Monday, February 11, 2019

Real Valentine's Day Love

For Valentine's Day I wanted to share something very personal and special. Following are some of the words I found written on the backs of envelopes, cards and scraps of paper from my dad to my mother.

Good morning honey,
Thank you my honey for everything. I love you so much--you are my one love, my only love you'll always be. I want your love and happiness for as long as we both have. You mean the whole world to me. Thank you for sharing beauty and nature and true love. All my love, Rich

Dear Hon, I want to thank you for 30 years of love, patience, and understanding. You've truly lit up my life. I love you more than any words will ever tell. You are really a very special person and I thank God that he sent you to me. I hope for at least another 30 years with you my love. Forever your love, Rich

Things I want you to know:
by Richard Mattia to Eileen Mattia

If I were to do it all over again, I would pick you. You bring more love into the world than anyone I ever knew or know now. You are the most unselfish person in the world. I love you so much that it hurts. I love you because of the way I feel with you--warm, true, heartfelt love. I hope you feel this for me for me also. Love forever, Rich

For Eileen:
You're the one for me, you know
Hate to ever see you go
With you I'd like to always be
I love you truly don't you see.
For if we ever have to part,
I know for sure it would break my heart.
I love you I love you every day
And that's the way it will always stay.
Yours forever Rich

Just a few lines to let you know I'll be thinking about you. I love you truly honey. Have a real nice morning. I'll miss you. Enjoy a cup of coffee for me. See you soon. All my love, Rich

I love you more each passing day
Let nothing ever take that away
Thank you for your kindness
Thank you for your love
You are Eileen, my mate, my dove.
I want you to be happy, I want you to be gay
For this I'll strive forever, now and every day.
I want to be yours forever
Let nothing change that ever.
For my love is always true,
Don't ever let's be blue.
All my love, Rich

All my love to a really good person. Thank you for showing me many beautiful things and teaching many more practical things along with true love. I'm looking forward to our date for tonight. All my love, Rich

Good morning honey. Many kisses on ya! I'll miss you today. Have a good day. All my love, Rich

Happy Anniversary My Love!!!
Proud to call you my wife
The only love of my life.
We've been through so many things
God's given you angel's wings.
I love you more after 41 years
Hope there are never more tears.
Love you forever,

Good morning beautiful,
Thank you for being so nice. Had a real good day with you yesterday. You really looked gorgeous. Love you. Hope you had a good night's sleep. The pecan loaf was delicious. All my love honey for you. See you soon. Love & kisses, Rich

There was a basket my mother kept near her kitchen table that spilled over with love letters and cards that Dad gave her throughout their marriage. We lost both of our parents in the last two years, and these writings have become a beautiful link to his love for Mom.

Every so often when I visited, Mom pulled a crumpled page out and asked in a shy, giggling, school girl kind of way, “Did you ever see some of the notes your father wrote me?”

In her dementia, Mom didn’t realize that I’d heard the letters read many times. But to her, it was always the first time. It was a way to reignite the passion she and Dad shared, and helped her to see herself as my father always did: as the young beauty he once courted.

Though the ravages of aging were upon her, the thinning, gray hair, bent body, and same sweatshirt stained with jelly from the previous day; inside was the young girl. The one my father loved.

Monday, February 4, 2019

No More Pity Parties

Last week I didn't like myself. I'd snapped angrily at a co-worker. And my boss noticed. It came after feeling pretty down because of another co-worker's absence. You see, the missing employee was one of my best friends. We could count on one another when we could count on nothing else. We shared life stories, God stories, and the love of stories. We had so many similarities, and I thanked God every day for putting this woman in my life. How I missed her.

 Yes, a bigger workload fell on me. I couldn't help but feel sorry for myself. And that was the problem.

Too many times in life, I developed the "I'm sorry for me, boo hoo" routine. Nothing good ever happens to me. Another person always catches a break. I have so much to do. It's only me. I'm the only one that ever works this hard. Yuck.

I had to phone my brother and talk with him. Not only is he a therapist, but he's very close to me, and I felt the need to confess my complaining and whining.

