Tag Archives: Papa

Thinking About My Dad

Daddy Red Turtleneck

Saturday, May 24 will be two years from the day my dad died.  I’ve  been thinking about him.  The other day I saw something that made me smile and I immediately thought of telling  him about it.  A vendor at the Farmer’s Market was munching contentedly; a carrot in one hand, a bottle of hot sauce in the other. I imagined telling my dad the story and knew he’d think it was funny but in less time then it takes to read this sentence, I remembered he was gone.  With an ache in my chest, I knew I couldn’t tell him about it.

I haven’t been going to his grave as often as I did the first year after he died.  It’s been a few months at least, and it’s been on my mind to get down there.

This weekend I had the opportunity.  Rem and I were house-sitting for my mom and on Sunday morning, he needed an early-morning ride to the ferry.  He was heading into San Francisco to take photos at the annual Bay to Breakers footrace.  After dropping him off at 5:40 a.m., Molly and I went down to Fernwood.

The sky was just growing light.  A thin, grey comforter of fog was draped along the upper slopes of Mt. Tam.  Molly was delighted to be out of the car and went up the path ahead of me.

The hillside is covered with rattlesnake grass, wildflowers and eucalyptus trees.  Oh, and some poison oak too.

Hillside Fernwod

It is only as I got closer that the stone marker was visible.

Papa's Tree

Papa's Stone

Roses for Papa

I laid some flowers and cried some tears.  I told him that Caitlin was graduating at Chico and that was where Mom was.  I talked about how sick Beau has been but that we’re so relieved he’s improving.  I sang two songs and watched some hawks circling up high above the trees.

As I walked carefully back across the hillside to the path, I searched for feathers but didn’t see any.

Molly was full of energy and I had plenty of time to wander around the cemetery, something I kept thinking about doing and never taking the time in my many visits down there.  Molly romped ahead, sniffing around and happy as could be.  I was thinking about my dad and how much I miss him.  I thought about how many lives were represented by the stones around me.

One message caught my eye and made me smile.

It all comes out in the wash and a little chocolate never hurts

Comes Out in the Wash

I think I would have liked this woman!

The positive attitude that came up with those words lifted my spirits and made me try to re-frame my sadness. I focused on all the wonderful years I lived with my dad in my life instead of the last three; the year of struggling with cancer and the two years since he died.

It made me think that although these gravestones represented loss and grief they also represented peoples lives.  Many stones have a name and two dates and little else, yet whole lives are lived in the space between those two dates.

As I followed a trail, I found a section of older graves and stones that were cracked and broken.  Some gravestones only show one date or a very short span of days.  Others list the age of the deceased and many lived short lives.  The oldest year I noted was 1907.


On their website, Fernwood states the cemetery has existed since the late 1800’s.  Again, instead of thinking of all of those people dying, I walked around and thought of all those people living.

I saw this fragment of stone that just showed a single date.  I don’t know if Valentine’s Day was remembered as the birthday of a loved one, or the date someone lost a loved one.

February 14

Walking around, exploring the cemetery, was very peaceful.  I looked through the trees at the view of Richardson Bay.

View from Fernwood hillside

Looking down the hill I see the pyramid skylight on the Fernwood Funeral Home, reminding me of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Pyramid Skylight

Some things I had glimpsed while driving past and now I had I time for a closer look.

Like the Buddha statue in a tree.

Buddha in a Tree

A rustic gate open to a path curving around the hillside.

rustic gate

A beautifully carved wooden Buddha sits atop a rough base created from a tree stump. In spite of missing a finger, he was very serene.


Little talismans have been left in his hands: a bit of shell, a rhinestone rabbit  with a wreath of rhinestone flowers, and a sweet little green clay cat. with a pink neck scarf.

Rabbit & Cat

Dia de los Muertos figures dangle on a cord around his neck, holding a dried orchid in place.

Face of Buddha

Day of the Dead figures

Molly and I have had a nice hike and I was in much better emotional shape than when we’d arrived.

Time has softened the blow of losing my dad.  The grief and sadness aren’t gone but they aren’t here all the time either.

Our family will be gathering to celebrate my brother Beau’s birthday on Sunday.  I imagine there will be lots of good food and laughter. We’ll probably share stories about Papa, and catch up with each others lives.  If we think of something that he would have found funny, I believe it will honor his memory if we share it and enjoy a good laugh.

