A little ambushed by grief

When people my dad knew let me know that a cancer’s returned angrier, I am both sad from within as I think these people are terrific but am ambushed by grief as I know my dad would be sad as well. It’s odd. Of course, I miss him every day, but I’m surprised that part of missing him is wishing he were around to be sad about a dying friend.

I don’t know what this means. I’m just putting it out there. Ambushed.

A handful of childhood memories

My dad’s service was yesterday. Seven of us got up to remember Richard Taylor Cassidy in a sort of chronological order: his fraternity brother, me, his best friend from law school, work colleague, his brother’s words through his niece (his brother could not fly out), and his sponsor in recovery. With so many, we kept our remembrances down to five minutes.

Good morning. I’m Dick’s daughter. You may know me as Katy or the Loin Fruit. In letters to me, he called me Cobbies.

In the days following my dad’s passing, I’ve been looking through pictures: some digital, some printed. I lingered mostly on those old Kodachrome snapshots from my childhood. A kaleidoscope of memories of a child I used to recognize as myself but who now seems distant to me since Arachne cut the silk that connected us through my dad. I cherish these old photos, these scenes still trumpeting that he was once here and certifying my luck in having been his daughter.

I would like to share a few of my childhood memories of my dad with you.

I felt safe with my dad

Thunderstorms scared me when I was little. I remember leaping into his lap when he sat the chair by the front window and watching the rain while held me and sang Day is Done by Peter Paul and Mary. He taught me not to fear thunderstorms. He also taught me not to leap into his lap leading with my knee.

My dad introduced me to running and soccer.

When I was in the 1st and 2nd grades, he waited on the front porch of our house as I walked in the direction whence the bus would come. Once he saw the bus, he yelled “RUN!” and I sprinted, racing against the bus back to where my dad was waiting with my book bag. In 3rd and 4th grade, my dad drove me to school. Once I was ready, I’d start running in the direction we’d take. When my dad was ready, he’d pack the car and drive along until he caught up to me. Sometimes, if I was still keen, he’d let me continue running while he followed in the car until I was ready.

In 1974 I wanted to play soccer, he volunteered to coach the Eagles and then the Piranhas. We had no idea what we were doing, but we had fun. He coached us until we outgrew what he could do. I believe that no matter how old we got and how many coaches we’ve had, we all remember Coach Cassidy. And laps.

Some memories I file under “Thank goodness for the 70s”.

Every summer we’d head to Colorado and stay at our cousins’ cabins. They had some old 1950s Jeeps, and I would sit on the hood of the Jeep, holding the bull bars while my dad would drive us around the mountain roads of Silverton.

Back home, he drove my friends and me, jacked up on doughnuts and coke, in the back of the car with the hatchback up waving, smiling, and shrieking at other drivers. Our car? A Pinto. If it made me laugh, he almost never said no.

When he saw a teaching moment, he took it:

I remember when he pointed out two men holding hands walking down our street. He told me that sometimes two boys or two girls were in love and that’s okay.

Another time we were walking back from Tom Thumb after buying groceries, and he was explaining “the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. I remember his telling to me that, if I saw him steal ice cream, I would have to tell the truth in court. I don’t know what horrified me the most: ratting on my dad or surrendering the ice cream to the police.

He taught me the stalker theorem in geometry:

The shortest distance between two points was driving by Abram Castro’s house and honking. He taught me manners, for he always waved at whichever Castro dared to look outside. And he taught me how to commit: Entire Castro clan outside having a party? Don’t drive on. Pull into that alley and honk. And wave. Always wave.

We exchanged our cultures:

He introduced me to Beethoven, Peter and the Wolf, Willie and Waylon, The Thin Man series, Shakespeare, Masterpiece Theatre, and I, Claudius. From me, he learned about Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Steve Buscemi, Brendan Frasier, and Friends.

My dad taught me to find joy in other people

He not only coached our soccer teams, he was a repeat chaperone on lower school camp-outs, drove carpool, and hung out with my friends when they came over. He loved being with us. It wasn’t just about me. He was genuinely got a kick out of my friends, classmates, and teammates until the very end. He found children delightful and knew they had something to tell him. He listened. He laughed. And he never lost interest even after that child had grown into an adult because my dad had the gift of finding the child inside all of us. When my dad said your name and clutched his heart, he filled you with joy, and for a second you were a kid again.

Puff, the Magic Dragon was another song my dad sang to me. Jackie Paper had his own secret land, a dragon buddy, pirates, kings, ships, and sealing wax. It sounded awesome. Now that I’m an adult, the song brings tears to my eyes because I could relate to Puff’s feeling of abandonment as Jackie grew up, neglected his imagination, and stopped returning to Honnah Lee.

