Sunday, November 4, 2018

Dear Dad - Six Months Later

Hi everyone - today is six months since my Dad passed away and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on what life has been like without him. It was easiest for me to do this in the form of an open letter directed towards him.
Dear Dad –
We are at six months since you and I last got to talk, six months since I kissed you good night
and walked out the door around ten at night and went home to cry in my husband’s arms.
Six months later and I still have days where I cry. Most of the time I can think about you
and miss you without tears, but not always. Sometimes they come unexpectedly. In the last
months, as you were prepping for your memorial, you said that your life had three
parts – family, APL and church. So in that same vein, I’m going to divide this letter
into those three categories and tell you how I’ve been dealing with your absence in each of those areas.
So first, the family. About a month before you died, we had a really serious conversation
about family. Mom was out getting you something and you sat me down and talked me
through all your plans to provide for her after you’d died, and you told me you were talking
me through all the details so she’d have someone to consult with about spending. What I think
you didn’t realize is that’s not the kind of relationship Mom and I have. I don’t really
know any more about money than she does (in fact I likely know less) so I feel like I have
nothing to offer as she makes these decisions. We had another conversation about Stephanie –
you were worried about her changing her direction in college. While it was clearly the right move
for her, I think you were distressed that the plan you had laid out needed to be re-done and you
weren’t around to do it. You asked me to try to offer her advice since her new path in data science
is closer to what I did as a CS major. I don’t know how well I’ve done with that. One of the last real
conversations we had privately was about Nathaniel. You said that you felt like you could have been
a better father for him, which brought (and still brings) tears to my eyes. You asked me to make sure
he knows, for the rest of his life, how proud you were to have him as your son. We talked about how
you had worked to make sure Isabel held memories with you in her heart, despite being only
nine years old. You told me how glad you were that I had married Ryan, who was looking out for me
and my needs while I tried (and failed) to look out for my siblings, and how important it was to you
that he know you valued him as a son-in-law. You charged me to be honest with Abigail as she
explored her relationship with Andrew. So many conversations that I reflect on now as if they
were a will you left only for me. The problem is that they weren’t really a will. They were
just us talking, like we did so many times before. I have to be careful not to attach too much
importance to these conversations we had, and to realize that the further we get from the days
those conversations happened, the less likely I am to be remembering them accurately. I’m still
working to free myself from the “What did Dad want me to do” weight that I feel like I’m carrying,
because whatever you may have wanted from me, you aren’t around to tell me anymore. My
relationships with everyone in our family will continue to evolve, while yours are frozen in time. I have
been reading a lot of books about coping with father loss (books I would have discussed with you, as
you were frequently reading and highlighting and processing books). They all talk about this
period of recognizing how your relationship with your mother changes in light of the loss of your
father. In these past six months I feel like I have seen that fairly clearly, not just with Mom.
Now for life circle number two, APL – your lifetime career there is a path I was excited to follow.
Now, I miss you most on the drive home from work, the time that for the past three or so years
has been dedicated to my calling you to tell you about my work day and inevitability get your
insight and advice on work. I feel the loss of your 27 years of APL experience, your insight into
the inner workings of the organization combined with my certainty that I mattered more to you
than anyone at APL. You were always giving me the advice that was right for me, not right for
the lab – which is different from any other mentors I might have, who have loyalty to the
lab first. So many things have happened for me in the last six months at work – and I feel
certain I’ve made mistakes as those things have happened – that I wish I could tell you about.
I want to hear you tell me how to respond to decisions I don’t agree with, to have you help temper
my always emotional reactions to things with professional behavior. I want your counsel on how
to recover from the mistakes, I want to hear you tell me you’re proud of me, and I want more
than anything to hear more of your stories from your time at APL. I’ve heard many stories from
people who used to work with you – even more in the last six months than in the three years prior
to that time. It was hardest for me the first few weeks after your memorial service. I walked
around the halls, supposed to be going about my work, remembering walking those same halls
with you when I first started my internship there. I walked by what used to be your office and would
be struck by a feeling of loss. My sisters keep telling me “that’s what you get for choosing to work
at APL. No one made you make that choice”, and in those days when I was looking to escape the
feeling of loss, it was hard. Now the halls don’t make me miss you anymore – instead it’s my
interactions with people that make me miss you. Recently, my boss told me he appreciated
my open, frank responses to his decisions and how attuned I am to how various decisions
will be reacted to on an emotional level. This made me smile because that, in a different