 He did understand, and admitted that he, too, does this same thing. Well, then, perhaps I'm not so evil after all. But I knew that I still had to make a change. I didn't like myself and who I professed to be, versus who I really was.

With prayer, forgiveness, and great advice from my brother, I set out to make changes. Instead of looking at the whole day ahead of me at work like I was the lone climber on a very steep mountain, I calmly began asking others if they would help with certain tasks. Not only were they willing to oblige, but they also became very good at the jobs, and were a great blessing to me. No longer did I feel alone. I had team members who were also going above and beyond. We bonded during a difficult time and not only survived, but thrived.

I think back to the one person in my life who never whined, complained, or played the "poor me" game. That was my father. Life threw many curves his way and he always handled every situation with grace, patience, and tireless understanding. No, he was not perfect, but he was good, truly good. He worked early hours in his years at the postal service, sometimes leaving at 3 a.m. I never heard him say a word of protest about this. Even when he had to leave on snow-covered roads that no plow had yet touched, my father kept his chin and spirits up.

He was a hard worker around the house and in the years that Mom had anxiety and unable to do normal tasks, my father stepped up and went beyond his own duties, but never said a bad word about my mother, or seemed angry to have to pick up the slack.

When his health began to fail, Dad wouldn't stoop to pity and sadness. When asked how he was feeling, he cheerfully answered, "Fine!" And we believed it. This man never had the spotlight of attention, whining, or any type of coddling. He was a hero to our family, a real man's man.

I need to remember this when I feel the assault of a pity party coming on. I need to remember the man who showed our family that true strength comes from quietness, calmness, and sometimes even brokenness. 

God, may all of us in this family take on the traits of Dad. Help us to learn to do our duties without complaint, our responsibilities without anger, and to take what life gives us without regret.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Groundhog Day

(Photo is not my own.)

Wake up, go to work, come home, repeat. Oh, and did I mention that it's dark when I leave for work and dark upon my return? Working during the winter is blah. Sometimes I feel that I am in a cocoon of "Groundhog Day"- type living. The worst of it, I also seem to be burned out on my job. I've done this for almost forty years! (Oh say it isn't so....) But it's true. When I began in the dental field in on-the-job-training as a late teenager, I adored it.

The most rewarding part of my job has always been the people. I've met some wonderful families, heard some truly inspiring stories from them, and feel I've helped a few of them along the way. I liked the learning involved with a field I'd known nothing about, and have become proficient in some of the trickier aspects like dental insurance. I've made incredible, life-long friendships with some of my co-workers.

Why is it that I could pull the covers up over my head when the bedside alarm sounds in the morning? What is causing me to wish away a few years and pray for retirement?

The Bible tells us: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if you are working for the Lord and not men. God, am I disappointing you because I am just plain tired of the daily grind? For I feel you want so much more from me--more than I'm willing to give right now.

Perhaps even those who are retired or those who aren't working for other reasons feel a type of burnout, feel a day after day sameness that they want to escape. How do we pull ourselves out of Groundhog Day? What is our answer?

Yesterday at work, I had to talk about insurance and pricing with a husband and wife. The woman and I had spoken on the phone several times about her husband's case. As I was about to leave the room, the wife spoke up. She told me how good I am at what I do. She said it is a pleasure talking with me on the phone and in person. That I truly care about people and it shows in how I handle myself at my job. She thanked me for everything and I found myself smiling as I left the room. I didn't share this with anyone else. Like a secret prize, I wanted to hold those words close to myself and think about them.

Maybe I am still making a small difference every day. I don't see it most of the time, and I don't hear about it very often. But this woman took the time to appreciate what I'd done. I felt worthy, intelligent, humbled, and blessed. I hadn't looked at myself like that on my job in a very long time.

What will it take for us to step out of the boredom and daily grind? The sameness and routine? Perhaps just a few words for you to ponder. A few things to say to yourself each day:

You are worthy, loved, and blessed. You are good at what you do. Whether it's your job, gardening, crafting, talking, teaching, listening, whatever it is. Step back for a moment, take a long look at your life. Know that there is someone who appreciated you and wanted what was best for you. Whether it has been a parent, spouse, sibling, cousin, friend, or co-worker. Someone, somewhere has been touched by a kindness that you've done. Sinner or saint, none of us are perfect. But I believe we all have the desire for good within us and the ability to boost another person with the power of our words and actions.

