Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Blue Thanksgiving?

This week I was cleaning out my closet to continue my efforts to purge and minimize where possible. It brought me to my two memory boxes of Tim. Every once in a while as I go through them, time passes and I notice that some things that seemed important to keep at first, don’t seem that important later. I think that is a natural part of the passing of time.

This time, I found myself looking with the perspective of having tried to become as paper-free as possible over the last year. This led to a boatload of scanning. I had over 80 scans by the time I was done, the largest one being 25 pages. (Thanks Stef for showing me how to top-load documents!)

Overall, as the days passed, I knew I was melancholy and sober. It wasn’t just reliving my husband’s death, it was reliving the loss of my church family as well. But the deepest wound by far, was finding one of Tim’s treasures he had saved. He had a couple of Christmas tags in Mom’s handwriting that said, “To Tim, From Mom and Dad.” A wave came over me as I said in a whisper, “My God, all three of them are gone, completely gone.”

Today I had to go to the Hospice campus for something. They have done lots of remodeling. Their already nice facility is even more beautiful and more convenience-friendly. But I didn’t even make it back to my car without calling Michelle back and dumping a whole bunch of tears on her.

She asked how I am overall. Lost. I feel lost and orphaned. Both parents gone, a spouse gone. Geeze, I know lots of people are in the same boat, but I’m super in touch with my own grief right now. It’s mine, and it’s intense. Why does this stuff always happen around the holidays? That familiar stomach ache. That familiar hollow feeling I know so well. Only it is carved even deeper now. That feeling like this death aged me another ten years ahead of my time. 

I laugh when I job hunt and I hear dumb things like I don’t have experience with some of this stuff. The hell I don’t. I have gobs of it. Not as much as some, but more than a lot of people. I’m not feeling a pity-party at the moment. Just letting folks out there know that if you are in grief, don’t let anyone tell you there is a time limit to it. You’re allowed the rest of your life. It’s okay if the holidays are bittersweet at best. That about sums up life in general anyhow. Let yourself show the courage to taste both ends of the spectrum.

It can still be a Happy Thanksgiving, even when you’re shedding some tears.


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Eulogy

I’ve been asked to remember to post the eulogy so here it is. I hope that it does my father justice.  Just a couple of pictures to show the bookends of his life.

Dad

David August Thiel was born on April 7, 1932. But that is how these eulogy things always start. Yet for me and my family, it feels like he deserves something special. Something that captures the essence of who he was to us.

I find myself struggling because in truth, it was dad’s ordinariness that actually made him extraordinary. He was a gentleman. A gentle man. Soft spoken. Predictable and dependable. In other words, you could count on him. He was a man who took responsibility seriously.

Dad was a man of honor. He didn’t talk about his time in the military much, but he served during the Korean War. He has a devastatingly handsome picture from that time. His eyes were like a movie star’s. In a confusing time in our country, we are so proud of his service.

He and Mom met at a dance. They got married December 4, 1954. On their 50th anniversary, Mom wrote this: “They say a good man is hard to find—I found one! You are a good husband, great provider, the best dad and we are fortunate to have four wonderful kids and eight delightful grandkids. It makes for a wonderful family. I’ll follow you down that ‘forever path’ …like it or not.  Three years later, Dad lost the love of his life. He lived on the best he could, but some losses in our lives have such a profound impact on us, we are never quite the same again. One of the greatest comforts for us is knowing he is reunited with her.

Working at the water treatment plant at Harrison’s for well over thirty years also earned our respect. He went to work every day and I don’t remember him ever complaining. Very rarely did he take a day off work. Until he retired of course. Then they traveled all over the place, seeing the things they always talked about seeing.  They had camped lots of times in their lives, but it started with new fervor when they purchased a motor home. They deserved that time together.

After working all day, Dad came home to the farm. He and mom sold asparagus for years and raised our own beef. The first cow we had I named Billy. After Billy ended up on our kitchen table, I never named a cow again. My old siblings, I mean my older siblings tell me they remember Dad hunting. I don’t ever remember that, but after the Billy fiasco, I’m not surprised. What I do remember, is snowmobiling. We belonged to a club and of course, Dad was president.

You can’t know Dad without knowing how committed he was to the passion in his life- volunteering at Terry’s Corners firehall. He was honored last year for sixty years of service. Sixty years! His nickname there was “Moses.” There are lots of opinions as to why he was called that, but I assume it is because he was a formidable leader.  He was a firefighter, fire police, fire chief at least three times that we know of. Bingo, drills, installation dinners, gun raffles, chicken barbecues. I haven’t even been alive that long and he has been working hard all that time. Wow.

We’ve learned so many things about him, right up until the fat lady sang. I had no idea my dad was such a charmer. I mean, who would have thought that someone whose high school nickname was “Squeal” was going to be a lady killer. Every doc, every nurse… heck, they would come see him even if he wasn’t their patient. He would get this big smile and be teased about being such a flirt. Nurse Amy didn’t even call him by his name. “Handsome Pants” would get called right across the room whenever he walked into the office. That trend didn’t stop in the end. The last few weeks he was surrounded by his family 24/7.  Sometimes he wouldn’t be able to respond to us and then the cute young thing called an aide would walk in and he would suddenly be responsive. I considered renting a uniform and pretending to be a nurse.  And then there was the scandalous relationship he had with the married woman next door to his apartment. He claims she had dementia and wandered in accidentally but I’m no fool.