way, is my boss noticing what you have always told me you did – that you were frank, and
told people what you thought, and that honesty would always get your farther than flattery.
But like the relationships with family, your knowledge of APL is also frozen in time. Many of the
things I want to tell you about now, the people who are influencing the mission, vision and
direction of my work, are new to APL and the goals have changed. After all, you stopped
working there three years ago, so even as we were talking while you were alive, it was evolving,
and I have evolved into new roles in the last six months, so here I also need to be freed from my newly
idealized vision of what you would have done. And I have to remind myself (as I’ve been told by others,
including you) that your APL career is not mine, does not have to be mine, and is separate from mine.
I can choose to do it my own way, and now, without your advice, have to choose that. You were careful to
make sure that my choices were mine and that my reputation as my own person and not just your daughter
stood strong, so I have the foundation to be OK, even as I miss your regular insight and genuine interest in
what happened for me day to day.
Alright, your last life circle – church. About six months before you died you told me my name had come up as a
potential trustee, and I decided to go ahead and say yes. I was excited about getting more involved in church
leadership with you. But then you took a downhill turn and we were only able to go to one or two meetings
together. And now you aren’t around to talk me through the meetings and listen to me talk afterwards.
Trustees meetings feel like a place I struggle to separate myself from your shadow. In the past six months
I have hosted a Thrive Summer in the Word Bible Study, volunteered to lead a Pioneer Girls group, and opened
myself up, a little at a time, to actually building a pastoral relationship with Pastor Randy. All things I think you
would have wanted me to do and would be proud of me for doing, I hope. But then I question my motivation
– why am I doing any of these things? Am I only doing them because I know you would have wanted or
expected me to, or am I really engaging with a community of faith? I can see that some of it is definitely to
impress your memory and not to engage myself. I struggle with church because it often feels like talking about
losing you at church leads to anyone I’m talking to automatically moving into praising your actions there, giving
you a sainthood that I have a hard time accepting. As your daughter, I saw your flaws and I know that the
church things you did often caused conflict for you and the rest of the family. I can’t simply appreciate the
things you did for church the same way that those others do. Church worship services make me mourn for you
as we sing and I think about what it means for your faith to be sight. I think how passionately you used to stand
and sing. Sometimes I can feel spiritual warfare raging in my soul as doubt creeps in and I wonder if it really is
a beautiful promise. I asked Pastor Randy a number of questions about heaven about a month after you died,
in a tear-filled, embarrassing lunch in the APL cafeteria. Because I was so aware of your faults, a version of you
that has been redeemed and is totally without fault is hard for me to imagine. Will I know you, without your
sin? Will you know me without mine? Will our relationship, as special and precious as I hold it in my heart, be
preserved? Or am I making an idol out of your memory? All questions I struggle with. I have struggled with
understanding the suffering you faced over the 5 years of cancer battling. I have a hard time seeing mom’s grief
and feeling that God is good in all of that. Up until you got cancer, I led a charmed, blessed life, thanks to you
and Mom providing for and caring about me. And then you got sick but even when you were sick my life was
blessed as I got married and moved into a job that fulfills me – but then you died, and I felt (and still feel) waves
of sadness. My life is mostly still charmed and still blessed, I recognize that. But I am left with these memories of
the loss, of watching you slowly slip away and doubt creeps in that maybe this isn’t all from a good God. One of
the things you told me in one of my moments of grief was to always run too God, never from him, but this has
been hard for me. I am still working to take these worries and pains to him. Recently, I found Ana Harris’ blog
about chronic illness (she’s married to Brett Harris, one of the twin brothers of the Do Hard Things book) and
Ana’s blog helped me see that the version of you at the end where your mind had slipped away was not truly
you and I need to let those painful days go, I need to be freed from those memories. She had those moments
in her illness but has come back from them, and her post about processing feelings helped me see I can mourn
for those moments, I don’t have to repress them, but I can’t hold to them as my new truth in doubt. You were
carried through the end of your life by Christ, Mom says. I work to believe that and not to let doubt harm me.
Six months, and a lot has changed. I’m still missing you. I’m evaluating myself internally more than I ever have
before, to figure out how much of me is because of you, who you raised me to be, and how I will carry those
things forward in the next six months and the rest of my life. I have evaluated the faith we share and decided
to keep walking in it, asking that God will help the unbelief I wrestle with in your loss. I hope that one day, we
will sit together and talk about these things, that heaven will allow for our relationship to continue, someday
in the future. I miss you regularly. I listen to music you loved, wear your clothes, and eat your favorite foods
to still feel close to you. I hope you’re proud of me. Love forever, Emily


Thanks for sticking with me and reading through my processing of grief.

