grief is messy & highly caloric.

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.

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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

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John Lowell Lillibridge lived 79 years, 3 months & 21 days.

Rest, in peace, Big Guy.

You will be greatly missed.

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4th of July 2017—Sandwich, Mass

The Sandwich 4th of July celebration is always a special event, but 2017 had some extra magic.  It was a truly grand day from start to finish.

The Parade 10am

Field Days (the egg toss is a favorite)

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Dale and the Duds at the bandstand on Shawme Pond

The Boat Parade (a 102 year old tradition)

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Fireworks over Shawme Pond for the 1st time in 38 years

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Bernie’s Inn—The famous Herrick, South Dakota institution.

As promised, Herrick folks, my niece and I paid a visit to Marilyn at Bernie’s Inn.  It was so much fun to see the place and be reminded of childhood memories—working in the honey house, hanging out after games and high school weekends driving around stopping in for a pop.  I hope you all enjoy the little trip down memory lane.  Be sure to visit next time you are in the area.  It’s well worth the effort.

Bernie’s Inn was established in 1973

The view as you enter.

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Look who greeted us at the door.

Marilyn Baxa/proprietor of Bernie’s Inn welcomed us and told us some stories about the place.

Blue Star Honey where I worked as a kid—love that whipped honey. YUMMY!

Family photos are everywhere.

Kettles on Stove Bernie's Inn

Kettles warming on the stove.

I visited on Sunday afternoon.   I suspect there was some lively card playing on Saturday night.  Darn, I missed it.

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A quick snooze before hatching a sneaking out plan.

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Thank you Marilyn.

Hillbilly Elegy & interior geography

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHumans are an intricate system of bones, nerves, blood and memories.  We all have a unique internal map that shaped us.  Interior geography is the exploration of our inner world and the hardwired routes from our childhoods that guide our dispositions and chosen paths.  Exploring our interior geography honors the wisdom we possess from our journey and provides an opportunity to discover new territories we want to explore, but haven’t quite found a path toward yet.

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Hillbilly Elegy is all about J. D. Vance’s interior geography. In this brave memoir about growing up in a poor American Appalachian town, Vance shares the heartbreak of constant childhood disruption and the deep love of the people who were rooting for his success.  He tries to write without judgement and this allows him some generosity (and a little distance) to try to understand the people and the landscaped that shaped him.  To me this book was an invitation to look back at my childhood and take a look at my interior geography—both the chosen paths I’m proud of and the well worn paths I now need to block access to going forward.

My husband, Jeff and I listened to “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance over Christmas.  The author is the reader which lends a certain intimacy to the audible version.  Here are a few thoughts that surfaced for me.

1.  I think a lot of us can recognize “Hillbilly” qualities in our upbringing regardless of our social class. Even though I was raised relatively affluent in a small, South Dakota farm town I can easily relate to many of the themes J. D. Vance references in this memoir.  As we listened to the book, Jeff observed that it could’ve been titled: Reactive or Judgemental Household Elegy—I would guess that most of us grew up with some judgement in our homes.  “Hillbilly” in the title might make you think it will be hard to relate to.  It’s not.  J. D.’s honesty about his childhood—poverty, abuse, clan loyalty, secrets, addiction and his family’s response to all of it are profound.

I was also struck by the way we tend to identify poverty only in financial terms. I believe a poverty of the mind can manifest in ways that deeply affect our lives too. J. D. Vance describes this as well as he does financial poverty. When social, cultural, political or religious views challenge our ability to see the bigger picture of things around us—outside influences are perceived as threatening and we’re left with even less understanding of our differences.  I’m optimistic that if we focus more on our similarities we will be more unified.

Like the author, I’m trying to not be judgemental here and look through a more sociological lens.  I know I’m guilty at times of not seeking more understanding of the world around me.  For heaven’s sake, I’m a liberal and I live in Vermont. I get it.  If you’re familiar with the Hunger Games series, I’ve been joking that Vermont is like living in District 12.  I’m willing to admit that I’m living in a bubble and Hillbilly Elegy helped burst it a little bit.

By examining our childhoods, we can gain some insight and are given an opportunity for self-correction if necessary.  This brings me to the second reason this book was so important to me and well-timed.

2. The shadow side of our personality traits.  I’ve always been really proud of my independent spirit.  It’s my nature and was well-honed during my childhood.  I had a lot of freedom growing up in a small town in South Dakota and it allowed me to exist “under the radar” in a sense. My whole adult life I thought it served me quite well.  However, while listening to this book, as my tears flowed, I realized that my fierce independence has not always been an asset to my parenting or my marriage. memories-lisa-lillibridge-burke-south-dakotaAny perceived threat (big or small) to my independence or sovereign self can set me off—my own reactivity or judgement.  That’s the shadow side of my independence and it ain’t pretty.  Here’s the upside; now that I’ve recognized this in myself, well shit, I can’t unsee it now.

Thank you J. D. Vance, oh and Jeff too.

This insight gives me an opportunity to take a moment and see if what’s being asked of me is truly a threat to my independent, sovereign self (probably not) and I can try to respond like a grown-up and not be reactive. I’m writing this for me, for accountability regarding something I’ve learned and cannot unlearn now.  J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy gave me a little more courage to write about my life and for that I’m grateful.

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FROM GOODREADS  “From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.” 

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27161156-hillbilly-elegy

Herrick, South Dakota

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The week before Thanksgiving I was in South Dakota visiting my family.  I had an afternoon to drive around and shoot some photos.  I headed to Herrick, just east of Burke, listening to korn country 92.1. I love Keith Urban’s song; Blue Ain’t Your Color.  If you don’t know this song, it’s a damn shame.  Here’s the video.

I spent a lot of time in Herrick growing up.  I “worked bees” two summers. That was highly educational, messy and sometimes painful work.  I got stung 17 times one day (my forearms looked like Popeye’s). I played softball in the field behind the truck.  I think I might’ve even knocked back a few beers at parties in the outfield on occasion. I had a friend who lived on a farm in Herrick and since I was a “city kid” riding the bus to Anita’s farm was a grand adventure.  We could drive at fourteen.  We didn’t have to ride the bus too long.  So, I had a blast driving around Herrick in beautiful, autumn, late afternoon light and thinking about my Herrick Days.

Next time, perhaps a whole series of photos devoted to Bernie’s Inn, the historic watering hole in Herrick.  Would that be a possibility?  Let me know.