Was I ready?

 Was I ready?

Yesterday, we laid my dad’s ashes to rest. It wasn’t as hard as the funeral was, but wasn’t any easier.

Once again, I felt like the odd one out of everyone, because I was able to smile and tell everyone “It gets better from here.” I don’t think anyone believed me, even though it’s the truth.

It really will get better from here.

I had the honor of carrying his blue urn from the funeral home to the cemetery, and placing it in the grave. I don’t think anyone else wanted to do it, and I oddly wanted to. It was something similar to being able hold his hand as he passed away.

I made sure to bring a copy of the magazine Alex & Grace are in this month…the photos & article that was going to be a surprise to him. He’s seen the photos though, I made sure to show him in the hospital before he started on morphine and was physically incoherent.

Now, there’s a copy of the magazine, opened to the picture of my kids, sealed up with his ashes.

Some may think that’s strange, but I’m beyond caring what others think. Long ago I learned to do things MY WAY, and that’s how I’ll continue doing them.

After the interment, we went to his favorite place, Vincent’s, to have lunch and toast to him. I’ll admit, it was different being there without him, but it felt good knowing that was his place.

After lunch, my stepmom gave me the 2 things my dad wanted me to have…his wristwatches. One is the one he wore most recently, and the other is one he’s had for as far back as anyone could remember…his most priced possession.

I spent a good portion of last night just staring at those watches. The more I held them and looked at them, the more I started to miss him more. I finally had to step away and go for a drive.

To be honest, that’s the closest I’ve felt to getting upset since the funeral. Part of why I wasn’t ready to take the watches the night before the funeral was because I knew it would be so sentimental for me, and I thought I was ready for that yesterday.

I was ready, wasn’t I?

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Thanks, Dad…

 Thanks, Dad...

I’ve wanted to update since Sunday, but what I’ve got to say I admit I’m slightly apprehensive about discussing. It’s nothing to do with embarrassment or shame, but rather not being sure how anyone reading would take what I’m about to discuss.

Then it occurred to me…this is MY blog, and I can write about anything I wish. icon wink Thanks, Dad...

In one of my recent posts, I talked about the signs of my dad being around, and how they’ve been welcomed. This past Sunday, I had a new experience I’ve never had before in my life.

We all went to have lunch with my step-mom, just like we used to do when my dad was alive. It’s somewhat of a tradition I suppose. We’ve made sure to keep things as “normal” as possible, and we love keeping my step-mom company with the kids & all.

Upon getting there, my son Alex acted strange. He wouldn’t leave the kitchen (our usual gathering place), and wouldn’t look up from his LEGO toys he brought. Whenever I asked him if he was ok or needed anything, he seemed agitated and wanted attention focused away from him. I just figured he felt uncomfortable because my dad was NOT there.

After we ate, the kids were all playing in the other room, and the mood in the kitchen changed. Christy sent me a text saying my dad was in the room, and I already had felt it before she said anything. She sensed a shift in the atmosphere of the room, and got slightly uncomfortable.

The next thing I knew, there was a cold spot in the room, to my left. The AC wasn’t running enough to create a draft, but I could feel it. It wasn’t ice cold, but it was significantly cooler than the other side of my body. Logically thinking, why would only one side of me be cool while the other was “room temperature?”

Things I’ve read & seen on tv (yeah, I know) all suggest that spirits can manifest themselves by drawing energy from sources to make themselves appear in different ways…and cool spots in the air are a common occurrence. My dad has such a strong personality in life, I have to believe he’s even stronger in after-life, based on the number of signs I’ve encountered since the funeral…and now this.

I’ve talked to a few people about it, and they all agree with me that it was him…he was there. I believe it, but I also know some people will think I’m crazy even thinking this. That’s ok. I know I’m not crazy, and I know I’m not in denial over things.

I’m fully aware, and have accepted the fact that cancer took my dad’s life. I don’t cry for him anymore, but I miss him lot. I know he’s no longer sick, and as much as he didn’t want to die, I believe he’s fine now and is ok with what happened to him. I know he misses us. I know one day I’ll see him again, and I’m perfectly ok with that.

