Posted by barb on Nov 24, 2011 in Family, Random Thoughts

I’ve never been a big fan of Thanksgiving. Not because I’m not thankful for things, but, I think, because a friend of mine died the Monday before Thanksgiving when I was in high school…his wake was Thanksgiving evening, funeral on Black Friday. My Dad, though, he loved Thanksgiving. It might have been his favorite holiday – at least a close second to Christmas. He loved getting whole family together.

This year has been a year of loss and stress. Most of it has not appeared on my blog yet, because it’s just been too painful. I’ve wanted to write about it, but whenever I start to think about all of it, I feel like it will overtake me.

In January I lost my Grandmother. Honestly, I didn’t grieve for her; it was her time, and she had wanted to die for years. But the loss hit me because I knew how much she meant to my Dad. In March I lost my Dad. I can’t even begin to express how much that hurt, and still hurts today. In April, just six weeks later, we lost one of our cats. After Dad, it was just too much, too much to deal with. Shortly after that, my job changed completely, and not in a good way. Things calmed down over the summer (except for not being happy with my job), but then I bought my Mom a condo because Dad had left her in a shit position for money (i.e. he left nothing, not even enough to pay for a funeral). So stressful to take on a new 30-year mortgage after researching market with help of Imbrex, and to know that I can’t just leave my job when I want to – I’m not responsible for my Mom’s housing. October…ah October. In one week, my Grandmother (my other one) was in the emergency room and taken to another hospital for possible emergency surgery (she’s fine, and didn’t end up needing the surgery); my uncle had a stroke; I turned 40; I found out the one person who makes me feel calm about my job is leaving; and another of my cats died.

It seems that it would be hard to be thankful for much this year. I know it seems trite, but I am thankful for my family and friends, for being gainfully employed (and being able to afford to buy my Mom her condo), for the best husband around (I never would have made it through this year without his support). More than all of this, though I’m thankful for two things:

Dad with his new camera

    • I’m more thankful than anyone can know that I decided to go visit my parents for Thanksgiving last year. This picture captures Dad last year on Thanksgiving Day, full of pure joy, surrounded by his family and futzing with his camera – two favorite things. And I was there with them, adding to his joy. Seeing his joy. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have seen him until his Mother’s funeral. Instead I got to see him at his happiest.


Cats in a row

  • I’m thankful that we got another year with both of my boys – Duncan and Ares. Duncan started getting sick in Fall 2009, and we found out that Ares had cancer in January 2010. I remember taking down our Christmas tree, crying while putting away the ornaments we have for each of the cats thinking that I wouldn’t get another Christmas with them. But we were able to treat both of them – Duncan with steroids and lots of small meals, Ares with chemotherapy. We struggled the whole year with Duncan, but he started to gain weight, and we constantly watched for him to tell us when and if he was ready to give up the fight. Ares went into remission in the summer of 2010, and we were optimistic that he would be with us for a long time. So, while I hoped that we would have them longer, I am thankful that we had an extra year with each of them.


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Posted by barb on Aug 5, 2011 in Family

If I could bottle the smell of fresh sawdust, I would. Then I would pull it out everyday and take a small whiff. Especially when I needed a reminder:

  • that I am loved
  • that I have always been loved, since before I was born
  • that I am connected to a wonderful network of people, friend and family
  • that there are people who love their job.every.single.day they go to work
  • that I should be really proud of all of my accomplishments – big and small
  • that my family is special, spectacular, and a source of pride by itself

Why sawdust? Because that’s Dad. He was a carpenter. I’d smell sweet sawdust when he gave me a tour of his latest job. I didn’t necessarily appreciate the job site, but his joy and pride were evident. There would be sawdust on his lunch pail and water jug at the end of the day. When I’d borrow his truck as a teenager, sawdust was my constant companion.*

I’ve always loved the smell of sawdust, but I don’t think I understood why. Now I cherish fleeting whiffs of sawdust as a comforting reminder of Dad.

