I have never talked about my dad much. I never really wondered why, which is odd. I love my dad, and he’s an amazing man who helped foster my love for fantasy literature, and who helped me realized the importance of staying informed and involved in the political system. But when I share about my family, I tend to talk more about my mom and my sister. I’m not sure why. My family has always been the constant in my life. I’ve added some friends to that consistent level, but through everything, my family has always been there. Yet I’ve tended to consult and share more with my sister and my mom more than my dad, which probably adds to why I tend to not talk about my dad. But I find that now I want to share more about my dad, which will be very hard.
In October 2014, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. There’s no way to know for sure, but that diagnosis is what the doctor used to base his decisions on. His personality is also changed a bit as a result of his brain deteriorating, so he became a little less my dad with each passing day.
You might’ve caught the past-tense in this post. That’s because in the year since the diagnosis, we learned my dad had stage-4 esophageal cancer that killed him 5 weeks after it was discovered. And this finality has added another layer of pain and sorrow that I know I will spend the rest of my life learning to live with a bit better every day.
I am in the 3rd year of a 4 year PhD program, and the news added an additional level of stress. My schedule prevented me from being able to help guide my dad through daily decisions and help ease my mom’s stress. And when I think of the future, a sadness creeps in realizing that my dad would most likely not have understood or remembered what all the work the initials I will one day add after my name means. It has also been another season of attending numerous weddings and baby showers, which is yet another constant reminder of the many moments still to come that my dad will not be present for.
As I work on my degree, there is a part of me that carries this weight. But there is another part that realizes this too is part of life. I never expected my dad to live forever; I just didn’t realize I would lose him the way the shore by the ocean disappears – a tiny amount wearing off at a time before it is suddenly and entirely consumed.
Writing my papers this semester has been the hardest because in the quiet spaces I carve out of my schedule to capture what I’ve learned in my classes, these thoughts dominate. And my classes aren’t about grief or loss – they’re about pedagogy and learning and education. A case can be made that my professors have been more gracious and understanding of my situation than I have been. I am looking forward to being done with the semester. I am not looking forward to not having my dad around for the holidays.
When I was a small child, we would listen to records. My parents’ turntable predated my existence, and I was always a little nervous about breaking it. My fear didn’t stop me from putting on Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” or any one of the Beatles or The Who albums we had shelved above the player.
I loved watching the records spin around and was fascinated with the transformation of the ridges into melodies and harmonies that made me want to sing out. That turntable introduced me to a number of the albums I still love.
But my favorite record was the one we listened to every time we cleaned the house. The Official Album of Disneyland/Walt Disney World.
Thinking back on those times, I can remember how much fun it made cleaning. My favorite part was dancing with my mom and the Munchkin to “The Main Street Electrical Parade”.
Today I set up a new turntable/CD/tape player with AM/FM radio. The first album my mom and I played?
The Official Album of Disneyland/Walt Disney World.
My whole family was there; we danced together. Somethings never change, and in staying the same, they become pricelessly perfect.
So my time in Australia is ending very soon. And I’m very sad. I’ve met so many great friends and reconnected with some that are like family and enjoyed this time tremendously.
And this time around I’ve had one of the best farewells of my life.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this trip with the people at a small church in the heart of the city called Ann St. Church of Christ. It’s a great little church because the best people are there. The heart of the church is with several families who all support the church in their own way. One of the larger families come from one of the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, and on Sunday they bid all of us (because there was a large group from the church I go to at home) by dancing for us. And not like dancing you’d see in a club if you went to one. Like dancing that their family has done for generations.
This time of year is when the people and this family do a lot of dancing to celebrate when the first missionaries came to their island and brought the message that God loves people enough to set aside divinity and take on humanity, die, and come back to life to fix the relationship that we broke.
The dancing was beautiful, and what made the dancing even more amazing was the fact that the dancers are all people who are now family. And when I thought that I couldn’t appreciate their generosity and love any more, they taught us all several dances where the dancers have to sit.
So we all (probably around 50 or so people) sat on the floor of the hall in a giant circle. And then the beat started and we all started slapping our thighs and then we started slapping the ground in front of us and the dance just continued from there. And we all laughed and tried our best and had a great time as a family.
And in the midst of this great time, my Australian Iron Ore ring that I’ve had for 4 years broke into several pieces and fell on the ground.
If it had happened anywhere else or at any other time, I would have been incredibly sad because I have connected numerous memories to that ring. But I think because I was surrounded by family having such a great time learning a new dance, the saddness was brief.
Because even though I cannoth possibly ever wear the ring again as intended, I will never forget that I was dancing with family when it shattered. And I will still have the memories because how could I ever forget dancing with family?
Munchkin: My name for my sister (who is absolutely fantastic and one of my favorite people).
The other day while we were visiting a church my cousin sometimes goes to and meeting some of her friends there my sister began talking about a band that she likes.
They’re called Sleeping Giant. (I’ve never heard them, I couldn’t tell you what they sound like).
I will never forget the name though, because in answer to the question “Sleeping Giants or Sleeping Giant?” Munchkin thinks a moment and says:
“Sleeping Giant. Just one. My friend was talking about them, and I said, ‘Sleeping Giants?’ and he said, ‘No, without the “s.”’ So I said, ‘Oh, Leaping Giants’ and he just laughed.”
And then we all laughed. I laughed because this story, including me retelling it here, completely exemplifies Munchkin and her logic. First of all, in her head taking the “s” off “Sleeping” is still the most logical solution. And secondly, it is completely within the realm of normal to share this with a person she’s known for 10 minutes so that they can know the name of a band.
And then, the next day she walks up the stairs and with no context says, “Remind me not to tell people I’ve just met embarrassing stories.” This caught my cousin, who wasn’t there for the first telling of the “Leaping Giants” story, completely off-guard, so Munchkin has to tell the story again. And then we all laughed again. Our cousin laughed about it long into the night and even today was still randomly laughing about.
And then while I was writing this, Munchkin reminded me that I should include the last paragraph. Munchkin’s pretty awesome.