Let's learn together to embrace the morning darkness-- the crisp feel of the chilly air--it means our lungs are working! The days of dark don't last long, for the spring is peeping around the corner. Let's feel good about what we do, whether it's assembly line work, fast food, or heart surgeon. Because if we've done it long enough, we do it well. And let's remember to speak an encouraging word over someone who has done a well-done job for us. Spoken words have power. The kind of power to change a life.

When our own personal Groundhog Day is over, and something in our world changes, may it be wonderful and life-giving. May it be the very thing needed to give us a sense of accomplishment and peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Thrift Store Miracle (A True Christmas Tale)

Something my brother Rick has always enjoyed is browsing through thrift stores. Well, some of us would call them junk shops. Let me tell you, though, he has found some pretty neat things through the years, but nothing like the tale I'm about to tell you.

Up and down the aisles he travels. Occasionally something fun or of particular value to my brother surfaces. Perhaps a neat toy still in its original box for one of his children, or some type of really cool antique item discarded by someone else as nothing of value but certainly worth something to him.

Today as he headed toward the back corner of the store, his eyes fell upon a huge Christmas wreath on a shelf. "Hmmm, that's funny," he thought. "It looks like one that my dad made." He pulled it down and almost dropped it as powerful feelings washed over him. "It IS my dad's wreath!"

Our dad was an avid crafter. He had an idea one year with all the pine cones lying around his yard to begin making little trees and wreaths with them. We gave many of his gorgeous finished products away to friends and family.This particular wreath was made for a festival several years back. It took first place in its category and won a ribbon. Also, people bid on the items at the festival, and someone had chosen this wreath. I imagine they had enjoyed it through the years, and who knows why it had been discarded, but I have to tell you how much it meant to us to find it at this particular time.

We both have been missing our parents more than ever recently. It will be our second Christmas without them. The holidays were always so special for Dad. He used to take such time and care in decorating the house and making handmade items. Rick has taken over our father's role. He tries to make Christmas so special for everyone. He replicated an item for me recently that Dad made a long time ago that I'd misplaced through the years. He's surprised me with little trees just like Dad would have made, knowing it would bring joy and bring Dad just a little bit closer.

My brother prayed a few days ago that God would allow him to hear from our parents somehow before Christmas. That he would either dream about them, or see something that could only be a gift from God and a sign from them.

What are the chances that he would be in a store where someone had left this wreath? The chances he would find it days before the holiday? The chances it would still be intact because it is a big, cumbersome thing, and somewhat delicate? The chances that someone else didn't purchase it first?

There are miraculous stories during Christmas and other times. And this tale will be our own small miracle to tell through the years. For I believe the Lord let my father make himself known to us. To let us know he is alright, and that everything will be fine. He's close by, and near to us for Christmas. I'm still shaking my own head in wonderment. That everything lined up just perfectly for this to happen in the way that it did.

I can imagine Dad giving God a big wink right about now.

Two of the items Rick made me to replicate crafts like Dad's.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Look Back

I know what it's like. I know what it's like to grieve; to face the approaching holidays with trepidation. I know what it's like to have health issues, or to watch a loved one going through some of the toughest times of their lives. I, too, have been where you are; wondering if the next day would bring more of the same sadness or another hardship into my life. I've prayed over situations and not felt the answer at all. I've cried out to God in the deepest darkness of the night, and wondered where He's gone.

BUT: I also have known great joy. I've learned lessons along the way, and become a better person for it. Have things happened instantly? No. But in God's timing, His favor have become beautiful gifts for my soul.

Looking back over the last three years, losing my dad in 2016, and then Mom in 2017, watching my husband struggle in giving up his alcohol addiction, I realized that some of the moments of this year were like presents to savor and unwrap. God did reward faithfulness, He did send beautiful reminders of His love and presence.

