HORIZONTAL MYSTERY SHIP when you leave at seventeen rarely home more than two weeks at a time months, years and decades can be surprisingly unreliable markers of adulthood only once in the summer of ‘88 a recent college grad wide-eyed and wanderlust-fueled my tonsils required more I stayed a whole month once healed, packed, and in possession of necessary visas off to the southern hemisphere a young pioneer in search adventure and different stars now, when visiting after a lifetime lived elsewhere grey hairs visible no matter my efforts I find myself sliding into a peculiar second adolescence of sorts driving Dad’s truck windows down, hair blowing mile after mile of expansive, wild beauty the prairie a determined cellular homesteader forever staking a claim in my blood and bones I want to sneak out to the bar play Space Invaders sadly, no longer a standard unlike 1982 drink beer, eat junk food and avoid the endless expectations of being a grown-up Looking back with midlife sensibilities I realize those late nights in high school tenth grade, I believe laser focused, playing Space Invaders provided a surprisingly valuable education initials entered, quarters stacked protect the bunkers, defeat the aliens monitor the horizontal mystery ship with vigilance my peripheral vision unknowingly trained to notice things beyond immediate scope bonus points pinged while friends waited impatiently twenty more minutes, please under a waning August moon only one lunar phase ago I was still my father’s daughter a middle-aged, South Dakota teenager pretending time actually plays tricks wanting desperately to disregard reality one more visit on the calendar one more phone call cheeseburger or ice cream cone one more evening watching Everybody Loves Raymond M.A.S.H. or Mayberry RFD twenty more minutes, please quarters stacked no longer Space Invaders the nearly forgotten teenage relic of a heartbroken fifty-something fatherless daughter once again, I am protecting my bunkers monitoring a new horizontal mystery ship paying very close attention to what's just beyond my immediate scope just twenty more minutes, please
I lost my Dad in the early morning hours of August 30th. He was a generous, loving, humorous and complex man. He also was in a great deal of pain. Thankfully he no longer is. But, damnit, he isn’t here anymore either. Now, I’m in pain and I would like to talk with him about what bullshit it is to lose someone I love. He knew this pain, he lost his baby brother, my Uncle Tom, almost exactly one year ago.
I flew home to South Dakota from Vermont the morning Dad died. I wept through both airports—Burlington, Vermont and Chicago’s O’Hare. I had a light blanket wrapped around my shoulders that dried my tears as needed. I walked to my gate in Chicago, blanket draped and carrying a garment bag. I caught the eye of a few people who offered nods of acknowledgement and held my gaze, maybe understanding that grief is messy.
Oddly, I kept hoping I could tell someone, anyone that I just lost my Dad. I now understand what to do if I see someone else in the shape I was in. To hell with privacy. I will offer a hug. Or I will buy them a coffee. Or I will ask them why they are crying and listen, even if I only have a minute before my flight.
I arrived mid-afternoon. Flowers, casseroles, baked goods, fruit baskets, cheese and meat trays had already begun arriving at the house. The doorbell was ringing. The landline was ringing. Our cell phones were ringing and pinging. Hugs and tears filled Mom’s back entryway and helped eased the weight of it all.
I knew the process of the “business” of death wasn’t going to be easy. However, writing the obituary, picking out Dad’s casket and clothes, making phone calls and so on—these things kept us busy. Busy is needed those first few days. Making arrangements gave us something to focus on with a deadline, providing a little scaffolding to a messy emotional process.
There were times before the prayer service and funeral, I wanted the whole world to just leave me alone in my sorrow, because I just lost my Dad.
Thankfully the world didn’t.
I’m now keenly aware of how I didn’t give nearly enough attention to the loss of other people’s parents. I’m sorry if I seemed cavalier. I just didn’t know how much even a small gesture could mean. I always thought of grief as a private process. I understand better now what’s necessary to get through it all.
I’m so sorry for your loss, no matter how many years it’s been for you.
