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Save The Bear

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“Did Poppi kill the bear or save it?,” asks my son months after my dad was buried.  He is playing on the floor, and I am trying to swallow grief long enough to go through the motions. Cook the breakfast, sweep the floors, cry quietly in the bathroom, wash the dishes. This has become the routine since losing my parents, a fine balance between faking okay and admitting I’m not. The question is as immediate as it is random and I’m taken aback by this sudden mention of my dad. It takes a second for me to place the bear reference but then I understand, too.  The funeral might’ve been three months ago or yesterday to his 5-year-old mind.  I tell the child that his Poppi saved the bear. I tell him that his Poppi  was so brave, lived his whole life helping and never, ever hurting. I tell him, through tears now, that his Poppi saved the bear. He loved the bears most men were too scared to help. I cannot tell this little boy that his grandfather was killed by his son. I cannot explain how scary the world can be, and why, then,  we keep on waking up and living in it. But I can tell him that his Poppi saved the bear, and this pleases him. He smiles and mumbles, “Good. He helped it. Good”. He’s back to crashing Hot Wheels cars across the floor before I’ve managed to catch my breath.

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I don’t catch my breath.  Not really. Not in nearly a year since my father’s murder. I can’t really tell you why he kept trying to save the very bear who slaughtered him. I  guess that is what loyal love does? I can’t tell you how a good man lived a kind life and seemed to pay such a horrible price for his goodness. I can’t tell you with anything other than a moaning, wounded cry how desperately, wildly, wildly, wildly I miss him.

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I can tell you how I was his Chicky Tori Lou. I can tell you about his laugh that always held back tears (of joy, of sorrow, of a full heart). I can tell you about his same ten jokes and same five stories he’d tell on a predictable loop.  I can tell you of his beat up old cowboy boots, his ragged Tennessee sweatshirt, his shock of white hair, his frayed jeans, how somehow he looked nice despite his worst efforts. His eyes were kind enough to distract from his clothing. I can tell you how I’ve never seen such a natural connection to the babies who called him Poppi. I can tell you his heart & theirs had known each other long, long, way back before they ever got here. And when his grandkids did get here, he held them and told them who they were. Named them, we’d later learn, exactly right: Wise, Beautiful, Calm, Feisty, Kind, Content.  I can tell you his biggest faults and best traits were the same: he didn’t care enough about himself. He didn’t think he was all that special but, my God, he thought you & you &  you sure were. These are the things that drove me crazy and made me admire him and made me want to shake some sense into him while figuring out how I could be more like him.  I can tell you he loved music, could hum and name any artist and song title but would butcher even the simplest of lyrics. I can tell you what a secret poet he was, how he gave up artistic dreams for decent-paying tech jobs and fatherhood. I can tell you that he knew struggle in his fifties and lived through a time when he lost his fancy job and house and somehow couldn’t get a job at a toy store. I can tell you that even then he exuded happiness and a hopeful certainty that life was good and everything would be just fine. I can tell you how he cried and cried when we visited his mother’s grave months before he’d end up being buried in his own plot close by. I can tell you how I finally understood the meaning behind his repetitive stories, his tears for her. I finally listened closely enough to hear him say “Listen. I need you to know how wonderful my mother was. Listen. I need you to know how much I loved her. I need you to know”.  I can tell you I get it now. My heart, I get it now. I can tell you that being his daughter was an absolute privilege. I can tell you about a crowded chapel, two levels of mourning eyes who came to weep for him. I can tell you how they looked down on me as I shook at the podium behind his casket. Their eyes spilled over with sympathy for themselves and for our family and for him because he was such a big light put out and we’re all terrified of the dark. I can tell you  what I read to those sad eyes that day, Rumi’s ancient words that had to have been meant for my dad:

“A courageous man went & rescued the bear. There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out. Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming. And they can’t be bought off. If you were to ask him, “Why did you come so quickly?”  He would say,  “Because I heard your helplessness”.  Where lowland is, that’s where the water goes. All medicine wants is a pain to cure. And don’t just ask for one mercy. Let them flood in. Let the sky open under your feet. Give your weakness to the one who helps.”

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So I can’t tell you how this first Father’s Day without him will go. It will probably hurt and sting and make me want to hide. It will make me feel small and evermore in need of a dad to pick me up and carry me. He was, after all, the one I gave my weaknesses to. But I can tell you he made us brave enough handle the hurt. I can tell you in my life he was Mercy itself. I can tell you forever and ever until I’m with him again how proud I am that he made his way through this world kindly, that he  helped and never, ever  hurt, that he was brave enough to save the bear.

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20 thoughts on “Save The Bear

  1. Dear darling.. This moved me to tears. All I can do is wish and pray for your pain to ease.
    Your father was a remarkable person,I can see that in the way you fondly talk about him.
    This is life.. Isn’t it?? All of us go one or the other day,but to be remembered and called upon so fondly is a huge achievement in itself ..
    He left his mark etched in the depths of your heart.. And his story travels thru the seas and reaches me here in India.. And all that I can say is ” amazing”
    Lots of love and care,
    All the way from India..
    Hugs❤️

  2. Dearest Tori
    we have not yet met..
    I knew your Mother for several months and she will forever be in my heart! Your words are almost like spending the time in Vickie’s company. Your Mom, Tori, was beyond special. She ‘loved’ like no one I have ever known..loved her grandchildren, children, family and friends unconditionally. Tori, your Mother was as special as anyone I have ever known!!

  3. Dear Tori,
    The only advice I can give you on this, the first of the year’s hardest holidays after you’ve lost your Dad in such an unspeakable way, is this:

    Be good to yourself. Cry when you have to cry. Laugh when you can. Love him always.

    Which of course, is the same prescription I would write for you for every day.

  4. Tori, I know that no words I type in this little box will lessen your pain or bring to you the one thing that you truly would like to have. But I am offering you my deepest and most sincere sympathies. This was such a touching tribute to your father. Just beautiful.

  5. Loving and aching for you. What a stunning and perfect analogy.

    A phrase that helped me on the anniversary of my brother’s death was, “Let grief take you by the hand and lead you where you need to go.” For some reason, seeing grief as a partner, a friend even – something I didn’t need to fight or fear being consumed by – soothed me. I hope it does you, too.

  6. I haven’t followed your stories consistently, but each time I read a post, I do so over and over again. Your words seem pure and honest, and they flow so beautifully together. Each sentence is a true pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing you thoughts.
    Sending love and healing your way. XO

  7. Oh, Tori, I thought about you on both Father’s and Mother’s Days. You are in my heart. And this is such an incredible piece. Your daddy would be SO proud!

    Here’s the deal. This summer I’m going on two-month RV trip with my nearing-ninety Godmother and her cat Pepe le Mew. I leave for the US in a week. The RV is huge, 37-feet. My Godmother will be driving and towing an SUV the entire way. She was a Flamenco dancer during her entire professional life. I’m going to try to blog about our trip and write a book about the 64 beautiful years she and my Godfather, a Venezuelan movie star (I kid you not!), were married, until Raul died last fall one month shy of his 97th birthday.

    We may drive through Nashville. Not certain yet. But if so, would LOVE to have lunch or dinner or something. Love you, Darling!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

  8. We don’t know each other. Of course, I know some things about you and yours and from what I’ve read over the last year or so, I know your dad was a wonderful man, you are a wonderful person because of him and your mother and are raising a wonderful family. Know that you are admired and cared for by people out here in the greater world. Peace.

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