Two Years

The first thing most people think of when thinking about my dad is most likely his sense of humor.  He’s the most funny person I have ever known.  And, really, probably the most funny person I will ever know.  He was incredibly dry and sarcastic and almost painfully witty.  Part of his genius was the mystery of never being certain that he was indeed joking.  Being funny was something that seemed to come naturally to him.  And really, with the exception of the last year or two of his life, it rarely seemed like he used sense of humor as some sort of self-preservation mechanism or to mask insecurities.  (This is something that I could use some lessons in.)

Some of my best memories of him are from Sunday mornings.  We’d wake up early and share the paper while drinking coffee and watching hunting/fishing shows or Old Westerns. He would read the paper, I would read the comics.  Then we’d go through the ads and point out items we thought the other one needed to buy. One of our classic bits was when I would ask if he needed an iPhone, to which he would respond “Now what the hell would I do with an iPhone?” I would point out he could use it to keep tabs on his 41 Facebook friends, or maybe even get a Twitter account.  And then, of course, “What the hell would I do with a Tweeter?”  Which would lead to us going back and forth about what he would Tweet.  It just so happens Steve Leach’s Twitter topic of choice would be bathroom happenings.  We could spend an entire morning riffing off of each other.  Then Mom would be a little bit mortified, but mainly amused and just go, “oh! You two!”

My dad was my comedic… match?  role model?  I wouldn’t say equal, but there was definitely something special about how funny we were together.  Even if I was the butt of a lot of his jokes.  He loved sitting by me at more conservative weddings.  He would just have this smirk on his face, like he found pleasure knowing that I was going crazy while the embarrassingly large portion of my brain devoted to wedding etiquette and the part of my brain devoted to feminism duked it out.  When I informed him that I’d voted Democrat in the 2004 Presidential election, he took my dinner away and “redistributed” it.  He warned me that in 10 years I’d probably be a Republican.  (Not only was HE the one who switched his registration, he was also the chair of the Hamilton County Democrats by 2008.)

Those who knew my dad know that in addition to being a grumpy old man (a self-proclaimed one, at that), he also had the biggest heart.  One of his greatest passions was giving back to his community.  He took pride in being Aurora’s “Biggest Athletic Supporter”.  He was always the first to donate to fundraisers at the school and spent many weekends volunteering at youth wrestling meets or teaching Hunter’s Safety.  I don’t think I could count the number of times he read books to my class in elementary school or spoke in my business classes and volunteered at FBLA functions in high school.  He gave out water bottles to the band and all sports team.  When I very briefly considered doing sports stuff, he sponsored my softball team.  My blue Leach Insurance shirt sure looked good out in right field while I was doing cartwheels and picking grass.

He especially liked to get involved in the activities of me and my siblings.  When my sister was in golf, he lead the charge to get donations for golf bags for the girls team.  When I was auditioning for piano scholarships, he drove me all over the state and even made friends with some of the faculty.  In 2006, when i started to get politically involved, he was right there with me.  He made phone calls, wrote letters to the editor, asked farmers to put up yard signs, and — I know this is hard to believe — even started quite a few fights on conservative political blogs.  I once asked him if he was worried that coming out as a Democrat was going to hurt his business, to which he replied, “Sal.  I learned a long time ago, you just can’t give a sh** what people think.  Plus… I might be a Democrat, but I’m no GD liberal.”  As I told my dad two years ago, this is was the most special experience I shared with him.

Tomorrow, May 20th, marks two years since I said goodbye to my dad.  I will be honoring him by participating in “Omaha Gives!”, which is a 24-hour charitable challenge to benefit nonprofits in the area.  I will be making a donation to Donate Life Nebraska.  Something I’ve noticed when talking to people about organ donation is that people don’t realize just how easy or how important it is to register.  Organizations like Donate Life Nebraska get that information out there.  If you can’t donate, it would mean so much to me if you’d register to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor.

To donate: www.omahagives24.org

To register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor: www.donoregistry.org

To educate: www.donatelifenebraska.com

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Not-so-Good Grief

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my mom in Omaha and got to spend a lot of time with my nieces.  My three-year-old niece, Whitney, and I started watching Pocahontas.  (Some advice from me:  Unless you want to have awkward conversations about race and greed and historical inaccuracies in Disney movies and controversy surrounding the settling of our nation, do not watch Pocahontas with an abundantly curious toddler.)  One of our big topics of discussion was bravery.  She kept asking me if Pocahontas was brave.  She wanted to know if John Smith was brave and also if he was Prince Eric but with yellow hair.  (I told her that Prince Eric was much, much more handsome than John Smith.)  She told me how brave she is and that her sister Abigail is kind of brave but sometimes gets scared (Side note:  Abigail is actually 100% fearless.).  After going through a list of her very brave family members, the question I feared most came, “Yeah, but, Aunt Sally, are you brave?” My natural response:  “Whaaaat?!  Of COURSE I’m brave.”

