.journal 2008.11.29


.org.8: Take me back to the place that never was

Now listening to: Tom Waits, Small Change
Now reading: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD, The Art of Happiness
Now playing: Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

As we approach the end of 2008, I’m reminded of how I generally haven’t paid too much attention to the changing of calendar years over time. It’s an excuse to eat some bad food — in my case, the family tradition is Cheez Waffies and Coke — but I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, and generally speaking I tend to look back over the previous year a lot more when my birthday comes due than on the evening of 12.31.

This past March when I turned 32, of course, my mind was on Dad’s death; it had been less than a month since his passing, and his death was, as you could expect, one of the most profoundly changing events of my life. Ever since then, it seems like every occasion that comes by — his birthday, Father’s Day, Heather’s birthday, Mom’s birthday — has been a reason to stop and think about the fact that it was the first time I was experiencing that event since Dad’s death. (I have to keep catching myself when I want to say or type "now that Dad’s no longer with us" because he is still with us in our hearts, where he will always live.) I suppose that trying to do my usual recap of the year in this entry is going to be nearly impossible without a very heavy emphasis on his death and how it has affected me and the people around me.

In fact, after my family and I were told of Dad’s death in the waiting room in the hospital, my first thought was to try to get hold of an Internet-enabled computer so I could contact the people I needed to contact (I’m much more of an e-mail person than a phone person), and also to post something here to let people know what had happened; I’m pretty sure that I posted something about his death on here within five minutes of arriving back home, while I was still ruminating about the fact that it was my first trip home since Dad’s death. (Yes, I do that sort of thing a lot.) I am deeply grateful for all the condolensces I received from all of you in the days following his death, if I haven’t said that enough.

Ironically enough, though, I haven’t been able to say that much about his death, when I normally use this Website, and specifically the .journal, to record the most minute details of these sorts of things, like what happened before, during, and after the house fire in 2001. All I can say is that external factors are preventing me from posting those details in a public forum such as this; I can’t say anything more than that. All I can say is that he died at Flower Memorial Hospital — the same hospital I was born at (and that I drive past every day I teach or every time I go to Kroger) — on 2008.02.23 at about 1300. Perhaps some day I’ll be able to say more than that, but it doesn’t look like that day will come soon.

This puts me back into the position of having to describe what things have been like since his death. There have been the regrets — things not said, questions not asked, experiences not shared with him — as well as all the small and large adjustments we’ve had to make at the house. There’s still a large amount of business relating to his death that we have to handle, but again, that’s something that I can’t talk about openly due to other considerations. As I mentioned in a blog entry a few days ago, it’s hard to put into words the feelings I’ve been experiencing for the past nine months, because it’s hard to put into words the absence of thoughts and feelings than their presence.

I’m still processing a lot of emotions. I didn’t have an emotional cry until a couple of months after Dad’s death, and even that came out of the blue as I was listening to a popular song of ten years ago. (No, I don’t feel like mentioning the name of the song.) Earlier this month after Barack Obama won the election I did a lot of crying, because this country had finally elected an African-American president — something I wasn’t entirely sure would even happen in my lifetime — and Dad wasn’t around to see it. Dad had a deep distrust of politicans of any stripe, but I know that he would have been supportive of Obama’s campaign, and would have taken some pride in the fact that this country finally elected an African-American to the highest office in the land. Even though I don’t agree with a lot of Obama’s politics, I still have high admiration for him as a person, and even if I didn’t vote for him I still take some pride in what this country did. To an extent, I’m still a bit astonished to see Obama on the news and think to myself, "This man will be my president in less than two months."

Just as I’ve been keeping track of the anniversaries that I’ve been experiencing since Dad’s death, I’ve also been keeping track of numbers. Even if I’m an English teacher now, math was always my strong suit growing up, and to this day I still keep my "math mind" as active as I can. It wasn’t that long before Dad’s death that he and I finally reached the point where I was more than half his age. After he died, that brought the realization upon me that if I were to live to his age, that I have now lived more than half my expected life. This feels like selfish thinking on some levels, but as much as the deaths of grandparents and family cats shocked me and made me think about death, there’s nothing like the death of a parent to remind you of your own mortality in the most painful way. Even though health-wise I’ve got some strengths on Mom’s side of the family, I did inherit a lot of things from my Dad’s side (two good eyes, resilient if ugly teeth), and I hate to think that I may have inherited his early mortality as well, especially since I can’t afford to get a good quality medical check-up right now.

Honestly, my own valuation of my life has never been all that high. Even though I’ve been able to improve a lot of areas of my life these past few years, and even though I’ve been making a positive difference with a lot of my students, I have never felt like I would be particularly missed if I were to suddenly pass away. That said, even though Mom took Dad’s death far better than I expected her to, I know that if she were to lose me on top of Dad, it would just be too much for her to handle. For now, at least, I have to live for Mom, not to mention for Dad because of course I know that he’d want me to keep doing the best I could for the planet while I’m still here.

