From Father’s Day, 1995

You taught me patienceJoe Kearney

by living at ease

You taught me charity

by freely giving of yourself

You taught me faith

by believing in me

You taught me hope

by looking to the future

You taught me to dream

by never saying never

You taught me to love

by living in your heart.

I love you dad, and always will. I always count on you to be there.  You are in my heart and in my head and I live my life knowing that your standards are also mine.

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Even now that he is gone, I count on him to guide me by following his example.  I was lucky to have a father who was both strong and soft at the same time.  He is my hero, he is my protector, he is my heart.

Happy Father’s Day, dad.  I miss you.

Time Marches On

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” (Kahlil Gibran)

These words gave me a great deal of comfort when my dad died two years ago.  They summed up how it felt to lose someone who brought you great joy in your life.  That joy is made all that much more poignant by the fact that it is now gone.

I’ve been struggling with a multitude of feelings this past week.  The simplest things, like going to the Hallmark store to buy a card for a coworker, left me feeling morose instead of uplifted.  I was hit by the fact that I would have been, in the past, buying all sorts of cards – a birthday card for my dad’s birthday today, a mother’s day card for my mom, an anniversary card for them both – and I felt my loss profoundly.  This time of year is a tricky one to navigate – lots of significant days to notice what has changed.  I miss my dad, I miss my parents, I miss my sister.  It comes to me in waves and I am reminded how fresh the wounds still are.   No surprise there, really.  Just a part of what it takes to get through this maze of grief. 

The card I bought was for our office administrator.   Wednesday was the Office Professional’s day, and in recognition of that, I took her to lunch and had a card for people to sign in appreciation.  One of the things I have done for the past several years is to buy a gift for each of the administrators on our floor.  It is a small gesture of gratitude for the work they do – even though they don’t work directly for me, they are always helpful and pleasant. One of them asked me why I do it – why do I go out of my way to do that for them?  And I thought about it and I realized that it was my dad’s doing.  He taught me to take the time to reach out to people and make the human connection.  He told me that when you do, you never know what it might mean to that person and more importantly, what it can do for you.  I explained that to her and was reminded again of the legacy my dad left.  It is one way I can honor him through carrying on his tradition and it feels good to continue to plant those seeds of caring whenever I can. 

Today, I saw some glorious trees bursting into their spring time best, glowing from the sunlight that hit them.  The sky behind them was dark and stormy, and the contrast of light and dark made the trees look especially lovely and vivid.  It struck me then – it is the contrast that made them so.  Light and dark, joy and sorrow – it takes one to make the other stand out. I am lucky to feel the way I did about my father and I miss him dearly.  He lives on in the seeds of kindness he sowed and I will continue on in kind, in honor of his memory.

Five Five Eleven

I have lived a year without you but never a day without thinking of you.  Sometimes with joy and happiness, sometimes with pain and sadness, but always with a feeling of emptiness as a result.  The times I thought to pick up the phone to tell you something or share news, the memories of past times together remembered but no longer possible – each time I am reminded anew that you are gone and my lifelong tie to you is severed.

So I have conversations with you in my head, I hear your deep voice rumbling with laughter and I know that you are always with me –  in my heart, in my head and everywhere around me if I choose to look.  For that, and for all my wonderful memories , I am grateful.  But I miss you, every day, in so many ways.

A year, a blink of an eye, an eternity….I am still learning  how to live in a world without you.

Joe Kearney, the best dad ever

Remembering My Father

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

This quote reflects in a few perfect words all that I have been feeling.  I have felt great sorrow in losing dad.  It was too soon – he had a lot of life left to live.  It was a tough year, watching him go from a robust, healthy man to a cancer patient struggling to make it.  In this sorrow, however, has come profound joy and gratefulness.  I have felt so lucky to be his daughter and to have been loved by him my entire life.  It hit me like a thunderbolt on the way to the hospital that last day.  I was so very fortunate and felt truly blessed.  How can I feel sorrow in the face of all that good luck?

As an educator and a people person, dad taught me many lessons, one of which was to treat people as if you’ll never see them again – that way, you don’t forget to be kind.  I learned that lesson when I was about 10 years old and our dog, Murphy, died.  I felt guilty because I had lied to stay home sick from school that day.  I thought Murphy’s death was my punishment for being a liar.  Dad’s lesson to me was one that has stuck with me.  He reassured me that I didn’t cause Murphy’s death and told me that we should always be kind to people when we see them, because we never know when it will be the last time.  Because of this philosophy, dad had a gift for making people feel special.

Dad was the king of giving nicknames.  To him, I was his Erin Lynn, Bonks, and later on, Madame Executive.  To me, he was Dad, papa-san, and the Big Guy.  He never failed to greet people warmly, with his great low voice asking how the pride of Cle Elum, or Woodway High School, or wherever was.  His memory of the little details of people’s lives was legendary. It was one of his many gifts.

Watching him live his life, it was clear that it was never about words alone for him – it was about actions.  The adage that actions speak louder than words was evident in everything he did.  As kids, we saw him take the high road on many occasions, we saw him give the gift of himself to people from every walk of life, and we saw him living true to his word.  He was who he was and we never doubted that what we saw was the real thing.

Another thing dad taught by doing was how to be a good partner.  His love and admiration for our mom was a wonderful thing to behold.  I’ve heard the saying that the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother, and he did just that.  The two of them were a true partnership and they set the standard for all of us. 

