Don Mattingly was at the game, Piano Man was randomly selected for the karaoke section, there were friendly neighbors on either side of us and a stranger was dancing his heart out to stadium tunes – Dad was definitely with us at the baseball game last week. It’s been six months since that fateful day; it feels like worlds have shifted yet everything is standing still. Growth, change, sadness, grief, shift, confusion, thought, anger, disappointment, struggle – it’s all been there, but alongside it there’ve been rays of light, forward movement, slivers of calm, moments of joy and memories of smiles. These past six months have been quite the journey.
I can tell you where I was the day I got the text, who I cried to on the phone at the airport and bits and pieces of the haze that happened next, but the end of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018 are basically a blur. We closed up the apartment, broke the lease, put stuff in storage, the husband signed a new job contract, moved east, stayed with Mom for two months, and then decided we needed to head back to the healing powers of San Diego. Moments before our second cross country road trip in two months a slip on black ice outside a bagel store resulted in a cross-country drive with a broken tibial plateau for the husband which was followed by frantic calls to friends, visits to medical facilities in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and San Diego, surgery and the gift of titanium plates and four titanium screws. We found and moved into an apartment, were in contact with the family when Mom had unplanned surgical procedures, had the husband’s work contract cancelled earlier than expected, had to shift an impending overseas trip and if you’ve been following along you’ve witnessed the three plus months of non-weight bearing anything for the husband. Needless to say, it’s been a rough 6 months. I actually can’t even believe we’re at the 5th of June.
Through it all there’ve been people, hugs, wisdom, tears, emails, texts, late night chats, kindness, yoga, sunshine, smiles, love, ocean air and signs that thankfully, continue to make their appearance. The struggles are real, but the snippets of calm and epic kindness we’ve been shown are too. The missing moments are palpable but so is the magnitude of the countless memories. For the last year or so (before his death), Dad and I used to talk every Sunday. I’d be walking home from rooftop yoga and he’d have finished a crazy long bike ride and was either having coffee or on his way home for brunch. We’d chat about the week, our morning workout in the sunshine (he even took a few yoga classes at the gym and we could chat about that too), what we were going to have for Sunday brunch and how we were looking forward to spending the afternoon relaxing and often enjoying some quality time with a good book, a beach afternoon, golf or cycling on TV or whatever came our way. I loved those chats. So now, I still talk to him on my way home from rooftop yoga and the husband and I actually meet up (after he’s done with his PT at the gym) afterward and spend an hour having coffee with Dad. It makes my heart smile.
He’s been with me at yoga, walking next to us on the boardwalk, enjoying the view of the ocean from Torrey Pines (where he got to hike twice) and having pancakes at one of the restaurants we went to when he was here. He continues to guide us on financial decisions (although they all still make my eyes glaze over and ears hear white noise), point us in the direction of all things natural and remind us that chocolate ice cream and chocolate cake are ALWAYS good ideas!
It’s been hard to be away from family, yet helpful for us to be back in San Diego during this time. We’ve both been able to get outside, we’ve spent many a conversation at the beach, the medical care has been spectacular and we’ve been able to work through a few of the many stages of grief. Six months on and exactly three months since the husband’s surgery and more light is beginning to stream through the cracks – little by little, the ease is showing it’s face again. Husband is working his way to full weight bearing, more work offers are coming in, a bit more confidence is coming back, future travel plans are being made, social engagements are being booked and our toes got to wiggle in the sand. Two fluorescent clad cyclists road along side us on a freeway as we crossed into California and signs of cyclists ensconced in bright colored outfits and helmets are a regular occurrence in our every day life.
I’ve been on a journey to me for awhile now – but, for certain, the last six months have definitely been a challenge. When my best friend showed up the night I got to NY she greeted me with a giant hug and tears of her own. She lost her Dad 14 years ago, and when I asked her to make the pain stop she said, ‘I wish I could’. There have been many people who have shown up for us in all sorts of ways. From the kindness of strangers to close friends who’ve been there at every step. From family who have answered calls and texts and those acquaintances who have provided hugs and help that mean the world – they’ve all been there and we count ourselves lucky to be part of such an awesome and full community of humans. Dad beat Pancreatic Cancer, was adored by so many different people and loved his family fiercely. Six months is a long time, yet it’s only a drop in the bucket. In retirement, Dad woke up every day and wondered how he could have fun. He treasured those bonus days and lived life with a giant smile and open heart. That’s the legacy. That’s the take away. That’s one giant bit of so very many significant lessons.
So, we too have chosen to do the same. We’ve chosen to surround ourselves with a soul family of kind-hearted people. We’ve chosen to see every day as a bonus day and choose a positive attitude and outlook. We’ve chosen to look at the long game while living every day with as much joy as possible. We’ve chosen to put ourselves in a spot that fills our hearts and lifts us up and spend time with people who do the same. We’ve chosen to build relationships, make ethical choices, head out on the trails and take time to smell the proverbial roses. We’ve chosen to get outside, do things we love, be there for each other and tell those in our life how very much they mean to us. And of course, we’ve chosen to say yes to dessert!
I remember a lot of the moments from my youth and many have recently come crashing through my memory and shown up regularly in nighttime dreams. Playing catch, Disney trips, Boston visits, a Grand Canyon excursion, nightly dinners, bedtime stories, NYC lunch dates, learning about golf etiquette, San Diego hikes, Catskills weekends, poker games, Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden, vacation cruises, Boston outings, college drop off, Montauk visits, beach days, listening to Phil Liggett cover the Tour de France, finance lessons, life advice and all moments in between have made appearances in conversations through tears, smiles and with a bit of laughter thrown in. Some minutes are harder than others and at times there’s a sense of peace, connection and that inner sense of joy. The road is long, sometimes bumpy, filled with twists, windy precipices and sharp turns yet it feels like little by little the sky is changing to clear blue, the sun is high in the sky and perhaps, if only for a moment, there might be a smooth patch of road ahead. Either way, we know we have a bike-riding, trail hiking, chocolate ice cream loving guide to show us the way.
One of our seat neighbors at the baseball game told us he was from Boston and we chatted about how much Dad enjoyed spending time there as all of his kids went to school in that beautiful New England college town. He asked where we were from and we talked baseball, travel, Australia and life. The Padres, the Yankees and Dad kept showing up in conversation and somehow it felt like there was a message hidden within all of the madness of the past few months. After hours of chatting – he said, ‘I bet your Dad is really proud of you now’. I smiled and said, ‘I sure hope so’.