Happy Father’s Day.
The words on the calendar bring the most mixed emotions to my heart, but despite the turmoil of emotions, I am grateful. On social media, we tend to highlight the Hallmark moments of our life; the perfect smiles, the wholesome family, the happy moments. Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with my favorite line in literature: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I would like to dedicate this blog to the celebration of the imperfectly perfect family. The best lessons in life are not from living the ideal, but from struggling through the difficulties, the pain, the hurt, and still finding joy, value, and love. Nobody is perfect, we are all difficult in our own way, and family has a way of bringing out the most difficult in all of us, for one simple reason; when we love unconditionally, we are the most vulnerable. But it is this very vulnerability, this raw, exposed flesh that makes life worth living.
This blog celebrates three fathers. Des Wood who is a Spira practitioner and Spira’s physiology teacher during teacher training shared her dad’s memory and my two fathers…
Yes, I am blessed with two fathers. Happy Father Day to my stepdad who has always been there for me. Through you, I learned that work should be pure joy. Watching you get up every morning before the dawn to write, watching you attempt to “retire” only to work more in your 80’s, it is because of you that I searched so long to find the perfect career, and never settled for just a job. Thank you for showing me that life is pure joy and laughter, the importance of friends, the love of history, classical music, and theater. Learning about your life, how you lived through the worst of the worst atrocities of war and history and seeing you despite it all full of joy and optimism has given me the strength to take on challenges. Thank you.
And happy father’s day to my father who struggles with pain in his heart, being the one thousands of miles away. I cannot fix the distance between us. I cannot fix the turmoil in someone else’s heart, the many years of heartbreak. It took me a long time to accept that fact and in spite of knowing all, I will most likely keep trying to fix us. Thank you for teaching me the love of exercise, plants, flowers, and dogs. Thank you for so many childhood memories. Lately, you taught me patience; I am ever so surprised to learn how one can be so utterly mad and still be filled with love. I am a better yoga teacher because of you. I will never judge a person based on a few events. Life is too complex, our heart is so confused, there is beauty in all of us if we are willing to see and understand deep enough. I would have never learned this lesson, if not for our imperfection. – Thank you
Yes indeed, Tolstoy is correct, but only to a degree. “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, ” but there is so much joy and love in the imperfect “unhappiness.” Life is full of struggles and losses, and the longer we live, the more losses we suffer, but it is through this experience that we learn to appreciate the miracle of human relationships. Des writes about this miracle so beautifully, it left me in tears when I read it on a rainy Friday morning. Thank your Des for sharing your world with us.
This Sunday on Father’s Day would have been his 61st birthday. It’s been eight years since my Dad died and there isn’t one day that goes by when I don’t think about him.
Keith was a complicated man, a self-taught musician, a child of the 60’s, he battled demons and self-medicated his manic-depressive disorder with alcohol. Despite his struggles and our often tumultuous relationship, I was his only child, and he loved me. We talked every day, we shared a true bond, and at times we were best friends. He taught me to drive a stick shift, how to split wood and the importance of work ethic. He lived on the edge of poverty, paid most of his bills in cash and often refused to heat the house with anything but wood in the winter. He also knew the importance of nutrition buying grass fed beef at PCC. He always encouraged me to push myself, how to say sorry and carry a sense of humility I was no different than my neighbor.
On a cool October day, I was at work as a new ICU nurse at the University of Washington when I got the news. My mother’s grandmother who lived about an hour away called to say Keith had called her and sounded “strange.” He couldn’t remember my cell number and was asking her if she had it. My heart sank, this is not normal he knows my number! My hands trembled as I dialed, he picked up but his voice was soft, something was wrong. He had fallen from a tree and wrecked his truck. I left work running.
Nine months prior from the call my uncle Jim, Keith’s only brother had died from lung cancer at the age of 54. He was a firefighter here in Seattle and my Dad’s rock. They were 18 months apart, and after their Dad had left when they were both under the age five, it left them with each other. Their adult relationship was a struggle, many months would go by when they didn’t talk, and after Jim’s diagnosis of cancer, it drove them farther apart. Jim couldn’t/wouldn’t let my Dad in and it crushed him. He spiraled into a deep depression, his drinking escalated, and health declined. We tried to get him help, but it isolated us more. It was devastating for my family.
When we got to Harborview, I sat at my Dad’s bedside. He had gotten so thin his face seemed to disappear. I was terrified. The neurosurgeon told us he needed emergency surgery to release the pressure in his brain. He would die if we didn’t complete the procedure. We sat them together, and all he could say was “I love you, Desiree.”
For six days my Dad was in the hospital, and every day we said: “I love you.” He held me, and I cried. I was so mad and sad but mostly scared. One afternoon I was getting ready to head home, and I noticed he was more sleepy than usual. I let his bedside nurse know my concerns, and within minutes a crowd of doctors came rushing to his bedside. He had a bleeding complication. I sat in the waiting room terrified.
The next morning Dad couldn’t talk to me anymore he had a massive stroke his brain severely damaged. Now attached to breathing machine lying in an ICU bed. I was numb with grief and absolute despair as I sat in the family meeting with the provider team telling me the devastating diagnosis which I already knew. As his adult child and legal next of kin, I had to make the decision to remove him from life support.
I remember the light passing through the gray Seattle sky from the hospital window as I lay next to him cuddled up like a small child. My family and dearest friends surrounded me as he peacefully died. We held hands, listened to his music and it was beautiful.
I had six days with my Dad in that hospital. I feel so grateful that my Grandmother called me that day, that he didn’t die alone at home isolated and afraid.
My Dad’s death affected me in so many ways and continues to do so. I suffered for a long time with a tremendous sense of guilt. Through grief counseling and yoga I began to learn how to shift the narrative. I started to understand how I could derive meaning from the intense loss and adversity I was feeling. I became passionate about the way we as health care providers interact with families at the bedside. Shifting the focus from helplessness to resilience and practicing mindful awareness has been instrumental in my personal growth.
Researchers are now terming this construct as “posttraumatic growth.” Posttraumatic growth is a psychological change that occurs as the result of one’s struggles with a highly stressful and traumatic event. It is the positive change in response to adversity.
I know Keith would never want me to feel sad about his death. He always told me “we are only renting from the earth for a while.” But today and every day I miss him, and that’s ok.
Happy Father’s Day Keith Allen Scragg. I love you.