Posts Tagged ‘grief’


My father died twenty years ago today in San Diego. He breathed his last in a room with a view surrounded by his beloved wife and eight children. We were praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, the rosary and reciting the psalms we used to say as children long ago and far away.

He died of pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed on Fat Tuesday, he died on Easter Sunday. I have written before about what a beautiful death he had. The thing that merits repeating is that we were far from a perfect family.

Daddy had bipolar disease, aside from the times he was hospitalized, there was no treatment. It is just now being treated and talked about.

Know this: Bipolar people are brilliant. You probably know some. They are the ones who can burn through days of creativity, who seem drunk with fire, who have an essential energy that makes them ALIVE. They are charismatic and volatile. The are exciting to be around.

And this: Bipolar is hereditary.

Now this: It is treatable.

Nowadays there is no reason to suffer alone. Get help.

So imagine being a brilliant bipolar person, essentially misunderstood, most of your life. Imagine having eight children. Imagine the weight of history, of growing up in the segregated South with the campfires of the Civil War still glowing. Add some extreme idealism, true love, great imagination and drive, and an endless search for answers.

That was Daddy.

Add in an impossible temper and hyperbolic gift for description and comedy.

He was a major in the Air Force, but he didn’t know that for about twenty years. (That is another story). He spent most of his life looking for answers.

In the 1970’s he stumbled upon the work of Norman Vincent Peale and put up vision boards, we called them motivation boards then. Most of his dreams came true.

When I was widowed in 1982, he was my personal coach. I could feel his concern and love across the miles. He understood some of us more than others. I was lucky that he understood me.

At the end, and twenty years later, what is true is what remains.

He loved my mother and his children. He was a wonderful grandfather. He sought the truth. I am sure he is behind my discovery of the positively wired brain work I am immersed in. He never looked at women in a lascivious way. He was charming and funny and one of a kind.

Because he was bipolar with all its attendant adventures and misadventures, I never looked at him with any kind of awe or pedestal admiration. He was my Daddy and I loved him. No one could impress him, and because of that, no one impresses me.

Growing up in a world both here and there that is so invested on where you live, how much you make, what the brand of your watch and car – well Daddy never strove for that, so neither have I.

He gave me a great example of the road less traveled, and if necessary the capacity to travel it against opinion and without validation.

There was one thing that could have broken him, the death of his dearest ones. So he beat us to that finish line.

When he told me that his prognosis was not good, he cried. We were on the telephone. ‘I’m so sorry honey, I’m so sorry I won’t be around for the grandbabies.”

I said, ” That’s OK, Daddy, I know you will be with us. You’ll see it all. I will tell them about you. They won’t forget you. We will see you again.”

He said, “I’m sorry I didn’t get to fly more.”

“You will fly in heaven.And you will get to see everyone, all the ancestors – you’ll be talking to them every day.”

One day he called me and said, “I just wanted to hear your voice and say I am so lucky to have a daughter like you.”

He understood me. “You are good and quiet like your Aunt Lib.”

When he carried Mercy, my first born, he burst into tears and said, “I never thought I’d ever love a blue-nosed Yankee!” He took to calling her Peanut. One day he was dancing in the dining room in La Jolla with her and said, ” Peanut, one day men will try to make you dance backward. You show them! Ain’t no one gonna make my Peanut dance backwards!”

I could go on and on, but there is only this. He loved his family. He loved Jesus. That is what remains.

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Hydrangea from St. Aidan's by the Sea

Today is an anniversary of a quiet grace, so quiet that I didn’t see it right away. I was 25 in 1982. Ronald Reagan was the President. John Paul II was the pope. Marcos ruled the Philippines.

I was a widow, and had been so for five months. My first husband had committed suicide in the springtime that year. Bless his memory, bless his heart and soul.

When I returned to Philadelphia on September 7th, I remember being retrieved at the airport by a friend.  We carried on to the house that was to become my home for the next year. It was a an old 1898, three story city house with a lopsided front porch, narrow but deep rooms and six bedrooms.

I remember being touched that the boys (Two Englishmen and one Australian) had prepared my room on the third floor, and had tea ready.  We all had been friends before the suicide, and they welcomed me to live with them for this first difficult year.

On the next day, I walked through the MBA building, Vance Hall, with my Spanish housemate who was known for her formidable spririt and intelligence. My late husband had been her friend and most of my friends that year were his MBA program classmates. I saw our friend  Mike G., standing with a tall, fit, handsome fellow.

Mike said, “Kathleen, I like you to meet my best friend, Bud Bell. We were roommates at Haverford.” We shook hands and made small talk. I remember being weary from the plane trip. I remember not really wanting to talk to a new person. I do remember that Bud looked kind. And anyone who was Mike G.’s best friend had to be special.

One more friend joined our household, another Spanish beauty who had been born in Cuba but raised in Madrid. Because of the international orientation of the household, and the fact that our Australian housemate had both a salary and  generous and extremely hospitable nature, we seemed to have a full house for dinner several nights a week. I remember doing most of the cooking because it was fun.

In spite of the sadness, it was one of the most meaningful and joy-filled years of my life. One can live deeply with a wide open heart.

In that kitchen, on that little street in West Philadelphia, my heart began to heal. Interacting with people, and being social was excellent therapy. The friends I made at that time have become lifelong friends.

My friends, if you are reading  this, you know who you are. What you probably don’t know is how very dear you all are to me. Even if I don’t hear from you for long stretches of time, I feel connected to you with this gossamer thread of grace. I wish you all well. I hope you all have found happiness and meaning. I hope to see you again. And if I don’t, know that you have all been in my prayers all these years, and will continue to be. My children know your names, and the anecdotes. In the recounting, you have becomes legendary.

Now that I have grown children in the age group where I encountered this deep loss, I realize how heroic these friends were to include me in their lives as though there was nothing odd or difficult.

Mike G. had been a regular in our circle the previous year. That year, he was always occupied. I would call over to his house four blocks away. “Mike, we are having spaghetti. Come over, we haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Aw, Kathleen, that’s really sweet of you but I’m with Bud,” he said.

And so it went for months. I would call and invite, Mike would decline because he was with Bud.

Finally springtime came and there was a dance, and Mike was there with Bud.

Bud danced with me.

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