Posted by: donrhymer | March 25, 2013

Untethered

That’s a Don Rhymer word.  After he got sick, and would travel to New York for business, he would call and tell me he felt untethered.  He described feeling like he was hanging out there on his own with nothing to hold on to.  We had become so accustomed to being together during his treatment.  And there he was across the country and I wasn’t with him.

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Boston to see Carrie in the final play of her Emerson College career.  She was brilliant in a show written by her wonderfully talented friend Dan.  Her southern accent would have made her dad so proud.  Jill flew up for one performance, and Kelly, Don’s sister, came to town to see the show as well.   It even snowed on opening night.  We were all sure it was a sign that Don wanted us to know that he was indeed right there with us.

After meeting Carrie for a late lunch Thursday afternoon, I decided to wander through campus on my way back to the hotel.  “Campus” is a word used loosely at Emerson, because it is essentially a bunch of buildings across the street from Boston Common.  I wandered past the dorm where Carrie lived as a freshman, and remembered unloading an ungodly number of boxes from our rental car.  I passed restaurants where we had eaten over the past four years; hotels where Don and I had stayed.  The bookstore where we bought countless Emerson sweatshirts.  Sitting in the Common on a beautiful spring day.  So many memories.

Somewhere along Boylston Street I started to cry.  I was alone, undone.  Missing Don terribly.  I put my head down and quietly wept as I walked.  It was pretty cold, and people were bundled up, so I assumed no one would notice me.

All of a sudden a homeless man was in front of me, a paper cup in his hand.  I shook my head no, and tried to move past him.  He looked me straight in the eye, saw I was crying and said, “Are you ok??”  Again, I shook my head no.  As I kept walking I heard him behind me say “Give it to God”.  Through my tears I shook my head yes.

The humanity of a homeless man had broken through my agony.  I saw that my pain, bold and searing, is not the only pain in the world.

I made it back to the hotel, where I had a really good cry with Jill.  Carrie was brilliant again in her next performance.   Kelly and I spent our last night with cosmopolitans and cucumber drinks crying over memories and telling stories.

I now understand what Don meant by feeling “untethered”.   I feel I am grasping at something to hold on to; something to make me feel secure and safe.  And I am beginning to understand that pain and sadness are in some profound way what is connecting me to him right now.  There is laughter, and there are stories, but it’s the acuteness of the pain that I need to feel.  The deepness of the love we had for each other.  For now, that’s my tether.

And the homeless man with the empty Starbucks cup?  He’s a simple reminder that life is much bigger than my own little corner of the world.

– Kate

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Posted by: donrhymer | March 13, 2013

When It Rains…

I think I need an umbrella.

A few weeks ago Andrew noticed that a baseboard in our family room seemed to be pulling away from the wall.  A plumber was called and confirmed that we indeed had our third leak in our copper pipes in the past seven months.  The first two had been handled with a minimum of mess and chaos.  But this one was different.  This was a leak in the pipe in the concrete slab under the house.

The first people to arrive were the dry-out crew, who set up dehumidifiers and air scrubbers, just in case a nasty mold had begun to grow.  Next came the demo crew, who started opening walls where the water had begun to flow.  The custom hardwood floor in the living room has been removed, leaving the bare, cold concrete exposed.  The copper re-pipe team has toured the house, ready to start their job of replacing all of the copper pipes this week.  They told me the house would look like Swiss cheese until all the holes could be patched.  As I said in a previous post, it’s a big house, so this is no small job.  The living room furniture is living in the dining room for the time being.  Add to the list the electrician, who had to be called to repair a circuit that was blown when the plumber jack-hammered the tile floor to find the leak.

Hopefully the pipes will stop springing leaks every few months.  The holes in the dry wall will eventually be repaired.  The hardwood floor will be replaced and sanded and stained and sealed.  We will repaint.  The furniture will go back to its rightful place.  Everything will seemingly be back to normal.

