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Filtering by Category: Dead Dad

Nobody Told Me About The Ghosts

Amber Adrian

I really wasn't prepared for the number of ghosts my life story would contain.

My dad called my brother from the Great Beyond. (Fact.)

A dude my grandfather killed in a bar fight set off my smoke alarm 72 years later so I would help put his spirit to rest. (Unverifiable Fact.)

My boyfriend and I got back together after his long-dead mom showed up in my kitchen and told me to text him. (Fact.)

For a few years after he died, my father would randomly turn on my stereo and play songs he especially enjoyed. (Unverifiable Fact.)

I'm not sure who needs to hear this and it's possible that I'm hazy on the definition of "fact", but there are so many things in this world that are unverifiable and also true.

Things we can sense but not see, feel but not know, know but not understand.

Allowing all my extrasensory perceptions to just exist in my world the same way Netflix does (this may or may not be real but it sure is entertaining!), the same way my car does (I will now be taken somewhere I need or want to go), made everything a lot easier.

If you've been sensing things or hearing things or seeing things or knowing things, things you can't explain, you aren't alone.

So many of us have dragons in the house, ascended masters riding around in the back seat, fairies popping out from behind trees, and archangels doing a bit of light housecleaning.

Totally normal.

xo - Amber


P.S. If you’re going to talk about it, it helps to hang out with people who respond to announcements that there are tiny unicorns in the trees or wood nymphs up a hill with "I THOUGHT I felt something up there!" rather than a call to the nearest psych ward. And sometimes the only way to find those people... is to talk about it.

Cash from the Great Beyond

Amber Adrian

My dad adored sci-fi novels. Loved them. He was the reason I saw Star Wars multiple times and how I got hooked on Firefly after an initial "Space-Western, Dad? Really?" resistance phase.

He had a whole series of novels in his head that he never actually got down on paper - I like to think that he'll write them in his next life. What he did have was an entire wall filled with hundreds and hundreds of sci-fi paperbacks that we had to deal with after his death.

After about half the books had been disposed of - the man had a LOT of them - the used bookstore my mom had just visited called her up and said, "We just found $400 in one of the books you just dropped off. Would you like to come pick it up?"

Let's unpack that.

First, an employee of a used bookstore finds a reasonably large amount of cash in a book and makes the effort to return it. 

Second, my father was stashing wads of cash in his books.

Third, we had already gotten rid of -hundreds- of said books. How much cash floated out into the world via yellowed fantasy novels?

While I didn't hate the extra money - mom split all the cash found from there on out between me and my brother - my favorite part was knowing that whatever cash was in those books will be found by my father's kindred spirits. People who love books, who love science fiction, who have wild imaginations.

I like to think that some of the people who find that money are very much in need of two hundred dollars, or flip to the cash right when they need a lift or a little gift from the universe.

If you live in the Bay Area and ever buy a used sci-fi novel and find a hundred dollar bill between the pages, it probably belonged to my dad and he's sending his love from the great beyond.


Happy Birthday, Dad. Sorry I Have No Idea When You Were Actually Born.

Amber Adrian

My dad's birthday may be coming up. But I don't know for sure.

I'm embarrassed by this, obviously. Like, thanks for feeding and singing the ABCs when I was panicking and putting me through college, dad! Sorry I forgot your birthday for over thirty years!

It's less awkward now that he won't notice if I don't call or write. But guilt is an emotion that transcends death.

Other birthdays stick in my head just fine. I can rattle off my mom and brother's birth dates, zodiac signs, and preferred method of celebratory communication at a moment's notice. But no matter how often I put it in my calendar or asked my mom what it was, I could never remember my father's. 

After dad's death, I handled all the paperwork. I must have seen and written out his birth date dozens of times. On the hospital and insurance paperwork, relaying the information to the social security office and to the undertaker for his death certificate. But I can't for the life of me remember the date. I'm not even one-hundred percent certain it's in April. 

On the surface it doesn't make any sense. I'm not the high priestess of details, but I do all right in life. I'm not the best daughter, but I'm not a terrible one. 

But since he passed away, I've learned that people can make themselves invisible. 

In fact, I used to be one of them. In high school, I could waltz into class thirty-five minutes late, carrying a takeout cup of coffee, and the teacher didn't even pause his lecture. I once napped through most of my economics class, head down on the desk, and the teacher didn't say a word. I always assumed it was because I was generally a good, quiet student, and didn't abuse the privilege of napping or caffeinating. But now I'm not so sure. 

