Tag Archives: grieving

There Has Always Been Music

Music has been one of the most important sources of joy and creativity in my life. My dad was a lost soul, an alcoholic, a person who saw darkness in every corner, but in music… in music, my dad created light. My father’s only moments of carelessness and weightlessness came while fishing and while playing the guitar.

Music has always been there for him and for me when other pleasant things were lacking.

My dad named me Melody because he was a musician, and he was a hell of a musician at that. My dad could look at a stringed instrument and give it a few strums, all of a sudden an expert. He played the acoustic guitar by ear, tuned it by ear, and taught himself completely. He played the mandolin, and I remember loving to hear “Amy” from those 12 strings.

As he got older, the singing became quieter, more ragged, and hoarse, but it was the most beautiful sound to me. It was real. It was raw. His voice and his music were the essence of his beautiful soul troubled by a life of restlessness and toil.

Music was always there for us.

I remember the many times that he played “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” on his guitar to entertain me, and I remember a LOT of the Eagles. “Witchy Woman” might not be a piece of appropriate music in the repertoire of any regular young girl, but it was in my collection of songs to which I knew all the words. My dad was always real with me. He was always honest.

He was honest when he told me that he’d been out drinking or fighting or selling things he ought not to be selling. He was always honest when he told me about our family’s history or why I couldn’t come to live with him. He was most honest when he played music for me. His guitar reminded him of his drinking days. He’d buy a guitar and sell it a few years later, haunted by the memories the chords evoked for him.

My dad bought me a guitar and let me decorate it with paint markers and stickers, a cheap little $50 Rogue that didn’t stay tuned all that well. He’d tune it for me and watch me learn, correcting my fingers. Once I knew a few chords, I played repetitive country songs while he’d ad lib over it and accompany me. I was never wrong to him, and my notes were never sour. He loved my voice. He was the best teacher.

We didn’t always know how to talk about serious things, my dad and I. Sometimes, you just stay quiet and play. That was our way. As long as the music was still there, we were still tight, no matter the circumstances. We could be angry, he could be disappointed, and we could still make music.

At his graveside, I sang for him. I was so hurt, so insulted, that he’d relapse into alcoholism. I was even more hurt and guilty that he’d killed someone and himself while drinking and driving. Everything was so hopeless and negative during that time. I did the best I could to keep sane and function like a normal person. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. I didn’t know how to put things like these into words, so I sang.

I sang because I knew that he was finally free from his torture. I sang for him, not for the people attending. I sang because we have always sang. I make music when I don’t know how to do anything else.

My life has never been simple or normal or without discord, but my life has always had music. For me, music has always been the anchor keeping me steady in an unforgiving sea.

When all else has failed, there has always been music. There will always be music. Thank you, dad, for the music. Thank you for my sanity.

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Comparison is the Thief of Joy

For the month of April, I made a promise to myself that I’d make it through all the emotions and turmoil I knew I’d be surrounded by during the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew that the month would be hard and that emotional eating would be possible. I vowed to use my color coded calendar to track my eating and exercise habits. I wanted to make every single day of April green, meaning that I got all my exercise in and did not go over my calorie goal each day. Well, I DID IT. As an incentive, I put a deposit down to get a tattoo on the last day of the month as a reward for my dedication. I didn’t lose any weight during this period of time; in fact, I gained three pounds, but I did lose about half a pant size. I primarily lifted weights throughout the entire month and did heavier cardio if I wanted a treat but had to earn it. The month was a huge journey for me emotionally and physically. I made progress on my physique and fitness levels, which was surely my primary goal, but I also gained some perspective on how to deal with emotional eating and the language I use when I talk to myself about my fitness goals. I learned to use more positive language and a “can do” attitude when I self-talk internally. Instead of saying to myself, “I can’t…” I would say, “I don’t/won’t.” This changes my perspective from being deprived to being empowered by my food and exercise choices. Instead of saying, “I should… go run or lift,” I said, “I will.”