In the end, though, it’s more than likely that I will outlive Mom, at which point I will have to start living for myself. As I said, I’ve been able to positively affect the lives of many of my students (though far from all), and I’d like to think that I can keep doing that through the rest of my life. As I’ve become more and more of a reader (strange how that happened after I finished my MA), I guess I’ve also come to realize that my thirst for knowledge has grown all the stronger, and that there’s still a lot I want to learn about here. (I like to think that the variety of stuff on my blog reflectes all the different interests I have.) As far as finding that special someone, that’s been on hold since Dad’s death, even though his death has maybe made me want someone like that in my life all the more. I am growing closer emotionally to one of my friends, but she and I will never be able to take our relationship to that level because of the differences we have.

The question of where I go from here is still unsettled to say the least, in part because I need to resolve a couple of major items of business surrounding Dad’s death before I can make definitive plans. I do still want to get my MFA in Creative Writing, but I haven’t been able to make the time to write lately. When I’m not swamped with work for school or other work, I’ve had incidents like the two back-to-back illnesses I got a couple of months ago that knocked me out of commission for so long. Even things like my diet, which I’d been doing so well on, got knocked out of whack, and at one point I went nearly six months without playing DDR, which for me is kind of shocking. I’m getting back on track with that stuff — getting Wii Fit has certainly helped with that — but I hesitate to say that I’ll be as good with that as I’d like to be, because my life is still hectic and I’m still at a place where a lot of that stuff is easy to let slide by so I can handle other things.

I don’t think I’m legally allowed to do an anniversary .journal entry without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and in fact I just had my students do a couple of exercises from the book in the class before Thanksgiving break. As I write this, I’m reminded of another exercise from the book (albeit one she didn’t come up with) where you figure out where you want to be in ten years, then five years, then one year, and on and on until you figure out what small thing you can do at this exact moment to get yourself closer to that goal. It’s hard for me to come up with a plan for ten years right now, though, and a lot of the time it feels like my main goal on any given day is just to survive it. One thing I’ve picked up from my sister is to reply "surviving" whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing, and since Dad’s death that response has never been more true.

I don’t express my sad feelings on this Website at quite the same level as I did when I started here eight years ago, in part because those kinds of expressions opened me up to a number of problems, and in part because I’ve been more careful with my words here since I graduated and turned this Website into more of an arm of my professional life. Honestly, I think I’ve become a lot better at dealing with those feelings; even as painful as Dad’s death has been, I’ve dealt with it much more healthily then I would have if it had happened five years ago. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, though. Those of you who have had to deal with the loss of a parent — I’m thinking particularly of Katy and Don here — know how there’s nothing that really prepares you for it.

I realize I’m kind of wandering here as I write, and that’s because it’s hard for me to write about a year where one thing was so dominant that I can’t think of anything else that is worth writing about. There have been big things that have happened in my life since Dad’s death that I’ve never really brought up here; for example, we sold both of my Dad’s old minivans after his death and now I’m driving a used PT Cruiser. We didn’t need the minivans since Dad was the only one who needed that space to haul stuff, and given how long my drive is to work, we’ll probably make up the cost of the Cruiser in gas money by the end of next year. Things like that normally would have made it into my Website and been discussed in great detail, but it’s been about six months since we bought the Cruiser and this is the first time I’m mentioning it here.

Needless to say, the lack of updates on the Website also shows just how things have changed for me. In part this is because I now have a Twitter feed, and just as blogging caused me to stop writing so many .journal entries, perhaps twittering has caused me to not write as many blog entries. Still, it’s kind of disconcerting when I have so many weeks go by where the only blog entry I make is a Friday Five. In part this is because my illnesses and stuff with school and the election has made it hard for me to make time to write or even think about things to write about, and I made a point earlier this week to make a list of things to write about (it’s on the whiteboard I keep beside my desk), but again, it’s hard for me to promise that I’ll get better at writing more here when I still have so many other things going on.

Perhaps this all points to a certain lack of an anchor in my life, something to help me maintain focus and get things done. I’m not going to deny having my disagreements with Dad — heck, I documented lots of them on this Website as they happened — but I always loved him deeply, and his presence in my life helped me to focus. Even if he never pried that much into what I was doing in my professional career, I knew that whenever I needed help or someone to talk to, he would do what he could for me. (This is ironic, since Dad always said there was no group of people he hated more than English teachers.) Even though I carry him in my heart always, and I can intuit the things he’d say whenever I’m faced with difficulty, it’s still hard to do those things without him here.

This brings me back to the future, and what the coming year will bring. More than any other year, this year I hesitate to proscribe any specifics of what I want to have happen, because so much in my life is still in flux. In general, though, I would just say that I want to get my life back on track, to resolve the business surrounding Dad’s death as best as I can and then to move on as best I can. I have to do more than just survive the coming year, but I’m still not sure how I will go about that. I guess the only thing I can do at this point is to just do, to try to get done the things I need to get done, and hope that it all works out. Perhaps that’s all I can do, and it’s just taken Dad’s death for me to learn this once and for all.

Everyone take care and be well. I’ll see you around.

— Sean

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