Once I deeply distressed a date when I told him I was walking home through San Francisco, all the way from the Mission to the Lower Haight, at eleven at night. It didn't even occur to me to be worried. It's like I went through life with Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility. Or stupidity, which is an argument I probably can't deny. But I honestly felt one-hundred percent safe. 

My only defense against stupidity is that you can't sneak up on me. A friend once saw me from a block away and was going to yell out my name but decided not to, because I was with a date. He told me later that, as he was deciding whether or not to shout my name, he saw me turn and look over my shoulder in his direction, like I was looking for something. 

(I also know when people are mad at me or thinking unkind things about me - even if they never say anything, even if they're thousands of miles away. This is a less fun psychic power, but it's been confirmed often enough that I've stopped thinking I'm paranoid.) 

Superpowers are great, unless you unconsciously use them to block off the world and then wonder why no one ever sees you.

I think my father was in hiding - and it affected most everything in his life, from work to relationships to his goddamn birthday that I can never remember. 

Why are some of us so scared of being seen? Being recognized? Being loved? Wounds can run deep and we are so powerful at protecting ourselves, even when it means walling ourselves off from everything we actually want.

As an empath, I have a deeply aggravating habit of bringing thoughts, emotions, and wounds onboard that aren't my own. Sometimes I wonder how much of my invisibility is mine and how much of it I took on from my father.

Trying to sort out what's mine and what's someone else's is like trying to file sand. Each grain is questionable, convincing it to stay happily in its assigned folder is basically impossible, and there's just so damn much of it. 

Sometimes you can heal something in an instant, sometimes it feels like swimming through quicksand for an eon or two. I'm tired of swimming through quicksand. It's exhausting and fruitless. So I think I'm just going to let myself off the hook about my father's birthday. I know he doesn't care. He's good, he knows I love him. He just wants me to move on, to find and do the things he didn't, and finally let all those wounds heal. 

Maybe I don't have to file the sand. Maybe I just have to run across it, chasing seagulls and dancing just out of reach of the waves. Shake it out of my shoes, before I get back in my car and drive home.

[EDIT: My mom just informed me that his birthday is April 7th. As in, yesterday. Guess you can still be an asshole to your dad even after he's dead! WHAT A RELIEF.]

When Love Goes Awry

Amber Adrian

If you’ve never seen your dead father staring out at you from a stranger’s face, I assure you, it’s an experience.

At this point, I'm just spending my life splatting face first into the space-time continuum of metaphysics. Over the past four years, I've worked with all sorts of coaches and mentors and healers who do really fun, weird, and often completely inexplicable things.

One day, my smoke alarm starts howling like a banshee of the damned while I'm on Skype with one of my coaches. My ears split and my eyes watered and I spent ten minutes trying to get the damn thing to stop – made more difficult by the fact that there was no smoke anywhere and I couldn’t reach the off button.

When the unearthly shrieking was finally curtailed, I hop back on Skype and my coach asks, “What were we talking about right before the alarm went off?”

Often, when there's a disturbance in the force - the phone cuts out, Skype hangs up on you, or fire alarms go berserk - it means something important is happening energetically. 

We were talking about my father and it was so intense, my coach sent me to his mentor - a man named Carl who does family constellations. 

Far better explanations of family constellations exist, but my understanding is that they call in the energy of the family and the specific family members, alive or dead, and whatever is needed to be released or healed shows up. People playing the roles within a family will begin expressing the emotions they feel – sadness, anger, relief, comfort – emotions that shift and change and vary depending on who is introduced into the constellation and what their relationship was in life. Family constellations often shed light on patterns and feelings and events that even the people within those systems don’t understand.

So on a summer Wednesday, I end up in a room where a circle of Carl’s students are waiting to call in the energy of my family.

Sitting in a gazebo under the stars of Northern California, I watched a small Asian woman in striped pants take on the role of my grandfather. I know nothing about my grandfather, except that he left abandoned the family when my father was very young. I don’t even know his first name, although I carry his last.

A blonde woman in a red shirt took on the role of my father. She started dancing. I dance, but to the best of my knowledge, my father never danced a day in his life. But there she was, twirling and spinning, before collapsing in a chair. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at my grandfather, and a deep anger began to radiate from her like electricity. “Rage comes in waves, I suppress it like it doesn’t exist. Turn it off, don’t look at it, eat ice cream.”