Yesterday, I got a tattoo that is important to me because it has been my mantra throughout my entire fitness journey. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I go to the gym twice a day more often than not, and I’m surrounded by a lot of different kinds of people there. Some are skinny, some are not. Some are fit, and some are not. I made an unhealthy habit of comparing myself and my journey to the physiques and lifestyles of people who had nothing in common with me except for one thing: the desire to be better today than we were yesterday. I would allow my envy for the girl who could run marathons or the guy who could do twenty unassisted pull ups to consume me with jealousy and poisonous anger, preventing me from fulfilling my ultimate goal of becoming better every time I hit the gym. We can’t choose the conditions or genetic pools into which we are born, but we CAN control how we respond to the hand we’ve been dealt. Resilience. Even though I’m nowhere close to where I’d like to be, I am stronger, faster, and healthier than I have ever been. The only person I should be competing with is me. 

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It is not yet finished because it was quite detailed and in a tender spot, so we’re finishing the color in about a month. Overall, I’m ecstatic about how it’s looking. It’s absolutely perfect, and he really captured what I was thinking when I asked him to design it.

I was completely unaware that when I set out to meet my goals consistently for the entire month that I would also gain so much understanding and self-reflective knowledge. I understand more thoroughly how I function under emotional stress, such as the anniversary of my dad’s death. I met all my health and fitness goals on that day. I got up early to work out, knowing that I would be going to his grave later in the day. I cried. I was upset, but I also learned to channel my sadness into both my workout and into creativity. I made a beautiful wreath to take to his grave.

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I really didn’t expect this month to be so emotionally and mentally rewarding. I was expecting to be miserable, worn out, and depressed. Instead, I feel empowered, strong, and capable. Resilience is a funny thing.

Burgers, Regret, and Weight Loss

This post isn’t the kind of post you think you’re going to read. It’s not about over-eating or binging and feeling guilty. This post is about a relationship between a father and daughter and how it has impacted my weight loss journey.

There is some back-story to this post in a previous blog I wrote. Long story short, my dad killed a mother of twin girls and himself while drinking and driving. A lot of complicated events led up to this relapse of his and most of it isn’t my business to tell, but the main idea I want to convey is that he was so very troubled. He struggled.

Today, I read an interesting post from Humans of New York. (If you haven’t liked them on Facebook, then you are missing out on the most beautiful and sincere pieces of humanity in the world. It’s a lovely project. Check them out here: HONY) A man who was photographed for this project said to the photographer, “No matter how much we tried to help my brother, he wouldn’t quit. We tried being there for him. Then we tried to throw money at the problem. We tried to set him up with rehab, doctors, psychologists, even a job. Then eventually we just sort of threw up our hands and stopped associating with him, thinking that the alienation might shock him into changing. I hadn’t spoken to him for two years when he killed himself.” Many of the comments on this post were supportive. Anyone who hasn’t known an addict or been in a personal relationship with an addict can’t understand the helplessness one feels when they are no longer of use. They have expended all of their time and energy into helping and have only been met by rejection and disappointment. I thought to myself, “If I were photographed in New York and he asked me what my biggest regret was, what is it that I would say?”

When I got the news that my dad had died in a tragic and violent collision, the one thing I wished I had done was ask him out for a burger. Just one meal. Maybe if my dad had known that one person in this world cherished him above all else and truly valued him as the person he is rather than judging him for the person he was becoming… maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to drink that night.

If I could have stopped my busy life for one moment to give him the affection and connection he deserved, then maybe he would have thought twice. I had always been his reason to stop drinking before, so why not now?

I felt guilt after he died for that one thing. I had the opportunity to make him feel important, and I missed it. It was the one thing I kept telling myself over and over, and it was a big reason that I gained so much weight after he died.

I’m not an outwardly emotional person. I don’t like to be seen crying, and I don’t like to bicker in public. I hate confrontation. I’m an extreme introvert. Everyone thought I was being so strong, but really I was just saving it for later. It took quite a long time before I went a day without crying. I’d cry in my cubicle. I’d cry in my bed. I’d cry in the shower. And I ate. I ate to fill a hole that nothing could fill, and I still haven’t filled it. It just scarred over.

This brings my to my next point: Weight loss is just as much mental as it is physical. I can, at any given time, make the decision to eat junk. I can logically choose to eat well or destroy my progress; however, it’s never as easy as all that. The way we treat our bodies is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Some express that violently or sexually, but I eat. Overeating is just another form of self-harm for emotional eaters. We loathe ourselves, we see ourselves as hideous, so we literally feed that.

