364 Days…

It has been 364 days since my father diedlove lee

364 days is a long time, and it has been a busy year – a year of loss and healing and working and (re)building. It has been a good year.  In some ways, these last 364 days have been good because of what happened on that 365th day.

Does that sound odd? I suppose it does.

It seems to me that it’s not all that odd, when you think about it. When you are there, holding someone you love,  helping them through their final days and witnessing them leave the earth, you start to get a bit of perspective. Death is sometimes something we pretend doesn’t happen, or maybe it’s something we fixate on, with fear.

But as sure as taxes, we’re all going to die someday, sooner or later.  I do not know when my time is up, and I absolutely hope it’s not any time soon. I’m not going to waste my how I will always remember himtime being afraid of that, or of much else for that matter. If the last 364 days have taught me anything it’s that we need to just continue on – loving, and creating, and accepting.

Loss is hard, and I would very much like to have him back here, bitching about how the Beloved Patriots didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. We miss him, and mourn his death. Some days it comes back to me, fresh, because I realize anew the finality of it all. He didn’t have an 80th birthday, and this new year is the first one since 1932 that he wasn’t on the planet.  I have only once (thank goodness) unthinkingly grabbed the phone and with the idea to call him.

I’m grateful I knew him, and grateful that I was a part of him. In the past 364 days many people have told me just how much of an impact he made on their lives, and that’s very powerful. I am left thinking of my relationships with the family I have left, and hope that they know how very special they are to me, and that we are all in some way connected to one another through him. That’s a big deal, and nice to think about. We all leave a legacy, you know?

So yes, I miss him and wish he were here. But I have no plans to have a little cry tomorrow, or even to commemorate it with much more than a nod to that 365th day’s passing. I’m just going to hug people I love, and be grateful for all that these past 364 days have taught me.

Every blade in the field, every leaf in the forest, lays down its life in its season…

On 04 February 2012 I wrote as my status line on FacebookImage

“RIP Lionel Gerard Langevin 1932-2012
Beloved father, husband, uncle. Irascible old coot, poet, charmer.

We love you, Dad.”

It’s a sign of the times that I wrote that while still sitting in the room where he died. I wrote it using my phone, guiltily, but feeling like I needed to get the news out.

Don’t judge – my world had just tilted, altered forevermore, and I felt like sharing. It was, somehow, immediately important that I announce it, to mark it, do it in real time.

Thing is, I fell back on that urge for immediacy because I wasn’t sure what else to do. Dad’s death was a while coming, and near the end of it he was in ICU and we had all agreed there wouldn’t be any more life-saving measures. They shut off the machines, and we sat with him for a peaceful, quiet, half hour until he left us.

While we all had the time to said goodbye to him, it felt insufficient; how do you do that? It’s just so utterly and completely not enough but too much at the same time.

So, I’ve been saying goodbye in  different ways, every day since, too. Maybe it will never be enough. I know that I feel the world is colored for me a bit differently now – things are often filtered through our loss of him. My siblings – alone with me now, orphans in the world – are impossibly more precious to me. My (step)mother, as dear to me as always but all of a sudden I worry more about losing her.I worry about her health, her stress.

I worry.  It’s all about negotiating loss, right?

Oh so many gone from us. Grandpa, Auntie Madeline, Uncle Red, Grandma, and now the "baby"... Lee. Rest in Peace, all.

There was nothing we could do – and oh how we tried – nothing that could protect him from this happening. It was fast and it  felt like it came out of nowhere, but at the same time I’d been dreading it, expecting it, for years.

I think I said my goodbyes to him many years ago when he first got sick – maybe we all did, in a way. Even though he was cancer free, it changed him. His death, then, took about 8 years. Eight long dry complicated and stupid years.

It upsets me a bit to think on that, but in the end, who the hell am I to judge? He lived his life – it was his. And if there’s one thing his funeral, and the days leading up to it showed me, it was that I had maybe forgotten how dense and varied was the substance of his life. The last few years, especially, were subdued and quiet and a little old-hennish in some ways, but even that isn’t an entirely clear picture. He had a long life (79 years) that was full of travel and hard work and success. He had people who loved him, who were charmed by him, and who he loved back, in his way.

