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“Mom?  Will you play football with us?”

It’s a crisp fall day.  I was outside raking leaves while the boys ran around the front yard.  Leaf raking is sort of a zen activity for me.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment, seeing the piles grow as the lawn gets cleaner.  Until the wind blows and I start all over again.

Gerry runs over to me with a small Arizona State University nerf football in his hand.  “Mom?  Will you play football with us?”

I lean the rake up against the big tree in our yard as he calls his brothers over. I was hesitant to play, partly because I was finally getting a big pile of leaves but also because getting the three of them on the same page for any activity is difficult.  Their age differences and developmental differences make physical games tricky.  Herding cats is an understatement.

The boys decide that it will be Howie and Lewis against Gerry.  The two younger kids will be on defense.  Gerry comes over to me with the ball.

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“I’ll be the quarterback,” I say.

I have an instant flashback to when I was a kid.  My Dad has the football in his hands.  We’re in our backyard on a cold Vermont fall weekend afternoon. He’s in his tuque and his sweatpants taped up with duct tape with work boots on. He was always the quarterback. To make it fair.

“Can I be the quarterback?” Gerry asks.

“No,” I said. “I will be quarterback for both sides to be fair.”

I draw out a “play” on my right hand.  “We’ll call this ‘the button hook’ play. You go out eight steps, turn around and I will throw it to you.”

I see my dad drawing the same play in his hands.  “Go out 10 steps, then turn to your right.  I’ll throw it right to you. Watch out for that pile of dog poop over there.  And that one over there.”

I yell a bunch of random numbers and then “HIKE!” Gerry hikes the ball to me and tries to run the play.  The boys run all over the yard in no pattern laughing, trying to play their position.

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My cousins and siblings run around the yard, yelling at each other and laughing, trying to make the play.

“NO TACKLING!” I yell.

Two hand touch!” my dad yells.

Touchdown! Between the rake and the pile of leaves!

Touchdown! Between the broken flower pot and pile of hay!

We switch teams after the touchdown.  I stay at quarterback.

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We play until the sun goes down and my hands get too cold to throw the ball.

**********

In the Glee episode “The Quarterback“, the football coach and Puckerman (one of the characters) are sitting next to the memorial stone for Finn Hudson.  Puck looks at the line between the born and died years and says “You know what’s tripping me up? This line between the two years. That’s his whole life. Everything that happened is in that line.” The coach looks at him and asks “What are you going to do with your line?”

I see now my line is filled with being my kids’ quarterback.

I’m the one drawing up the plays on my hand on the fly.

Tossing them the ball as they get the glory of scoring the winning touchdown.

Guiding them through homework and relationships and teacher meetings and IEPs and therapy sessions.

All leading to their personal successes.  In their own way.

Honoring my dad’s memory with my old Target sneakers, faded yoga pants and torn fleece jacket.

Until they are old enough to be their own quarterback and figure out what they will do with their line.

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Today marks 15 years since my dad died.

I miss him every day in different ways. 

But I especially I miss him as my quarterback.

19544_1326211601980_499808_nTook this love and I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
Till the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don’t know, oh I don’t know

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older I’m getting older too
Yes I’m getting older too.” – Landslide by Fleetwood Mac

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States for 2013 are:

  • About 45,220 people (22,740 men and 22,480 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • About 38,460 people (19,480 men and 18,980 women) will die of pancreatic cancer

Rates of pancreatic cancer have been slowly increasing over the past 10 years.

Learn more about early diagnosis and treatment at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreaticcancer/detailedguide/pancreatic-cancer-detection or visit The Lustgarten Foundation’s website

The flame on the memorial candle is starting to flicker.

I lit it last night in memory of my dad.  The candle burns for 24 hours.  This is the 12th time I’ve lit it, remembering the day he died 13 years ago.

My house is quiet.  Everyone is asleep.

This is the first time I’ve watched it burn out alone.

The wax is all but gone.  Just the wick remains.

There was never really any time to grieve, even from the beginning.  Just days after he died, I was making the decision to step into his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives.  My first answer was no, I can’t fill those shoes.  A day later, I couldn’t think of anyone else who could.  The Governor called a few days after that, appointing me to the seat.  I was twenty-six and my days were filled with getting up to speed on legislation and buying fancy clothes.

Each anniversary from there was just…busy.  I lit the candle but had my hands full.  I went from the State House to marriage to full time parenthood in just a few years.  There was never any time to reflect.  Or grieve.