Truth be told, Dad was a hot commodity at Elderwood where he spent the last year of his life. Men were outnumbered about 4 to 1. And most of the men there were cranky. Dad’s good nature and good looks caught everyone’s eye. Some would show no embarrassment when they would tell us how the “other” women there were chasing my dad. Every once in a while I would toss out something like, “You know, he IS a stubborn German,” hoping to comfort them but they didn’t buy it.

Also like a good German, Dad could be pretty stoic. He was NOT a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. We never doubted that he loved us. Not because he showered us with hugs and kisses and repeated I love you’s, but by his provision and unwavering presence. His humor would make it impossible to be frustrated for long. We’ve had a running joke with him most of our lives. 99% of the time, saying I love you Dad would be answered by “yeah.” If we challenged him with a louder I SAID I LOVE YOU DAD, we would be answered by a louder YEAH.

The last week of his life, Dad couldn’t leave his bed. He could barely communicate and could only sporadically do so. One of those days, Lisa and I had him trapped. It wasn’t very difficult in his condition of course, but we found ourselves sitting on either side of him in the bed. We both told him we loved him. I held my breath, as I realized that I would have done anything to hear one of those “yeahs” that really meant I love you too, but he seemed too weak to answer. I said, “Dad, aren’t you going to say it at least once to us before you go?” He surprised us when he was able to say, clear as a bell, I MIGHT.

My father was ready. We think it is incredibly brave and courageous to be able to evaluate your life and recognize that you feel finished. That takes humility, which seemed to come naturally with his personality. To grow older gracefully and look forward to what is next to come takes a human of great character. And Dad was certainly a character. Oops, Freudian slip.

The things he stood for in his quiet way are simple. Honest. Hardworking. Faithful. There, year after year after year. The truth is, they just don’t make em like that anymore. In a world where most of us shake our heads in sadness or confusion several times a day, my dad represents a better time, a better person. Our love and connection to him runs deep. He never faltered so the steady confidence we felt with him in our lives was a true treasure and gift. The cavern that is left behind for us is indeed a ginormous one. Please, lets us make a pact to honor his memory by filling that cavern by following his example. Be someone that others can draw strength from. Be someone that others know they can count on.

From Sue, Randy, Lisa, and myself, thank you for being here. Be like Dad and you will do well.

Lisa, Dad, Darcy

 

 


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Teenage Angst

When I got married to Tim, I became a step-mom at the same time. I started out with a 13, 16 and 19-year-old child. I always said it was like baptism by fire. Parenting teens is hard enough, but starting out with them first, I was more than lost. Parenting is like everything else in life that I counsel people about. I help the best I can based on knowledge I’ve gained, but the ability for me to truly help grows exponentially when I have some real-life experience under my belt. I could help a married couple, but much better after marriage. I could help a divorced couple, but better after experiencing one. Same goes with parenting, step-parenting, losing a parent, losing a spouse, etc….

Now I get to parent a teenager (Frankie is 12) that I actually carried in my womb, have sacrificially given my time, energy, money and heart to for his entire life, and love beyond anything I thought possible. Knowing that teens become big jerks 90% of the time to their parents doesn’t make it any easier to endure it. I have clients going through it too and I sympathize with them as well. I can read all the theory I want about why it is developmentally necessary for them to push away from us, but I still hate it.

So there is “normal.” And then you have the added dimensions about the loss we have suffered. It’s an additional dynamic to add to the mix. From my perspective, he is all I have left. From my perspective, I am terribly lonely every night in our home. He and Colin are buds and they laugh their heads off, play sports and games together, and talk a mile a minute. Oh yeah, they also “bond” over being disgusted that they have such a terrible mother.

Now Colin (Colin is 31) will say that it is my head. He thinks I just feel bad about myself and so I imagine they are treating me that way. But I know better. There have been a million people who have observed our home. There has been more than one or two helping professionals that totally agree. There is more than just the “normal” pulling away here. They have anger and an axe to grind. And it’s directed at me. Full force.

It sucks. Most of the time it breaks my heart, but sometimes I find myself getting really angry. Yesterday was like that. A relatively minor incident occurred where my dad and I went to watch Frankie play basketball at his school. He completely ignored us. He didn’t want us there. It embarrassed him. I tried very hard to do all the verbal talking in my head about how this is what teens too. But I was enraged anyway. I sat there on the bleachers with a couple of tears trickling down my face that I couldn’t control. I wanted to shake him.

Frankie is incredibly smart and gifted. And he is an old soul. He gets life in ways that some adults never will. I guess I expect more from him. At his young age, he unfortunately already knows about grief and loss. He has lost four cats, a grandmother he was very close to, and most importantly, his father. So I know he gets that parents and people who love you should NOT be taken for granted. He knows things his peers don’t. But instead of drawing closer, he treats me like he would be much happier if I was gone too. (That is not based solely on this basketball incident, so don’t think I’ve completely lost my marbles.)

Then the shock sets in for me. I couldn’t wait to have Frankie. I wanted a kid so badly that it was agony waiting for him. Then I had a miscarriage, got pregnant with Frankie and had the world’s worst pregnancy the entire nine months. I adored him. We had a close, healthy, unique relationship for eight years of his life. Like any mother, I would take a bullet for my child, lose a limb without even thinking twice. But now I find myself having horrible thoughts. Things like I don’t even like him anymore. Things like maybe I really should disappear for a while and teach him a lesson. And then I’m shocked. I can’t believe it is me that is having those feelings. What the hell has happened to me? To us?

Death. That’s what fucking happened. Four and a half years later and I still don’t know how to fix our family. Shit.