you brighten my day

you brighten my day post image

standing on the shoulders of *my* giant

Hi you! It’s been quite a while. When I wrote here last, it was mid-July and the noon sun was directly overhead and my sunflowers were tall and working as landing pads for my bees. That post was my 15th anniversary post and I made a promise to you that I’d do something different here. That I’d try to help you bring more writing into your lives.

Well. That promise of doing something different made coming back here harder. I’d sort of set myself up, don’t you think?

Also, two weeks after that post, my dad went into hospice.

My beloved dad. The one who came here and left comments like this. He’d had a long hospitalization in 2019–complications of pneumonia–and he’d never regained the strength he had, but still we hadn’t expected things to go downhill so fast. He had surgery for skin cancer at the end of May and I guess it was too much for him.

One thing you should know about my dad: he was the King of Wordle. We had a daily group Wordle text with him, my brother, and my Uncle Denny, my dad’s twin. My dad seemed to get more 2s than the rest of us combined. I’m no slouch at Wordle, but he was better.

I get my love of words from him.

After the surgery, when he was suddenly taking all six attempts to guess the words and couldn’t do it? We knew something was wrong.

He had only had ten days in hospice. He communicated as best as he could. One afternoon he held my hand and said, “You brighten my day.” The next, as I was leaving: “You’re the light of my life.” (Light has always shown up as a metaphor in my writing. Maybe my dad knew that. Or maybe he’s the reason why.)

One day I gladly indulged his request to massage his sore neck. Then he pointed at my mom. “Share the love,” he said, wanting me to indulge her too.

When my girl called from New York to talk to him (through tears), he said, “I love you the mostest.”

As the week went on, he began to lose his words, but not his sense of humor, his sense of Dad. Saying goodbye one day, I asked him to smile for me. He surprised me with one of his classic, lunatic, so-very-Dad grins.

vintage evidence

The last day I saw him conscious, he had a Navy blanket over him, given to him by the hospice nurses. He kept tapping on an image, which I referred to as a boat.

“Ship,” he said. Silly me.

On the afternoon that he stopped breathing, I took his still hand and grasped his wedding ring, the wide gold hammered band that had been part of that hand for as long as I knew it, and did what I had to do, what seemed unthinkable, tugged it off. Placed it in my mom’s palm.

Surely I will always remember these things. But some of them I didn’t remember. All of them I wrote down.

Two months passed from the time we put him in hospice, visited him there, watched him go, planned his funeral. Writing his obituary, giving his eulogy mattered to me. Around that time I heard the writer and artist consultant Beth Pickens say, “We rely on artists to help us understand death,” and I felt that compulsion. I wanted people to know my dad’s story–what he came from, what he did with the life he had. Why I will never stop looking up to him, my 6’4” dad, even if he isn’t here.

The obituary, the eulogy–that was the only writing I did in those two months. Well, the only writing outside of my morning pages, and my Lynda Barry-inspired daily diary. I’ve written about my morning pages, my daily diary before. But I thought I’d bring them up again because if you don’t have such a practice, maybe you’d like to?

The daily diary is a gridded-up page listing things I’ve done, seen, heard. There’s an image of some of my pages in that linked post. Writing this postI went back and reread pages of my dad’s last days and I’m so glad I kept them. I’d forgotten the Share the love line. And how he told Lily, I love you the mostest.

I grid up my daily page in the morning and try to add to it throughout the day. If I don’t complete a page before bed, I finish it the next morning. I’m pretty good about doing it on weekdays; on weekends, not so much.

Writing this post, I didn’t go back and read my morning pages. Morning pages–according to Julia Cameron, who first wrote about them in The Artist’s Way–are meant to be three pages of continuous, stream-of-consciousness rambling. Stream-of consciousness as they are, I was afraid the posts about my dad’s last days might wreck me. Right now, at least. I don’t tend to write my morning pages as a record to return to–though someday I might be happy to have them. I’ve plundered my old journals while writing my memoir. (My memoir! I have lots to tell you about that, but let’s save it for another day.)

What I’ve come to love about my morning pages is how my intuition almost always shows up right about 1.5 pages in. Almost always! And you know from my anniversary post how much I’m thinking about intuition these days. So often in my morning pages, I figure something out, get an idea I hadn’t expected. Those realizations are golden, and enough to keep me pulling that journal off my shelf each morning, even when those mornings are so dark that I have to click on my overhead light. (I don’t usually write the full three pages Cameron recommends. My excuse is that I’m writing in an oversized journal with tiny gridded lines. (Expensive, but 365 pages!) Two pages takes me, what, thirty minutes? More? An indulgence. And I’d argue, a necessity.)

Which brings me back to wanting to offer you something here.

