Wake Me Up When September Ends

September 2nd marks the second anniversary of my father’s passing. While two years seems so long when I think about how big my daughter (who has gone from 3 to 5) has gotten and how many changes we’ve all been through, in some ways, I feel like that day, that life are only a breath away

I wish I had something to write that would document my spiritual growth, how I’ve pushed myself forward and begun healing, how I’m steadily walking in my journey back to compassionate parenting and filling the void of missing my father with the love I have for my kids, how I’m using my talents to better the world for them… but most days, my life accomplishments are more closely tied to changing diapers more than the societal norms.

See? Roy G Biv Dresses! No grief here!

I’m starting to feel dressed up when I change out of my yoga pants into my favorite ripped jeans to run errands; my biweekly shopping trip to Target & Trader Joe’s has been my touchpoint with reality. Most days, I find myself at home, reorganizing drawers, making lists of what I want to (or should) do, ignoring my Facebook and phone, staying busy with projects, like completely reorganizing all the kids’ drawers, shelves, closet & then rearranging all of the furniture in their room.

In fact, it seems like I will come up with anything to NOT write these days, though writing has always been a balm for my seething spirit. Any parent knows, with kids, finding distractions is hardly the issue. But when there is the most going on in my heart, it is the most challenging for me to write, to show myself to others; which is really to say that it’s hard to show myself to myself. I get overwhelmed and withdraw. I get numb and uninspired.

Honestly? I just get fucking sad sometimes.

… and I do mean fucking sad. Not eloquently, concisely, overwhelmingly bereaved. FUCKING SAD. Blunt, seething, raging, sometimes offensive and hurtful, immature and on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown, blinding sadness is what I’m talking about. Grief isn’t all achingly beautiful metaphors, self discovery and building of character. It’s messy, it’s hot, it’s painful, it’s everywhere and it doesn’t go away. It’s like having to carry molten lava in a handbag. In your solar plexus. Somehow.

Sometimes, it sneaks up on me. The connections and memories tied to my dad aren’t able to be confined, compartmentalized or prepared for. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) They are scattered like seeds in the wind and are planted in the most unlikely places. I was doing the dishes the other night, watching the kids and it struck me that I have a son who never has, and never will, meet my dad. He loved kids. He volunteered as a youth group leader for the junior high kids at his church with my mom until the year that he died. I have pictures of him making silly faces, playing on the floor and snuggling with each of my other kids as babies- but will never have those photo opportunities with this one, whom he would have loved so dearly.

With thoughts flowing in equal measure to the faucet, my mind was quickly swimming in memories and the grief began swelling in my heart to the point where I felt like I had to put my hand to my chest to keep it from exploding. Did you know that heartache actually, physically hurts your heart? I didn’t. Thanks, cancer. I have a new wrinkle in my brain to accompany the Grand Canyon in my heart.

But I digress- I was talking about writing. Or not writing. Or something.

My life has been in upheaval even more than usual, which I didn’t think was even possible. For some reason, though I am all over social media, I am still rather private when it comes to personal affairs. It seems like someone with a blog should like…. write in it. The natural response for most bloggers is to share (and overshare) their personal lives on their pages- it’s what half of them are created for… but I can’t seem to do it.

Instead, I share a lot of pictures on my Facebook page and my most successful blog pieces have largely been Wordless Wednesday posts; communicating from my mental fortress through smoke signals and images a la Wizard of Oz; Pay no attention to the person behind the curtain… nothing to see here.

Yet, looking at the calendar makes me realize, once again, how very present -however sequestered- the grief I have surrounding my father’s death is. Yesterday, on September 1st, my father’s parents celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. (That’s right- their son was on his deathbed on the day they celebrated 60 years.) Then, of course, follows Labor Day- the day to celebrate the working man. My dad owned & operated The Car Doctor six days a week until well into his cancer treatments until he physically couldn’t any longer. As a mechanic and small business owner, my father was the epitome of why Labor Day exists in the first place. The 4th of September is World Cerebral Palsy Day. (My father was born at only 4 lbs, diagnosed with severe CP and was expected to die soon after birth- something I’ve written a bit about here) The 5th of September is his mother’s birthday, (An anniversary and a birthday surrounding her son’s passing. Ouch.) His funeral was on 9/11- a day we remember many Americans who were taken from us too soon. Closing out the list on September 14th is Stand Up to Cancer Day- no need to draw the tie there.

I have a feeling Septembers are always going to be hard for me, hence the post title, which comes from a Green Day song. (lyrics at the end) For today, I can’t go to the church picnic that he would have gone to. I can’t go with my sisters and mom to visit his grave site.  I’m not going to do anything special today, “for Dad” to commemorate the last day of his life. There is no time where he is now. I visit him when my heart tells me to, when I feel strong enough to, or weak enough not to.