I have family that are close, loving, and real. Not Hallmark movie cookie-cutter types, but flesh and blood, each of us with our own issues and good hearts. I know I can count on them.

I've had some amazing things happen this past year. I got to see Eagles flying above me with good friends:

I still have a beautiful cardinal that waits for me and comes right to my porch after two years:

I received an email about a small blurb I'd written about my mom's love of the actor Gregory Peck from his daughter and then got to meet her!

Dear Karen,

I’m Cecilia Peck, Gregory’s daughter, and I run the website I got very behind on posting memories of my dad but I put aside time today to go through submissions and post. When I came across yours I had to stop and read it a few times. I just want to say how much it touched me that you would share this story, and that your mom’s relationship to my dad and his films brought her comfort in the last years of her life. I lost my mom six years ago and it’s been 15 years now since I had my dad, and every memory and every moment with them means so much to me. Thank you so much for sharing your touching, humorous, deeply moving story. It’s up on the site now in case you want to see it there, and I’m so sorry for the delay.
With kind regards to you and yours,


Several of my articles were picked up by different Guidepost magazines and published:

You see, to steal a line from a movie: "I really do have a wonderful life." And so do you, though it may not feel like it right at this moment. Take those little reminders of God's love and blessings and let them nourish your soul. Savor tiny moments, and the grander ones that come along and almost bowl you over in their awesomeness.

I found an old blurb I'd written last year and thought it would be appropriate here:

I walked up my stairs with the overnight bag clutched to my side. Not the type to leave it on the bed and wait to put things away, I started the task of filtering through dirty clothing, and travel-sized miscellaneous items. Each had their own little "home" and I quickly placed them where they belonged. As I picked up the bag and began placing it underneath the bed in the guestroom, a wonderful thought came to me: This is a happy moment. I've come back from a trip, of doing something fun. How many times last year was the old overnight bag hastily stuffed as I received yet another phone call about one of my parents? Another hospital visit, another emergency... The bag and I had been through many such trips. Some of those trips had been made with such panic and anxiety, with the unknown of so many health issues of elderly parents.

But today, when I came home from an enjoyable evening with my husband, the sun sparkled off the fresh, white snow. The vibrant red cardinal I've affectionately named Freddy flew to my porch railing making tsking sounds as if scolding me for missing his morning breakfast. Where were you earlier? he seemed to ask. I apologized, but brought him crusty bread. I thanked him for being with me during those harried visits last year, and the good one recently. For he is my welcome home most every time.

May you see your own moments often my friends.

Merry Christmas and a truly Happy New Year to you!

Monday, November 26, 2018

My New Friends

With trepidation, I made the hour-long drive to my favorite town of Ligonier by myself to do a reading for residents of a care home. The rain had been pouring earlier and my mood became as gray as the day. My husband is usually with me on this trip, and I am always excited and filled with warmth to visit this beautiful place. It felt daunting driving there alone though. Alone with my thoughts, and my lack of confidence. Alone with elderly folks in a place like the one that had housed my mom before she passed away a little over a year ago. How would it affect me? What would they be like?

 The further I went however, the more peace descended on me. I felt God as my passenger. I began praying for the residents, their caregivers, and families. I prayed that God would give me the right words, and that I would be a blessing to them.

The facility was charming and clean. I noticed plants, a beautiful fish tank, bird, and resident kitty. I couldn't help but smile. My set-up was in an airy room overlooking a moving stream. Ducks waddled about enjoying themselves below. Well, at least they're enjoying this wet weather, I thought.

Residents began arriving along with two of the workers. I felt instantly at ease in the presence of the elderly. It has always been a calling of mine to be around them. I immediately feel a kinship. I see the young girls and young boys they once were. I wonder about the lives they've led. Some of their eyes hold sadness, and others, mischief. Some of them are serious, and others, child-like and playful.

A few arrived in wheelchairs and with walkers. Others seemed spry and healthy. Every one of them had a most beautiful smile. I was charmed by their presence, and spoke heartily with them.

I'd chosen one silly cat story to read, a tender poem about my father's passing, and a short Christmas story. Tears were being wiped away at the end of my reading. They clapped and thanked me. I'd made little gift bags for them, and passed them out. Their gratitude as they received them, warmed my heart.

