My stepfather, Tom, died peacefully tonight at Midcoast Maine Hospital, surrounded by his wife, my mother, Robin, his daughter Dru and me. He had minutes earlier heard his sister's voice on his son Peter's phone. We had had the horrible tubes taken out a few hours earlier and before he died he was breathing mightily. After talking to Jody (he couldn't talk, but even though sedated, I am sure he could hear her), his breathing slowed, became quiet and he stopped breathing.
After that and some stillness in the room, I was holding his feet and felt wave after wave of loving energy, almost powerful enough to move me backwards. Behind me was the statue of Ganesh that had been carved for him in Nepal, Ganesh the remover of obstacles, but a trickster, too. Very powerful and Tom's favorite diety. Ganesh is back in his place on the table next to me now in the home he shared with my mother. I lit a candle in front of him that is still burning.
I wish I could describe to you how wonderful he was, but I cannot. Fortunately, he just finished a book of his memoirs entitled Seeking Adventure, Finding Home that will be published soon. When that happens I will give you links on this blog. He was an Episcopal Minister, working in places like Colombia in the 50s and in South Africa during Apartheid (attempting to end it), then got a PhD in some new kind of social management, then was Commissioner of Education of Rhode Island, then worked for the World Bank and helped create primary schools for girls in Bangladesh. At some point he was also in Nepal, where the Ganesh statue comes from. He also breathed the air of many of these places and for years before he quit in his 60s, smoked cigarettes. All of this led to COPD and then at the end ARDS.
In between, with his first wife Lucy he had three amazing children: Dru, Peter and Thos who in turn have had amazing grandchildren, Ned, Thomas and Ellen, Ben and Alison, Carson and Theo. Midway through life he and my mother met and married when I was a teenager. I was initially not amused, in fact I was downright snotty about it - not trusting he would stick around and not knowing why my mother had tried 'yet again' to marry someone. Tom loved me nonetheless and over the years - and lo it was many years - he gained my trust and as I was doing my best to say goodbye to him these past few days, I realized even more than I already knew - that he had been my real father. That doesn't mean my biological father about whom I wrote earlier was not important. In fact his death a couple years ago floored me, but that was because I lost him twice, in life and in death.
With Tom it is so different. He was real, he supported me in every way possible and loved me for real and without hesitation and without even the blood ties that I can only imagine being childless as I am. I feel that lack of children produced by me quite profoundly now, mostly for my mother's sake, but also in this moment on this night, listening to the bullfrogs and sitting in this room, the den, where he spent so many hours, filled to the brim with love that I am sure is coming from him. I can feel him, hear and even smell him. His son Pete who was in the house when he died said he came through on his way out of the Building, and I believe that.
I know he is off the wheel of suffering, I can feel that. I have never felt that so profoundly before and in fact have thought people were delusional when they said such things, but in his case I know it's true. I think you have to earn that, won't even attempt to describe what I mean by that but it seems to be the case. He was a special man and I have not met many like him on this earth. They exist, but they are not legion.
I feel deeply honored to have known him, so grateful to my mother for bringing him into our lives and amazed at my luck at having had him as a stepfather, who didn't even want to be thought of as a stepfather but instead as a father. I fear that I am intruding on his biological children's feelings by feeling this strongly about him, but these past few days they have treated me like their family, too. We never got very close because we were all older when we met, but Dru and Pete have been rockstars and I am beyond grateful for that.
We all worked as a team these past days, each encouraging the other to care for themselves, kind of spectacular. I never had siblings per se so this is a new experience and one for which I am profoundly grateful. This is Tom's legacy of course.
I am very sorry for those of you who never got a chance to meet him.
Goodbye Tom, I love you so much it's impossible to say and I am not alone. You are loved by so many, have touched so many in so many ways. What an inspiration you are and were. Thanks for showing us how to live better, love better and how to offer real wisdom, not smug certainties or glib homilies. Thank you for embracing Robin and me into your life.
The bullfrogs are singing to you now. I'll let them.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.