Except it isn’t.

This leak at the foundation seems an apt metaphor for life these days.  My rug has literally been pulled out from under me.  With Don’s death, I have been broken down to the barest of elements.  My sense of home and normalcy is disrupted and chaotic. Layers have been stripped away.   Holes are opened and exposed.  I am in desperate need of patching.  Much like this leak, grief stops me in my tracks and makes me pay attention to what is going on.

I started writing this on Sunday night and it’s now Wednesday morning.  I have no idea how to finish this post.  I showed it to Andrew and he said, “Just write what you feel, Mom”.

I feel sad and raw.  Nothing seems quite right.  I miss my husband, my love, my friend.  I have no idea what my “new normal” will look like.  But I know I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I know I need an umbrella.

– Kate

Posted by: donrhymer | February 23, 2013

Birthday Girl

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I have spent the last two weeks attempting to write this post.  Mostly staring at the screen, occasionally typing and then hitting the delete button repeatedly. How do I express my feelings about this giant cloud that is now surrounding what has always been my favorite day of the entire year? February 23rd.

I tried to channel my father’s wit and humor as a means to express how I feel, but I realized that I am just not there yet.  So instead, I am just going to go with another thing my dad excelled at – honesty.

Honestly? I have been dreading this day since November 28th.  It’s too soon.  Our family just trudged through the heartache that came with Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, but nope, that’s not all.  Now I have to find a way to celebrate my birthday and my dad’s birthday, without him.  I don’t even know where to start.

I’m the baby of the family, and lucky for me, I came into this family on my dad’s 30th birthday.  Obviously, his best birthday present ever (although, there were definitely times he denied this and would point to some other childhood gift he loved). My dad was the kind of man that everyone wanted to be close to. He had this magnetic personality that made you just instantly want to be his best friend.  How could you not? NOTHING compared to the feeling when he laughed at your jokes (or did the typical Don Rhymer thing and just said “That was funny”).  And I got to be his little girl. I got to share his birthday with him for 21 years.  No day was more precious than February 23rd.  It was the day of Don and Carrie.  I always felt so proud and so special on our birthday, like it was some secret gift we shared that no one could ever take from us; a bond unique in its own.

Last year my parents flew to Boston for my 21st birthday and my dad’s 51st birthday.  They stayed at this snazzy hotel, where the bar was a nightclub.  We had our first legal drink together and joked and laughed at the people around us dancing.  I want that again.

I know that it’s still a bond that only he and I share, but I want more birthdays.  I feel gypped out of years of birthdays and memories and it’s not fair. It’s just not.

I am going to celebrate my dad’s birthday with my friends in Boston this year.  I told them all that I want to have a big toast to him, and have instructed them that if there is a cake being made – it must have my dad’s name on it as well.  I don’t know what the day will be like, probably lots of ups and downs like everything else these days.  Luckily I will be surrounded by my dear friends.

I know you’ll be with me too, Dad.  Happy Birthday, I love you sososososo much.

– Carrie

Posted by: donrhymer | February 22, 2013

Survival Kit

We’ve got a big weekend coming up. Tomorrow, February 23rd, would be my dad’s 52nd birthday, and Sunday night is the Oscar telecast. It will be a weekend loaded with Don Rhymer memories, so we’re on high alert, threat level midnight, bracing for impact.

The only weekends I can recall getting this much hype and strategy are those when a hurricane is headed toward New York. Flee the city! Buy in bulk! Fill your bathtub! It’s terrifying, but there’s an inescapable feeling that all that Chef Boyardee may be for nothing. Storms don’t take aim. It’s often just a matter of being on the unlucky side of a river.

Personally, I over-prepare every single time. I panic-rent Zipcars. I take unruly amounts of bottled water to my girlfriend and her roommate. I determine it’s not safe in their apartment and bring them to mine. I realize  nobody’s safe at my apartment so I arrange for us all to stay with a friend. I buy aerobeds then leave them at the friend’s house. You get the idea. You don’t want to be around me when I think there’s a storm approaching.

