Posts Tagged ‘death’

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Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. He passed away from complications he suffered after being hit by a car. He was 87 at the time of his death.

What makes this post so hard for me to write are the mixed feelings I’m experiencing now that he’s gone. My dad and I never really had that daddy-daughter relationship every little girl deserves. He was a towering, intimidating man with little to no nurturing skills in his parenting toolbox. On a scale of 1-10, I would give him a 3, maybe a 4. In his mind, his job as a parent was to make money, put food on the table and discipline his children when necessary. My mom’s job was…everything else.

But, I don’t believe in speaking ill of the dead. Instead, I will focus on the few great memories and connections we did have.

Dad proved to be a real enigma to me. He spoke very little about his childhood, but when he did, it was always related to money. He was a product of the Great Depression, so he was a very frugal parent. Okay, I’ll say it – he was a real, cheap bastard with it. He was known to drive clear across town to a particular gas station just so he could save ten cents in gasoline.

I can understand how valuable a deal that is these days, but back then, both my parents worked and gas was $1.50 per gallon. He would drive to the grocery store across town, too, because the semi-rotting fruit they were trying to sell before the subsequent fruit fly invasion occurred was now at ‘giveaway’ prices. “Just a little mold on the orange peel – you can rub that off or cut around it, can’t you, Betty?” he would say to my mom, as she rolled her eyes exasperatedly back at him. One time, the mold was so thick the next day, my brother (highly allergic to penicillin) got sick just from touching it.

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And I can’t go without mentioning the sixty pounds of frozen turkey thighs he came home with one day, because they were only .04 cents a pound. My mom actually ran out of recipes for cooking turkey. TURKEY. I’m still having nightmares about this.

Not only was my dad a cheap, er – frugal– dad, but also an introvert. His two favorite places to be, when I was growing up, was the health club and/or in the woodworking shop in our basement. To this day, the smell of cigars, sawdust and wood shavings always remind me of him.

But, he was also the father of six kids. I’m the youngest of them all. I can’t help but wonder if, by the time I came along, he had just given up trying to wrangle the rest of my siblings into some semblance of order. I know he was tired of going to the hospital whenever my mom had another baby — he dropped her off the day I was born and told her “Call me when you’re done,” then went home to finish putting in the front, brick sidewalk of my childhood home.

I sound bitter again. I don’t mean to be. Actually, I do owe some of who I am to my father. First, I, too, am a lover of words and knowledge. He enjoyed working the NYT crossword puzzle and was even good enough to tackle it in ink. And there were very little, if any, scratch outs. I, however, do not have the intellect or patience for them.

My dad was also an intellectual snob. He felt it important to know as much as he could — about anything that interested him, of course– just so he could carry on serious debates with people from time to time. We were always outsmarted or out-debated. One of my siblings is convinced these debates were really just another way for dad to assert his power over us. I think he just liked to stir the pot. I definitely can relate to this.

Just like I do, my dad always needed to know “the back story.” If he couldn’t figure something out on his own, he’d enlist his “support staff” – one of us kids, his sister — anyone with a computer and the desire to use it — to do his investigative research for him. He hated computers and said they, along with plastic itself, were the downfall of society. Did I mention he was a bit of a Luddite, too?

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My dad loved cats. He was always putting them into strange positions, or trying to get the two we always had in the house at the same time to jockey and fight for top cuddling position on his lap. I will never forget the day he said, “I sure hope I die before Emo [his beloved Burmese cat] does, because I don’t want to have to live without him.” When it came to cats, dad definitely had a soft underbelly.

Towards the last few years of his life, my dad actively participated in weekly tango lessons. He belonged to a community of dancers both in Chicago (my hometown) and Minneapolis, where he moved to a few years ago. And, at his memorial service, that was where we Lueders kids got a major surprise about our father.

Apparently, dad was also a generous man — to OTHERS outside our immediate family. Each Tuesday evening, dad would march into the tango room with two hot, fresh pizzas, and feed the entire club. I don’t ever remember dad actively volunteering to bring me pizza. Surprise #1.

Surprise #2 came when my sister shared with us my dad’s love of tabloid television. In fact, I think the audible gasp from the crowd was predominantly from my siblings and me. One day, my brother in law went over to our parents house to drop something off. When he arrived, he found my father sitting in his comfy chair, watching TMZ.com.

Yes, my father was a secret, tabloid-news junkie. What made this more surreal was in finding out that dad absolutely loved any and all news about the Kardashians, especially Kim. He would employ his research team to find and send him all news articles about Kim Kardashian, even if they were just little blurbs.

