Pumpkin Guts and Feelings

Over le weekend I…

Went to an ambassador party at a yoga boutique. They gave us presents, hors d’oeuvres and hugs.

Taught three steamy yoga classes. Fell in love with the yogis of Vendredi and Samedi.

Found a 10 hour loop of a beloved XX song.

Saw Argo at Sundance. That sh*t was tight.

Learned how to spell ‘hors d’oeuvres.’

Learned how to make chia seed gel for smoothies.

Missed my son, who was in La Crosse.

Looked at rainbow photos a la Google with Susie on my lap. She loves rainbows. She demands rainbows.

Was treated to pumpkin pancakes made by my husband.

Realized that no matter what, people around me are good, kind, generous. Even when I royally f*ck up, someone (family, friend, stranger) offers a soft word, a shirt off their back.


I think of my father and my brother, who have left this world. I think of my still-livin’ up north bro who I rarely see. Miss them all.

Both my father and one of my brothers spent time in jail, years ago. Not always at the same time, but once, twice, their visits shared a moon. I  grieve the loss of the time I could have spent with them. Could have sat and stared at them through thick glass. Asleep, I write to them and burn the letters before morning.

I drove away to college and left them in the dust of my hometown. Kept them at arm’s length. Got on with my life. Maintained my solid C+ average and behaved better than my hung-over, slept-around friends.

My brother and I are cool now. He knows I love his bones and I know he loves mine. We have time to repair.

But my father is lost and gone. Before he drank himself to death and turned yellow (cirrhosis), he was a big strapping guy. Tan, blond, blue-eyed. Everyone noticed him.

He holed up in the house our family owned for a hundred years. He drank a hundred bottles of cheap ashtray vodka.

When I was home on spring break, he served me purple soda in a champagne flute. It was a nice gesture. He locked the filthy rooms upstairs so I wouldn’t see.  There was a melted candle on every surface. Half the summer, his lights and power had been cut off by the city. He’d already begun to leave his body.

Dad told me he dreamed of Walker Texas Ranger and spiders invading my uncle’s basement. He didn’t dream it. That was a detox attempt.  He barricaded himself in the sun porch, locked the door and told his sister if she wanted in, she had to get past Walker. He always had a wicked sense of humor.

He played a Joe Satriani record for me and said, “You look great. Tell me about English 350. Are you writing a play?” He was destroyed and lonely, but skillful at making other people feel good about themselves. There was no personal struggle he couldn’t understand. He had a big heart, but it was ticking away.

The last few weeks of his life, he became a hologram. His hair fell out and he gave up the fu manchu mustache. Moved into a nursing home at age 47 and never came back. The last time I saw him he’d turned green (jaundice) and he couldn’t stay awake to smoke his last cigarettes.

My aunts and circled around his bed while he dozed. My baby son was passed from lap to lap, not knowing he’d never hear his grandfather speak again.

Dad let us kiss his sunken cheeks, but his eyes barely recognized us.

I’d like to buy his house, paint it white and fill it with happy old photos of our family. My dad looks like some kind of  Zeus in those pictures. Maybe I will. Or I will let him go and know that he lives in my hands, my favorite songs and the kindness of strangers.

Can you relate?


21 thoughts on “Pumpkin Guts and Feelings

  1. Thanks for the beautiful post Hally. The picture of you and your dad is precious. It’s amazing how a story can charge a photo with so much emotion.

    The only death I’ve had in my family is my family dog. She was like a sister to me since we grew up together. Her last day was the first time I’ve ever seen my dad cry. We made a photo album with every picture she was in. My favorite is one of not too long after we first brought her home, and I’m crouched right next to her trying to pet her. It’s amazing how quickly the good times come and go.

  2. Totally. All around the family. Sometimes it’s good to know there are others that know what you’ve seen. This was beautiful

  3. this post was beautiful & brought tears to my eyes. i’ve yet to endure a loss as significant as this one, but i have had two truly difficult things to deal with in this life & yoga helped me get through both of them. i am thankful that i can count the hard times on two fingers. i believe knowing pain is what makes us compassionate. i love you, your words & what you give to the world. shine on, hally ❤

    • Christina, you’re such a good, true friend to me. I love you too, and the way your spirit lights up everyone around you. “Knowing pain is what makes us compassionate.” Might have to keep quoting you on that insight. Thanks for being so genuine and thoughtful. You’re a star.

  4. First, let me say that I enjoy your writings, blogs.
    #1. Do you have any relationship with your mother?
    #2 Don’t blame yourself for not seeing your brother and father more frequently. Sounds like your father was an addict, your brother acting out and in the criminal justice system. It was probably best for you to not see them, especially as a young girl.
    #3. Don’t drink, please. Addiction can be inherited.
    #4. Have you dealt with your anger re: your father’s addiction that led to his death? Do you think family and others enabled his addiction?
    Been to therapy to dea with all this. If not, go to therapy.
    #5. Sounds like your life now is stable and rewarding. The past can sometimes rear it’s ugly head when we least expect it. Go to therapy.