This week I found my compulsion for preparedness took a bizarre form- I made a video. It’s short and frankly, stupid, but I wanted there to be some way to remember my dad that wasn’t dangerous or depressing. He had very little time for things that depressed him.

Above is a short reel of all my dad’s movies smashed into two minutes of fond memories and bird jokes, a survival kit of sorts. Most of you will make it through this weekend unscathed but for a few sad moments, and some of us are in for some serious water damage.

I can’t board up everyone’s windows or hold all of your hands, (I would try if there weren’t so damn many of you) but I can give you this dumb youtube video I made. If you’re hosting an oscar party, show this to the people around you and toast Don Rhymer. His name won’t be mentioned in the telecast, but please don’t make snarky remarks about it on his behalf. Hundreds of hard-working people with long entertainment careers die every year and the Oscars have time for thirty of them. (Insert your favorite Agent Cody Banks 2 joke here).

In any case, let’s just be glad we’re not watching the Oscar Funeral Spectacular this weekend. We’ve had quite enough funerals at our house, thank you very much.

Good luck this weekend, and Godspeed to all of you.

-Andrew

Posted by: donrhymer | February 21, 2013

Land Mines and Valentines

I’m a “glass half full” person.  I always have been – it’s just my nature.  I choose to see the good in most people and most situations.

This is new territory for me.  It’s hard to see life as a beautiful meadow of wild flowers, when right now I envision life as a huge field full of land mines.  Family traditions and holidays.  Good things that make up life, but land mines nonetheless.   Some are buried deep underground, have been there for years, and are marked with flags that say “Valentines Day”, “Carrie’s College Graduation”, or “Our 30th Wedding Anniversary”.  And although I know they are there, I can’t avoid them.  I step on one and immediately I fall in the hole.  “That’s the thing about pain.  It demands to be felt”, from “The Fault in Our Stars”.  How true that is.  And as hard as it is, there is a need in me to feel the acuity of the pain, the sharpness of it.

On Valentine’s Day, I woke up to Andrew in the kitchen fixing me breakfast in bed – he learned well from his dad.  (Or maybe he’s been watching too much Downton Abbey – I’m not really sure which.)  It felt like a handful of dirt being thrown into the hole – a kindness – in an attempt to fill up the cavity, to lessen the pain just a little bit.  The kids (I’m sure Molly and Scarlett were the ringleaders) bought me a lovely Tiffany bracelet with the infinity/eternity symbol on it.  Another handful of dirt tossed in the hole.  In the evening we went to the home of some friends for dinner.  Besides the fact that Jim’s meal would rival some of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten in – it provided a relaxing and enjoyable evening with friends and family.  I felt cared for and loved.  The hole was a little fuller by the time we got home.

Sometimes the land mines are just under the surface; they don’t have flags or markers.  The blast from these is often stronger, because I don’t see it coming.  I go to the coat closet to get a raincoat and see Don’s Dodger jacket.  I fall in the hole.  I am leaving Trader Joe’s and the song “Oh How Happy You Have Made Me” is playing as I go out the door.  I have to run to my car.  I am putting laundry away and end up lying on the floor of Don’s closet.  I’m startled by how quickly I can become undone.

Carrie’s 22nd and Don’s 52 birthdays are this weekend.  She was born on his 30th birthday, and was always his favorite birthday present.  There will be no avoiding this bittersweet occasion, nor will we even try.  Don loved birthdays.  He was the one who started the “birthday tree” tradition at our house – all the presents go under the ficus tree by the front door.  Carrie will be in Boston, and I’m not yet sure how she’ll choose to spend her day.  On this coast maybe we will go to the beach, one of Don’s favorite places.  When Carrie comes home for spring break in a few weeks, we’ll all go out to dinner and raise a glass to Don.  We’ll even have dessert and cappuccino after, assuring a long, leisurely evening, just like Don loved.  Hopefully the hole won’t feel quite so deep.

