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.


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.

My Father – My Thoreau

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I’m gonna get all Thoreau on ya… here are some pictures from my nature walk with my son, Ben.

There is something wonderful about the quiet only nature can provide.  The birds, the leaves rustling, a child playing nearby, toddler alien language as he discovers the magic of his own wonderment. I also need to say that I have not figured out how to get the slideshows to be separate, so the slideshows put all the photos in.  So some of the photos are from North Carolina and some are from the Kangamangus Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during peak foliage.


Sometimes it is easier to just post the pictures that inspire me on my facebook page for my small circle of friends and cyber friends to see, but I usually take notice when something really inspires me.  When something moves me.  And I was moved today.

I was thinking today about how peaceful it is this time of year.  The weather is cool enough for just a jacket and not so hot your skin feels like it is melting off from the heat and humidity of the South.  (It should be noted that extreme heat makes me BITCHY and as much as I hate admitting it, extreme cold.  But you can make a cozy fire, put on layers, and sip hot chocolate when it’s cold).

The leaves this time of year around here (Eastern North Carolina) are this deep, dark brown and magenta hue.  An earthy brown wraps around the landscape like a porch on a farm house.  I take notice.  It is just what writers and artists do.  This deep brown makes me feel centered.  So very connected to Mother Earth.  I can’t quite explain what it is.  But November in Eastern North Carolina is my version of New Hampshire in early October.  (see slideshow for mixed in photos of New Hampshire).

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A writer of creative nonfiction recently posted a piece on her blog titled, “Have We Lost Capacity to Observe.”  It got me thinking about how lucky I am to not have an iphone or a phone I care to take on walks with me.  A camera is all the technology I need and I would still prefer to shoot in 35 mm film (But I do admit I like the fact I can upload and post the same day and not have to pay any money for film development).  If I don’t have a camera, then a journal and pen will suffice.  I can’t stand to be inspired and not be able to capture it somehow.

This post on her blog inspired me to write more about this (as I was beginning to write my own blog post on her comments section).

I took my son to the park today, after we visited our favorite horse, Silk.  She is on the way to the park.  After our horse adventure, I was moved by the light hitting the tall trees across the street.  So we went to the other side of the park where there is a path to walk.  The gym equipment is usually empty as a bigger playground is on the other side of the park.  I sometimes really enjoy just being alone with my son.  Plus, I get a chance to take photos and gaze at the trees.  I don’t have to chase him up and down slides and open walkways that make my heart skip a beat if he were to fall.

The bigger, more awesome playground is across an open field behind it (the picture above).  Plus, he can’t climb up on the stairs on this playground so I can wander more myself, not worrying about him falling.  Helicopter mom can park the chopper.

We started our adventure in the fridge where we got some carrots for our favorite horse, Silk.  She is in a 3 acre pasture just five minutes up the road.  She is 25 years old and just a charmer.  She makes me feel like I am in Wyoming.  Something about horses in a pasture that gets me every time.  Ben loves feeding her carrots. 

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Although it is not New England, fall in Eastern North Carolina is still lovely. I love the deep, dark colors, darker than up North (see part of the slideshow for photos of New Hampshire).  My husband is from Boston and I went to college in the Northeast, so New England falls are special to me.

I do miss the bright yellows of Aspens from Wyoming and the thick leaves of the Cottonwoods, but November’s leaves in North Carolina are something.  Darker, darker, darker.  Something about the browns and crimson hues.

So as Ben played on the playground, exploring with wood chips and his own wonder, I played with my camera on my playground: nature.  Put me in the woods or near a lake and give me quiet:  I am happy.

I certainly have a lot of Thoreau in me.  I have so much adoration for the man that I blindly picked a summer camp to work at that had his name in it.  Long story, for another time. 🙂

My father taught me about Thoreau without ever mentioning his name  or referencing any of his essays.  I just watched what nature did for my father.  He was a Korean War veteran — the Chosin Reservoir.  That war fucked him up.  Seriously. How could it not?  He was only 18.  He saw so many men killed.  He killed so many men.  He was a gentle soul, at heart.  This must have tormented him.  He was a devote Catholic too.  He was even an altar boy.

My father, my hero. Semper Fe

He also had a tough childhood he never really talked about.  His family lost everything during the Crash.  In fact, the crash was pretty much his birthday party.  He was born October 5, 1929.