Dad 50th Anniversary

Here is a link to the post I wrote last year at this time.  That post includes links to other posts written about my dad.

Thank you for your visit.







Filed under Life

Dia de los Muertos

Rem and I have made a custom of observing Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  This Mexican holiday celebrates and honors deceased family members and friends.  Altars are arranged with photos of loved ones, favorite foods and beverages, memorabilia and items to represent things they enjoyed such as sports or cultural activities.  Candles, skulls, marigolds, and pastries shaped to represent bones are all part of traditional decorations.

Home Altar Sunshine

We set up an altar on the top of a dresser in the living room, hang up a ribbon of paper hearts, each one naming a loved one who has died.  We hang a banner of colorful papel picado (perforated paper) and arrange photos with candles, flowers and fresh produce.  A plate of pan de meurto (bread of the dead) sweet pastries is joined by some packaged chocolate candy and other items that remind of us of our loved ones or items that they enjoyed.

Papel Picado

I included a picture of my dad and my sister Sarah after a bike ride they completed years ago along with a program from an art exhibit in which he and I both had entries.  A few small feathers and one large one were part of the decorations because they’ve become a positive symbol linked to my father.


We attend a celebration at a nearby community center.  This year was the 25th anniversary of the event.  We have gone quite a few times over the years and have seen this event change and grow.  Although the roots of Dia de los Muertos are in Mexico, this is a multicultural community celebration.

One large room was lined with beautiful altars while another was full of tables for kids to create different art projects, including tissue paper flowers.  I was a little sad not to have a kid with me and an excuse to sit down and get my hands on the crafting supplies.

Tissue Paper Flower Table

Here are more pictures from the event:

Skeleton Couple poster


Happy Skellies

Purple Table

Butterfly Skull

Paper Mache Skeleton

Mary's Altar

My Bunny Died


We met up our friends Rico and Tom before the procession.  Tom is wearing a sweet miniature altar he made for his sister, Tracy, with sprigs of fresh herbs including rosemary for remembrance.

Rico & Tom

The procession went through the neighborhood, led by the Mizcoalt Aztec dancers, a large group of male and female dancers of all ages, wearing intricate costumes with elaborate feathered headdresses.  The dancers wore leg bands with ayoyote seeds that created a percussive rattle.  Drummers kept a steady beat as the performers danced the whole distance.  Residents came out to their balconies to watch.

Aztec Dancers

Back inside at the community center, a little girl was captivated by the sight of one of the Aztec dancers.

Aztec Dancer Indoors

More groups performed various dances including this dancer, Pamela Palacios, 13 years old, from Ballet Folklorico Netzahualcoyotl.

Green Dress Dancer

Panels of a mural, painted to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Dia de los Muertos San Rafael, were dedicated.

Sunshine Panel

Jaguar Dancer w/ Little Girl

Sugar Skull Seller

The celebration was still going strong when we left, with music and dancing.  The final performance we saw was a mariachi band,  Mariachi Femenil Orgullo Mexicano.  It is a Bay Area band that is usually all female but had a few guys filling in.


The following afternoon, I visited my father’s grave and arranged some of the vegetables, fruits and flowers from our altar.  It is still hard and I miss him but I celebrate and honor his life and memory and recognize death as part of the cycle and circle of life.

Marigold's for Papa

Thank you, Rem, for sharing your photos and thank you all for your visit.


Filed under Crafts, Life

You Can’t Choose

Friday, 5/24/13,  marked one year from the day my father died.  For about a week or so leading up to that date I felt crabby and out of sorts.  My energy was low and I seemed to drag through each day.  I slept through the alarm and didn’t make it to the gym.

I finally figured out the connection between the upcoming date and my feelings.  Treating myself with love and kindness seemed like a better response than feeling guilty about eating poorly or skipping a workout.  Once I’d acknowledged my feelings I was still sad but it wasn’t wrapped up in shame.  A vigorous evening hike with my sister Sarah and two other friends helped me feel more myself again (pictures at the end of the post).

My dad didn’t have a choice about the way his life ended, other than taking his own life, which I know some people choose to do, but wasn’t ever on the table.  What I’m thinking about is that we are all going to die but we don’t get to pick what is going to be the cause.  We don’t get to choose when it will happen either.

Yesterday morning, as I do almost every Saturday morning, I was taking a hike with my sister.  She brings her dog, Ruby and I pick up my  mom’s dog, Molly.  Kathleen’s little sister, Ariel, joined us.