I miss him more than I ever imagined would be possible.  There will always be land mines, and holes to fall in to.  Maybe someday I’ll learn to walk around them.  But for now, a little handful of dirt sure goes a long way.

– Kate

Posted by: donrhymer | February 5, 2013

Papa Bear

Carrie & Dad

So here I am, the baby of the family, and I’ve finally decided to check in (it’s taken a while for my fingers to thaw in this FREEZING weather). After two full months spent in the warmth of my cozy home (and pajamas) I now am back in Boston, finishing up my final semester of my college career and, quite frankly I have no idea how I got back here. But I find it all quite suspicious.

I mean, sure, I guess I was trying to be all brave and telling people “Oh sure, I’ll go back and graduate, make him proud”, but to be quite honest, I’m not sure I had any intention of actually coming back. It felt like this far off thing that I couldn’t possibly have to face anytime soon. And then Christmas, and New Years came and went and the holidays were over. Next thing I know I am on a plane to Boston (a rather nice flight actually, just over 4 hours and no one in the middle seat – plus extra legroom) and here I am. I just finished my first week of my last semester of college.

It’s been a good few weeks, exciting, but busy as I have work from last semester to make up. Harder than that though, has been not being able to pick up the phone and tell my dad about my new classes, projects and teachers. I had an audition last week, for an Emerson Stage show and it was the first audition in my life that I couldn’t call to hear his voice before, urging me on, telling me to “relax and let it fly” and after, hearing the pride in his voice no matter how it went. I’ve wanted to call him every single day, but the ache of that is slightly eased by all the times I have felt his presence this week.

I walked into my first class feeling nervous and all too vulnerable. I immediately was sandwiched in a giant hug between two of my dearest friends in the theater program. Shortly thereafter we were doing introductions in my Humans Rights class; the intro game involved us holding a small globe and saying the following statement:

“If I had the world in my hands and could change one thing it would be….”

The ball was then passed to my friend Brooke, who without knowing any of these details about my father’s last instructions to our family said:

“If I had the world in my hands I would make it so that everyone would focus on the good.

The ball was passed to me and I said something about ensuring illness and suffering wouldn’t exist. As I said this, my other friend, Becca, gently reached over and took my hand in hers; she gave me a squeeze of encouragement, reminding me of the love and support I have here. At this moment, I looked down at our hands. Her fingernails were painted the most beautiful shade of blue – Dodger blue; the exact color and brand that I had painted on my nails the morning of November 28th while I held my father’s hands in mine as my whole world changed.

I am still scared and I still wake up some mornings thinking I’d really rather not be in Boston and feeling as though I couldn’t possibly get through the day ahead. Thus far, I have been able to combat those feelings because I believe, deep in my heart, that he wants me here. And he has been finding little ways to remind me of that everyday. It’s not brave if you’re not scared – right Dad?

I found out a few days ago that I got cast in the show. I couldn’t be more excited about this production and I know it will be a great experience, but when I called my mom to fill her in we both found ourselves in tears. My Papa Bear would be so unbelievably proud, and I can’t wait to keep making him proud.

This one’s for you, Dad.

– Carrie

Posted by: donrhymer | January 29, 2013

The Lucky One

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After my brother’s memorial service, one of his dear friends hugged me and said “and then there was one”. It’s true. Of the family of four that I grew up with, I am the only one still here on earth. My parents passed away within five weeks of one another. And now I have lost Don. It is unfathomable.

