A Year Later

April 8, 2017.  That’s the day Daddy left this earth.  A whole year has passed and it still feels raw and sad and emotional. 

At his funeral, I spoke on behalf of the sisters.  I didn’t write a formal eulogy and just went off of some quick notes on my phone.  Grandmama asked me for a copy of my eulogy because she liked it (and couldn’t hear it well) but I just couldn’t ever get around to writing it all down.  So, here’s my best approximation of how it went, one year ago. 

I’m Sara Jane, Charlie’s middle daughter. I was elected to speak on behalf of the three of us. It’s an absolutely beautiful day today and I just know Daddy would be hot and ready to come out of his dress clothes if he was here.

The last few days have been filled with lots of tears and laughter as we tell old stories and flip through photo albums. Daddy was truly one of a kind, as I’m sure each of you would agree.

 

After spending time with my two sisters and Mama, one thing is abundantly clear: little pieces of Daddy live on in all of us. Our personalities, for better or for worse, are all shaped by his. Our quirks, hurts, weaknesses, strengths, jokes and passions all glimmer with reflections of Charlie.

His oldest, Joy, is artistic, adores animals, and when running her own business, kept her customers happy even if it meant she wasn’t making a sale – something we saw Daddy do often during his long and successful career as a salesman. Last night at his visitation, another salesman told us “Charlie was the only salesman I ever knew whose competitors threw him a retirement party.”

One thing Joy didn’t inherit was Daddy’s proclivity for taking risks.  On a camping trip one summer, Daddy opened a bottle of ginger ale without a bottle opener.  The metal cap popped him in the eye and blood squirted everywhere! In true Daddy fashion, he said, “it’ll be alright. I don’t need to go to the hospital!” Seven-year-old Joy, horrified by this, exclaimed, “I hope you have insurance!”

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Jorts and mustache courtesy of the 70s.

His youngest, Susie, is fiercely loyal, can make conversation with a brick wall, maintains friendships from childhood and values quality time above all else.

Susie and Daddy spent a lot of time together. As the only daughter even remotely interested in sports, she and Daddy traveled the state for her softball and basketball games. One weekend, while Mama and I were away with 4-H, they had a Daddy-Susie day.  He took her to Merle Norman where she got her ears pierced.  Needing a second pair of earrings for those freshly-pierced lobes, they went to Belk where, like a grown up, she chose some gold hoop earrings. They dined at Longhorn Steakhouse, followed by dessert from Baskin Robbins and picked up a dozen donuts for breakfast the next morning. Susie counts that day as one of her most favorite childhood memories.

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The adoration is mutual.

His, middlest, me, Sara Jane, inherited his predilection for making jokes, feeding people, being the center of attention, pride in a gorgeous head of hair and absolutely no patience for completing projects according to directions.

One afternoon while he was home alone, Daddy decided to trim some overgrown shrubbery.  Somehow while doing this, he cut off the tip of one of his fingers with the chain saw.  We pulled up in our minivan to a carport full of bloody paper towels, a half empty bottle of whiskey and no Daddy in sight.  When we got inside, we found him on the bathroom floor with the tip of his finger SUPERGLUED back on. He said that’s the way they’d do it in Vietnam. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard and told the story to anybody who would listen. His finger never even scarred.

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Whether you knew him as Eddie the goofy kid, Charlie the Vietnam veteran, the Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, the jokester, the chef, the animal lover, the reckless, the salesman, the neighbor, the friend, the husband, the father, Charlie left quite an impression on you and I’m sure every person in this room has a go-to Charlie story. We joked that his catchphrase was “Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen!”

I asked Mama to choose her favorite Charlie story and she told us one I hadn’t heard before. On their way to the airport for an international flight, a call came through the two-way radio provided by the Shawnee volunteer fire department. Without a second thought, Daddy rushed to the fire department, chucked off his fancy airplane clothes and put on his fire fighting equipment. As the fire truck pealed out to shoot pond water at a burning home, his brogans, left on the floor of the firehouse, were completely smashed under the tires.

As we spoke with his colleagues and customers at the visitation last night, every single one of them commented on how proud he was of each of us and how much he loved Mama. People we’d never met knew where each of us live, what we do for a living and what we’re good at. I’m so thankful that I got to know and love and be loved by this man for the past 33 years. And I’ll miss him terribly.

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What a cute bunch.
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Veterans’ Day

My Daddy fought in the Vietnam War.  He was so proud of his service, even though it left him with demons and ailments to battle for the rest of his life.  His Purple Heart and Bronze Star were framed and hung proudly in our home and were on display next to his urn after his death.

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As a veteran, he had access to medical care at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia.  He spent a lot of time there, especially in the last six months of his life and he even drew his last breath there. The CCU and Heroes’ Haven staff were so kind to him and us in those final days. Perhaps most touching of all was the Hero Walk after he died.  All of the staff stopped what they were doing to line the hallways and pay their respects as the nurses wheeled Daddy’s flag-draped bed downstairs. It was a beautiful reminder that his service to his country was not forgotten and his status as a veteran was important to them.

