Friday, May 11, 2018

Am I angry?

"Are you angry?"

My therapist recently posed the question.

I feel a million emotions:

Sad? Yes.
Confused? Yes.
Hurt? Yes.
Overwhelmed? Yes.
Numb? Yes.
Guilty? Yes.
Disbelief? Yes.

But anger isn't really in there.

At some point in the journey, perhaps I will be angry. But my father's actions were desperate and caused by his illness. I know he would never purposely do anything to hurt me - it wasn't in his nature.

OK, maybe I'm angry at the situation - that my family has to endure this tragedy. But I'm definitely not mad at my dad.
Dad was gentle and kind and loving, and he would do anything to protect me, Eryn, Mom, Brad, and everyone else in our family. He was fiercely devoted - to family, to band students, to co-workers, to his church, to families he served through wood ministry, to friends, etc, etc, etc!

My dad was amazing. He was emotional and caring and compassionate. He cried when kitties died. He cried when he took me to see Father of the Bride - when I was 12 years old!!! He took great interest in the small details around him - budding relationships at church (Natalie and Nolan!), students who were succeeding, students who were falling through the cracks and needed love and attention. He was eager to help anyone who needed it - with small things and with big things.

Sometimes his illness got in the way and made things less than pleasant, but the rest of the time, he was the best. Seriously.

Dad dropped out of college when he married Mom and then had me just 9 months later. I've always been awed by the things he did, the jobs he took, the sacrifices he made to take care of his young family. He never felt that he was too good to take hard, dirty jobs. He stepped up and did what he needed to do.

One thing that stands out is delivering telephone books. Remember telephone books? Back before Google?

Companies paid people to drive around town and deliver the giant books. They offered more money to drivers who could find the country addresses that others missed or to handle more difficult properties with dogs and such. Dad seemed to enjoy the challenge and took these higher-paying routes. The extra money helped fund Christmas celebrations at our house.

Eryn and I went with Dad at least a few times when we were kids, and I remember how he would pick up a bundle of phone books and crack it over his knee to bust open the plastic packaging. I thought he was the strongest man in the world.

Raised in a conservative home, Dad found his progressive side after moving to Oregon. That came with a passion for justice and a definite feeling of right and wrong.

One quick example: Dad and I ran a race together last year that was a bit alcohol focused. During the awards ceremony, the guy with the microphone made a joke about giving the booze prize to a child in the group. That really offended Dad, because it's not funny to joke about alcohol and 6 year olds. He wasn't about to let that joke pass, and he said something. I was embarrassed, but now I look back and am proud that he cared and wanted to protect that little girl and the other children in the group.
That passion for justice made him a wonderfully compassionate person. It also meant that the world's injustices weighed heavily on him, and that apparently contributed greatly to his depression. Mom says the past year was especially difficult with the Trump administration (and all his followers, especially "evangelicals"), our church's ugly split over LGBTQ+ issues, and people close to us making poor choices that harmed other people.

It was especially hard for Dad to see friends and family end up on the other side of issues about which he felt so strongly - issues central to his faith and belief system. He frequently went off social media because it was too hard to see.

I feel a little guilt because if I had known how much all this was affecting him, I wouldn't have discussed so much of the hard stuff with him and in front of him. Just the week before his death, the family video chatted (because HE accidentally butt dialed the group!!) about some hard stuff that was going on around us. I regret now dwelling on that and including him in the hashing. I wonder how much that conversation contributed to his over focusing and final, fatal downward spiral.
So maybe I will say I'm angry about that stuff. I'm certainly not going to blame anyone for my dad's death. But if I'm being honest, there are people in our lives who contributed to Dad's depression. There are definitely people who behaved in ways that are unjust and unfair and unkind. I do harbor some bad feelings toward that, and perhaps that's something I need to work through.

Nos. 5 - 17

My fairly normal life took a massive turn on Feb. 12 when my dad died. I've been reading, but I haven't been posting. I post these, not because I'm a book reviewer who wants to share my opinion with everyone, but because I'm competitive and want to see how many books I can read in one year.

Also, I refer often to my list to make sure I don't duplicate. When you read several prolific authors, it's hard to remember which titles you've already read.