Monday, October 29, 2018

My Day at DisneyLand!

I thought I'd write a longer blog post about my day at Disneyland. I came out to LA for a work trip and figured, if I'm going to go all the way to California, I might as well do something touristy - and what better than Disneyland, especially at Halloween? So I went, and I had a blast!

I had looked at Pinterest tips about the rides and foods, so I had a very specific plan to hit the things that mattered to me. I had different things I wanted in both parks, so I got a park hopper one day ticket with MaxPass to really make the most of what I wanted. I couldn't have a whole day (I had to fly in from Baltimore) but I had a good length of time. I arrived at the park around 1 PM local time.

First I made a beeline for Cars land. Cars is my second favorite Pixar movie (I know, a bold choice), but I just love Cars so I wanted to go to the real life Radiator Springs. It was all decked out for Halloween which was super fun!


One of the things Pinterest had told me is that the Cozy Cone has pretty good food, especially the "Cone Queso" stand which had a Chile Cone Queso and Macaroni & Cheese Cone. I got the Mac and Cheese cone, and then I got "Fillmore Fuel" Pomegranate Limeaide to go with it. I hadn't had lunch on the plane so this was really yummy. After that I rode the Radiator Springs Racers ride. Cars Land was everything I wanted it to be, and I even learned some new lore about the "history" of the town!

 

After Cars Land I went to Pixar Pier, where the rest of the Pixar films are located (which right now is pretty much only the Incredicoaster, though they are building an InsideOut ride). I had a MaxPass reservation for the Incredicoaster which was totally worth it because I walked right onto the ride. I passed Mr. Incredible on the way but didn't stop to take a photo with him (something I regret as he was gone when I got back off the ride). I also rode the Pixar Pier Ferris Wheel while I was there, which was a nice traditional amusement park ride and gave me a good view of the parks. They also had the Pixarmonic Orchestra playing, which was fun cause they played a lot of live Pixar songs.



After the Pixar Pier I left California Adventure. There was a lot of other stuff I didn't see but Pixar was the main draw for me, so I decided it was time to go to Disneyland proper. I did get a corn dog from corn dog castle before leaving because that was one of the foods Pinterest said to try. It was a good corn dog, but it was just a corn dog - not anything amazing.

Disneyland was totally decked out for Halloween. It was great.




I got there in time to watch the 3:30 Pixar Play Parade, which was fun, and then I rode the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride. After Astro Blasters I got a mickey ice cream (because I wanted to eat that mouse's little head while I walked through ToonTown - it seemed appropriate). I walked through Sleeping Beauty's castle and saw Minnie and Daisy (but missed taking photos with both of them - I didn't time my character sightings well at all!)


Then I watched the Mickey's Magic Map show, which was so fun. It reminded me of Disney Channel when I was a kid, or of the Disney Mickey VHS tapes I would occasionally watch. They also played my special Disney song (I See The Light from Tangled - it was our first dance when we got married) during the show, and my other favorite princesses (Pocahontas and Mulan) were also a part of it, along with Tiana and a very talented puppeteer singing and working the Sebastian puppet. It was a great show, I loved it and it gave me a nice break from the walking and the rides.


After the Mickey show I rode the Railway Ride and got some Dole Whip. Dole Whip is the most amazing creation that is a Disney only (or Dole plantation only) treat. It's soft serve pineapple ice cream typically served as a float with pineapple juice and it was the last item on my Disney must eat list. After Dole Whip, I finally made it into a character line and stood in line to meet Mickey Mouse. I forgot to mention earlier that the whole day I wore this yellow dress and rose necklace from my Dad, in order to look like Princess Belle. So when I found a little Chip, I took a photo with it!


After Mickey I was on my way out but stopped in the art gallery. The art gallery was amazing. They had an artist who was painting right in front of us and there were a lot of stunning paintings. I was thinking about my Dad and missing him so I took photos of the art that were titled "Her Father's Daughter" and "Her Father's Wisdom". Then I went through the history of Disneyland's trains exhibit (I love trains) and then headed back to my hotel, full of magic before my work conference this week!



Saturday, July 28, 2018

Road Trip Days 5 & 6 - Return

Day 5 (Friday) was our first leg for our return trip home. We started by going to Gibson Donuts, a Memphis local haunt that Jack had told us to try. They were good donuts - we tried the blueberry, the red velvet, the sour cream and the maple bacon ones.