**

Two years ago exactly, I came into the room and took his hand and said what had become custom over the last week, “Are you in there, Daddy?” to which he nodded. I knew that the time was coming soon, since he had stopped speaking for nearly a day after nearly two of no food or liquid. It was as if I could feel the crack start in the hourglass of my heart. I gushed that I loved him, that I would help Mom program the TV remotes, fix the computer bugs and that I would check my oil… I appealed with every ounce of my soul to the Universe to let him stay, to heal him, to give him even a few more words.

None came.

His breath slowed around 6pm and my mom called us to him; both of his parents, his only sister, his three daughters and my mom’s parents and sister were at his side within minutes. (My aunt was in the neighborhood, literally hung up the phone and sprinted the few blocks over)

We all gathered around his bed; it was an aching, quiet wait of about a minute that I couldn’t stand. The slow rise and fall of his chest, the anticipation and knowledge that the world was about to change reminded me of when my first son was crowning during birth- never sure which moment will end the agony and begin life anew- my dad was scarred for life courageous enough to be present with a camera during those very moments that I transitioned into motherhood- (having only witnessed us three girls being born via cesarean) he is responsible for one of the most precious and cherished photos I have.

Yup, that’s my boob. This isn’t Facebook. Deal with it.

Thinking of birthing made me remember being the person involved in the transition state; listening to everyone’s reactions, but being too focused ind involved in my own process to react any more than nature would let me. I thought of my brave, silly daddy stuck in the same mental place in that awful, pallid shell. Then, I became a death doula of sorts; I broke the silence and began talking to him, letting him know that we were there, that he was surrounded by love and that he could do it, that it was okay to go. My sisters joined in and soon, there were words of love and encouragement filling the room, hands on him everywhere. I was repeating to him as much as to the wild-eyed-inner-child, begging me to make it stop, “I love you, Daddy. It’s okay to go. I love you, it will be okay, I love you. I love you. I love you…”

And then he was gone.

“Dammit!” escaped my mom, before she, followed by everyone else in the room, collapsed into tears. I couldn’t let go of his hand. I fell into a sobbing, snotting and drooling heap in his lap for the last time.

**

When he was first diagnosed and receiving treatment, I had been experiencing a lot of life changes of my own (see my PPD tab for the two previous posts with the backstory) and had recently contracted a nasty case of pneumonia, leaving he and I in comparable thin and exhausted states. I had driven over before work to juice him some veggies and hang out, as usual- we had finished up our small talk, said our goodbyes and I had gathered up the kids and driven away all the way to the end of the street before I started crying.

My usual reaction when hit with sudden tears is to hold my breath as long as I can, then let it out slowly a few times until I can regain control and come back to the moment. This time, and nearly only this single time since, I cried- and I kept crying. I turned the car around and drove it right back into the driveway, left the kids in the car and went back inside. I walked directly to the bed where we had just finished talking and I curled right up into his lap like I did when I was small and said, “I am so sick and tired of us both being sick and tired!” He drew me in close and shed a few tears, too. He shared my pain and promised, in fatherly fashion, that everything would be okay. I wanted to believe him.

I go back to that moment in my mind all of the time- when he still had fight in his spirit and weight on his bones. Maybe I’ll get some of both myself one of these days. Maybe I’ll try and write a bit more this month as the waves come, as I’m sure they will. Maybe, just maybe, someday September will arrive and it won’t feel like such a carnival of hurt.

I took a photo during our (my, since he never did) last talk, on his last day. Morbid, maybe… I was grasping at straws, knowing that years later, like now, I would look at it and say, “Those are my living Daddy’s hands, holding mine” and find comfort.

And I do.

Wake Me Up When September Ends
Artist: Green Day

Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends

Like my father’s come to pass
Seven years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends

Here comes the rain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are

As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends

Ring out the bells again
Like we did when Spring began
Wake me up when September ends

Here comes the rain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are

As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends

Like my father’s come to pass
Twenty years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends

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8 thoughts on “Wake Me Up When September Ends

  1. My heart is filled with so much after reading this. And I have no idea how to use words to describe to you how important this post is. Thank you for literally leaving your broken heart on this page for me to see. I hope you are able to find some comfort and peace. Even if just a little bit. That picture of your sweet baby freshly born, taken by your dad. It just took my breath away. And the final photograph of your hands clasped together did the same. That's life right there. The beginnings and endings. The happiest and saddest moments of our life. I am so glad that you have both of those photographs forever connected. This post was absolutely beautiful. And raw. And unhinged. And sweet. And sad. Just like life. Thank you for it, mama.

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  2. This is eloquent and accurate. Grief is not something that is "beautiful." it's hard and sad and angry and it breaks you. My father committed suicide over 8 years ago and I still struggle around the time of his death. I am able to function and be happy now, but those first few years (4 or 5) were difficult. I've been rebuilding my life and the sadness and anger have shifted. I think I am mostly healed now. I hope you can be patient with yourself. Grief is a process and you only come out of the other side when you are ready. I don't think it is something that can be forced although people will try to move you along at times.Those photographs are wonderful! I'm glad they give you comfort. I love the shot your dad took of your baby arriving into the world. That is beautiful! I can't imagine how proud your dad must have been in that moment.

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