I hope to take what I learned from dad to heart even more so now.  Hearing from so many people who were touched by dad’s kindness only reinforces for me that life is really about the connections you make with people, not about things or success or money.  I want to become the type of person my dad has been and leave a legacy like his.  If I can do that, I will have lived a successful life.

Thank you, dad, for taking the time to teach me so much by the way you lived your life.  I am so proud to be your daughter.  It has been an amazing adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it.

With my remarkable parents

Race to University Medical Center

The call came from a person I didn’t really know, one afternoon out of the blue.  “You need to get to Tucson; your dad is in the hospital.”  Dad had been in and out of the hospital several times during his chemo treatments.  It was hard on his 83 year old body and his kidneys were scarred.  I knew getting there would not be possible for me, as I was on my own with Adrian.  I said I would see who else could get down there to help mom.  “No,” she said. “You don’t understand.  You all need to get here.  He doesn’t have much longer.”   I couldn’t comprehend the words she was saying.  It didn’t make any sense to me, and I was confused.  I told her I was coming down in 2 weeks time, that it was already planned.  She said again, “You need to come now. He’s dying.”  I told her I would be there.  I didn’t know how, but I would get there.  I still didn’t completely understand, but I went in to action mode and started to make arrangements.

I called my brothers and sisters to let them know.  I contacted work.  I made interim plans for Adrian.  I made a reservation on the first flight out in the morning.  I kept going back over her words and tried to makes sense of it.  He had been fine on Sunday when I talked to him.  He sounded tired, but he was OK.  We talked about the PanCan auction and how I’d spent too much money again.  I told him I wanted to figure out a way to have him continue his treatment up in Seattle so he and mom would have some help nearby.  I had it all planned out.  He said, “You’d be willing to do that for me?”, and I told him I would – I’d thought about it and knew they were struggling by this point.  He said we’d talk more about it when I was visiting in a few weeks.  There was no way I thought he was dying.  I was sure this was an overreaction.

I rushed to the airport that morning and went to buy my ticket at the Southwest counter.  My credit card was declined.  Bank of America had put a hold on my card due to the 2 large charges that were processed from the 2 charity auctions we’d attended over the weekend.  I was irate and paid with my debit card.  It was like a slap in the face – here I was in what felt like a race against time, only to have that happen. 

My flight went through Phoenix on the way there.  It felt like a long lay over, though it probably was less than an hour.  I wanted to be there.  I moved my seat to the most forward row so I could bolt as soon as the doors were open.  My bag was small and at my feet.  I wanted to run once I was off the plane.  I met up with Robin by baggage. We started to head to curb when we saw Shawn.  She was waiting for her checked luggage.  I was stunned. You checked it?  What?  This is race against the clock!  She said she and Jan would follow us – she told us to go now and get to him.

On the way there in the taxi, I told Rob I was worried that we were all over reacting.  I’d called the hospital the night before and the nurse in charge said dad was talking to them and responsive.  It didn’t sound like he was on the verge of anything.  I talked to mom and she said she didn’t know what was happening.  We were thinking ahead to what we needed to do once he was released.  We agreed it was getting to be too much for mom to handle and we had to propose some options. 

Arriving at the hospital, we waited for the elevators.  Again, it felt like it took forever.  We made our way to his room in the ICU.  I saw his oncologist outside his room, and he looked dour, as usual.  I was asking him about dad, and the nurse in the room said, “You need to get in here now.”  Again, I was confused.  The chaplain came out and said to come in.  He’d been sitting with mom, but he said it was important that we come in.  Rob and I went to dad’s bed side and each took a hand.  By now, dad was gasping for breath.  I think he knew we’d arrived because he was more agitated.  Because he did not want any extra measures taken, he had only oxygen, but even with that, breathing was difficult.  I held dad’s hand with one hand and my mom’s with my other.  Dad seemed to listen as Rob and I both told him we loved him, that we were there, and Rob shared how Ryan had pitched a no-hitter the night before.  I told dad we’d take care of mom, and that she would be OK.  Then, he was gone.  It was over in less than 5 minutes from the time we arrived on the floor of the hospital.  Unreal. 

It was haunting.  It felt peaceful, not scary, though.   I thought about how people love being in the room when babies are born, because they experience that singular moment when a new life arrives.  I felt the same way, only at the other end of life.  It felt like a gift to be there with him and to hold his hand while he made his journey.  And, like a baby, dad was stripped of much of his earthly look.  He looked purified and distilled to his true essence.  It felt holy.  I held mom while she cried, and we all held each other up.  We knew that when Jan and Shawn arrived, we’d have to go through it again, for them.  I felt lost in a way that I’d never experienced.  Our big guy was gone and we had to find our way without him. 

It struck me then how truly lucky I’d been to be his daughter all my life.  I knew him for all of my days, and that was something only my siblings could claim.  We were so fortunate to have him in our lives, on our side, and in our hearts.  It was a gift without measure and I didn’t want to ever take it for granted.  Peace came over me then.  No more thinking about plans for his future care, now our focus was on mom and helping her through a difficult transition to widowhood.  In the days that came, we made plans and schedules, we grieved and talked, we cleaned and organized.  But mostly, we held on to each other.  We shared our sadness at a life without our father in it, but reveled in the past and our times with him.  It is a true blessing to have loved a parent without reservation.  I was one of the lucky ones in that regard.  Being my father’s daughter was always a joy.  Racing to his side was almost instinctive.  I had to be there, I knew I could get there, and I made it in time.  Feeling his love through holding his hand, and helping him on his way meant the world to me.  He was one of the first to ever hold my hand as I came in to the world, and holding his as he left it seemed right.