After that we drove back to Nashville for a lunch stop.



Stephanie and her friend Jess went to Star Bagel Cafe, a local Nashville coffee joint (http://www.starbagelcafe.com/) but Nathaniel and I were there for the real local treat - Nashville Hot Chicken (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_chicken). We opted to get it from Hattie B's based on Food Network's recommendation. (https://www.foodnetwork.com/restaurants/tn/nashville/hattie-b_s-hot-chicken)



Hattie B's offers 5 spice levels - Southern (aka no spice), Medium, Hot, Darn Hot and Shut The Cluck Up. I said that we should try Shut The Cluck Up just to say that we had done it, because when else were we gonna get the chance to try it? And then my little brother said that I had to eat a whole tender, I couldn't just eat one bite, in order to say I had really tried it. So I ended up with a medium spice dark meat piece, and a chicken tender at Shut The Cluck Up level (so did he). I got a side of pimento mac and cheese - he wisely went for a cool side of potato salad. The first bite of the tender made my mouth hurt and burn, and I was ready to quit, but we both finished it off (with generous dollops of honey mustard). I recommend the medium - it was good fried chicken with a nice kick at the end. And if you're into feeling the pain, then eating Shut The Cluck Up is worth it for the experience! The Mac & Cheese was good too, but I could barely eat it after the hot chicken had been in my mouth. All in all, Nashville's hot chicken did not disappoint - it's a great local food experience.

After hot chicken, we drove to Charlottesville VA. Along the way, we saw regular reminders that we were in "the Bible Belt" - large crosses were all along the interstate in TN (see photo). We arrived at 11:30 at night, all took showers and enjoyed the hotel's cable subscription by watching Friends re-runs on Nick and Diners, DriveIns & Dives reruns on Food Network. We happened to catch the episode where Miss Shirleys, a Baltimore local place, was featured on Food Network so that was a fun thing for us Marylanders to watch.

 


Day 6 (Saturday) we went to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. This was the reason we stopped in Charlottesville. I have been fascinated by T. Jeff since I was in the 4th grade and read a kid's biography on him. I realize he's one of the problematic founding fathers, since he talked a lot about freedom but had ~200-300 people enslaved on his plantation, but seeing his house has always been something I wanted to do so we went. In contrast to the civil rights museum, there were lots of little white kids running around and lots of older white guests there with us.

I knew before going that Monticello means "little mountain", but I didn't realize that it literally sits on a mountain in Virginia - here are some of the shots of the surrounding area.



The house itself is known for the architecture taken from European influences, and is not a typical colonial style house. The first view of it from the shuttle is of the "Italian" inspired side of the house, and then the famous dome side is more French inspired. Jefferson couldn't decide what he wanted, so it took him over 20 years to finish building this place.


We were not allowed to take photos in the house, but our tour guide was an adorable little old lady named Linda who kept saying "Just imagine, Thomas Jefferson walking here, or Dolly Madison in this guest room, or Martha Jefferson Randolph (his daughter) talking to her housemaids here". It was a fun tour, and she didn't shy away from the conflict of a man who could talk a big game about freedom but yet kept slaves. Monticello also had a slavery tour that we didn't go on, so they are trying to reconcile the beauty of the plantation with the enslaved population that built it and kept it running. She of course also spent time talking about the Jefferson inventions and architectural influences. My favorite was this clock that I sneaked a photo of in the cellars (not technically the house!). Jefferson had the clock run on a series of weights and pulleys that moved the time and showed what day it was - but the room was too short. Undaunted, he just cut a hole in the floor and let the weights snake down into the cellar on Saturdays - which happened to be the day we were there, so I took a photo. After the house we got 18th century ice cream and walked along "Mulberry Row" which is the series of trade spaces that slaves operated during the time the Randolph family (Jefferson's grandchildren) lived there with him. Stephanie is posing with the bellows on Mulberry Row below.


All in all, the Monticello tour was what I hoped for - growing up going to Colonial Williamsburg, I had always wanted to see the famous house. I didn't learn anything especially new about Thomas Jefferson, but I learned a lot about architecture of the time in the colonies and in Europe, and I learned a lot about ways he saved time and space with weird little inventions in the house - the first set of double doors that open in sync in the colonies, the fancy weight clock, alcove beds, and stuff like that. After the tour, we walked down Jefferson's little mountain, got in the car, and went home.