“So I push it down and create a new life,” she continues.

If I had any doubts about the process, they would’ve been laid to rest right about here. I’m well-acquainted with deeply suppressed rage – and my father’s favorite comfort food. Before he died, one of his last requests was for ice cream.

I know better than to think that a man abandons his family simply because he wants to – there are always reasons, deep and profound and unsettling reasons, why such a course of action is chosen. But when my grandfather, still in the form of a small woman in striped pants, turned to my father and said, “I’m overwhelmed by warmth and tenderness. I can’t look at you because my heart is aching,” I was surprised. Without ever really thinking about it, I reflected my dad’s anger toward the man who took off, leaving my father and his family in a very bad situation that lasted until my father left Pennsylvania for California.

What came through in that small room was that my grandfather was young, maybe not yet ready for the demands of a family. He loved his young son, but he was restless, he longed for adventure. He wanted to be at the bar with his friends.

As he was explaining the love that wrestled with his need to leave, a woman sitting in a chair across the room suddenly flopped face down, nose squashed into the carpet. “I just need to be here,” she said.

Nobody has the answers in a family constellation.

Carl has no idea what’s going on, the volunteers who assume the energy of different family members have no idea what’s going on, I sure as hell don’t have any idea what’s going on. We all just have to watch it unfold and put together the pieces. That’s why sometimes, when there’s an unknown element at work, a random person will flop out of a chair and squash their face into the carpet. Even when they’d really prefer not to because the carpet has been molding on the floor since approximately 1982.

Suddenly, the woman playing my grandpa begins to look guilty. “I did that,” she said, pointing at the woman on the floor. “I did that.”

That’s when it gets really weird. Like film noir weird. Like the moderator looking up from her notes and saying “holy shit” three times weird.

Turns out, my grandfather accidentally killed a man in a bar fight. So he and his buddy left the body lying there and skipped town, never to be heard from again.

Children, even when only a few years old, perceive things.

Looking at the dead body on the ground, the woman in the energy of my father says she feels a strange sense of peace. “You won’t see that,” she says to my grandfather. “You’ll run because of it. I’ll see it for you. It feels good, because it’s reliable. If this is all I can have of you, I’ll take it.”

“Shit, shit, shit,” says my grandfather.

A man who was accidentally murdered by my grandfather in 1944 in a small mining town in Pennsylvania made my smoke alarm shriek seventy-one years later.

Left on the ground in an alley, he needed resolution. The energy was called in so that my grandfather could acknowledge and own and apologize for what he’d done.

Carl makes a joke about dragging the body to a river. “It would’ve been a sign of respect to put me in the river,” says the woman playing the dead man to my grandfather. “Don’t just do this and leave. Put me somewhere.”

After accidentally killing a man when a fight got out of hand and then abandoning his family, my grandfather lived a haunted life. Death was all the only thing that brought him peace. 

When a parent abandons their child, the parent is left half-alive. Even when that decision is made out of love, out of fearing of hurting the child if they stay. Decisions made from a very deep love can do great harm. Simply because, at the time, there doesn’t seem to be another way. Fear consumes and makes it very difficult to make choices that will serve us well. On a deep level, this can impact the family for generations if those emotions are not fully felt and acknowledged and peace made.

“Just kill me,” my grandfather says. “It’s better than feeling what I’ve done to you.”

“This is the first time in any constellation when ‘Hey, douchebag’ is a healing statement,” Carl says.

The murderer and the murdered each turn to each other and say, “Hey, douchebag” and the ownership of accidental, terrible actions transform into something funny and heart-breaking and healing.

"Hey, douchebag" was their path to peace.

Emotion was deep and overwhelming, experiences described by these people who had never met me or any other member of my family so closely mirrored my own experiences – of being overwhelmed, stuck behind a wall, going blank with no words in times of great stress or emotion.

That’s why I love this stuff. It makes you question what you believe to be possible and nudges you into expansion.

After absorbing the energy of murder and abandonment, my father wasn’t very alive. All he wanted was to escape and begin a new life and shield his children. He wanted to shield us – and so my brother and I took that shield and divvied it up. For reasons I never fully understood, I couldn’t let things in while my brother couldn’t let things out. This includes money, relationships, connection, love. Not all-inclusive, but I’ve always felt a wall there.

At the end, my grandfather and the accidentally dead bar buddy lying on the ground behind us, my father turns to me and my brother and says, “We can breathe now.”

