Open House. Closed House (or how I accidently ended up writing a small novel instead of a simple blog post)

This Saturday will be the open house in remembrance of my dad.  It will be held at my parent’s house, or I suppose I should get used to saying, my mom’s house.  In a strange way I am decidedly not looking forward to it.  I feel like I should though.  I was raised in a small close-knit community and there will be many people coming that I know and have not seen in a long while.  They want to pay their respects and share their memories of him.  I should want to hear those memories and share my own, should I not?

The problem I think I am having is that the open house seems too damn open.  It will be the first time that my dad’s death will be presented in a public way.  Other than his obituary, I should know, I wrote it.  But even his obituary, while public, was also very private for me.  I chose each and every word.  I typed those words on this keyboard, the one under my fingertips now.  I called the newspaper to gently complain to them about changing the line returns, my line returns (I am sure your way is more grammatically correct, I told them, but it is not as pleasing to the eye as the way I typed it.)  They changed it back in time for the final printing.

It is the first time that Cody and Carter will be faced with the topic of their Grandpa’s death in a public forum, casual though it may be.  Carter, who usually just goes with the flow, has been the question asker while Cody, my inquisitive non-stop talker, has yet to ask a question other than “so, does Grandma have to do everything around the house that Grandpa used to do?”  My dad’s death has changed the way my children play.  Their vocabulary now includes the words “death” and “dying” much more then ever before.  It makes me so sad.

It has been almost a month since his death and on most days I am doing alright.  Or at least it seems like it on the outside.  Last weekend, the boys and I waited in the car at the gas station while Husband filled the tank.  When he got back in the car several minutes later I was quietly crying while holding a copy of the latest Reader’s Digest we had just picked up at the post office along with the rest of our mail.  My dad got me that subscription all those years ago when I left home and headed off to college.  I had made a comment once about how cheesy it was that I would miss reading the Reader’s Digest when I left home.  I don’t think Reader’s Digest’s demographic much included eighteen year old girls but I was hooked and my dad knew it.  I am sure my mom, who took over all the bill paying years ago, wrote the check for this current issue, but it was the significance of it that caught me off guard and lurched me sideways.

It creeps up on you, that creature we call grief.  Like the time I was innocently reading to Cody from his newest issue of Ladybug Magazine.  An eight page story about a little girl learning about wood frogs in the early spring from her Grandpa, “Something Strange in Grandpa’s Woods” by Jane Dauster, caused my throat to close up.  The words just would not come.

I was flooded with a memory of holding my dad’s large fuzzy gloved hand as we walked out in the pasture to close the chickens in for the night.  I had put off doing my chores as children are wont to do and the darkness of night had come.  I was scared of the dark and did not want to go out alone.  In all fairness to myself it was not just the dark I was scared of.  We had a young calf at the time named Hope that fancied himself something of a bull in a bull fighting arena.  He would charge you at random times but in other times he would be such a sweet love and we would scratch his ears and whisper to him how cute he was.  In wariness of him we would always carry a pitchfork when walking out in the pasture and we did have to stab him in the head a couple times.  Don’t get all PETA on me.  It was in self defense, you understand, and his head was hard anyway.  He was the cow that broke my sister’s leg by butting her up against the barn.  If I remember correctly, he was quite tasty for being such a vile ill tempered beast.

Carter in pasture

Carter in the pasture of my childhood. The chicken coop is just to the left out of frame.

My dad’s presence on the way to the chicken coop that night and many others was such a comfort, for in my mind’s eye, he was scared of nothing.  He was as a dad should be.  He was tough, and hardworking.  He expected you to do your best.  He tried to be stern and distant as his father was to him but he quite often failed at this.  My sister and I rode on his back around the living room playing “cow” (I don’t know why we pretended he was a cow and not a horse) our blond hair pulled back in pigtails, peals of laughter bouncing from the ceiling.  My mom has photographic evidence of this.

He took pride in his home and the land on which it sat.  He was from a long line of farmers and when he was not at work, teaching junior high and high school biology, he wore overalls.  The full on bib overalls one would wear over their clothes for pitching hay or slopping pigs (people still do these things, right?)  Add some work boots, a John Deere hat, and those fuzzy yellow work gloves and that would be my dad.

