Tag Archives: Grief

Farmer Nancy: I Heard My Father’s Voice Yesterday

Nancy and her daughter, Hannah

I heard my father’s voice yesterday.

He died in 1981, July 7th, seven eleven, kind of hard to forget that one.  He was 65.  We had a sick family joke of him kicking off just when he was starting to collect social security; then my mom died at 65, five years later, and so did that joke.

My dad was born in Asheville, the baby of the family, when my grandmother was 40.  He had two older brothers and a sister.  He loved horses and playing basketball.  He played high school basketball and then in the mill leagues.  I have a large wallpaper sample book that my grandmother turned into a scrapbook with clippings of his games.  He joined the National Guard so he could be in the Cavalry unit.  He was offered a basketball scholarship to Wake Forest, but his best friend Crowell Little was going to UNC – and, on his way to college, my dad went to visit Crowell.  He never left Chapel Hill.

He found ways to earn money and played on the Tarheels basketball team.  He became president of Graham Memorial and was in charge of entertainment for the campus.  He ran with the likes of Terry Sanford and even dated Margaret Rose before Terry married her.  He was the caller for the square dance team that was so good, they even played the Waldorf Astoria in New York.  His nickname was Fish, and for years I tried to find out why.  I was always told it was something to do with his being at the Y and swimming so much.  After he died, Crowell told me it was because the girls liked him so much that it was just like tossing a line out and reeling them in.

Like most of the Greatest Generation, my dad never talked about WWII,  and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t prod him about it.  I never expected to lose him so soon.  I do have several newspaper articles that were written about his time there, and, before he died, Crowell told me some stories as well.

One of those stories involved flying from North Africa to Italy and bringing back the plane loaded with wine.  Another time, he was the pilot for Jimmy Doolittle and as he was taxiing the plane down the runway, he put on the brakes too hard, and the nose dived, and Jimmy Doolittle had to find another plane to continue on.

The only scary story I heard was of the time my dad returned from a mission, and there was a hole in the plane right behind his seat.  An altitude exploding bomb had gone right through the plane and had exploded high above them.  I’m sure there were other tense times.  He flew 75 bombing missions.  I just recently pulled out all of his colorful bars and medals and have been looking them up on the internet to see what they all mean.

My dad came home from the war, married my mom and settled in her home town of Chattanooga.  He worked at a furniture store for the rest of his life.  To me, he had the glamor of a Don Draper from “Mad Men” – but without the smoking, drinking and womanizing.  I just recently realized that this year will mark the beginning of my having lived longer without my dad than with him.  I still miss him.

But I did hear his voice yesterday.

Ever since my mom passed, and her house co-mingled with mine, I’ve had this cassette tape from 1969, a recording of a retirement dinner for one of the furniture salesmen.  Too afraid to play it without breaking it, I took it to a studio and had it transferred to a CD.  I had suspected that my dad might have been the host of the evening, and I was right.  There were many people talking, and at first I didn’t realize it was him – but then dim memories from 30+ years ago spread a smile across my face.  I listened as his gentle humor led what essentially was a roast of this person.  I tried to pick out my mother’s laughter out of the crowd.  What a treasure this tape is!  My daughter will be able to hear the voice of the grandfather she never knew,  and I can go back and close my eyes and for a moment, have my dad again.

Beautiful Women over 50: Gwendie’s Postsecret

Gwendie

There’s a blog that’s getting lots of attention.  It’s called “postsecrets”  (http://www.postsecret.com).  People send in anonymous handmade postcards with a personal secret on the back.  Things like “I wish my life were exciting”, and “When you see me in public and I seem to be reading a book, I’m really eavesdropping on you”.  Some are darker, more intimate.  I’ve been thinking about sending in one myself.  One of the things that holds me back is that, unlike the postcard makers who get their submissions posted, I’m not the least little bit creative in the visual sense.  Check out the website to see what I mean.

But my secret, like most of the ones on the website, is one that possibly a lot of other people, especially women, share with me.  It is this: I don’t feel sorry for women whose husbands have died; I feel envious.