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We were one of the lucky families – our house is about 10 miles from a VA center.  Many vets and their families aren’t so lucky and have to travel hours sometimes for access to VA care.  When a loved one is in the hospital, the last thing you want to think about is shelling out money for a place to stay so you can be by their bedside.  That’s where the Fisher House Foundation comes in.  Similar to the Ronald McDonald House, the Fisher House offers vets’ families a place to stay near VA medical centers, completely free of charge. Additionally, the Fisher House operates the Hero Miles and Hotels for Heroes programs – using donated frequent flyer miles and hotel points to allow family members to stay near their injured vets while they’re hospitalized. The foundation also manages a scholarship program for the children and spouses of fallen and disabled veterans.

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Behind the wheel of a tank in Vietnam. 

If you’re able, I would love it if you join me in donating to the Fisher House Foundation this Veterans’ Day.  Money, miles, points and your time all help!

So many of the men we saw hospitalized at the VA were all alone.  If you know a vet, give him/her a call today.  Don’t know a vet? Check out ways to volunteer at the closest VA.

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With his Army buddies in Vietnam.

tl;dr Sry so serious. Hug a Vet today.

Some Thoughts on Grief

It’s been a week and a half since my Daddy died and grief doesn’t look at all like I expected. You know that phantom limb syndrome amputees get? It feels a lot like that. I keep thinking Daddy is just in the other room or back in the hospital temporarily. And then my stomach hits the floor and I’m gutted again when I remember he’s gone.

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Since I don’t live near my family, I had to return to normal life where reminders of him are not constant. Getting on that plane the night after his memorial service and returning to work the next day felt so wrong.  I felt like I was cheating Daddy and abandoning my memories of him.  My seatmates on the plane, the people on the Blue Line train, the commuters on my way to work – they don’t know.  How could they? But also, HOW COULD THEY?! My Daddy is gone.

I try to talk about Daddy a lot in casual conversations at work and in social settings but I can tell people are uncomfortable by how often I bring him up so they look at their shoes or change the subject.  I’m sure it’s just that they don’t know what to say but it feels stifling.  I want to talk about him! I want to remember all his funny quirks and eccentricities and hilarious things he said.  It feels so unfair to keep those things to myself.

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“Let me know if you need anything.” I’ve said it myself a hundred times.  Someone’s hurting and you offer those words.  As a griever, I’m not going to call or text you to say, “I cannot bring myself to cook or grocery shop or wash my dishes or clothes or vacuum my floor. Can you come do it for me?” Taking care of the daily mundane tasks feels overwhelming but asking someone else to do it for me seems even worse.  I know those people mean well.  I’ve been one of them and I meant it, too! But I think for friends in the future, I’ll just show up and do those things, instead of encouraging them to ask.

Grief feels so isolating. Especially when I’m far away from family and people who knew Daddy.  Having lunch with a friend, re-telling old stories – those things help.  They remind me that he isn’t forgotten. I haven’t abandoned his memory. The hurt, while still very raw, is somewhat comforting because it means that it was real. I’m sure it’ll get easier someday but that day is still very far away.

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I Thee Shed

I mentioned in the last post that I was grieving the way I’d look on my wedding day. When September 2nd rolled around, I felt incredibly beautiful.  I loved my dress, my hair, my makeup and I felt gorgeous.  (Ps. I’m posting all of the pictures with the watermark because I love our photographers and I want to advertise for them as much as possible. TKL Photography, check em.)

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But when we got the pictures back, I didn’t see the beautiful girl I knew that Friday.  I saw double chins, doughy arms and Ursula back. I felt so embarrassed that I’d had fun and felt beautiful.  There was a sense of shame and humiliation.  Like, how dare I think I looked anything other than fat?

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While I loved our pictures, I didn’t love myself in them. I mentioned this to someone and her response was this, “why do you believe the photos over your own happy memories?”

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So I went back and looked over our photos again, this time remembering how I felt in each of them instead of focusing on my flaws.  I remembered how heart-burstingly happy I was to marry the man I love, how he looked at me, how much fun our friends and family had and how we were surrounded by our nearest and dearest. And it worked! For the most part, I’m not saying I don’t still pick myself apart but now I can look at them with joy instead of shame.

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I felt happy, loved and beautiful that day and I’m not going to let my low opinion of/shame in my appearance take that away!

tl;dr Quit playin’ games with my heart

 

Grieving A Little

It happened again this morning.  While commuting to work via public transit, I noticed a kindly woman, likely in her 60s, eyeing my midsection.  She studied my shirt and then raised a finger to catch my eye.

“Would you like my seat?” She started to get up and I enthusiastically refused.

“No, thank you. I’m fine, really!”

She thought I was pregnant. Pregnant enough to be showing. Showing enough where strangers feel compelled to give up their seats. I’ve never been more thankful for a pair of sunglasses as my eyes started to sting and well up with tears.