In the summer of 2010, Don was enduring chemotherapy and radiation. My mother passed away in late June and my father passed away in late July. Don flew from Los Angeles to Union for the services, but he looked very different the second trip; thinner, his neck burned and swollen. I cannot imagine what it must have been like on a crowded plane for 5 hours, feeling as horrible as he did. As usual, he never complained, always persevered. The next two years we would waver between good and bad news. “We got it! Oh, but it popped up here. Everything is shrinking! But oh wait, it’s on your lungs.” He would always tell you the news, then say “but don’t worry, it will be fine!” So many times I would tell my friends that I could not lose Don. He was not going anywhere! Until one day, I did lose him.

Don and I shared the JOYS of cancer. As a breast cancer survivor, I could relate to his stories of drains and IVs. He would text me after one of my many surgeries with simple words: I’m so sorry. He would try to make me laugh and I would do the same for him. The last time Don and I were together was this past summer at Wild Dunes. We sat at dinner one night and I listened to Don tell a story about the summer between high school and college; I had never heard the story before. I remember wondering how many more stories he had that I had missed over the years and I couldn’t wait to hear more! I will have to wait now, along with the rest of the world who could not wait for the next blog, the next movie, the next script, the next night of just hanging out with him. I miss his stories, I miss him making me laugh. I miss his voice on the phone, his texts, his jokes, his advice. I miss him so very much.

I had 49 years of memories with Don. Playing as kids, fighting as teenagers, laughing as adults, holding hands at our parents’ funerals. So yes, then there was one. I have my father’s wit, my mother’s temper, and my brother’s desire to always make others happy, comfortable and loved. What a blessing he was in my life. For that, I am the lucky “one”!

-Kelly

Posted by: donrhymer | January 22, 2013

Gratitude

I’m a grateful girl.

You’re wondering how I can say that. I didn’t feel it yesterday, and I may not tomorrow. But for some reason I do today.

I had the privilege of spending 33 years with the man I loved. And here’s one thing I can say with confidence – he loved me back. He brought me flowers, and made me coffee. We got to go on fun tropical vacations. (Think Don with an umbrella drink.) He made me laugh. I miss him more than I ever imagined possible. But still I’m grateful.

Don was part of a wonderful “band of brothers”. (Sorry for the horrible misuse of your quote Brian). These guys showed up one Saturday to put Christmas lights on our house. Granted, it’s a big house, but there were probably 12 of us hanging lights in trees, bushes, on rocks, and places that had never before seen Christmas lights. It took a few hours. We had sandwiches after, and sat around the fire pit in the back yard telling stories about Don. They showed up again last Saturday to take down the lights. As I said, it’s a big house, but this part took about 15 minutes. They stayed and cleaned the gutters and raked the leaves from the eaves. As Jeff said. “I know we don’t need a lot of hands, but it’s the gathering….”

Dave stops by every other evening or so, ostensibly for his “scotchsicle”. He checks in with the kids, asks them about school and work. He eats the candy on the counter. We talk about Don and laugh about a memory. Although it’s a different kind of grief than I feel, he’s just lost his best friend. He’s craving that connection with Don that we all need.

I probably couldn’t write this entry without Kathy in my life. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the last weeks without her. As my friend Lore said the other day, “My tears could probably fill a jacuzzi”, and a good part of them have been shed on Kathy’s strong shoulders. She is my rock.

We have three amazing kids. Don poured wisdom into their lives that I can never even begin to replace. I said to Carrie the other day, “He had so much more to teach you”. Her reply was, “Yes Mom, but look at what he already taught us”. Talk about gratitude.

The kids have stepped in and stepped up in what often seem unbearable circumstances. They have shown grace and maturity that floors me every day. They have parented me when they need to. One Friday evening a few weeks ago I told them to all please go out and be with their friends. I then decided it would be a good idea to listen to the audio portion from the memorial service on my computer. At this point it’s 9:30 at night. After I finished that, I decided it would still be an even better idea to read all of Don’s blog entries from start to finish. As the kids started trickling home about 1:00 in the morning, I was a blubbering mess in my bed. I tried to explain what I had been doing, they all three took in the scene, shook their heads and Andrew said, “Mom, what were you THINKING??!!”

