I am a pretty private person. For all my sharing on my blog and social media, I am not likely to cry on anyone’s shoulder. When it comes to sorrow, I am just not that expressive. Sad movies don’t make me cry. I won’t quiver while telling a particularly heartbreaking story or weep about things that truly break my heart, like the suffering of families in Aleppo. But if you want to reduce me to a sobbing mess, here’s the secret: do something kind. I can’t handle it. Kindness will set off the ugly crying in seconds. And every time I think about that kindness, that moment where someone chooses goodness and sacrifice, I will cry again. And if I try to tell others the story, I will be a trembling pool of tears. Loving kindness is my kryptonite.
My beloved dad is dying. And I cry all the time. And it’s not because of the weight of it all. It’s not because I am already mourning the loss of my sweet dad. I’m not crying for myself or my mom or my little boy who really didn’t get enough time with his Baba. I cry all the time because people are being ridiculously kind to us and I can’t handle it.
I don’t have enough words to share all the ways that people have loved on us over the past six weeks. But I can tell you that folks just keep showing up in the best ways. Casseroles arrive, perfectly timed. They never pile up. They are just miraculously there when they are needed. And when mom doesn’t have a house full of family or friends here to say good-bye, there are single-serving casseroles – tiny little meals created for my mom who won’t cook a meal just for herself. There are the people who have dropped off incredibly generous gift cards for local restaurants so mom can host guests outside of the home. Some come to visit dad for a bit and then stay to play cards with mom, filling the otherwise silent house with laughter and companionship. There are those who shovel snow or help move furniture. Others show up just to sit with dad while mom goes to church or to get groceries. People have sent beautiful flowers for mom, and for me – I have never been so spoiled. Dad’s friends are asking more and more questions about beekeeping, intent on helping me as needed this season. Over and over again I hear from people, friends and neighbours, who would like to help out with the bees in any way they can this summer. And then friends here in town have blessed me in all sorts of way, without even knowing my dad, because they know things are hard for me right now. Some have provided childcare so I can help my parents without Henry on board. A book club friend brought over some fun, light reading after I said I couldn't handle any heavy, sad books right now. One friend even showed up to install the dishwasher that dad gave me as a gift but couldn’t install for me (I cried a lot later that night). The kind words and messages of love and support keep coming and I am reduced to tears over and over again. I do not think I have been kind enough in my life, come to think of it. I am being taught important lessons by all these wonderfully thoughtful people in my life.
While I hate seeing my dad suffer, I am glad that he didn’t die of the heart attack we always thought would take him from us. This way, he gets to hear all the stuff that is usually only said at the funeral. We've had a steady stream of visitors coming to the door, just to tell him what he has meant to them and how he has touched their lives. A good, good man like my dad deserves to hear those things after years of serving and loving on all who crossed his path. It has been so beautiful to listen to those stories, and to read the cards and emails that have arrived. What a wonderful reward for a life well lived.
When it seems like the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, I would like to remind you all that good people are still doing good things. Credit card customer service representatives are making me cry with their surprising compassion. Colleagues I haven’t worked with in years are making me cry with their kind notes of support. Customers are making me cry with their heartfelt best wishes for my dad when they stop by to purchase honey at my front door. At a time when people talk about the ills of social media, the outpouring of love we’ve received via facebook, from friends around the world, is making me cry. And those people who keep showing up in person to love on my folks - those people are turning me into a blubbering fool. If I’m crying, it means there is still much goodness and love to be found in this world. That’s a wonderful thing, right?
When I was a little girl, my dad took me snorkeling in the South Pacific. This was the kind of childhood I had. And I loved it. A life less ordinary. Anyways, dad took me snorkeling on one of the world’s most beautiful reefs and it was amazing and it was terrifying. I was so overwhelmed that I just froze in the water, afraid to move amidst all the teeming, colourful life under water. Dad, sensing my fear, held out his finger to me, and I grabbed onto it. And I was safe. To me, to hold my dad’s finger was a lifeline, a touchstone, a safe place. I will never forget that feeling.
Twenty years later, Dad and I found ourselves bored after Christmas, during one of these school breaks where you end up with lots of time after the important days. Everyone else had gone back to work, but we were still off and itching for something to do. So we spontaneously went to the Bahamas for a few days, just the two of us. And we went snorkeling. And as a joke, Dad held out his finger to me, and I grabbed onto it. And I was safe and happy and nine years old again. We laughed about it, but it also still meant something to me, even as a grownup, to have my dad as my lifeline, touchstone, safe place.
So, over the years, it’s kind of been our thing. When I am clearly overwhelmed or panicky, my dad holds out his finger. For instance, when the bees are crazy and I freeze, and I don’t know what to do, my dad holds up his finger and I pause, breathe, and continue working in the hive as the bees buzz all around me.
The other day, after spending some time canceling his credit cards and dealing with other banking questions while sitting with Dad on his bed, I said my usual goodbye. You take your goodbyes very seriously when someone you love is dying. We should always take our goodbyes seriously, I guess, but nowadays they hold extra meaning for us. So I hugged and kissed my dad, told him I loved him and headed for his bedroom door. I turned to say goodbye one more time and he put his finger up. And I paused and savoured the moment. I got a little teary-eyed, thinking about my wonderful Dad and the memories we had made together. I wanted to hold this image in my mind, because no one else was ever going to do that for me and Dad wasn’t going to do it much longer. I am losing my lifeline, my touchstone, my safe place. I smiled, thanked him for the gesture, and he did it again, with more urgency, looking me straight in the eye and pointing that finger heavenward. Again, I sighed and smiled and took it all in. And then I realized it. This wasn’t the meaningful moment I thought it was. He just wanted me to turn off the overhead light. Sheesh!
I told him that story the next day and we laughed so hard the bed shook. Now he keeps holding up his finger just to mock me. And sometimes he lets me hold his finger while he snoozes and I read on the bed beside him. I shared the story with my dear friend Tanya, and she both cried and laughed with me about it. And she told me that she had dropped off a fingerprint kit at my Mom’s so that, if we wanted, we could take a mold of his fingerprint. Our artist friend Heather, at Sway Silver, creates jewelry with fingerprints of loved ones and Tanya thought I might like a necklace with my dad’s fingerprint. So wonderful. So, soon enough, I will have my pendant with my dad’s fingerprint so that I will still have some sort of lifeline, touchstone, safe place in those moments when life is overwhelming. I am so grateful for such a lovely, thoughtful gift.
For now, I still have my dad to hang on to, even as he slowly fades away. This journey is hard, but also beautiful. We’re doing okay.
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!