No. 5 was David Baldacci's End Game on audiobook:
No. 6 was Tony Hillerman's A Thief of Time, a gift from my THS Secret Santa:
No. 7 - Another One Bites the Crust by Ellie Alexander:
No. 8 - Cat and Mouse by James Patterson:
No. 9 was Michael Connelly's The Late Show, consumed while roadtripping with Brad across southern California for Spring Break:
No. 10 - James Patterson's Black Friday:
No. 11 - Michael Connelly's Two Kinds of Truth on audiobook:
No. 12 - All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, on audiobook:
No. 13 - Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me on audiobook:
No. 14 - The End of Night by Paul Bogard:
No. 15 - Phoebe Robinson's You can't Touch my Hair on audiobook:
No. 16 - Joshua Davis's Spare Parts on audiobook:
No. 17 - James Patterson's Double Cross:

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Is kindness key?

As part of my job, I read the daily announcements twice a day to my students. 

"NHS is selling 'Kindness is Key' stickers this week.... These stickers are great to put on water bottles, laptops, and cars!"

I read this every day for a week. Posters were also hanging around our hallways.

I love the sentiment! Let's be kind. Let's take care of each other. Let's make sure we all know we're welcome. Let's stop bullying. Kindness is wonderful!

But the announcement also said that proceeds go to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And that has been unsettling to me all week.

NAMI is great! I am doing the Portland walk May 20 in honor of my dad. (Join me or donate!

But I did a search of the NAMI site, and no where does it say "Kindness is Key." I do not believe that kindness is key to mental illness. A lack of kindness is not what drove my dad to overdose on his medication. More kindness would likely not have stopped my dad's death.

The key to mental illness is understanding and treatment. The key is ending the stigma. The key is getting people identified and helped. 

Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive, but I think "Kindness is Key" is a huge over simplification to an incredibly complex problem that's gripping our society - and many, many people I know and love. And while I think kindness is important in all things, I think advertising it as "key" takes away from the seriousness of the situation.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not critical of these students and their efforts - to spread kindness and also to raise money for a good cause. Their hearts are definitely in the right place. 

These are just my thoughts as someone deeply in grief over my father, who suffered terribly for his entire life, not because people weren't kind, but because he was ill. He lost his battle, but I don't want anyone else to lose theirs.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Honesty time. Writing has long been an outlet for me, and I feel it's time to get some of this down. Maybe I'll hit "publish" now and maybe I won't. But I want to explore some honest and real feelings about my dad's death. This is more for my own processing, so don't feel that you need to read all this. But my situation is a bit unique, I want to share about my experience and my dad so others can have insight and also maybe something to which they can relate.


I have a lot of questions floating around in my head. Actually, I have a whole lot of stuff floating in there. It's kind of a circus right now.

I would never in a million years say that my experience is harder than that of others going through loss. But, my circumstances are a bit unusual, and I will say my experience is different - maybe it doesn't fit the mold so much. I will at least say that it's complicated.

My entire life changed in a single moment. I had no preparation, no pre-processing, no anticipation.

Everyone initially assumed that my 63-year-old father had a heart attack. That would have made sense. He was slightly overweight and under exercised. He was a bit of a weekend warrior - the kind who has heart attacks because they aren't prepared for the occasional exertion. Honestly, I assumed if Dad went early (and 63 is WAY WAY WAY early - his father died just last summer at 97.) it would be a heart attack or a car-bike crash. He had a history of bike crashes - and he was hit by a car a couple summers ago!

But my dad died, without warning (to me, at least), after taking an overdose of his medication. He swallowed all his pills and then laid down to sleep.

My family believes with all our hearts that his intention was not to die that day. Something in his OCD mind compelled him to do it, perhaps a panic attack, or perhaps confusion set in after he'd taken too much. We believe his death to be an unintentional overdose, rather than a pre-planned suicide.

Still, the outcome is the same. My father died about 20 years early because of mental illness.

If you haven't already, please consider reading my mom's post about Dad's illness. It helps explain what we know and what we believe about Dad's death. Click HERE to read it.

For as long as I can remember, I knew that Dad suffered from OCD. It was very easy to see in our every-day lives. We dealt with it by joking around about his over focusing - by lightening the mood and asking if he remembered to take his medicine (oh, the irony) or by trying to change the subject and move on from the over-focused topic.

A common example of this over focusing was that he might say something to one of us with a slightly harsh tone. We would call him out, and he would apologize. No harm, no fool... if you're not someone with massive OCD. Then 30 minutes later, when the subject had long since turned away, he would bring it up again, and apologize again. He'd been thinking about it that whole time, stewing and feeling bad. That happened A LOT.

