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?
grief + baked goods + casseroles + visiting + crying + fatigue = COMFORT
John Lowell Lillibridge lived 79 years, 3 months & 21 days.
Rest, in peace, Big Guy.
You will be greatly missed.
Today I throw the discus at the Vermont Senior Games at 10:30 eastern time. I’m hoping to qualify for the Senior Olympics in Albuquerque, June of 2019. I’ve been practicing. I’ve watched many videos of remarkable Olympic Women throwing, studying their techniques. I’ve worked with a coach. Thanks Matt. I’m prepared to at least give it an honest effort.
Just over a week ago, my Dad sat in the pickup while I practiced throwing at the spot I learned to throw the discus as a seventh grader. My Dad, my coach gave me some pointers and we laughed about a fifty-one-year-old woman throwing the discus again after 34 years. Today he’s in the hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, getting world-class care and struggling.
I want to qualify for Dad today.
“A standout thrower, Lillibridge placed third as a sophomore, finished second as a junior and won the North Central Conference discus title as a senior. Lillibridge, who placed second in the NCAA Division II national meet in the discus, earned All-American honors. A graduate of the USD School of Business in 1962, he has received the USD School of Business South Dakotan of the Year, the USD Alumni Award and the South Dakota Philanthropist of the Year honor. He has been a major supporter of Coyote Athletics for many years. He held State of South Dakota, Howard Wood Dakota Relays and USD records in the discus. A prep star at Burke, he was first-team all-state in basketball as a junior and senior, scoring a school record 1,631 points. Lillibridge was named to the fourth team of the Sport Magazine High School All-American squad. He also won a state title in the discus in high school.“
SOURCE: University of South Dakota Hall of Fame website
It’s hot and humid, good for throwing and keeping middle-aged muscles loose.
I’ll let you all know how things turn out today.
Wish me luck!
One of my favorite memories with my Dad this year was surprising him at his induction into the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The banquet was held right around the time of the state tournaments in March. Basketball was a really big connector for my family—both watching and playing.
I wasn’t a great player by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m sure I was better because of Dad’s coaching and shooting hoops after supper. My Dad actually sent someone into the locker room at half time to tell me that I wasn’t getting my feet off the floor on my jump shots in a game against our rivals, Gregory. He was right and I don’t remember exactly, but I suspect that didn’t make me jump much higher.
It was a privilege to hear all of the other high school basketball stories from around South Dakota. We laughed, we cried and we celebrated hard work, talent and competitiveness.
So on this Father’s Day in 2017 thank you for helping create the woman I am today. And if you don’t feel like claiming any responsibility, well that’s OK too Dad. No harm. No foul.