Category Archives: daughter-ing

This theme is joyous yet difficult experience of caring for a parent. 40-somethings, as a group, will probably experience the need to do this incredibility wonderful yet difficult and emotionally charged tasks as we are faced with our own mortality through caring for our parents through everything from medical procedures to opening jars to their own thoughts about death and life.

Is there freedom in death?

Is there freedom in death ? Not for the person who dies but for the person who lives.

I vividly remember a student in my 4th grade class more about 15 years ago. This student was a sad, sad girl. It always seemed as though she carried her sadness way down on the inside and only used her half of a smile to camouflage something untouchable. Even in her laughter on the playground, or when constructing some fabulous building in the block area with cantilevers and everything, this student was weighed down by something. Perhaps not by anything tangible– just a weight light as air and heavy as water which seemed to be everywhere and nowhere in her soul.

She wore dark colors, long hair always out and straight down her back, usually not combed (she would tuck it behind her ear throughout the day). She was friendly and worked hard and was (can I still say this word?- smart). really smart. I remember riding  bikes in the neighborhood park one sunny day and her mom rode up to me on her bike and asked me to please take care of her daughter. I remember thinking that this was the first time that I had seen both the mother and daughter happy in a way that you just cannot fake.

A few days later, the mother committed suicide (hanged herself in her bathroom). I don’t remember if the daughter was the one to find her but I do remember the preparations to sit Shiva. Yes, there was crying and disbelief and numbness which lasted as it should.

However, I clearly remember the day when I noticed that the student started to wear bright colors and laugh a hearty, lively laugh from deep down in her gut and I couldn’t help but think if she found freedom in death. It is a horrible thing to say, to write, to even think but I tell you, the little girl no more than 7 or 8 began to transform right in front of me. Was something released with the passing of her mother? Is that even possible? Did she begin to experience a sense of normalcy without  her mother? (My hand are trembling and my heart is beating fast as I even dare write this).

I’ve thought a lot lately about a dear friend of mine who recently lost her father. He had medical challenges, as well as Alzheimer’s. This friend, my sister is an amazingly mature soul with a strong sense of self and selflessness. She is the nucleus of a family with a husband and two children (plus a nephew that she is raising) who were all adept at locking the cabinets and the refrigerator and even parts of the house. I watched her juggle her work schedule since someone had to be with her father at all times. She came to work, did her job expertly, smiled with a slight reserve that you’d only know about if she decided to let you know that she spent the better part of her life caring for and worrying about her father. In fact, she came to meetings as her activist self; strong, determined, focused and calm but with a great worry that she carried under her professionalism and her harried, complicated schedule of caring for her father.

Now he is dead. Will she experience some type of freedom in his death? Am I just being naive and saying things that should not be said or thought about. Of course, he is her father and she loves him deeply but I wonder what life will be like for her now. The African priestess who wore white for a whole year as the embodiment of her beliefs and connection to a higher power. Will she experience some sort of freedom in death? Is this even possible?


How Many Times Can We Laugh This Off

“Hollee”, my grandmother says gently, “Is Danielle okay?” I knew just what she meant.

Living with my Dad has its own special challenges. Most of which I have successfully mastered by flying low and taking up as little space as possible. This, in and of itself, is quite a feat with a daughter who is larger than life. Danielle is colorful and loud and talkative and messy. None of which work consistently well on the road named for my forbearers–a quiet people who keep everything inside. Don’t ask, don’t tell. I’m playing with fire by even writing about this.

My Dad was in the military and worked in a highly technical job in a laboratory. Perhaps this is a contributor to his over the edge disposition on cleanliness and order. He has lived alone for decades and likes nice things in pristine condition. Knowing this, my mom begged me to dust and sweep and mop, which I have done.

I find myself tiptoeing around all the artifacts in here while pretending like it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to do so. There are huge citation fish, stuffed owls, and deer antlers on the walls. Glass objects, model houses and boats sit squarely on tables and everything has a place. One particular place. Just one.

My daughter and I have done well here. Nothing has been broken or has fallen or been misplaced. We wash dishes immediately after using them and recycle everything (and I mean everything-as in virtually nothing goes to waste). Yes, we should live in an orderly environment but this level of order is exhausting physically and mentally. I am grateful to have a beautiful home to live in but sometimes, I just cry because of the burden of the expectations.

A few days ago, I was admonished to sweep the fringes on the rugs. This simple request was meted out in a matter-of-fact manner with an angry tone that hinted of a detrimental inattention to detail. So now, I walk around careful not to step on the fringes because I cannot bear the added chore of using the tiny broom and putting it back each time I use it. A little thing that is a big thing.

I try to intervene for Danielle’ every chance I get but I was off guard last night as she and I joked around in her room. My dad admonished her to cut off the lights when she leaves a room. A simple request. One that she would happily agree to given her ‘save the world’ philosophy on just about everything. But the request was said with all the 1940s ‘this is my castle’ authority of an adult to a child. His tone was totally uncalled for and I felt so helpless in the moment because if I intervened, then it would have surely made the situation worse.

