Sunday, July 7, 2019

What I did on my Summer Vacation

Hello, loyal blog readers! In the past year this blog has turned into either 1) public reflections on grief or 2) me talking about trips I took. Also, 2019 is well on it's way to becoming the least blogged year of the ten plus years I've had this blog (whoops). So in an effort to correct that, even though the summer isn't even half over, I thought I'd write about some of the things I've done on my summer vacations, since those are effectively over for me for the year (there might be a few more beach weekends but my big trips are done).

The first big trip was with my entire family (my nine sibs, my mom, my spouse and my brother-in-law) to my grandmother's timeshare in Williamsburg. This trip was great because it was re-living vacations we had done when I was a kid, and is the first time in I think about ten years that all of my family had all gone on vacation together.

Ryan and I drove up with Jessica and Derek on Saturday after their flight got in and met the rest of the family at the resort. The first day (Sunday) was basically just chill, hangout at the resort day, with some shopping at the outlet malls thrown in for good measure. It was everything our vacations had always been with tennis and board games and pools and it was a great day.

The second day (Monday) we went to Virginia Beach. Ryan and I have decided it's our favorite beach because of how well-swept the sand is there. We did a lot of wave jumping and Ryan buried my youngest sister in sand (and she buried him in sand). After beach my mom had picked a place that was once highlighted on Food Network for dinner, and we all enjoyed a variety of seafood there.


The third day (Tuesday) was the last day Ryan and I were there, and we did another nostalgic trip for me to the Jamestown glasshouse, a fully operational glassblowing facility that is historically recreating how glass was blown in the 1600s based on nearby archaeological ruins. My grandparents used to take me and my siblings to the glasshouse when I was a kid, and it was exactly the same way I remembered it, which made me really happy. There were some exhibits about the different kinds of glass, what different elements you add to make glass different colors, and a gift shop with a whole host of possible purchases that had all been blown by the artisans on previous days. It was SUPER hot at the glasshouse, because the furnaces were going full blast, and generally all around a homeschooling throwback for me.

On our way home Ryan and I saw Toy Story 4 at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (where they serve you dinner in the movie!) and got some Duck Donuts (pictured above) because Duck Donuts has spread outside of NC all the way to Williamsburg. The rest of the family did Busch Gardens amusement park on the days we were back in MD.

Our second trip was for our fourth anniversary to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. We did a lot of hiking, kayaking, and farm visits on this trip, in no particular order. We hiked every morning (when it was sunny), we visited Firefly Farms Creamery & Market, Deep Creek Lavender Farms, Sugar and Spice Amish Bakery, Lakeside Creamery and the Christmas Chalet while it rained, and kayaked in the afternoons after the rain passed us. Also we visited the Oakland B&O Museum which was by far my personal favorite of the whole trip. It's a tiny little museum, only opened since 2013 but working hard to preserve the history of the Oakland B&O station and be a part of the larger B&O museum network. I love trains (a hobby passed from my grandfather and dad) and loved the stories behind this museum's efforts to preserve parts of train history. Because we were there over the 4th, we also got to see the Fireworks on the Mountain display from our hotel window!

Ryan and I have many anniversary traditions - we take a photo of ourselves with the photo from the previous year every anniversary, we eat taco salad and red velvet cake (because that is what was served at our reception) and I try to always get him something corresponding to the traditional anniversary gift for that year (this year it was our linen anniversary). So here are some photos of the food we ate to honor those traditions (red velvet not pictured, as the donuts made a better photo).


Finally, here's a series of photos I'm calling "funny signs seen at Deep Creek". These are from the train museum, the lavender farm and the Christmas Chalet, and they all made me giggle.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Day We Really Lost My Dad

We are closing in one year since Dad passed away, and I have been remembering a lot of things that happened during those last two weeks that at the time were intense and personal, and some things I want to share in the year since then. I'm certainly not done grieving. There will always be days where I will think, what would this be like, how would it be different, if Dad were here. But a year is a long time to grow and change and process grief, so I'm a little more willing now to share about what I went through a year ago, and where I am at now.

I am publishing this post on April 22nd, because this is the anniversary of the day that I would say I really lost my dad. This was the last day I had a conversation with Dad that felt real. It was the last day he was sitting in his chair at his computer, instead of lying in the hospital bed. It was the last day he felt like my dad, in full control (as much as he could be on the oxygen tank). Some of my sisters and I had gone to APL Hershey Park day that day, which had been a lot of fun, and I came home late that night, talked to Dad for a while, and made a plan to come back on Tuesday to talk some more. Those plans never came to fruition, because the very next day, he was unable to hold long conversations, and had trouble remembering who we were.

The next two weeks his mind was clouded, and I was over at my parent's house constantly, trying to get my last moment, hoping he'd come back to us. We sat in the room he lay in, reading, listening to music, trying to use photos and music and scriptures to remind him, even for only the briefest moments, of who he was, who we were, and how much we loved him. Those two weeks shook me and my faith dramatically, and I have lots of Facebook messages that I sent privately at that time that detail the days that my Dad couldn't remember who I was, and how that made me feel utterly helpless.  In those messages, I had some very good friends reminding me frequently that God was there, and that he was in control and could handle my loss, despite the apparent lack of any control in those moments.

