I know a new year doesn’t really change things. And 365 days is both long and short in terms of time and space and all that can happen or not happen. There’s no way to possibly keep all the promises you’ll make, or see all your plans through. There’s no way to fully anticipate all that life will bring, good and bad. Still, it’s hard not to feel hopeful when a new year approaches. A fresh start, even if only imagined, makes it seem like change is possible, and maybe whatever the current state of affairs is, it’s not permanent, for better or worse. So here’s a look back on my 2015.
Here’s what happened in 2015: I visited friends and family and South Dakota, was sort of fired, found a job I love, was admitted to and started an MPH program, decided to apply to law school, took the LSAT, was admitted to law school, Duke won the national title, the Broncos lost in the playoffs in winter and in the fall lost Peyton Manning to injury, everyone got older, friends got engaged and married, babies were born, I burned my hand, and the Hawks made the Rose Bowl. I felt inspired, defeated, elated, saved, and lost. I was kicked when I was down and lifted up by love. My dad died.
My dad died.
2015 will always be the year my dad died. I want to simultaneously leave his death in 2015 and take it with me to all the years ahead. I want to hold on and let go. I don’t want the experience of losing him to either define me or the year, or to be minimized by anything else past, present, or future. It’s been a year of gray, of paradox, of sorting out every possible feeling imaginable, all in conflict with one another. In all that transpired in 2015, reflection has been synonymous with regret. And I like regret, I think it’s useful. I’ve never been one to say I don’t regret anything, because without the mistake of “x” I wouldn’t have gotten to “y”. Maybe I love “y”, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I had done things differently with “x.” Regret is okay, it doesn’t diminish anything that came after, good or bad, it just is. But damn it’s heavy. It doesn’t allow for a flowery retelling of events, or rose colored glasses. It doesn’t allow you to make the most of something, to find the good, or the silver lining. There is no fucking silver lining. Everything is in perfect HD, with nothing to conceal or gloss over all the missed opportunities, words unspoken that you wish would’ve been, or words or actions you would like to take back…it’s all out there, undeniable and permanent. The feeling of regret is not to blame, it’s all the action and inaction that caused it. If you don’t use it to inspire forward motion, you’ll be stuck forever.
I remember my high school Spanish teacher saying that he would want to die slowly, of a long, drawn out illness. So that he would know the end was coming and would have time to say goodbye. I think he experienced that with his mother. I’m not so sure. I’ve had this conversation with friends who have also lost a parent and though our experiences are vastly different, the grief overwhelms us all. I’ve tried so hard to quantify this grief, this loss, to measure it out and neatly package it into some perfectly understood experience with life lessons definitively drawn out. It doesn’t work that way. Though I’m an adult, a parent even, I feel so childishly naive sometimes.
I’m learning to grieve. I think I am anyway. I find this practice akin to working out in some ways, which ties nicely to a new year’s analogy. With grief you actually have to make time for it, like exercise. No one tells you that. You have to do it. You have to find what works for you and make it a priority. There are always excuses, of course. It’s something new that I’m trying to fit in to my life, which is already in motion and routine and defined by other obligations and rituals. I’m in a constant state of contemplation with this goal and I can’t seem to move forward. I have a three-year old. I read a tweet the other day that said, “80% of parenting is yelling through a locked bathroom door.” I have to get up damn early to take a shower uninterrupted. I get roughly 5 minutes alone in the car between daycare and work. I don’t have time to grieve. Yet, grief keeps finding me. It’s like catching yourself in the mirror and noticing your butt is a little more jiggly than before, or suddenly you’re buying pants the next size up. How the fuck did that happen? Grief finds me all the time and it’s super inconvenient. Necessary, I know. So I guess if I have any resolution this year that would be it. To grieve. Uplifting, huh?
This post is titled “2015: A Memoir in Moments,” because I want to remember the moments, the small things. To make the intricacies as important as the monumental, life changing events. To ascribe meaning to the every day. Here are some moments from the year past, the ones that almost killed me and the ones that made me feel like it was okay to keep moving forward.
- A conversation at a bar with my dad in February. We had gotten the final, fatal diagnosis a couple weeks before: treatment failed, he would die. Soon. I never knew how to talk to him about his death. We could talk about his illness, but never what life might be like without him. This day I tried. He said something about how Rossi wouldn’t remember him. And I told him that was true, but that I would remember him with Rossi, and that I was so grateful for that and I would always treasure it. And I do.
- Waiting for my brother to come home on the day my dad died. I remember looking out the window and thinking I didn’t even know what his car looked like. In an experience that should’ve connected us in way that we’d never been before, I remember feeling so lost and torn apart, because he was my brother, my only sibling, the only other person in the world that called my dad, dad, and I didn’t even know what kind of car to look for. I wouldn’t know it was him until he actually pulled in the driveway. That was oddly upsetting.