We were heading for a familiar loop around Phoenix Lake in Ross.  It is a popular spot with lots of hikers, runners and bicyclists.  We walked up the dirt fire road from the parking lot to the lake and had just started around the lake when we came to two men, their bikes on the ground.  One was talking on his cellphone, the other kneeling.

My first impression was that something was wrong with one of the bikes.  But as we walked closer we saw it was much more serious.  A woman was on her back, apparently she’d been walking her dog and had just collapsed.  The man on the phone was speaking to a 911 operator and asked us to go back to find someone to open the gate from the parking lot for an ambulance. Neither of the cyclists or anyone in our group knew CPR.

There was a dog with a leash running around the tense scene and we quickly learned it was the woman’s.  We took the dog with us and went back to where we’d seen park personnel who radioed to someone down at the gate.  Meanwhile other people had come upon the same scene.  Two runners sped past us, seeking a nurse or doctor from the walkers and runners they passed.

A nurse was found and he, along with his young daughter, the runners and the park staffer raced back to the scene in her SUV.  We could already hear sirens and in a very short time emergency vehicles roared past us with lights flashing, raising plumes of dust.

Our peaceful morning walk was interrupted by this sad scene.  Many concerned people reached out to try and help in some way.  We walked back around to the cluster of trucks and paramedics, runners, hikers and cyclists.  We mentioned to a paramedic that the dog had tags with phone numbers in case the woman had no ID, which later proved to be the case.

The nurse was doing chest compressions and later I saw a paramedic take over that effort.  It was quite some time before the woman was loaded into the back of the paramedic truck. Her dog was with a ranger.  The crowds of people on either side of the group of trucks and SUV’s drifted apart as hikes and rides were taken up again.

I tried to find a story with more information this morning in the local paper online. I don’t know what happened to that woman after she left the park.  But I know she was out on a beautiful morning, walking her young dog in a lovely, scenic spot.  I can only guess at her age – perhaps my age (53), certainly not elderly.

She could have been driving her car when what ever caused her to collapse on the trail happened.  She could have been at a desk at work or in her kitchen fixing breakfast.  She didn’t have a choice.

After our hike I went to see my mom and told her about our experience.  We both had emergency numbers in our cellphones but realized we could add a note with our own name and contact which we both did.  A CPR class may be in my future.

My brother came by with his girlfriend for birthday cake (mom baked more of the delicious oatmeal cake).  Mom and I were having lunch (cake followed) and the four of us talked about life and death and how we just don’t get to choose about the death part.

In the afternoon I visited my dad’s grave and talked to him a bit. I sang a few songs and cried some tears. Here are links to previous posts on my dad and his cancer:

Sometimes Life Just Piles Up

On Caring

Be Loving

Keeping Busy

Goodbye, Papa

Just Less Orderly

Papa’s Stone

We do get many choices in our lives and I’m trying to make good ones.  Being outdoors in the beautiful area we live in, spending time with friends and family members, singing with my choir members at bedsides of people on the threshold, and making time and space in my life for my creative endeavors. I believe these choices are ways that celebrate the life and the opportunities I have.

Here are photos from the hike I took earlier in the week with my sister Sarah. We started by Andy’s Local Market on San Pedro Road then hiked uphill, taking in the gorgeous views.

Richmond San Rafael Bridge with Oakland and Bay Bridge in the background.

Richmond San Rafael Bridge

Loch Lomond Marina and the parking lot where we started at Andy’s Market.

Andy's Market & Loch Lomond Marina

Mount Tamalpais.

Mt. Tam

It’s quite a hike up to these swings, but the views are beautiful.


McNear Brickyard on the front of the peninsula, the quarry is on the back to the left.


The hikers heading back downhill.


Thanks for stopping by.


Filed under Life

Missing Santa

Santa Mike & Papa

It’s Christmas Eve and also my dad’s birthday.  This is our first Christmas without him.

In the picture above, my dad is on the right and my brother is on the left.  Being Santa is kind of a family thing.  I love Christmas and have lots of wonderful memories and traditions that I enjoy.  But I miss my dad and find the sadness catches me by surprise sometimes.

Ceramic Santa

Of course Santa is everywhere this time of year and most of the time I’m ok, but sometimes I lose it. I don’t feel bad about crying either.  I’ve found that the sadness passes too, often as quickly as it comes.

