I was going through my feed reader and I came across this question on Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s blog Weighty Matters:
“Looking at your life – time, stress, health, work, home, kids, mood, etc. – is now a good time to try to affect change?“
Looking at my life the answer is pretty obvious: No.
My stress levels, my home, kids, and definitely my mood.
This summer I have the time and my health requires change. But no. The strength is missing.
Dr. Freedhoff says in efforts to make changes you need to respect reality. I need to take a step back and respect reality. Stop living in fear.
Right now life is all being easily overwhelmed, bursting into tears without warning, trying to make it through the days.
This summer, once about professional and personal development is now about getting back to some semblance of normal in time to get everything I can out of my Masters program.
I will try to focus moment to moment, making good decisions when I can, trying not to think ahead to my convocation in two weeks.
When I graduated in 2007 my mother, sister and fiancé were all there, sitting and watching me. And when I was up on stage I saw my father at the very back, standing, watching me too. So this year I know I will be looking for him, and trying not to think about it, and trying not to burst into tears.
So, moment to moment. The world goes round and round.
I have tried to leave Ottawa four different times in my life, and the longest I managed to stay away was two years. (And that was when I lived close enough to visit regularly).
I love this city. I loved growing up here. I love being in the capital. Obviously there are things that bother me, but most of it can be fixed. (Hey City of Ottawa, let’s work on building more sidewalks, kay? Also maybe some better community planning so that we don’t get large new communities of houses without the infrastructure like sidewalks, bussing and schools?)
I believe in this city, and events like the United Way’s Community Builder Awards remind me that I’m surrounded with other people who believe in this city too. We have a lot to be proud of. We have good people here.
And the city happens to be postcard pretty a lot of the time – you’d never believe it used to be a swamp.
I’m sure other communities have great people too, people who believe in making things better for others, building people up and setting them on a better path. Creating better futures for those people and for our city.
It is ours. It’s mine, it’s my daughter’s.
I am a big fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race. I have been a big fan since the first season and I have watched all the seasons (including all episodes of the current season) multiple times. Because of my love for all things Drag Race I also happen to subscribe to the Rupaul Podcast. On episodes of the podcast Rupaul and Michelle Visage talk about a whole lot of different and seemingly disconnected things. They talk about drag and makeup techniques, sometimes they have guests. It’s all interesting, a lot of it is funny. But this week’s episode they answered questions they got in a letter from a listener and a lot of it struck home.
The letter was from a listener who had a lot of friends, but no real, deep friends – those people you can lean on. In response they talk about letting yourself be open and finding your tribe.
I have had a very hard making and keeping good friends in my life. I’m have not been good at staying in touch with people. I spent most of my life assuming that people hung out with me because I happened to be there and were fine never seeing me again.
I still struggle with that – wondering whether people actually want to be my friend, or if they just put up with me. But what I heard in this podcast was something I wish I had known in high school and something that I have to remind myself now: Your people are out there. You will figure yourself out – it may take a long time – and then you will find people who get you, and it will be awesome.
I first found my people in college, and then did a bad job of keeping in touch. Then I found more of my people at university, and through the luck of marrying one of them have managed to hang on to those relationships. And then Twitter and motherhood came along at just the right time. Now I am surrounded by people.
People I can text when I have news that I just have to tell someone who won’t tell everyone else. People who will show up at the visitation before my father’s funeral just because they want to be there for me (and thus make me burst into tears). And since my father died I’ve gotten to know much more about my family tribe, the brother and two sisters I didn’t get to grow up with.
I have people who say ‘anything you need’ and mean it, and I would do the same for them. It’s been worth the wait.
When my dad was in his 70s his doctor told him that he was minutes from a heart attack. At the same time his doctor told him what he had to do – change his diet, get more exercise. And he did it. He told me he started walking an hour every day, no matter the weather. Eventually he added a weight routine.
He changed his whole diet, cut out a lot of the sugar and fats he had been eating.
And he still died of a massive heart attack at age 82. I’m 34. If I can make the same improvements I’ll have more of a chance. I’ve had less time to do the damage.
But instead since he died three weeks ago I’ve returned to really terrible eating habits I developed as a kid. Too much junk, not paying attention to how much I’m eating of what I’m eating. I feel sick to my stomach a lot of the time and not drawn to any food, certainly not a full sit down meal.
I’m not doing well. I’m tired, I’m not active, I’m eating like crap.
And then I see her. She had her first soccer practice this week on Sunday, after gymnastics on Saturday and swimming on Sunday morning.
Watching her on the soccer field, a huge smile on her face, thrilled to be out in the sunshine, running around, playing. I want that. I want the ease of that. The joy of it. I wanted to stand right up and run laps around that field.
But once again the fear holds me back. I fear losing my breath. Falling down. Passing out. The pain – there will be pain.
I fall back into the comfort of old habits and focus on the fear of changing over the fear of the damage I’m doing to myself, and now I wallow in this idea that I must be a disappointment. If he could do it, why can’t I?