I hated myself for giving up on my dad. I felt badly about whining when he asked for money or when he vented to me, but I was missing out on a beautiful relationship that only required my time and nurturing. I was his person. My dad confided in me and trusted me to help him, to listen when no one else would. What a treasure I ignored and rejected.

For a long time I thought I was ashamed that he had killed someone else, a young woman with children who needed her. Yes, I am ashamed of that, but it wasn’t my doing and it’s not my fault. I know that. I was ashamed because I wasn’t being half of the woman he taught me to be. I wasn’t doing the next right thing, and I wasn’t being kind or generous.

For that, I ate.

I’m not here to whine and broadcast the message that I need sympathy. I just feel like admitting my regrets is an action that will bring me one step closer to achieving my goal of losing 100 lbs, which has been 4 years of hard work.

I lost 5 lbs this weigh-in, and I’ve been working out in frigid temperatures in my garage. Damn, I feel good about that.

There’s not much else to say except that facing my demons is helping me to become a more compassionate and empathetic person. It also helps me to be more objective about events that have happened since then. Little things like a bad day or a ruined party are so much easier to handle now that I’ve been through something that legitimately broke me from the inside. There have been blessings in this curse.

I guess if I could hope for one thing, it’s that someone would read this and find some little nugget of wisdom in it that would help them make it through the day, make it to their goals, or simply to help them live more fully and passionately.

My dad’s death awakened something in me that feels, truly feels everything. It has inspired me to tackle life and my dreams with a renewed fierceness that I haven’t known before.

I can do this.

Roller Coasters, Peter Cottontail, Dashboard Elephants and Whiskey: A Story of Resilience

You know that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you’re on a roller coaster, careening over the crest of a hill and suddenly gravity pulls you down? There’s that moment where, frozen in time, you draw in your breath and prepare for an onslaught of turbulence ?

That’s how it feels when you learn that the person you love most in the entire world has died.

This blog post has nothing to do with positivity, weight loss, or good feelings for at least the whole first half so let me just take a Lemony Snickett moment to tell you that if you don’t want to read something depressing and completely awful, turn back now.

I woke up on Easter Sunday to missed calls from my closest family members, no voicemails, and timestamps reading ungodly hours of the night. I remember that fitful night of sleep, aggravated at our neighbors who were drunk and arguing — again. Thinking back now, I am almost positive that I was awake and aware of a premonition that something bad was happening somewhere else in the world the very moment that my dad took his last breath. I immediately called my little sister, somehow already knowing that the conversation I was about to have would not be a good one.

My dad had been an alcoholic for as long as I remember knowing the word and even before that. I spent most of my life before I was 10 visiting him in halfway houses or at my grandparents’ house during supervised visitations, but I never once stopped seeing him as the most gentle, loving, generous, resilient man I’d ever known. I couldn’t be angry when he was in prison, when he was far away, when he asked me to keep secrets, or when he took me along for drunken joyrides and got caught. I spent a hell of a lot of time in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a kid, breathing in the cloudy, smoky air and reciting the Lord’s Prayer with the many hopeful and newly sober alcoholics and narcotic addicts, holding hands in a circle of acceptance and forgiving.

When I was about 10 years old, my dad got sober for good. I remember so many beautiful things. I remember “Peter Cottontail” on the acoustic guitar, The Eagles, being saved from yellow scorpions near the pool, the way that the cracks in the windshield of his old, orange, beat up truck formed an elephant in my imagination. I remember a lot of really boring fishing trips that I’d take again in a heartbeat. I remember fish fry dinners with hush puppies and how even when I was losing weight I never turned down my dad’s fish. I remember a lot of truly good people with truly horrific pasts. I remember love, warmth, and his endless gratitude for me. At every AA meeting, at least during the ones at which he spoke, my dad always mentioned me as his saving grace, his only reason for coming back and repeatedly accepting that heavy, gold 24 hour chip from his sponsor. “Keep coming back, it works if you work it.”

