Friday, May 23, 2014

Grief and other words

Hello, you. I'm really sorry about not writing. I have a couple of posts that I wrote, and I didn't publish. I have had quite the year- 2014 has been interesting and challenging. It seems strange to refer to this year as passing so quickly, yet it has. And, there has been great joy and great sadness. I haven't put my feelings on my blog- probably because I wasn't ready and also because I feel like this process is something that I'm really struggling.

Let me say this. I feel like I should write  a book. I feel like I have a wonderful testament to someone who has to be alone dealing with the death of a parent. And, I don't mean that I don't have support, but I do feel as though I am the single only person who feels waves of grief with few people to talk to. The most interesting part of this is that I have found the most comfort in the most unlikely of places.   I should say: My dad died from pancreatic cancer 4 months after being diagnosed.  It was so swift- there aren't words to describe some of the feelings of the few days I had left to call, talk, and see my dad. A really unfortunate thing that people don't talk about is how, no matter the scenario, you'll feel some guilt. And, your mind will replay the last day over, over, over, over, and over again.
No matter how other people think you did- or think you are doing- it's just you, alone, to deal with your feelings.  And, after the funeral, let me tell you is even more. 

I do feel that my dad, Barry Evan Sterling, was an amazing person (really! I'm sure every daughter does who has a good relationship with their dad.) since his life was so interesting. My dad was born in Washington, D.C. and his parents divorced. He has an older brother, and my dad was in Maryland until he was 17 when my uncle who went to University of Memphis came to get him. He was skipping school- going to museums and being with his girlfriend. Ultimately, he left Maryland and came to Memphis and graduated from Messick high school in Memphis. He later left and started college at Mississippi College, but he didn't finish there. My dad went into the army, and did especially well there. He returned to Memphis and he and my uncle started the Sterling Realtors Company where they had a hand in nearly all real estate  through the 1970's. They were a power-house together- both my uncle and my dad were in the multi-million dollar real estate sales club, and they were successful in the Tennessee Legislature. My dad overtook the chair in the legislature that my uncle had preceded for four terms. He held the seat for 3 terms. And in that time, he was also nominated and served as a delegate for the Constitutional Convention where he traveled to Europe and I'm assuming discussed world politics and such.

There's a story behind this part of his life, that I'm not very educated. My dad had a first wife, adopted a son, and also travelled back and forth to Nashville often during this time. The in's and out's, I'm mostly unaware, but I do know that my dad loved the family life which I will discuss more later.

In the 1980's, my dad dated and eventually married and met my mother. Prior to this, he had a relationship who would be the love of his life (hindsight is 20/20.), and he maintained a relationship with this woman til the very end. They didn't marry for several reasons, but children being one of those reasons. And, without this marriage to my mom, I wouldn't have been the daughter to an amazing human. 

My first memories are in Williston at our house on Ebenezer Loop. It was called Deja Vu.  My dad was the stay-at- home parent, and I don't remember much of my life without him. They built an addition to this old home. My grandmother (Helen who passed last Feb) lived right next door, and my mother's parents lived about 10 minutes from our home.  This homestead was seemingly a beautiful home and he created it the way he liked it. He would do this one other time, but Deja Vu was the home of a lifetime. We had a garden, a beautiful back porch. A gazebo, horses and cows, and even a cupola.  My childhood was good there. My dad started a Christian radio station in Somerville, and I spent the house after pre-school dancing there. It's no longer there, but it was where the Somerville bank and trust is on the square in Somerville now.  My dad drove his 1980 Chevrolet custom deluxe truck my entire life- as long as it wasn't being worked on.

This truck is seriously a tank. My brother and my dad would drive down Ebenezer Loop- my brother hanging on the step-side jumping off to get trash.  And, eventually, I would do the same. I thought it was so cool. She was "Brown Betty," and Dad would come pick me up at school in it, and I would be almost mortified. Also, we took a trip to St. Louis in it, in one day, and those were the times where gas was $.75. We went to the arch and to the Anheuser Busch brewery.  We didn't get home until so late, but looking back, he loved that day. We would visit Arkansas in it, and drive around Memphis. For my graduation from high school, my dad gave me the truck, and on my way home, something happened. I didn't make it home. But it was sweet!  Eventually, I returned it back to Dad, and he continued to use it.  It never was very far away- and my dad bought it brand new from the dealership with the options he wanted. No electric windows... three in the tree, etc.  Now, it's part of me and it's just a reminder of all of the daily tasks he did.