A possibility: If you don’t already keep a diary or a journal, maybe you’d like to try? The Lynda Barry-style 4-minute diary might work for you if you think you don’t have time for a diary–maybe you’re a busy parent? (No need to get fancy. Barry recommends writing in cheap composition books–you’ll go through them!) And if you’re someone with a little more morning time, who wants to better hear your intuition? Maybe give Julia Cameron-style morning pages a try.

If you already keep some sort of daily journal, diary, record–or aspire to–please share with us in the comments!

It’s December now, and everything is different. It’s holiday season. We have a new war to worry over. The July sunflowers in my garden are long gone–though I bought bunches of them for my dad’s September funeral, sunflowers and sunflowers and sunflowers. My long-legged dad, my optimistic dad. Sunflowers will always make me think of him. Thank you for indulging me and thinking about him too.

P.S. I’m still not sure what I want to offer you here. Ways to bring more writing into your lives, sometimes, but maybe not in every post? So much of my attention right now is on the freedoms kids have lost in the world and I’m trying to figure out how to make that relevant to you all, too. I changed my header up there to a place to muse on motherhood, education & writing. Let’s see what I can do with that. Maybe I can offer some sort of possibility with every post? Possibilities were my specialty as a homeschooling mom. 😌

Instead of sharing my usual links here, I think I’ll try sending out a separate post with links, a different day. I get that our inboxes and our attention are overfloooooooowing and maybe I’ll write more often if I don’t aim to make every dang post here into a Nat Geo Wild and Wacky Encyclopedia of Fun and Random Stuff.

You brighten my day. Wishing you light in yours.


20 comments… add one
  • Francie Dec 11, 2023 @ 14:02

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your Dad’s light with us. He sounds wonderful.

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 10:45

      He was and, to me, always will be. Thank you for brightening my day, Francie!

      • Francie Dec 12, 2023 @ 11:54

        After coming back here to red everyone else’s comments, I paused what I had been doing long enough to pick up my journal and capture the highlights of the past three days in a page. I am a sporadic journaler—my last entry was November 9 (not bad!). We just moved into a new house out of a small condo, and I will be grateful in the future for having taken the time to describe our very first time hanging up Christmas stockings over our very first fireplace. Thank you for that! It would have slipped by without your intervention.

        • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 19:11

          Hooray, Francie! I’m glad you don’t put too much pressure on yourself to write in your journal–and that you see a November 9 entry is–indeed!–not bad for a busy parent who has just moved. Congratulations on your very first fireplace with Christmas stockings hung above. I love that you recorded that, to remember!

  • Julie Dec 11, 2023 @ 14:16

    Beautiful. You have inspired me to write a daily journal. Never have before but I will do my best. Thank you!

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 10:59

      Julie! Your single response made the post worth the effort! I love that you’re going to try this. Go easy on yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t get to it every day, or even every week. Just keep trying. Both of the formats I shared are good for different reasons–you’ll find a way that speaks to you.

      I’m so glad I have my journals. They’ve helped me figure things out, and they help me remember. xo.

  • Janet Dec 11, 2023 @ 14:33

    Hello! It is amazing how often I think about writing. My journaling efforts are fits and spurts. Catching up in journal writing is often a lesson in “what do I actually remember”. Thanks for prompting me to consider a more conscious daily practice. You keep inspiring me.

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 11:04

      Hi Janet! You know, I can totally see you enjoying the Lynda Barry-style journal! (A great repository for grandparent insights and remembrances!) Here’s a post where you can see how Lynda suggests setting up the page. It’s from her *fabulous* book Syllabus. (I have to admit that I cheat and don’t do the drawing. I use that square to record a small moment of grace each day. Works for me!) Let’s make time to journal in CDMX! xo!

  • Pat White Dec 11, 2023 @ 16:20

    Thank you for this. I loved your dad and still love your mom. They are solid people and their love for the Catholic Church is what I grew up with in Michigan.

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 11:10

      Thank you for saying hello, Pat! Yes, I won big time in the parent department. My brother and I are very lucky people.

  • Cathy Dec 11, 2023 @ 17:23

    So lovely. Thank you for sharing some of your dad’s light. And thank you for your gentle words of inspiration.

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 11:12

      Always here with my nudges, huh, Cathy? Thank you for sticking around and saying hello!