For a few weeks after he passed away (even a few months after), those days were all I could think about - those final days of utter confusion - and all I could remember about my Dad was the pain of those moments, of his being physically there and alive, but not the man I knew, his mental capacity swallowed up by the cancer tumors. My sweet husband encouraged me out of that by asking me to tell him stories about Dad, trying to get me to remember something other than those two horrible last weeks. Here are some of those moments that I've been trying to remember instead:

- When I was a small child, my Dad liked to read out loud to us, but only if he felt we were paying attention. If he got even the slightest sense that we weren't, he'd close the book and demand we'd tell him the last thing he had said. Because of this, I got very good at glibly reciting the last sentence I had heard - weather I actually had any comprehension of that was a different story. I knew I could recite the last line perfectly, and Dad would keep reading.

- When we would go camping as a family, on the last day, Dad would make "hoosh", a weird combination of bacon and bacon grease,leftover ground beef, and whatever sauce we had (tomato sauce, BBQ sauce or maple syrup) to hold it all together on top of a toasted bagel. It sounds gross, but outside on the last day of a camping trip, it was the best. Dad called it "hoosh" because at that time, he was interested in the life of Ernest Shackleton, and in the accounts of Shackleton's voyage, the men referred to "hoosh" being the scraps they ate.

- When I was in middle school, I talked to my dad about the boys I liked, not because I wanted to (I don't think any pre-teen girl wants to) but because he could tell and would gently ask me. Dad referred to this as "my Christmas tree face", telling me how my eyes would light up when around the object of my crush, and my face would get more animated as I talked to them in an effort to be interesting. The boys in question definitely didn't notice, but Dad was tuned into me as his daughter and frequently warned me about the dangers of "wearing my heart on my sleeve" and being that obvious with my emotions.

- When I was in high school, I usually went to my mom for homework help, but my junior year, I had GT physics problems where she sent me to Dad instead. He'd read it, think about it, work through it with me, and if he got it right, he'd say "Hallelujah, dad still knows things!"

- When I was in college, my Dad regularly came out to visit me, at least once a semester, for our private college dinner dates. We would go to the dining hall and get a table for two where I could tell him everything about my semester. I have always been a big talker, especially with my Dad. When I was in middle and high school, I'd get in the car after youth group all fueled up on the extroversion of being around my friends and just talk to him non-stop. When I went to college, these dinners were his way of still seeking out my non-stop talking without the car rides. After the dining hall we frequently walked around the UMBC loop because I had more to say, and Dad would write little notes on a 3x5 card so he'd remember what I'd said as I talked. About a month before he died, we (with my uncle Bob and sister Isabel) went to a party at the UMBC event center to celebrate the history making NCAA win. He was in a wheelchair, with a big tank of oxygen, but he went for me so we could have one last drive around the loop, one last college dinner together. It is one of my personal treasured last moments with him.

I have had all kinds of emotions and feelings this past year. It's still rough to be without Dad, but I am hoping that by writing these things down, I will remember and think of him without the sting of grief, without the painful recollections of what illness and death did to him at this time last year. I don't really know how to end this post, so...the end.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Message from Dad

In the process of Konmari'ing my house - I have not watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, but I didn't have to watch it to get inspired to tidy up my own house - I found a page of notes in one of Dad's books that look to be notes from a campfire talk he gave at Camp Wildflowers last summer. In order to preserve them, I'm typing the notes up and sharing them with you all here. I have made some modifications to make the notes flow smoothly (mostly adding pronouns to clarify his bullet points).

This first line is from the camp theme song, and opened his talk:

" 'Oft times he weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride forget he sees the upper and I the underside'.

What do you do when God weaves sorrow into your life and you don't know why? You can't see the pattern yet, all you see is the underside, knots and maybe some tangles. Perhaps your pet died like Sysco, Chief's dog. 

Lesson 1: Always run to God, never run from God. Here is a story of some of my dark threads. I have cancer, specifically this story is about my leg wound. Nov-Dec 2013 I first heard I had cancer and I had butt surgery to remove it. February 2015 surgery to remove cancer from my leg. August of 2015 it was not healing. We went through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's day without it healing.  I was listening to the audio Bible and I heard Jeremiah 15:18 - Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed. Man, did I relate.

Lesson 2: Lament is OK. Even good when you run to God. There are Psalms of lament. Run to God and lament because you believe his promises. Mark 9 speaks of the healing of a boy with unclean spirit and his father cried out "I believe, help my unbelief!". So they kept treating my leg wound - I had 50 hyberbaric oxygen treatments, a skin graft - leg wound finally all healed up Sept. 2016, more than 1.5 years after the surgery to take out the tumor. Yet it opened up again later.

Lesson 3: Patient Trust when things are hard. Think of Hebrews 12:11 which speaks of the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Patience builds your spiritual muscles, your faith. One of God's purposes in suffering is to strengthen and prepare you. You know God loves you. He didn't just have his pet die for you and me, but sent his son to die, to live the perfect life of obedience we should have lived and die the death we should have died so we could be with our Father in heaven. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him - 1 Cor. 2:9.

So are you facing sorrow or a dark thread? Run to God. It's OK, even good, to lament to him. Tell God your pain. Recount his promises. Ask him to help your unbelief. Build your spiritual muscles and learn patient trust."

So. As I still grieve for my Dad and you face whatever your dark threads are, consider his little campfire message.