In the least morbid way possible, I had plans for the 5th anniversary of my father in law’s death. Not like ‘wahoo here it comes plans’, but I wanted to do something to commemorate. We were going to go out to dinner, or maybe to the beach. Mainly my goal was to spend some time just not being sad. I wanted to make my husband laugh and smile. It seemed like the perfect way to remember dad. I can say a lot of good things about him, but high among them is that he was constantly laughing. His bad moods were few and far between and especially when the family was together he was always quick with a smile.
True to brand for my life, things did not go according to plan.
You know that superstition that bad things come in threes? It’s entirely untrue but I can see the validity of the leading thought. Whether it’s a coincidence or because you’re already primed to see things as bad is debatable, but it often feels that when it rains, it pours. At this already hard time of year, perhaps we were primed for more badness, but regardless of the context, my husbands Lolo (Filipino term for grandfather, there’s your learning for the day) was recently in a car accident. His health hasn’t been great in a while and as I’m sure even the least health literate among us can understand... the car accident didn’t make it better.
Nick hasn’t seen Lolo in years and certainly hasn’t gotten to say a true goodbye. Thanks to the Army, we have celebrated many holidays, birthdays and anniversaries away from family and away from each other. My list of grievances is long (as is that of any service member), however this one time, in a very big way, the Army came through for us. With only 24 hours notice that Lolo has made his peace with passing and the unspoken expectation that it will not take long, Nick was able to get leave approved to go to an unstable region, halfway around the world, to see his grandfather.
So, rather than relaxing at the beach or eating a commemorative dinner, we spent the anniversary of Dad’s death running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Nick, busy doing paperwork and trainings and clearing security. Me, booking tickets, coordinating travel, buying plane snacks, and desperately trying to convince just one ATM on this island to give me cash from my well stocked yet apparently inaccessible checking account. (Lester, from Chase, says it’s definitely on my end for whatever that’s worth).
I know Dad is proud of Nick and it’s easy to see why. He’s accomplished and driven; He’s a board certified anesthesiologist and he’s a Captain in the US Army. These would make any father glow. But I also know dad, and he has reasons better than these that make him proud. His son has followed in his footsteps of showing up: being there for the people you love even when it’s exhausting, impractical or expensive. Dad showed us that of any legacy we leave, loving others is second only to loving God and that these two go hand in hand. He also taught us that nothing is more important than family and I genuinely believe we honored him well, in scrambling to get our lives together to get Nick where he needed to be: standing next to his mom and spending some time with his Lolo.
Lolo has had a good long life. He is well accomplished, well traveled and esteemed. He has stories on stories from times I have only read about in history books and from a culture completely foreign to me. He is the patriarch of six very different children who live miles (and sometimes even continents) apart and still come together more than any extended family I know. That love and bond has spread to his children’s spouses as new members were added to the six pack. It has continued to grow to include thirteen grandchildren and even four great grandchildren. We would be hard pressed (literally) to fit all of this family into one room (and you know that room would be LOUD) and that doesn’t even begin to cover the number of people who would like to be at his side, thanking him for all he has done for them.
I want to acknowledge the sacrifices he made in moving to the US. It takes a kind of strength that I cannot begin to fathom to uproot your entire family and take them to a place where they don’t know the language, customs or culture and watch them start over. Now that I have children of my own, I understand even more how hard it is to watch them struggle- even when it benefits them. I’m sure Lolo had the same concerns, the same fear and the same obstacles that his children faced in a new life... but he looked beyond all of that on a leap of faith that this would be better for them, and boy was he ever right. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that my children wouldn’t be here today had he not made that jump.
How do you honor that? How do I tell him that in some way he was responsible for three of my greatest sources of joy (Aloiya, Lincoln and also counting Nick... I am not pregnant for those of you conspiracy theorists out there).
Lolo, I hope that Nick can read some of this to you. I want you to know how thankful I am, for you, for your life and your sacrifices that have trickled down to all of us that by blood or law or even just love that can consider ourselves a part of the Conol clan. I wish I could be there to do an amin and give you a hug. I remember all those years ago when Nick first taught me how to do an amin the proper way, being terrified to offend you by doing it wrong. How silly I feel now knowing that I didn’t need to worry, how quickly I was welcomed into your family had nothing to do with my limited understanding of Filipino customs. You should know that we have taught Allie how to amin her elders and will do the same with Lincoln. They will know where they came from and the importance of respect for their elders, those who have gone before and cleared the path for us. Those who have carried us here. I hope that this makes you smile.
The busy work necessary to get nick to wheels up was a welcome distraction from the nagging thought that I was going to be alone for two weeks. Yes, not truly alone, I remember that I have children, but for those of you out there offering them up as tribute for my moral support, I encourage you to do 30 rounds of “what happened?” with Allie and then we can talk about how supported you feel. Motherhood at this stage is monotonous and exhausting. It can be joyful and is fun and I would not trade it for the world but it is hard work. Someone is always crying (yes, it is often me), someone is always in need of attention, someone is teething, someone needs to poop on the potty.
Not only alone for two weeks, but alone for two weeks spanning one of my son’s first holidays... and the beginning of the Christmas season, formerly one of my favorite times of year. Honestly, there were many more and darker thoughts than that. I will spare you all my darkness. These thoughts don’t deserve the heartache it takes to type them out and make them public. And I’m certainly not ready to defend them, to make everyone understand that I don’t choose them and can’t stop them. They aren’t logical, they don’t make sense and I am doing my best. The end.
It was disconcerting to think that the person holding my hand as I fight these battles wouldn’t be here. He has his plate full and does not need further weight on his shoulders. He is not my only help or my only way out of the darkness, but others I can always rely on are also currently elsewhere – where they need to be. When it comes down to it, right now, I’m alone.
Here’s the thing though.
1. I’m not. I’ve got people around the world who I love dearly and who, I know, have my back.
2. I can do hard things. It is easy for me to believe the voice in my mind that tells me that I can’t. That I’m too weak, too small to change things. That I’m not good enough or strong enough or patient enough to be a mother. That I quit residency when the going got tough. That I throw in the towel when things get hard. That giving up is who I am. (For as much as I get down on myself about that one decision, that I sometimes feel like I took the easy way out, I have never had to defend a single decision more in my entire life, and my position has not wavered: I made the choice I needed to make and to get me to where I am today.)
There is always something to be thankful for, and I know without a doubt that I have more than my fair share.
I have two tiny humans here to cuddle and squeeze and remind me how important it is to be present and how beauty is found in the most simple moments. They remind me that I have purpose even when I feel useless.
I have a circle of people, and granted my circle may be small, but my circle consists of the best people I could ever hope for. They build me up, listen to my struggles and remind me again and again that I am good enough. It must be exhausting to have the same conversation every time I spiral, but they do it nonetheless. You know who you are. Please know how much you mean to me, you all are the reason I know I’m not alone.
I have a dog who smells horrible, but gets me out of the house when I don’t even want to leave my bed. (Granted, we are off to a rocky start as I got myself locked in my house last night… but forty five minutes with a crowbar, a facetime moral supporter and a lot of expletives later, I have a newfound appreciation for freedom and also am in need of a new screen door).
I have a foster fish in a tiny tank (who is doing swimmingly, I might add) to remind me that my world could be much smaller.
I have food to eat, clean water to drink, a warm and comfortable (albeit on one occasion centipede infested) bed to sleep in.
I have air to breathe, legs to run and eyes to appreciate the beauty around me (and after 7PM to watch all the Netflix I want).
I have so much and I have been unbelievably blessed. I am thankful for it all. I am thankful, simply, to be alive.