* Occasionally we’d have to take his truck to a dressy affair (especially if Mom and I wanted a separate vehicle to escape before Dad wanted to leave), so we’d have to take extra care to check the seats before getting in with our good clothes.

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Pieces of Dad – 2

Posted by barb on May 9, 2011 in Family

Sunday evenings were my night to talk with Mom and Dad. Previously it was Fridays, and I think Mondays were a night for a while. But ever since I moved away, there has always been a night that we have set aside to talk. In general, though, we didn’t talk much between our weekly phone calls, but when we did, it was an evening call, since they knew I wasn’t home all day.

A day-time phone call between our weekly “appointments” generally meant something was wrong – someone was in the hospital, someone had an accident, a pet died, or some other bad thing.

One weekday I came home to my apartment and checked my messages, I heard this one from my Dad, “Hi Barb….I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.” His voice was crackly with emotion. I went into a bit of a panic. The way he was talking, the timing of the call, the words he said made me wonder what could be wrong. However irrational it may have seemed, I wondered if he was thinking about killing himself, given the emotion in his voice, and he was calling everyone before he did.

I called him immediately, on his cell phone since I knew he wouldn’t be home from work yet. All the while thinking the worst.

Dad barely picked up before I asked him, “What’s going on, Dad??”

He, as always, was casual, “Oh, you mean with the message I left you?”

I was exasperated, “Yes, what’s going on, are you okay??”

I think Dad finally heard in my voice how worried I was. “I’m okay, I’m okay.”

“So, what was that all about?”

“What, I’m not allowed to tell my daughter how much I love her?”

“Well, yes, but maybe not mid-week in the middle of the day! I was worried you were thinking about doing something stupid.”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry. No, I was just thinking about how Mark just found out that Devon was pregnant again. Remember she had been told she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant, but here she is with her second child. And what a pleasant surprise for them. Then I started remembering what a pleasant surprise you were for your Mom and me. I just needed to call you and tell you how much I love you.”

He’d been driving to work and imagining his life without the pleasant little surprise that was me. He and Mom hadn’t had trouble getting pregnant like my cousin; instead, I’m the poster girl for failed birth control. Heh. But he wanted me to know how much he loved having me as a little surprise.*

Yeah. He was that kind of guy. And I miss him.

*Though I always imagine that their first thought on finding out Mom was pregnant was “oh crap…I thought we were done with this.

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Dear Dad,

Posted by barb on Apr 12, 2011 in Family

Dad and Me

You’ve been gone a month, and I want you to know how very much I miss you every day. I miss your voice. I miss our Sunday calls. I miss your annoying questions about Windows (I’m not sure how many times I could tell you that I haven’t touched a Windows machine for over 10 years, except at your house). I miss worrying that you’ll get a Mac because then I will have to deal with your computer questions. I miss conspiring with you and against you with Mom.

I know that you had no intention of leaving us, and I’m not yet sure if that’s more comforting to me or more horrifying. One the one hand, I know that you went into your surgery with complete peace, knowing that you’d be home and recovering in a week or so. You weren’t scared, you just wanted to feel better. But then I think of all the things you were planning to do that you didn’t get a chance to do. You were going to enjoy being home while Mom watched Anya, though probably annoyed that you had to keep reminding her that you couldn’t pick her up or have her in your lap for a while. You wanted to get the Model A running again. You were looking forward to seeing Brock graduate, and hunting with him and his other grandpa again this fall. You were looking forward to seeing the women that your granddaughters will grow up to be. And I know that you were looking forward to getting yourself out of the financial pickle you left Mom in. I suppose that when we stop looking forward to things, that’s when we die inside, and I know against everything that you had not stopped living inside – you loved life too much.

