Saturday, November 13, 2010


there's a place in the Utah Desert called the Upheaval Dome.  i remember visiting it years ago with some college friends when i was on a camping trip.  it must have been almost twenty years ago now.  there was something eerily moon-like about that place.  almost like a crater had formed in the Earth's surface, but in a mirror image of what it should have been.  it is some geological anomaly.

the reason i mention it, is because my emotions have been in a cycle of upheaval for the last month.  right around my birthday, a month ago today, i found out that my dad was in the hospital in Germany.  we all knew that he was ill and his prognosis was not good but for the last year or two he had been steadily plugging along.  he and his girlfriend had just been to my brother's wedding in Idaho in August and he didn't look too bad.

he left me a message on my voicemail on my birthday.  i had been out hiking with the dogs and although in a fog, he had figured out how to dial from Germany to the US to wish me a happy birthday; something he had typically failed to do in the past when he was healthier.  then several days later i was able to call him back and talk with him, but he was quite ill and confused.  he did recognize my voice though, and i could tell that he was happy that i had called.

a call came from my brother, Stefan, several days after that, that our dad was indeed doing quite poorly and  Stefan and his wife Abigail decided to fly out to Germany to see Dad.  i also booked a flight but a few days after they had gotten theirs.  we would all meet up together in Düsseldorf to be with Dad.

but life rarely goes according to plan, and as i was traveling i got a text from my brother that Dad had passed away.  Stefan had been at his bedside, and heard his last breath.  so my trip to say goodbye to my dad would be just that.  i met up with Stefan and Abigail after a difficult trip (my flight was canceled out of Denver, and i had to re-route the next day through Chicago).  Stefan had already taken care of the cremation and getting the urn transferred to Dad's hometown in Southern Germany, miles away from Düsseldorf.

to put it simply:  they do things differently in Germany than they do in the USA.  and nothing seems simple.  especially when you are trying to negotiate a delicate situation in your second-language.  we had to plan a funeral, deal with a house, and bills, and reams of old paperwork.  it's the kind of thing you really don't want to deal with ever in life, let alone when your dad has not written out a Last Will and Testament.  German bureaucratic paperwork that takes an eternity to accomplish was seeming to us like it would never be brought to completion.  and we were in the midst of a three-day holiday weekend, where everything comes to a virtual standstill.

but through all of the stress and sadness, old friends of ours and our dad's stood up to help us out.  Stefan and i reunited with our uncle, who had had a falling out with our dad years ago (they had not spoken for probably ten years...) and our uncle came to the funeral.  our mom's best friends helped us forward the mail, plan the funeral, order the flowers, and made us dinner.  their son agreed to continue to be the caretaker to our dad's house. our dad's good friend helped us get his death certificate released early so that we could close bank, pension, and phone accounts.  we really couldn't have done it without them.

and ironically, we made the time to go to some of our favorite places in the mountains of our dad's little Bavarian town to laugh and smile a bit too.  we visited with old friends and told stories about how we had traveled together when we were kids.  through the sorrow and stress we were also lifted up.

i got home Friday night, and turned around on Sunday to drive to my new job in Nevada.  a six hour drive from Salt Lake City through the desert, when all i really wanted to do was lie in bed.  but hours alone in the car (not really alone--i had the two dogs with me) gives one time to clear the head.  and after a half a day, i arrived in Tonopah, NV.

just when i thought things could not get worse, i stepped into my own little version of Hell.  the apartment that i had been set up to live in while on my three-month travel assignment turned out to be a total shit-hole.  i made an honest effort to clean it before getting "settled in", but in reality i was really glad to have my Hepatitis immunizations up to date.  i took the dogs around the back of the building for a pee-break, and was afraid i would find old hypodermic needles amongst the cigarette butts and old burned out car wrecks.  after one night in the place, my lungs burned from the 30-odd years of old, stale cigarette smoke in the place.  one of the dogs peed on the carpet, and i didn't bother to clean it up--that's how bad it was.  i had to get out. 

i went to work at the hospital, my first day, and was delighted to find that i am working with probably one of the most brilliant rural emergency and internal medicine doctors in the nation, if not in the world.  Dr. S is an Italian-American with a limitless amount of energy and determination.  i will learn so much from this man, and am so honored that he feels i am up for the task of partnering with him in his practice for the next three months.

i got set up with a much better place to live, and the dogs have the wide-open spaces of the desert right out the back door.  i take them for 6am morning strolls before heading into work.  we watch the sun come up over the peaks and i think what a lucky person i am to have this serene place to myself.

i've hardly had time to process all of these swings in emotions.  my chest feels like the Upheaval Dome--a deep emptiness lies within my chest:  an inverted crater which is being filled up with love and confidence from those around me.

we never really know what we have until something is taken away.  we never really know what our potential is until we are placed in a new environment.  like the sign in Dr. S's office says, "if you think you may have just entered hell, keep going... "  yes, it does get better.


  1. Such a beautifully written post Missy. I'm so sorry for your loss and that a trip to Germany was in such circumstances. Can't wait for you to return to Utah from Nevada so you and the dogs can guide me on a hike!

  2. Missy, very sorry to hear about Dad, it would have been nice to be there for him, but like we say, life is short and things happen.

    I do know what Nevada looks like. :-) Just running through there and seeing many homes like you describe, I had a real vision of what you mention. Not so pretty.....

    We learn to appreciate what we have through times like these. Enjoy your time away in nowhere Nevada, teach a few of those friends out there how to live the real life... See you when you return, we'll go run again.

  3. What a great post Missy. It is amazing how you are so optimistic with all you have been through. I so appreciate that about you. Thanks for being such a great friend. I think of you often and can't wait to do breakfast again!

  4. Hey Heather,

    take good care of you in that Nevada place and watch yourself so we can see you back in Kochel again

    Love uncle Jan (your favorite and only Dutch uncle)

  5. You, my friend, epitomize strength and grace. Thank you for being you- and for being my friend!

  6. Oh goodness, don't I love tearing up at work...I love your post and how amazing you are! Iris

  7. Beautiful post Missy. I am so glad your dad called you on your birthday. Healing takes time, as you already know. I admire your strength and poise thru this difficult time. Best of wishes in your new job. Here's to brighter days ahead of you.