Dead Dad Day #8: Seeing the Collateral Beauty

Last year was the first Dead Dad Day I did not spend with my mom and sister. This year marks another Dead Dad Day first: I will spend it completely alone, as I am in Chicago for a workshop. The family dinner and traditional margarita will need to wait until my return on February 12.

I kind of like that I am in Chicago for this occasion, the city where Brendan and I ran three marathons to raise money for Dad’s scholarship and diabetes research. It’s a fitting place to celebrate my dad.

To some new friends and readers, celebrating “Dead Dad Day,” much less calling it that, might seem crass. Why not celebrate my father’s birth instead of his death? (For the record, we do acknowledge that day, too.)

Here’s why: it was a beautiful death.

We talk about attending a beautiful wedding and meeting a beautiful new baby, presumably because both occasions are filled with love and families coming together and rejoicing. Can’t a death be that way, too? My dad’s was.

This past Christmas, my family and I saw the critically-panned movie Collateral Beauty (we all liked it; I cried more than I should have). I’m going to borrow that term here because I think it’s apropos—in the midst of the worst day of my life, I was surrounded by collateral beauty. I couldn’t see it then, but I see it now.

Though he was only 59 and his death was sudden, my father died in bed, hopefully with no pain, and definitely with no prolonged suffering. None of us had to watch his mental or physical decline. That was a beautiful gift.

My family and our network banded together that day – my sister’s future in-laws came to the ER that morning to check in on us. Amy, my Marble Jar friend, instinctively came to my house to cry with me. My mom’s sisters drove up from Connecticut after they got the call. My husband’s aunt came by with subs, reminding us to eat. My sister-in-law and her family brought pizza that night. My parents’ friends descended on the house that evening for what my sister and I affectionately call “the fake wake.” I don’t know how religious all of those people were, but it was the first time I felt what it meant to be “lifted up in prayer.” Their presence was a beautiful gift.

My favorite photo from this time, if one can have a favorite photo of a procsimplefuneral, is a slightly grainy one from the collation after the burial. It is quintessential Pesola Girls. I gave my dad’s eulogy, and at the reception, many friends and family shared remembrances. My mother served as the evening’s MC, a role my dad typically played, and offered the mic to my sister to say a few words, and she lost her composure. My mom took the mic back to give my sister some time, and I wrapped her in my arms and reassured her she could do it. There’s so much pain in this picture, but it was also a beautiful moment of our new Pesola family unit of 3 figuring out our new world and new roles, and my cousin Lisa captured it perfectly.

I often think about my death. I have written my will and my obituary, and I’ve assigned people to my eulogy (you know who you are!). I could attribute this morbidity to surviving the sudden death of a parent at a young age, but really, Amy will tell you I’ve been talking about my death since I was at least 5—hey, it’s gonna happen sooner or later. I can only hope my death will be as beautiful as my dad’s and that my surviving family will recognize it as such…with time.

And so, on this 8th Dead Dad Day, I celebrate how my mother, sister, and I have navigated our new worlds since that day. I again thank all of you for lifting us up in prayer – on February 11, 2009, and today. And I toast my father and the death that brought me so much pain but also so much beauty.

Words I’m From: Books of 2016

As I wrote in last year’s New Year’s blog, in addition to 16 books, my goal for 2016 was to read more female authors and more meaningful fiction. I succeeded, and 2016 goes down as my best reading year yet, especially since I squeezed in 34 books, thanks in part to discovering that I could read my Kindle while on the treadmill (in font larger than I want to admit), thus combining my reading and my marathon training.

NOTE: It helps to know a person’s preferences when considering their opinions. If you are not already aware of my proclivities, you should know I am drawn to nonfiction on topics about which I am ignorant. I appreciate research and good journalism. I have a dead parent, so themes of grief and loss resonate with me, as do characters who are quirky, strong, and brilliant. 

This year, I have four recommendation levels – Skip, Skim, Read, and Must Read. For more info on each book, click the book, which links to Amazon. Here’s my list and brief appraisals, in order of completion:

onepersonmultiplecareers

Book One: One Person/Multiple Careers

I picked this up after it was referenced in Cain’s Quiet. The concept of “the slash effect” is helpful and inspired the title of my blog site. But the “Getting to Slash” highlighted tips at the end of each chapter is all you need.

SKIM (for chapter highlights)

better-than-beforeBook 2: Better Than Before

So, what Rubin learned about making and breaking habits is that everyone has their own motivations and way of doing so. There are some “hmmm, that’s interesting” moments, but not enough of them that I would recommend the book.

SKIP

zBook 3: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

If you loved The Paris Wife, you will also love this. Though historical fiction, not a true (auto)biography, I very much enjoyed getting a glimpse of Zelda’s perspective compared to how she has been portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s biographies.

READ

mademoisellechanelBook 4: Mademoiselle Chanel

What a treat! As someone who knew nothing about Chanel, I found this incredibly entertaining and informative (for historical fiction).

READ

daringgreatlyBook 5: Daring Greatly

Excellent, but it’s worth noting that I love all of Brené Brown’s work. It is helpful to be familiar with her work before reading this one, but not necessary.