As I grew up, we had our outs, but having my dad's relationship was very valuable. When I was a senior in college, I would invite Dad to our apartment where I would make a lunch or Sunday afternoon dinner. He enjoyed it.  When I moved to Wyoming, I called Dad as much as I could.  It was pretty much his idea from the beginning to work at a National park. And, I know he wasn't always glad I was so far away, I know he was glad to hear about my adventures.  My experience with travel was always with him -significant travel anyway. In sixth grade, we went to Paris and New York City.  Earlier that that, we went to Washington, DC. My love of travel was ignited by these trips
and it hasn't ceased to exist.

Before my teaching stent in Chile, my dad and I had date nights on Friday nights during my 3 months at home. And, for me, this is one of my best memories. My dad was a fantastic cook, and I begged him to make me meals. I think I made one at that time, and he wasn't impressed. He often critiqued my cooking, but he was a gourmet. I'm talking so good. I'll miss that a lot.

We had some awesome times here in St. Louis too. He came to see my first apartment here, and my first house.  He walked me down the isle and gave me away. Last summer, He drove Ryan and I to my sister-in-law's house in Searcy, Arkansas. And, my father celebrated his 70th birthday here in my house in St. Louis.

In a nutshell, quick version, this is how we spent our short time. My dad was 41 when he had me, and looking at it now, it seems so short. This is hard for me to say: I could have gone another decade with my dad. I called my Dad every day for the last four months, and some days, there were no words. Just checking in- there would be times I wouldn't know he was in the hospital. I could hear in his voice sometimes that he was hurting. I spent three weeks in Memphis in  February, and he was pretty sick. Dad was in the hospital for a few days, and I was so sick with this pregnancy. We had some nice talks and Ryan spent some time with him.

I asked my dad about this job offer that I had, and I didn't realize it  then. But, it would be the last advice I would ask him for. And, of course, I'm glad I did. My dad entered the hospital on Apr. 5, and I didn't get to talk to him for days. It was excruciating, and just hearing his voice a few days later- I wept with gladness.  I would come down thru Memphis, the next Saturday and we would spend some hours talking and hugging. Our last photo would be taken this weekend. 

My dad had a stent place in January from his pancreas to his liver. A duct was blocked causing jaundice and pain. This is when they fully discovered the mass in the pancreas that metastasized to the liver. During our visit this Saturday in April, it was found that the stent has caused sepsis, and either we could elect to replace the stent or not. My dad elected it, and it was an unsuccessful procedure. The cancer was so overgrown they couldn't reach the location of the stent. And, this was the beginning of the end. My dad seemed fine with the decision to do the procedure, and gave me peace about us continuing on the trip to Gulf Shores. So we went... and came back early.

This next part is hard for me to write- because it's a life. And, I made decisions about life. I knew what Dad wanted.  After the unsuccessful procedure, my dad's kidneys stopped functioning correctly. His lungs started filling up with fluid. As soon as I heard this, we came to Memphis to the hospital. When I got there, I couldn't rouse my dad. I spoke to him and held his hand- then a wonderful nurse woke him up.  And, then, I cried.

I gave the ultimate news, that he would be going to see the Lord. (let me say this now, going through this without knowing Jesus, and the Lord, for me would have been impossible.) I told him I wasn't ready to say good-bye.  And, he said, "You don't have to."  The next day, I would talk to the doctors, who really aren't that helpful- and told them just to make him comfortable.  That afternoon he went on the palliative care floor. His voice continued to wither and he only wanted to drink apple juice.  That evening, Adam and I went to visit, and he gave some last pieces of advice.  Adam and I went to Good Friday service, were I was so sad.

At six am the next morning, I got up, bought some apple juice, and went to the hospital. I held his hand in the quiet eerie room, shook him to try to rouse him, and he looked at me for the last time. He wasn't able to communicate. His skin hot, and his mouth open gasping for air, I kissed him and hugged him. I spoke with the nurse, and I went outside. I sat in my car, praying out loud to God. My Lord was with me, his presence in the car with me. And, God answered my prayer. He took my dad 45 minutes later.

And, it was the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. The next week I would speak at his funeral, and I would learn about many people who loved Dad and he loved. 

It's been a month, and things kind of fall off.  People move on, and things get easier, but I still miss him. Grief is a very powerful emotion, but I want to write this. I can't explain to you how important love is, and how love can overcome anything. The love that I felt from my dad is something that is special. And, if you can, show an amazing love to those you love. Life is so short, and we seems to forget that.  As for a parent, you are an extension of them.  Remember that they aren't perfect, but now, being a parent, they love you so much. Even if they aren't perfect.... just know that they love you. And, show them you love them. If there is hurt or pain, forgive, forgive, forgive.  Love can heal all wounds.

This is for you, Dad.

1 comment:

Katy Simmons-Carroll said...

Thank you for sharing, Britain. It's good to hear your voice and know a little about your father. I'll be praying for your sweet family.