A gentleman invited me to stay longer and have lunch with them. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to chat with them. During my time in the dining room I met several others--people I will treasure in my heart.

One lady is a bird lady, and the resident parrot just loves her. She knows this woman and eagerly awaits for her to scratch behind the little feathered head. I was taken on a tour of the facility and learned that the bird lady also loves to crochet. Her work is impeccable and I would like to learn from her one day. She is ninety-years-old, and had lost a daughter in the late 1990's. She still choked up while speaking of her.

Another lady couldn't stop hugging me. She said, "I think you and I could be very good friends." She loved the little teddy bear from her gift bag, and I saw her walking around with it. My heart felt warm and full. My mind was completely at peace.

The best resident I met today was the gentleman who bought me lunch. He is a retired teacher, veteran, and very well-spoken. He held himself with dignity and charm. We had a lot to chat about. He was thrilled that an "author" came to visit them. That title didn't matter at all to me today. For today I was just me, but better. Today I learned, grew, and blossomed.

Today I did what I loved, and loved what I did. I didn't think back on any sadness from the past. And I made a few new friends in the process.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Divine Appointment

Years ago when I shopped at a Giant Eagle store near my hometown, there was a wonderful African American man who used to bag groceries. He was a retired pastor, and it was a delight to be in his line. His careworn face filled with a roadmap of wrinkles held the clearest, soulful brown eyes I'd ever seen. A baseball cap was perched on his head with silver hair peeking underneath. He always had a big bright smile for the customers and would have something special to share.

"God's a blesser," he would tell me as I reached for my bags. "I praise Him every day." Or, "God bless you, daughter. Have a peace-filled day."

I miss seeing him when I return to my old stomping grounds, but I will never forget this man.

Today I was feeling a little melancholy. Thanksgiving is approaching, and it will be the second one without my parents. My husband has been working so much overtime it is affecting his personality and his negativity is overwhelming. Work has been stressful, television news has been awful. I began to let the blues overtake me.

Wow, it seems nobody cares anymore. People are so indifferent. There's never a good or kind word from anyone. I haven't met a person lately who isn't filled with anger. Everyone is at odds about something.

I wrote a few words this morning on Facebook:

What if? What if today we step out of our comfort zone for another person? What if we don't judge someone who is different? What if we give ourselves and others permission to make a mistake and forgive immediately? What if we treat others with respect and kindness? What if it lasts more than just for today?

After church I stopped in a dollar store. My stomach was rumbling with hunger, so I wanted the trip to be a quick one. I was looking at a few small teddy bears when I heard a voice behind me. "Aw, you like the furry little bears, do ya?"

I turned and looked into the face of someone so similar to the man I'd known all those years ago at Giant Eagle. His smile was radiant, a baseball cap perched on his head over silver hair peeking from underneath. I couldn't see his eyes, as he wore light brown sunglasses. We began a conversation.

It seems this man was a pastor. He, too, is retired and works on cars part-time. The kindness he showed, and the way he spoke, gave me fresh hope. He talked as if we were old friends. He gave me ideas of places to go and the beauty in nature waiting to be seen. He said that if we look, God is in the splendor all around us. I felt drawn to him, and asked his name. He told me it was Richard. And that in itself was special. It's my father's name. He handed me a little purple pin, an Alzheimer's remembrance pin. And I found that odd as well since Mom passed away from Alzheimer's complications only last year.

We chatted at least a half hour, and I didn't regret one moment. Everything I had felt earlier vanished in the presence of this good old soul. Even my hunger. For I now hungered for his words; words that gave me a fresh outlook and something to believe.

His parting words to me were, "God sets up appointments, doesn't He? We just have to look for them."

I'm glad this appointment was right on time.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Moments That Define

How can it be that some of the darkest times of our lives later become the very moments that shaped us and defined who we are?