This isn’t the first time this has happened.  It’s not the second or third, either.  It’s always a kind woman, usually middle-aged but sometimes younger.  She’ll size me up for a stop or two, then decide with certainty there must be a child in there, and offer her seat.  It hurts and humiliates me every time.

My wedding is a little over two months away.  Two months this Saturday, to be exact.  This isn’t the body I thought I’d have when I walk down the aisle.  I never dreamed as a little girl that I’d still be struggling with my weight and body image on the day when I’m supposed to feel most beautiful.  I never dreamed I’d have to pay extra for a wedding dress in my size.  This isn’t the way it was “supposed” to be.

There’s no lesson here.  No nugget of wisdom or clarity.  I’m just a little sad and grieving the loss of what I always dreamed I would look like. And I just needed to get it out of my head and onto a page.

tl;dr Unless she’s crowning, keep your seat. 

Being Consistent

I went ran* to a workout class on Saturday and it was PAINFULLY obvious how long it’s been since I truly worked out. Like worked hard and pushed myself. Pushups were next to impossible again and I couldn’t hold a low plank for more than a couple of counts. I woke up sore the next morning in that good way – the kind where you feel like you’ve truly worked all of your muscle groups and you remember you have muscles under there somewhere. It felt great but the struggle now is to keep it up. No progress will be made if I only attend workout classes once in a blue moon.

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This is my “I just had my butt whupped” face, complete with purpley-redness.

It’s SO HARD to be consistent and that’s been my struggle for my whole life. I can do the going hard and sticking it out thing for like a week and then I give in to temptation or get lax with my eating well and exercising routine. (Though it’s hard to even consider it routine after just a week!)

For me, tracking my calories and exercising are like being in AA. I have to take it one day minute at a time. After time, when the pain/annoyance of a new routine wears off, it gets a little easier but temptation never fully goes away.

I tend to fall into one of two camps:

  1. Team “I am going to do this and I am strong, I am woman, hear me roar!” I exercise consistently and eat super well and am so disciplined and then one day hit a tiny stumbling block and consume everything in sight like a crazed Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
  2. Team “What’s it going to hurt to have a bite of this or a bite of that and skip a workout or two and never actually form any new habits or routines?”

One is to fly too high, just to crash and burn. The other is never getting off the ground. So I guess that means a balance between the two is the invisible Wonder Woman plane that keeps me on the journey?

*running is so hard now. It wasn’t even a mile there and I was certain death would greet me before I arrived. So, I signed up for a 5k in two weeks to make sure I get back to it.  Nothing like a deadline to light a fire under my butt.

tl;dr Drink your Metamucil for consistency

Have You Ever Felt Like It Will Just Never Happen?

I know I do. I feel this way every time I slip up, every time I skip a work out, every time I can’t button my pants. I feel like It’ll never lose the weight, I’ll never change my ways, I’ll never stop being sorry for myself. I’ll never not be tempted by fried or junky foods and I’ll never be passionate about working out.

The annoying thing is that I have been there! I have been in a place where my body craves healthy foods over junky ones, where I enjoy working out and seeing my body change and become stronger. I just lost that motivation and slid into old habits and now I’m sitting at my desk with my skirt unzipped 3 inches because it won’t go all the way up. A skirt that was once too big. I’m so frustrated with myself for working so hard and then frittering it away.

When I started my journey, I was 234 lbs. and wore a tight size 22. I remember being shocked and horrified and I couldn’t believe it was real. I moved to Chicago and lost about 40 lbs. just out of sheer poverty. I ate eggs for every meal and walked everywhere because I couldn’t afford a bus pass. Then I got a job and started eating lunch out every day. The weight piled back on pretty quickly. Next thing I knew, I was back into size 20s and weighed 218 lbs. (218 is my “real” starting weight because that’s when I decided to consciously make an effort.) Over the course of the next 6 months, I ate really well and exercised at least 5 times a week. I ran a 10 mile race! I got down to 168 and comfy size 10. I maintained that weight for about a year, meaning to lose more but I loosened up on the reigns and let myself splurge almost every day and cut exercise back to three times a week, then two then none. I quit running. Now I’m ? lbs. (my scale batteries died but, at last check, I was at least 188) and a tight size 14. I was so close! I was within 20-25 lbs. of my goal weight and I let go. I dwell on that so often. Instead of looking at what an accomplishment it was to lose 50 lbs. and maintain for a year, I focus on the failure of gaining 20 of those lbs. back.

Before and During
Before and During

I’m going running on Saturday morning with a friend. I might not be able to even go a whole mile but I’m going to get out there. I came too far and worked too hard to just let it all slip away. So, yeah, it does feel like it will just never happen sometimes. Everything worth working for probably feels like that.  A dream job, a dream spouse, a baby.  So, despite my dismay at backsliding, I’d probably be even more dismayed if I never fought for what I want at all.