Posted in Family, Life

Another Obituary to Write

For the past few days, I have been sitting, staring at a blank Word document. I am trying to write another family obituary. On June 21st, my grandfather decided to leave his earthly body and join my grandmother whom we lost on March 13, 2015. He waited one year, three months, eight days and ninety minutes to join her.

This is the third obituary I have had to write in fifteen months and the sixth death our family has had to deal with in the same amount of time. Like my father, my “Pa” succumbed to a sudden heart attack. So here we are again, filling out all the paperwork, planning another memorial and dealing with family squabbles. It is sad how this has become our new normal.

I am sitting here and I am just numb. I have started pulling together the family photos to make the photo board Pa wanted for his memorial. But writing the obituary is the one thing that I am not ready to do once again. It is too standard. It doesn’t explain who he really was; it’s just a tiny glimpse of his 87 years and a list of people who share his DNA. You don’t see a person’s character in his obituary. You don’t see his sense of humor or playfulness. You don’t see how much he meant to the people closest to him.

I am grateful for all the memories I have of times spent with my grandfather. I could write a book filled with stories of our antics and conversations. Oh, how I will miss our conversations. I remember my last conversation with him. Since Nana passed, he would end every conversation as if it was the last one. He would express how much he appreciated those who took the time to call him or visit with him. Then he would tell you how much he loved you. He even told me he thought he would be the next one to die and we didn’t believe him; we didn’t want to believe him.

We weren’t ready to lose him but he was ready to go. He was broken-hearted when Nana died and he would talk about how much he missed her. He just wanted to be with her again. We are all trying to find comfort that they are together again but from a selfish perspective, I really miss him. I miss my conversations with him. The playful banter he had with myself and my sister. I would love to hear him tell just one more joke and give me one last tour of his home, telling me about all the new things he has added.

So now I have to try to do what needs to be done. I have to do what I can to fulfill his final wishes. And as much as it hurts, I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing this all for him.

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Posted in Family, Life

Conversations with my Dad

At this time, exactly one year ago, I returned to my apartment after work and sat down to call my parents, a daily ritual since I moved to Los Angeles. With my parents in Detroit, I knew I had to catch them before they went to bed. On this particular day, my parents had been in Ann Arbor. My mother was having some medical tests done at U of M. I had talked to them on the phone earlier but I looked forward to my nightly tradition.

When I called, my Dad picked up. We had our usual “Hi Daddy,” “Hi Daughter” exchange. My mom was already in bed and he was in the living room watching television. He was watching the western Silverado. So I talked to him about the cinematographer John Bailey, ASC and stories he told me about the making of the film. Then we segued into a discussion about Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, a guy I dated who was a former child actor and then he started giving me advice on my love life. This was typical for us. We talked movies, my job, his job, family stuff, my cats, their cat & dog and whatever other random subjects popped into our heads. I wish I could remember every single detail of that conversation but I didn’t really pay that close attention because we talked every night and I assumed I would talk to him again the next night. I do remember telling him I was suddenly feeling so tired and I wondered if I was getting sick. He told me he was really tired too and that his leg was really hurting lately. He told me it sucks to get old. I got on his case about getting his back looked at again and the new developments made with back surgery. I had done some research for him. We talked for about an hour. This was a little longer than usual. We averaged half hour conversations unless we had some interesting stories to share or some veterans thing to talk about. And the conversation ended the same as always, “I love you,” “I love you too,” “Talk to you tomorrow,” “K, good night,” “good night.”

If I had known that was the last conversation I was ever going to have with my Dad, I would have paid attention. I would have memorized every detail. I would have recorded it if I could. I would have asked him so many questions and told him so much more. And I never would have let him hang up.

The next day, I was not feeling well at all and I kept wanting to call him. But I waited. I knew I would call him when I got home. I would continue our nightly ritual. I knew he was working and he had my nephew’s baseball game. Plus, I wasn’t feeling well and I was considering going to Urgent Care and I didn’t want to worry him.

I wish I would have called him. I wish I would have listened to my instincts and the repeating record in my head telling me to call him. When I got home that night, I sat on my couch, getting ready to call my parents but my phone was ringing instead. It was my brother. He was calling to tell me that at my nephew’s baseball game, Dad collapsed in the stands. He had sat down, told the guy next to him that it sucks to get old and then he fell backwards. He had a massive heart attack, a result of Agent Orange disease, and he was gone. Just like that. They tried everything they could–one of the coaches was a cardiologist. They got him to the hospital but he had been without oxygen for too long and there was nothing else that could be done.

So exactly one year ago, at this exact time (6:30pm) I called and talked to my Dad for the last time.

I can’t believe that it has really been a year. I still talk to my Mom every day–OK, I think we actually talk several times a day. But it is not the same as hearing his voice, his laugh, his pep talks, his advice and his jokes. I got him for 36 years–though I didn’t do all that much talking in the first year. I also know how lucky I was to have that kind of relationship with my Dad. I was blessed to have this amazing man as my father. Now as we are approaching the official one-year anniversary of his passing, I am still in shock that he is gone. I would give anything to have him back for just one more nightly conversation.

Posted in Family, Life, Universe, Writing

A Gift From My Dad

2016-03-03 14.33.17Nine months ago today, my Dad passed away. I won’t say he died. I can’t say it because it isn’t true, at least for me. His body died but his soul did not. He is still here. I feel him every day. And if I ever doubt that his energy is not present, he gives me a sign, a gift to remind me that he is still here.

