Three. Such a small number. Some say it's magic; I've said it's magic. It's often used in writing. For example, Rice Krispies snap, crackle, and pop. It's not enough for the cereal to snap and crackle. It's also too much for the cereal snap, crackle, pop, and fizz. Two is too few and four is too many; three is just right. To the few of you who may be left to read this, you know I'm avoiding, but you also probably know what the three years since my last post have been for me, especially this last year -- the one that ends in a three.
I wrote on a friend's Facebook page that 2013 was hard from beginning to end. But yet, I didn't want to leave that year behind, because it was hard but inexpressibly full. The love I've received and given during the year that was 2013 was beyond that of any other. I didn't want to leave a year so profound and full of life-changing and life-defining and life-affirming moments just to enter a new year that seems so empty by comparison.
On the third day of the year. One year ago on the third day of the year that ended in a three, my boss called me into his office. I was the first he spoke to, followed by five others. He had to let go of the entire team, save one. The "saved" one was not me. She was not even at work that day but instead home with the flu. But she wasn't "saved," not really. Losing us would break her heart. Trying to do all the work of the entire team would break her soul.
It may seem odd that my first thought was for her. It may put you at ease to know I'm human, meaning I was mad as hell. The one "saved" and I had essentially the same job. Why wasn't I the one chosen to stay? Why wasn't I worthy? Didn't "they" know how important -- essential -- I am? (I'm laughing at my foolishness over that last one.) Having gone through this layoff dance before, I knew that it had nothing to do with her or with me. To the "they" -- those making the decisions -- we were numbers, and they were pushing numbers around to save their asses. (By the way, it didn't work. The CEO was ousted not even a month later.) And while it sucks to be laid off, I was going to get a severance package. I could apply for unemployment. I could spend more time with my dying father. I could take time to find a new job -- a better job. I wouldn't have wanted to be the one left behind to do all the work for the same crap pay at a company that I could no longer trust.
So, yes, my reaction -- after shock -- was to feel bad for the girl left with a job, my boss who was told that morning that he was going to have to lay off almost his entire team (and he had no say in the matter) just three months after he took the position, the eight-months-pregnant coworker also getting the ax, and then myself. But I didn't feel bad for me as much as pissed. From the last layoff, I knew kcprogrammer and I could make it, and the severance would be like paying me to spend time with my dad -- and I didn't know how much time I'd have to do that.
This whole period at work was ridiculous. And soon, that became apparent in a way I had only dreamed that it would during my first layoff. This time, they asked me back. Three of us got a layoff reprieve; three of us did not. (One of those who didn't was that eight-month-pregnant co-worker, who in my estimation is one of the best copy editors I have ever worked with.)
Now, you may be wondering why I'd return to this company, why I didn't take the severance, and how I could be mostly okay with work right now. Well, first the CEO got canned. Second, a co-worker told me that while it might be a nice thought to take the severance, the last thing I'd want is to be looking for a job while mourning my father. (She was right.) Third, I really love the people I work with, and probably more important, they love me. And love, flexibility, and help were three things I knew I'd need that year. I received all in abundance. My boss gave me the flexibility to spend precious time with my dad, and my co-workers helped me with my work projects so that I could make memories with my dad and then mourn the loss of him.
Right now it feels like I forgot to turn the light on.
And things that looked so good yesterday are now shades of gray.
And it seems like the world is spinning while I'm standing still.
Or maybe I am spinning. I can't tell and then you say,
"Hey. You're OK. You'll be fine. Just breathe."
"Hey. You're OK. You'll be fine. Just breathe."
"Hey. You're OK. You'll be fine. Just breathe."
There were three in the family. That was my family: my dad, my mom, and me. My dad was an only child. I'm an only child. Late in 2012, Dad was diagnosed with malignant, stage four cancer. After two surgeries, the second of which he had slim odds of even surviving, a month in the hospital, and another month in rehab, he came home.
