Last week was the one-year mark of my dad’s death. I know everyone says this, but I cannot believe that a year has gone by without him.
I asked my mom ahead of time how she wanted to acknowledge the day. We landed on a family dinner and all the kids attended. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day a couple days early with corned beef and cabbage, plus Irish soda bread and Irish pound cake for dessert. My dad liked that meal, so I thought it was fitting to enjoy it.
As I have with all dinners this year, I set an empty place for Dad beside Mom. It keeps him in our thoughts, although we really don’t need the reminder.
I was thankful for the kids. Mom actually coped better than I figured she would. She had moments during the day where she retreated to her room, most likely to cry. But overall, her spirit was good. During dinner, Cyris kept us in stitches, teasing Garris and making quips about everything. We all needed the laughter.
The past year has seen a lot of change for us. Just the process of filing paperwork in response to Dad’s death took months, especially with the pandemic taking grip. Sorting through their house and culling loads to the dump took months as well.
And planning his memorial service, while dealing with an ungrateful and obnoxious family member, took months of time, a lot of energy, and a great deal of emotion.
Moving Mom in last summer was one of the biggest changes for all of us. I know it’s hard for her to give up her autonomy and her home. But it would have been harder for her to stay there alone. She has never lived alone, and I don’t think she would have survived it very long. We are still adjusting to the living arrangement. And I will admit, there are days I long for my private, selfish days of having my house to myself.
But I think we are all content with the arrangement. The weeks that Garris is with me, we adjust to that reality as well. The house is louder and seems more alive when he is here, even on the days he’s only around for a few hours.
Mom’s house was vandalized last August, and that threw another wrinkle into the situation. Luckily, the only damage done was to drywall, flooring, and windows, plus some personal items that were left in the house. We had already moved anything of value out of the house. But the process is on-going with the insurance company. And the contractors are squeezing the repairs into their schedules, so we’re still waiting for work to get done.
Sylvis has been living in the house since last fall, when he decided to move back from Texas. His plans for breaking into the film industry didn’t pan out, mostly due to Covid, which shut down most of the opportunities he was pursuing. He has done all of the clean-up and all of the structural repair work at the house so far, along with a couple of friends. He is doing remodeling: flooring, painting, etc. And although it’s taking more time than a contractor would, he is doing a good job and the house will look better once he’s finished. Dad wouldn’t even recognize it.
Mom is still debating about selling. If she is offered enough money for the place, I’m sure she will sell in a heartbeat. She has admitted, she wants to be done with the place. With Dad gone, it just isn’t the same. And I think here is feeling more like home to her now.
One of my biggest adjustments has been having someone with me twenty-four hours a day. Not since Garris was five have I been in this situation. And I’m not used to it. I am used to doing my own projects, at my own pace. I am used to coming and going without anyone looking over my shoulder or offering judgement. In short, my days the last few years have been free-form in terms of scheduling. I tend to be a free spirit and let the day take me where it needs to.
My mom, on the other hand, is used to a very structured routine, doing everything at almost the exact same time every day. Chores, meals, even brushing her teeth, are dictated by the clock. I told her before she moved over that I didn’t roll that way, and that we weren’t going to be joined at the hip.
The first couple of months, she acted like my shadow, following me everywhere. If I went outside to do a personal project, she would suddenly be at my shoulder. And then be upset if I didn’t have anything for her to help with. Conversely, there have been times I asked her to do a certain job, and she acted put out by the request. And that is where my biggest frustration lies.
I don’t need anyone creating jobs or tasks for me to do. I have a constant, revolving list of manuscripts and other house-related or craft projects to keep me busy longer than I sometimes care to be. Plus, I work out each day and try to ride a horse and/or mess with my colt. And even when I try to think of things to keep Mom busy and content, she seldom wants to partake in those activities unless I’m going to do them too.
I’ve suggested movies. She doesn’t like watching tv. I’ve suggested music. She doesn’t like listening to the radio. I’ve suggested sewing. She doesn’t want to. I’ve suggested taking up new hobbies like knitting or crochet. Nope. I even suggested she go through her mom’s recipes from when she ran the Woolworth lunch counter and choose fifty to put into a recipe book. I would help her publish it. So far, she hasn’t looked at any of them.
Honestly, I don’t care what she does with her time. If she’s content surfing the internet or re-reading the same books over and over again, then I’m glad she’s happy. But to act and say that she’s bored when she won’t even try to stay busy does irritate me. Last fall, I was making blankets for everybody out of Dad’s shirts. It was a surprise for Christmas, so I kept my door closed. But I’m sure she heard the sewing machine going. She was upset that my door was closed, because she thought I didn’t want her around.
She does ride her horses when the weather is good. And I’m glad she feels like doing that and still can at 82. But even then, it feels more like a duty than something she enjoys. That’s what struck me the other day: everything she does during the day is done as quickly as she can get it done and then she looks to the next thing as her next obligation.
Sylvis gave her some adult coloring books for Christmas, for something different to do with her time. She colored in them obsessively until she had them all filled up in a matter of a month. I’m not sure if she even enjoyed the process, because she was so focused on ‘getting done’. And that kind of defeated the whole purpose of the books.