He had a terrific funeral, surrounded by so very many friends and  family. The roly poly irish priest made jokes, and we cried and laughed and were very proud of him. It was a privilege to see his fellow Knights of Columbus standing up for him, obviously moved and feeling the loss of him in their ranks.

My brave, composed,  and wonderful sister read from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (to every thing there is a season… in my head those words are always in the voice of the Byrds and who knew, sitting and listening to that record in my sister’s room in 1977 that someday she would read it at his funeral?) The more I look at the words, the more I realize just how perfectly chosen were those readings – go back and look at them, as literature, you don’t have to be religious. They’re smart, and help those left behind.

As with my mother’s funeral, we sang Amazing Grace (which I always hear in Al Green’s voice). I can’t hear that song without tearing up, ever.

Dad’s indomitable wife, family on both sides, and his gracious and loving friends buoyed us with their boundless generosity and regard for him, and fed us such good food. My facebook status that day was

Thank you, everyone, for all of the sympathy and support. My dad was an amazing guy and had a full, rewarding life. His death continues the trend – his many wonderful friends and loving family are making this an oddly pleasant experience.

And it was – oddly pleasant, I mean. And that’s the way it should be.

Death is pretty final, and I know that when I’m crying it’s for me, for us – the people who are left behind. I hate that he died; I hate how he died. I hate how he lived his last years – lacking his natural charm, tired, without enough joy. He had lost his brother, then his sister just a few months ago… so much loss, again, to negotiate.

But that oddly pleasant funeral was useful – it made me remember the whole man. The man who married my mother when she was 16 (!),  who worked as a tool and die man, who went to night school and worked hard, and saved his money. The man who rose high in the company his illiterate father had cleaned the floors of, who worked all over the world and grabbed it all with both hands. It made me think of the happy laughing man who went on bike rides with me,  who held my hand, who was the one I called for when I fell. He was the guy who never let us win at monopoly, who took us to the races, who drove us up and down the Alps’ twisty mountain roads, with us screaming the whole way.

He was not a good driver.

He is the man who taught me that if you’re going to do it, do it right.

I thought of my divorced Catholic dad marrying his Quaker wife in a North Carolina synagogue, and saving everything from that day – including the speeding ticket he got on the way down to his Florida honeymoon.

He taught me about the beauty of compound interest, and of a good filing system. He taught me the power of reading, didn’t laugh when I told him every number has its own personality (called synesthesia btw), and never said a bad word about any of those awful boyfriends of mine that he met. All he ever asked was “is he catholic?” but he didn’t care about my answer, not really.

He showed me how big the world is, and how easily I could claim it, with some effort. He showed me that we were citizens of it, and that we had to be involved and responsible.

He especially taught me how important it is to be present in the lives of those who love you.  It doesn’t matter how he taught me those lessons, only that I learned them.

My brother and sister and I talked about how we knew Dad was always there for us. That no matter what we did or said or how we tested it, he would always be there to help us out. It’s true, and I hope that my kids know that I am the same – no matter what, I am here to love them and help them and teach them.

No. Matter. What.

Loss is funny. One day I feel it like a cavity in my tooth – something to worry and poke at  to feel the edges of the hurt. Other days it’s pretty gentle, and it feels natural and grief-less. It feels somehow normal. It took me years, literally years, to work through the crap I’d been carrying around about my mother after her death. Having always been a bit of a daddy’s girl I figured I was in for it now – but the opposite is true. Somehow in our fumbling, pretend-it’s-not-happening way, we must have made our peace. When he died it was so very sad, but it didn’t feel like unfinished business. It felt like my very-much-loved Pop died. What we’re left with is loss, not grief. It’s sad, but not sorrowful.

how I will always remember him

I dearly wish he were still alive and I’d like to have called him more this past year. I wish you all had known him – he was clever and charming and yes, an irascible old coot.  I wish that I’d spent more time with him, I wish I’d been more generous of spirit with him – that I hadn’t been so hard on him in my heart of hearts. These disappointments of mine though are just ordinary regret, nothing that will scar.

His poetry he passed to my sister and his charm most definitely went to my brother. I hope that leaves me more than his “irascible coot-ishness”, but I must humbly admit to some of that in my makeup. I know there are more things in me that speak of him than I will ever know. I cherish them,  will learn from them, and thank him.

