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.

Garden Muse: Seeds and Sorrow; Fruits and Joy


Garden

Garden

I am excited for summer. I love the bounty of summer crops. Right now we are growing radishes, spinach, lettuce, corn, carrots, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, oregano, basal, zucchini, and peas. I have a flower garden growing as well. We planted everything from seed so it is exciting to see it come to life. Trusting in a seed to feed you is a leap of faith. It provides me with such a sense of peace to know that I am capable of growing my own food. We had a salad tonight which had spinach, salad greens, and radishes from our garden.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Radish

Radish

“Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

My mother and father were avid gardeners. If you look at this photo closely, you will see just a glimpse of the garden of my childhood home. I am the child to the far right on the edge of the pool. If you walk around the pool to the left, you would find a vegetable plot filled with raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, plum trees, apple trees, grape vines, boysenberry trees, vegetables, and many other flowers and garden goodies. In fact, my father made us dandelion soup once. My mother got mad at him for serving it to us as kids. It is very good for you.

Refresh -- Childhood Garden

Refresh — Childhood Garden

Hope. Wish. Dream. Be.

Hope. Wish. Dream. Be.

“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” – Alice Walker

Beauty Bee -- Blackberry Bush

Beauty Bee — Blackberry Bush

I found out recently that my mother’s funeral will finally be scheduled. We have been waiting in limbo since January. She passed away on Christmas Eve (Read this if you want to know the details). I have had a hard time with this loss.  I will have to allow myself to feel it. It is a different kind of pain now, as it is obtuse, reaching its giant ocean size arms around me as if orbiting into space. The pain was acute in the beginning when she first passed away. Each acknowledgement of it was an arrow in my heart, made of thousands of acute angles — stabbed straight into my heart. Now the tiny arrows have opened into a more giant obtuse pain, something that expands and retracts — expands and retracts — expands and retracts.

My mom, Betty with her beautiful red hair and amazing smile

My mom, Betty with her beautiful red hair and amazing smile

This photo was taken in 2003 on Christmas Eve. My father passed away in December of 2003. This photo was taken at my best friend's house.

This photo was taken in 2003 on Christmas Eve. My father passed away in December of 2003. This photo was taken at my best friend’s house.

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

Now I am a mother and as I grieve the loss of my own, I am in the full blossom of being a mother to a three-year old.

My Beautiful Benjamin dancing to the garden muse

My Beautiful Benjamin dancing to the garden muse

“All love stories are tales of beginnings. When we talk about falling in love, we go to the beginning, to pinpoint the moment of freefall.” – Meghan O’Rourke

Sitting on a bridge in my childhood garden. My parents created this beautiful garden from scratch.

Sitting on a bridge in my childhood garden. My parents created this beautiful garden from scratch.

My mother’s ashes are on my mantle. Click here to read more about that and how I finally took down the Christmas lights to clear some space for my own healing and mourning process. I can not put into words just yet what is swirling inside me about finally having to let go by burying her ashes at Arlington. Her final wishes were to be buried with my father at Arlington National Cemetery. He passed away in 2003 and was cremated. My mother made arrangements for them to be buried together in the same plot. Her name will be on one side of the tombstone and my father’s will be on the other. They will be laid to rest together. My father was a veteran of the Korean War. Read this to learn more about my father, Inchon, and his gardens. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen.  Read this to learn more about why I miss him (this essay is one of my favorite things I have ever written, as it honors who he was as a man, husband, father, and veteran).

My dad stopping to smell the roses on my wedding day

My dad stopping to smell the roses on my wedding day

Read this if you want to read an essay about having to say goodbye to my father and get married to my soulmate.

I have to assume that burying my parents will be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it also has the power to be one of the most beautiful ceremonies of my life. I can only imagine the fertile soil this experience will provide in the garden of my life. I should think about the seeds I want to plant in it. Love, Respect, Hope, Joy, and of course sorrow. You can not get around sorrow. It is the fertilizer in life.

Garden Angel

Garden Angel

Just as Kahlil Gibran said, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…”

On Joy and Sorrow

By: Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. 

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

So, I plant the seed and water this fertile soil with my tears and allow God’s love and my love for my parents to be the sunshine.

Lively Lettuce Leaf

Lively Lettuce Leaf

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” ― Claude Monet

Read this if you want to learn more about my mom and how magical she was to me as a child and how deeply I loved her — how deeply I love (present tense) her.