“You’re seeing your father for the first time,” Carl says. “Because of what happened, he could never be fully present.” Even as I write this now, I begin to cry. Because it’s true. My father had to maintain a certain distance his entire life. Less so with my brother and I than with most people, but distance nonetheless.

We received a blessing from our father that day from beyond the grave. Children receive a spiritual blessing from their father. If his wounds block him from giving that blessing, then our supply of money and of creative power becomes crimped, because it can’t run through the pipeline without causing Dad stress.

After his death, we received what he meant to give us while he was alive. Drained by circumstances beyond his control and without the tools to heal it, he simply didn’t have it to share.

Who knows what of this is true, what truly reflects what happened in my father's family. But on some level, who cares? More is gained from believing than disbelieving. More is healed by allowing the experience in than in shutting it out because it can’t be proven.

And it reminds me that love always comes through, even if circumstances and choices block love or the ability to give what we all want to give our families. That love is always held in trust for us, to be delivered when the time is right, even if it takes lifetimes. 

Where Money and Emotion Tango


So many of our human issues are tied up in money. Both on a global scale and on a deeply personal one. Money in and of itself is a neutral force. But money easily absorbs whatever emotions we want to plaster on top of it. Money represents so much to us - love, power, success, freedom. Any one of us can have any one of these things without money, but we throw money up as a barrier to what we want. I know I sure do.

My tendency to under earn throughout my adult life has affected my self-esteem and my belief in my talent and my success. At times, to an unreasonable degree. Lots of people slam face first into this particular brick wall - especially artists.

When tying my self-worth up in my belief that lack of money equals lack of talent, I also had to admit that I never really invested in myself or in the kind of writing I truly want to do. Sure, you don't necessarily need money to do this, but you do need energy. To be fair, much of my work over the past five years was to get me to the point where I felt like I could invest in myself this way. I've been blogging for almost ten years. I wrote stories I cared about. I used words to preserve pieces of myself and my history. I did my best to adjust my lifestyle so that my energy was solid and my sensitivities managed. When I hit rock bottom, I did what I could to lurch upward. When I hit rock bottom again, I flailed and then I found help in the upward lurch. Some writers need writing to find themselves, some writers need to find themselves before they can truly write. I needed both. Not that we are ever found, of course, that's kind of a dumb phrase. We're always here, but maybe we're buried. Or we've slipped away from ourselves, our intuition, our deep knowing of who we are and what we're here to do.

I spent a lot of my thirties hunting for myself, digging through the layers until I found my center. Then I lost my center, found it,  lost it, then I found it again. So it goes with center-finding. Balance is never rock solid, it's always at the mercy of the wind. Until you realize that the wind can't blow you any farther than you choose to go.

But one of the things I still struggle with is money. Lucky for me, now I can struggle with money while actually having some. When my dad died, he left $40,000 buried in the woods (true story) and a piece of property that we decided to sell. Buried treasure doesn't last long when you have hospital bills and mortuaries to pay, but the property sale helped me get to the place where I always believed I should be at this age. Namely, solvent.

Some of me felt guilty that it took a parent dying to get me there. Sometimes it felt like blood money, but most of me didn't feel that bad about that. I was perfectly willing to look at it as a paycheck for dealing with the pain, anguish, stress, grief, and crazy details of death more or less gracefully. (Mostly less.) What I felt guilty about was that the money made so much of a difference to me. Shouldn't I have gotten there on my own? Shouldn't I have figured out money by my mid-30s? Shouldn't I have been more frugal? A parent's death shouldn't be a get-out-of-debt-free card. Maybe yes, maybe no. But spiritual counter-arguments of the "we all have our own paths and timelines" persuasion fall on deaf ears when you're eager to feel terrible about yourself.

Money guilt, even though I'm not in the same dire $257-away-from-being-flat-broke straits as I once was, still rears its goblin head to stick out its tongue at me. Especially when I choose not to earn it.

A few months ago, I did a scary thing. When my last two big freelance contracts ended at almost precisely the same time, rather than engage in my usual six stages of coping - panic, worry, panic again, get over it, write things that excite me for awhile, hunt for a new client, find a new client - I opted to skip the panic part.