But I’m not ready right now. I can’t move forward. It’s too much. Every day is overwhelming. I want desperately to see my daughter and then when I’m with her I can’t handle it. I’ve been losing myself in movies and all the letters my father wrote to his sister. I sit all day doing almost nothing. I surf. I nap. I don’t even turn on the TV for a distraction. None of it is healthy.
None of me is healthy right now.
I tweeted earlier today that I wish it was a year from now.
A year from now all of the work left over by my dad’s death will be done and the grief with be less raw.
A year from now I will be finishing my Masters and ready to find some great work for great causes.
A year from now things will be so much more settled than they are now. I think. Maybe.
I had plans for this summer, a long to do list. I was going to relax and learn new things and prepare myself.
And once again life threw things at me that I was not prepared for.
I have this little girl, I’m trying to treasure every moment as times flies past us, and here I am wishing time away. Wishing for something easy.
And I feel guilty for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I just want to see past this year ahead right now. I want to gaze into my future and step out of myself. I want to feel like a normal adult again. Focused on my job and my family.
The fact is that I lost a parent and it hurts. And I’m sad. And I know that I’m going to go through more losses, and that each one will probably be harder than this. And I’m scared. I’m scared to just break into little pieces. I’m scared of my own child feeling what I’m feeling.
And I just want to skip through time. Avoiding the hard things. Stopping when we get to play at the park or laugh together. The real times.
As of today it will be two weeks that my father has been dead. He died two Saturday mornings ago, after talking to his partner and going to the gym. We found out that afternoon. A week later was the funeral.
Before the funeral, before the visitation, I made the decision to see my father. I heard all the arguments for and against and I made the decision. Part of it was the in my mind I didn’t know if I would really believe he was gone until I saw him there. And there he was. The actual first thought that went through my mind was just that – it’s really him.
And then I had the room to myself and I got to talk to him. I got to tell him that I wasn’t done with him. We’ve been building this relationship, we’ve been getting so much better. I wasn’t done.
And I’m angry. I’m angry that I didn’t get the time that I expected. And I’m angry that my daughter didn’t get that time, that he didn’t get to see her doing all the great things she can do. And he knew she’s special, I know he did.
I also had this idea in my head that I would learn from him and maybe become the same kind of expert he was in his field. I’m getting set to do my Masters and I’m ready to research and publish and specialize. I wanted him there for that. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
The disbelief and anger lingers.
It’s not as though I saw him everyday, not even every month really. There were emails and occasional phone calls, but I haven’t yet had the chance to feel the missing piece. The other factor is that my kid doesn’t notice him missing yet. She hasn’t asked for him, even though we were at his house today and she noticed the furniture was gone. She asked me why and I told her it was because no one is living there any more.
She know that I’ve been spending the week at Grampa’s house, she knows that we have Grampa’s table now. She knows his house is empty, or almost empty now. And I’m angry with myself for not thinking to take pictures with them together. I was so focused on getting pictures of her with my grandfather because I thought we’d lose him first.
I thought I had time. I wasn’t done.
I feel so stupid. I wasted so much time.
Saturday was my father’s funeral and I decided, while we were organizing, that I wanted to speak. Of course, after I made the commitment it was difficult to figure out what to say. Then one night last week I was lying in bed, exhausted and trying to get to sleep when thoughts started coming to me, so I sat up, turned on the light and wrote them down. And it all came out.
I don’t know how my Dad would feel about me going with my first draft, but it felt right. So I went with this:
Growing up a Scanlon in Old Ottawa South, I was constantly asked the question ‘Oh, are you related to Joe Scanlon?’
I had no desire to go to the Carleton journalism program, I wanted to be a separate entity from my father. So, even though I eventually chose journalism I went to college and went away from Ottawa. I shouldn’t have been surprised when, upon meeting me, my first prof asked ‘Oh, are you related to Joe Scanlon?’
This week has been difficult because I chose to change my name when I got married and now I feel almost desperate for people to know that yes, he’s my Dad. I am a Scanlon.
In fact, I have many traits that, for years, have led my mother to exclaim ‘You’re just like your father.’
It took me until I was an adult to realize that I am perfectly okay being like my father. It means persistence, a drive for excellence, a love of politics, news and the art of language, and the inability to talk slowly. I am also excellent at sarcasm and punning. No Scanlon has ever come across a bad joke they didn’t like.
So I have to thank my Dad for the traits he passed on to me. I have to thank him for bringing the five of us together this week and allowing us to develop a closer relationship. I want to thank him for bringing Kathleen into our lives.
Dad never told me he was proud of me. He never told me he loved me. But one last thing I’ve learned from my father, and all the people sharing stories and condolences, is that actions speak louder than words.
He didn’t tell each of us that he was proud of our accomplishments or hard work, he told everybody else. And now we have those words reaching out to us, giving us comfort.
An interesting thing has happened in this whole process of visitations and funerals and wakes and I wanted to pass it on.