Acceptance is the last part of the grieving process. I don’t know why I was able to get to that part so quickly. I seem to be the only one around me who feels this way, and there’s a huge part of me that feels fortunate to be at peace, but another part of me with some guilt because everyone else seems to be struggling so much.

Why is it so easy for me?

My dad was always able to turn a bad situation into something positive. My mom used to say he was like a cat…always landing on his feet…and that I’m the same way. I truly believe that he’s living thru me, even stronger than before, by allowing me to accept everything and use my strength to try helping everyone else who is struggling. While my kids can make me feel I’m losing my grip (it’s their job), I’ve never felt more calm within myself in my life than I do right now.

Thanks, Dad.

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The funeral was a week ago, and I supposed that’s about how long my perception on things has shifted. I haven’t really felt angry in my grieving. and I am not sure if I ever felt any denial other than actually saying “I can’t believe this is happening.” I’ve felt sadness though, before & after my dad died…and still feel it, but not in an overwhelming way. I do miss him, and there has been many times when I’ve thought to call him to say something, but can’t call him.

I do talk to him though. I know he can hear me, and the funny thing is it’s still a *short* conversation. My dad never was much of a talker to me, but always appreciated that I’d call just to say hi. He needed to feel important, like he had a purpose…and our short conversations fulfilled that need for him. It’s a funny thing, because as much as I really am not a phone person, I like knowing people care enough to call for things.

My family has been closer since he passed, and I’m often asked how I’m doing. I guess I’m fine. I still don’t really understand what I’m supposed to feel, I just know I miss him but that I’m doing my best to stay busy & do things I need to do for my family. I haven’t had the up & down feelings I had all last week leading up to the funeral, but I think for the first time since, today I’m feeling a little…something. I don’t know.

Every day since he died, there’s been a sign of him around. Yesterday, for the first time, I didn’t experience anything, and I’m thinking maybe that’s got me down. I knew with the things happening each day, it was like he was there with me…and I know he still is, but I was getting a kick out of them. I know it’s selfish to think this way, but I’m just being honest.

I’ve been home working all morning, and finally purchased tickets for my son Alex & I to go see the movie “Iron Man 3″ in IMAX 3D tonite. One of the things I’ve always striven for as a parent is to spend as much time with my kids as I can. My dad was building his business when I was a kid, and it wasn’t until we (my sister Christie & I) were older that we were able to start doing more things together. I’ve never faulted him for it, it’s just how it was…and I understand, as I’ve been self-employed for 10 years this year and know exactly how it can be hard to balance it all.

One thing I never did with my dad was go to a movie with him. Not once. I don’t know why, it just never happened. I suppose maybe he wasn’t one to sit still in a theater for a couple hours, or maybe he just wasn’t interested in seeing something on the big screen. We used to tease him (my dad) about not going to a movie theater since sometime maybe in the 70′s, and he just didn’t seem to have any interest.

This will be just the second time I’m taking Alex to a movie, and I can’t wait. I love doing things like that with him, mostly because he’s my son and I’m so damned proud of him…but also because it brings me back to doing things with my dad when I was a kid. There’s such a feeling of pride for a boy spending time with his daddy, and I hope one day Alex will look back at these moments with a smile, the same way I do.

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There’s signs everywhere…

 Theres signs everywhere...

Something I’m starting to realize more, as time goes on, is just how much I know my dad wants me to move on and continue living my life. If he were alive right now, he would continue to encourage me to keep good relationships with clients, spend time with my family, and take care of my business. He always wanted to make sure I didn’t have anything else important I could be doing instead of helping him out while he was sick, which is admirable…but I also had to tell him to stop worrying, he was just as much a priority as anything else.

What was hardest watching him die, besides seeing him in pain, was knowing I wouldn’t be able to see him or talk to him anymore. I was afraid of that so much. I wanted him to give me signs that he’s still around, and I’ve received them everyday since he’s been gone.