Instead, I decided to buy myself two months to write what I wanted to write, to work on projects that fed me rather than drained me, to both invest deeply in work I want to do and take the adult's version of summer vacation. Three days after I made the decision, I finished my book of animal stories. Vindication! My choice was the right one! Tainted by only the smallest amount of guilt. Yes, part of the deal of buying myself two months of writing was that I wasn't allowed to feel bad about it, but the gremlins devour good intentions like candy corn. Then a few weeks later, my channeled blog was born. Now I'm creating some stuff for writers who want to learn how to use their intuition to make the whole process of writing easier and more fun and hopefully more likely to wow the world with their mad genius. (Do you know any writers who'd be into this? Send 'em my way! Are you a writer who'd be into this?) It's fun and I love it and now I get to love rather than dread sitting down to work.

But now I'm at the end of my two months. I deeply want to keep investing in my own work and I do have the means to do it, but the Real Adults Make Money (Preferably Lots of Money) belief is tough to elude. So are the gremlins of "this is self-indulgent" and "who are you to think you can make money doing what you actually want to do?" and the "lucky you, you certainly couldn't do this if you had a family to take care of!" All I can do is confront them head on and decide what's truly important to me. While doing my best to untangle my own issues around money and trust in myself and my abilities.

My issues with money are mostly just my issues with myself - where I don't trust myself, where I don't trust my work, where I don't trust the world. But trust is a muscle. All you can do is lean on it and hope it grows stronger.

Better Than Here


Death cracks you open. Watching someone you love take that final journey leaves you flattened and groundless. We don’t know what’s next for them. We can’t follow. We can’t understand how it feels to face the end of your life or the mental, emotional, and physical territory that comes with it. I don’t believe that those who die are lost. I don't believe that we're purely biological lights that flicker out when bodies give up. I believe we have an essence. A soul, if you will, that soldiers on after our body gives up. But it's a very human thing to want proof and science still doesn't know quite what to make of death. So each of us has to choose what we believe - and then, more importantly, choose what to do with that belief.

Sitting in the car with my father and talking about god is one of my earliest memories. I told him I didn't believe in any religion that taught us to fear god, because I didn't think god worked that way. His reply didn't survive my precarious and sieve-like memory bank, but I remember feeling like he was proud of me.

He's also proud of me for this - deep, life-long commitment to Calvin and Hobbes, his favorite comic. 

He's also proud of me for this - deep, life-long commitment to Calvin and Hobbes, his favorite comic. 

The idea of god as a judgmental white-bearded dude in the sky never seemed quite right. One night when I was young, seven or eight maybe, I decided that god was made of people - the best parts of people, what we are at our purest and most loving. I saw each person as a bright pinprick of light, like a star. I remember deciding that we’re our own individual sparks here in this body, in this life. But when we die, our light gathers and joins that of everyone else in a much larger light, bright and vast. God as a separate entity doesn’t exist, because we are all god.

I’m not sure where this came from - maybe I absorbed this idea from the metaphysical books that lined the shelves of our living room when I was growing up, maybe it was a burst of intuition that came through before my brain and ego began to shut me down, maybe I invented it because it seemed like a nice idea. But I remember feeling comforted by the idea of a great light to return to as I lived my relatively average but not exempt from pain life.

But when your father is dying, all you can do is feed him ice cream when he asks for it and play John Coltrane you’re not sure he can hear and then send him off into the deep unknown and trust that whatever comes next is better than where he was.

Dreams Deferred



When someone dies, they leave behind a lot of stuff. Emotional stuff, yes, but also a shed full of thirty-year-old gardening magazines. To the best of my knowledge, the only time my father ever tried to grow anything was when he bought and planted a rosebush. His definition of gardening was building an electric fence around his flowers to keep the deer from chewing on them. An electric fence seems like overkill, but given that he peered out his front window one night and found a mountain lion on his porch gnawing on a deer haunch, maybe it was warranted.

At least the lion avoided the roses.

Dad lived up in the Santa Cruz mountains, miles down a dirt road, on ten acres of land that includes redwoods and a stream. Not bad, if you like that kind of thing. I remember lying in a hammock strung between two redwoods and reading Calvin & Hobbes in the sun. I would go stone hopping along the creek, followed by one of Dad's more adventurous cats.

Going through his stuff after he died, I began to fully understand some of our shared character traits. Dad had tons of educational materials he bought and never opened. So do I. He thought about writing a novel for years - we talked about it and he had copious and carefully organized plot notes. As far as I can tell, he died before he wrote the first chapter.