The flame gives one last flicker.  Then it’s gone.

I am so angry at what the cancer took from all of us.  The years that my sister missed with him.  She was just 13 when he died.

He called her “his gal”.  I was “curly top”.

My heroic mother took it upon herself to be our rock, even though she had never had the time to grieve the passing of her own mother just a year before.

He missed my brother’s graduation from graduate school.  His wedding.  My wedding. 

He missed knowing the three most precious boys who all have names after him.  He missed watching his grandson pitch his first game. Their first steps, their first amazing words.

My boys want to know him.  Gerry asks about his political career and talks about the injustices in the world.  Howie told me “It’s too bad your dad is dead.  He can’t make Hot Wheels tracks with you.”  I know my dad would see the humor and love in that.

I am filled with such anger at the stupid cancer that took him from us.  Pancreatic cancer is the same killer it was 13 years ago.  A survival rate of just 5%. I’m angry at all cancers.  Too many members of my family have been in a battle against this indiscriminate disease: my mother, my mother-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins.  It’s not fair.  I hate you, cancer.  You rip the innocence right out from underneath us all.

I stare at the candle.  I never know what to do with it once it’s out.  It seems weird to throw it away, but just as weird to keep it.

I still have dreams about him some nights, thirteen years later.  Sometimes I’m talking to him.  Sometimes it feels so real that when I wake up, I wonder if the whole thing is just a dream.  There is still so much unfinished business between us.  So many things I still need to know.  So many stories that I need to hear again.  I’m starting to forget the little memories and I want to pass them on to my own boys.  There is a piece of him in each one of them.  I want them to know their history and it’s getting harder for me to remember it all.

I pick up the candle.  It’s still very warm.

My dad had these big giant work boots that we used to walk around in when we were kids, like most kids do.  In the Legislature, I never felt like I fit those boots.  It never felt like it was mine.  More like I was there to close a chapter for him, rather than start my own.

Those boots have always been so hard to fill.  I think of all the things he was in his short life: a child, a spouse, a teacher, a counselor, a community leader, a first responder, an advocate for children. 

The candle stays warm in my hands.  But I am shaking.

I realize that I am all of those things now, in my own house.  I am still my mother’s child.  Tim’s wife.  A teacher, counselor and first responder for my own children.  And as I find my voice in advocating for my own children, I am helping others in my community speak for their children too.

I have become my father’s daughter.  I have found my place.

I am alone with the candle.  I can finally grieve.

And now, perhaps, move on.

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter

far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun’s love
in the spring
becomes the rose” –
The Rose by Bette Midler

I wanted to be sad today.

Today marks twelve years since we lost my dad to pancreatic cancer.

I wanted to sit with my cup of coffee and think about the last moments we had together.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted the world to stop for one moment so I could miss him.

But the kids wouldn’t let me.

Well, really, life wouldn’t let me.

Lunches and snacks still had to be packed.  Kids had to get dressed.  We were late (again) for school.  We were out of juice.  I needed to help a friend.

I lit the traditional Jewish memorial candle and Howie asked me what I was doing.  I explained to him that the candle helped me remember my dad today and that it would burn all day and all night long.  He wanted to know exactly what time it was going to burn out.

As I bent down to talk to him, I realized how much of my dad is still all around me.

I see him in Gerry’s third grade school picture.  His ears, eyes and smile are almost identical to a picture we had on the wall growing up of my dad’s school picture.

I see him when Howie “eye-squishes” after laughing so hard his eyes tear, and when he picks his “favorite seat” on the couch squished down behind one of us, just like I used to do when I was a kid.

I see him in Lewis when he gets the mischievous third child twinkle in his eye (my dad was the third of five boys).

There are pieces of my dad everywhere.

I wanted to be sad today.  I wanted to grieve for all the time we didn’t have together.  I wanted to be angry at all the things he missed.  I wanted to think about how his death took him too soon from all of us.

But I couldn’t.

How could I be sad when there’s so much life – his life – still here around me?

Those smiles, those squeezes, and those twinkles?

How could I do anything else but celebrate him today with a smile, an eye-squish and a twinkle of my own?

I lit the candle today for my dad and for all those who have been touched by pancreatic cancer.  November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.  It is one of the hardest cancers to detect and has one of the lowest survival rates.  To learn more, visit http://www.knowitfightitendit.org/

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Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Something good’s bound to come” – Peace Train by Cat Stevens (one of my dad’s favorite songs)