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Remembering my father, death, and remembering to live

My father is dead. He has been dead seventeen years, ten months and six days. Yesterday was his birthday. He was sixty-nine when he died — the same age as David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

bill

Remembering my father

I went in the basement to look for photographs of my father. Evidence of his life. On the bookshelf in the basement I  found several copies of the poetry books he self-published, Chokecherry Wine, and Tender Moments. He self-published his books in 1984 and 1988, six years before Amazon was founded.

He brought his books to our wedding and gave away signed copies. I didn’t know he had given away his books at our wedding until after he died and Nancy mailed me the  books my father autographed for her. To Nancy and Dick, with care, Bill Fernuik, Sept. 22, 1990.

Nine years later, my father had a stack of his poetry books on the bedside table in his hospital room. While I was sitting with him, he addressed a book to one of his nurses, in a fancy cursive font, with a fountain pen. I don’t remember exactly what he wrote. Something about remembering to smell the roses, and thank you for your kindness. He handed the book to her as though he was handing her a golden egg from the goose Jack had stolen from the giant.

Five

Sands of time
slipped
through our fingers
gathered
in
little dust piles
Dust came
to life
and we lived on day
at a time
Each day added
to calendar of time
too fast dust slipped
through aching fingers
Feeble fingers
try
to grasp lost sand.

from Chokecherry Wine
— Bill Fernuik

Death

I forgot people die. I forgot we are mortal.

And then Davie Bowie died. He was sixty-nine. And then Alan Rickman died. He was sixty-nine.

Davie and Alan were the same age my father was when he died.

When my father died I was thirty-nine. Now I am fifty-seven. Fifty-seven is much closer to sixty-nine than thirty-nine is.

69-39=30
69-57=12

A few weeks before my father died, while he could still speak, he said, “There are two Bill Fernuik’s. One of them is going to die and one of them isn’t.  I am leaving. I am not going to die.”

But, there was  only one Bill Fernuik.  My dad couldn’t escape his cancer, or his mortality. He stayed in his hospital bed. A week later he died.

Don’t fear death, fear the un-lived life.
― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

I know we don’t know when we will die. You can go to weather.com to find out how many inches of snow will fall, but you can’t go to death.com, put in your social security number, and find out what day you are going to die.

Remembering to live

Be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.
― Henry David Thoreau

If you keep putting off  being yourself  until tomorrow, one day you will run out of tomorrow’s. 

One day you will run out of time.

One

The years slipped by
like water
over
a beaver dam
and at times
I tried
to stop
I pushed
I pulled
but time went on
The sun rose
the sun shone
No matter how I tried
or how I cried
the sun set.

from Chokecherry Wine
Bill Fernuik

I don’t know who you are. But, I think you do. You know who you are and what you really like to do. Not just “like” to do, but really like to do. And, maybe, you haven’t been living your life as you.

Maybe your father wanted you to be an engineer and you wanted to edit film. Or maybe you are a cat, and your mother wanted you to be a mouser, but you always wanted to be a writer.

Maybe you have always wanted to die your hair blue, but are worried what people will think. Maybe you want to go back to school and become a nurse.

Maybe you want to write children’s book but you never write because you spend all your time cleaning toilets and making sure there is no dirt in your home in case someone comes to visit, and you would be mortified if they saw dust on your baseboard’s . Your computer is never used, your paints stay in the tubes, and your keyboard is silent.

Whoever you are. I hope in all the days you have breath,  you are being you.

You’re the only one who can be you.
— Mr. Rogers

Are you being you?
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About Pamela Hodges

My name is Pamela Hodges. I am a writer and an artist. I write to encourage and to bring laughter. I paint cats, draw cartoons and write books for children and grown ups.

You are an artist. Yes, you are. Really.

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Get the FREE illustrated, sort of a comic book, “You Are An Artist.” Believe in yourself and your ability to draw. xo Pamela

  • Susan W A

    Pamela. I was exploring some of your past posts, and was enveloped by this one, as a chenille throw envelops on a crisp, cold day.
    I want to give my full attention to a response to this post (whether it remains only in my mind and heart or whether I make the time to share it here). Nevertheless, I had to let you know RIGHT NOW how deeply your piece touched me. Thank you.

    • Thank you Susan,
      Thank you for your kind thoughtful comment. I love your RIGHT NOW. Sending you hugs and twenty-six smiles.
      xo
      Pamela

  • La McCoy

    Thank you for sharing the memory of your father.

    • You are welcome La.
      Thank you for being a friend.
      xo
      Pamela

      • La McCoy

        Forever Pamela.

  • Pamela- Touching post. Looks like some of your artistic side came from your pop. My guess is for a lot of people, it’s darn hard to be who they really are. Life, work, commitments all work against us. I guess the trick is to, little by little, fight for ways to give life to our true selves. All the best!

    • Hi John Patrick Weiss,
      All the best to you too John. Little by little each day becoming more like the person God made.
      xo
      Pamela

  • Berdeane Bodley

    What a nice tribute to your Father, he was always so proud of you. He will be smiling that you remembered his birthday………..

    • Hi Mom,
      Thank you. I didn’t know he was proud of me.
      xo
      Pamela

  • It is a beautiful piece Pamela. Thank you for sharing dad’s memory with us. Mr. Fernuik wrote beautiful poems. I have especially liked “One”. How time flies! We can never get the days we live, whether we really live them or walk in the shadow of someone else. Thanks again for this lovely exhortation. God bless.

    • Hello Roxanna,
      Thank you for your kind words about my father’s poetry. Walking in the shadow of someone else is just a strong word picture.
      You are very very welcome Roxanna.
      God bless you too. And two hugs.
      xo
      Pamela

  • I liked your post and I also enjoyed your father’s poetry, Pamela. I have been laboring over what the theme is of a book I had written long ago and have not published yet. Another memoir. And as I struggle with this, I think in part that I only know me in part. I really need to get Marion’s book. I have read your post about the 19 tips two times now and it just confirms I need her book. Wish figuring out the theme wasn’t so tricky, or maybe it’s only tricky to me?

    • Hello Anne,
      Thank you for reading my father’s poetry.
      I think we are made up of many parts, and by writing our stories we find out who we are.
      I hope the part you know is the part that smiles and knows deep joy.
      Marion’s book really is helpful, because she gives so many examples of finding theme in a memoir. If your book is about raising bunnies, you wouldn’t talk about the time you took tennis lessons unless it relates to your bunny story.
      Finding theme can be tricky for many writers. As we are more than one story.
      xo
      Pamela

      • I think I understand what you are saying about removing parts that do not lend themselves to the theme. I’m going to guess that you also don’t need similar stories that give the same support. Am I right?

        • Hi Anne,

          Similar stories are what your book is. All the stories make up the theme. Maybe this analogy makes it more clear. If your book is about how raising bunnies made you feel loved, you wouldn’t have a chapter on how to change the oil in a car, unless the oil changing illustrates the theme you chose for your book.
          Here is an article that goes into more detail about writing a theme.
          http://thewritepractice.com/one-question/