    • Patricia, thanks for reading. I appreciate your sincerity and questions. 1. Yes, I have a relationship with my mother. It’s more of a friendship, I suppose. 2. Yes, I think I applied the distance for what I saw as my own good. I only regret not having more time (healthy times?) with my dad. I should clarify: I have two younger brothers. One passed when I was two years old. One is five years younger than me. He’s doing great (being an excellent father himself) and I’m so proud of him. Losing my father had to be the hardest on my little brother. 3. There is very little drinking in our house now. 4. My dad always built up me and my bro. He just lost the struggle with his own demons. I was angry at my father in my teens and twenties. I resented him for being weak and influencing my brother negatively. He went through long stretches of time when he was a very present, loving father though. And then he’d crash. Sure I’ve been to therapy. I’m not against going again at some point. I don’t know about the enabling. There must have been some. I think my family tried every trick in the book to keep him with us. 5. Yes. My life is stable and rewarding. How the heck did that happen? I don’t take it for granted. I’m thankful. Just feeling how I feel and writing about it. Peace to you and yours.

      • Your story is my story. Tears are streaming down my face. Very emotional for me to read this. Thank you for writing this. I wish I had the gifts of the pen as you do! Namaste.

      • You are very astute in processing your family history. Probably because of that, you are so successful in your personal and professional life. And you certainly have a gift for writing your thoughts. That probably makes you an awesome Yoga instructor. When we can have that kind of empathy, participants recognize it and like being in your presence. Maybe sometime I will get to experience your class!
        Thank you for a very intimate article. You have helped others with this story.

      • Particia, your comments really got me thinking. I’m trying my best to make sense of the highs and lows of life. Can’t help but weave that into teaching, for better or worse. Thanks for inviting me to dive deeper. I’d love to have you in class!

  5. Aww Hally. I can most certainly relate. I sort of wish I couldn’t
    I remember when my sister died thinking I had crossed over into a secret club- the one where people knew exactly what it was like to have someone you love die. As a nurse and a naturally empathetic person, I thought I did know. But naw man- ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

    It is what brought me to yoga and I try to remember everyday that the people I meet- they all have their own shit. Be that what it may and you really don’t understand until you have been there.

    And boy the family stuff. So hard to deal with people with addictions and try to do right for them and for yourself. I know I have broken family ties so that I don’t get pulled down into the mess that is their lives. Do I regret it- not now I don’t-maybe one day I will. I guess I try to make the best choices I can. Don’t know what else I can do. I just know that I want my kids to live lives that are as chaos free as possible and this is the best way that I can make that happen.

    Thank you for sharing another beautiful post.

    • Sarah, I’m so sorry you lost your sister. I can only imagine that you, as a nurse and a naturally empathetic person, teach a very soulful yoga class. I hope I’ll get to take it sometime! I think it’s human to have regrets and at the same time, protecting your kids shows you’ve got their backs. I feel you. Thanks for taking time to talk.

  6. Hallly, I’ve spent most of my adult life mourning the fact that I never really had a dad. I can remember it all starting when I was eight years old. The drinking and fighting night after night- every night- really every single night. I was the oldest and my 3 sibs would crawl into my bed at night cuz we were all so scared. If if got really bad, I’d sneak us all into the garage and lock us in the car until it blew over. Sometimes, my dad would storm out and drive away and my mom would make us kids carry his clothes and shoes and stuff downstairs and throw it all in the back hall where the dogs slept. Then, later, she’d wake us up and make us haul it all back upstairs. My dad would put his fists through windows and my mom would cat scratch his face with bloody gouges on his cheeks. As I freshman in high school, I spent every study hall going through college catalogues- I knew it was my way out- to go to college. I was a straight A student and by the time I was a junior, was in the hospital weighing 80 pounds with Anorexia Nervosa. My parents were wealthy people- country club types- and nobody knew. None of my friends, no one at school knew what was going on in my home. I had to have therapy cuz of the eating disorder and I never told them a thing- not one word- I was so scared that if my parents found out- something bad would happen. My dad died 4 years ago from esophageal cancer (related to his alcoholism). He was a good man- smart, honest. It is so very sad- such a waste. A beautiful post. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Kris, thank you so much for sharing what you have endured. You’re a hero in my eyes. I’m so sorry that you, as a child, had to go through what had to be very painful, fearful moments. I’m sure your siblings were comforted by you being their stable parent figure and protecting them. But it must have been so painful for you. I’m glad you got away. I would never guess someone so calm and grounded as you suffered from anorexia. Yet somehow you’ve come through it with such a healthy food attitude. My heart goes out to you. I wonder if knowing what you’ve known is what makes you such a kind, warm person. You’re an inspiration and you deserve the best life has to offer. Love, H

  7. This totally broke my heart, but in a good way. It seems like it would be so easy to be angry and feel victimized, but the way you painted it makes me have hope that there can be love in loss like this. Thank you so much for your courage.

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