I recently wrote a post about how I felt lost without him. I did not know who I was without him. Hours after I wrote that blog entry, I was given several clear signs of who I am and where I am headed. My article for our April issue was now a bullet on our cover. My managing editor told me how much he loved my article and that I should feel free to pitch additional stories in the future. So I pitched an idea in that moment (an idea that has a tie in to my father) and was told we could reach out to the studio/network in regards to making that my next story. I immediately called my Mom and we both agreed this had to be Dad guiding me. And if there were any doubts, events last night further proved to me that my Dad is guiding me back to my goals and dreams.

Last night, I decided to make a trip up to my storage space and finally put away my Christmas decorations. Normally I would just drop off my Christmas storage containers and leave but a gut feeling told me to reorganize some of the boxes I had piled in the back corner. I pulled out some boxes and noticed a file container on the second shelf way in the back corner of the storage unit. It looked like one of the containers I used for storing my tax information. I just had a feeling it was important so I made my way back there to retrieve it. To my surprise, it was filled with all my writing samples from high school, college and my years working as a publicist. I even found my acting headshots from college. I cleared a space and sat down on the floor, reminiscing about my past and a time when I considered myself a writer.

I flipped through the different files and stopped when I spotted a blue folder labeled “Grandpa.” I knew it contained a story I wrote in high school about the day my grandfather died of a sudden heart attack. I pulled out the folder and immediately started crying when I saw my father’s handwriting. For months I had been searching for the letters I received from my Dad my freshman year of college. I thought they were at my parents’ house. I had no clue that I had them with me the entire time, in my storage space and with a story about the death of my Dad’s Dad. There they were, in this folder with the story and two writing awards I received—one for the “Grandpa” story and another for all the articles I wrote for my college newspaper “The Daily Trojan.” What a coincidence to find them all together.

So I read the letters, struggling through the tears. My Dad wrote these letters during my first few months at college. I had moved to thIMG_20160302_171925e other side of the country to follow my dreams and attend USC. The funny thing is that his advice in these letters applies to what I am struggling with today. He tells me he is proud of me and he misses me (but not to get cocky about it—my Dad was Han Solo). “I truly believe you know what you want to do.” And when it comes to my dreams and goals, his advice: “You just hang in there and go for what you want.”

He wrote me these letters almost 20 years ago. And for anyone who knew my Dad, writing was not his strong suit. One letter he wrote over a course of a week—adding the date each time he started writing again. It meant a great deal to me back then that he would take the time to write to me and it was like winning the lottery to find these letters now. I am once again at a point in my life where I need his advice and guidance. He found a way to give me the exact pep talk that I needed by putting these letters back into my hands. (Thanks, Daddy!)

Posted in Family, Life

Has It Really Been 25 Years?

Today is the 25th anniversary of a day that changed my life forever.  I remember being at home in my bedroom, working on a birthday present for my grandfather.  His birthday was the very next day–June 20th.  Aside from my Dad, he was the most important man in my life.  He was up north at the family cabin in Prudenville, Michigan.  I was working hard on a picture that I would give to him when he returned.

At the time, I shared a bedroom with my sister who was listening to Elvis on the radio and I remember getting upset with her about something.  I went to tell my Mom when the phone rang.  It was my Aunt Sue.  My Mom listened then she sat down on her bed and started to cry.  My sister came into the room and sat down on the bed next to my Mom.  It was obvious that something was wrong.  My sister started to cry.  She thought my Aunt was calling to tell us that our Grandmother had passed away.  She had cancer and we all knew it was a matter of time before we would lose her.

I don’t remember exactly what was said but I do remember my mother being in shock and asking something like “how is Mom taking it?”  So it wasn’t Grandma, then who was it?

No one ever expected my Grandfather to go first.  He seemed way too stubborn.  I was only nine and I thought he was invincible.  So I didn’t understand it when my Mom tried to explain to us that he was gone.  He was up at the cabin, working on the roof of the porch that he was putting on the cabin when he had a heart attack.  My cousin and uncle were there.  They called an ambulance but the nearest hospital was in West Branch, a good half an hour to 45 minutes away.  Actually, my father was born in that hospital.  And now I will always remember it as the place where the most important man in my life entered this world and where the other left this world.

I still remember being at the funeral home, seeing my Grandfather in his casket.  I wore this blue and black dress that he bought me and I placed his birthday picture inside of the casket so he could take it with him.  I remember the look on my grandmother’s face as she sat in her wheelchair staring at the love of her life.  She would be joining him in exactly 11 months (to the day).  I remember my Aunt Nancy hugging me and letting me cry in her arms.  She too would be following my grandparents into the afterlife in a few short years.

Our lives and our family have changed so much over the last 25 years.  My grandfather was always in the back of my mind.  I would wonder what he thought about the choices I had made and if he was proud of me.  And when I joined the Ladies Auxiliary at his VFW Post, I felt that he was.  I actually felt him watching on the day of my induction.  And it helped that some of the ladies who knew my grandparents were by my side.  My grandfather was the post master and I spent a good chunk of my childhood playing in that VFW hall.  My sister thinks it’s funny that I still won’t go in the kitchen.  We were never allowed in there as kids and I still think he is going to yell at me if I go in there now.  I still take the back entrance through the broom closet then through the bar then into the back of the kitchen.  And I always look at his picture on the wall every time I step into the hall.  That was his home away from home.

It still breaks my heart to think of all the years we didn’t get to spend with him and how many of my younger cousins don’t remember him or never even knew him.  Like my father, I am doing my best to keep his legacy alive through my work with the military and the veterans–and through General Motors (he was an Engineer for GM and worked on the Mako Shark).  He passed on his strength, beliefs and stubborness to my father who passed it on to me.  I hope I have made him proud.

 
Grandpa,
I still love and miss you.  I will do my best to continue to honor you. 
Love, Poopers

RIP Sylvester James Brinker (Aka Bob) 1925-1987