Maybe I should say since he left his body.

Yesterday, my mom was on the search for Mother’s Day gifts, and stumbled upon a website that did customized gifts. One particular item was a set of garden stones that could have names put on them. The name “Frank” has never been a common men’s name for display samples, and I’m pretty sure “Pat” has never been a common sample name for women either…but apparently, my dad wanted to screw with my mom because the sample image showed both of their names. How random could that be?

Maybe just as random as a photo assignment I received from a client earlier today. I haven’t taken any work from this client since we got the news my dad wasn’t going to get out of the hospital, and they said to let them know whenever I was ready to start taking assignments again. I just haven’t gotten back around to it yet, mostly because I’ve been busy trying to catch up on so many things, and I thought it could just wait.

So, this assignment I get is for a restaurant names “Frank’s Restaurant.” I’m pretty sure he wanted me to get off my ass and get back on with this particular client. In fact, I know that’s what he’s telling me. The garden stones yesterday made my jaw drop. I was at the gym when this photo assignment came thru, and I laughed out loud.

He keeps revealing himself to me, and I welcome it with open arms. I’ve never seen a ghost, that I recall, but I have felt there are spirits around. Some people claim to hear & see things, and I’ve always wondered why I couldn’t experience that. I have to say, I feel so connected to my dad right now 8 days after his “death,” it wouldn’t shock me at all if I heard his voice or witnessed an apparition of some kind.

And I’m ok with that. It doesn’t scare me.

I’ve never lost someone close like this before, aside from my grandparents. I don’t know why this is different. I’ve been told before that people who aren’t “ready” to experience those signs or connections won’t ever see them, because their mind subconsciously won’t allow it. That never sat right with me, because I can’t even being to count the number of hours I’ve spent in cemeteries, making photographs. I would have thought for sure that I’d see something.

While I haven’t “seen” my dad yet, I feel him. I know he’s got my mind at ease over his death, but I know he’s cancer-free now and healthier than he’s ever been. I always used to stop and think “what would my dad do?” in certain situations, and I feel like I know that answer before having to ask it now. He’s showing he’s still around, and I can honestly say I’m more than open to this. I hope it doesn’t stop anytime soon.

I know he’s laughing his ass off right now, having fun revealing himself to us all…and I’m having just as much fun when these signs appear. icon smile Theres signs everywhere...

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My gift to you…

 My gift to you...

Today is the first Monday since my dad is gone, and this evening will mark an entire week since he died. I’ve been thinking about him a lot this morning, and called my sister Christie to talk, only to have her answer the phone in tears. Talking to her candidly about how I had been thinking of him all morning, and general things about our kids & such seemed to calm her. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked her down from sadness or anger, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I haven’t cried since Friday, and have struggled a little bit with my feelings all weekend long. I feel like I’ve gotten some closure, and have questioned why I felt so at peace since placing him in the hearse. It’s not that I feel guilty for feeling “OK” with things, but I worry I’m setting myself up for disaster down the road. I don’t even know if that makes any sense or not.

I’m not numb like I felt last week. I’m not angry, nor have I ever felt angry. I do miss him badly, and while I will continue to mourn his physical passing, there’s something in me that says “It’s ok.” It’s like I know he’s around still, and all I need to do is be able to open myself up to realizing that to feel him.

A lot of people have told me I will come thru this with something gained from him, and I believe I know what that is. I don’t understand it, but I don’t think I’m supposed to. I’ve questioned it so much, because I just don’t know what I’m supposed to feel like. It’s such an unknown thing to me.

I called my mom yesterday, because I was worried I was in denial. She reassured me that I’m not, and that we all deal with these things differently. She also said that the calmness I feel about his death is him living thru me, and that will forever be a part of him I carry with me for the rest of my life. It’s my gift from him, to pass on to others.