READ (MUST READ if you like her stuff)

thegiftoffailureBook 6: The Gift of Failure

This should be required reading for all parents, and teachers ought to read it, too. In fact, I’d like to give it out with our school’s admissions letters. Unlike most parenting books, this one contains anecdotes and applications for ALL ages (babies to college).

MUST READ (if you are a parent or teacher)

theonethingBook 7: The One Thing

This book offers a thought-provoking perspective on time management, focus, and prioritizing.

SKIM

risingstrong

 

Book 8: Rising Strong

This is Brown’s best book yet, and I thought the others were excellent. I love how she gets a bit more personal in this one to illustrate some of her concepts. I cannot wait to hear her speak at NAIS this March.

MUST READ

thenestBook 9: The Nest

Eh. Easy and enjoyable by-the-pool read, but I wasn’t crazy about the rushed non-ending, and it didn’t have any lasting take-aways.

SKIP

 

thestorytellinganimalBook 10: The Storytelling Animal

Wonderfully insightful and entertaining! If you are worried about the decline of reading and/or the rise of video games and technology, read this. It will restore your faith in humanity and storytellers’ ability to shape it.

MUST READ (especially if you are a reader…which you must be if you’ve read this far)

amancalledoveBook 11: A Man Called Ove

Delightful. I would put it on par in tone, style, and themes with Matthew Quick’s The Good Luck of Right Now, which is high praise.

READ

werealldamaged

 

Book 12: We’re All Damaged

Reviewers compared Norman to Jonathan Tropper, who I very much enjoy reading, and after finishing this, I agree. It’s a fast read and extremely entertaining, but there wasn’t anything new to add to the “30-something guy picking up the pieces of his life” genre.

SKIP

visitingfriendsBook 13: After Visiting Friends

It took me a chapter to get used to Hainey’s style – fragments, seemingly unconnected recollections, etc., but it was a satisfying read along the style of Rosman’s If You Knew Suzy. An adult child uses his/her journalistic skills to research the life – and in this case – death – of a parent who died too young.

SKIP

afightingchanceBook 14: A Fighting Chance

Listened to it in audiobook form, read by Warren herself, which was a treat. I knew little about the legalities behind the bank bailout and the mortgage crisis, so that information was eye-opening.

READ (and a MUST READ if you know nothing about the bank bailout or Warren’s journey to the Senate)

theireyeswerewatchinggodBook 15: Their Eyes Were Watching God

I was assigned to read it in high school and, if I did, I do not remember it. I certainly appreciated it as an adult more than I would have in high school. I understand why it’s a classic.

MUST READ

sexobjectBook 16: Sex Object: A Memoir

A page-turner, and a must-read for feminists everywhere, girls/women everywhere, and the men who love them. The somewhat casual references to drugs didn’t resonate with me, but so many of her gendered experiences and observations did, unfortunately.

READ (and a MUST READ for those noted in above description)

mylifeontheroadBook 17: My Life on the Road

Coincidentally, I read this during and after a diversity leader training week, and so many of the themes of the week were tied together through Steinem’s stories. From her take on taxi drivers and truckers to the 2008 election and the lessons she has learned from Native American friends, Steinem is insightful and makes a convincing case for going out on the road to hear people’s stories. Ultimately, too, it is a love letter of sorts to her father.

MUST READ

alittlelifeBook 18: A Little Life

This beautiful, not-so-little book reminded me that, yes, I DO like fiction. This literary feat is heart-breaking and disturbing and hopeful, and I am glad I invested the time to read it. I had nothing in common with any of the characters, but I defy anyone not to have empathy for them.

MUST READ (but be aware this takes you to dark, twisty places…this ain’t no “feel good” book)

selloutBook 19: The Sellout

As a White person, I liked how uncomfortable its satire of U.S.’s racial history and current structure made me. I am not sure I fully appreciated its humor, but I can see why it’s so well-reviewed.

READ

betweentheworldandmeBook 20: Between the World and Me

Powerful. I am so glad I read this in preparation for the lecture I heard Coates give “On Race in America.”

MUST READ

thevegetarianBook 21: The Vegetarian

I read this upon a “book hookup” my library offers (similar to Netflix’s “because you watched this, you might like this”). I never would have picked it up otherwise. Reviewers have likened it to Kafka and commented on the mystical qualities, and it ended up making many “Best of 2016” lists. I am still thinking about it and scratching my head, aware it would probably take a second read to pick up all the nuances.

READ

thegirlwiththelowerbacktattooBook 22: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

If you like Amy Schumer, this is worth the read, but do not expect many laugh-out-loud moments. There is much more substance – and pain – here than I was expecting.

READ (if you like Schumer; SKIP if you don’t)

einsteinsdreamsBook 23: Einstein’s Dreams

The short scenarios – fictional accounts of Einstein’s dreams – are philosophical, poetic, and sometimes metaphorical. But I didn’t LOVE it.

