A few years ago I stepped back from blogging, knitting, teaching, traveling and writing to focus on things that were more immediate, the things that make up the most important parts of our lives: family. As any regular former reader knows, my mother died in November of 2011. It was not a comfortable time for me at all. My mother had struggled with mental illness for most of her life. She had tried many different therapies and medications, and finally with the advent or Prozac in the very late 1980's, things seemed to stabilize. As she aged, things fell apart and she chose to stop all medications and treatments. She began alternately indulging in days of starvation juxtaposed with days of massive sugar intake in an attempt to induce a diabetic coma, ultimately dying uncomfortably in a nursing home following a stroke. It was a long row to hoe, and there were a lot of things I could not share, or did not feel comfortable sharing with the general public. My greatest supporter during that time was my father who, by virtue of their marriage, knew her better than anyone else in my circle of support. We shared a lot of stories during that time; many of them laced with sarcasm and sardonic humor, and a fatalistic awareness that she would, in the end, get her way as she always did. And she did. And when she was dead my father in many ways was the only person who understood what a relief her death was for me. Everything changed. I felt free and like I could take a good long breath for the first time in forever. He had divorced her. He knew what that liberty felt like. Conflicted joy. Joyful agony. Sort of the deeply emotional equivalent of eating a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's at one sitting - so sweet on the lips, and not really regretted, but boy do you feel like a horrible person for being so damned contented when it went down!
My father was (past-tense spoiler alert!) also the best and most faithful supporter of this blog. He rarely, if ever, commented, but would call and say he'd read the latest installment and ask me what I was up to next. I'd tell him he needed to wait and see. He was always so excited about anything I wrote. During my mother's dying process it became harder and harder to write about anything not related to her. Once she died I thought my mojo would return and things would resume, given some time, their more normal flavor. I expected the blog to take on a more "every-day life of Melissa" sort of line again.
But that didn't happen. Instead I found myself increasingly drawn away from the whole public sharing thing, and more and more turned toward family and home and "real life". Thank God. Because it wasn't very long after my mother died that my father's condition began to clarify. It's hard, when you are a nurse - even a non-practicing one - not to mentally assess people you love, and come to horrible conclusions very quickly. I struggle with this in my daily life even now - when to express concern, when to point out the red flags I can so clearly see (but it could just be that I am paranoid...and I am not a doctor after all...and really, the person I am looking at skeptically is an adult and they'd know enough to call if things got bad, right? Right?)
To say that the years since my mother's death have been a little crazy would be an understatement. Four kids got married, and one got divorced, the house we called "the pretty house" sold (thank heaven - it was entirely too big for our empty nest!) and we moved into "the downsize house". Mr. Wonderful's job has moved, and he now lives in someone's basement during the week and comes home for weekends while we try to sell our house - which has been on the market for over a year. In between all of that there were little moments of life and chaos and highs and lows. And thankfully the house did not sell last year. Because this last year has been about the worst and best one yet.
The year and everything in it matters less than the outcome. In March, my father - my most beloved, cherished champion, the man I was convinced for most of my life was perfect, who was then revealed in my adolescence to be merely super human, and ultimately proved to be, simply, a Very Good Man and An Excellent Father - died. Obviously it wasn't unexpected. The hints I had been reading in his color, the way he stood, the change in his gait all pointed to a painfully progressive illness that ultimately would (and did) end his life.
The thing is that between all the insanity of weddings and births and divorces and moving and living and dying I was being drawn into a much deeper awareness of a Father infinitely larger than the one I idolized for so much of my life. You would think that this experience, this watching someone I care for so, so very deeply die a slow and painful death would make me resentful or angry or doubting of God, but all it's done is draw me more firmly into a love and peace that pass understanding, and into a Relationship with God that I didn't think could ever exist for me. I rather coveted the relationship others had, but it wasn't, I thought, for me. It's a subtle change I think. I talk to God all the time. I read the Bible every day, and I spend hours learning more about it - about the meanings of words, the history of stories, the different books and what they are, and about the human authors.
And so in the last hours of my father's life I found myself lying beside him, holding his hand, breathing his breath, thanking God with a gratitude nearly blinding to me for every moment of this man's life. Of my life. Of the lives of those I love, and even some of those I don't always love so well. My father died, and my Father stepped into the gap, and I am grateful. Hurt, sad, pained, grieved and often in tears - but underneath it all just so very grateful.
This is not what I expected. I anticipated anger and resentment, pain and fear and misery. I fully planned a nervous breakdown and a deep depression for the weeks after his death. But what I am left with is so opposite that; sometimes shockingly so. My father lived his life in service of others. He lived altruistically, giving without expectation not just of his money, but of his time and his very self. For someone who claimed not to be a Christian (at times; at other times he said he believed, and at still others said he believed almost everything the Bible said, but he was pretty sure Mary was "...a really good saleswoman") he lived the most Christ-like life of nearly anyone I know - except maybe Mr. Wonderful who, also in professed disbelief, spends most of his time laying down his life in service of others. But don't tell him I said so because we don't want his head getting all swelled, and he is a man and you know how they can be! It's important not to let one's husband think he walks on water. Which he doesn't.
That's all that I have on my mind for now...except that my house is still on the market, we are still trying to move someplace WARM, and I may or may not be back here more in the future. But you know we're still kicking, anyway!