Who You Are Now

Whenever I get moving a little too quickly during bedtime routine,
Coura demands that I “brush her hair like Poppi did”.  She remembers me sharing how you would gently take the brush around the curve of our ears as we sat in front of you watching Sports Center. 
Maisley tells me that you painted the sky during a perfect sunset.
You are a  bedtime story, 
and an urban legend.
You’re the passenger in my truck and a runner right beside me. 
The brightest star in the Big Dipper. 
You are so present in Mara’s eyes that I sometimes have to look away. 
You are everything human and everything spirit.
Your humanness is undeniable when I see your collared shirt still hanging in mom’s closet. 
Other times it’s your spirit that wins over like when I ask you for some help right before trying to fix a bike ailment, and you deliver right away in intuition. 
You’re a verb; can you “Poppi” this orange for me?
A sturdy, evolving, life-giving tree at Balboa Park.
I crossed my arms over my chest in yoga and gave my shoulders a hug. Instantly I felt you in the comforting grip of my hands. 
When I feel doubtful or down,
I remember,
I am Jeff Loftus’ daughter. 
That’s always who I am. 

Poppi Stories

Every night before bed, Maisley and Coura want to hear stories from when I was younger. I often tell Poppi stories because they make me happy and keep him alive in their tiny worlds. When this one came to me tonight, l desperately wanted to call him and reminisce, so instead I’m writing it here. 

I remember so vividly that winter in June when my Dadio came to Sydney “on holiday”. We had been planning and emailing and using my calling card (!) to schedule our time together. I was so happy to have him there after surviving my first two months alone in a new country. Being around my dad was like being around the best version of myself. Does that even make sense?

We traveled seamlessly together; always on the same page. Happy and carefree vacation life suited my hardworking and responsible Dad.  I loved the way he would kick back in his chair with a beer in his hand and say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, huh Jen?”

The day he arrived we promptly hit the thrift shop after he saw my TV sitting on the floor. He also wondered how I heated up my food. We found a small TV stand and a white microwave, shoved them into a cab and suddenly my little studio felt more like a home. Such a classic Dad move. 

We had a lot of memories from our time together, but one of my favorites was our trip to the Blue Mountains. Dadio and I both loved mountain biking so I figured a personalized biking excursion would be the perfect outing. We sat three across in an old pickup style truck for the 2.5 hour ride west of Sydney, with a real genuine Aussie mate named Steve, as our driver and tour guide. I just remember he talked a lot while my dad and I mostly asked questions and looked out the window or at each other for a funny side smile. 

When we arrived at our trail, our legs were already a little stiff from the long drive. We jumped on to test out our joy rides and immediately felt the weight of the extra heavy aluminum frames. The trail that Steve chose was this irritating up and down path that was just hard enough to not be enjoyable. Plus, we didn’t even see the Blue Mountains? Ice had unexpectedly accumulated throughout the trail and the temperature was far below comfortable. Needless to say we were exhausted after our two hour ride. Good thing Steve promised and raved about a delicious lunch he would be providing! Steve, a robust Aussie man, brought us each a single, measly spring roll from his favorite Vietnamese place. I feel stuffed just thinking about it.

Read the room, Steve! 

We headed back to Sydney feeling cold, hungry and with miles of memories stashed away to laugh about later.    

To this day, I can’t help, but smile. We laughed about that little trek a hundred times over (once it was over). Sometimes the “worst” moments are our best memories. 

In Loving Memory

The sting of seeing your photo still hits at odd times
How did that frame become the closest my eyes will get to seeing you again?
How did your name become something to memorialize rather than someone to call when my B.O.B. tire goes flat?

We read the names and tributes on the benches at the beach:
An awesome guy, friend and brother
A gentle soul
Save some waves for me

Maisley asks what the dates mean.
She always asks questions about Heaven and, “Will you go?”
I tell her not for a long time and meagerly convince both of us that I’m in control.
“Do they wear masks in heaven?” she asks.

I was setting up some essentials for baby Orkie in the casita of our 672-square foot Airbnb and felt a deep longing for you. A remembering that this tiny soul is in the “after you” part of our timeline.
I cried because I missed you. I cried because I’m so tired from carrying a human, and trying to be a human, and also raising other humans.
Every time I cry, Maisley and Coura sweetly ask, “Mommy, do you miss Poppi?”
Even when it’s not about you, it’s about you.
Every triumph and every sadness is layered in you.

Meesh got a beautiful tattoo that included your classic handwritten sign off – love ya.
I kept imagining you saying, “Had I known it would be on your body forever I probably would have tried a little harder!”
Even your chicken scratch is worthy of a permanent place with us.

Your very own bench is coming soon. Overlooking the golf course that holds our post-dinner frisbee and football throws. Much to your humble dismay, we’d cover every inch of that bench in your praise if we could, but they capped us at 24 characters.

In loving memory of Jeff Loftus
Husband, Dadio, Poppi, Friend
Loving soul, humble heart

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.

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.

