I lost more than I thought

I try so very hard to find something beautiful to say even in the midst of pain.

I try to be grateful.

I try to be humble.

I failed today.

And that’s okay, but it’s also not, but you can’t flog yourself over the past.

So you get stuck.

In the hurt.

We buried my father today. My rock. My daddy. I feel like he tried to temper my flaws, gave me confidence when I had none, and made me laugh when I thought the world was crumbling.

I didn’t attend the services. I arrived eight minutes late for the family viewing time and by the time I made it into the chapel…

I left and sat in my car.

A lot of people loved my dad. He made everyone feel like he was their best friend. He made everyone feel like part of the group.

And he wasn’t there to make me feel like I belonged.

I’m disappointed in myself because I can hear his voice in my head trying to smooth things over, and he hated when I get emotional.

I resurfaced at the diner, with “Smiley” (one of our favorite waitresses) bringing us pancakes and fried food.

My sister Dawn, the back of my brother’s head, and the teenager

The notion of emotional support and work in American society

Yesterday left me thinking a lot about the notion of friendship and emotional support. As I continue to navigate the death of my father, the gestures I see from those around me touch my broken heart in ways I never imagined possible.

And recent events, from how Stitch Fix handled the recent shift change to how they handled my father’s death, shows me that successful businesses— even American ones with an international presence and millions of clients— don’t have to be jerks.

The dog and I were sitting on the sunporch yesterday waiting for one of my crazy cat lady friends to stop by. She wanted copies of my novels to give to her sisters for Christmas (and I need more fans) and she once cared for Mars and Minerva while they were on their pet store tour.

(Speaking of Mars— he has the prettiest purr. Check it out here. And maybe adopt him. Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.)

While Bean and I were waiting, an older man pulled up in front of my house and starting rooting around in the hatch/cargo area of his SUV. And he gets out a big bouquet of flowers.

Did someone send me flowers? Who do I know who is fancy enough to send flowers?

They came in a big glass vase with white roses and baby’s breath, and these lovely periwinkle filler flowers that I know I should know the name of because I did take high school horticulture.

I struggle to unfold the card. And I discover it’s from Stitch Fix. So I know I have a warehouse job. I know I fold clothes with everybody else. I am considered an unskilled worker, over educated for my position.

But I feel like Stitch Fix is the first company I’ve worked for to treat everyone of us like we are people, and not just interchangeable bodies in a process.

My warehouse job has paid the same amount of money as my last professional job— and removed so much stress and feelings of inadequacy from my life.

Professional positions or even common retail positions have controlled my life— constantly making it clear that “they” feel it is my privilege to work for them.

When my cat Opie had cancer I went into the computer system and requested to use some of my accrued paid time off so I could be at home after he got his leg amputated. I was working for Target at the time, about 36 hours a week so of course I didn’t qualify for medical benefits or anything because I was “part-time.” I had worked for Target for almost a decade.

They didn’t know it, but I had already accepted a professional position at a local non profit, but because of Opie’s surgery and other home circumstances, I had asked to start on the first day of the next month.

Now, after Christmas a few months prior, a guest had called the store and accused me of a racist act the day prior. This person of color had gathered all of the remaining food from the cafe, set it aside for 20 minutes, and not paid for it. She spent the entire time on the phone. I finally asked her if she was ready to pay for it and she left the store angry. Her husband called the next day. She never went to a supervisor, never said anything to me, just went home.

And the investigation determined that because I talk with my hands, I was angry and threatening with her. Despite witnesses saying the contrary. Despite almost ten years with the company.

So I got written up. This means if I did anything else wrong in the next year they could fire me. This meant I couldn’t apply for any promotions (despite the fact that my supervisor had left and I had been running my department during fourth quarter).

This is why I finally had enough and looked for a new job. And my marriage was in trouble and I needed to make more than $12 an hour.

I mention this because one of my Target friends just got fired for a similar incident where a customer was clearly out of line, and Target took their side. Even though this employee had been with the company since 2009. Just boom— fired.

And do you know what happened when I requested off? My manager denied it. I was too important to take time off.

But not important enough to pay a living wage.

But not important enough to defend when a customer was out of line.

But not important enough to provide medical insurance.

I went back to the computer and gave my two weeks notice. Except the store manager begged me not to go. And we agreed I could have the time off and I would work Saturdays to help train my new supervisor. Who turned out to have no interest in our department, ignored our breaks and wouldn’t listen to anyone but herself.

And when I called her out on it, because my peers wouldn’t do it because they needed the job, the same manager that denied my time off tried to fire me.

It didn’t work, but I never worked another day at Target, so they “got their way.”

And don’t even get me started on my experiences in “professional” employment.

If you have a job where you like going to work and your boss is a human, treasure it. It’s getting rarer.