My dad was always in control in situations…a think-before-acting person…always had a plan…always calm…and I’ve struggled to be that way much of my life. Growing up, I was always the short-fused one who let his emotions get the best of him. I can’t say how many times when I was younger I’d react before thinking, wishing I could take back my actions or words. I know getting older, it gets easier (for some) to shift that behavior, but I feel there’s more happening right now than just that.

I believe he’s revealed himself to me many times already, and I don’t think it’s just coincidence.

There was the clock at my gym, exactly 24 hours after he died. I had to push myself to go that day, when all I wanted to do was nothing.

There was that voice in the back of my head (and my wife’s) telling me I should get ready for that job on Wednesday evening, when all I wanted to do was bail out on it…because I know that’s what he would have done.

There’s the 4 calls for jobs I received on Thursday, signaling I need to get back to work, because that’s what he would want me to do.

There was that sudden feeling of peace after the funeral on Friday, and my being able to feel calm when talking to my sister when she was angry…which was tables being turned for us. My dad didn’t get angry often, and was able to look at things clearly for others.

There was a good friend bringing my favorite cookies to the playground for a playdate with our kids on Saturday.

There was that bee hovering around the flowers on the lemon tree yesterday. I tracked it with my iPhone, and managed to get a few decent shots of it as it pollinated the flowers.

I know that was him.

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Good advice from friends…

 Good advice from friends...

Yesterday was my dad’s funeral, and I wanted to post but just didn’t have it in me. Thursday night I think I came as close as I’ve ever been to a panic attack thinking about everything, but my mom was able to put some things into perspective for me.

I had realized I felt ok leaving him at the hospital after he passed, because I knew I’d see him again one more time. When that time was approaching, I didn’t want it to come because I didn’t want that to be it.

My mom told me about when her mother passed away from cancer years ago, and she felt the exact same way. What changed for her was at the funeral, she says she touched her mom and it no longer felt like her…then realized that her mom was no longer in her body. Scientific stuff…change in matter I suppose.

But it made sense, and it got me back down from my panicked state. I still wasn’t ready for the funeral, but I knew once I could do the same thing she described to me, I’d be ok.

My head felt like it was spinning the entire time at the funeral…it’s much like what a couple experiences at their wedding…but instead of back to back smiles & “congratulations,” it’s hugs and sympathy. It did keep me busy & occupied at least, and I was proud for me dad having so many people coming to pay their respects to him.

It took me until the end of the visitation for me to finally go up to the coffin, and it took all my strength to finally touch him.

He was cold.

There was no feeling of relief that I was hoping would hit me, just sadness. I cried.

It was then time to walk the coffin in for the service, then eulogies. My sisters both wrote theirs, but I didn’t. I feel like I’ve poured myself so much into these posts and images that I said all I needed to say.

When my turn came, I got up and started talking. I announced I didn’t prepare anything because I’ve been writing so much this past week…then honestly don’t remember all I said. I know I had to stop several times, and looked into the crowd of people listening and saw many of them crying.

I know they were mourning my dad, but part of me feels they were crying for me too. It was so obvious how much this has affected me. I do know I ended with turning to the coffin, saying “I miss you…I love you, dad”…then returned to my seat to cry.

After the service, we moved him outside to the hearse for his final ride. The really odd thing is once we did that, I’ve felt a calmness & peace that I can’t explain.

Maybe this is what a friend told me I’d feel…something he said he felt after his father died.

I was struck by the weird sensation of understanding that my dad had really prepared me for this. This, of all times, will be the time that you are called upon to put to use, all the knowledge, thoughts and perspective that he instilled in you over the years. If you are able to listen to your thoughts, you’ll also feel it. This is the time where the kid and adult in you begin to separate. It’s a necessary truth. Several years ago, Frank taught you all he could about life. This is the point that you begin to execute it. For me, it was an incredibly strange feeling. Please try to embrace the knowledge that he gave you and understand that the way you carry on from here will be your tribute to your dad.”

I can’t say for certain that I’ve stumbled upon this, but I can say my perspective has shifted and my mind is at peace…at least for now.

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“It’s like you spit him out…”

 Its like you spit him out...

There’s an anxiousness I’ve felt since Tuesday, when we confirmed that tomorrow (Friday) would be the funeral. It’s hard to put into words because I have such mixed emotions about it.

I’m excited to see my dad one more time, but I’m not. I’ve always talked about funerals, and how much I hate the idea of being in a casket as the last time a person is seen.

There’s a part of me that things that won’t be the case. Even though the last time I saw him was after he passed, that’s not what I think about. My image of him almost isn’t physical…it’s hard to explain.

I keep thinking about holding his hand though. That’s my best memory of his dying. It was something so close & special, and to me…it was the transition of his being my dad to me becoming the caretaker for him. I’m sure that sounds odd.

My kitchen table is full of old photos from the past that we’re putting up tomorrow at the funeral home. People used to tell me all the time when I was a kid how much I looked like him, and of course I just said “ok.” They used to say, “It’s like you spit him out.” I never got that as a child.

I came across this one photo of him from when he was probably around my age, and it’s become my favorite photo of him. I hear it looks like me. icon smile Its like you spit him out...

So many people have reached out to me over the last week, and I must say…I’ve received some wonderful insight into their own experiences of losing a loved one. I don’t wish this feeling on anyone, ever. I know I’m not alone in this, but it helps out to know others have been where I am and are able to offer up words of comfort to me while I go thru it. One day, I hope to be able to pay it forward.

Tomorrow will come and go, and life will go on. It’s going to hurt again, and I’ll have roller coaster emotions for a while. I know It won’t ever get easier to accept, I’ll just get more used to it.

Just do me a favor, dad…like I asked the other day…promise me you’ll continue to show me signs you’re around. I miss you, more than you could imagine…but, you’re always going to live thru me in the things I do for the rest of my life.

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I know you’re still around…

 I know youre still around...

My emotions are all over the place. Some moments I feel fine, and others it’s hard for me to do something simple like emptying the dishwasher. Everyone tells me it’s going to take time, and I fully believe that. I’ve always told people I take my days hour by hour…and I believe my grief is more like a minute to minute process.

Oddly enough, I’m sleeping solidly…once I finally get to sleep. Monday night, I hit a wall and crashed hard. Last night, I was up until nearly 2am. I’m still feeling exhausted, and I don’t know if that’s because I physically or emotionally exhausted. I’m sure it’s both.

Yesterday, we all met with my step-mom to go over funeral arrangements. I asked my oldest & best friend Roy to be a pallbearer, and he didn’t think twice to saying “yes.” We picked out clothes for my dad, and all agreed his favorite blue guayabera would be perfect. He loved his & my step-mom’s many vacations to tropical islands, and thought this was most fitting.

My younger sister, Christie, came over last night to go thru photos that we will put on display on Friday at the funeral. We had a lot of laughs, and it felt good. It felt familiar.

It wasn’t making the arrangements that was hard. It wasn’t making decisions on the details that was hard. It wasn’t looking thru all of the old photos & memories that was hard. It was seeing his obituary that was hard. All I could do was stare at it, and I haven’t read it yet. I know what it says already, but I can’t bring myself to read it. It’s still too raw for me.

One of the things that I’ve done throughout this entire process is do my best to be strong for everyone. I don’t usually cry, people close to me know that. I found it almost natural to remain calm anytime my step-mom would start to breakdown, or either of my sisters started doing the same. I really don’t know why or how I do that, but it just happens.

In my dad’s final moments, everyone was crying over him…and I felt it too. I guess I wanted to show my dad that I would take care of everyone, so I held everyone as they cried. Once everyone was able to gather themselves up some and started talking more about him and the good times, I walked out the hospital room and let it out.

I don’t know why I feel like I can’t cry in front of them, but I just couldn’t. My brother-in-law must know me pretty well, because he came out and held me. I’ll never forget that.