As a little girl of eleven-and-a-half, I began struggling greatly with self-esteem issues. Where I saw other girls that age, beginning to blossom, I looked into my bedroom mirror and saw distortion. Something was very wrong. One side of my body was straight and normal. But the other was unimaginably misshapen. I feared telling my mother, because we had recently come through an extremely bleak time. My mother had had a nervous breakdown and was finally well. We'd moved from the only house I'd ever known into a beautiful, wooded area to begin a new life. How could I ruin everything? And I was frightened also. What if this was something really bad?

Putting it out of my mind, I innocently sat on my mother's bed one day while she scratched my back. She stopped. I held my breath. She's noticed something. Mom said to me, "Kar, something's wrong with your back." I went into panic mode. Screaming and crying, I could not be consoled. But my parents made an appointment with a Pittsburgh doctor, a specialist, to find out about this mystery.

It turned out that I had scoliosis, curvature of the spine. Surgery was immediately scheduled.

My parents and I faced the unknown together when we arrived at Children's Hospital. Questions were asked, the answers of some which I didn't want to hear. For I'd found out about plaster body cast, wires, tubes, strange scary things I'd never dealt with before.

Mom was brave through it all. She never let me see how fearful she was. And she treated all the other little girls in the ward with kindness. I began to see in her, the woman I would someday become.

Dad handled this time with his best defense mechanism: humor. With silly words and funny phrases, he kept me laughing through it all. He had make-believe names for some of the doctors and nurses; names he only shared with me. This way of my father would be something that stayed with him all of his life--diffusing tough situations with his humor.

One day in particular comes to mind. We'd heard that Fred Rogers, of "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" was visiting. I loved his show but wondered what were the chances he would visit my ward. But there, before me, stood the sweet, iconic man. He took time to say something special, as only he could. I, who had felt disgusting, and abnormal, who now lay in a huge body cast, heard words that meant the world to me. "What a pretty girl," he said, smiling that charming smile. It gave me hope--hope that someday, this nightmare would be over, and I had a chance at being normal once again.

Though it was a scary time for all of us, I saw courage that I'd never thought possible. And it changed me. A newfound sense of compassion became a big part of who I was. Just like my mother, I was able to reach out to others who were suffering, thinking beyond my own circumstances. My eyes were opened to them in a major way.

I would use the lessons learned from one of my darkest times, to mold me into a better person. Not only in body, but in spirit.

I know we each have our own cross to bear, nightmare moments that seemed so bleak we thought we would certainly lose our minds, or not make it through. But if we look for the good in others who surrounded us during these times, take a little of their strengths and let it become our own, we will not only survive, but thrive. We will give back to others when it is our turn to be the courageous one.

These photos are from my time in my body cast:

Saturday, September 29, 2018

I Miss You Cousin

How is it that we lose touch with some of the people who most impacted our lives in profound ways when we were children? Do we "grow up?" Move away? Have lives so different we no longer recognize the little girl we once were? Can we dare try to find that innocence once again?

She was intelligent even at a very young age. Pretty, clever, funny, and imaginative. She was world-traveled and an army brat. She could be bossy, demanding, and opinionated. She was my cousin Anna, and there was nobody I adored more when I was a child.

When you are the daughter of mental illness, life throws harsh reality your way. You need to find ways to cope; to deal with the anxiety that has overtaken life. Every day is an adventure. Sometimes a most fearful one. But when you are fortunate to have imagination, and someone to share the journey, the road can be smoother, even easier. My cousin was that someone.

Anna and I could find adventure in the simplest places. Our Italian Nonna had a button box. You know the type. Little round tin with assorted bits of brick-a-brack, buttons of all shapes and sizes, old zippers, and sewing implements. We turned those buttons into pint-sized people. They were our family and had trials that were easily overcome. Our Nonna was the "Queen" button; the biggest, prettiest one with a faux diamond in the center. She ruled over our little world much like she did in our real lives. For Nonna was a constant. A soothing presence in the storms surrounding us.

We cut out super hero pictures from comic books and had daring rescues as Wonder Woman and Super Man escaped the evil clutches of whatever rogue assailed them.

We took old grape crates that our grandfather received his stock of fruit- of -the -vine for wine making. We jumped into them and imagined that we were visiting "The Old Country," the place that our grandparents spoke of often as if it was magical.