I don’t want to share these memories with people at the open house.  I can’t type these memories to share with you without crying several times over so I most certainly will not speak them out loud.  To speak them out loud as if he is dead will make his death too real.  I am not ready for that.  Not yet.  I don’t know if I will ever be.  I do know that I like how I feel when I recount a story about him or see a forgotten bit of colored fabric from one of his old work flannels flash before my eyes.  You are my captive audience (if you are still there) and I want to retain these pieces of my childhood, these memories I have of my dad.  And so I will continue to write about them here.  For me.  But also a little bit for you.

About Shoes

I am an elementary school teacher, a former microbiologist, a mom to a herd of two boys, and a grilled cheese sandwich and beer connoisseur.
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37 Responses to Open House. Closed House (or how I accidently ended up writing a small novel instead of a simple blog post)

  1. The Waiting says:

    This is so beautiful and really, really true. I lost my dad when I was relatively young (nineteen) and at the time I don’t think I knew I had the option of wanting to grieve in private and not share the memories of those quiet, private moments with him. But you do have that option. Only do what makes you feel most comfortable and what does him the most honor.

    And ten years later, I still refer to my mom’s house as “my parents’ house.” In fact, I often refer to my mom as just “my parents”.

    • shoes says:

      Thanks for the comment. After reading yours I decided that I will continue to call it my parent’s house or, as I say to my boys, Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

  2. Sugar Snap Me says:

    Oh, honey. I wish I knew you so I could offer up a hug for your fearlessness in being vulnerable. I can tell how hard this beautiful piece was for you to write, and I am sure you would rather have not had to write it. And as a mom, I can relate to the “other” loss of the innocence of our children, once the learn about death.

    You sound like such a clear person, and very grounded. You will make it through that open house, just like you will the other obstacles that come. I’m just sorry you have to go through it.

    • shoes says:

      Ahh, thank you. It is so tough to talk about death, especially my dad’s, to my kids. I just want to grab them up, and keep them away from all the sadness and awfulness in this world.

  3. Alex says:

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I still have my father and the thought of loosing him, my guide, my inspiration, the man who taught me to be my artistic self. It’s crushing. I only hope that when that time comes (hopefully a long time from now), I act with as much grace and strength as you. This is a time that I am sure your grieving should be in private. No one has those same memories with him as you do. They are something only the two of you shared.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you. My dad was truly a wonderful man and my life will always have a hole in it now that he is gone. I really enjoy writing about these precious memories. I have this overwhelming fear that I will somehow forget them now that he is no longer here to ask about the details.

  4. Beth says:

    Between the Reader’s Digest and Hope the Calf, your dad is with you. I am also with you, reading your memories and happy that you are willing to share them.

    (When I was a girl, we had a cow named Happy Hamburger. He took enjoyment for pinning us against the fence. A high point was when the vet came and removed his budding horns. My big brother brought the horns to school in a jar. )

    • shoes says:

      🙂 And there are a lot more memories where the Reader’s Digest and Hope came from. I am glad you enjoy reading them because I sure enjoy sharing them with you.
      Happy Hamburger, LOL! I love this story.

  5. Thank you for such a heartfelt post…sometimes I think when others openly work on their grief process, it gives the rest of us a nudge to muster up the courage to work on ours, too.

    • shoes says:

      I always take pause when I start writing about my dad because I feel like I keep revisiting it and don’t want to seem like I am droning on about it or wanting pity. It just seems to be my way of getting through this grief process. It helps me to feel better and if my writing could also help others through their grief, how wonderful that would be.

  6. mimijk says:

    As some know from some of my posts, I am still in this process many years later. I’m not sure one ever relieves the pain, rather we learn where the space is in our heart to accommodate its scope as it becomes a reality that we live with. And, then it comes out on occasion with little rhyme or reason more than the need to be voiced. May his memory be a blessing…

    • shoes says:

      I need to poke around on your blog some more when I have time as you are fairly new to me. It sounds like you have been through a grieving process yourself, as we all have or will at some point. It is so individual, the journey. The memories I have of my dad are wonderful and vibrant and I hope to retain them even if thinking about them sometimes hurts.