My dad was my Puff, and I thought he would be here forever to help me remember the child I once was, but time, the unyielding schoolmaster, took him from me and tries my way to Honnah Lee. But I am my father’s child. I will find another way back with my memories, treasures from my childhood, and I’ll play with Puff, my magic daddy, and the little child I left behind.

Brain Distracting 101: Contra Dancing

I need to get out and move. We all do, yes, I know. I used to commute by bike 30 minutes to and 35 minutes from work. I was smoking it. Could eat what I wanted and still lost weight because I had that hour plus for fitness. I wasn’t where I wanted or needed to lose weight, so in order not to, I ate more. Sweet! Honestly, the route home should get the most credit. Congress Avenue going south is uphill from the river. Add to the challenge of cycling uphill was going through the smells of pizza as I passed Home Slice.

The only complaint I have about learning to code would be the sedentary nature and my 90-degree angles. I have a standing desk at home. Don’t tell me to stand. I get up plenty. I have hounds that have bladders. I’m up. My standing desk is better for when I’m just writing or reading. It’s not my position for creating or head scratching. That is curled on a couch with hounds hogging my space or in bed propped up on pillows. I’m not employed, either. That brings me way down. Fitness, lack of self-esteem from unemployment, and now grieving the loss of my stepsister and dad, I’m just a mope in need of movement.

I’m getting better at getting out, but now that I have grief brain, doing solo exercise activities can take me to dark spaces. Or into the paths of cars. I walk. I run. I space out and think about what I’ll say at the memorial or how much I miss my dad and then realize that I am not watching where I’m going. Not safe. And I also end those activities sadder than when I started them.

Contra dancing just might save me. I’ll still walk, run, cycle, and do weird machines, but contra dancing will be three hours of moving without dipping into grief. How could I? People are barking directions at you all of the time. I have no time for my inner voices because the caller is telling me to balance, swing my partner, hey for four, do-si-do my neighbour, circle, allemande, ladies chain, … I have no time alone in my head. Even after a few rounds when I think I have the muscle memory down in the dance and drift into my head, I collide with someone. Contra dancing is dangerous for the distracted.

For three to four hours, I move my legs and arms, smile at strangers and laugh with some familiar faces and forget for a while that I’m deeply sad. I never forget that I miss my dad or stepsister. I think about what they’d say about this activity (they’d be amused), but I am, for a while, not worried about my tearing up.

Sorting, bagging, keeping, and deleting

My dad is the first parent I’ve lost. I always thought grieving a parent would be more like constant crying. If I was alone but not crying, I was doing ok. When I’m in public or talking to others, I probably don’t look any different than I did before. I can fake happiness, but I don’t feel fake by doing so. If I fake it, and you laugh, then I laugh and feel better. Should I say, instead, “acting”?

When I am alone, I expected to be in tears most of the time. I’m not, so I thought this meant that I was on the road to recovery. I had the movie version of grief in my head. It’s all loud and messy. Maybe it is for some, but it isn’t for me. Like drowning. Most people think it’s loud and the struggling swimmer flails her arms about. Drowning is quiet, and that’s what my grief feels like. I look around at books, projects, my laptop, and see only a blur. When I sit down to work on old code or a tutorial, I don’t know where to start. I just stare at the laptop. I have plenty of code to work on. I could tweak. I could redo. I could start over. I could follow #100DaysofCode or do a Wes Bos tutorial. Or I could feel so overwhelmed that I shut the laptop and try to nap.

chocolate and vanilla cake with happy birthday poppa on topMy dad died four days before his birthday. On his birthday, some of the family gathered at my dad and stepmom’s for cake and ice cream. I found my stepmom’s sister in front of a pile of my late stepsister’s costume jewelry. Everything was a mess and dumped in a box. I sat down with her and sorted earrings to find pairs. I started with the larger ones and moved down to smaller studs. As pairs were matched, the pile got smaller. After the earrings, we moved to singles: pendants, rings, brooches. The final challenge was untangling bracelets and necklaces. After a few hours, we had order. We bagged and sorted. We went through and took what we’d like or what reminded us of Mel. The rest would be given to charity, and anything of value would be sold to help fund her sons’ education.

While everything I had been doing before the deaths of my stepsister and my dad might look like a tangled mess, I can get through it if I take a small amount at a time. Re-enter with the easy stuff. No time to prove anything. No one gets a medal for returning to normalcy first. As the simple and small tasks get completed, move on to more complicated tasks and code. Have a clear idea of what I’m working on so that completion is not fuzzy. Vague is not your friend. I have messes, and they need plans.