SKIP

 

pleaselookaftermomBook 24: Please Look After Mother

I picked this up after reading an article in Time Magazine about women who recommend books to people based on their life situations (kind of like real-life versions of the bookseller in The Little Paris Book Shop). As I am trying to read books outside of my normal go-to, this fit the bill (i.e., I have read embarrassingly few Asian writers, but this is the second Korean title I’ve read this year!). I very much enjoyed the second person narration and different perspectives.

READ

the5dysfunctionsBook 25: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A speaker at a conference session on school leadership recommended this book. I had been noticing differences between my prior team to my current one but wasn’t quite able to figure out the “it.” This fable and its characters helped label some of my observations – and also show me where I fit into the dynamic.

SKIP (unless the title applies to you, in which case, SKIM)

deptofspeculationBook 26: Dept. of Speculation

Read it on a recommendation from a Buzzfeed site that listed the “49 Most Underrated Books,” and I would agree. Its style is unlike anything I’ve read, and it took me a little bit to determine that I liked it, but what a compelling read.

READ

everything-i-never-told-youBook 27: Everything I Never Told You

Many people have mentioned this book over the last year, and I didn’t think much of it until I saw it on my school librarian’s shelf. She had a spare copy and gave it to me. I read it in two days while waiting for a public library book to reach me. Gripping. Love the multicultural/identity aspects, the gender aspects – there’s a lot embedded in these 292 pages.

READ

anotherdayinthedeathBook 28: Another Day in the Death of America

Interesting premise – pick a random day and chronicle all the gun-related deaths of America’s youth. Younge weaves in his subtle (and, at times, not so subtle) commentary and research from outside sources to present a scary reality.

READ

thesecretsofhappyfamiliesBook 29: The Secrets of Happy Families

Just as Feiler says in the opening, he presents tons of ideas, and not all will appeal to you, but there are many from which to choose. The book reminded me of ideas I had forgotten, taught me a few new tricks, and took me on a trip down memory lane a bit with what I remember from my own upbringing.

SKIM/READ (Apparently, he has a Ted Talk on the same topic. I haven’t watched it, but that might be a good alternative to reading. If you only read one parenting book, make it The Gift of Failure.)

thelifeweburyBook 30: The Life We Bury

I loved the characters and their stories, and the overall lesson that we need to hear people’s stories to develop connection and empathy. I did not love the over-the-top, almost movie-esque ending…but that said, it would make for a great movie!

READ (If you liked Everything I Never Told You, you will like this.)

laroseBook 31: LaRose

This title was on a couple of the “Best of 2016” lists, so why not? I do not know as much as I should about Native American culture, so I appreciated that theme throughout.

READ

whenbreathbecomesairBook 32: When Breath Becomes Air

I have read many great books this year, but this one might take the cake. I love a book that combines science, literature, faith, family, poetry… It’s an engrossing read that is deceptively simple but so thought-provoking. It’s the only book I read this year to make me cry. And I’m not a crier.

MUST READ

themothersBook 33: The Mothers

Fabulous read. I particularly appreciated the viewpoint of the boy/man post-abortion and the long-lasting effects this secret had on the characters.

READ

thegirlsBook 34: The Girls

I started this and then put it down for another title, less than enthralled. My return confirmed my initial judgment. I do not understand why this book is on all the “Best of 2016” lists.

SKIP (Like don’t even give it a second thought)

*   *   *

Women Authors: 21/34 (excellent!)

Works of Fiction: 18/34 (okay, this is slightly more than half, which isn’t great, but given my original goal was just 16 books, and I ended up reading 18 works of fiction, I am calling it a win!)

My goal for 2017 is to read at least 34 books like I did this year, but I am freeing myself of any other particular constraints. I always welcome suggestions (have already finished All the Single Ladies and am into Commonwealth now).

Happy reading!

 

 

Five-Minute Friday: Heal

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

The cover story of Time magazine’s most recent issue focuses on the power of exercise, more specifically exercise as medicine and its power to heal. The story starts with an experiment on mice that had a genetic disorder that causes them to age prematurely. The scientists let half be sedentary and the other half exercise. After a period of time, the sedentary group of mice showed the effects of their disease, but the same diseased mice that exercised appeared not physically different than mice that didn’t have the disorder. Exercise apparently stalled the effects.

This revelation can hardly be called one since it echoes what Hippocrates and others from centuries ago have long argued: with diet and exercise, we can heal ourselves. But, thanks, Time, for the reminder.

My husband and I are training for the Chicago Marathon…again. This will be the third year in row we will have run it, and I am happy to say this is my best training season yet. The last two years, I had aches and injuries – tendonitis here, tendonitis there, a wonky knee here, an angry foot there. But last week, we successfully ran 20 miles, and I have never done that consecutively in training. Our mid-week runs have been speed workouts on our country club’s treadmill, mainly to avoid the ridiculous heat and humidity that Cincinnati can’t seem to shake, and I think these have contributed to our successful season.

20 miles on a Sunday is excessive, I admit, and my preferred leisure run post-marathon is probably 5 miles, maybe an occasional 8 for a challenge. But I have long since relied on running to cure what ails me. I don’t always get the benefit of a runner’s high – in fact, I can probably count the times on one hand, and I have years of running behind me – but I have yet to find a comparable activity to achieve the mental clarity and sense of accomplishment running gives me.