Tag Archives: loss

“Within My Father’s Tears”

On the sad 44th anniversary this month of a great loss for our Nation…I wanted to share with you one memory that still burns brightly in my mind and heart….

  ———————————————————————————————–

I can still remember that day I walked into a small polling place to vote for the first time. I had taken my grandmother to do “her civic duty” as she kept referring to it as. The whole ride there was filled with her lecturing me on the different aspects of this certain election and how important it was for our community, our country, our family and even myself that I take my responsibility seriously.

I smiled at her a lot that morning because she had no way of knowing that everything she was saying was already a very deep seeded part of my being, that her son…my father had in his own way given me a civic consciousness scattered out over the years with his lessons, his gifts of caring and sharing.

It was a hot, humid night in Chicago the spring of ’68…I was awakened by my mother’s voice calling for us all to get up. The window was on my side of the room and I could see that it was still dark outside. I arose quickly as I knew that tone in her voice and had learned not to question it. I struggled to wake up my little brother who shared a room with me. (My father divided us by age, not gender until we entered our pre-teen years)

For a small four-bedroom house, it was always filled beyond capacity and this night in particular it was busting at the seams with people…Family, friends, neighbors and quite a few people I did not recognize. Everyone was moving quickly about the rooms, talking over each other and filling my home with a very real sense of panic. I was becoming confused and upset as I searched the crowded rooms for the one person who I knew I could count on to help me understand what was happening.

I looked and there in front of our big picture glass living room window was my father. Standing there quietly with a cigarette in one hand and a highball glass in the other, staring intensely out not reacting at all to the chaos of the others running every which way behind him. I tugged at his shirt. He turned towards me with one of his famous half grins and for a moment I was no longer afraid.

Then things got crazy and blurred as some one came running in shouting about fires and a mob. My mother was non-stop crying by now as she gathered up the smaller children and herded the rest of us towards the streets outside lined with double parked cars. As the adults scrambled to place us in the cars, I turned towards the night sky.

Off to my left the dark blended into a strange yellow glow. Living in a big city there was always a night light glow to the sky but that night it was like none I had seen before. It flickered and flashed like one of my father’s lanterns that we took camping. My father was watching the sky as well and as he reached down to put my little sister in one of the cars there was a loud thundering sound that had him quicken his pace and for the first time yell out to my mother to hurry.

I ended up in the far back of a station wagon as we drove through the darkened neighborhoods, eventually away from the city, heading towards my grandparent’s farm in Indiana…my mother still upset but the sounds of my father’s whispering voice comforting her filled the car.

Our stay on the farm that next day, made me feel like the world was coming to an end. There were more than a dozen people camping outside the small farmhouse. My father had dropped us off and returned to the city, so my source of reassurance was gone.There was no tv and the adults had all the radios. As children we had to piece together what was going on from listening to the grown-ups talk to each other.

Martin Luther King had been killed and there had been wide spread chaos in Chicago. We had listened to Dr. King’s speeches as a family because my father had wanted us to grow with open hearts and open minds. We had just buried a friend who had died in Vietnam so I understood what killing was but this was beyond my understanding.

We went back a few days later, our neighborhood still for the most part intact but places around it still showed the signs of anger. My father, usually a quiet man, had made a special point to make sure we felt safe.Surprising us by becoming very excited in the weeks that followed. Senator Kennedy was coming to Chicago.

My brothers and sisters had gone along with my Uncle Bob on some of the visits to houses in our area, handing out election stuff supporting Sen. Kennedy for President. Uncle Bob talked to us about how he had helped campaign for President Kennedy and how important it was to help put good people in Washington. My father hardly ever talked politics to us, decided that he was going to take us to the rally that was being put together for the Senator the following month of June.

We went to spend the week before the rally on the farm…the trauma of that April was still lingering with the adults but we kids managed to have a good time…It was early on a Thursday morning, my father was suppose to be working in the city so we were very surprised to hear his car pull up outside. His face that morning as he walked into the farmhouse kitchen with all of his children sitting around a big table eating breakfast has stayed with me my whole life.

His eyes were red and big tears flowed done his cheeks. I had never seen my father cry before. I mean I was sure he had cried but never in front of us. My mother quickly wrapped her arms around him asking him what was wrong. “Senator Kennedy is dead…they killed him too.” was all he said as he buried his face on her shoulder and continued to sob.

Later that night I went and sat with him on the porch, as I took hold of his hand, he looked at me. I could see the sadness in his eyes as he tried to fake his half grin for me and if I had been older I might not have pressed him but I needed to know what he meant by “they killed him too”.

I can’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was that for all the good he believed there was in the world there also was an underlying evil. That there were people who thought that hatred and violence were the only ways they knew to get what they wanted.

He pulled me close to him wrapping his arms so very tightly around me. He was crying again and whispering to me that things would be alright and that we couldn’t let the bastards win.

A few months later in August, my mother had to go get he and my older brother out of jail because of a rather large heated debate outside the International Amphitheatre where the Democratic National Convention was being held.

My mother was so mad as she worried about the money that had gone for the bail but my father in true fashion smiled that half grin of his and said “we got to do what we got to do”.

Within my father’s tears I saw a passion for this country. We lost him at a young age but his actions and his words have always been with me. Part of me knows that he would be disappointed that I got wrapped up in my own personal world for a long time.

Someone pulled the blanket from over my head and made me look at what I helped let happen to our nation (but that’s a sharing for another time ).I am trying to right that wrong and set as good an example for my father’s grandsons that he had set for me. I have learned that alot of us lost that sense of National Pride but I truly feel that we can get it back.

We have come a long way since 1968 but there seems to be those who want us to backtrack instead of move ahead.We need to stick together and not let the bastards win… “We got to do what we got to do”.

“Time…Distance & Good-byes”

Please forgive me if this comes off as mindless ramble because at this moment I don’t feel as if I have any control over where my head is taking me right now…and yet here I sit in front of my keyboard …looking for answers and yet not even sure what the damn questions are…

Many, many moons ago….my family lived with my mother’s sister and her family…Both sisters were pregnant at the same time and in the icy month of December…I was born and a little over a week later my cousin, Kathy was born. We were together for awhile during those first years. Long enough to develop those character straits that off-set one another. She was tagged the difficult one…hard to handle…bad temper….while I got labeled the adventurous one…easy to deal with…always happy…Ha ! Comparing notes, years later, I had to come to the reality that I was an instigator and a con…getting my poor cousin into trouble and than being so much better at playing innocent.

When our families moved away from each other she and I seemed to be the only ones who kept in touch ….A half a country separated us but we always managed to stay a part of each others lives. We both had to deal with unspeakable horrors as children that we kept secret even from each other until we were well into our middle aged years but despite those buried memories we were as close in all other things as any two people could be. She was there for me when my Dad died…helped keep me sane through my very hard first year of my oldest son’s life. While my family couldn’t deal with my choosing to be a single mom….she was not only supportive but became Godmother to both my sons. We had started out together but took very different paths along the way but we still tried to help keep each other balanced.

I got a phone call over two months ago at 4 o‘clock in the morning, my cousin whose life has been so close entwined with mine was calling me from a hospital….she had been taken to the emergency room and was scared. She was diagnosed with Lupus several years ago and it seemed that every time it was thought to be under control something bad came up…now there was a problem with her throat and she could barely breathe. I had been talking to her regularly and knew that she had been battling colds for the last few weeks but had been going to a doctor for treatment. She had been estranged from her family for a long while and felt like I was the only family she had…there had been many times in the past when I had been the one making the call to her for the same reason. Though many miles were between us, I could feel her pain on the phone that morning …I calmed her as best I could ….took down the information she could give me and she promised to call when there was more to be known from the test they were running…

I felt like a robot going through the motions as I went about that long drawn out day…It was early evening when we connected again…It was hard for her to talk and I’m sure any one of you know how it feels to be on the end of a phone with a loved one who is in pain…..you want so much to be there to put your arms around them and hold them tight but you can’t….you can only listen….It was not good news….the doctor at the hospital had told her that they had found a lump in her throat and that there was a shadow on her lung x-rays that they needed further tests for. They were going to biopsy the lump and take more x-rays of her lungs. She was so very scared and I tried to get her to call her family that lived so much closer than I did but she wanted to wait until she got the results of the tests.