We also joked about the minutia that became his focus when the big (and obvious-to-us) things seemed to slip through his perception. Dad was the king of minutia. He would latch on to small details and miss the point of the story or the point of the exchange or the actual thing that he was supposed to do or deal with or notice. It was strange, but that was just my quirky dad.

I also knew that he had some depressive tendencies, more so in the recent months after his father died. However, I had no idea the extent to which his depression and OCD gripped him. He consciously kept that fact from my sister and me, apparently wanting to shield us from this reality. It is only since his death that I became aware that these conditions were sometimes (oftentimes?) debilitating.

Part of me understands this decision. Part of me does not. Sometimes, he was kind of a jerk. Nothing major, but sometimes his actions and attitudes were less-than-pleasant. Looking back with this new knowledge, I see that it was his illness. Had I known then what I know now, I think (I hope!) that I would have been more understanding and compassionate about these episodes.

This is a source of guilt for me. I understand that guilt is a common part of grieving, especially in a suicide situation, but that simply means I'm "normal" in my processing. It doesn't not make it easier.

Also contributing to the guilt is the fact that I was having a wonderful day on Feb. 12. I sang joyfully throughout my morning routine and on my way to work. It was sunny and warm. I bought groceries on my lunch break and drove just a couple blocks from my parents' home on the way back to school, enjoying the sun and never sensing that Dad was dying nearby. I purchased Valentine sprinkles and was excited to bake holiday cookies for my students. After work, I had a cooking marathon and made several dishes for the week and for Brad's lunches. I also made fancy clam chowder for the next day's family dinner with my sister and parents. I sent a group text declaring that chowder was ready for Soup Tuesday. Then I posted to our "Workout Buddies" group: "What are we all doing today?" No one responded.

I was literally walking out the door to kickboxing when Mom texted me to come to Eryn's house because "we need to talk."

Productivity makes me happy. I was happy. I was getting stuff done and feeling good. I was on my way to a fun workout with friends. My father was dead a mile away, and I had no idea.

My head is swimming with questions.

Could I have done something to help?
Why didn't I "know" something was wrong that day?
Why didn't I text or call Dad?
Why didn't he reach out?
Did my words and actions contribute to Dad's issues and ultimate death?
Why was I so critical? 
Why did I let the inconsequential bother me?
Why was I not good enough?
Why were we not good enough?
Did my recent decision to stop taking family vacations make him give up?
Why was he saddled with this life-long illness?
Why did he lose the fight, despite counseling and medication and a lifetime of trying so hard?
Why did this happen to my family?
Why didn't he tell us he was struggling so much?
What was going through his mind when he took all those pills?
What was he thinking?
What triggered it?
Did he really mean to die?
What was he trying to escape?
Did he know how much I love him?
Did my lack of empathy after Grandpa's death contribute to his depression?
Did he know how much I would miss him?
Why did he leave me?
How will I go on without him?
When will my physical pain go away?
Will my joy ever return?
What's the point of it all? 

Lots of questions, all without answers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Workout buddy

Wondering why I miss my dad so? It wasn't just family vacations and occasional get-togethers. Dad was my buddy, smiling all the way (well, most of the way!) as he allowed me to drag him around the neighborhood and around the Northwest on adventures. 

He humored me my whole life, making me feel so loved and special.

Post-workout selfie: 
During-workout selfie:

Early-morning runs:

Cheering us on at the Hippie Chick women's race:
Sunday Parkways:

I'm kinda shocked at all the times he went with me on these morning runs.
Hiking for my birthday:

He loved exploring:

Post-hike fish tacos:
Post-race pizza:
Mom joined us:
Balloon Fest run:
Rainy run:
He also didn't mind biking alongside me during my marathon-training long runs:

Oh, boy. He was a good man.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Bay Area tour, plus some

For Dad's birthday a few years ago, Eryn and I took a trip to the Bay Area to see baseball and Dad's old stomping grounds. He loved showing us his special spots from his childhood - including his grandparents' house in Berkely:

Go Giants!

Dad's childhood home in Alamo:

He knocked on the door, and the people let us inside. It was much the same as 50 years ago.
San Ramon Valley High School:

Birthday boy!
Boston Strong support run with the family: