Five Years Later

It is odd how much last night (and this morning) paralleled another time in my life.

The antiseptic smell hit my nose and instantly I could feel the bile rising in my throat. The harsh lighting made me feel like I was in the Twilight zone, and the stiff chairs kept me awake, not that I would be falling asleep anyway. 

On my mental calendar, I have April 29th blocked out. It is like the black Tuesday of our family. For some people April 29th is a birthday, the date Will and Kate got married, or International Dance day.

But April 29th for me is the day my dad died. Today's date marks five years.

Grief works in the funniest of ways. One moment you feel completely fine, and then the next moment you feel this enormous sense of loss, and a burning in your chest.

Losing someone too soon is a terrible reality. It reminds you of how short life is, and reinforces the principle that life isn't fair.

My dad was all things good and golden. I was the apple of his eye, and he was mine. He taught me how to ride a bike, to love sports, and all things music.

I can remember the day my parents told me about my dad's ALS. I was entering my junior year of high school, with boys to worry about and college in the distant future. My dad's illness forced me to grow up a lot quicker than I intended to.

Hospital stays became the norm. The antiseptic smell of one still makes me want to vomit. The unknown was a daily part of life, because my dad had a rapidly sped up time clock that wasn't stopping for anything.

Soon I learned about feeding tubes, BiPaP machines, walkers, and catheters. He became a prisoner in his own body, trapped by the cruelty that is ALS. It is a wretched disease to watch progress. You lose the ability to walk, to talk, and finally to breathe. 

While my dad lost all of these things, he did not lose his most important feature: his spirit.

In the years of teaching me how to ride a bike and learn the strike zone, my dad was also doing something else, something greater. He was teaching me how to live, and how to leave the world better than I found it. 

If you must know, Jim Ziegler tried to see the good in all people. He was gentle in his approach to humans, something I hope I can have. He loved intensely, and when he talked to you, you felt like you were the only person in the room. He found beauty in the simple things, like a Sunday afternoon baseball game accompanied with a cold beer and better company.

My daddy was the most encouraging soul I knew. He taught me that a little encouragement can go a long way. He saw that a simple thank you could transform someone's entire life. If he told you he loved you, he meant it. He was a lover of all things people, of the little ones and the big ones. He loved you for who you were, not what you had. 

Every part of my dad's life was profound. He lived. At the end of his life, he was only focused on one thing: making sure we would be okay.

My dad always said the best part of his life was the people who were in it. The neighbors he bonded with, the Sunday School kids he taught, the coworkers he worked with, and the family he lived with. We were all integral parts of his story, and he made sure that we knew that.

Death is awful. It sucker punches you. In the end, you only wish for one thing and that is more time. Not being able to call my dad sucks. Knowing he won't be there to cheer me on at graduation stings, and knowing he won't walk me down the aisle is a pain I will never fully get over.

But knowing who he was is what brings me peace. Knowing that my life is better because I had him as a father is something to rejoice over.

One of my favorite books is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Oddly enough, I read this before my dad got ALS. In the book, Morrie suffers from ALS. His former student meets with him for many Tuesdays, to live life together and to tell stories. Morrie gives great advice, and I will leave you with one of his nuggets:

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Mitch Albom

Be intentional. Love wildly. Say thank you. Write your stories down, and share them. And don't ever feel like you don't matter. You do.

xx,

{what they don't tell you about} Grief.

Today' post I am writing has been weighing on my heart for sometime. I know I have promised a series on thankfulness + gratitude, and that is coming soon. But this five letter word has been ever present on my mind. I am about to lose someone else who I love and cherish. I have agonized over this, been angry with God, and frankly been re-acquainted with the beginning stages of grief.

So yes, today's post is about grief. If you hopped on The Z List for the first time, I can assure you that not all of my posts are this morose or gloomy.

Grief is that elephant in the room. One of my former therapists said it best, there is no proper way to grieve. 

Because how do you grieve the loss of someone you love? Whether you lose them in death, or in relationship, grief sucks.

Side note: You can grieve many things. Death is what I focus on in my post, but you can grieve relationships or situations.

The internet and message boards would like to tell you so much about how to grieve, or the best way to mourn. They will give you their five step method, their year through grief method, and in their opinion, the "best" way to move on.

Is it possible to move on from someone? Yes, there is an idea of acceptance. I agree with that. I am mostly to the point where I have accepted the fact that Dad isn't here. He missed high school graduation, he won't see me walk the stage in May, and he won't grab my hand as I walk to my beloved.

This, I have come to accept. 

But sticking to the post title, I am about to tell you some "facts" about grief that aren't always represented on book shelves.

This is no knock to the psychologists and therapists who spend months writing books on grief. Ive read my fair share, and some have really helped. 

So here is what they may not tell you:

They might not tell you that there are triggers, even 1,679 days into your grieving process. There are smells that remind me of my dad. There are sounds (he absolutely loved Neil Diamond). I can't be near Gordon Biersch, because every day after work my dad popped one open.

Sometimes looking at my niece makes me sad, because I know that Daddy would have been besotted with her. 

When you grieve, people will tell you to stay strong. Mourning isn't weakness. I actually find mourning to be the opposite. The nights where I have sobbed ceaselessly into my pillow, or into my mommy's arms, I have felt strong. Because I knew that the love I had for my dad was stronger than any earthly force. 

Some also think they have the right words. They don't. Even what I am writing isn't right. Humans tend to want to find logical answers. There is no explanation for a healthy twenty two year old getting end stage cancer. None. 

Clive Staples (aka C.S. Lewis) wrote one of my favorite books on grief. It is titled, A Grief Observed.

In it, he writes:

“We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least.” 

I know that is frustrating to read. Hard to grasp at. The unknown is terrifying. Actually, most of my anxiety stems from the unknown.

But perhaps there is peace in knowing not so much. I can't write much on this, and honestly I wont try, so on to my next point.

People might try and put a time table on your grief. Know that a year, or two, or even ten, is not nearly long enough to grieve.

It has been nearly five years for me. I still miss Dad like it was April 29, 2011. Grief is lifelong.

That really isn't meant to sound negative. Actually, in a twisted way, it is somewhat beautiful.

You're grieving the loss of a life you cherished. A life that made this world unique. And a loss that makes this world a little emptier.

"Grieving can be beautiful. Because often times it displays our love for the lost. You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. Its like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly-that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."

Ann Lamott sums it up so perfectly. You never do get over loss. Not completely. You miss someone every damn day of your life. Sometimes it hurts to wake up, get out of bed, and face another day without them.

But then you realize, they haven't fully died. Yes, they are buried in a casket or maybe their ashes lies somewhere over Wrigley Field (my dad worked in the funeral business, I know too much about this stuff).

So while physically they can't be there to hug you, they are present with you forever. Whether it is an Indians game (my daddy sure loved his Tribe) or a shopping trip (the someone I referenced to earlier is the best dressed human I know) they hug your heart forever. 

And you extend their legacy by living for them, not forgetting them. Don't wallow forever. If they lived twenty-two or fifty-nine years, smile for the joy and amazingness they brought to this Earth, and others. 

Yes, laughing is okay. I mean, we are human. Like my therapist said, there is no proper way to grieve. 

You will feel broken. There is a part of you that is missing. You won't move on, but you will stand again. Because, they want you to. They compel you to stand. Live in honor of the one or ones you mourn. Weep. Cry. Laugh. Eat pints and pints of ice cream. Do an Irish Wake for them.

But know this, there is not one proper way to grieve. Don't put a time table on grief. Don't expect to fall in line with the 5 stages. This just ain't reality. 

With my concluding thoughts,  I would say that grief and the process in and of itself reminds me a lot of the ocean. 

Waves come in and out. And this is much like the seasons of grief. In the spring, you may not miss them. On Thanksgiving, you're waiting for them to criticize the stuffing. Grief is like a wave. It comes in and out. 

"Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Much like learning to dance with a limp, you learn to swim. At times you may feel like drowning. You may feel the waves are trying to crush you, to pull you in. But yes, yes you, will swim. Not perfect strokes, not Olympic style swimming, maybe more like dog paddling. You learn to swim not because you have to,  but because eventually you will want to. You could want to stay in bed for the rest of your days, but then you remember that person you lost. You say to yourself, "What would [blank] want me to do?"

My friend, they would want you to swim.

And so you swim on. 

PS: If you ever want to talk it out, please let me know. I'm here.

All my love,

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Lessons from my father

2016 will mark 5 years without my daddy. It seems so strange to say that, because often times it feels as if he is on a prolonged business trip. I have talked with others who have experienced loss and they say they feel the same. Sometimes I feel like my dad's contact number will still show up on my phone. Sometimes I dream that I will answer and he will tell me something about the Indians or the Cavs, or his beloved Ava. 

But no, this just won't happen. My dad breathed his last breaths 4 and a half years ago. It is so strange to say that and so painful. 

We have this concept of death, that it is final and forever. Because of my belief in Christ, I am confident that I will see my dad again. And for that reason, I am SO excited. 

Because my dad was one of the most beautiful humans that ever walked this earth. He had so much love to give. He would give you the shirt off of his back, and his shoes. Even in the midst of a painful journey with ALS, he could still smile.

I learned so much from my dad. So many beautiful things about baseball, U2, beer, and love. I learned more from my papa than I will ever learn in a classroom. The 9 months of ALS was perhaps my greatest lesson. It taught me compassion, it taught me to appreciate health, it taught me the concept of cherishing moments, and it showed me what I want in my own marriage. 

My dad's life isn't the years between the dash. My dad's life is the lessons he taught me, my brothers, and the countless lives he touched. That is his life, and it isn't over. 

Thanks for the lessons, legend. You are forever missed. 

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