It's a form of resistance. You take the first step and then you drag your feet on taking the second step - sometimes for years. But what I've learned since is that you can always make a new choice. Just because Dad didn't ever start his novel doesn't mean I won't ever finish mine. Just because he never cracked open his audio courses on world religions doesn't mean I have to go to my grave having never finished reading my copy of Die Empty. It's easy to get lost in the comforting warmth of familial bonds, but his choices do not have to be mine. His struggles don't have to dictate my eagerness to build and create and learn.

Dad loved fantasy and science fiction. Sick to death of endless recitations of Goodnight Moon, he read me The Hobbit when I was three years old. I'd sit on the couch next to him with my sippy cup and security blanket and absorb tales of trolls and wizards and rings of power. He had vast bookshelves of the stuff and spent years upon years developing ideas for his own series without ever putting a word to paper.

He left behind a lot of stuff. My question is, what did he take with him?

Stephenie Meyer says her Twilight series came to her in a dream, and she transcribed her world of glittering vampires and adolescent fantasy onto paper and sold millions upon millions of copies. I like to think that will happen to Dad in his next life. That he'll wake up one morning and the plot line he spent years upon years developing in this life will burst into his brain fully formed, and all he'll have to do is copy it down. So maybe the work of this life won't be lost.

If you want to extrapolate wild theories based on a belief in reincarnation and soul memory, this could explain people like Mozart. You spend years, decades, lifetimes learning the rules, practicing the notes, playing the scales. Maybe you spend three deeply aggravating lifetimes being on of those people who tries and tries and never quite make it - and then you get born Adele and win Grammies and Oscars in your early 20s, after making the whole world shake with your music. I don't know. But I like to think that's possible and that my dad will get to see his work in print, even if the author plate holds a different name and picture.

Isn't that a nice thought? That even if you die without fulfilling a dream, all your work of this life could pay off in the next. Maybe nothing is wasted. So if you love something, do it. If you're bad at it, who cares? Even if you haven't the slightest hint of talent, practice as hard as you can. Maybe it will pay off two hundred years from now when you look completely different and have a license for a flying car. Maybe I should keep singing in the shower. Just because I sound like a choking alley cat doesn't mean that a few rounds from now I won't be Taylor Swift.

I like to think that maybe my dad will be born into another body in ten, twenty, fifty years and he'll want to be a writer, and that plot and world that he spent decades of this life developing and dreaming and researching will come to him, fully formed, like it was coming from another time or place. Maybe he won't understand it but he'll trust it and run with it. And the book he wanted to write in this life will be written in his next.

Fork in the Road


My dad’s sister got a reading from a psychic in San Francisco a few months after he died. Because that’s what we do in my family.

Dad showed up, as a spirit or a ghost or whatever you get to be after you're dead, and the psychic said he was wearing jogging shorts. As far as I know, my father never owned a pair of jogging shorts in his life. He was fond of joking that running was the worst way to be healthy. “Sure you live longer,” he’d say, “but you have to spend all that extra time jogging.” Now that I spend a lot of time circling trails, I wonder how much longer he would have lived, and how much more peaceful he would have felt, if he had been a runner.

As she told me this, writing off dad's curious post-death jogging shorts as psychic dissonance, I remembered a thought I had months before he passed away. Dad lived in Swall Meadows, right next to Inyo National Park. After spending the day in the care center with him, I would run in the shadows of the sunset-tipped mountains. This thought came to me in the middle of one of my afternoon runs, feeling weirdly like a vision - an idea I’m really not comfortable with, minus Peyote and a Native American chieftain or two. So I wrote it off as the product of mild heat stroke and my new and strange obsession with running. At the time, Dad had already started to talk about dying, but we wouldn’t accept it for months yet. But as I was running through the desert, I saw two paths for my father.

One, the widest and bleakest, the path he eventually chose, was of him spiralling down into the worst the human experience can offer - a broken body and a mind that can’t heal because both are so separated from their own processes and emotions that they can’t find their way back.

The second path, much fainter, showed my father running. Conquering what ailed him until he was healthy enough to become one of those sun-leathered old dudes pounding the pavement in running shoes with wet bandanas tied around their grizzled heads.

Knowing now how badly off he was by the time he fell, I don’t know if that was possible. Maybe what I was seeing was a path that had forked off many years previous and was no longer an option. Maybe it was a path he could have chosen. I don’t know. But I saw him running. I saw him healthy. I saw him beating back the demons with sweat and salt and endless miles of asphalt.