We pretended to be other people in other places, always with an outcome where good triumphed over evil.

As we grew into teenagers, we spoke of love and boys. And we were in love with every one of them. We made silly, clever questionnaires with all sorts of scenarios, and dared one another to answer truthfully. And we talked late on sleepover nights, sharing our future plans, hopes, and dreams.

How is it that we haven't spoken in years?

I miss Anna. I remember missing her like this when she and her family would move away for the Army. I would pine for her and write letters awaiting the day she would return once again. And she always did. Though as we grew older, it would take a little time to feel comfortable with each other. But once we did, we began to reminisce about the childhood we shared, and started laughing hysterically over long-forgotten memories.

I hope life has been exceptionally good to my cousin. I pray she has been blessed. I may even gather the courage to locate her in the upcoming weeks. She couldn't have gone far. After all, a bond from such wonderful days long past, can never be broken.

Monday, August 27, 2018

My Father's Special Language

        My father was shy, a man of few words, yet he fabricated a make-believe language, one he invented himself. Nonsensical, silly and fun, it was a constant in our lives—a way that he expressed himself and the emotions that seemed difficult for him to show.
       Dad wasn’t completely comfortable in crowds; he didn’t have any friends that he met on a regular basis. He chose mostly to immerse himself in a special world of his outdoor flowerbeds, working with his hands, and being with family. He began to restore antique furniture and build miniature dollhouses when he retired. When I visited my parent’s home, Dad would walk me around his little gardens. We would admire the glory of nature together—roses, pansies, petunias, butterflies and birds. He would share his latest projects in a truly humble fashion, lovingly showing me the smallest details, reserving this special time we had together using the silly words of his made up vocabulary to name everything.
       None of us were called by our real names, even the family pets, for Dad even had his special code words for each family member, friends, and cousins. My son Matt was known as Ray, my brother, as Boy, Mom was always Barnett, my husband Jim was Peppy, and I was little Tenya. It was as if a secret society—one that Dad was the founder--permitted entrance as his way of letting you know you were welcome in his world. Friends knew that Dad liked them if they were given an unusual name.
       Dad had a particular saying, however, when faced with a barrage of unexpected health bills, or when a particular project he worked on, wasn’t turning out as expected: “What a nightmare!” he’d say, though he said it with a chuckle, as if trying to diffuse the situation. ‘Nightmare’ became the code word in our family for anything we weren’t happy about.
       A robust, healthy man, Dad learned that he had congestive heart failure in his late sixties. Several blockages were found, and Dad had to undergo serious surgery to correct them. A sac of fluid encased his heart due to his heavy smoking. The outlook was a bit grim—not the usual type of bypass surgery.  Yet Dad came through that particular nightmare and subsequent rehabilitation better than expected.
       Years later, another nightmare crept up in the form of my mother’s dementia. Our family began to notice the small changes at first. She began to repeat stories, she forgot simple tasks. Then as time went on, Mom’s whole world changed. She experienced health issues and lost a part of who she was. My father’s words became more powerful than ever to me. He began an early morning ritual of calling before Mom would awaken. It was during those precious moments that we could commiserate about my mother’s failing mind. We made lighthearted conversation and solved some of the serious issues if only for a short time.
        For me, the dementia brought back frightening moments from my childhood—my mother’s mental illness. Her hospital visits had been long, and there were days when I wasn’t sure she would return to us. It was in those moments that my father’s soft-spoken words had soothed and given me hope as a little girl. And it was in our new journey with my mother that Dad would once again step into the role of protector and hero with quiet words of faith and goodness.
       He patiently watched the same movies over and over with my mother. He bought her favorite foods and took her for long drives to nearby places she enjoyed. I never saw him lose his temper with her, and much like the time in my youth, this quiet, good man handled our situation with grace and courage.
       Two years ago I noticed that Dad’s morning phone calls were becoming infrequent. When we did talk, he seemed agitated and spoke of more ‘nightmarish’ incidents as if truly complaining about them for the first time. He seemed to lose his smile, his sense of humor. Even the silly vocabulary that had been such a big part of our world fell by the wayside. None of us knew it at the time, but my father had gallbladder issues that would eventually land him in the hospital.