My father always took my sister and me to the park.  We explored every park and playground within the Chicago suburbs.  Every weekend and sometimes on his days off, we’d explore.   He gardened as well, making our childhood home in Wheaton, Illinois an orchestra of color.  Yes, he did work us both like soldiers — weeding, picking the garden for crops, raking, you name it, we did it.  But there was something magical that happened when our hands were in the soil and cardinals sing-songed by in flight.  We were at peace.  The world seemed to stop and wonder began. We also loved being around our dad.  And the best was when it was time for break.  Dad would get us each a Pepsi long neck bottle with the swirvy, twisted glass neck.  We’d gulp down a cold Pepsi (always Pepsi, never Coke) and wipe the sweat from our brows and sink in with exhaustion and the feeling of a good, honest day’s work.  Blue collar all the way baby!

Now that I am a parent myself, I have such compassion for my dad.  He was damaged by war, by death, by poverty, by a childhood I never knew anything about.  By his own mother’s crippling depression, his father’s alcoholism.  But it never took his wonder away.  He always loved nature and I believe it is where he was at peace.

The enchanted gardens of my childhood are memories I will always have.  And there are some bi-polar outbursts of my father’s that I could happily forget.  But as I grow older, wiser — I feel like my father was an extraordinary character.  An extraordinary man, of integrity, of honor, of knowledge.  Someone Charleston Heston, Paul Newman, or Kirk Douglas would play in a movie.  He was funny, a voracious reader, a war hero, and a quiet man.

I miss him dearly, as he passed away in 2003.  I wish he could know Benjamin.  I wish he could see himself in his grandson’s beautiful blue eyes. I see myself in my father’s eyes.  I see the same wonder and poetry. I credit my father with my gift of writing.

My mother was a verbal story-teller; my father was a poet.  Not with his words, for I never saw him write.  But I saw him write as he thought.  His silence was where he composed.  He always reminded me that Percy Bysshe Shelley  was in my  lineage. And Agatha Christie too.  “Remember that,” he would say.  A man of few words, I listened.  I watched. I now am grateful for what he taught me — to measure joy with a beautiful sunset, to be inspired by trees, to tell a story from a cricket’s song, to be one with nature.  To listen, quietly.  Then loudly think.  Then explode with the noise of words, of wonder, of wisdom.

Although it is not possible to tell him in person, I often speak to him through the birds.

Artwork by Marsha Parker for my “Hope” sticky note in the “The Original Journal” (become a fan by clicking on the facebook fan page badge on this website)My dad wrote this in my journal when I asked him to sign The Original Journal.My dad’s journal signing in “The Original Journal.” “Keep up courage and hope.” ~ Dad

I send them messages to give him.  He loved birds.  Cardinals were his favorite.  They are mine as well.  He knew all the names of birds and species names.

He was a modest man, self-taught and educated through books and history.  If I didn’t see him thinking, puffing away on a cigarette, then I saw his head buried in a book.  Not a pansy ass 100 pager.  Heavy,  thick books, like encyclopedias.  Biographies — Winston Churchill,  Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, General Patton, William Wallace.  War books — World War II, The American Revolution, Forty Years War.  Poetry – Keats, Shelley, Shakespeare.  Sports — baseball, basketball.  Just to name a few.  He read everything; he knew everything.  He was like an encyclopedia.  He would tell me, “You’ve got to read more.  You’re a writer.  Writers read, Megan.”  He’d almost look disgusted at my ignorance.  For ignoring knowledge so readily available.

I sometimes hate myself for not understanding his genius.  His will.  His ability to self-educate.  He dropped out of school to help his family pay the bills.  But he always read.

He had a bridge in the backyard where I truly thought magic elves lived.  I think he told me this once.  Or gnomes.  It was at this bridge where I would see him sit, puffin’ away curls of smoke. No hands to take a drag, just his mouth, arms at his side, comfortably tucked.  His cigarette dangling in his lips, at an angle.  He drifted off somewhere I never knew.  Somewhere he probably didn’t want anyone to know.

This quiet of nature, of his garden was where he would think.  Where he could be at peace with his thoughts, with himself. And I never really thought about where he went.  But he must have drifted to some dark places. Afterall, he survived one of the worst battles in Marine Corps history: the Chosin Resoirvoir.  The quote at the top of the website that I linked to says it all: “Those that were there will never forget! Those who were not will never know!” Wow, didn’t know nature would lead me here.  But she did.  And I am thankful.  In nature, we can think.  And that is a lovely thing.  So, get your a$$ off the couch and go look at a flower.  Turn off your cell phone.  Bring a journal.  Bring your kids.  Wonder.  And listen.



Cardinals remind me 

of childhood 

of my father 

of my yard out front 

they remind me of depth 

of colors 

of things I don’t understand 

I used to send my father messages through the birds when he died 

I didn’t know how to reach him so far below the belly of sorrow 

the birds were calm and knew things I did not 

so I sent him messages 

through the birds 

when I see a cardinal 

I know it’s my father sending 

me a message