Stars

Stars

Life goes on, but grief stands still. I have learned that I am moving through the process of grief and accept it is on my own time. I accept that I have to feel everything and allow the moisture from this pain to provide the rain for my inner garden to grow.

The Red Rose of St. Therese is in blossom in my garden.

The Red Rose of St. Therese is in blossom in my garden.

In May of 2011, I had a close call with losing my mother. She had a serious bladder infection. She ultimately overcame it, but my heart felt giant as I was so close to her death and the anticipation of losing her. Read this if you want to read about that experience. When she did pass away, it was a bladder infection that was the cause of death.

3 Stars

3 Stars

“Even hundredfold grief is divisible by love.” ~Terri Guillemets

“Sorrow makes us all children again — destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

My son makes me whole.

My son makes me whole.

This is my house not on Pinterest!


This is my house not on Pinterest!

Living room window. I love the late afternoon sun and how it makes the room light up with a soft pink glow.

Do you use Pinterest? Frankly, it annoys me. It is like a collection of what people like. I feel frustrated most of the time when I am on it. It makes me feel like I need to get busy cleaning or crafting or being inspirational.

My friend and I have thought about doing a Pinterest board of our messy homes. We are both moms to young children. At best, after my house has been thoroughly cleaned, it looks nothing like a Pinterest photo.

I guess I don’t like Pinterest because it induces so many feels of inadequacy in me. No thanks. I already am way too hard on myself as it is.
Anyway, it is a great place to get ideas. I always wonder who these people are that live the Pinterest life. Like who does their cleaning? Is it a maid? Housekeeper? Husband? And what motivates them to be so crafty? Are they distracting themselves from a real problem? Then I realize there is no way to really find out who is behind the pin that has me thinking all these deep thoughts because it is repinned so many times.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. I am distracting myself from grief. I recently had a birthday and instead of being happy on my birthday, I was incredibly sad. It took me the whole day to pinpoint exactly why. It was because this past birthday was the first birthday without my mother. She passed away on Christmas Eve. The reality of her death and the fact that she is really gone has hit me hard this month.

We shared a birthday (her a birth day) for almost four decades. I miss her so much and there is so much I want to know about her. So many stories I kick myself for not recording or writing down that she told over and over and I barely listened to them because she told them to me so many times.

This photo was taken in 2003 on Christmas Eve. My father passed away in December of 2003. This photo was taken at my best friend's house.

This photo was taken in 2003 on Christmas Eve. My father passed away in December of 2003. This photo was taken at my best friend’s house.

I’ve been looking out my windows a lot lately wondering where she is. Where can I access her? People are so kind to me about my grief. Sypathetic. Some empathetic. I know in my mind I am not the only woman who has lost her mother. But I feel very isolated in my pain.

I am thinking about starting a Pinterest board on death. Yes, seriously. I often post my blog posts to StumbleUpon and I always wonder why there is isn’t a topic for grief or death. I guess it is something people don’t classify easily. I still can not classify what I am feeling.

I am reading books with the theme of loss and death in them. They give me comfort. I recently read “Still Point of the Turning World” by Emily Rapp. This is what I wrote on Good Reads about it:

I was fortunate to read an ARC of this book. This book was beautiful. The author is a Wyoming native so I enjoyed reading about references to my home state. Her son, Rowan had Tay-Sachs disease. He recently passed away. She has a popular blog (Little Seal) about her journey with her son.This book came into my hands shortly before my mother passed away. It was a serendipitous gift. It provided me such comfort as I often read it under the covers with a flashlight in my own cocoon of grief. Emily Rapp is a talented writer who is able to immerse the reader into her story without being overly sentimental or completely grief stricken. I recommend it highly. It is not just a book about loss, in fact, it is quite the opposite; it is a book about love and life.

I also just finished “The Long Goodbye: A Memoir” by Meghan O’Rourke.  I enjoyed this book. The author’s name is Meghan and my name is Megan; her mother died on Christmas day and my mother died Christmas Eve. I would recommend this book as well.

I am currently reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed.  I love this line in the book: “Just as I’d seemed to be doing okay after my mom died. Grief doesn’t have a face.”
I love this memoir. Cheryl Strayed makes writing a memoir look effortless. As a writer, I know it is not effortless, but a skill and a craft.

View from my living room of my porch

View from my living room of my porch