It took several days but we talked every day and the conversation got heated as I could hear her desire to fight whatever was attacking her body this time start to drift away. I found myself yelling into the phone…arguing with her that if the roles were reversed she would not let me give up so easily…she hadn’t even gotten the results yet and she was already talking about checking herself out of the hospital and going home to die…Here I was thousands of miles away …not being able to look into her eyes….not being able to take her hand in mine and assure her that she was not alone and that everything would be ok because an overwhelming panic was beginning to surge inside me…I was telling her hold on….begging her to be strong…but in my heart, I knew that this was not like the other times when she bounced right back.

I got home from work and waited for the boys to get home from school so we could make our call to her that day. Her voice was very horse and barely audible….she wanted me to have the boys leave the room…she wanted to talk to me and didn’t want to upset them but I have always been honest with them and neither were children anymore….they loved this woman as much as they loved me…they let her know it too as I left the speaker phone opened. They had found cancer not only in the lump in her throat but in her lungs as well…they told her it was stage 4 and that there wasn’t very much they could do for her…Again she talked of going home to die…the boys and I once more begged her to fight and accept the doctors plan of treatment. She was quieter through this conversation as it hurt to talk but she did listen and promised she would try.

 Over the course of just a few weeks, she got worse…the Lupus had accelerated everything…the pain was unbearable and our conversations were more and more one-sided…as it got even harder for her to talk. We kept encouraging her to not give up…telling her how much we loved her and how we were trying to make arrangements to come and see her in a few months. This excited her….she loved my boys so much and had not been able to see them in several years. She had difficulties in talking but I swear I could hear more hope in her voice. She finally got in touch with her family and they were now with her. I spoke with my Aunt as much as I could. As dark as it had gotten, in my heart I thought she could pull through.

Then one afternoon the phone rang, it was Kathy, I could barely make out her words but she wanted to tell me that she had tried and that she didn’t want me to be mad at her for not being able to fight it anymore. ME MAD ??? What had I done ??? She was in so much pain…The chemo….the radiation….nothing helped…it only got worse and here she was asking me not to be mad at her for stopping the treatments…What kind of selfish ass had I been ??? There were no words to describe how truly low I felt to be on a phone thousands of miles away from the reality of suffering she was enduring and listen to her ask me if it would be ok if she let go now. I got a chance to tell her how sorry I was for pushing so hard for her to stay with it…Her voice….her words….strangely easy to understand for me during this conversation…The boys were home….so it was just her and me…we talked for over an hour…They were going to move her to a hospice so I couldn’t call her back until they did…She would call me when she had a number. I told her how much I loved her…I reminded her how much her godsons loved her…Right before I hung up I started to cry…Kathy could tell…”I’m ready to go…I’m not afraid anymore…” She whispered to me. Still in denial, I fought back my tears long enough to tell her once more how much I loved her and that I would talk to her soon…. It was our last conversation….they moved her into the hospice but the pain had become so bad that they kept her sedated and within just three days her suffering was over…Her family was with her.

I still am having problems dealing with it. Having lost a father and a younger brother suddenly without warning, I had walked through my days… angry over not being given any time to tell them how much I loved them…not being able to tell them good-bye…With my sweet Kathy, I got to tell her how much she had truly meant to me and how my life would not of been complete with her…You know, it hurts just as much either way…

As I will always think of her…(Kathy’s favorite picture of us)