The Day My Life Changed

Hey guys! One of my closest friends from school was required to do a video project this past week. She had to interview someone, much like what I do every Thursday. She came to me with a question and this time, I was the subject. It was very fun being on the other side of the camera. So instead of my usual interview with someone else, this week you guys get a closer peek at me–in real life! Go ahead then, click play and find out what I talked about! 

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The Box and The Hole

Clear skies overhead.
My black dress dances with the wind.

 Cold, gray, rectangles
depressed into
the green grass underfoot.

Like ducklings,
we pass
L. ZIOBER
25 MAR. 1912- 9 JULY 1979
and
JARMOS
JAN
AUG. 13 1919
APR. 30 1997

And then,
GALLAGHER
LOVING
WIFE, MOTHER
AND FRIEND
PATRICIA M.
1926-1982
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
JOHN 11:25

Three leaf clovers bloom from
carved Celtic crosses
framing the name.

Concerned voices mumble.
A hand shovel plows into dirt.
Small footsteps race through aisles.

But I am still,
grip the edges of a box
small enough for only
a handful of his remains.

Uncertainly,
unsteadily
I lay him to rest
with the grandmother I never met;

cover the hole,
read his speech from
eighteen years ago
to a son he’d never get the chance to know.

Maybe they fish together now.

Red, wet-faced,
I trail behind.

Clear skies overhead.
My black dress dances with the wind.

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Fake It ‘Til You Make It

After my dad passed away, I had a really hard time having conversations with friends and family about “stupid things”. The Dancing with the Stars gossip. The babble about cute boys that you never actually get the nerve to talk to. The daydreams about meeting celebrity crushes that almost never come true (I say almost because I’ve still got hope that I will one day meet mine. Harry Styles, I hope you’re reading this.)

These silly conversations help relationships last. Because if the only things we ever talked about were serious, deep, and existential subjects, our relationships would not only be seriously depressing, but also very short. Because no one wants to hang out with a person that can’t enjoy the fluff of life.

And I had become that person. Sure, I listened to friends and family talk about the “stupid things” but while they talked, I barely listened. I nodded and smiled, but inside my head thought about how ridiculous it was that they cared so much about how their little sister borrowed their shirt without asking when my dad was still very dead. I had become so wrapped up in my own life that I could barely take an interest in anyone else’s. And it had created distance between me and the friends and family I cared very much about.

When I started seeing my bereavement counselor, Mary, (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/skiing-with-my-bereavement-counselor/) I told her about this problem. How I would have dinner with a friend and while they went on about the things in their life, my mind would wander and think about more serious subjects. Most of all, my dad.

She gave me an assignment. Instead of just nodding and smiling, I had to start these “stupid conversations” and really practice listening to the other person speak and not let my mind wander into the depths of Abbey-La-La-Land.

And because I wanted to get better, I did what she said.

But it was so much harder than I thought. I struggled to care about the “stupid” things my friends and family cared so much about. It all seemed so trivial compared to the loss that I was dealing with in my life. After a week, I told Mary how impossible I found her assignment.

That’s when she gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

“Fake it till you make it.”

I couldn’t believe a licensed social worker was telling me to pretend to care and pretend to take an interest in my friends and family in the hopes that one day, I really would. But I figured she must have known something about what she was telling me so I gave it a shot.

For a while, I had to consciously pretend in those conversations. But as time went on, it became easier to engage with others about silly things. I no longer had to keep track of whose turn it was to speak and I no longer pretended to care. I really did. Her advice had proven true.

And it certainly doesn’t just apply to these “stupid conversations.” I carry this advice with me everywhere I go.

For example, the other day I saw one of my aunt’s who I rarely ever see. She’s from my dad’s side of the family, married to one of his brothers. However, she lives over a thousand miles away in Florida. Which particularly stinks since I love spending time with her.

After seeing me, she texted, and among other things, wrote,

“It is so nice to see how comfortable you are as yourself.”

I was completely surprised.

Firstly, because someone had acknowledged all the hard work I’ve done these last few years on becoming a healthier, happier, and more confident person in a very direct and straightforward way. It wasn’t just a passing comment. By writing the message to me, there was a sort of permanence to it.

And secondly, because even though I’ve made tremendous progress, I still struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin sometimes. But every day I look in the mirror, smile wide and pretend I’ve got all the confidence in the world. Because I know that eventually, one day that confidence will stick.

July 13, 2010

Happy Saturday everyone! Today’s post is from a piece I worked on while at my creative writing program at NYU. I waited this long to share it with you all because I wanted to post it on the anniversary of the event. This is the most important piece I’ve written so far in my short little life so I’m only going to post an excerpt. Mainly because I still want to work on it, but also because I would like to submit it to a literary magazine to be published 🙂 

AbbeyandDadProm

I see him lying there. Perfectly still under a white sheet. From afar, it looks like he could be sleeping. The beeping machine chained to him for days is finally silent. The tubes pumping life into his emaciated frame, removed. The sun’s rays cast shadows upon the harsh landscape of his face and I am surprised by how familiar he still looks. I had imagined that once he died, a magical transformation would take place and his body would be replaced by a look alike, a stand-in. But there is no mistaking. This is the body of my dad. But this is not the body of the man I want to remember.