This has been a year of loss. Mine, though bittersweet, is already a little more sweet than bitter.  You were much loved, Pop. Rest in peace.

My previous post about G’pa Lee here.

Grandpa 761 Edition: Surviving/Birthdays

Happy Birthday Pop!

Today is my father’s 78th Birthday. Terrorists sort of ruined the date for him, in a way — he gets much less joy out of his day now. I understand that completely. It isn’t something as silly as it being “ruined” for cake and presents; it’s about a loss of trust in the way things work in the world. I remember, on that horrific day in 2001, talking to him and hearing such loss in his voice. Loss of trust in the sanctity of our borders, and a sense that the world would never be quite the same. I hate that it happened, and hate that it’s now somehow linked with him, and his day.

I remember puttering around the house that morning, and a friend called me out of the blue — I remember saying her name cheerily, pleased that she’d called. She told me to turn on the television, and then hung up. I turned it on, and well, you know what I saw. We all saw it, watched in horror and fear and disbelief. I don’t think I turned the tv off for weeks — I couldn’t stop watching. I sat there so much I started to knit scarves — to keep my hands busy while I watched. Many family members received “9/11 Scarves” that Christmas.

Dad is from a pretty lucky generation. He was too young for WWII (and medically exempt for Korea), He was able to reap the benefits of his demographic and to avoid military action. He worked hard, and was smart and charming — he went far in business and had a very successful career. He traveled, lived overseas, and was able to provide for his family very well. He’s had two long marriages, and is Grandpa Lee to 7 kids. He’s patriotic, a Republican, and really believes in the American dream. Hell, he is the American dream. He came from humble beginnings and made good, the old-fashioned way through hard work, luck, and by harnessing the power of compound interest.

That’s maybe why it’s especially hard to have 11 September tainted, somehow. He grew up in the shadow of WWII and was no doubt partly formed by that fight — by the understanding that the USA was Protector of the World. It’s culturally encoded — the US of A was Right, and Good, and above all else, Safe.

9/11 was a violation of that safety. It was horrific and violent and unmoored us all. It changed the world, instantly, and in a long-lasting way. We’re still feeling the fallout from it now, almost a decade later.

He turned 69 that day. A good age, and one that should have been a day of celebration and family and gifts — instead he now identifies it at least partly with terrorism and unspeakable grief. Now, almost a decade later, we are at least also able to identify it with acts of great courage, and hope, and strength. The way that Americans dealt with the horror was inspiring — a million stories of everyday moments of heroism and bravery; strength in adversity, and some happy endings.

In the 9 years since that birthday, he has undergone his own baptism by fire; his own horror. A year after the event, he was feeling poorly, a year after that he was diagnosed with gastric and esophageal cancer. He went through it all like a champ — surgery and ICU, chemotherapy, radiation, a feeding tube, extreme weight loss… the whole horrible heart-breaking cycle of diagnosis through to recovery. He is now a 6-year cancer survivor — a survivor of a type of cancer that has a very low survival rate. He really is miraculous. He had a lot in his favor — they caught it early and he had tremendously talented doctors, he has a wife who was tireless in her support of him, loving family, and an extended family of friends/church group/neighbors who offered drives, food, respite and support.

Today, on his 78th birthday (wow!) I am in awe of what the past decade held for him, and so pleased that he came through it all in such fine form. He’s still too darn skinny for my liking, and he smokes way too much (please quit, Dad) but he’s strong as an ox, whip-strong, and he’s still here.

He survived it all, and came through it — not entirely unscathed, but not broken either. His mettle was tested and I am of the opinion that he is a true hero. It wasn’t a battle on the scale of 9/11, but it was his battle against a terrorist, a terrorist that violated the sanctity of his person.

And he won.

Happy Birthday to you Dad. I know you don’t much like the day any more, but maybe if you try to think about it as a reminder that you are a survivor it will help you to reshape it. This day can be a reminder to you of strength and courage, and fighting successfully in the face of great odds. I’m glad your birthday is on this day, and I’m very glad that you’re here to celebrate it.

Much love  being sent your way from Box 761 today. Happy 78th.