The early months of 2013 were full of struggles: bad reactions to chemo treatments, a severely weakened body, and the feeling of Death trying to take my father away. (My mom is the most amazing, intuitive, loving caregiver.) With the spring, we had good news. Dad's chemo was working at slowing the progression of the cancer, and Dad was gaining some strength and even more spirit. Those are months that are filled with moments I will treasure forever. Dad was doing well. We celebrated his 63rd birthday with fireworks and homemade ice cream. I was planning a party to celebrate Mom and Dad's 35th wedding anniversary. We were even looking to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
And then, two weeks before my parents' anniversary, Dad went into the hospital with an infection. The chemo treatments that slowed the cancer also left his immune system compromised. It was a setback, but we'd faced worse. Then, the morning Dad was supposed to be going home, I got a frantic call from Mom. One of Dad's lungs had collapsed, and the doctor was recommending no to do anything. To let it be. We were so confused about what was happening. So little was explained to us in ways for us to understand. Or maybe, we didn't want to hear what we were being told. Dad had been in so much pain. He was heavily medicated.
Even so, the day before he died, he had moments of clarity in which he was able to say goodbye to the three women in his life: his mom, his wife, his daughter.
With Mom, it was in the dark hours when no one else was there. During this last year, it was amazing to see the two of them. She could read Dad's needs and wants as if she was telepathic. You could see his love and appreciation in his eyes and all over his face.
With Grandma, it was a simple but profound gesture. As she was leaving from a visit, he took off his breathing mask for a goodbye kiss. I don't know where he got the strength from, but we all knew it meant "I love you, Mom." It was a profound moment. That was the moment I knew that he knew his time left with us was short.
With me, it was in a moment alone with him. I was sitting by his bed, holding his hand, and reading from a book. He said, "So tired." Speaking was a real effort for him at this point, so I realized he wasn't just talking about being sleepy. I looked him in the eyes and held his had a little more purposefully. "It's been a long, hard road, Dad, hasn't it? I know you're tired. When you're too tired to go on, it's okay. You know that right? Mom and I will miss you, but we'll be okay," I said, or something like that, though I don't know how I got the courage to. Dad blinked hard. A purposeful blink in dad code meant "yes." Then I said, "I'm so lucky to have you as my dad. So blessed. Every moment of every day I know you love me and are proud of me. And I'll always know that. I love you, Daddy." He squeezed my hand and lifted his head and blinked hard. I could read his eyes -- big and full of emotion -- and his face which said, "Yes, a thousand times yes. It gives me such comfort to know that you feel the depth of my love for you. I wish I could stay, but I know I can't, so hold tight to the memory of this last 'I love you' and remember it and feel it whenever you miss me."
Death is not life's goal, only life's terminus. The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for. This is where love comes into the picture. The one thing that can't be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go.
-- Rev. Forrest Church
The last third of 2013. Life without Dad still doesn't seem possible. I felt as if I had to hold it together for my mom and grandma. If felt as if I had to be the one to keep things from coming unglued. Perhaps that was true to a degree. But doing so also kept me from falling into my bed, covering myself with blankets, and never coming out again.
Also, I had the benefit of my church. 2013 was the year I joined a Unitarian Universalist church. (Don't know much about UU? Wiki it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarian_Universalism.) 2013 was the year that my dad went to church with me. I can only vaguely remember one or two times that he attended church with Mom and me when I was a child. He hated church. He hated organized religion. But he was deeply spiritual in a quiet way that I could feel but he rarely spoke about, at least until his final year. Dad loved my church. He loved the people who could come as they were -- inside and out. He loved seeing me investigate and think through what I believed. And, 2013 was the year I learned that it's okay to not know for sure what happens when we die or not to know whether Heaven is a fixed place or that if it is, to reject the notion that it is exclusive to those who believe in the Nicene Creed or, in some cases, a very particular denomination within Christianity. Dad and I joked about the many sects that believe they know the "one true way." Maybe we all get to go to heaven, but there are some different heavens that you can get into depending on the group your beliefs align with. Like a large ballroom with the dividers in place. Although, that would be very unfortunate if I had to be in a separate ballroom from my Catholic grandmother. I can't say that I "know" what happens after we die. I can say that I have a hard time believing that works mean nothing and faith means everything, and even more so that a specific faith trumps all others no matter how deep the others are held.
And that's okay. It's okay not to know. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be happy. It's okay to think through my own thoughts and come to my own conclusions -- or no conclusions at all.
To live life fully, it's essential to love life fully. It's essential to love others deeply. It's essential to feel the loss of that love deeply. It's essential to embrace life in every way, flaws and all, heartbreak and all, and see the wonder and holy in all.
Hold on to what is good
even if it is
a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is
a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is...
a long way from here.
Hold on to life even when
it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand even when
I have gone away from you.