There, I’ve said it.  Another problem with this secret, unlike the ones on the website, is that it needs more explanation to make any sense.  And that won’t fit so easily on a postcard.

I have friends and relatives (sometimes these are the same people), men and women, whose marriage partner died, and they were devastated.  They grieved and cried and missed their mate fiercely.  They yearned to have him or her back.  Some of them really look forward to reuniting in heaven.  They feel awful, at least for awhile, sometimes for a long while.  But still I am envious.

Here’s why:  to feel that bad about the loss of a spouse, there must have been a lot of good things about the marriage.  Good times, good experiences, good feelings to be so acutely missed.  Even the good memories are bittersweet; they remind my friends of their depth of their loss.

I never had that.  So I am envious.

I would trade places in a heartbeat.

Losing My Father, Age 94

jane1

Jane

My father died three weeks ago.  He was 94 years old, and he had lived a good life.  He  was  a good man.  I’d like to write something funny for him because he loved a joke better than anyone I’ve ever known.  I’d like to make him laugh.  But I can’t do that right now.

Because he was 94, I thought, as a grown woman over fifty, I was prepared for his leaving.  He had, after all, become less of himself over the past few years.  His personality, which was once happy and somewhat mischievous, had dwindled.  He’d always been a cheerful and accommodating man; now he could be grumpy.  Although he still took enjoyment in things and people, it was on a smaller scale.  In earlier days,  he had loved to travel to distant places, eat strange new foods; now he was just as satisfied by field trips from his Assisted Living Facility to the local mall with its chain restaurants.

I had actually thought–because he was this diminished version of himself–that I would adjust fairly easily to his death, that I was even ready for it.  I had told myself it might make life easier, in some ways.  I wouldn’t have to worry about Daddy falling in his bathroom or being bed-ridden in a  dreaded nursing home.  I wouldn’t have to feel uneasy any more when I went to visit him and tried to think up topics of conversation that he would enjoy.  My oldest sister, the manager of his finances, wouldn’t have to worry about him ordering $900 worth of coins from a scam artist on television.  Things would be all nice and easy.  After all, he was 94 years old!

But when your father dies, your father dies.  It doesn’t matter how old he is or how diminished or sick he has been or that he may have had a massive stroke and does not even recognize you when you walk in his hospital room.  That person hooked up to wires is still your father,  or,  in my case, still the person who sang me out-of-tune, homemade lullubies, waited up for me after Saturday night dates in high school, and sent  me $25 checks in graduate school with just brief messages like, “A little something to keep the wolves from the door.  Love, Daddy.”

So, even if I may not have realized it by the hospital bed, I got it the instant he was gone.   After all the wires and machines and nurses had disappeared, that near-stranger became,  almost instantly, the father I knew and loved, the man who had raised me.

I wasn’t prepared  for that.  Any more than I was prepared for these weeks since then.

I miss my father on a gut level.  And grief comes in waves.  I’ll do fine, until I see something he would have enjoyed–a scratch-off lottery ticket, a comic strip, an amusing and informative obituary–and I’m gone.  Or I’ll be at work, trying to be normal and act as if nothing has happened, and someone will ask how I’m doing, and I’m gone again.  And, because my mother died five years ago and I am now officially an orphan, I am gone into a deep, dark place of childish fear and overwhelming sadness.  (It’s strange how my father’s death has made the wound of my mother’s death fresh again.)

All of this makes me remember a time in Berlin, Germany, when I was almost seven years old.  I was walking down a busy street, holding what I thought was my father’s hand, when I looked up to discover a stranger looking down at me.   The man was my father’s height, and, like my father, kind enough to let me go chattering along until I discovered my mistake naturally–but he was clearly not my father.  In an instant, before I turned and saw my father behind me, waiting patiently, afraid to scare me by interrupting my story, I was completely lost and terrified.  My story was gone from my head.  Berlin was no longer anything like a city I wanted to visit.

Just like my seven-year old self, I have been stopped, mid-sentence, to discover that my father is gone.  And all I want to do is what I did then:  plant my feet firmly on the ground, draw in a deep breath, and scream at the top of my lungs, perhaps even loud enough for him to hear me again: “Daddy!”