RSS Feed

Category Archives: Loss and Grief

Eulogy for my Father

Today is the third anniversary of my father’s death. Each year, this day becomes a little easier, but I suspect there will always be something that is sort of raw and painful about anniversaries like this.

I recently found the eulogy that I wrote and read at his service. One of my friends was working on one for her own father, and asked if she could see mine for inspiration. I had to go back to an old computer to find it. I had not read it since the day I delivered it at his service.

I decided to reprint it here today, on this third anniversary, well, just because it feels right to do something to acknowledge this day.

In going back and reading it now, I realized that his story is also my story. This is really how I came to be – the person I am today – good, bad and indifferent.

Here it is, exactly how I read it on September 11, 2010, to a packed house at Bear Valley Lodge …

For many of you, you knew my dad as that funny guy hanging out at the bar, playing dice, laughing and cracking jokes. Or as the caretaker of the school, or as that man who walked his cute little dog around town. Or, you may have known him as a “laugh a lot person” – the description that my kids have for him. My dad was all of those things but much more. He almost never talked about himself, so I wanted to share with you today a little background about his life.

My dad was born in Olean, New York in 1939 as Arthur Ellison Doyle the second. He was a junior, but they just called him Artie. He was born to parents who were told they could never have children, so there he was…surprise. At the time he was born, his parents were in their early 40’s. And although now we see that 40 is actually young, at that time, that was really, really old to be having children.

Unfortunately, his mom died due to complications from childbirth with his sister – Diane, who is two years younger than my dad. After that, my dad lived for a short time with his grandparents, then his Uncle on a ranch out here in California, but then when his father remarried, he went back to NY to live with his dad and stepmother. Shortly after he moved back though, his father died and then he and his sister were orphans. Fortunately, he and Diane were adopted by his Aunt Avenil, who really was the parent who raised him.

After his turbulent early years, my dad enjoyed a normal childhood raised by a loving mother. He was a natural athlete and ended up being a football star, basketball star, and overall big man on campus in high school. His mom thought his ego was maybe a little too big and decided the best thing for him after high school was to head off to the air force. It was during his service time that he met my mom. They were married in 1962 and settled in the Bay Area.

My dad went to college after the air force and completed his bachelor’s degree from San Jose State. My parents worked, traveled, and bought their first house. They must have enjoyed the newlywed lifestyle a lot because it was eight years before they decided to start a family. First me, then my sister five years later.

By then, we lived in Danville and my dad had a good job at Lucky Stores that supported our family. We lived a typical suburban lifestyle – nice house, new cars (my dad loved cars and it seems to me like we had a new one every year). We lived in a great suburban neighborhood. It was all nice and good, but not ultimately, my dad’s dream.

We came camping up to Bear Valley one time and I think he was hooked. Next thing I knew, we sold our house, my parents quit their jobs, and we moved up to the mountains of Bear Valley to build a house – yes build it ourselves. Crazy now, for me looking back to imagine how my dad and mom had the guts to do that.

I think my dad thought he was going to live out life up here as a successful stock market investor. The market, though, had different plans. So my dad went back to work and began the job at Bear Valley School. He worked there until his retirement in 2005. At Bear Valley, he was the stable icon of the school. As teachers and teachers aids came and went, my dad was there, helping to raise and transport the school children in Bear Valley for over 25 years.

In retirement, he enjoyed golfing, walking dogs at the humane society (where he found little Fang), spending time with his grandchildren and playing cards and games with his new buddies at the Diggins. Going through his things these past few days, we found a first place trophy from the 8-ball pool tournament at the Diggins last year. I was laughing to my sister – of course dad won the pool tournament, would you expect anything else?

My dad was always competitive and loved to win. Although he was a great father who would do almost anything for me, letting me win was never part of his parenting strategy. I really can’t remember ever beating him at any game – Monopoly, cards, dice, chess, darts. Even playing basketball or baseball – every game he won.

When he was staying with us during his last few weeks, I convinced him to play some games with us. And of course, he still won. My son is a master at Connect Four. Still, I sat there in amazement as my dad beat him time and time again, smiling after each win – competitive to the end.

But when it really counted, in his relationships with people he loved, he was the ultimate giver, not a competitor.

If I could sum up my relationship with my dad in one word it would be “easy”. It was just easy to be his daughter. Not easy because I was an easy daughter – if you knew me in my younger years you know that to be true – No, it was easy because he was such an easy going dad. His love was unconditional. Even if I did something wrong or we disagreed (although after my head-strong teenage years, I’d be hard pressed to even think of a disagreement), I knew that my dad loved me and accepted me and never would hold a grudge or hold anything over my head.

During my pre-teen and teenage years, after my parents divorced, I lived with my dad. He basically raised me through all the teenage angst and drama. Really, looking back now, I can’t believe it. What an amazing thing that he did to provide me with that stable home during that turbulent time. And the sacrifices he made – moving to Arnold so that I could be closer to school and didn’t have to ride the bus so far – which meant that he would have to drive much longer and get up in the early morning hours to drive to work. But he did it for me – and I never once heard him complain.

Then, he fully supported me going away to school and helped pay for college – and only now going through all his old paperwork do I see the loans he took out to do it. Again, never making me feel guilty or even sharing the sacrifices he made. Which, looking back, I don’t even think he thought were sacrifices. He just wanted me to succeed and to be happy. He always made sure that my sister and I were taken care of, even if he had to sacrifice.

For most of my life, my dad gave to me. I was happy that as I got older, I was able to do for him – to give him gifts that I knew he would never buy himself or experiences that he would not have otherwise. He was truly the most grateful and easy person to buy and do things for. He was appreciative of everything and particular about very few things.

During his last weeks, when I was caring for him, I really thought that I was giving to him at that time. Now, in retrospect I see that really, those weeks were a gift that he gave to me. That is time I never would have had with him and I will cherish it for the rest of my life. And it wasn’t just a gift to me, it was for my husband and children too. We had some great quality time that we were able to share with him that we would not have had.

He mentioned to me a few times during his last weeks, “If anything happens to me, just tell everyone I lived a good life and I did pretty much whatever the heck I wanted to do.” So, I told them dad. That is true and just what you did.

For years, he had this cartoon on his refrigerator. I pulled it off the other day because I think it’s so telling of my dad and speaks his truth.

Image

So if there is one thing that I have learned from him is to live life with no regrets. I plan to take that to heart and it’s another gift he has left to me. I certainly have no regrets when it comes to my relationship with my dad. It is something that has shaped me to become the person that I am and will always be one of the most important relationships of my life.

My dad was a man who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life – a great hike, a good book, a cold beer, a laugh with friends. His was a life about relationships and not about things. I will miss him so much but I am so appreciative that I had him in my life for as long as I did and he helped shape the person I am today.

Dad, I love you, I will miss you and may you rest in peace, with a cold beer in one hand and a great hand of cards in the other – with that big smile we all love creeping across your face.

scan0033

Advertisements

It’s More Than Just a Game

I know they say “it’s just a game”, but right now it doesn’t feel that way.

It’s my own fault. I just got too wrapped up in the Superbowl this year.

The Forty-Niners have been my favorite team my entire life. Here I am dressed up for game day, back in the 70’s before any of the players on today’s Niner team were even born.

SCAN0058

One of my most vivid memories growing up is watching football with my dad. The Niners were our team. Even when I no longer lived at home, we would talk almost every Sunday of football season and rehash the game.

When the Niners won the last playoff game against Atlanta and were headed to the Superbowl, I cried…a lot. At that moment I realized, it was more than just a game for me. It was about life, and loss, and childhood memories, and just wishing more than anything that I could call my dad.

Yesterday morning, I was so ready for the game. I had all my good luck charms – my lucky pajama bottoms (that I wore each time the Niners have won a playoff game in the past couple of years), my Jerry Rice jersey (that I had worn the last time the Niners won the superbowl), and my dad’s 49er hat.

I even found my little forty-niner jersey from the photo above. We put it on our dog Fang (the dog that was my dad’s and now lives with us). We were ready for the game. I was convinced that my dad was smiling down and the Niners would win.

Niners

Sadly, that did not come to pass. Their comeback was just not enough.

But as I was cleaning up last night, when everyone had left the party and the house was quiet, instead of sadness, I felt an odd feeling of happiness and gratitude.

I thought about all the friends and family who have supported me and my Niner craziness this season. I thought about the room full of people cheering on the Niners – not because they really cared but because they care about me. From my daughter making 49er cupcakes, to my husband getting me red and yellow flowers; to friends who painted their toes Niner red and gold, or made me an authentic 49er king cake, or sent me a video from the Superbowl of Joe Montana saying hi to me; these people were supporting me.

That is what I love about the game, how it brings family together, how it brings friends together, how you support your friends by cheering on their teams. That is something that would make my dad smile for sure.

So despite the crushing loss (that yes, still hurts), it is a win in my book in the end.

And of course, there’s always next year.

Go Niners…

The Holiday Blues

This post originally appeared on ocfamily.com on 12/21/2010.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Well, what do you do when it’s not?

For me, the holidays are a struggle this year. Since last Christmas, I’ve lost three members of my family – my brother, my father and my aunt. Yes, 2010 was not a good one. In fact, I am officially naming it my “worst year ever”.

When you take that reality and add some endless rain to the mix, it can make for the holiday blues for sure.

The thought of the first Christmas of my life without my dad is a difficult one to wrap my head around. I thought about mixing it up this year by going away and just doing everything different. But, I thought better of it and decided to go ahead with our traditional Christmas celebration. Instead of running away from my feelings, I’m going to stay and tackle them head on.

I know that I am far from alone. There are many people who are having a tough holiday for a number of reasons: death of loved ones, illness, unemployment, loss of a home, divorce or a host of other reasons.

For those of you who may also have the holiday blues, I wanted to share some things that I’m doing to help get through:

  • Doing for others – Everything from giving money to help feed those who don’t have a hot meal, to helping out a neighbor or a friend who is also struggling – all of this helps take the focus of my own little pity party.
  • Keeping busy – baking with the kids, shopping, hosting friends and family, attending holiday parties – for me, the busier I am, and the more I’m around other people, the more I feel the holiday spirit.
  • Counting my blessings – although it’s been a tough year, I am thankful for the many blessings I do have: healthy kids, a supportive husband, a place to call home, good food on the table and great friends.
  • Exercising – I have been trying to stick to a regular exercise schedule despite the rain and holiday craziness. For me, regular exercise helps my mental health even more than my physical health.
  • Practicing moderation – I’m trying not to overindulge on food or alcohol because that just makes depression worse. And I did say trying – a couple nights of too much wine and a Peppermint Joe-Joe’s session excluded, I’ve been pretty good.
  • Confiding in someone  – the best thing you can do is find a friend, therapist, or family member to share your feelings with.  You can also talk through a game plan for how you will handle the holidays. If you think about it in advance, your feelings won’t take you by surprise and will be easier to handle.  If you have also lost a loved one this year, think about adding a new tradition into your holiday celebrations to honor their memory.

I wish you a wonderful holiday. I hope that it’s a happy one, but even if it’s not, know that there are many people out there sharing your feelings and who want to help. And the more you reach out, the more joyful your holiday will be.

Wishing peace, love and joy to you and your family and best wishes for a better year ahead!

On Death, Dreams and Dragonflies

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of my father’s passing. And today, not coincidentally, I’m launching my long overdue blog site.

What does all of this have to do with this crazy post title? Hopefully this story helps it make some sense…

In the two years since my dad’s death, I have had many dreams about him. In some he’s alive, in others he’s sick, and in some, he has died. But (and here’s the part that may cause you to think I’m crazy), there have been two dreams that didn’t really feel like dreams at all. There were more like “visits”. I’m not going to share all the details because that would make for a very long post, but believe me, these dreams were different than any I have ever experienced in my life. And, I really am sane…at least most of the time.

In each of the two dreams, I could tell that my dad was sending me a message. The first time, it was letting me know that he was healthy, happy and okay. Considering that he was not able to communicate with me before dying, that he was on a ventilator, that I had to have “that talk” with the doctors in ICU and make the decision to take him off it, this was information that I needed – badly. That dream was about a year ago. It gave me a lot of peace.

The most recent dream was about two weeks ago. In it, I could tell that my dad was sending me a message about my life and how I’m living it. You see, ever since his death, the loss of my business, and some other personal issues in my life (all hitting right around the same time), I’ve been in a bit of a funk. I’ve suffered from, at times, a debilitating lack of self-confidence and inability to move forward with my life. In this dream, my dad was sort of saying to me – “you are here, make the most of it, live life, pray, be happy, and I’ll see you again.”

Then (okay, again, don’t think I’m crazy), right after that, one red dragonfly appeared in my backyard and began to fly over our pool all day…and the next day…and the next…and the next. Each time my husband, my kids or I went into the backyard, there was that dragonfly. (Note: my dad loved dragons. He had a collection of them, some of which now reside in my son’s room). It took me days to make any connection. The kids even noticed the dragonfly – “boy that dragonfly sure loves our backyard” my son said one day.

Finally, I googled “meaning of the dragonfly“. That is when the light bulb went off and I got it. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
  • The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body… The magical property of iridescence is associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by unmasking the real self and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of identity. This again indirectly means self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
  • The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. This adult dragonfly does it all in these few months and leaves nothing to be desired. This style of life symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living IN the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis. This ability lets you live your life without regrets like the great dragonfly.

The dragonfly has much to teach me – about life, love, loss, forgiveness, and most of all – living in the present. Last week, I picked up this little necklace at the Sawdust Festival as my daily reminder:

I’m incorporating the message of the dragonfly into many aspects of my life, this blog being one of them. I’ve been thinking about launching this site for about a year but have hesitated – “But it’s not ready yet. It doesn’t look the way I want it. What if no one reads it? What if no one cares? What if everyone hates my writing?” – my inner voice has told me all of these things.

Well, here’s the thing I have realized – none of that really matters. I’m not doing this to make money, sell products, or land some book deal. I’m just trying to use the space I take up on this planet to do some good. That’s it. Period. So, if only my mom reads (which of course she will), it’s okay. Eventually, someone else will read, and care, and maybe make one small change to take better care of this planet.

And one small change, made right now, in this moment, is a good thing.

Or maybe someone else will not think I’m crazy … and will learn to love dragonflies.