When I think of my dad’s illness and, eventually, his death, I will say that I had some very brave moments.  In fact, maybe too many than I would care for – especially before turning 30.  There were a lot of times when he was sick that I had to step up and embrace being a caretaker to a man I consider a hero.  There was a lot of courage in my own commitment to get healthy.  And, even though during his sickness there were many times that I chose be angry, resentful, or just straight up indifferent out of fear for being sad, in the final days of his life I mustered up every ounce of courage possible to tell the man I love most in this world goodbye.  In the week following my dad’s passing, I was brave while I tried to comfort people at his visitation who were also mourning the loss of someone who meant so much to them.  And, even though I excused myself to the nursery way too often to “check on Whit’s diaper situation” and started having a mini panic attack when I felt like there were too many chairs in Fellowship Hall following the funeral (Thank you, Mindy M., for immediately fixing this. 🙂 )  I felt I did an adequate job of being gracious at the funeral and I am 300% positive Dad would have been proud.

However, in the year following his passing, I’m most certain that I have not been entirely brave.  There are a lot of things that I originally pushed aside in the name of grieving, but seemed to have moved into the category of “Things I Choose Not to Think About, Because If I Move On To The Next Stage In My Life Then My Mourning Period Is Over And That Scares Me.”

For instance: I am terrified of dating.  It’s something that I really have no experience in.  In college, there wasn’t so much dating as there was “hanging out.”  At least, I hear people “hung out”.  I’d like to pretend that I had the kind of game that could lead to “hanging out”, but I watched too much SVU and Criminal Minds to think that was a good idea.  Then, when my life became so centered on illness, I didn’t think it was a good idea to invite anyone into my life who didn’t already unconditionally love me.  So now, I’m trying to do what most of my friends figured out years ago.  And while that’s scary, it’s still just an issue that could be resolved in a very self-deprecating and amusing episode of The Mindy Project.  What terrifies me most is that the man I’ll end up sharing my life with will most-likely have never met my dad.  That might sound silly, but there is absolutely no way of simply explaining my dad to someone and coming even close to doing him justice.  When I make inanimate objects sing or blurt out things like “Oh, Heavens, No!” or “Good grief!”, you can tell within 10 minutes of hanging out with my mom where that came from.  But then there’s this very prevalent side of me that is dry and sarcastic and gets grumpy while waiting for people to make a decision or standing in line or being surrounded by crowds of people or busy stores (I guess I could’ve just gone with an all-encompassing “gets grumpy”) and always has to fight the urge to tell people that they could probably just walk when they say they’re just going to run to the bathroom real quick.  That side of me that is usually easy going, but occasionally needs to write an angry but well-worded and entertaining letter, email, Facebook Message, and/or series of Post-It notes or just go on a really long drive?  That part of me is pretty hard to explain and nearly impossible to forgive without the proof of it’s source.

I’m a little lost in all other areas of my life, too.  I think the main issue is that I’m afraid to leave my little bubble of grief.  I cut myself some slack in that first year without my dad to basically just survive.  I worked two jobs and it was okay, because I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to think about anything.  I promised myself I’d use that year to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, but now it’s been a year and three months and I have done very little of the self-reflection that I need to do in order to figure out that grown up stuff.  I mean, I have talking points that I use for things like family get-togethers and unexpectedly running into old classmates or friends.  And I definitely have leftover escapism fantasies from when my dad was sick that basically involve me opening up a bakery or moving into a house straight out of a Nancy Myers movie and writing romance novels under an awesome pseudonym.  I just haven’t done enough practical thinking on the issue.  I know it’s because I’m scared to leave this place of grieving.  I know I’ll always grieve my dad.  I am so much like him that not having him here is just incredibly lonely.  However, I know that in order to become a well-adjusted, happy, and successful adult I need to make some more room in my head for something other than my dead dad.  So, I guess this next year’s for that.

I’ve been wanting to write more, but most of my personal writing has been pretty – well – personal and a bit dark.  Since, historically, this blog has been a pretty silly place to talk about what’s been going on in my life it felt a bit fake to post about, oh, I don’t know a Taylor Swift Running Mix, when the theme of my life has been “Holy Shit, I miss my dad.”  But now that I have shared my burden a bit, we can get back to regular postings.  Despite being a little bit afraid, I am really excited to see what this year brings and to share it with all of my devoted readers.  (To my mom, my sister, my aunts, and the mothers of my friends:  You’re welcome.)  Also, I’m pretty sure this is at least the second time I’ve mentioned a Taylor Swift Running Mix in this blog.  I promise you, I’ve never made one.  It’s just always the most ridiculous thing I can think of.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try, though.  😉

 

And since we could all use some very sincere cheesiness: