Losing My Dad, Two Years Later

 

Two Years Later….

My dad passed away two years ago this weekend. Though most of my blog posts contain recipes or odes to tacos or pictures of champagne, it also contains a section about my Dad. During his illness, the only way I knew how to process my emotions was to write. And I posted my thoughts on my blog. And people read them. I think about taking this section down sometimes, because my feelings are not as raw as they once were, and I ask myself just how long should I have something so personal and emotional posted for anyone to see. But, two years later, people still read them. People find my blog every day by searching for ‘losing my dad’ ‘loss of father’ ‘losing my dad one year later’. To everyone who finds my blog by searching for comfort or searching for someone who knows what you’re going through, I am writing this post to say: it does get better. You will feel better.

This post is both easier and harder to write than the one I wrote last year, on the one-year anniversary of my dad’s passing away. It’s easier because more time has passed, the normal that is losing your parent is becoming more normal, and because I’m not crying as I write this. Yet. It’s harder for the same reasons. More time has passed—it’s been two years this weekend since my dad passed away. I’ve lived two years without my dad. And I’m not crying as I write this—I almost feel guilty that I’m not crying. My dad being alive is getting farther and farther from me as time goes on.

The hardest times for me are on his birthday in December, and this weekend in May, Memorial Day. He is on my mind constantly. I still think of picking up the phone and calling him sometimes. Does that ever go away? I still cry every single time I hear an Eagles song. It’s a self-made link in my head, and now it’s there, forever. Maybe it’s a way for me to hold on to him, to be reminded of him. A bittersweet tribute, I guess; it’s nice when I have the presence and intention to sit and think of him, but can suck when a particular song plays in a restaurant or when I’m at work and I automatically tear up.

I think the hardest part, besides missing his presence and his Gandalf-like wisdom and bald head and jokes and smell and songs and self, is the way it happened. That part still gets me. It seems so cruel. And though I  don’t think I ever mentioned it here, there was a lot of drama with his side of the family that took an enormous toll on me. I still want to rail against the universe sometimes; I get that it’s a cycle, but can’t we let the good ones go easier?

You can’t change the course of life though, and you can’t change the past. I’ve learned so much by being by my dad’s side as he passed away.
 
I’ve learned to appreciate my family, and really everyone, more frequently and more sincerely. Life is fleeting and occasionally unfair; I want to show my appreciation and feel my appreciation for loved ones as much as I can. I don’t want to waste my time on the small stuff.
I’ve learned that those irritating little quirks that we all have will eventually make for fond reminiscing. Think about a quality your partner or parent has that you may not like. Realize it’s part of what makes them who they are and you may just miss it when it’s gone. I missed everything about my Dad when he was gone—even, and especially, his stubbornness.
I’ve learned that when I’m caught in an unexpected rain storm and I get soaked and my toes are wet and my mascara’s running down my face that it’s okay because I am so incredibly lucky to be able to be outside and feel the rain as it hits my body. One day I won’t be able to feel the rain on my face or have wet toes; I want to soak up every moment of it until then. My dad and I left the hospital together for a few hours on the last Saturday before he had his stroke. He had just gotten his eyesight back, and we took the bus down the hill from the VA Hospital to downtown, just to walk around. The wonder that was in his eyes was inspiring. Though he had seen downtown Portland before, he looked at it in a new way. He was so appreciative just to be out and about and with me and around people doing their everyday people things.
I’ve learned that when I look in the mirror and see love handles or chubby thighs, that they’re MY love handles and chubby thighs. They’re part of me. When my dad started losing weight in his hospital bed, I would have given anything to have him back to his old round self. We have these bodies that take us through our life. We need to take care of them, but we also need to appreciate them for what they are; they are vehicles for our souls. I don’t care what kind of body my dad was housed in, I would have loved him whatever his outsides looked like. When I arrived to his hospital room the night he passed away, I could tell in an instant that that my Dad, James Kerp, was gone. What made him him had left his body. So my chubby knees? I’ll take ‘em, because they’re part of me and house my inner self, which I’m fond of.
I’ve learned to appreciate the here and the now. We don’t know where life takes us and when our personal journey is over. So we better make the most of what we have. My dad and I had talked about him paying a visit to my older brother in Korea. He didn’t have a passport yet, but he wanted to make it happen. Someday. But that someday never came. 5 months later, he was confined to a bed and a machine. Seize the day, seize your life, and do those things on your bucket list now.
I’ve learned that grief is heartbreaking and terrible and lonely and confusing, but it subsides. It never goes away completely, it’s a part of us forever, but it’s like a scar. Some days you notice it and it is so strong and throbbing and you can’t think of anything else. And some days, it’s just there, part of you, and part of what makes you who are you.
My dad taught me so many things, in life and in death, and though I miss him, every day, I am thankful for the gifts he gave me. Last year I wrote:
I want to have a healthy outlook on death and dying and I want it now. It takes time, so I cry when I get frustrated that I’m still crying. My memories still hurt.
This year, on the second anniversary of his passing, I feel I’m getting there. I know I won’t always feel as centered as I do right now, today, and I know that the tears will still come unexpectedly and I’ll miss him so much it hurts at times. But I know that as time goes by, his absence doesn’t sting as much as frequently. And I know that it’s okay to cry sometimes, but it’s also okay to laugh and to move forward.