Not the body of the man who spent summer afternoons throwing pitches for me to hit even though I missed nine out of ten times. Who held my hand when I cried about missing my mom. Who sat beside me in bed while I read aloud about the Boxcar Children.

The usual flush in his cheeks has drained. All laughter has been extinguished behind his eyes and they stare, naked and blue, at the fluorescent light on the ceiling that no one has turned on. His lips are chapped and slightly parted, waiting for a drop of water that will never drip. The white sheet does not rise.

Between my fingers, I grasp the white cotton and raise it, peering at what lies beneath. Tentatively, I wrap my fingers around his forearm where his sleeve has been rolled up. A coldness transfers from his skin to mine and courses through my body. But I do not let go.

I want to be original but instead, quickly and quietly say all the generic things that living people say to dead people. About how sorry I am that this happened and how I don’t know how I’ll go on, but I will. I tell him he is my hero. I tell him I love him.

But I want my old life back, when things could be reversed. When you made a mistake on a test and could erase it. When you got into a fight and could apologize. When your heart could break and it would heal.

Standing, I gently kiss him on the top of his cold and bare head. Three last words escape my lips and when I let go of his arm, I notice I’ve left an indentation in his skin.

1955-2010

Hello all! I haven’t forgotten my newest video project, don’t you worry, but for today I want to post one last poem. In memory of the anniversary of my dad’s passing, which is this upcoming Saturday, I wanted to repost this poem. I hope you enjoy it. (And get ready for next week’s video!)

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 (July 2009 at Lake George)

Every time I hear Jerry’s
voice
I think of the hours we spent
driving around
soaking the sun into our
fair
and
freckled
skin.

It seems we went
everywhere
in the Jeep.
The sun filtering into our car,
baking me,
as my eyes droop
in the ultimate serenity of it
all.

I sit beside you with my window rolled down,
the wind tangling my
brown mop
for your lack of one
as we reach 85.

Your aged hands, thick and healthy
beat the steering wheel
in rhythm to the drums,
keeping you in the song
infinitely.

It’s something I got from you,
you know.
To find beauty in sound.
To find beauty in what others considered
small things.
Because really,
they were all we truly needed.

And each other.
And that remains.

When the dancing bears
pass me by
I think of our adventure to get tickets
to a concert I was too young to see.
Your strong, tough, large hand
enveloping my tiny one
that was so untouched by the world
you wanted to keep it that way,
protecting it
and me
as you held tight.

One swift movement
and I could easily be in your arms
against your warm
chest
with your heart thumping loudly into my ear
away from anything too scary
for my innocent
blue eyes.

I was able to see then
that smiling,
enjoying other peoples company,
and wearing long flowy skirts with anklets that
made music when you walked
were what
it all seemed to be about.
A simple truth
I easily understood,
standing less than five feet tall.

And that remains.

Glancing at my bookcase,
always resting
is the giant red book you gave me
from when you graduated college
as your way to encourage me to get there too.
Barely able to see my face in the bathroom mirror,
it was too big to handle
with too many words I did not know
and could not pronounce
even if I tried,
and only lately
is it manageable.

A book found in every home,
but special
because
it is worn
and it was
your gift to me.

I see many new additions;
all familiar
and
some I know that are older
than me.
When I take them down
-always gentle-
I rustle through the pages
looking for a place to crawl
into,
where you’re just awaiting
my company.

And sometimes
when I find your
scribble
here
and
there it reminds me of
myself
and
how we are
truly
one of a kind.

And that remains.

When I sink into the couch
and watch the History Channel
you take the remote and change it anyways.
When I’m sick with a fever
you still check in to make sure
I’m not really faking it.
When I get a good grade
you’re still all ears
forever replying, “Not bad.”
When I wake in the middle of the night
from the worst
nightmare a person
could ever have
you’re there to put me back to bed.
When I’m on the train
doing homework
you sit down next to me
so no one else will.
And when I feel alone I just think back to
Jerry’s voice
and all the years we
had
knowing that they remain.

Even if all that remains now are remains.

Happy Birthday Dad

I’m reblogging this piece again because today is my dad’s birthday. I wrote this poem for him four years ago for his 54th birthday. Today he would’ve been 58.

Abigail and Dad Birthday

As a kid you weren’t always there for me
but you came when I needed you to be.
A move would never come easy to us
but we muddled though it all with small fuss.
You were finally there for everything
from summer, to fall, through winter and spring.
And even now that things have changed so much
I’ll always be there for a hand to touch.
I guess I know the place where I feel best
and that’s next to you, where I’m truly blessed.
When we’re in the car with music playing,
song after song, our arrival delaying,
the sun shining brightly on our faces,
trees pass by, seeing so many places.
No words are spoken but we’re both content
knowing where we’re going and where we went.
We’re a team, always and forever, Dad.
Everything will be okay, don’t be sad.
Together we’ll get through it all I know
because we’re a team, forever we’ll grow.