I think I knew, deep down inside, that your health was declining over the past several years. Since I only got to see you a couple times a year, changes in your body were magnified unlike they were to Mom or the boys. Over the past several years I noticed that you had started to develop a hunch – the “old man’s hunch”. You were also shrinking besides that. You had always been taller than me, but lately I was catching up to you (or, rather, you were shrinking down to me). I’d always write off your changes, knowing that your occupation was very hard on your body – carpentry is not an easy thing to do for over 50 years, and it’s bound to take a toll. Mom said that you’ve been sleeping more and more over the past couple years, but we figured that fixing your heart would fix that. Unfortunately it did fix that….just not in the way we had hoped.

Dad with his new camera

I can’t say that I have any regrets, though, Dad. I know that you had a great life. Sure there were times when we didn’t get along as well as we could have, but overall we both just loved each other. I’m so thankful that I was able to come for Thanksgiving last year. I know how much each of those family holidays are to you, and if I wasn’t going to make Christmas, I know that Thanksgiving was just as good for you (maybe better). Plus I got to capture a photo of you when you were feeling pure joy – you with your camera, surrounded by your family at Thanksgiving, what more could you have wished for?

I’m also so happy that I got to spend a bit of extra time in Minnesota in January/February this year. While it was for a sad occasion – the death of your mother – we really celebrated her life rather than mourning. Plus we got to spend some fun time together at the water park with the whole family, and just you, me and Mom at the Winter Carnival and Hudson Hot Air Affair. I will treasure those memories forever.

And, despite your protests, I’m so glad that I came to see you off for your surgery. I got to see you one last time, and that last dinner with you and Mom is worth more than everything that I own. I think Mom and I drove you a little nutty, but, then, that’s what we do. Plus, I got in an extra hug at the hospital. Everyone made fun of me for hugging you well before they wheeled you away, but I didn’t care, and will cherish that one extra hug.

I know how very proud of me you were. I know that you didn’t mean to leave us. And I will always be thankful for the time that we had together.

I miss you, and I always will. I love you, and always will.

Your loving daughter,



The Henrys

Posted by barb on Mar 31, 2011 in Family

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I love my Build a Bears, and that they travel with me. I take pictures of them in random places on my travels. I think all six of my Build-a-Bears have been to Minnesota, since I come here at least once a year (and usually more).

When I was packing for my short, 3-day trip to see my parents for Dad’s surgery, I debated whether or not to bring one of my Build-a-Bears. But in the end I decided against, since it was such a short trip and I wouldn’t be visiting any MN sites. That, and I wondered if it was a little inappropriate, especially if anything happened to Dad. (Also, I was bringing our smallest suitcase, and I don’t think I could have fit one in there!)

However, within a couple hours of arriving in MN, Dad asked which Build-a-Bear I had brought. I had to confess that I didn’t bring one. He looked mock-hurt and said something like, “What? You don’t want to take a picture of one in bed with me?”

After Dad passed away, I thought about his disappointment that I didn’t bring one of my Build-a-Bears. What to do? I decided to make one for him – one that could play with him through eternity.

Sweetie and Andrew took me to Build-a-Bear at the mall while we were also shopping for funeral clothes. I picked out the Shaggy Dog, and made two of them (you didn’t think I wouldn’t need to keep one, did you?). Sweetie warned the BaB employee stuffing our bear that mine was for a funeral, so she downplayed the stuffing ritual a little. Andrew, Sweetie and I all put hearts in both dogs, sending our love to Dad.

Sweetie looked at the stuffed dogs and declared that they told her their names were “Henry”. When a stuffed toy talks to you, you have to listen. Then I looked at them, and discovered that Dad’s was “Henry John” and mine was “Henry Joe”. Why? Because “John” was Dad’s middle name, and “Jo” is mine.

Then we went to pick out clothes, which had to be Dad’s normal “uniform”: jeans and a t-shirt. They even had a t-shirt that said “Father of the Year”, so each of the Henrys got one, along with jeans, tube socks, tighty-whities, and white tennis shoes (with red and blue stripes). The only difference between Henry John and Henry Joe is that the bottoms of Henry John’s shoes are pure white where the bottoms of Henry Joe’s have a bit of red. This was a fluke, but make it easier to tell them apart. (Though I also left the tag on the one for Dad, just to make sure.)