Rem's Santa

My dad didn’t play Santa that often but he had the beard, the twinkle in his eye and the love year ’round.  He really loved playing Santa and had a whole character down.  He wasn’t a bored mall-Santa with an acrylic beard and vinyl boot toppers putting in his shift.  He interacted with the kids, listening to them and asking them questions.  He used to talk about “Randolph” the reindeer.  Kids would try and correct him but he would insist that his reindeer’s name was Randolph.

Li'l Li'l Pup

Sometimes, he would pretend to fall asleep, snoring dramatically, because he was so exhausted from working in his toyshop.  Some kids, usually girls, wanted to let Santa sleep, shushing others with a cautious “Shhh, Santa’s sleeping.” But others, often little boys, would tug his sleeve and shout at him “SANTA!  Wake UP, Santa!”

Santa on a Big Rig

So – I’m thinking about my dad and missing him.  But I look around and see the familiar red hat with furry white trim.  I’ve decided that Santa is a good way to remember him.

I made a pot of minestrone the other day using his recipe.  Cooking is another good way to remember my dad.  Making and eating the soup thick with vegetables, elbow macaroni and beans, topped with grated Parmesan cheese was like a little tribute to him.  He enjoyed cooking and loved feeding others.

Our family will be gathering today and tomorrow and there is an empty place and a sadness with him gone.   But his memory lives on in countless ways.

Papa in Red

David Faw

December 24, 1934 ~ May 24, 2012


Filed under Life

Papa’s Stone

Most of my immediate family got together a few weeks ago.  It was the first time many of us were together since my dad’s memorial service back in June.We were putting a stone on his grave.

It was an informal gathering without any ceremony.  Dogs were running around.  Fog was rolling in.

The view down the hill is of an elementary school.

A spot on the hillside a short distance away affords a beautiful view of Mt. Tam

Some of these photos are from a previous visit to the site.  The hillside has old eucalyptus trees.

We had a little picnic with bread, cheese, fruit and homemade cookies.  Some of us stood and some of us were sitting on blankets.  It is hard to imagine a family gathering without food and it was something my dad did: fed the people he loved.  Or even liked.

We also planted a few flower bulbs.  The pink amaryllis that my dad was so fond of we all know better  by their more common name: naked ladies.  The dirt was very hard with rocks and roots but we all worked to give these bulbs a chance.  It may be a few years before we see blooms but I think my dad would enjoy the flowers and love the idea of being surrounded by naked ladies.  I believe the sight of these flowers will always remind me of him.

The hillside were my dad’s ashes are buried is in the green part of a cemetery that also has a conventional area.  In the green area, cut and polished grave markers are not allowed.  Small  natural boulders can be used to mark the final resting place of your loved one.

One of my sisters collected several large rocks from a beach at Sea Ranch, the location of a family vacation home and many wonderful, relaxing visits.  I’m really not sure how she and her friends got the rocks up the path but somehow they managed it. The one that was picked weighs over 26 lbs so it was a labor of love.  It feels right to have a rock from this special place as the grave stone.

In addition, she had the wonderful idea of using dad’s signature for his name on the stone.  A piece of abalone shell was incorporated in the design.

The result is unique and creative, an appropriate marker befitting the man whose grave it rests on.

Shells and rocks that had been temporary markers now sit around the heavy stone.  We lay flowers, shook out the blankets, and walked off the hillside.

Thank you for your visit.


Filed under Life

Just Less Orderly

This sweet note, written on lined notebook paper, was left in the garden of my parents house by a little girl in their neighborhood, along with a white rose:

Dear Grandpa fa

I hope life is good up in Heven and I know you went to Heven because you were and still are a great person.  I hope you get this note because right now I am crying.

Love from many years.

All the cards and emails we’ve received are full of warm, heartfelt messages of love and support.  An email from a friend across the country included this wonderful quote from NPR commentator Aaron Freeman:

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.

I am comforted to know my dad’s energy is still around.

Here is a link to my father’s obituary.

These are previous posts I’ve written about my dad’s cancer.

Sometimes Life Just Piles Up

On Caring

Keeping Busy

Goodbye, Papa

Thank you for your visit.


Filed under Life

Goodbye, Papa

Paul David Faw

Born December 24, 1934

Died May 24, 2012

Rest in Peace

My dad was a real character.  In everyday conversation he might use a funny accent, a sound effect, or a silly face.  In fact, he would probably do all three in quick succession, which made him a great story teller.  Reading stories to us when we were little, he would do all the different voices.  He had a repertoire of children’s songs and stories performed with imagination and gusto: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is a classic and so is The Three Billy Goats’ Gruff.  And who could forget Little Rabbit Frou Frou?