Whether it’s feeding the horses or eating a meal or again, brushing her teeth. She approaches tasks with an almost obsessive quality. Even taking a bath, which is something I utterly enjoy. I get the water as hot as I can stand it, pour it bubbles, then enjoy soaking in as much water as will fit in the tub. Not Mom. She rushes into the bathroom as soon as chores are done, runs a tiny bit of water, and spends about three minutes in it. What’s the point?
I know that she is used to her routine, and I’m not actively trying to interfere with that. She got into habits while Dad was alive, and she isn’t going to change them now. But I have to wonder what Dad would think, or if she was like this with him.
I know he was regimented in his routine as well, but I don’t recall him taking on tasks as duties. I don’t remember him ever saying or acting like he was bored or had nothing to keep him occupied. He did do a lot of reading. He repaired tack over the winter and made sure all the saddles got soaped up. He was very good at puttering.
And maybe that’s what I expect from Mom. I really thought by the one year mark, she would have settled into this life a little more. Enjoyed not having a set schedule every day. Have the ability to pursue a hobby that maybe she hadn’t been able to when Dad was alive. I don’t know.
And I’m not sure what she does with a lot of her time, because she stays in her bedroom most of the day. I gave her a puzzle for Christmas, and I figured she would work on it a little bit each day. It sat in the box for a couple of weeks. Then she did get all the pieces out and turn them over. But she didn’t put any pieces together for another couple of weeks. We’re going on three months and the border isn’t done yet. Again, this was an idea of something to occupy her time and keep her brain active. But she would rather be alone in her room.
She is a contradiction of actions. I used to think that my dad was a bit harsh with her at times. But I’m seeing that she is more high-strung that I realized. She can be demanding and borderline cruel with some of her comments. So, I do understand a little bit better why Dad talked to her the way he did sometimes. I did make him a promise the day he died that I would look after Mom and make sure she was okay. I would make sure she ate. I would get her wherever she needed to go with her horses. I let him know that she wouldn’t be alone. And I think and hope that brought him some measure of comfort in his final moments. And I take that promise seriously.
There are still moments I reach for the phone to call and talk to him. Ask him advice. Or just see how they are doing. I find myself finding recipes that I think he would enjoy. And I still try them, but it’s not the same as seeing what his reaction would be.
I hope that he has found some peace by now, one year after going to rest on that mountain. I’m sure he has found all his great horses and tracked down all the people he was missing. I do feel like he’s been a guardian angel at times. And I like the idea of that. I talk to him almost every day. Even if it’s just a quick good night.
There are certain songs I can’t listen to without crying. There are certain phrases that hit me hard. And there are days when his picture on the wall makes me a bit sad. I didn’t leave anything unsaid or undone with him. I am confident in that fact. But I do wish for more time. To ask him some questions about his life, about things I never knew until we went through papers and boxes. I wish for another chance just to observe how to be a decent person.
My dad was one of the most selfless people I ever knew. He willingly did without things so that he could help us kids or grandkids. And to a degree that I wasn’t aware of. A certain family member always had his hand out, asking for money, always with a sad sob story. And always with a promise to pay Dad back. That money never did get paid back. Dad actually had to pay back loans that this person had finagled out of other family members, because he never paid them back either. I want to go back in time and tell my dad to just stop the handouts. Let this person stand on his own and supply his own needs. But I can’t.
What I can do is make sure that Mom is never forced into that situation. She needs a thicker bubble of protection now. I think Dad would appreciate that. The next big day is his birthday in two days. I don’t have any celebration planned, but I will bake a cake and we can sing for him and enjoy something sweet in his honor.
I feel like we can all start to live again, as normal as we possibly can, because we have acknowledged all the ‘first times’ without Dad. Not that we will ignore him now or forget him. But I feel like Mom has almost wrapped herself in grief this past year. I know she will always miss him, and she should. But there have been times I’ve watched her use his death to try and get sympathy or excuse her less-than-stellar actions.
I feel like I’m coming out from under a black cloud myself. I have rearranged my life this past year to accommodate Mom’s move and her lifestyle, to a certain extent. And I’m happy I was able to do that. No regrets. But I haven’t taken time for myself, to be alone, and to fully process what Dad’s death means in my life. I need to start forging ahead with some of the plans and goals I’ve put on hold.
One thing I am going to do is to go visit Marnie and re-fresh our friendship. We are planning on traveling somewhere this fall, depending on Covid and travel restrictions. We’d like to do either Greece or Aruba. But if the pandemic continues, we’ll do something domestic. Doesn’t really matter as long as it’s warm and we’re together for a relaxing week or so. That will mean prepping Mom for my absence. I’ve already told her of the plan, so she has several months to wrap her head around being alone for a couple of weeks. And I know the boys will check in with her. I have friends who can help if she needs it.
After this last year, I’m embracing the idea of enjoying whatever it is I’m doing. In the moment. Making it a memory. And something to treasure. Not something I just have to get through. I’m making a point of making that my life’s mantra. Live life to the fullest, without regrets.
I think Dad might have adopted that himself, had he known how everything would end.
Still thinking of you, Dad. Til we see each other again . . .