So, yes, even though Stitch Fix is metrics driven and can be physically taxing, I have felt more like a person in their employment than I have in years.

More to come on the definition of “friend” later. So many generous acts have happened since my father’s death.

Nobody gives a sh*t, in a good way

I intended today’s post to be about my medical appointments, but grief and death have a way of sneaking into everything.

So, let me start this post by saying I’ve been released from physical therapy and let’s hope I do yoga and more weight training to improve more and free myself or even more pain.

I haven’t been to the gym in two weeks because first came the schedule change, then my trainer got sick and then my dad died.

My dad, visiting the teenager at her waitressing job

Today, my college roommate reached out to say she would drive up from Baltimore if I needed her. And I started to weep in the parking lot of physical therapy, because she and I have been extremely sporadic in our contact since we graduated. I never even told her when the teenager’s father and I split up.

I did finally tell her, but only after she sent a Christmas card.

So many people have been kind in the wake of my father’s death, but to have such an act of kindness offered just hit me hard.

And then, as I have often since we met with the funeral home, I checked for his obituary. This time, I found it.

Daddy’s Obituary

Now it could just be I’m grieving and therefore have a lower IQ than usual— I somehow got the dog’s bowls stuck together— but it is a little tricky to navigate the options on my phone to see the obituary.

And finally, my daughter looked at me this morning and said, “you know how you always say that my generation has an easier time with body acceptance… for me, that wasn’t social media or TikTok or anything, it was Poppop. He never said anything when I started gaining weight, and if I said something, he’d say, ‘Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.’”

And he’d know how to get those damn bowls unstuck.

Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.

Jim Ackerman, “Poppop on the Mountain.”

Joy and Sorrow

Since my father died yesterday… yesterday… (it feels like a lifetime ago and at the same time like maybe it didn’t happen at all), I thought it might be wise to keep today quiet.

I canceled my appointment at the gym, as I feel a little drained and shaky from all the emotion yesterday and I know I didn’t eat right.

I started to get dressed and ended up merely putting on a clean t-shirt with my fuzzy cat-in-the-hat pajama pants.

I read more memories people sent me— so many people knew my father. My mother stopped by. My neighbor stopped.

I started laundry. I did dishes. I got out the broom and swept for a while.

I found the pendant my father gave me, engraved with “my little girl yesterday, my friend today, my daughter always, I love you.” It’s on a silver chain that’s tarnished with age with my Celtic knot charm and my amber.

I mopped the kitchen floor. I answered texts and talked on the phone.

I ordered a case of Parisian Phoenix’s next title— Twists: Gathered Ephemera— a poetry manuscript by Darrell Parry, father of the teenager who has been, as always, very helpful and dependable.

I invited my blind friend Nan over for dinner, as she loves to watch me cook and I figured by feeding her I would, in turn, feed the teenager and I.

She accepted.

So while I waited for the teenager to return from school, I wrapped her Christmas presents. The teenager would also swing by Nan’s apartment building.

It was a ridiculously warm, sunny December day and I opened the windows so the cats could frolick.

And when Eva and Nan arrived, we brought Nan to the kitchen and I cooked pork loin, chicken burgers and pre-seasoned pulled chicken. While I cooked, the teenager opened her Christmas presents.

With the holidays fast approaching, and Yule is one of those holidays, I thought she might need some of the items I gave her. I also thought Nan might enjoy watching her open her presents. The teenager works a lot in coming weeks as people travel to see family. Today seemed calmer.

And I thought we could superimpose some joy onto our sorrow and grief.

I packed up leftovers for Nan to take home. Nan and I had soft tacos.

And after dinner, I poured Nan a County Seat Spirits whiskey and water while I had a Yuengling. And we celebrated with a drink in my dad’s honor.

And Nan always makes the teenager and I laugh.

And the neighbor that visited earlier, little dog’s mom, returned with the fanciest chocolate covered pretzels I ever saw. She made them at work and thought we could enjoy them with family after the viewing on Sunday.

Daddy, I promise to seek laughter and joy when I miss you.

Remembering how to Breathe: Homage and Adieu to my Father

My father has been dealing with illness for the last couple weeks, since Thanksgiving.

He was in the hospital twice over the last week, because a twist of complications from COPD and Covid made it impossible for him to breathe. And he wouldn’t eat or drink.

But a week before that he was here and fine.

And yesterday he was stable.

The hospital had sent him for a brain scan because he was delusional and rather hateful. And they discovered that somewhere between seven and 30 days ago he had a stroke.

Well, despite being stable, he apparently had a bigger stroke last night— and it left his legs paralyzed. And he developed pneumonia.

So… I drove to work this morning having last heard that my father was stable and my stepmom was asking family members if we could help care for him while he recovered.

