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That B*tch Called Grief

I cradle Dad’s pillow and push it into my right ear as I lay on my side staring at the bedside table that’s now empty.  Gone are the bits of the pot-infused chocolate chip cookies. I can’t do anymore, Jod. He’d say. Food is life, Dad. You don’t eat, you’s gonna die. Sometimes he’d come back with: Yes’a boss, Yes’ a boss. And take a tiny piece chewing it in silence. Our banter always left me with the widest smile.

But at the end-the exchange wasn’t quite like that.

Greeted with peer pressure to consume, he’d raise left index finger in silence, signaling me to cool it with the talk. Then, raise his right index finger to his throat making a saw-like gesture back and forth. Message received. Lay off the request for me to eat, kid. Defeated, eventually, piles of small, white plates lined that bedside table with the cookies he couldn’t eat.

Gone are the glasses that no longer needed to be found because its owner was confined to bed. No more, Well, I am on my daily hunt for my glasses. God damn it if you ever know where they are, Joe. Jesus Christ, it is infuriating. Absolutely infuriating. I tell you.

Gone is the insulated glass with water and just the right amount of ice so it’d be the right amount of cold for Dad. Never a water drinker, Dad would sit on the edge of the bed sipping in silence. At the end, it took too much energy to talk and drink. He had to pick one over the other.

It’s been three months since I played nursemaid to my Dad. Three damn months. And this bitch called grief, she ain’t going away.

So, in order to be proactive, I come for her well before she sends for me.  Climbing into bed with Rosie I push my face into Dad’s pillow and bitch at myself for washing this pillow case in the week that followed his death.

I want to remember his smell.

Through the months during and after Dad’s illness and death, I’ve learned to be quite the efficient crier. Sobbing is limited to the car or the upstairs bathroom once a week or so. In Mom and Dad’s bed, I allow the tears to come in spurts like a midday rain in the summer. Through the silence, sometimes Rosie will say, I hope it gets better for you because I like you. And we lay there together, Mom staring off into whatever her reality has created and I now scared that Dad has forgotten that I am down here wading through shit piles of grief, fear, and uncertainty.

And then this morning I realized something. Whether we be among the living or the dying, not a single one of us wants to be forgotten.

Yep, this 44-year-old woman is worried that her dead Dad, who is no longer physically present, will forget her. She can’t even see him or hear him yell, JJJJOOODDDDDIIIIIII, I need you.

But she’s petrified that he will forget her.

Insane. Right?

God, but it’s the fucking truth. And, in truth there’s strength, so I’m putting it ALL out there today.

This realization reminded me of Dad’s eulogy. It gave me great comfort and pause in writing it and sharing it at his service, so I say, what the hell and share it here with you now.

A couple weeks ago, our dad sat perched on the edge of his bed, his blue, yellow, and white striped bathrobe now much too big for his 145 lb frame. His bedroom had become a gathering place for us kids because Dad spent most of his day now in bed. And we ALL know that Dad was ALWAYS on the move, So to be sick, unable to do all the “Joe” things he’d do was torture for him.

In the dark with the hall nightlight on, his kids sat on the edge of the bed with him and he said something that broke our hearts a little.

It was a simple statement. He said:

I don’t want to be forgotten.

Looking out at all of you here today-buddies from Marquette, fellow Evan Scholars, members of the Western Golf Association, former colleagues, family, friends, neighbors, of Dad, Rosie, and his children,-who have come here today to pay your respects and honor Joe, I know it is virtually impossible for Dad to be forgotten. Think of all those long-winded conversations you’d have with almost complete strangers, Dad?

How could our Dad ever think being forgotten would be part of Joe Arndt’s story?

Each and every one of us has these stories that make us who we are. As a teacher and a writer, I always tell my students–Be sure to tell your story. Be proud of your narrative. Write down those seemingly small moments. Share them with others.

So today. with so much humility I attempt to tell a small portion of our dad’s story. Being a visual learner, I thought it prudent to include some of Dad’s favorite tools as a way to illustrate his story.