The outpouring of love, time and culinary talents from the good folks in Burke, South Dakota made it the whole process a lot more bearable. No one would’ve loved having all of those goodies around more than John. Right, Dad? Although I think he would’ve hidden the bag of Dorothy’s famous peanut butter cookies in the freezer and pretended they were already gone.
I’m grateful to you all. Thank you so much.
PLEASE NOTE: Is there a metabolic trick that helps burn the calories (mostly from homemade baked goods) that are delivered to the family during a time of loss?
John Lowell Lillibridge lived 79 years, 3 months & 21 days.
Rest, in peace, Big Guy.
You will be greatly missed.
The way our brain equates repetition for truth.
YOU ONLY USE 10 percent of your brain.
Eating carrots improves your eyesight.
Crime in the United States is at an all-time high.
“But the facts don’t actually matter: People repeat them so often that you believe them. Welcome to the “illusory truth effect,” a glitch in the human psyche that equates repetition with truth. Marketers and politicians are masters of manipulating this particular cognitive bias—which perhaps you have become more familiar with lately.”
a thousand words? Or do the stories we hold onto shape the narrative a lot more? My Mom always told me that as a newborn I possessed a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill. I can’t tell from the photo and I don’t actually really care. I find it funny. However, I’ve always held it to be the absolute gospel truth.
What other stories of greater consequence have I never questioned that I was told as a child?
Yesterday my friend Andrew and I were in his innovative home studio shooting some photographs for a series he’s working on. I was wearing a mask for the shoot. When we were done, it seemed like a waste to not take a few “unmasked” photos when the light and background were all set up.
I was reluctant to post this image today, not because of the quality of the image. Nice work Andrew. But why? I think perhaps the “why” is; the veins/age spots on my hands, the wrinkles around my eyes and my grey roots awaiting a touch up (tomorrow). However, while looking more closely I don’t only see those things. I see that I’m wearing my favorite “uniform” of paint splattered khakis, a tank top and a cowboy shirt I’ve had and loved for twenty years. Around my neck is a pendant my daughter, Willa made for me in her metals class. I’m really relaxed. Down the road I wholeheartedly believe I’ll be grateful to have this portrait. Thanks Andrew.
Today I printed it at the #BCA studios on Pine Street in Burlington (thanks Renee). I plan to write some details on the back so my grandkids or great grandkids will possess some information about me and who I was in March of 2018.
Don’t shy from the camera folks. You’re going to want photographs of yourself. Get your favorite ones printed. Only having digital images is so different than actually holding a print in your hand—get multiples & share them broadly.
I found this Main Street photo of my hometown in Burke, South Dakota. I wanted to create a parallel universe of sorts, playing with the way our memories fade and shift.
This photo was taken way before my time. However, because of family stories and photographs, it’s somehow familiar to me…even with a vintage wallpaper sky and a black and white tiled road. I didn’t get too far in my cleaning and sorting project. Oh well, the mess will still be there tomorrow.
I’m going to work on my judgement and I would really appreciate your support. My stated goal for the new year is to practice some radical acceptance of myself and others. I heard this term somewhere recently and it really resonated for me.
acceptance defined: the act of accepting something or someone
It’s actually pretty simple according to Merriam Webster…simple in definition only. Not in practice. It will require training, diligence and literally biting my tongue sometimes…and I will fail often and try again.
Is acceptance the polar opposite of judgement?
Don’t we all want the same things—to be loved, feel safe and possess some sense of belonging in this crazy world. The world seems to be crying out for more connection, not more judgement.
I’ve noticed that my curiosity can smooth the jagged edges of my judgement. When I get curious about people, ideas, choices, places, well…everything, I’m far less likely to judge, because I jazzed about my new knowledge. Dear 2018, please help me remember to utilize the power of my curiosity. MORE CURIOSITY = LESS JUDGEMENT
Here’s to 2018 & whatever you choose to do with it…it’s none of my business.
San Francisco, California
Pickstown, South Dakota
Los Angeles, California