay for love.” – Queen Elizabeth II

Photo Source: Mother Nature Network Angel Wings

Photo Source: Mother Nature Network
Angel Wings

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Mantle in my bedroom after clearing off Christmas lights.

“Grief changes shape, but it never ends.” – Keanu Reeves

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My husband carved the wooden heart as a gift. The angel came with a sympathy card from a childhood friend who knew my mom as a child. My mom was the Girl Scout troop leader. This friend remembered how my mom taught all the Girl Scouts the Girl Scout Promise.

The Girl Scout Promise

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Girl Scout Law

I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

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Angel Heart

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“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton
My mother was both the  candle and the mirror.

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The turquoise turtle was my mom’s. It rested in her bathroom on her two tier bronze circular shelf that also held her Buddhas.

“God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” –  Rudyard Kipling

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Mantle in my bedroom

“A mother is beyond any notion of a beginning. That’s what makes her a mother.” – Meghan O’Rourke

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Monet Mantle. One of the things that made me fall in love with my husband was he had a Monet painting. His sensitivity to both my parents’ death has helped me survive these great storms. My father passed away in 2003. My husband held me as I cried myself to sleep through both loses.

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.”  – Mother Teresa

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Parlor room mantle.

“Never does one feel oneself so utterly helpless as in trying to speak comfort for great bereavement. I will not try it. Time is the only comforter for the loss of a mother.” –  Jane Welsh Carlyle

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Buddha Mantle. The two Buddhas next to my mom’s ashes were hers. The rose is from my backyard rose vine.

“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” – Buddha

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You can see a little bit of the buffet in this photo that I bought with my mom at the antique flea market.

“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.” – Khalil Gibran

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Love Mantle. Healing Mantle. I move through the grief and stop when I can not walk anymore.

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“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Blossom Sneak Peek


Blossom Sneak Peak

Tomorrow I will posting an essay about how grief has blossomed for me and the process of letting go (just a little — I still have a long way to go) and accepting my mother’s death.
Tune in tomorrow.
“Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh