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My Soft Place to Land

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

I would rather be writing about pretty much anything else today - something witty and fun but alas, my mind is telling me that we are going on a different path and it's time to share some vulnerable things.

For many others out there, in two days time, it will be Tuesday, March 14th aka Pi Day but for me, it is my least favorite day of the year. It marks the day the bubble burst and a clear line was drawn in the sand between "what was" and "what is". Tuesday marks the 20th time I have traveled around the sun without my dad.

Twenty years without this guy

Even writing that feels all sorts of wrong - a mixture of knowing and disbelief swirl inside of me. The elasticity of time is wild, y'all. There are moments where it feels like he was just here and then there are times when it feels like a lifetime ago. Somehow, someway, we have all found our way: my mom has some great friends that she travels with and sees just about daily. My brother and sister-in-law have two great kids that keep them busy and I am over here married to my witty guy and chasing my tail with our four kids. It never gets easier, we all know that there is a fissure in our family unit that is omnipresent and lies just below the surface. Regardless, we keep going - it is what my dad would have wanted for us. We live our lives as a way to honor him, we owe it to him to live well, especially since his days were cut terribly short at the age of 50. So damn young, I knew it then when I was 22, but wow do I ever know it now to my absolute core at age 42.

I distinctly remember a well meaning friend of mine telling me at his funeral that she just couldn't imagine what I was going through - well shit girl, neither could I then nor can I now! I am a member of a club that no one ever wants to join - the premature loss of a parent club. It is tragic at any age but for those of us who lost someone early on, it cuts just a bit deeper. Lucky(?) for me, I have two close friends who lost their moms too soon and we have each other to relate to - our spouses are awesome but try as they might, this is something just out of reach for them - you can only truly know if you are one of us. The fact that our parents never met their grandchildren is probably the worst part of the whole lot and holds the greatest sting.... oh and father/daughter dances at weddings - nope, can't do them, I am out of that room each and every time.

I could go into vivid details about the depths of my sorrows and provide details of the tragic chain of events that I can playback like a movie reel anytime I allow myself to go there but I will spare you those parts of the story - they are too much, even for me. My intention for this post is for it to come full circle and share what has helped me as I have walked through my grief for the past 20 years.

Stepping on the tennis court

The tennis court, and now by proxy, the pickleball court, have realigned my chakras time and again as life threw me some curveballs:

  • The loss of my father

  • 3 Miscarriages

  • Deep worry about my children's health as they faced some quirky and unexpected birth defects and subsequent surgeries during infancy

  • A family tragedy that thrust my brother and I into the forefront of the most bizarre of circumstances (ahem, still ongoing with this one)

  • Oh and I certainly have those typical daily annoyances that can just cascade to feel like death by a thousand paper cuts!

The court has been my soft place to land. The lines are always there, the rules are always the same.... there are no nasty surprises lurking around the corner. I love the predictability of it all. It is something I can control - whether I win or lose, nothing catastrophic is going to come out of it. For those of us with anxiety, these constants are the sort of things we need in our lives. The court is a place to leave your worries at the door and focus on one thing - just making your shots. The beauty is in its simplicity. Stepping on the court allowed me the space to feel normal again. I wasn't thinking about blood counts, chemo, or wondering how I was going to get my notes from a class I had to urgently leave because my dad was having a bad night and I needed to get there asap. On the court I wasn't being bombarded with questions unless it was about the score. The tennis court bathed me in so much needed normalcy and I will forever be grateful for that.

Now there was guilt, I won't deny that - and there still is guilt - because I will drop just about anything for a good game, but I also know that carving out this time just for me has helped me maintain my identity over the years. My other roles, (caretaker, wife, mother, trustee) weren't able to swallow me whole if I kept something just for myself. That's the key to it all, people! Keep something just for yourself to maintain your identity - it will become vital when the pendulum swings and you are faced with a tough life circumstance. I have missed my dad every single day for the past 20 years, but I am never sorry he was my dad. The greatest and most meaningful gift he ever bestowed on me was believing in me. I honestly didn't ever realize that the world looked at females differently until after my dad passed because he always championed me and supported me. He was infinitely proud of my strong demeanor and told me he knew I wasn't going to be someone who was going to be taken advantage of because I had a strong sense of self and I am not easily swayed.

My dad had a great sense of humor and loved quoting movies like Caddy Shack and Animal House. I am grateful I somehow made it through that last year of college because I seriously considered withdrawing to focus on him - but that thought upset him too much so I had to stay the course. I'm thankful I did - he saw me inducted into the Golden Key National Honor Society, and a few months later, watched me walk across the stage to graduate Summa Cum Laude - this achievement was as much mine as it was his - his constant believing in me allowed me very early on to believe in myself. This is the most important gift I am working on instilling in my own children. I would be remiss if I painted the most glowing picture - my dad was not perfect, no one is. He had a temper - mostly about keeping the garage in his OCD order and our cars needed to be immaculate.... oh and if someone drove on the grass, we would be hearing about it! He was never violent or neglectful and he put his family above all else. He worked hard to provide us with all of the things - we lived a very privileged childhood, I won't deny it. We had nice things, new cars, and went on a ton of vacations - but it was always with the known caveat, you can have these things, but they must be earned and maintained. We, (my brother and I), toed the line and didn't get in trouble, kept our grades up, and were expected to hold down part-time jobs - and in return, we had access to the niceties. I remember one well-meaning relative suggesting to my dad that he was doing too much for us, making it too easy for us, and my dad took offense. He said these are good kids who are doing what they are supposed to be doing and real life is going to come for them whether he was helping them now or not and he would rather help us to get ahead before we got behind. This is another wisdom nugget that I am fond of when it comes to my own parenting. My dad absolutely loved being a provider for us - I see the same in my own husband - who is coincidentally also named John.

If you have made it this far, I suspect you may have lost someone close to you too because we tend to seek each other out to pick up tips and tricks of how to play this hand we were dealt. I will say that I find great comfort in knowing with absolute certainty that my dad would be happy with how things have turned out - he didn't want my mom to be lonely and she blossomed and found her group and now enjoys her new best friend, her shih tzu, Mac. He would have been so proud of my brother and I because what else could a parent ask for than for their children to be successfully launched into adulthood. He would have been fascinated with his grandchildren - and I have to leave that right there because that is my tender spot and makes me teary, so moving on for now.

I needed to write this post - not seeking sympathy, or feeling woe is me - I am seeking some personal clarity and reflection - and above all else, he deserves to be remembered. I always struggle this time of year as the days tick by marching closer to this dreaded date... but here I am, surviving and thriving - sometimes one or the other, but usually a mixture of both. If there is any silver lining to this, this profound loss really taught me that I can be broken apart and then put back together again... at least mostly. I have been able to handle some really tough situations without falling apart - because sadly, I have had the practice.

In French, instead of “I miss you,” they say “Tu me manques.” Literally, “you are missing from me.”

This exactly right. Half of who I am is missing from me.

Below is a treasure of a blog and it is my favorite piece on grief - it is worth a read and please share with anyone who might also be struggling.

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