While this came as a shock to all of us, I understand exactly why dad was so fascinated by the family. They were famous for….nothing but being famous.  He couldn’t figure out what they had done or achieved to deserve the amount of fame they had. And, this is what drove him into a frenzy. It drives me crazy, too, which is why I must read Star Magazine weekly. Thanks, dad.

Surprise #3 came at the end of my sister’s beautiful eulogy for him. Apparently, when dad had something important to say, he would say it to whomever needed to hear it. Dad had no problem contacting important people and asking favors of them.

In the case of the Port Chicago Naval Disaster of 1944 in Washington, my dad felt it was important and interesting enough of a story for Hollywood to make into a movie. My dad had been there when the ship carrying ammunition exploded in the harbor. With just the right amount of chutzpah, my dad wrote and sent letters to both Morgan Freeman and Tom Hanks, imploring them to consider the event as “movie worthy.” He even included the line, “Seeing as how you are the only directors in Hollywood with the hubris to take on this task…” So typical of dad.

Dad was ashamed of his tobacco-stained teeth and never smiled  much. This really upset  him and because of his self-consciousness, it gave him the outwardly appearance of being a curmudgeon. But there was one way to get him to smile, and it worked like a charm.

I asked both my parents to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. Knowing that dad wasn’t a big smiler, I had a secret weapon at my disposal that was guaranteed to crack his hardened veneer. Dad and I shared a love of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. One morning,  I heard dad laughing hysterically in the kitchen, paper wide open in his hands. He was laughing so hard there were tears running down his face. Wanting to know what was so funny, I leaned over and saw this cartoon:

dobiomatic

Something in it just spoke to my dad’s, and my sense of humor.

So on my wedding day, as we were walking down the aisle arm in arm, and my dad was trying to do everything he could to keep from crying, I kept repeating under my breath: “Dobie-O-Matic, Dad, Dobie-O-Matic”. It worked like a charm.

Here’s to you, dad. Lover of cats, fine Scotch, and The Far Side. I miss you.

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back-to-school

Today would have been the start of my 7th year of teaching. I would have risen early – probably some time between 5:30 and 5:50 am, and sat down to catch up on about fifteen minutes of news before I started getting ready for work. I would have spent the last several days in my classroom, designing bulletin boards, writing lessons, decorating my desk, the windows, etc. in a welcoming design so the new batch of sixth graders wouldn’t feel so intimidated by their first year in middle school.

I would have met them outside on the playground, as I told them where to stand every morning when I walked down to greet them, with a big smile on my face, and most likely a few words of encouragement and a reminder to quiet down as we walked back into the building and up the three flights of stairs to the new, shiny room they’d be occupying for the next eight months of their daily lives.

school suppliesI would ask them to put their class supplies against the back wall, and ask for volunteers to help put the tissue boxes, paper towels and hand sanitizer bottles into the tiny closet. I would let them choose their seats, cubby holes and coat hooks, and hang everything up neatly before they sat down and waited…for the day to begin.

We would wait for the 8:10 bell to ring, signaling the late bell, and then settle down as we wait for the principal to do her regular announcements, prayers and Pledge of Allegiance. Then, the next three days of school would be a series of getting to know each other, getting to know the class rules, routines, procedures, expectations, and everything else they’d need to know to become successful in my classroom. I’d briefly discuss what we’d start to work on in the subjects I taught: religion, language arts, science and, eventually health. I would let them know they have plenty of opportunities to talk to each other, work together and do fun, engaging projects and work really, really hard. I always loved the first few days of school – it was a giant “do-over” for everyone, filled with promise and renewed energy and enthusiasm.

But, this year, I am sitting at my laptop, writing about it instead. I lost my teaching contract last April. They decided they didn’t want me back, so they didn’t renew me. Okay, I will be blunt — I got fired. I’ve mentioned this in other posts, so I won’t rehash it here. This post is less about what happened to me, and more about my feelings about not being back there right now. I am trying to find the perfect emotion to attach to how I feel right now: upset, ambivalent, angry, bitter, resentful. None of those are appropriate or applicable.