The easiest thing to do in the moment is just to hope that the chastisement won’t be too mean or last too long. After the episode (as we now call them), I said to her “Don’t worry about it. When we get our own house, we are going to run around turning on all the lights. The house will be lit up like a Christmas tree. We can even flick them on and off like this (flicking the bathroom light quickly). She and I had a good laugh with hands covering mouths.

I gave her a kiss goodnight and then wondered about how much more cover up I can do. How many more times can we laugh this off.

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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in daughter-ing, parenting



How does a fiercely independent daughter support a fiercely independent father who has temporarily lost some of his independence? Yes, I know- the textbook answer and maybe even the answer in the Bible is to be selfless and accommodating.  Yes, put his needs above your own. Yes, yes, I know and I agree.

Yet, this man has spent his whole life working in tandem with my mother (even though they don’t even like each other half of the time) to nurture me to be an independent person- to be able to exist on my own-to move a couch to learn how to fix a toilet to be able to get from point A to point B. My independence has allowed me not to need, per se, the company of others when most people do. It’s part of who I am.

Yet, I am also a daughter who needs to care for her father. The service of help is not an easy load to bear (I know…tough cookies) He is doing everything the doctors and nurses ask of him and even what I ask of him-c’mon daddy, let’s walk up the street or don’t forget to take your temperature or eat this dinner. He is complying but deep down I know that he is fighting an inner anxiety to do all of this himself coupled with a resignation to let me take care of some of the logistics. He asks almost as if complying, “Hollee, do the waffles have too many carbs?”, “can I eat 3 turkey sausage or do I have to eat just 2”, “when do you think the swelling will go down”, “can you get me a video of the surgery” , “how far do I have to walk”.  I respond.

He sits in the back seat as I take him on outings all over town but I know that he is wistful about being the navigator and not the driver. I see the new-found complacency on his face and ask a question to which I already know the answer, “Is there anywhere you want to go?”. He replies, “nope”. But I know that if he could, he’d be somewhere else. He’d be independent.

I’ve surprisingly fallen into the care giver role with relative ease after chastising myself to ‘get it together’. I have added humor to the medicine counting  and actually saw him laugh and smile yesterday for the first time in a long time as I took away his walking stick and said, “stop playing like you can’t walk” and “oh, I bet you’re too weak to throw your tray away too, right?”. I think he tries to sneak back in the bed, just so I can catch him and so he can take a crisp deep breath to let me know that he got caught.

Yet, as I settle into this role for at least another 4 + weeks (he’s counting down the weeks until the doctor could give him the green light’ (hopefully, it’s not to use the chain saw), I am also struggling with my own loss of independence. I don’t want his routine to be my routine by default. I want to decide what to do with my time without the minute emotional backlash from not being right here (just in case).

In a simple world I would not think about this dilemma. I would wait for my later reward in heaven. I would acquiesce . Be the selfless daughter. Put my own needs aside.

But in my complex understanding  and full-bodied experience of caring for a parent, I have to wonder– How do I maintain my independence while supporting him to get his emotional, social, and physical independence back at the same time? How do I prevent him from losing himself due to fear of a setback? How do I nurture and push away simultaneously as I do with my 11-year-old daughter?

Interdependency is how we get through life but so is our ability to be independent and have a fighting spirit. He has the fighting spirit and shown by his progress. Now it’s just a matter of getting the confidence to catch up. 11-year-old Danielle said today to her grandpa, out of the blue, ” I am learning so much about you grandpa. I always knew that you were independent but I didn’t know you were THAT independent. You just had heart surgery and your attitude is -I got this”. I almost cried at the profound nature of this statement and so did he.

Enid Lee, a noted anti racist educator, would say that you have to experience something different to believe that it is possible. This is as much as message for him, as it is for me.


Posted by on October 18, 2011 in daughter-ing


The Heart Hospital

The energy around the death of Steve Jobs has got me thinking even more my purpose in life, if that’s possible but the thing that I want to put into the atmosphere is what I have seen and heard at the Heart Hospital.

#1 I’ve talked to Tim, the elderly war veteran, highly decorated volunteer and self proclaimed member of the ‘zipper club’ (the kind of club where your chest has to be sawed apart and sewn back together with 4 stainless steel wires) who smelled a little like urine. Tim’s job, he says, ‘is to cheer the patients up’.

#2 I’ve seen people standing right outside the door to the hospital in their hospital robe (you know, the one that only ties in one place) smoking cigarettes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in daughter-ing


Today is a good day to live

I will have to explain the footsgrl part later for all those to know me-that moniker will feel odd. The first thing I want to write about is my undeniable knowing of my purpose. I left Boston 4 weeks ago not knowing why. I had a great job on the cutting edge of ed reform, great friends (the drop in on kind), lived in a great neighborhood that was every bit of Leave it to Beaver (kids playing in the street, trolley running back and forth, neighbors talking as they gardened). I was settled in my life there. I even had a boyfriend that I cared a lot about. I  had a new baby niece that is as yummy as they come and a mother who would take care of my 11 year old on a dime (sometimes, I’d even have to wrestle them away from each other). In short, I had a great life. Sure, I struggled. I was the only single parent in the neighborhood. The only person of color until another family moved in right up the street (that in and of itself made me want to stay there forever and quickly switch up my car pool situation 🙂 Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 5, 2011 in daughter-ing