I saw two deer frolicking on the Bizzy Hizzy lawn as I drove to the Stitch Fix warehouse. They were happy and bouncing around, and I was optimistic, Wednesday, after all, is my Friday.

I clocked in and headed to my assigned table and even nailed those numbers as I QC’ed my first few fixes.

I noticed the warehouse seemed hot and sticky and I suspected I smelled funny.

Then my step mom called. She had bad news. Dad was dying.

I walked up to some random supervisor and explained what was happening. Another person who seemed to be more in charge grabbed my Bizzy box and told me he would clock me out.

I had been folding a lovely jewel tone green sweater.

I called the teenager and told her not to go to school.

I drove home racing into a beautiful sunrise.

There was a drug raid at the house two doors down.

The teenager was burning a candle.

We drove to the hospital with no issue and the guard almost stopped us until I told him my dad was dying.

And then when we arrived in the room, my dad looked tiny and frail. He’s always been tiny but never frail.

And this towel in his room was folded like a swan. It seemed out of place, but serene.

We all sat there— my brother for a while, the teenager, my stepmom, her friends, and I— watching my dad gasp to breathe. They didn’t have his teeth in. My sister arrived around 10. She went to the bathroom. The doctor came into the room.

My sister said, “hi, Pop.”

The doctor hugged my stepmom.

And the teenager and I watched him stop breathing. And his death was that quick. 10:07 a.m.

I snapped this photo because if you look near that wad of cotton on his left arm, he has a tattoo of my name. And I might not ever see it again.

My dad was 73. And smoked almost 2 packs a day for almost 60 years.

I have received hundreds of condolences on Facebook today— so many little remembrances of who he was. A message from a high school peer of mine who used to do tractor pulls with my dad. Another high school peer who bought my dad’s tractor trailer. A Target peer whose mom worked for my dad and stepmom, and my dad used to try and explain the tools to him.

Aunt Sharon’s desk

We told my Aunt Sharon. But she said she already knew in her heart.

And we took Dad’s phone charger from his hospital belongings bag so my sister could charge her phone. His teeth are in that pink case. I also took a toothbrush from the hospital. Not sure why. I just wanted it.

And then we got ready for the funeral director.

And then with the viewing and funeral set, we went for pizza.

The people in the local pizza place gave us the pizza for free. My dad made that kind of impact on people.

We asked my mother-in-law if she could make her fried chicken and potato salad for after the viewing. She volunteered to make “Lee’s Beans,” too.

My stepmom’s sister arrived at 7, so after 12 hours I headed home. The teenager looked at me as we walked to the car.

“This is the first time we ever went to the car without Poppop standing in the garage to wave at us,” she said.

My daughter saying farewell

My daughter saying farewell

I apologize if this image offends anyone. But I find it beautiful and I wanted to share.

My husband’s 94-year-old grandmother died last week after a long battle with cancer. For the first year-and-a-half she did well, a round of radiation with my mother-in-law as her live-in caregiver and nurse. After her birthday this year (July 4), she retired to her bed and did not leave her bedroom again.

With the help of hospice nurses, my mother-in-law cared for her as if she were a newborn baby. I wish I could say it was peaceful as her obituary claimed, but the last two weeks were not. I will spare the gruesome details and say only that I now understand how zombie legends started. Apparently, my grandmother-in-law’s heart kept going even when her body had begun serious decomposition.

Nana died at home. This was the third and final great-grandparent that my daughter had. The first passed away when she was five or so and we brought her to the viewing with one brief glance into the casket. The second followed a year or two later, and this time my daughter heard more about the choices that had to be made about end of life care and “pulling the plug.”

This time, my daughter, at nine, helped care for her dying great grandmother and attended the whole funeral– riding in the limo with her grandparents, attending the whole viewing and funeral, and even going graveside. (My daughter sat beside the grave with her grandparents and boisterously asked, “Are they going to drop her into that hole?” The pastor laughed.)

My mother-in-law had asked for three pink roses tucked into Nana’s hand– one for each of her three great-grandchildren (all girls, the other two are in their twenties). The funeral director knew Nana well and slipped a peppermint into her fingers as he remembered her always having a hard candy to share.

I found so much beauty in that day. The sun-drenched October day turned out perfect, sandwiched between cold, rainy days. My daughter did such sweet things, like helping her aunt arrange the blankets around Nana before they closed the casket.

But this photo summarizes it for me: My darling baby, kneeling before her great-grandmother for a farewell, using those quiet moments before the public calling hours. Yes, you can see the body, but it’s almost indistinguishable. Bathed in light with color from the flowers. It was a peaceful moment.

Photography: A Child Says Adieu (Nana’s funeral, 2013)