  7. Jodi Stone says:

    You are very brave and strong and my heart aches for you. While right now you may not feel like sharing you may find when you get around others who knew your dad, they might share a story and you might feel inclined to as well. You may not share the stories you shared here or maybe you will, whatever will be will be. You may find too, that it helps in the healing process to share with those who knew him.

    I can tell you that many years later, something will happen for me that triggers an emotional response.

    My dad was killed in a motorcycle accident when I was 13 (almost 40 years ago!) Shortly after Hubby and I moved to our current house (4 1/2 years ago) one of our new tenants had found my dad’s death certificate. I had never seen it, I mean I was 13 when he died so I wouldn’t have. But reading that certificate, seeing the words, the cause of death just threw me and I lost it. 35 years after the fact.

    Triggers will come, it is all part of loss.

    Please know my thoughts and well wishes will be with you and your family this weekend.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you Jodi. You are very right about the triggers and I haven’t yet decided if they are a good thing or a bad thing yet. The open house was good. I talked with a lot of people who cared about my dad and had great memories of their own about him. There was no pressure for me to share my own with others and I chose not to.
      I have not seen my dad’s death certificate and don’t think I will for quite some time. Not something I am looking forward to whenever that day comes.

  8. illusionofsanity says:

    Yes, I’m still here. Of course. And just so you know, I’m crying along with you. My parents are still with us, but as old age creeps up on us, I’m realizing more and more that I will eventually have to say goodbye, and I can’t bear the thought of my life without them. My heart goes out to you. I have to say, though, that I believe there are some memories you don’t have to share….ever, if you don’t want to…or when you’re ready…if ever. I’d love to give you a giant bear hug right now!

    • shoes says:

      Thank you for still being here and for caring and crying with me. It means a lot. It is therapeutic and easier to share these close memories of my dad in this way, with the written word to people I don’t have a history with, then to talk in a voice that may fail me to people who have been my neighbors and friends for years.

  9. Again, I am so sorry for your loss. And it must be so hard, facing images of grandfathers everywhere you go, even in the Ladybug magazine (we get that too). I think you said it best with this line, “He was as a dad should be.”

    I have never heard of an open house for someone who’s passed. In our family, we have a wake, also called a viewing, the night before the funeral, and then the funeral service the next day. Then we are left on our own for the grieving process. I can’t say which is better, but what you are about to face is sounding impossible. Sending good thoughts of strength your way. I don’t have any advice, other than to remember people are not expecting you to be “okay,” so use the night more to listen, than to talk, and hopefully it will pass quickly and you may hear some wonderful stories of your father.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you for your comment. I find writing about my dad and his death to be a source of strength and positive reflection but I also don’t want it to be the only thing I write about. It is on the edge of my mind and so I can’t help but to write about it.
      I did alright during the open house but lost my composure when some very long time friends of the family came in the front door. I excused myself and returned a couple minutes later with the tell tale eyeliner smears. I am glad it is behind me but I am also glad I was a part of it.

  10. Hetterbell says:

    I’m so glad you shared these very special memories of yours with us. They are truly touching gifts which you will carry with you always, and which will keep your Dad close to continually.

    • shoes says:

      I am glad this wonderful group of blogging friends, of which you are a part, are here for me to share my memories with. It helps me beyond measure.

      • Hetterbell says:

        I’m glad if this helps you and I for one always like to hear about your Dad. I think that being able to share your thoughts about him and your recollections of things you did with him with other people is a wonderful way of keeping his memory alive.

  11. mommysaidaswearword says:

    You make me cry for a man I never knew. Your words are beautiful, your recalled memories exactly what a parent would want for their child. Selfishly, I do hope that this sharing helps you, because I truly look forward to your writing.

    • shoes says:

      Oh, thank you so much. It really does mean a lot to me, especially coming from you. Your writing, it flows so and evokes so. I find an elegance in your style and your compliment to my writing causes me to smile.
      Although I am sorry I made you cry…

  12. Nancy says:

    Very touching post, so full of raw pain. I have not lost a parent yet, so I can’t say I know how you feel, but I can see that writing rather than talking about your dad is what you need to do. We will be here to read about him. You are in my thoughts.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you. Memories of my dad just seem to pour out of me and it makes me feel better to write them down and throw them out there. It is easier for me to write rather than talk about some things and my dad is one of them.

