Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When 'What if' Consumes You (Pt. 2)

I have been reaching out to my old high school friends and some of my past relationships in hopes that they might shed some light on what I was like the first couple of years. Some bring up things that I didn’t even know happened.

After the first week, one of my best friends since childhood took an entire week of school off because she didn’t want me to be alone.

Our neighbors, who are more like family, told me that I couldn’t fall asleep without a lot of people around me. 

Sleeping is probably the only thing I can recall. 

I am still in the process of understanding who I was then because I genuinely believe it will heal some of the issues I deal with today. 

I have become a worrier. 

It is also sometimes quite difficult for me to open up to people I do not know. This used to be very different for me. 

But the best one (in my opinion) is that I have anxiety about what I will do if something happens to the other people I care about and love deeply.

I remember who I was before Howard died. I remember how carefree and happy I was. I remember I didn’t have to worry about anything because I had a strong support system.

When Howard died, my whole family fell apart.

Written: 1.31.17

When 'What if' Consumes You (Pt. 1)

When I ask people what I was like 3 years ago when Howard’s death was still fresh, the most common description I am told is that I was ‘alive', but I was 'not living.’

I remember looming from place to place, having conversations that I don't remember, holding everything close to prevent more uncertainty. 

I suppose I was trying to keep everything else in my life the same.  I didn't want anything else to change. 

I was mad at change. 

I know now that change is something that is inevitable, but I remember thinking that. I remember feeling like I was dropped into some parallel universe that fed on chaos and sorrow. 

Was Howard’s death some form of punishment?

 I was constantly asking myself rhetorical questions like “What did you do to make this happen?” or “Did you do everything that you possibly could have that day?”

These were questions that ate me alive for years. When I dared myself to think of the day he died, I would ask myself impossible 'what ifs' such as:

What if I called the police faster?

What if I went outside to help him cut down the trees?

What if I asked him to stay inside?

What if I didn't go to work that day?

What if that Sunday the weather wasn't so nice, would he still have done it? 

What if I could have stopped it?

Written: 1.31.17            

Letters to My Father (12.1.15)

Dear Dad,

Today marks 2 years since you died.

I know that you might think it would be silly of me to write you like this, but at the same time I don’t really talk to anyone about what happened to you that day.

In fact, I don’t really speak at all about it.

Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me. I can feel everyone in the family wondering why I don’t talk about you. They wonder why I don’t cry. 

But I don’t mind telling you that I am scared to. I’m scared if I go there, if I relive that day that I won’t be able to pull myself out of it.

I remember what feeling nothing felt like. I remember what showing up and hiding my pain behind a façade to not upset anyone felt like. 

I don't want to do that. 

I don't want to not feel anything anymore. 

Written: (12.1.15)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

I Didn't Cry About It

The first week after Howard died I lost around 10 pounds. My grandmother had moved in and was cooking for mom and me for almost every meal.

If we ate it was only a couple of bites. 

My aunt and uncle from Texas came up to help, and our friends and neighbors were constantly bringing in these wooden care baskets full of food that seemed endless.

Mom couldn't sleep by herself. I couldn't sleep by myself.

Mom cried everyday. I held her everyday.

I didn't cry about it. 

A few weeks later I had a dream about Howard.

In the dream I woke up and it felt like the untouched quiet that usually swept over the house on an early Saturday morning.

I could smell some food cooking in the kitchen. When I rounded the corner of the hallway I saw Howard standing over the gas-stove making breakfast.

I ran towards him and I hugged him as tightly as I could.

"Howard, I had the most awful dream in the world," I said to him.

He turned to me looking confused and asked, "What happened?"

"You died and everyone was coming over giving us all of these things that we didn't know what to do with. It was so awful," I said.

Howard looked at me and paused. His face still held a slight frown. He sighed and put down the spatula he'd been holding.

"Kateleigh, that was not a dream. You are dreaming right now. You are in the living room sleeping. I am here to tell you that I am okay. Everything is going to be okay," He said.

I stared at him, disoriented. This felt real. I had hugged him. I felt like I had all my senses. He was real.

"No. No that was a dream. You're right there," I said.

"Tell everyone I'm okay. Tell your mom I love her," He said.

All of a sudden I was thrown back and I woke up to find myself on the couch in the living room, my pillow was stained from tears.

That was the first time I cried about it.

Written: 12.17.16

Why the Death Stigma?

I took a class at UCO called "Psychology of Grief" during my junior year, Spring 2016. When I signed up for it I wasn't sure what to expect.

I thought, 'maybe we will talk about how to grieve properly, maybe this could help me.'

At that point in time I had become aware that it was my time to start looking inwardly on what I needed to do to confront all of these things that I still couldn't bear to think of.

Mom was doing better. She had a new job and was involved with groups that helped her talk to other widows. 

I, on the other hand, realized I was still using phrases like, 'My dad is gone' or 'He isn't here anymore' instead of calling it face value of what it was.

He was dead.

I remember in class when we talked about the euphemisms that are used to say the word 'dead' or 'death' or 'dying.'

Here are a few just to jog some memories:

  • Gone
  • In heaven now
  • Isn't here
  • Pushing up daises
  • At peace
  • At rest
  • Bite the dust
  • fading away

The list really does go on. I remember in class that it almost felt painful to say that my father was 'dead' instead of saying 'gone.' But why?

Was it a cultural thing?

Howard clearly didn't mind bringing up the subject of death. He always said it was just another natural part of life.

But knowing that and accepting it to be just the kind of person he was, was and still is two different tasks.

I still had questions.

Even though Howard seemed to have accepted death, was he still scared of it? Also, why do some cultures celebrate the end of life while others don't talk about it at all? Why are we scared to talk about death with our families? Am I scared to die?

All of these questions that I have posed have gone unanswered. Perhaps there isn't just one answer. But at least it might get the conversation going.

All I know is this... I don't know what we would have done if Howard hadn't sat us down and told us verbatim what he wanted when he died. I know I would have wanted to honor him the way he wanted.

And luckily that is what we were able to do. 

Written 1.24.17

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Letters to My Father (12.25.13)

Dear Dad,

Today feels so incomplete without you. There are no words for this kind of sadness. There is absolutely nothing at all. 

Written: 12.25.13 (24 days after my father died) 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Avoiding the 'Death' Talk

There were a couple of moments before my dad died that he would talk about what he wanted to happen after he died.

He told me he wanted to be cremated and that he was adamant about not being displayed in an open casket in front of friends and family.

He would say he wanted people to remember him alive, not dead.

Three weeks before he died, he started talking about his death again. I didn't particularly enjoy talking about what would happen after he died, but this time I humored his discussion.

Howard said that after he was cremated he wanted some of us in the family to scatter his ashes across the world. He said he would rather be in many places than just in the ground in the middle of Oklahoma.

I remember thinking how unique this concept was. It got me thinking about what I wanted to happen to me after I died and why I felt so odd talking about it.

I joked with him that I promised I would scatter his ashes anywhere I went, but I was only going to as an excuse to see the world.

He smiled back at me and said that was fine with him, that I needed to see the world.

Now my father's ashes are in Oklahoma, New York, Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We take him on our vacations in tiny carry-on containers.

Mom says that she likes to know that whenever we travel we have him with us. Howard and Mom were supposed to start traveling again after I graduated high school.

Now we all travel in memory of him. 

Written: 1.24.17

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Letters to My Father (5.17.14)

Dear Dad,

You will miss my high school graduation today.

I will sit in the rows of other excited seniors who are wondering what their futures will be like and I will wish that you were here.

I always wish you were here. I suppose that is not a secret. I sometimes can’t bear the rush of inevitable sadness that shows its face when I least expect it.

I’m only 18 but I feel so much older. I’ve changed in so many ways that I didn’t think I could. I don’t talk my head off, as you said I do. I don’t go out with my friends to the bookstore or to see a movie like I usually do.  

I am sitting here, wishing that this day would be over so I don’t have to feel sad about it anymore. I wonder if there are others that will be graduating today that are missing one of their parents. Sometimes it’s comforting to think that I am not alone in this loss.

I need your advice. I need you to be here for Mom. I need you to tell my brother that when people told him “you’re the man of the house now” that he doesn’t need to take care of us like you did.

Why did they say that to Caleb at your memorial service? Don’t they know how insensitive that type of comment is? I could see how scared Caleb was when they said that to him. 

He doesn’t talk about you. I think he blames himself for getting to the house late that day.  Instead he drowns himself in his college classes.

Mom has lost 20 pounds since you died. I’m scared she isn’t eating.  I’ve taken up your role of making dinner, even though I don’t know how to cook as well as you did. I promised you that day at your memorial service when everyone left and I was alone staring at your picture that I was going to take care of her.

I know many people would probably disagree with what I’m about to say, but I remember standing there after your memorial service, when mom was out of the room thanking people for coming that I felt you around.

“I promise I’ll take care of her. You have my word,” I said.

I felt goose bumps on my arms.  I hoped it was you. You would’ve liked your memorial service, I think.   

So I guess wish me luck wherever you are. I’m praying I don’t trip and fall when I walk up the steps. You know how clumsy I am.

I miss you.

Written: 5.17.14

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Flower Child

Chinese Pistache Tree. Photo provided by Flickr

My grandmother once told me she thought I came from Mother Nature, herself. She told me when I was around 3 or 4 she found me sitting down in her driveway during a northern downpour that Oklahoma City gets every now and then.  

She told me I was looking up and my arms reached towards the sky, like I was welcoming something. When I came in completely soaked to the bone she gave me a big smile.

       “What were you doing out there?” She said she asked.  
       “Saying hello,” I said.
       “To whom, dearest?” She asked.
       “To the raindrops.”

When I was 9 I thought I could talk to trees. Mom had married my stepfather, Howard. I was the flower girl at their wedding but my grandmother called me flower child instead.

Mom and Howard dated for 5 years because he wanted to make sure my brother Caleb and I liked him. We moved into a house in the middle of the woods.

I used to sit outside during summer nights and talk to the trees as fireflies glowed and crickets talked to each other. 

Howard would sometimes come find me outside before it got too dark. He would sit there and listen to me ramble. He would listen as I told him I found a foxhole in the woods. He would listen as I told him I planted some flowers by the pond. He would listen until I grew drowsy and I wanted to go inside.

He was my father. He loved my brother and me. He took care of us. Mom told me after he died that she would tell him how much he changed our lives for the better. 

      “It is not just your lives that have changed, but mine as well,” He said.

We were happy. We lived and loved until we didn’t anymore. 

We planted a Chinese Pistache tree for him after he died. I sometimes go out and talk to him by the tree when I feel lost.  I suppose I haven’t lost that habit just yet. 

Written: 1.12.16

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Welcome to 'Reaching for Eudaimonia'


My name is Kateleigh. This is my first attempt at a writing and maintaining a blog.
The first question you may ask is: why is your blog titled ‘Reaching for Eudaimonia’?

Eudaimonia is a Greek word that was meant to be synonymous to happiness or contentment. Currently it is often meant to refer to reaching a state of human flourishing.

The word has since been Anglicized to ‘eudemonia,’ but I purposely kept it at the original.  I believe that we always carry some resemblance to what we have been in the past, which is a very big aspect of the content that will be on this blog.
So am I at my personal eudaimonia? Not even close.

That is not to say that I don’t have moments of happiness. But if I am speaking truthfully, most of the time I am still reeling from an unexpected tragedy that happened over three years ago to my family.

My father died when I was a senior in high school. He died on a Sunday. It was 17 days after his 59th birthday and 10 days after my 18th birthday.

This blog will have some content that might be hard to read. I will share some letters I wrote to my father over the past three years as well as some of my favorite memories of him.  I will eventually work myself up to talking about that day… the day he died.

What I hope to accomplish from this blog is to reach out to people who have had similar tragedies in their lives and to let them know they aren’t alone. I haven't come across too many blogs that deal with younger adults losing a parent, so maybe this could help someone.

I also do not think I can do this blog in chronological order (that is start when he died and move to where I am now).  This blog will be flipping back and forth between now and the past. Because of that decision, I will put the dates of when something was written at the bottom of each post. 

Welcome to my journey of ‘Reaching for Eudaimonia.’