Father’s Day 2015: I Remember the Shoes

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One of the worst things about loss is that it is completely unpredictable. You never know how it is going to feel from one moment to the next, or one year to the next, so you can’t protect yourself from it.  A friend of mine who had never experienced the loss of a loved one before asked me how it felt.  The best way that I could describe it was to say that it is like walking through your house in the dark.  Without really thinking about it, you know how many steps it takes to get from the bottom of the stairs to the kitchen floor.  You know how closely you need to walk to the wall to avoid hitting the kitchen table.  But every now and then, someone will bump into the couch and move it over just one tiny little inch.  One tiny little inch is all it takes.  You run right into it, jamming your toe, and before you can stop yourself you are withering in pain while a string of expletives escapes from your mouth.  You learn how to navigate the darkness, but you cannot predict how subtle changes in life will sneak up on you and trigger a pain that is always there, just below the surface.

Today, this picture was the couch.  I stared at this picture and what I realized was that I remember those shoes.  I remember how much those shoes hurt me and how desperate I was to take them off.  I stood holding the hand of greatness, bathed in immeasurable love, yet I can’t remember how that felt.  Instead, I remember the shoes.

I am a firm believer that love, much like energy, “can neither be created nor destroyed, but it transforms from one form to another”.  I know that my father’s love did not leave this world when he did.  It simply transformed from one form to another and I found it in a million little ways over the years.

I found my father’s love in my Uncle Greg and my Uncle Dan who both stepped up in their own ways to be a father figure to my siblings and me.  Through working on the house, occasionally helping with the bills, supporting our endeavors, providing love and guidance, and sharing their stories of our father with us.

I found my father’s love in my Grandpa Tony, a man who had no blood ties to us, but still loved us as he did his own grandchildren.  His love for my father has brought me so much comfort over the years.  Even now, 29 years later, the mere mention of my father’s name stirs up visible emotion within him.  He is a reminder that I haven’t glorified my father; he really was as great as we all knew him to be.

I found my father’s love in Frank, the man who married my mother.   He became a father to me when I was 19 years old and already knew all the ways of the world.  He loved me through my arrogance and helped me to grow into a person who now knows that she doesn’t know everything. He challenged me to learn more, do more, and be more and he supported me every step of the way.

I found my father’s love in my Pappy, a man who knew me for only a moment but still offered me the world.  We met in the midst of a disaster ten years ago, and I still think about him all of the time. Somehow he saw both the little girl inside me and the woman I had become and he believed that I was capable of anything.

I found my father’s love in my “chosen father”, my Jack; another man who left this world long before I was ready for him to go.  Jack loved me with a quiet acceptance that I never once questioned.  He nurtured the learner, the explorer, and the wanderer in me.  He showed me that life is light, music, art, and taking care of things that grow.  He reminded me that there is power in silence, there is peace in silence, and silence could bring me the stillness I desired.

So while I look at this picture and I only remember the shoes, I know that my father’s love was there as I clung to his finger, and it has been there every day of my life in all of the men who have loved me with my father’s love.

Happy Father’s Day!

Oh the Things You Will Hear if You are Willing to Listen

Oh this day last year I was merrily on my way to my most beloved place in the world, Harrisville, MI.  My sister’s family and I had rented a cottage for the entire week on Lake Huron.  They drove up the night before but, due to my work schedule, I had to wait and drive up on Sunday, which was Father’s Day.  It was a four hour drive spent in the sunshine, with my windows down, and the music blaring.  I look forward to drives like this because it gives me a chance to really think about things, really explore my feelings, and ask myself questions that I avoid asking during the buzz and hum of every day life.  

Since it was Father’s Day, my mind and heart naturally drifted to thoughts of fathers.  I thought about, and gave thanks for, the many men in my life who have stood up to be a positive male role model to me, from teachers to family friends to uncles to my step father, and even my D.A.R.E. officer.  I have been blessed to know what a good man is and why I am deserving of the love of a good man.  However, all of the love that has been showered upon is still a close second to the love of my father whom I lost too soon. My father died when he was forty and I was only four which left an aching tenderness in my heart that has never fully healed.  

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As I drove on I went through the normal list of questions: would he be proud of me? would I be proud of him? would he think I’m funny and pretty and smart? would he believe in my dreams and my ability to achieve them?  what would he say to me today? I wiped away tears on and off for the next hour. As I was passing through a little lake shore town I saw a sign in front of an old church that advertised a used book sale.  

Two things you should know about me: 

1.  I will ALWAYS stop for a used book sale, always!

2.  I love happening upon a book that has an inscription in it written to some stranger whom I will never meet.  The trick though is that I can not look for inscriptions; the inscriptions have to find me when I pick up a book that interests me.  Then, if I find a book that I’m interested in AND there is an inscription in it, I HAVE to buy it.  

So, I pulled my car over, rolled down the windows for the lizard in my back seat, and walked in to begin my treasure hunt.  When I got inside I saw that it was a large empty room except for 5 long tables on either side completely filled with books.  The spines of the books were all facing the sealing so that you could not see the cover of any book except the one on the very end.  This isn’t my favorite way of searching for books, as I am heavily swayed by cover art, but I’ve grown accustomed to this type of search and the extra time that it calls for.  I walked directly to the first table, put my hands on the spines, and began my search.  I looked at the books where my left hand had landed and immediately drew my hand back.  I looked around the room as if to question the strangers to see if they saw what I was seeing.  Even if they had though, they would have no idea what it meant.  

The very first book beneath my hand was The Fall of Freddie the Leaf.  If my recollection serves me, I believe that a family friend brought this book over to our house shortly after our father had passed, though I can not recall who that friend may have been.  What I do recall is that this book was read to us in an attempt to explain what we were going through.  Freddie is a leaf on a tree who experiences the four seasons alongside his friend Daniel (which just so happens to be my father’s name).  As Spring turns to Summer and Summer turns to Fall, Daniel guides Freddie through the changes and explains that it is all a part of Life and our larger purpose.  In the Winter, Daniel releases his grip on the tree and falls gently to the ground, leaving Freddie alone.  Freddie is fearful for a period until he accepts that this is all a part of the process, and that he too must let go one day.  When his time comes, Freddie is able to view the entire tree for the first time and he understands in full what his purpose was.  

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I’ll be honest, as a child I don’t think the book had the impact on me that the adults had hoped for; metaphors we lost on me.  Regardless though, I thought the book was an odd find to come across on Father’s Day, in the middle of no where, after I had spent the entire drive thinking about my father.  I pulled the book from its resting place and opened the front cover.  Much to my delight, the front cover was inscribed.  Not only was the front cover inscribed though, it was dated 1986, the exact year that my father died.  

The inscription read as follows:

To Elaine – My friend,

This is one of my very favorite books – and I know it will become one of yours.  It is a gentle reminder to me – of the meaning and “beauty” of death – and a reminder also of our “Purpose” or “Reason for Being”.  Your parents had many “Reasons for Being”. Giving the world a daughter as beautiful as you are is only one “Purpose”. 

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I immediately put the book in my bag as I knew that it had been placed there just for me.  I rounded up a handful of other books, gave my donation, and got back on the road.  My eyes again filled with tears, but this time they were tears of understanding as the message had been received.  

When I got to my final destination, I walked into the lake (which is the one place that I have always felt his presence), looked towards the heavens and wished my father a happy Father’s Day and thanked him for his gift.