  13. It does creep up, that creature called grief. And your photo takes me right back to my grandparents’ place and the way it smelled on a rain-soaked day. My sister lives there now and it still smells the same.

    • shoes says:

      The smells, the touch of certain items, the sound of the “rain door” banging (a door attached to my parents porch that if not latched, bangs in the wind the night before a rainfall) – that house and that land is so full of memories it threatens to overwhelm me.

      I think I need to buy Grief some squeaky shoes so when he creeps up, I am alerted and can prepare myself.

  14. motherallie says:

    I have been thinking of this piece a lot since you first posted it. Thinking about how horrible the grief process is. Thinking about that ache you must be feeling in your heart. Thinking about how similar I have felt to how you must have been feeling on that day you wrote it. Thinking about my own father, now gone five years.

    My cousin asked me a beautiful question after my father died. Beautiful in that it asked a very specific question, not an open-ended one. (Those “how are you feeling” questions are lovely and do mean a lot, but a specific question was such a gift.) She asked, “How is life *different* since your father died?” And at that moment, I realized what grief was. I went on to explain that I had depended on my father’s opinion, concern, and advice for so long–that I felt he was part of my being. A friend wasn’t a real friend until they met my father. A promotion wasn’t as exciting until my father was proud. A decision was never finalized until I heard what he had to say about it.

    I was so dependent on him and he was such a part of me, that when he died, a part of me really DID die. The void he left will always be there, you just have to walk around it…here’s to peace in your heart.

    • shoes says:

      Oh dear but you made me cry. What a soulful question, a true question your cousin asked. Different, so very different our lives after such a loss, except from the outside looking in. Your words are so true – my dad was a part of me, my being. I was talking to a friend about that exact thing the other day. Our whole lives we have been lucky enough to have our parents there. No mater what we did or said our parents were always there, a sort of bedrock, a foundation we build our lives upon. When that is removed there is a space. An empty space that no one, and nothing can fill and it won’t ever go away no mater how much time passes.

      I can’t help but to think of all he will miss out on, all the things I will miss sharing with him. The little and big shifts in my life; the milestones in my children’s lives. It still tears me up to know that my boys will never really have solid memories of their Grandpa. And I panic a bit when I think about how memories fade and think about what I will lose of him through time.

      It sounds like you had a wonderful relationship with your dad and I am sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for this comment, even though I cried my way through it. It hurts but it helps to know I am not alone in my grief.

  15. amomnextdoor says:

    Your post was more than just “a little bit for me.” I lost my dad in October, and haven’t written a word about him yet, other than the obituary. Just last week my son finally cried for his grandpa for the first time, triggered because he couldn’t find an old toiletry bag that Grandpa had given him on the day before his death. Anyway, something came a little loose in me reading about your dad and your loss. Thank you for your courage, and for your picture of “the pasture of your childhood.” It reminds me of my grandpa, R.I.P.

    • shoes says:

      Oh I am so sorry to hear about your loss and the pain you are feeling. Writing about my dad and the sharing of thoughts about death, loss, and learning to live with the hole that is left behind, has been so helpful for me. It has allowed me to reflect on the memories and to tug from them vivid threads of my childhood that otherwise might have been forgotten.
      I hope the coming loose you felt while reading my story was in some way helpful to you. I understand about the type of triggers your son experienced that allowed emotions to burst forth from hiding. They still happen to me on an almost daily basis. My boys have not cried for their Grandpa but I think they are too young to truly know the permanence of what it is.
      I wish there was some words of advice I could give you or something else I could say, but I just don’t know what it would be. Just know you are not alone and that your memories, they count for a lot.

  16. katrinamarieimages says:

    beautiful. my sincerest condolences. my dad passed away 13 years ago this month. it doesn’t get easier. for most of my life we didn’t live near each other. in someways i feel closer to him in his passing then when he was here. thank you for sharing your dad with us.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you for your comment. It has been five months and I do feel myself healing but there are still those moments. Writing about him, his life and his death, has helped me greatly. I am sorry about your dad but I am glad you have a sense of closeness to him.

  17. katrinamarieimages says:

    *it does get easier with time.

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