To you, Dadio

Where are you?

When I’m angry at you for leaving. When a shit-storm is passing through our family and the world. When the comfort of home is far out of reach. When I look through hundreds of recent photos and you’re not in one. When nothing makes sense, nothing goes right and grief rages on. When a beautiful baby boy is born.

Where are you?

The answer to my vocal doubt has never not been – I’m right here. I’m wherever you are. 

I rubbed my cracked heels together the other night, the same way you used to while sitting on your big brown chair in the family room, talking about sports or politics or something. When Maisley yelled, “I’m hungry!”, I pulled an old trick from your playbook and replied with, “Hi Hungry, I’m Jenna”. 

I see you in me. 

I see you in Nicole the way she stands up for what she believes in and how she says it with conviction. I see you in Linny in her carefree moments, the way she tells a sly joke and laughs with every tooth God gave her.  I see you in Meesh, the way she says yes to spontaneous happenings while navigating her days by always doing the next right thing. I see you in mom with her overly generous heart and the way she walks us out to our cars, offering to help us carry our bags. 

I see you in Brandon’s calm, intentional demeanor and in James’ inventive projects. And of course, I see you in Ryan, the way he has grown into his sarcasm game towards mom, the joy he gets from sweeping the side yard, and the way he never tires of working to create the best life for his family.

You’ve missed so much according to my human mind, a lifetime in two years. 

I desperately want to tell you about our air conditioning leak and the ins and outs of our escrow deal. The tone of Coura’s voice as she sings, Take Me Out To The Ball Game. The way Maisley pauses every time she hears a cricket and says, “Hi Poppi!”

But whenever I have that recurring dream about you coming back home after living in San Francisco or somewhere else far away, the only thing I end up saying profusely is, “I love you, I’m so thankful for you, I miss you.”

I hope you never wonder. I hope you can see the corners of my healing heart and know that they are yours.

I love you, I’m so thankful for you, I miss you.

Four

I twirled her silky hair around my finger while Ryan read, How to Catch a Mermaid. It looked like a chocolate and vanilla swirled cone. Like the ones we used to devour from McDonald’s after a long day at the beach.
She’s beautiful and full of fire. I worry I won’t know how to be her mom sometimes. I worry about sending her to preschool and also to not.
She is insistent. Independent. Into high heels.
I hold her hair like it’s mine.
I get quietly petulant thinking I should get to decide if it’s worn down or in a braid.
One day I’ll have to let go of her hand and say, “No speeding!”
Another time, “No drinking!”
I’m slowly letting her go more and more everyday.
She’s like the mermaid they could never actually catch.

Lessons from the Little Ones

The first hour or two of a long road trip is really just your mind scanning to see what you forgot. The car potty. Not the car potty. The good thing about road-tripping during a pandemic is that peeing on the side of the road feels mostly acceptable. 

Van patrol set off to Sacramento, CA, Crater Lake, OR, Hood River, OR and then our final destination, Orcas Island, WA. It sounds easy typing it out, but hours of patience, sight-seeing, please don’t touch that, podcasts, snacks, canoe rides and cabin stays all dotted our map up north. 

One of the most unexpected memories of our trip was seeing what my daughters chose to love and enjoy along the way. 

At Crater Lake National Park, the girls were so excited about playing in the snow, I wondered if they even noticed the bucket list view. At the pottery shop on Orcas Island, they found a tree-house of their dreams. At the best fish and chips in town they skipped their lunch to fill shell buckets with rocks and chase the chickens. 

At first I felt a little annoyed – we came all this way and you just want to play in the snow?! This is the reason we came here.  The illusion of control is alluring. It draws me in over and over again. Like a wiley temptress, my pretend friend. 

But then it happened to me.

Driving home from dinner to catch the sunset one night on Orcas, a golden, warm glow lit up certain parts of the dense, thick forest, the way light from the sun streams into your home and forms spotlights on the walls. The way it feels to see love shine on the face of a beloved. It was breathtaking. 

What if instead of only looking at the sunset, we see what’s being illuminated by the light. What if we look up, or across the street, or around the corner?

As usual, I’m not sure who’s the teacher and who’s the student between my kids and I. 

How wonderful (and challenging to the ego) getting to know my girls, and witnessing who and what they want to become. Seeing how they want to experience their world from an unfiltered perspective, uninterested in what they should be enjoying. 

We asked Maisley her favorite part of the trip – four days on the road and seven days on a magical island – and she said watching a show in the car.

Fine by me!

This Father’s Day

We went through your old things;
report cards, photo books, trophies, letters.
When you were 19 you noted that having an exciting life was a 1 of importance to you (18 being the least). I’d say it definitely wasn’t boring.
Did you have any big ragrets?
Not even a single letter?

The back house smells of 24 and World Cup parties.
We’re not with you, but here with all of your things. What stories did you have to add? What happened with Lisa from sophomore year? Did you in fact have a bitchen summer?
This Father’s Day felt a little lighter. Family felt a little stronger. Your memories felt a little happier.
Though grief doesn’t really know the calendar. I wonder if tomorrow I’ll feel desperately sad.

I wanted more of you and couldn’t stop standing in the back house trying to feel and hear you. True father-daughter love is keeping my Cinque Terre painting on the wall all those years.
Mom was about to say something inappropriate at Papa’s house and I smacked her leg under the table and she yelped, “Okay Jeff!!!”
Honoring you at home and at bat. Remember how every time we missed the ball you’d say, “My bad that was a bad pitch.”
Thank you for holding our hearts and characters with unconditional positive regard (Cheryl Strayed’s phrase). I hope my kids see me the way I see you. I hope they feel as safe with me as I did with you.