  • dawn Dec 11, 2023 @ 17:24

    i have a gratitude journal i set the intention to write in every day. this year’s is easier on me – only one line per day in a small, illustrated, spiral book i purchased from an etsy artist. i don’t get to it every day, but i do catch up and try to write *something* for each day.

    last year’s gratitude journal started off well – there was space for three lines per day – and i had plenty to write about in the beginning of the year. then life got harder and more complicated and my time and attention were pulled away again and again, enough that i came to dread opening up the journal because all the blank lines felt like failure. it became a source of shame, distorted and corrupted from its original design. i haven’t revisited that journal’s contents. i may, someday.

    i’ve already got next year’s journal. it’s not dated. it has prompts and inspiring quotes and lovely, whimsical illustrations and everything is in soothing shades of green. its theme is a personal growth journey.

    losing one’s words can be devastating. at least, it has been for me, in my lived experience.

    about a year into the pandemic, after suffering an episode of what has since been diagnosed as functional neurological disorder, i found myself utterly unable to transform the ideas and images and thoughts in my mind into words that made any sense on the page. i earned a ph.d. prior to entering motherhood, so i have reasonable evidence of having had the ability to communicate via writing, but that felt like a different lifetime ago. so i went back to basics: copywork. i continued to read more and more and more and everything that i felt drawn to for any reason, i quoted in a notebook. i had planned to take a workshop on journaling that was canceled due to the pandemic, so i had pens and markers and watercolors and stickers and washi tape, and i used them to embellish the quotations. i filled up many, many, many notebooks of various sizes and styles. none of them have my own original ideas, but they are exquisitely curated collections of words that others have written that so perfectly capture what i am unable to do on my own. they reflect me just as well – maybe even better – than a diary or journal does. it was earlier this year that my brilliant eldest son told me about commonplace books – he came across their description and recognized them as what i had been creating – and that has brought me a sense of comfort and satisfaction. i am continuing a historied tradition in writing.

    i offer my sincere condolences on your father’s transition to death. i can sense the tremendous amount of affection and respect you had for each other. you must miss him dearly.

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 11:24

      Dawn, I can’t imagine losing my words. I suppose that would be one of my greatest fears (and it was hard to watch my dad go through it. I’m so grateful his time like that was brief.) I love hearing about your commonplace books! What a wonderful way for you to find your own words again. I have a section of my daily diary at the back that I use as a commonplace book. I agree that recording the words we’re drawn to from others gives us an interesting window into ourselves!

      I think one of the hardest parts of journaling is the expectations we put on ourselves to record in them regularly. I’m a big journaler, but in the year my third was born, I only wrote in my journal twice! Life happens! I try to be very nonjudgmental about how often I write. A non-dated journal sounds like a great antidote for you. I always write in my own dates, come to think of it.

      I hope your journaling in the new year is unpressured and inspiring and fulfilling to you.

  • Kim Revel Dec 11, 2023 @ 19:10

    I so enjoy reading what you write, Tricia – no matter the subject. Thank you for sharing such sweet memories of your dad. I would love to read the eulogy you wrote for him. Maybe that should be your next post? In the meantime, you’ve certainly added fuel to the flame for me to continue writing. As one of your other readers mentioned – even if it just for my memory’s sake! Looking forward to the nuggets you will share next. ❤️

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 18:50

      Kim, I love that we’ve connected again here! And I’m so honored that you enjoy reading my work. I’ll email the eulogy to you. (Being up there at St. Augustine–where we had the funeral–always makes me think of you. You lived so close!) I do hope you’ll keep writing. It’s so good for holding on to memories. xo!

  • Jen Dec 11, 2023 @ 22:44

    Your posts are still a gift in my morning inbox, and I really love coming downstairs to find one waiting for me. I love this one and it made me cry! Thank you.

    In many ways I think you have given my daughter the gift of writing, through all your posts on dictation and your book on writing workshops. My dyslexic daughter, now a teenager suffering from chronic illness, journals vast amounts and is working on a story that is around 10 000 words so far. It’s hugely therapeutic for her and I don’t know if she would have those tools if you hadn’t written all that stuff years ago. So thank you again.

    I’ve been learning about and preparing to teach parents about the dangers of pornography. Pornography and child sex abuse and sex trafficking, depression and body image and anxiety. It’s all so tied together, and so horrible, and so hard to process. I’m going to start journalling about it to help me through. So thank you again.

    Your posts go out and bear good fruit!

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 19:06

      Gosh, Jen, your words get me in the heart! I’m sorry to hear how much your daughter has struggled. I am so glad she has her words to get her through. I believe so much in the power of getting our words on a page or screen as a way of knowing ourselves, saving ourselves. It means the world to me that I may have played a small part in her evolution as a writer. And I hope you honor your own contribution–I’m sure it took a lot of work and belief to help this happen for her.

      It sounds like you have some heavy work ahead for yourself. I’m glad you plan to journal your way through it.

      You brightened my day. Thank you!

  • Kristin Dec 12, 2023 @ 18:55

    Awww, such a sweet story about your Dad. You two had a wonderful relationship from what I could tell.

    • patricia Dec 12, 2023 @ 19:14

      We did have a wonderful relationship. I modeled myself after him in so many ways. ❤️

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