Writing the Hard Stuff

I wrote fiction for NaNoWriMo 2019 because my memoir writing has been in a slump. During November, I noticed a February writing workshop in Portland, Oregon with two of my favorite memoirists, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land. Their topic? ”Getting the hard thing, the meaty thing, the painful thing, the unspeakable thing down on the page in a way that others can have emotional access to it.”

Interesting.

My mother passed 34 years ago succumbing to hypothermia on a frigid February North Dakota day. February also claimed the life of my step-brother who passed unexpectedly four years ago. The last straw was two years ago when my father passed on February 2nd. February has weighed heavy on my bones since my mother’s passing, but I once my father passed, the gloves were off. I dubbed the month FuckUary.

So when I saw the title of the workshop ”Getting It Onto the Page, Getting It Out In The World,” I didn’t hesitate. I signed up and made my travel plans.

I’m under no illusion that the skies will open and writing nirvana will commence, but I’m open to being a sponge. This weekend, I’m reclaiming February from the clutches of grief.

Regardless of the outcome, that will be a win in my book.

Deathiversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of my Father’s passing. It’s been a year of firsts in what I’ve come to call my grief hibernation. I lost my Mother when I was 30 but that was different. I lost her to mental illness long before she walked out of a North Dakota state hospital on a frigid February day and died of hypothermia.

Pa was my rock, my go-to guy through out-of-state moves, joining the military, marriages, a miscarriage, the birth of my daughter, divorces, coming out, and finally marrying my partner. My Father fought for and won custody of my brother and I during the era where children were assumed to be the mother’s responsibility, regardless of mental state.

“Guess what I did Pa?”

He was never quite sure what I would say next, and inevitably, he would respond, “You did what?!”

Whether it was joining the Marines, skydiving, signing up to run a marathon, or getting a promotion, he was always my biggest fan and cheerleader. This was the guy who water-skied in the Missouri River for 12 straight months without a wet suit so clearly I was my Father’s daughter.

Last01
Pa bought this personalized plate for his last new car. It’s a bittersweet reminder that he was the last of his siblings to pass.

My Pa had prepared for his passing by writing his own funeral service and obituary in 2008. After writing them, he called each person he listed as pallbearers, asked them permission to include them, and then proudly read them his newly written obituary. To say my father was a character is an understatement. He ended his obit with “P.S. If you want to put in that he loved to gamble at Prairie Knights you can, also he loved to dance in his younger days.”

 

My Father also planned for his granddaughter and I to deliver eulogies. How on earth would I be able to stand in front of an audience of friends and family and talk about his life without sounding like a blubbering fool?

I listened to the song “Dance With My Father” on repeat and boo-hoo’d my way through the days until “the day” arrived. I really wanted the eulogy to talk about what he meant to me as my Father, but I knew everyone in the room had lost someone very special to them, for so many different reasons. So this is the eulogy I wrote and read:

On behalf of the family, thank you all for coming to help us celebrate the life of our Father, Don D. Sinness (as he liked to call himself).

My Pa impacted and touched the lives of so many people and a stranger was a friend he just hadn’t met and talked to yet. He had a great sense of humor and he loved to make people laugh.

He had this uncanny ability to uplift a person’s spirit just by being present and listening. The next time he saw you, he’d focus on how you were and what was going on in your life, even though he himself was often fighting a medical battle.

My Pa had charm, character, and compassion. He was many things to so many people…a fatherly figure with support and advice, a shoulder to cry on when you needed it, a brother and uncle who loved his extended family, a compassionate ally to transgender co-worker, a fun dancing partner to kick up your heels with, the old Goat roper you loved to party and smoke cigars with, a Grandpa who loved to play 6-5-4 and made you feel like the center of his universe, a best bud you looked forward to catching up with every day, a fellow MDU retiree you could reminisce with, a guy you knew you could count on to do what he could to help if you were having trouble, a loving partner and caregiver to his wife of nearly 45 years.

To us, his wife, kids and grandkids, he was our Rock of Gibraltar and we will miss him terribly.

One of the last things Pa said to me was “It’s time for you to be a brave Marine now.” Pa, it sucks that you’re not here anymore but I’ve got this. Thanks for being my Pa.

Father. Grandfather. Rare Gem.
My Rock. Confidante.
Love You Much. Miss You Always.