You see, my dad knew a lot of people in his life. Like A LOT. Many of these people came to the visitation we held on Thursday night. Many more came to the visitation we held on Friday afternoon.
During these visitations the five of us, Dad’s kids, and his partner of 15 years moved around the room talking to people, listening to stories. I actually planted myself near the door on both nights because for some reason I felt comfortable greeting people.
Now, here comes the “seriously?” moment:
More than one person approached Dad’s partner and said something akin to “do you remember me?”
Now, this puts a person currently going through grief in the situation of either pretending that they do, in fact, remember you or admitting they don’t, in fact, remember you and embarrassing you both.
So, here’s the rule, when you are a friend or colleague of the deceased, no matter how close you were, when you walk up to their partner, children or other immediate family member you say: “Hello, X, my name is Y, we met at Z, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
This is not about you. It is not about making you feel good that you were such a good friend that of course everyone remembers you. Even if they would remember you under normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances.
I was so exhausted when I got home yesterday I was surprised to remember that we have a dog.
The dog that I have tattooed on my ankle.
The dog that turns 10 this year.
These are the people you’re dealing with.
Just tell us how you knew him:
As we’ve been cleaning out my father’s house and dealing with his affairs we’ve noticed something that I always knew – he had a name problem. My sister says he’s a librarian’s nightmare.
He was born Thomas Joseph Scanlon but always went by Joe, which means people always knew him as Joe. We he published he was usually either T. Joseph Scanlon or Joe Scanlon, though sometimes he went by TJ Scanlon. We’ve found a few things of his – one an award – which were given to Joseph T. Scanlon. My poor brother has to figure out who he was where.
When I was born they were going to call me by a shortened version of my middle name but within a few months my parents changed their minds. I expect because they went through the same confusion that we go through now with my daughter who also goes by her middle name.
It’s sort of a tradition in all our families – my dad, my grandfather and his two brothers, Joe’s dad and I think he father as well – to go by the middle name that I just missed out on. But it’s a hell of a record keeper’s dilemma.
We got a phone call yesterday. Totally unexpected. My dad died. Through some weird phone relay my cousin got in touch with us and my sister called him back and he had to tell us. Dad was just gone.
Now, this is a man who was in his 50s when I was born and still running marathons. At 82 he went to the gym regularly to lift weights and also spent a lot of time walking or biking. His mother, my Granny, lived into her 90s and I absolutely expected that we had at least 10 more years with him.
My relationship with my father has been complicated. There was a long period in my life when I didn’t like him very much at all. But this past 10 or 15 years were pretty good. He still never remembered my birthday, but he did have real, intelligent conversations with me. And I knew that at some point I had earned his respect, which was all I ever wanted.
Lately my mother and father, who separated when I was 3, started having polite conversations with each other while in the same room. It was a whole new world.
While I took issue in a lot of ways in how my father was a father to me, I had absolute no problem with the grandfather he turned out to be. My kid is his ninth grandchild (six girls, three boys) and he would proudly show her off to his friends. And I know that he would be so proud of how smart she is and how much thirst for knowledge she shows.
Intelligence, I think, is something he valued above all else. He had little patience for people who could not say what they meant or explain what they needed quickly and succinctly. That’s why he was such a good journalist and journalism professor.
And I, like many of his former students, hated the lessons that he was trying to teach me at the time, but then grew to understand them. In recent years he became one of the people that I went to talk to when I was trying to figure things out.
My dad was the one who planted the seed of taking the Masters program that I will start in September. When I asked him for help with my tuition this year, a loan, he told me that his children’s education is the number one priority. Always.
The last conversation I had with him was via email. I told him my convocation date, and he replied that he was out of the country until the day after and was sorry to have to miss it. I replied and told him that he’d just have to make sure he was there next year. And now he won’t be.
I am the youngest of my father’s five children. There is a large age gap between my sister and I and our half-siblings, but in recent years my dad started emailing all five of us together, and we’ve all started talking. Yesterday we reached out to one another. It used to be we only saw each other on Thanksgiving and Boxing Day – at least, whichever of us were in town – but now they feel a lot more like family.
But Boxing Day, the day the whole family gathered at my dad’s house and he lit a fire and baked a ham and we all talked around the room as though we’d seen each other only the week before. What’s going to happen to Boxing Day without my dad and without my dad’s house?
He still lived in the house he and my mother bought when they got married. It’s where we congregate. There was Boxing Day and Thanksgiving, sometimes Easter, and since my sister and I lived right around the corner he left a spare key and allowed us free reign over the attic space as a play house. He didn’t even seem to care when we tried to redecorate. There may still be some Teen Beat posters up there.
Boxing Day and Halloween will always be the days that I think of my dad. He loved Halloween. I don’t know what it was about it, but he loved answering the door and handing out candy and would report how many kids he got each year. For my kid’s first Halloween I drove across town so she would trick-or-treat at my dad’s door. Last October Joe was out of town and we just went to dad’s house and trick-or-treated around my old neighbourhood.
Boxing Day this year is going to be very quiet.