What I feel is…relieved. Don’t get me wrong – I will miss the students and the opportunity to influence the lives of a whole new group of sixth graders. I absolutely love teaching and don’t intend to quit now. But, I’m relieved I don’t have to go back there – to that particular school – because I am working on myself right now, and it would be a major hindrance to my emotional progress if I had to go back to the place that caused so much stress, anger, frustration and loneliness in me.

social-outcastI was never an accepted team member there. Colleagues would often be seen in each other’s classrooms, chattering and laughing over funny stories and information I was never privy to hear. They would call each others’ classrooms during the day, just to say hi or do something silly. They would email each other and organize fast food runs, but keep me out of the loop. I was never made to feel welcome, or part of, any team or grade level there. For me, it was a lonely place to work when it came to my peers. My job devolved into nothing more than going in, teaching kids, then leaving at the end of the day, after the kids had left and the paperwork was complete. Even though I had my classroom door open, nobody ever came to visit and chat with me.

I tried, really I did, to fit in. But, just like the “odd girl out” I was in junior high and high school, I was the “odd girl out” in this school again. I didn’t think it would affect me as harshly as it did when I was young, but after six years of being a social outcast, it hurt like hell. And, with the deaths of family members and lack of emotional support from my co-workers, it just came to a roiling boil and the dam finally burst in me. My misery was palpable and, after the announcement that I wouldn’t be returning this year, it seemed to me that I could almost feel a collective “Yay!”  echoing from the rest of the staff.  Only one or two staff members stopped by to say they were sorry to see me go. One staff member told me that it was “probably for the best” because “You just look miserable and angry”. I lost both my parents and a brother during this time – of course I was miserable and angry. Who wouldn’t have been?

But now I look at what happened as a blessing and a relief. I don’t have to return to an uncomfortable setting and pretend to like people who clearly don’t like me back. I don’t have to be a hypocrite anymore, either. I can say, think and feel whatever I want – because I am not bound to some stupid clause that tells  me I’m not allowed to have an opinion or a private life. I don’t have to sit back and watch as adults insult and dehumanize young kids. I don’t have to listen to stories of teachers who can’t figure out how to teach multiplication tables to fourth graders. I don’t have to listen to teachers whine about all the “extra work” they have to do because the new Common Core Standards and Standards Based Grading system are “too time-intensive for me to do”.

I will miss the students, but not the school. And, I won’t let my lack of a teaching job this year wear away at my growing self-confidence and self-esteem, either. I am much more valuable than that.

Sometimes, a loss is really a gain. That’s truly how I feel.

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grieving-e1338346383681Do we really mourn the deaths of people we never knew personally, or do we feel obligated to hop onto the grief bandwagon and toss our meaningless condolences out into the world, just because we have the technology to do so?

I am always amazed by the rapid media response of the latest celebrity’s, athlete’s, etc., sudden death. Within minutes people turn to their social media sites and begin posting their thoughts, feelings, opinions as if they were that celebrity’s personal, close friend and confidante. “He influenced me in so many ways my life will never be the same again, RIP, Mr. Celebrity, I will always love you!” Honestly, I don’t believe celebrities can be that influential in people’s lives, I know they haven’t been in mine –unless I used them as a teaching tool for how not to behave in the public’s eye.

I am sorry, but I just cannot get onto this bandwagon. Sure, I am sad the world has lost a great actor, entertainer and comedian. I am also very sad he felt he had no other option available to him, or that nobody was able to help him battle against his demons. Suicide is never a selfless act – his family members and close friends are no doubt devastated and desperate to know “What could I have done to help him? What were the warning signs?” But my sadness and public outpouring of grief over someone I never knew personally and have no familial connection to, ends there.

Perhaps I am still too busy trying to deal with my own grief. I lost my father one year ago this month. I lost my mom this past January. I lost my brother in June. Three deaths in less than one year, and each one holds its own share of grief I am still trying to process and overcome.

When my brother died, the Facebook postings of RIP, Marty, started streaming in immediately, from strangers around the world, who had never even met the man in person – they had only seen his beautiful photography and read his journals on line.They never spent time with him and got to grow up with him and play such games as “Dress the Cat in Silly Clothes” and “Let’s build a snow fort in the backyard!”. Real brother and sister moments that will never be forgotten.

While our family appreciated the outpouring of respect, we were outraged by how it was done because this was also how his daughter found out he had died. That’s when I decided Facebook and Twitter are not appropriate places for death announcements.

I learned a lot from my family members’ passings – that we all grieve individually, personally, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. But, I also learned that grief — real, authentic, grief — comes from the loss of those closest to us, not from the passing of someone we only knew through films, or television, or sports, etc. 

We should leave the real, authentic grief to the ones who deserve (experience) it and keep our promises not to invade their privacy at such a terrible time, especially when they request it. That really is the most compassionate response we should be offering them. 

Trust me, I know.

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