- Flying home from Charleston. My dear friend Sarah gave me the gift of getting me the hell out of Iowa shortly after my dad passed. We lounged by the pool, and at the beach. We ate fresh seafood and got tattoos. I didn’t cry the entire visit. I think I was just relieved to be somewhere else. But on the flight home I wept. It was nighttime and I put my headphones in and leaned against the cold window, trying not to disturb my seatmate.
- Watching Rossi play at the mall and receiving a text from a friend. I’m not sure how long after my dad’s death this happened, but I remember watching Rossi at the Jordan Creek Mall play place and my friend Bailey texting me, asking how I was doing. I said okay, and she responded by saying, “You don’t have to say that.” I knew I was lying and it was comforting that she knew too.
- “He was supposed to live forever.” My friend Mary said this to me, as we were drunk, still drinking, and crying together on her balcony at 2am one summer night. I was on vacation with my family, relatively new people in my life in contrast to my friendship with Mary. She said this about my dad. I knew it was a crazy thing to say, but it was so damn comforting, because death is never really okay. No one lives forever, we all know that, but there’s just no way to really comprehend that fact. I needed someone, an old friend, to let me feel that way. To be angry at this loss, regardless of circumstance.
- Getting my LSAT score. When I made the decision to apply to law school, sometime around July, I threw myself into studying for the LSAT, researching schools, and what law school and practicing law would be like. It was a welcome distraction. Still, I had competing priorities and couldn’t study 4+ hours/day as some had recommended. I did the best I could. I’m a good test taker in general, and excelled on standardized tests before, but the LSAT is a different beast. Added pressure comes from knowing what score schools are looking for and knowing just how your score will impact your chances of admission to some schools, and scholarship opportunities at others. LSAT scores were to be released on a certain day, about 4 weeks after the test, or so I thought. About a week before that date I received an email with my score. I was home with Rossi after work, waiting for Sam to get back from the boys’ school conferences. My score exceeded my expectations and changed the game for what the rest of the admission process would be like. It’s hard to share the joy with others unless they’ve experienced it, or know a bit about law school admissions. I couldn’t wait to tell Sam. And when I did, his reaction didn’t disappoint. Finally, a victory. Later, I would have a similar experience receiving my scholarship offer from Drake University. I knew my LSAT score would make me a strong candidate for a scholarship and when the letter finally came I was blown away. I tried to cleverly slip the news into text conversation with Sam, which totally fell flat as he thought the scholarship amount was for the whole 3 years of school, not for each individual year. The difference was significant. We cleared it up and he was then ecstatic as well. We’re both happy I’ll be a Bulldog come next fall.
- My mother’s gift on Christmas day. My mom spent Christmas with my family. On Christmas morning, before the boys arrived, my mom, Sam, Rossi, and I opened our stockings and gifts from Santa. “Santa” gave my mom a small wooden keepsake box with a photo of her and my dad on it. I made eye contact with my mom, and through that moment we silently acknowledged this massive, missing piece to our lives and how this is the new norm for holidays; just us, no dad. That was it. We didn’t talk about my dad all day. On Christmas. It felt weird not talking about him, but I couldn’t start the conversation either. We just all felt it, and that was enough I guess.
There are many more moments, of course, but this is enough to share. I want to always see life through a lens of gratitude. Even in my darkest hours and feeling beaten down by this loss, I know that I am not being punished by the world, and that I have managed to do a few things right, because of the company I keep. So here’s a list of people that deserve special recognition, in my year of survival.
To my closest friends: Caitlin, Bailey, Bri, Mary, Sarah, Sara, Brittney, Jessica–I love you all more than you’ll ever know and I can’t imagine life without you. You make me laugh and have given me so much strength through all the years, especially this one.
To those I see and talk to less often, but have impacted my life beyond measure: Liz, Anne, Susie, John, Val, Molly, Keith, Michelle, Katie, Cate, Tammi. Let’s get together soon, eh?
To my sisters and brothers in grief: April, Amanda, Adam, Alicia, Kadi. Your messages made me feel a kinship I so desperately needed in those early days and beyond.
To my YMCA fam: Cameron, Derek, Kristina, Rick, Martha, Sarah W. Thanks for showing me what service truly is and making my Y experience so fulfilling and inspirational.
To my Mommies & Margaritas ladies: Jenny, Chrissy, Kimmie, Jen: You all keep showing up for me and I freaking love you for it. It’s hard to imagine a more generous and sincere group of friends. I’m so happy to have found you and that you all adopted me with open arms.
To my church: The fact that I have a church is remarkable and I am so grateful for the comfort I have found there. It’s a community that challenges me and embraces me, with all my faults and hopes and questions. Special thanks to my bible study peeps, you’ve all enlightened me in some way and I’m grateful for our time together.
To my family: Mom, Dusty, Kate, Sam, kids (mine and Dusty’s), aunts, uncles and cousins. And to friends of my family: John, Jamie, Lee, Dot. I’ve felt loved this year by all of you. And I so appreciate your stories of you loving my dad and him loving us. It helps, it really does.
We’ve all shared ups and downs, amazing victories and devastating losses. I know that trend will continue, always. I feel satisfied in my place in life knowing who I get to share it with, and that love never leaves us.