My sister reminded me of his “not quite straight up variations on nursery school songs”.  Two that come to mind are Put Your Finger Up Your Nose and My Bonnie Has Tuberculosis.

He felt called to the ministry as a young man but ended up deciding it wasn’t the right path for him.  Later when he got into community theater we said that his urge to be a pastor had really just been an opportunity that gave him an audience every Sunday.

He had such a wonderful experience doing Fiddler on the Roof, the first show he was in, playing, what else, one of the papas, that he was hooked.  He had a beard and my brother encouraged him to audition,  saying he would be  perfect for the part. He kept it ever since, except for the times when a part in a show called for the character to be clean-shaven.  When he played Santa later he didn’t need a fake beard.  He lost some of his hair and beard during chemo but it was growing back in.

Lines from dialogue, show tunes and jokes have woven their way into our family language.  He was happy to introduce his kids or grandkids with a line from Fiddler saying “This is mine.  And this is mine.  And this is mine.  And …this is not mine”.  If anyone makes a negative comment about someone’s cooking, the response is likely to be “But good!”  I think all my siblings could probably quote at least the opening line of his big monologue from Inherit the Wind: “I come to you on the wings of the Word!”

In addition to his acting he had other gifts.  He was very creative; from the little snippets of country songs he crafted, to his distinctive handwriting.  He wrote such funny notes when one of us was late to school or had a doctor’s appointment that the school secretary looked forward to them.  He was an artist and enjoyed sculpting wood and rock – pieces that are a pleasure to touch.   He sang in many different choirs throughout his life.  I remember hearing how he would carefully arrange his dress pants between the mattress and box springs of beds every night to press out any wrinkles while on a choir tour as a teenager.

Papa was a great cook who loved feeding crowds and with a big family he had that opportunity often.  From preparing hot breakfasts that we would find in the oven or on the stove before school to packing dinners into foil pie pans to drop off for a family member at rehearsal, my parents gave us the message that home-cooked meals were important.  He made breakfast things like waffles or pancakes for Sunday suppers when we were kids and he enjoyed making different ethnic dishes from won ton and stir-fried rice to tacos and posole for special family dinners.  Gradually he took over all the everyday cooking which continued until his treatment started.

Dad loved people.  He was an extrovert who was energized by his interactions with those around him.  He would start a conversation with anyone especially pretty women and even while he was battling cancer he would flirt and joke with nurses and technicians.  He had a great sense of humor and loved telling and hearing jokes.  Though I sing with the Threshold Choir he made it clear that he didn’t really care to have me sing for him.  He did ask for it a few times, but what he really wanted was for me to make him laugh.  I visited often and it was my goal to get a laugh out of him.  I’m happy to say that I managed to most of the time.  I think every laugh that is generated today is a tribute to him.

All of this is not to say he was always easy to get along with.  He could be pretty sarcastic at times, his feelings were sometimes easily hurt and he could pout for days.  He was extremely stubborn in some situations and I butted heads with him fairly often when I was younger, standing up for siblings that didn’t always appreciate it.  I’m sure the fact that I’m so much like him played a part in this. In his last 24 hours he kept insisting he had to get up to use the bathroom but he wasn’t strong enough to do that.  I had the feeling that he would rather die than pee in a diaper, and in the end that is exactly what he did.

Most importantly, Dad loved all of us, his family.  As if six kids weren’t enough, we started naming some friends “Temporary Honorary Faws”.  He was proud of his kids and grandkids and our accomplishments. We grew up knowing that family was all-important and we had parents who modeled a beautiful, loving relationship with each other for 57 years.  He adored my mom and said so loudly and often.  He would ask us “do you know I love this woman very much?”  There was no question about this on any of our parts.  It is heartbreaking to see a relationship like that be disrupted by death but I have no doubt that the love has not ended.  I know Papa lives on in all our hearts.

As I’ve mentioned, 30 days of Creativity starts on June 1.  The idea is to create something every day for 30 days.  I am planning on participating because it is good therapy for me and I think it is a better way to honor my father than it would be if I canceled my plans.  I am dedicating my efforts to my dad, David, a huge, creative influence on my life.

Thank you for your visit.


Filed under Life