Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Seven Weeks, Six Days: Letter to Calista

My second session with the grief counsellor was this week.  I probably bored the heck out of the poor woman; once my mouth started moving, I am not sure I really stopped talking for over ninety minutes.  I am not even sure what I said; I just blundered around, making odd, disjointed, unrelated comments. One thing I did realise though; this is going to be a long process that I am not sure I am prepared to make. On the other hand, I can see that Roni gets a lot out of those sessions, so I will support her and continue with my own private appointments.  I still think that it might be just a scam to keep you from offing yourself long enough to find meaning in life again.  So how does a guy that loved being "Daddy"( especially when there was snazzy shoes to buy) find his way after his family has been downsized suddenly?

Obviously writing this blog has become a real outlet for my grief. My readers may have noticed that the period between blog posts is becoming progressively longer. I would love to say that it represents a healing process, but I suggest that it is more of a stagnation. My grief is not getting lighter, it is entrenching, becoming more intractable.  Over the last seven weeks I have really gotten to know my Calista better than ever and her loss has become more profound to me; she was everything I had hoped for and so much more.  That kind of loss just cannot be pushed aside; I will not be finished with all this until the world knows their collective loss. That is how a "Downsized Daddy" finds his way.

Calista's final portfolio arrived home yesterday. Roni and I leafed through it and compared the marks she earned to the photos we selected for the array.  In a class where the highest mark was in the mid-seventies, we managed a very respectable 70.5 points.  That's right: I said "we".  The portfolio was a complete figment of the paired imaginations of Roni and I. We had a vague idea of Calista's major interest (12 required submissions) and not a clue about her minor interest (8 required submissions). We guessed with a little help from her friends and our own hearts. The results were pretty impressive since we managed to miss submitting one of her photos for her major (it was on her flash drive, but somehow it never was printed) and we selected one photo for her minor that clearly had no business being there. We got zero points on those two mistakes, costing Calista possibly a full ten points.  Ten points would have put her clearly at the head of her class. Where she belonged.  Sorry honey, we did the best we could but it in no way reflected your true talent.

Roni and I shipped that portfolio straight to the man who started the whole ball rolling: Jack Cowin. I hope it will be a surprise, but I am told he reads this blog, so it might be that I just unwrapped his present for him. I cried as I wrote the attached letter and as I packed up the portfolio. It's not from any attachment to the assignment since we have most of those photos already on our wall. The tears come from the fact that this is the last submission of my daughter to the man that "Took her from crayons to perfume" (plagiarised from "To Sir With Love").  It all seems too final for me: the last submission. Damn, there the wave catches me again; it's being happening more often this last little while.

Much of the support we have been receiving this last little while has been from fellow bereaved and some of those people I call "collateral damage".  I am still firm in my belief that only people that have lost someone really close to them or that have been caught in the direct fall-out of this sort of tragedy can relate to what Roni and I are going through. We members of the Club of the Damned have our own basic language that allows us to discuss our loss without inciting the pained look of discomfort that seems to plague the rest of the world.  We can discuss our visceral reactions to certain situations without worrying that the listener will think we are crazy: our inability to drive along certain roads or pass the hospital without shedding tears or having to catch our breath. The Club of the Damned understands immediately while the rest of the world nod politely and look for the exit sign.

Don't misunderstand me; I am not upset by the lack of understanding from those who have not been in my shoes. I celebrate it. Thank whatever God you want that most people do not know what it is like to lose a child. I would never wish this on my worst enemy and I am really very glad that the vast majority of my readers and the rest of society has forgotten what its like to have a 50% infant mortality.  We all need to thank modern medicine, nutrition and sanitation for this blessing; less than two hundred years ago most parents could expect to bury half their children before maturity.  I have said before and I need to repeat it here: just trying to say something meaningful is enough. The fact that a person cared enough to offer condolences and cared enough to recognise the insufficiency of those condolences is  absolutely enough. It is all you can offer and its all good.

One of the more peculiar reactions I have had to Calista's death is my obsession with taking up what can only be called "crusades", especially when it comes to the young women that were my daughters close friends and the young women that Roni and I were already friends with.  I tend to keep track of Calista's friends and have made it very clear that I will always be there to support them if they need it. Julia, one of the 20-something volunteers at the veterinary clinic has become a close friend of my wife and her daily trials and tribulations have somehow become my cross to bear. If her employer is giving her a hard time about hours and pay (something that seems to very common in regards with young women; has society always treated women with such lack of respect?) then I have to actually stop myself from walking on down and excavating her manager an new rectal orifice. I guess, after twenty years of being "Daddy", when your anchor line is cut loose suddenly, you start looking around for new anchors.  On the other hand, I really need to remind myself that those young women have their own fathers and, really, my behaviour could be interpreted as a bit creepy if a person did not know the context.

I also need to try to come back to Earth with regards to both the memorial scholarship and the photography contest.  I keep on having flight of fancy that the scholarship fund will just take-off and become a million-dollar super-scholarship, insuring the survival of Calista's beloved photography program at NIC and permanently memorialising her name.  Certainly something like that could happen if I win a lottery, but to win a lottery I would have to remember to buy tickets, something I never do. Until I win though, I have to keep on hoping for a miracle like a book deal from a publisher or offer on the movie rights for my story. Both of these have about the same likelihood of occurring as my lottery win. In truth, I probably should just keep on puttering away at the scholarship, depositing whatever amount I can find from my clinic and my family, hoping to make it self-sufficient within my lifespan On the other hand, since the NIC Foundation is the sole beneficiary of my will, it will be instantaneously wealthy once I depart. I guess I probably shouldn't tell the college administration that little fact; they may just help me depart a little quicker.

As far as the photography contest goes, it is proving to be a bit of a tough nut to crack. I believe my idea is a pretty good one: have a contest based on the production of professionally valuable photographs rather than "art" photographs. By putting the emphasis on photography as a commodity we are honouring the program my Calista loved and specifically her personal area of interest. She just liked doing pretty photos that could be sold for advertising dollars.  The construction of the contest in this way would mean that the contestants could apply any professional technique available to them to produce a marketable image, including computer manipulation. The only strict rule would be that the image must be an original work created independently by the contestant.  Judging from the complete lack of response thus far, I would have to say that none of the people I have contacted thought much of my idea; either it is not original or too progressive. One would think this sort of frustration would discourage me, but I am enjoying the challenge. Anything that keeps me busy also keeps me from thinking too much and getting weepy.

Keeping busy seems to be the key to avoiding complete misery and perhaps finding my way out of the undertow and breaking waves of grief.  If I can find some "great work" to accomplish, perhaps I will, in some small way, fulfil Calista's potential. My support of her friends and young Julia, her memorial scholarship and the photography contest I hope are all some way to "pay the debt forward" for the next generation. Unfortunately, to get here, I paid far too high a price; I think the world owes me one Calista in mint condition. I would have done it for free if I had known that was my destiny.

One of my supporters gave me an excellent idea the other day: I should write a letter to Calista as a way to reconnect.  I think that is a great idea, but I would have to say that this entire blog is one long letter to my daughter, trying in some way to show how much she meant to her mother and I and really, how much we miss her. Hell, we even miss her dirty laundry pile left unceremoniously next to the washer in the basement. Eventually I will be able to bring myself to actually write that "letter to my daughter", but right now it still would hurt too much. All I would be able to write would be "It's time to come home honey. You are welcome home anytime". That is just about the last thing I said to her anyway. 

She really needs to come home soon; she has to be running out of clean clothes by now.

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