Mess: code, dev skills

Plan: I’ve reset my 100 Days of Code plan and am abiding by its set of rules. Starting with old homework assignments. Moving to completed code that could use better styling. Return to tutorials. No plan here. If I just do one a day, that’s fine. If I do more, bonus, but one a day is fine now and forever.

Mess: fitness

Plan: 5k to 10k app. Gym 3 days a week. Moving back to 5 days a week. Walking 10 minutes a day moving to 30 or 3×10.

Mess: job applications

Plan: One a day every other day. Moving to 1 a day, 5 days a week. Goal would be 3 a day for 5 days.

Mess: Creative side being ignored

Plan: 15 minutes a day to do something with fiber. Moving to 30 on weekdays and 2 hours on weekends. Slowly. Read fiction before bedtime. Blog once a week. I don’t care what about, just write. Move to 3-5 days a week but not always about coding.

Mess: I miss my dad.

Plan: I don’t know.

Round Two

I don’t know where to begin. My dad was admitted into the ER on 28 January, the day before my stepsister’s service. He passed away on 8 February. Yes. I have lost two family members in less than a month.

While my dad was in hospice, I received a call that a company I applied to would not be moving forward in the interview process. I have never been so happy. It was a good company, but the job was not for me. I was not for them. One clue would be that I did not study before the interview. I couldn’t make time for that company. I made time for Wes Bos, but not for the interview. Oddly, at the time I am trying to tell my dad goodbye and that it was ok to let go, not getting a job was a big relief. It was the only up I had in days and would have for days. Yes, I need stability, but the timing is bad. I get to cry and not beg a new boss to understand.

I need to return to coding tutorials. Grief brain. I have it bad. Tutorials and hand holding are what I need. And this time around, I’m making time to make other things. Before I started to learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, I knitted, crocheted, and embroidered. I also read a lot. I think I need to make more time for other creative outlets.

I know. I need to grieve. Trust me. I grieve. Plenty. Lots of tears. So many tears that I’m battling dehydration. Getting back into my coding and job app habits is the return to normalcy I need.

Always, we begin again.


What can stop a coding streak?

I thought nothing could stop me. Although new to coding and frustrated looking for a job in a city that is saturated with developers of all levels. Because I find great joy in learning, trying, retrying, crying, and solving, I thought nothing would really stop me from coding every day, especially while I’m on a coding tutorial binge. I mean, I love this! I stay up too late to do it. The only thing I regret is not having enough time for spinning (wool) and making things out of glue and cigar boxes.

Until I learned on 14 January that my stepsister died by suicide. I think of it as her addicted self stole her sober self’s chance at life.  For a few days, coding tutorials were a welcome distraction. Stay busy. Busy busy busy! Keep up with JavaScript30, ES6 for Everyone, and What the Flexbox. Busy busy busy. I did well to keep myself together until I drove myself up to Dallas to be with my family. There’s nothing to distract the mind on I-35. It’s a miserable ride on the best of days, so I called my dad to talk about M. I unraveled steadily, and by the time I hit I-20, I could not see through my tears.

I thought I would have days of crying, but I had only one. What followed were days filled with sighs, deep breaths, and lethargy. I slept a lot. I slept while sleeping and while awake if that paradox works for you. I felt like I was running through syrup. While in this fugue, I did nothing with my mind. I brought books, my laptop, plans for apps; I was prepared to take a break from grief with coding. It didn’t happen.

No matter how much I obsess about hashtags and tweeting what I’ve done, I was not prepared for this. It’s been a few weeks now. Her service is this weekend, and I will read Gone From My Sight by Henry van Dyke. M is not diminished. She is just not here, and now I’m starting over. Who said it, the Benedictines? Always, we begin again. I’m not a spiritual person, but as an adult who fights ADHD daily, I see this less as a gentle rule from monks as a daily huddle cheer. Along with not being spiritual, I’m also not a football fan, so I’m just mixing all the metaphors without any clue. M was both spiritual and a rabid Cowboys fan. She’d appreciate my attempt at footballery. I’m not where I was before with the amount of time dedicated to coding (improving, learning, reinforcing), but I’m upright with my laptop tap tap tippety tapping because always I begin again.

Good-bye, M. You were loved. You are missed.

Oh, Henry.

Trina and Jason’s Henry is now forever without pain. Unfortunately, when our pets go to their painless heaven, they leave our hearts broken. Today would have been his thirteenth birthday. 

ImageHis zappy eyes will help him to watch over his humans as they endure more heartache. He’s going to make sure they’re okay, even if brokenhearted. His radar ears will find the slightest whimper. He’s going to coach the other furkids on proper grief snuggling.

Oh, Henry, you’re sorely missed. I was happy to meet you and invade your space.