So many others, too numerous to count, have shown up in ways to meet needs I didn’t even know I had. Some friends have started sending me photos of Don over the years. I’m startled by my own gratitude to receive them. Karen sent a photo that has become one of my favorites – of Don hosting our family and friends at his office to watch the Rose Parade. He looks so happy to be with the people he loved.

Today, at least at 6:30 in the morning, I feel grateful. I don’t know what tomorrow, or even the rest of today, will hold. I trust in my God who promises not to show me what’s on the road ahead, but to walk with me on the journey.

-Kate

Posted by: donrhymer | January 18, 2013

One Day at a Time

The kids and I have heard from some of you that you’d like us to keep the blog going, to post every once in awhile how we are doing.  The next part of Don’s journey – his family continuing on without him, but at the same time, preserving his memory and so many things he taught us along the way.

I’m not a writer, and would never claim to be.  We often joked about it.  On a few occasions, Don’s 50th birthday for example, I would write a silly little rhyming poem, because I could never put into words what I wanted to say.  That particular one began:

“To you Donald Rhymer,
At this special time
Your job is to write,
While my job is to rhyme”.

After all, I am a Rhymer.  But not a writer.  Our kids, however, seem to have inherited some of his talent.  So the kids and I, with your indulgence, will continue to post on the blog every once in awhile.  Maybe it will make you smile, thinking of us, and of Don.  Maybe, like Don would, you’ll ask someone how they’re doing, and really listen to the answer.  And hopefully it will prompt you to “focus on the good”.

-Kate

Posted by: donrhymer | January 10, 2013

Battle Scars and Dodger Dogs

Don & Molly

Several months back my dad took me to a Dodger game.  We sat in the dugout club and talked about life between bites of our Dodger dogs.  (Did I mention we are both gluten intolerant?)  Kershaw was pitching.  He asked about my  job and friends. He asked what I’d heard from Andrew & Carrie lately. He asked about my dating life.  Strike.

Then he told me about a book he was reading, a book that meant a great deal to him at the time.  “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green about Hazel, a sixteen year old cancer patient who had eery similarities to my father (disease wise mind you, although I’m sure he and a sixteen year old girl had more in common than he’d like us to know).  Both had cancer which had metastasized to the lung, spent 6 days in the ICU, both had 1.5 liters of fluid drained from the lung.  Both didn’t want to “wound” anyone in their battle. Hazel refers to her cancer as a grenade.  She says, “I’m like a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties”.

My dad’s greatest sadness was how much pain he caused his family. That his disease was our disease.  His pain was ours and he wanted to minimize his casualties.  He feared that when it all blew up, when it went to chaos, everyone around him would be left with embedded shrapnel.

And we are left with that in a sense. He left bits and pieces of himself to so many people. Bits of bullet in all of us. My brother emits his perfect balance of kindness and strength.  My sweet sister, a true daddy’s girl at heart has his quick wit.  Me, I encompass his “socially awkward while being extremely social” side, and my mom, at the heart of us all, is his rock.  That woman is solid gold I tell you. He touched so many lives.  His service on Monday, December 3rd was a demonstration of that.  Everyone showed up, even his hair stylist (and what a feat because he would be the first to tell you he had very little hair).  As Andrew said in a previous post, it was a whirlwind of a day but I did take a moment and think, “Damn, I am so proud to be his daughter and to have fought his battle along side him.”

The headline in the local paper the week after his death read, “Don Rhymer Loses Battle to Cancer”. Boy did that piss us off over here.  This was a hell of a battle all right,  but this battle was not lost.  We are still fighting over here thank you very much. We learn from the best; my dad taught us well.

And as we march on, we are still in awe over the outpour of love and postcards we receive.  We love hearing how he has affected your lives.  But for now, there’s peace.  No explosions, no grenades.  And like we told him that Wednesday, “You can sleep now, Papa”.

-Molly

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