Tool #1: Take this Folding Carpenters Ruler. To some, you might use it to measure wood planks, maybe to then build something. I mean, it’s a carpenter’s ruler. BUT… for our Dad it was a tool he used with his morning Strawberry Cheese Coffee Cake. Crouching over the long strip with his green golf pencil and ruler in hand he’d make tick marks along cardboard to mark 16 1 inch slices.  When asked why, “Why not? I want even slices. “Everything in moderation, kid. That’s all I allow myself.”

The lesson: Do things in a way that make sense for you. If no one understands, so be it. No need to always explain yourself–even if your kids or anyone else–give you a hard time. 

Tool #2: While Dad was NO lover of the computer, the man LOVED him a spreadsheet. Making burgers up at Aunt MaryAnn’s cabin? Yep, there’s a spreadsheet for that. And the spreadsheet that you then nail to the tree so you make sure the correct cheese is on the correct burger. Analyzing individual golf scores of your fellow Evan Scholars so you can make informed gambling decisions?  You betcha. Binders and binders of spreadsheets spanning years and years. Organizing your charitable giving by letter grade? Come tax time, you know Joe did that too. Down to every last detail, Dad prided himself on exceeding expectations. Whether it be to ensure he and Rosie had all their cross country gear, snow shoes and all-He’d make meticulous notes and create spreadsheets to ensure nothing was overlooked.

The Lesson: Give 110% to everything you do. From making burgers to organizing a golf tournament, give it your all. People will remember and appreciate the effort and care you take.

Tool #3: From file folders, to one of Mom’s toothbrush that says “Rose 6/16/16” you’d be hard pressed to find something that DOESN’T have a label on it @ 1202. Take the dryer for example. There are 5 labels on the dryer that read, “Don’t ever even think of putting anything on this dryer!”  Can you just see Joe now, slapping his forehead and massaging his face because one of his kids clearly left the laundry detergent the dryer, which then caused the blue liquid detergent to make an impromptu pool on the laundry room floor. You just know–after mopping up that mess with old undershirts and underwear, yes that is what he called old rags, he ran into the dining room to find the label maker. Likely using language that you’d hear him shout on the golf course.

The Lesson: Say what you mean and mean you say, but do so with heart, passion, and honesty. As Chole, Joe’s granddaughter reflected, “Grandpa can be tough, but he has a soft side.” 

This brings me to our last tools. Plural. It’s fairly straightforward. Dad would be lost, lost lost, without his pencil, his random scraps of paper, and his piles of mail from every non-profit under the sun.  I swear any construction, excavating, bridge building company that ever existed —and Dad has a pad of paper with that company’s name on it. Literal mountains of paper and mail would greet me each time I flew in from New Orleans. Possibly boarding on hoard-ISH tendencies. Love you, Dad.

Love you, Dad.

From handwritten notes laid at the front door to remind Mom of his Saturday tee time and estimated arrival home, to letters to the Minnesota Court Payment System to dispute a speeding ticket, scraps of paper and cups with golf pencils and highlighters dotted any available table in the house.  Those scraps were action plans for Dad. He used them to plan out his words to Mom before he’d write in her birthday card, he’d grab a scrap to write down directions after plotting his course on one of his beloved maps, and lastly insert them into his CharityWatch bulletin–because he only gave dinero to those organizations that earned a B or above. He’d even mark the mail. I swear I can’t make this stuff up!

As I write this, I am realizing it all came down to Dad doing things with such passion and conviction for those things and people he cared deeply about.

The Lesson: Be generous and loyal to those things and people dear to you. Take time to pause, reflect, and live a life with purpose and conviction.

SO Thank you, Dad, for giving me the strength and courage to speak about you today. I hope my words paid tribute to the father, husband, brother, uncle, friend, golfing buddy you were to each and every one of us. I hope your children and grandchildren continue to make you proud, to live by the examples you set for us.  Rosie and your children will continue to honor you and your story by loving one another fiercely, by giving 110% to all that we do, living principled lives full of purpose and passion.

With all my heart, I love you, Dad.

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