We’re older now. Grief and motherhood haven’t exactly been anti-aging for me. Maisley just turned 16 and Coura walks, talks and surprise, surprise is a strong willed wildling.
What hasn’t changed – the love I carry for you in every cell of my body. The way missing you has become a way of life. How I still lean into your affirming side hugs. I’d truly give up everything I own to spend a minute with you on your worst day.

I love you Dadio. I hope it feels like glass on Bass Lake every day where you are.

Group Projects

Don’t you know how hard I’ve been worrying on this project?
I worry so hard.
I worry overtime.
Late at night, in the morning, sometimes all through the day.
I’m worrying so much harder than all of you.
Where is my praise?
Where is my validation and compensation for all of the worry I’ve been doing?
I have an inkling that my worry isn’t appreciated here.
Fine by me.
I’m just going to stop worrying. 

Gardening

I ask God to pull out the roots of anxiety in my mind and body.

When I close my eyes,
I envision God
taking the deep-seated roots,
transforming the pain, fear and grief
– into love –
and planting a garden.

A garden
of vibrant color,
warm sunshine,
easy, deep breaths and
nourishing beauty.

A garden,
ever-green
and eternal.

September

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” – Paulo Coelho

September is chock-full of change – new school year, Football season (eye-roll) and fall on the horizon. Grounded into the newness are lingering summer nights that leave me grasping for the memories and feelings of more carefree days. 

It’s officially September 2019 and I do not want to pass go. I do not want to collect $200. I just want to rewind the days. What if tomorrow was September 6th instead of September 8th? Land mines fill the month. Birthdays and all of the “last year at this time” memories. Last this and that. 

It seems impossible, and yet, we’ve survived impossible over the last year. Standing up after he died and speaking to nearly 1,000 people, that was impossible. Lindsey and Brandon’s wedding, impossible. Dark days of grief, impossible. Writing a book about him, also impossible. And yet, we’re doing it (and people do even wilder, more impossible things all the time). 

All of the impossible hasn’t been for nothing, it’s actually been for many things. Of which I will collect sometime in October. 

One of my biggest layers of resistance for September 29th is a sense that I need to relive that day. But why do I need to relive that day? Who says I do? In EMDR therapy last week I had an incredible moment of knowing (a message and gift from Dadio).  It was this: do what we loved to do. I had a beautiful vision of scouring the tide pools in one of our favorite places, Laguna Beach. So that’s what I will be doing.

As I’ve learned this year, it’s not going to be okay. It’s never going to be okay that he’s not here. But, I know that we can handle it (even if it’s not pretty), and I know that we are never alone (held every step by God and Dadio). Resilience is something that’s earned, it’s not just a given trait like curly hair or green eyes. 

What would my dad say? “It’s just another day”.

For Opa

For Ryan’s Grandpa, Fokko Nienhuis, remembered and loved in the vibrant memories of his family. 

Half a grapefruit livened with sugar for him,
freshly squeezed orange juice for her.
Oranje through and through,
and starting in nineteen hundred and 47,
he also bled red, white and blue.

A welcoming host at home and at heart –
Is everyone “goodso”?
He threw the party and she was the life of it. 

His meticulous mind kept orderly by his daily planner.
Strong in his history knowledge,
yet delicate while hand-rolling a cigarette. 

The Nienhuis patriarch, not by definition,
but by his welcoming, comforting character.
Everyone around him well-taken care of and well-loved. 

Except at the dinner table; a ruthless omnivore emerged.
A rack of ribs whittled down to ancient fossils,
no sea creature escaped with its life,
no crumbs left behind.

He wore a polo shirt tucked into his trousers; 
classy, yet inconsiderate of his satisfied mid-section.
Saw almost all 50 states, showed up without a fuss,
always chose family, community and honor.

Lenie, “Cognac?” as he held up his thumb and pointer an inch apart.
“I don’t care what you guys are doing, but I’m going to bed.”

 

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Wish You Were Here

As we sat eating dinner at Panama 66 in Balboa Park, the sun had just settled in for the night and the iconic Museum of Man tower was illuminated with purple and blue lights set against the dusky sky. The kids were happy and we were happy. It was one of those beautiful moments where you sink a little deeper in your chair and let out a full exhale.

In the midst of so many fun-beautiful-exciting-adventurous moments in my life, even when he was alive, I would think, I’ve got to take my dad here. He would really love and appreciate this! We shared a passion for so many of life’s greatest, simplest pleasures.

As we were walking back across the string-lit bridge, I was telling Ryan how much I wish my dad was here to do things like this. To have a beer and enjoy the best of this life. To see his admiration and share in his well-deserved happiness. To return his love for me by sharing in life with him. I miss him so much.

In perfect synchronicity, Ryan looked down to see that someone had etched the words “wish you were here” into the concrete. I love when the universe matches on the outside how I feel on the inside. It makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.

Of All The Things

Of all the things I want to tell him.

All the places I want to go with him.

All the memories I want to reminisce about.

All the questions I want to ask him.

All the Sunday breakfasts I want to eat with him.

Of all the things,

the thing I want to do most,

A thousand times a day, everyday,

Is to say THANK YOU.