A Time For Remembrance

I will remember this year for the rest of my life. The words I would use to describe it would be “shit-show” and “chaos.” Some good things happened but they pale in comparison to the life-altering storm I had to endure this year.

We all were isolated from Covid at the beginning of the year and life in the Ott house was chaotic. All four of us crammed into a room doing school zooms, meetings, and working.

While this sounds like a terrible situation, this led me on a path of self-introspection. It led me to dive into Medium and I found a wonderful group of writers that resonated with me. Their voices inspired me to evaluate my life through a different lens. They made me work hard on the unsolved questions I struggled with for years.

The eye must see all sides — Codes of Karate

I didn’t notice the gathering of storm clouds as I started working on myself. I boarded my ship and set out to sea, hoping to sail around these dark clouds.

The storm hit me hard in March this year when my parents and aunt were rushed to the hospital with full-blown Covid. I lay awake at night expecting to get a phone call that one had passed away. I felt relieved when all three came home, beaten to shit, but alive.

I thought the storm was over.

How wrong I was.

My father’s health deteriorated faster than ever and he had to be rushed back to the hospital in July. He barely made it out alive.

Then our dog started to fade fast. She was suffering from the same ailment that was killing my father, congestive heart failure.

We were away at Cape Cod when she shut down. She was dying and we weren’t there to comfort her.

I know they say it’s the last act of love you give them is when you put them to sleep but it doesn’t feel that way. There are no words to describe this and you never forget the emotion of giving the “order” to end a cherished living being’s life.

I remember crying with my daughter in a small condo overlooking the bay in Provincetown. My partner and son were out fishing. They came back home to see us a blubbering mess and instantly joined in.

A few days later we returned home and retrieved a small box. We buried her behind the fence, where she always ran to when she got loose.

Now that death had claimed a family member I thought the storm was over. My father was on the mend and we all were vaccinated. We started talking about having barbeques, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

I was expecting sunny weather but the clouds never lifted. The sea remained choppy. Little did I know that I was just in the eye of the storm.

My father called me up one day and asked If I could take him to get french fries. He was feeling better, recovering from his last hospital stay, and was getting his taste back. He was still too weak to drive himself, so I drove down and got him.

He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

I knew exactly where he wanted to go, a local hot dog joint where we would go from time to time, a real father and son place.

On the way home, he got very quiet and after a few minutes told me about his big regrets in life. It was such a heavy conversation, but it sounded like he was making peace with himself. True to himself, he shared these regrets as a warning to me. He shared his wisdom with me so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

I dropped him off and felt an impending sense of doom. Did my father know his time on this mortal plane was coming to an end? I don’t know but it felt like a lightning blot struck the mast of my metaphorical ship and I had no way to sail around the storm that brought me to the darkest point of my life.


“How did your tests go?” I asked him.

“Good results, we can talk about them on Sunday.”

“Sure thing Dad, let me talk to Mom real quick.”

“Ok.”

Those were the last words I spoke to my father. He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

I was in New York City for work when my mother called me in a panic, telling me my father wasn’t waking up. I told her to call 911 right away. She hung up the phone and called 911. I started a phone chain and called my sister. She immediately dropped everything and headed to my mother’s house. I dropped everything and called an Uber to my mother’s house.

“good people sing, bad people have no songs.”

It felt like a giant rogue wave collapsed over me and my tiny ship. I felt like I was drowning. The storm raged around me like never before.

They say people grieve in my different waves and they’re right. I was in a state of shock for weeks and it wasn’t until his memorial in December that I started to feel the waves of grief wash over me.

Silly things set me off, like this sweet little video.

and this one,

Music and singing remind me so much of my father. He loved to sing. When he got together with his brothers and sisters there would be so much singing and laughter.

I remember this one time when I was around 10, we went to Red Lobster for dinner. My father’s best friend and his wife were visiting us from Germany and we all wanted to celebrate.

Next to us sat three women at a small table. Suddenly a group of waiters and waitresses came clapping and singing happy birthday. They marched over the table of women and placed a small cake with a candle in front of them. They all clapped and the women were laughing.

I look up to the heavens and think of her…

Then my father and our visiting guests started singing a birthday song in German. The women listened in a near trance with tears in their eyes by what they heard, a song that was sung by strangers, filling their corner of the restaurant. Everyone applauded and laughed.

This wasn’t the first time nor the last my father would do something like this. He would tell me (loosely translated from German) that “good people sing, bad people have no songs.”

My father was the kind of guy that everyone liked when they met him. He was a brave adventurer that came to the USA with a small suitcase to strike out on his own. He worked in a Deli for a while and then met my mother, who is also a brave adventurer in her own right.

My father wasn’t a perfect man but he had heart. He wore his heart on his sleeve and loved his family very much. I see a lot of his good qualities in me.

As I prepared for my father’s memorial I found a family photo I took on Christmas 2019. It was the last time we were all together before Covid ripped us apart.

I look back now and remember. I think about how in an instant your life can change for better or for worse. I think about my father’s life and the wisdom he shared with me.

I take stock of my life, and I can’t help but feel blessed.

Despite this being one of the worst years that I can remember, many lighthouses in my life helped me navigate safely through this treacherous storm. Those lighthouses, my fellow writers, are you. No matter how bright or dim, you helped shine the way toward safety in this storm and for that I’m grateful.