Trying to get back into my normal daily activities & routines is difficult, and I didn’t think that it would be that way. Just getting out of bed to make coffee is almost a chore. I finally made it back to the gym yesterday, after 5 days…I thought that would be my one thing to do that would make me feel ok, and it’s hard to get myself there. I couldn’t get there until much later than usual, but I got there. As I was walking into the weight room, I happened to look up at the clock and noticed the time…I froze.

It was exactly 24 hours since my dad passed. At that moment, I knew he heard me when I asked him to please let me know he was still around.

Many people tell me how I’ve inspired them to reach out to their parents, or how much strength it took to open my heart like I have with these posts. That brings tears to my eyes. As an artist, I’ve always said I wanted to reach people and make them feel something. I didn’t think of this as a means to do that, I wanted to just get my feelings out so I could breathe.

I wanted to show how strong my dad was during his treatment, and instead I ended up showing the world how much he was loved. At least that’s how I see it now.

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This chair is empty now…

 This chair is empty now...

A lot has happened since my last update, and I wanted to come back here to put my thoughts into words last night, but I was emotionally & physically drained. After nearly 36 hours sitting vigil at his bedside, my dad breathed his last breath around 5:20pm.

I’m honored to say that I was able to hold his hand as his soul left his body, and into eternity. That’s how I’ll remember his passing, by holding his hand so he wouldn’t feel alone or afraid. I felt his warm, clammy hand turn cool…and that’s when I knew it was time.

Do I believe he was scared? Yes. He wasn’t afraid of much, but I truly believe he wasn’t ready to die. I know he accepted that it was going to happen, but I don’t think he was ready.

None of us were ready.

Cancer didn’t kill him though…he fought long and hard, and let go. I made sure to tell him that. I told him a lot of things the last few days…how proud I was of him, how he was my hero, how he refused to go down without fighting…too much to recall all of it. Everything is a blur to be honest. I can think of moments that happened, and don’t know if they were yesterday or Sunday.

I kept thinking last night about some of the last real interactions I had with him before he could no longer look at things and respond with a smile or a weak voice.

I remember Friday, when he was rapidly going downhill, how happy he looked when he was asking for a familiar face to be with him, and I got there as fast as I could. The nurse took me to him, he reached out for my hand, and with a childlike expression said “Thank you…you brought my son to me.”

Saturday, we took the kids to see him one last time. Alex was afraid to go near him, but did tell him he loved him. Grace allowed me to hold her up to see him and tell him she loved him. He lit up like a Christmas tree, reached for her hand and kissed it. It nearly broke my heart and filled me with happiness all at the same time. She doesn’t understand it now, but one day I’ll be able to tell her just how special she was to him.

On Sunday, I showed him the photos of Alex & Grace that I shot for an article going into a magazine next month…that was to be a surprise for him. He smiled a lot when I showed him, and I knew he was happy & proud. I told him it was my client’s surprise to him, and I couldn’t wait to show it to him.

The last word interaction I had with him was sometime Sunday afternoon. In between morphine injections, I was talking to him and holding his hand. I asked him, “Now aren’t you glad I didn’t go away and stayed with you?” He responded with a weak “Yes.” I’m glad too.

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I’d do anything to help you…

 Id do anything to help you...

I’ve been at the hospital for nearly 24 hours now, and he’s still holding on. We’ve told him over and over it’s ok to go, we don’t want him in pain anymore…but I don’t know what he’s waiting for. He’s so weak, and yet he still fights. Honestly, I don’t understand how he’s doing it.

They’re giving him morphine on an hourly basis now. He sleeps a lot, with short, shallow breaths…and every now & then he raises his head up with wide eyes yelling. All we can do is continue to tell him it’s ok, and that we love him.

I’ve felt heartache in my life. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been upset. This is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced.

I just want to take away his pain. At this point, I’d do almost anything to relieve him of this. He looks so scared, and he’s so helpless.

I’d like to think we’re comforting him, but it’s hard to comprehend that we really are.

The ironic thing I’m discovering is how much we regress in death…almost like going back to an infant-like state. A good friend who recently lost her father has been coaching me these last couple months, and helping prepare me for this.

She told me to hold his hand as much as I can.

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