       In August of 2016, my father was told that he needed emergency surgery. We weren’t sure if he had ignored the symptoms in his care for Mom, or if it happened quickly. His body became septic. The outlook was grim. Dad was now eighty-five years old and his heart had become weakened.
I sat with him alone the morning while the doctor had a serious conversation with us. They weren’t sure he would be able to survive the surgery. Dad looked at me when the doctor left the room and said, “What a nightmare, huh?”
        My brave father chose to give the surgery a try. That night as he was being wheeled away he had something to say to each family member in turn. His last words to me were, “Thanks for everything.” But later I would find out that these weren’t truly the last words I would ever hear from my father.
Though he made it through surgery, Dad couldn’t breathe on his own. He was placed on a ventilator and given medication to keep him comfortable. Weeks passed with no change until I arrived at the hospital early one morning.
       Something had been nagging at me. We had all noticed that Dad’s health was failing, that there hadn’t been any improvement. I knew that I should say something important to my father on that day. Dad had always been there for all of us and he had spent his life dedicated to others. I knew he deserved to be at peace. Though he hadn’t been conscious, I felt that he would be able to hear me as I talked with him that morning. I wanted to be able to let him go. To tell him it was okay to leave us.     With tears streaming down my face, I arrived at the hospital. He actually was much worse. The nurses told me that it would be a day of decisions. Nothing else could be done. His kidneys and organs were failing. I called for my brother and Mom to be there. Friends came to support us on a most difficult day.
       Each of us took our time to say goodbye to him. I had been prepared, but now I wasn’t quite ready to let go. This was truly it. The end of Dad’s life. I glanced around the room at the faces of friends and family, so glad for their comforting presence when I sensed a presence of another kind.      Surrounding my father’s bed, almost like an out-of-focus camera lens, were four tall stately beings: One at the head, one at the foot, and one on either side. I realized they weren’t clearly visible, it was as if I could feel, more than see them. A sense of awe overcame me. They were beautiful, majestic. I wanted to cry out and share the moment with everyone else in the room. Were they angels sent to guide my father home?  Visitors sent from Heaven to greet Dad on the journey he would soon take? This incredible glimpse I was given had to be a true gift that only could have come from my Heavenly Father. I kept the moment to myself. Peace enveloped me then; a sense of well-being, knowledge that Dad would be in good hands—the best hands. I was able to leave the room, able to let go.
        Though others stayed behind as they took Dad off life support, I could not. I went downstairs to a small chapel in the hospital but it was too dark, too quiet for me there. The sun had been shining brightly outside and I decided that I would spend Dad’s last moments walking outdoors.
       A friend who stayed in the room told me she would call me when my father passed. I found a bench and sat upon it, lifting my face to the warming rays of the sun. Birds chirped happily in the surrounding trees. All was quiet, until . . .
I heard my father’s voice, clear as a bell. No mistaking the slight chuckle, the tone of what was said. “The nightmare’s over.
       Exactly at that moment my friend texted me. Where are you? She asked. Why, I asked, is he gone? Yes, she said, very peacefully. I knew that God had allowed another miracle! For me to hear my father’s words as he went off to glory. To let me know with our special phrase that he was leaving, but for me to be happy for him.
       A few months later I had a very powerful dream. In it, my father came to me. He looked young and handsome. He said to me, “Kar, here in Heaven, everything glows, even the people.” I remember feeling as if my heart would burst from happiness at seeing him. During the dream, I confessed how worried I was about Mom. He simply said, “Don’t worry.” When he wanted to tell me a secret about Heaven, I awoke, for I felt it wasn’t time for me to know.
       Throughout my life I’d always dreaded saying goodbye to my parents. Our family was so close. I was sure I would never be able to handle it. Though he left us, Dad’s words remained with me and got me through; the ones that were silly and made me laugh, the comforting ones which had always given me hope, and the parting words spoken secretly to me.
       We lost Mom only nine months later. Though it wasn’t easy saying goodbye so soon after losing Dad, it helped to know he was waiting for her on the other side.