First Impressions

When I first saw her she was all stick and bones.
Her thin trunk, merely the keeper of weathered branches.
Had she just lost everything or was she just about to bloom?
I couldn’t see her whole story, I just knew she had one.
She didn’t seem worried, confident it was just a season; fruitful days ahead.
Unattached to what she had lost or what was to come.
Rooted in abundance.
When I first saw her I longed for greenery to cover her naked limbs.
Then a bright yellow finch stopped by to relax on her narrow branch.
Stubbornly alive and whole she was.
And always is.
Nothing is wasted in the resting place.

Christmas Present

As I was on my usual walk through the eucalyptus trees, I noticed an abandoned play structure in a backyard, overgrown with weeds and sticks and leaves. It made me think about that family whose kids are now running around soccer fields, texting their friends and rolling their eyes at the people who gave them life. The once beloved play structure now just a keeper of memories from the wonder years, a symbol of time flying by.

This time of year always makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. I get paralyzed by the fast pace and overwhelm. Instead of embracing it, I want to run away. Every year we end the holiday season saying, “We’re not doing that again!”. Our hearts begging for boundaries and for us to take control of our time. 

I’ve been feeling a little down since Thanksgiving, tired and ready for life to slow down or for me to catch up. This year is especially off since the holidays are highlighting the alternate universe we are living in, the one where my dad wasn’t the one to put up our Christmas lights or straighten the tree. The one where he’s not sitting in his office, leaning back in his chair and enjoying the extra-hot chai tea latte we surprised him with. 

While making Christmas traditions with our kids this year, I am remembering all of the magical seasons of my childhood. Shopping for a tree with my dad, carefully mounting Rudolph on the second story, and making candy cane shaped cookies with my mom. As I pause to remember more clearly, I can also see us shoving the tree through the front door with my dad covered in sap as he sneezed uncontrollably from allergies. Oh and the time he fell off the ladder right in front of me. Or how mad my mom would get when our candy cane cookies looked more like penises (who am I kidding, we are still not mature enough to make normal candy cane cookies). 

Memories are funny that way, often shinier than they were in the moment. The reason older women always tell you to enjoy every second with your precious babies. (I will never be one of those women.) 

If things are going to look better than they really are a few years down the line, I might as well lighten up a bit. Lessen the expectations I carry around like a scarlet letter on an ugly Christmas sweater. What if the biggest boundaries I need to set are within myself, changing my perspective and doing some good old fashioned positive thinking with a sprinkle of gratitude. Give equal air time to the good things and not just focus on the challenging. 

In this moment, my babies are just two slippery, delicious butter balls in the bathtub. When that tub and these years become just a flash of memories, what will I remember?

Birth and Death, Breath by Breath

My knees met the floor at the side of my bed in desperation, exhaustion. Ironically, the same place I bowed down to birth, I found myself surrendering to grief.

In anger and tears, I had lost all strength. The pain was too much.

As time recklessly and graciously ticked on, the swell passed.

When I got to my feet, I was surprised to uncover that giving birth had taught me how to survive grief. 



As goes birth so does death,
breath by breath. 

Waves of intensity build to a first breath,
from a last.

Every swell comes crashing with a purpose.
Feel it, don’t fear it.
Welcome it, don’t fight it.
Dance to it, flow with it and let it move through you.

But don’t let it take you away.
Feel your feet on the ground,
your gaze on the wall,
the breath in your lungs.

Deep inhale.
Full exhale.

Determined minds present an endless Q and A:
What just happened? What’s next?
Why him? Will she ever come?

Deep Inhale.
Full exhale.

When your limit is near, the wave knowingly retreats:
Sweet relief.
Find your balance.
Brave a smile, an effortless laugh.
Reach for hope, a glass of water, connection and gratitude.

But how will I get through that intensity again?

Deep Inhale.
Full exhale.

You were made for this.
Cut from the same cloth as the sea and trees,
made to be two things at once.
Living and dying,
ebbing and flowing. 

Birth and death,
a tug-of-war of fear and hope.
Compassion, anxiety, resilience, resistance.

Tucked beneath comfort blankets and glossy eyes,
new life has unearthed.
Everything forever changed. 

What’s left? What’s next?
What’s always been:
Nothing but love.

Deep Inhale.
Full exhale.

365 Days With My Dad

On the first day you left, I opened a new google doc and titled it: “365 days without my dad”.

Every day since then you have proven me wrong.   

My gaze lingers longer than it should on the butterfly or the hummingbird.

Is it you? What are you now? More of a feeling or a moment, rather than someone I can hug and see.

My guardian angel, the person I still call on when I can’t bloody figure out how to fix something (and you always show me the way).

You’re the song on the radio that airs at the perfect time and the lyrical messages on repeat in my mind.

Through the moments of fog and low visibility, you are a chorus of crickets guiding our way. One at every turn, day and night, in the most surprising places. Capturing our attention and activating our sense of humor with that comforting, familiar chirp.

Dadio, husband, brother, “coach”, boss, neighbor, friend, son, kind stranger – even though we can’t see you with your baseball glove on or share in the satisfaction of a good car washing party, we can’t deny that you’re here. In us; in everything beautiful, funny and hopeful.

Here we are on day 366; you are still gone, yet ever here.

We are MORE and so are you in us.