It worked. I spent 12 blissful years supported by my dad, my biggest cheerleader. He always praised me for a job well done. He encouraged me to sing and to play instruments. He accepted every coloring page and drawing with admiration and awe. He looked at me with bright eyes, reflecting my own smile, our appearances so much alike, and say, “That’s MY daughter.” He used to marvel at how a guy like him, presumably meaning an alcoholic who never went to college or left his hometown, could have a daughter like me. He was always so impressed at my intelligence, wit, and talents. He loved me completely unconditionally, and I loved him the same. I still do.

I never really blamed him for relapsing. Sometimes I think he just struggled with some demons that couldn’t be conquered.

When my sister told me that my dad had hit another car head-on and died instantaneously, the floor fell from beneath my feet, time stood completely still. I crouched in the floor of my kitchen, not really sure how I got on the floor. I agreed to come out to the house later, where family would be waiting, and I went back to my bed. I woke James, who, through groggy-eyed sleep, grabbed me up and cradled me as I rocked and cried, “My daddy, my daddy…”

My mom and step dad came over and took us to Village Inn for breakfast. I could tell you what I ate, where we sat, but I can’t describe to you the overwhelming feeling of injustice and grief I felt, sitting there in a restaurant where the entire world was unaware that anything had changed at all while my entire life had been turned upside down.

The worst part was reading the comments. I know, they always say you should never read the comments. Under a news story about a drunk-driving crash that killed two women (I can’t begin to explain how upset I was that they hadn’t even gotten his gender correct) overnight on our local news’ Facebook page, people posted malicious comments intended to chide a dead man for making a mistake that cost him his own life and the life of a young mother of twins. People assume that the families might be too busy grieving or dealing with the pieces left over to really read those comments, but I saw them all. People should really think before speaking, but they’re so brave behind a keyboard.

We planned the funeral over the next few days, and it really was beautiful. We made a slide show of all the photographs my grandmother kept for each of her children and grandchildren with songs that my dad would have loved to hear playing behind the images. I even sang at his graveside service, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and tried to make it as beautiful as I could over my wavering chin and tears. Over the next few weeks, my little sister and I struggled to find closure by trying to remember him, getting a memorial tattoo, making a wreath for his grave on Memorial Day, using his t-shirts to make a quilt, but it’s not really ever enough.

Even though I had lost such an impressive amount of weight in the past few years, I began a self-destructive mission to eat anything that I could get my hands on as a form of control. Any anxiety or depression that I have ever felt in my life cannot compare to how I felt the couple of months after all of these events. I ate like I wanted to kill myself with food. I cried most nights. I gained about 30-35 pounds of the weight I had worked so hard to lose right back onto my body. My will to keep myself healthy and keep losing weight completely disappeared because my biggest hero and cheerleader was no longer there to help me continue by supporting and encouraging me.

Time has made it easier, but I know that nothing is ever going to fill the spaces left behind by his presence. Over the past 6 months, I’ve been able to put my life back together slowly, and I am trying to remember him in a positive way. Every day is a struggle to continue to be the happy, healthy, and vibrant person I used to be. I’m getting closer all the time.

Recently, I joined a boot camp class that I really enjoy and haven’t lost much weight but have gained a lot of confidence and have definitely done some body re-composition. I’m happy to report that in the past month and a half I’ve lost about 2 inches all over, 4% body fat, and a pant size. I’m applying for admission into a degree program to get my Masters over the next couple of years, and I’m celebrating a year at my big-kid job in just a couple weeks.

Even though I’m doing fine, sometimes I’m just not doing well. Man, how I wish I could pick up the phone and let him know how everything I do every day is in an effort to make him proud. I’m not a particularly religious or spiritual person, but I like to pretend that when I’m near water, he can see me and know that I think of him in the serenity of the ripples and waves. Water was the only thing that could calm his tortured spirit, and I see him there on the banks, smiling and squinting into the sun, reeling in a giant crappie.

One day, I hope we can be reunited on the shore of some giant, blue lake in the low valley of some beautiful snow-crested mountains and just talk about nothing in particular, with the sun on our backs and our loved-ones around us. I hope that the end isn’t a goodbye and that it’s just a see-ya-later. Whenever we ended our phone conversations, my dad always said, “Glad you got to talk to me, talk to me again.”

I really hope it’s that simple. Until then, I’ll keep studying, sweating, singing, working hard, learning, hoping, smiling, remembering, and loving to the deepest and fullest parts of my heart. Until then, I’ll be seeing you.