Before I could let Henry John go, though, he and Henry Joe had to play around a little. They started by fishing in the bathtub. They even caught something!
The Henrys show off their fish

Then they went out to see what they could find in Dad’s truck. They discovered a power tool that I think they probably should have left alone!
The Henrys getting into Dad's tools

They also went to check out the Model A, but (thankfully) couldn’t figure out how to start it.
The Henrys on the Model A

Henry John gave a big hug to Teddy – the teddy bear that Dad had played with as a kid. I think Teddy told Henry John a few secrets about games he and Dad loved to play, so Henry John would have more fun with Dad.
Henry John gives Dad's old teddy a hug

Henry John, along with his fishing pole (‘cuz Dad loved to fish) is now keeping Dad company. Henry Joe is home with me. Anything that Henry Joe and I do together, I think Henry John and Dad will be doing, too.

All the pictures of the Henrys playing together are in my Flickr set: The Henrys.

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Pieces of Dad – 1

Posted by barb on Mar 21, 2011 in Pictures, Random Thoughts


Memories are starting to come through the fog, particularly when I started looking through my flickr stream. Last night I started realizing that everything I’ve done with Dad in the past couple months is the last thing of that kind that I will ever do with Dad. Had I known, I would have cherished them all more – but then, I suppose, they wouldn’t have been real moments with Dad.

On February 5, we were supposed to have a 100th birthday party for my Grandma Evelyn. She had different plans, passing away just two weeks shy of 100 years. So I decided that Mom, Dad and I needed to do something fun that day (partly, too, because I was leaving MN the next day). I happened to find the Hudson Hot Air Affair in Hudson, WI, just across the MN-WI border. This will forever be the last “event” that I went to with my Dad. I know I had a great time…I think he would say the same.

I find myself trying to remember the day. I know we got up waaaaay too early so we could be there for the mass ascension. I remember that it was very foggy that morning, and that I drove because Dad was feeling a bit dizzy. (This dizziness is what finally got him back to the cardiologist, and was almost certainly caused by his decreased blood flow from his bad heart. It didn’t go away, and kept him from working all of February.) I’m certain he and I were a bit snippy in the car because he either assumed I knew where I was going or because he was not giving me very good directions (can’t remember which).

Mom and Dad on the balloon field

Sadly the mass ascension didn’t happen, but many of the balloons still set up so that we could see them, take pictures, and talk with the balloon pilots. Honestly, I was just as happy seeing all the balloons on the field as I think I might have been with the mass ascension. Mom and I certainly made fun of Dad as he wandered off without us to take pictures. I also had the presence of mind to get Mom and Dad together in a picture with the balloons in the background. (Of course, there are very few pictures of me and Dad in pictures, because we are the family photographers…sigh.)

After walking around the balloon field, we went into the school (whose grounds were being used as the balloon field) where they had food and crafts for sale. We started with cocoa and treats to warm up. Then we perused the crafts. I think Dad bought something, but now I can’t remember what it was – might have been something to help him keep warm at work (he’s a carpenter, and often works outside in MN winters). I also picked up some jewelry for my mom and aunt (which they’ll get at Christmas, if I can find them again). I’ll admit that Dad was having some trouble getting around at this point – but we all just assumed that the heart surgery would take care of these problems…at least after his long healing process.

I suppose that if I had known that this would be the last big event that I went to with Dad that I might have cherished him more. Maybe I would have followed him as he wandered off to take pictures. Maybe I wouldn’t have snipped at him for not giving me clear directions in the car. But then…that’s what we always did, so in so many ways this was a typical outing with Mom and Dad. And maybe that’s what I should be cherishing right now. The real moments we had together.

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