I'm writing a book about my father's death. I'll be sharing pieces of the Dead Dad Book as I work on it, because writing here and on Twitter led me to this book in the first place.

Shifting Years


Last year, I traveled thousands of miles to realize that it doesn't really matter where you are - your capacity for happiness doesn't change, whether you're on a beach in Central America or in the house where you grew up. I watched the wind of my first hurricane whip past the second floor of my friend's house on Staten Island, bending towering trees in half, like they were genuflecting to the eye of the storm. I had my first panic attack in the parking lot of a hospital. I handed out thousands of dollars in cash. I went soaring over the jungles of Costa Rica. I got kissed on a bridge in Amsterdam. I watched both my parents become incapacitated and unable to communicate. One recovered, one didn't. I learned that seven almonds buy you a lot of attention from a squirrel. I lay by the side of the highway next to the Intensive Care Unit, tears running from the corners of my eyes and into the grass.

Driving away from the hospital after saying goodbye.

Last year, I watched New York marathon runners jogging from the Staten Island ferry to Rockaway beach with supplies on their backs. I learned that when the power is out for a week, it's not the electricity you miss, it's the heat. I roamed the streets of Manhattan the way I did in college, music pouring through my headphones to create a soundtrack to a city that seemed to expand and contract around me, as my own feelings ebbed and flowed. It was hard to be so far away from my family during that month as my dad was failing and my mom had a concussion from hitting her head on the kitchen floor, but it patched over the gaping hole I felt had been kicked in my chest. Taking that time allowed me be who I needed to be during the last week we spent with my dad. There's still some guilt there, but I'm learning to trust in my own instincts, to know that I can balance my own needs with those of my loved ones.

On the Staten Island ferry.

Last year, the furrow between my brows - the one that appears when I'm confused or in pain - became permanent. The ridges smooth out when I relax, but they're always visible now, something that would have horrified my younger self and occasionally still does. That furrow is the physical legacy of my 35th year and my father's death.

Other things are less visible.

Last year, I learned to sit on my hands when what I really want to do is yell and scream and react. I learned to be kinder to people who lash out, because it stems from their own pain and they're only really hurting themselves. You're allowed to feel your feelings, but when you use them as a whiplash to sting others in a desperate bid to make yourself feel better 1) it doesn't work and 2) now everyone's mad at you. I learned that being kind to yourself means making healthy choices and other people don't have to like those choices. I learned that the journey toward death - even when it's painful and hard and you begin to think that no hell devised by even the fiercest of religions could be as bad as this - can be full of grace. Even joy. Certainly love.

The world is a beautiful place, and I saw more of it. Autumn leaves on Staten Island, canals in Holland, fireflies in Central America. I met and reconnected with amazing people. It was a year of adventure and stuck-ness and great change. It was a year where I further cemented my faith in myself and in the world around me. It was a year where the roots in my heart grew and extended down through my legs and my feet and into the center of the world. I feel like you can't face death with a loved one without your roots both growing deeper and also disconnecting you from what you previously knew. But where you feel untethered, there are always people to catch you, to be the rubber bumper as your heavy ball hurtles toward the pins. People - friends, hospital workers, folks on Twitter - helped guide my family and me as we picked and spun our way down the lane from my father's accident to his death.

The second half of 2012 was tough for me. But there was a lot of grace and magic in it too. I'm learning not to be frightened by the tough stuff. Because it opens the door to so many good things. Love. Relief. Growth. Change. Pattern busting. Sinking fully into each good moment - the ones with bikes and color and grace - because they're worth so much more when what surrounds them is hard. Parties glow with brighter light, tea with friends takes on new weight, and the words that flow through your headphones and into your brain assume fresh meaning. But I got what I needed from 2012. I think the best you can hope for from a year is to love yourself and the world better than you did when it started.

I couldn't have possibly imagined what 2012 held for me back in January. So I'm letting go of the need to know what this coming year will hold. I want to find an easier forward motion because I tend to go full-throttle and then slam the brakes on myself, which makes for a rather lurching existence. I want more stability and creation and giving. I want to be a better person, a better friend, a better daughter and sister.

Beyond that, who knows? Some things will be good, some bad, some painful, some joyful. But whatever it holds, there will be love and there will be grace and there will be discovery. Before my father died, my brother grabbed his shoulder and said, “I’m excited for you, dad. You’re about to go on an adventure.”

I think that's what 2013 holds for all of us. So I'm excited. We're about to go on an adventure.