Grief, Trains and Transitions

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted here. A lot has been going on and for once in my life, I just haven’t had the words to express exactly how deep the changes in my life have been.

In September of last year, my Father passed away. Just typing this sentence feels so surreal, almost a year later. I still cannot grasp that he is no longer here. At some point, I will create a post just about him but my heart isn’t quite there just yet. He was a very special man and he is simply irreplaceable, not only to me but to many, many others. He was an educator of over 40 years and an important touchstone in my life. Losing him has been like a free fall, even though he was sick for years. He just kept pulling through and when he didn’t, it was still somehow shocking.

Dad and I back in the early 80’s. His name for me was “Baby Doll.”

Every person in my family has been touched by this loss in different ways but it immediately made me think of a conversation I had with my Dad the last time I saw him on a visit to Kentucky. When my Dad was a little older than I am, he lost his Mother to cancer. I was 16 at the time but remember seeing him cry for the first time in my life. I knew he would never be the same and in some ways, he never was. When we were talking about this, my Dad told me just how much it impacted him, even years after she passed. And then one year he had a student who came up to the High School and was really floundering in his class. He asked the student to stay after class to discuss his grade. The boy was angry at first but suddenly burst into tears and explained that his Mother died a few years before and he just couldn’t move past it. Dad listened with empathy and then told the student about losing his own Mother and they connected. The student would often visit Dad after that, even contacting him after he graduated and moved on with his life.

I remember reacting to that story in a lot of ways but the thing that struck me the most was Dad describing his own broken heart after his Mother passed away. This strong, intelligent, larger than life Man was brought to his knees when his Mommy passed away. I think back on that time in my life a lot. I was 16 and a grandparent on each side of my family was dying. My parents were pulled in different directions as life changed in unimaginable ways for each of them. I didn’t see that back then. I just felt alone and I felt angry at the world because life as I knew it was changing. I was angry for a long time after that but something changed about my parents, too. You think you know what it feels like to lose a parent until you actually do. I see the students I work with and people around me in a different way. You don’t “move on” from such a loss and the tide of grief will always ebb and flow.

I remember walking into my parents’ house for the first time after Dad died. I had been in line to board a plane to get to him when my sister called to tell me that he died. I thought I had a few weeks at the least but something inside me already knew he was gone. I spent hours in an airport, all alone, after that, waiting for planes to get me from South Carolina to Kentucky. I remember looking at the clouds, listening to Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist” in my headphones. I still can’t listen to that song, one of my all time favorites. There was an unimaginable feeling of separation I felt that day. It was as if a layer of my soul had been peeled away. My Dad was my safe place. He was the righter of wrongs and the strong arms to catch me. I was the troubled, middle child but I don’t think he saw me that way. He saw me in a way I’ve always longed to see myself. He saw the beauty and the strength, always encouraging my artistic talents. On that plane as I traveled not to a hospital but instead to a funeral, I looked out toward the world below and I felt myself in a free fall. This is they way I’ve been feeling for months and months ever since. In one day, my entire life changed. This is an inevitable change he always tried to prepare me for and in his memory and through my love for him, I will try to echo his incredible empathy and care for others in this world as much as I can.

My husband, Ryan, works for the railroad and was given an opportunity to move to Northern Kentucky back in January and in a matter of months, we were living here. Moving with two kids in the middle of a pandemic and this insane housing market has been challenging to say the least. We are all learning new and sometimes difficult lessons about life. I am mostly learning that moving back to Kentucky didn’t bring my Dad back to me and that places and people have changed….. and so have I. As we move through these transitions in our family, I will add posts here to help others who may be experiencing the same things or who are looking for advice. I am definitely not the only person in my family affected by these transitions. I have seen incredible growth, strength and heartbreaking sadness in the eyes of my precious children this past year.

As we go through the changing seasons of this life, I’ve always found the people who can gain some kind of lesson and understanding from the most painful times are the ones who live a life most fulfilled. Dad and I used to sit on the front porch or the living room couch and have these deep, long conversations about just that. He was a front porch philosopher, always looking for the meaning and the lesson. This is the place where our hearts connected most. Connection is everything and THIS is why I’m an educator and this is why I write. ❤

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