 

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Losing My Dad, One Year Later

 

*** My Dad has been gone a year today, and I still think of him every single day. He has been on my mind an awful lot recently. Dealing with loss is such a personal and ever-changing aspect to life. This blog is usually for recipes, stories and shenanigans, but losing my Dad was and is still a big part of my life. Writing helps me process the emotions I still struggle with. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume soon. I know this is deeply personal;  I promise I won’t mind a bit if you skip this one and come back next time. I’m a little nervous to publish these thoughts; until we’ve lost a loved one I don’t think we quite realize how it sticks with us. This one is for my Dad on Memorial Day. RIP.

I still cry. Usually late at night, when I’m alone with my thoughts and I wish I had more pictures and letters and concrete reminders of him. I cry whenever I hear The Eagles sing Best of My Love. I cry when I hear Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. Dad and his girlfriend Annie would sneak down to the parking lot of the VA Hospital and listen to that song in his car, fantasizing about life after the hospital, the disease, the heartache. I cry when I think of the pain he suffered through. I cry when it hits me I will never see him or talk to him or listen to him sing me a little song again. I cry when I know I’m crying for past pain; mine and his. I want to have a healthy outlook on death and dying and I want it now. It takes time, so I cry when I get frustrated that I’m still crying. My memories still hurt.

I carry around with me the startling memories of seeing my last name KERP on a hospital door for the first time, the memories of watching my dad lie in a hospital bed, of how terrible those three months were of simply not knowing. If we had known what the outcome would be, would we still have let the doctors guide us to chemo? Would we have let him stay in the hospital bed, losing his energy, hoping and fighting for him to get better, not talking about too much ‘real’ stuff because it was too hard? Would we have let him go sooner? Would we have fought harder? Should we have fought harder?

It never gets better. Life never reverts to ‘normal’. Your normal just becomes different. My normal now is tempered by late night cries and moments of lingering grief and pure helplessness. My normal is now knowing what acute leukemia can do to a body. My normal is now knowing about the domino effect of kidney failure,multiple heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, pneumonia, temporary blindness and one life-ending heart-breaking stroke in a three month span. My normal is having had to put on disposable blue gloves and a faded yellow gown every time I wanted to enter the quarantined room to sit by my dad. My normal is watching the one-dimensional and compartmentalized way that Western medicine looks at illness, and not knowing enough to do anything about it.

My normal is also having a memory of my dad squeezing my hand so tight when he could no longer talk to me because of his stroke. Pure Love. My normal is knowing I have a mom that will drop everything for a five hour drive up north to be by my side and his the moment I needed her. My normal is knowing I have friends that will be my side no matter what; no matter how much I cry, no matter how many rides I need up the hill to the VA, no matter how many emergency texts I send out at midnight. My normal is having had and lost my Dad.

You were so brave, Dad. You are such an inspiration to me. You fought with all your might the terrible dragon that is cancer, only to be vanquished by a whole dragon army of disease. They may have gotten your body, Dad, but your spirit and laughter and strength live on. I know this doesn’t get easier, I know you’re in a better place, but sometimes I wish the memories of your dying didn’t linger quite so heavily. I wish the pain of your absence didn’t sting quite so much. I can’t believe it’s been a year. Though this pain and sadness is part of my new normal, I wouldn’t trade getting to be by your side every single day for the last three months of your life for anything. I love you with all my heart, I miss you with all my being, and you are in my thoughts every single day, especially today. Rest in Peace, dad.

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 My favorite picture of Dad; mischievous and happy.

Rest in Peace, Dad.

James Charles Michael Kerp passed away last night at 2am. Yesterday was a tough day for him, and I think we all felt it coming. I am so thankful for the life he lived and the person he was. He’s at peace now, and I’ve actually felt him with me twice already.

Rest in Peace, Dad. I love you.

Dad

 

Dad and me

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A different kind of miracle

I’ve been looking at this all wrong. I didn’t need to be waiting for a miracle; the miracle has been right in front of me. The miracle is that I got gifted with this inspiring and amazing man as my father. How lucky am I that I got 30 years with this gorgeous guy?

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My dad used to say to me, "Ness, if you lined up all the daughters in the whole world, I’d pick you, every single time."

I am turning the tables on you, Dad. I would pick you, every single time. Through everything we’ve been through, I would pick you. Out of all the men who could have been my father, I was blessed with a man that has the wisdom of Gandalf, a heart the size of the Milky Way, and more courage and strength than you’ve ever seen.

My dad’s charisma, humor, wisdom and outlook on life have inspired me. I’ve realized I don’t need a miracle to keep him here longer with us, in pain. I’m just so happy that I had him here with me for thirty years.

Dad’s up in the hospital right now, on hospice care. On Sunday the doctors told me there was zero chance of his recovering.

The goal for his last days is to make him as comfortable as possible, and to make sure he knows he’s loved. So many of his doctors and nurses have stopped in to pay their last respects. The love he naturally gave out is coming back to him now, and I know he feels it.

I’m blessed with the miracle that is my father, and I am so thankful for the time I had with him.