Thank you to Elle Beau, Demeter Delune, Zara Everly, Joe Duncan, Edward Riley, Mysterious Witt, and Yael Wolfe. Your words, comments, Twitter banter, and inner lights have sustained me through this storm. You are truly Queens and Kings.

Now that the storm clouds are clearing, I catch a glimpse of the North Star. I see her shining brightly in the night sky. I see Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the heavens around her and I feel the cold winter air sting my face.

I exhale as the sea calms around me. I look up to the heavens again and think of her, my partner. I think of the bears, my children.

They were there for me in my time of need and I feel their love around me. My partner was there for me the entire time, through the darkest nights when the waves raged around me and when I thought all was lost. Her light pierced through the thickest clouds and helped me give my last measure of strength to make it through the storm. I would be so lost without her.

She is the Queen that rules my celestial heavens and I’m honored to be her King.

She guides me to a new dawn.

Love Like You Mean It

Say it, feel it, make it.

My partner tells me the news Wednesday morning. Our neighbor collapsed dead with a massive heart attack the night before. She was 53 and leaves behind two children and a loving husband. Sunday afternoon we’re at her house along with 100’s of people, dressed up and in her backyard. We’re there to honor her life.

My partner and I admired all the photo collages of her life. She was smiling or laughing in every single image. There were ones of her on her wedding day, holding her first child, and her in the arms of her husband.

Her life was cut short but she lived every minute of it.

Those photos captured just a small part of what a giant this woman was in her life. There were tears in everyone’s eyes as we told stories about her.

You can tell that she was loved by all and we all felt her love around us.

Her life was cut short but she lived every minute of it. She lived it full of joy, and love. What more could she have asked for? What more can we ask for?

After all what else is there for us but love and joy?

The briefcase

I was 25 years old and working late, it was 11 PM. I was the last one out of the office and walked down to the parking lot and toward my car. I saw a big black briefcase bag sitting in the middle of the parking lot. I picked it up and noticed it had a laptop in it.

This was 25 years ago so the laptop was this big clunky thing, but there was a business card inside with a name a number.

Someone dropped this bag by accident so I took it home with me. I called the number and left a message for the owner.

The next morning I got a callback. The laptop belonged to a clinical psychologist that worked in my building with high-risk people and she put the briefcase on top of her car when loading other things, forgot about it, and drove off. She was so happy that I found it and offered to pay me a reward.

They had the time to process out all the feelings of sorrow, guilt, and pain with their child before they died.

I said no to the reward and agreed to meet so I can give her the bag and laptop back.

She was so grateful, her entire life was on that laptop and all the sensitive client data was unencrypted. She offered to take me out to dinner as a way to say thank you. I agreed to that.

We went out to dinner a few days later and had a great time. The conversation was wonderful and she asked about my work and I asked about her work. She told me about her thesis work, about parent/survivor guilt and recovery when a child dies.

Look them in the eye and tell them how much they matter to you. How much they light up your life. How lucky you are to have them in your life.

Her research showed that parents who had a sick child, like one dying of cancer or some other illness, tended to cope and recover with the loss of their child better over time than the ones who lost a child suddenly and tragically.

The reason why? Because the parents with a child dying from a long illness had time to express their love for them. They had the time to process out all the feelings of sorrow, guilt, and pain with their child before they died.

The parents whose child skated away and was killed in a car accident or was shot in school never had a chance to tell them “I love you” that one last time. Those parents suffered and some never recovered from that loss, often turning to substance abuse to cope.

A simple statement as saying “I Love You” and making it a point that it’s felt between parent and child made all the difference to the survivors. That love, that tacit and emotional communication between them, was enough to sustain the survivors during their grief and loss.

That love was a seed. It was that single blooming flower in a fire-scorched wilderness, and it was a reminder of the beauty that was before.

Would you have made them feel the love you had for them before they left, never to return?

This realization hit me hard. I went home that night and thought about it. I still think about it to this day. I thought about it during the memorial.

How many of us just say, “I love you! Have a nice day!” perfunctorily and watch our loved ones run out the door to work or to school. We do it all the time and then a handful of us get that phone call, the one you never want to get.

Would you have said something different to your lover, child, parent, partner, or friend then? Would you have given them an extra hug or another kiss? Perhaps looked deeper into their eyes? Would you have made them feel the love you had for them before they left, never to return?

I know I would have wanted to.

I Love You

There is always time to say it. There’s always time to manifest it. There is always time to renew it.

That’s the wonderful thing about Love, it’s a renewable resource. It’s always there and it can grow from the tiniest seed, planted in the harshest conditions.

Say it now. Turn to the people that you hold dear in your life and make them feel it. There are so many ways you can do it.

Look them in the eye and tell them how much they matter to you. How much they light up your life. How lucky you are to have them in your life.

Realize how much they matter to you because you matter to them too.

The only thing we can take with us, as that last breath is drawn, is knowing we are loved.

Because the greatest gift we can receive is someone’s love and the greatest thing we can give them is our love.

When death comes for us, whether it comes quickly or took its time, the only thing we can leave behind is our love. The only thing we can take with us, as that last breath is drawn, is knowing we are loved.


PS

I sat in my office after the memorial and read through the news. Another killing, another tragedy, and life just seem to go on. People being shits to one another and so much turmoil. I just sighed.

My daughter was sitting behind me drawing her artwork when she just blurted out, “Dad? I love you.”

I smiled, stood up, and kissed her on the top of her head.

“I love you too.”