I’ve been thinking about my dad more than usual. To be honest, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about him in some way—whether in the form of a fleeting memory, or a word spoken, he’s there in my mind and heart, forever a part of who I am.
They say, (whoever “they” are) that the loss of a dearly loved one forever changes you. It’s true. I lost my dad twelve years ago. I am forever changed. Grief changes you, this is also true. But grief is different. I don’t believe we can predict how and when we will grieve, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Grief can hit at the most inopportune times, like when I’m in the grocery store looking at something my loved one liked to eat, and then…the tears flow. But then, grief strikes at the right time, like when I’m lying in bed alone in the dark, and the tears become intense weeping. And yes, twelve years later, both still happen to me.
But, loss—the death of a loved one, like my dad…now that's a whole different thing. Loss has changed the core of who I am. I once was Mary Elizabeth Calabrese, the girl who had a dad. Now, I’m Mary Elizabeth Blaustone, the girl without her dad. It’s a different identity. I’m someone who has lost someone I loved very much, and therefore, forever changed. It sounds depressing, but truly it’s not. Sadness is there, as well as the magnificent reality that I am who I am because of my dad. So to help move the memories through during this time of thinking about my dad more than usual, I want to tell you about him.
Daniel Michael Calabrese was born October 29, 1928, a 100% pure blooded Italian, with thick dark hair, and raisin eyes. He grew up in western Pennsylvania in the small town of Pitcairn. The last month I spent with my dad, he told me wonderful stories of his childhood and growing up. Stories I had never heard before. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in electrical engineering. He then spent two years in the service during the Korean war, after which he worked for Westinghouse, and taught calculus for Westinghouse University. Talk about nerd status. My dad was brilliant. For goodness sake, he built his own telescope in the early 70’s, and even ground the mirror for it himself. During my teenage angst years, I remember asking my dad for help with my math. I would get frustrated with him because the way he wanted to help me was not the way I was being taught in school. Yet, it was the only way he knew. I can still hear him say, “Mary Beth, why are you getting so upset with me?”. Why I would have gotten upset with him, when I was the one who asked him to help me, I’ll never understand. Teenagers.
My dad married my mom in 1963. They then raised me and my two sisters in southern California. During my childhood years, when my dad wasn’t working, he was just my dad. He would come home from work, change his clothes, then take us sisters out into the backyard to play on our swing set, and give my mom a break from our little girl shenanigans. We had a glider on our covered patio where he would sit with us, teaching us songs like “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true” and “The merry-go-round went round.” Or, he would make up a tune to the sound that the glider made as it swayed back and forth…gazink, gazay, gazink, gazay. But, one of my most favorite memories is of how I would wait for my him to come into my room to say goodnight. He would sit on the edge of my bed, and I would climb into his lap. He would then rock me back and forth and sing. Usually, he would sing, “Que Sera, Sera”.
Eventually, my dad got a job working for Rockwell International for the space program. He worked on Apollo missions, as well as the Space Shuttle. He headed up teams that designed radar and tracking, and who knows what else. Growing up, I took it all for granted, not understanding the magnitude and significance of what he did. Of course, I regret that now. I have so many questions I’d love to ask him. Yet, there did come a time when work consumed him. He traveled a lot. It was stressful. On the weekends, when he was home, mowing his lawn was a way for him to unwind and relax. He wasn’t unlike so many men back in those days, whose work consumed them, grinding them down as they strove to love and take care of their families. That’s just what my dad did. He loved us. He cared for us.
I treasure the things my dad left me with. He gave me a love for singing. He taught me how to look at the moon and the stars, and to wonder over the expanse of the universe. During the Covid lock downs, my husband and I purchased a Stelina astro-photography telescope, which has enabled us to explore that vastness in pictures. I sometimes get frustrated that I can’t share it with my dad. He also gave me a love for science fiction and all things Star Trek. Like I said, nerd. I can only dream of having his skill for dancing. My sisters both got that. But alas, I have two left feet. He did bless me with his Italian nose, and his raisin eyes. I see him whenever I look in the mirror, or when I look at my oldest son, who is the spitting image of his grandpap.
One night, during those last few weeks of my dad’s life, he lay in a hospital bed, watching the first Mars rover landing. I believe it was like a dream for him to be able to see that. He’d be over the moon by what’s happened since then, over the last ten years. Some of my grief frustrations come out when I can’t call him on the phone to talk with him about it all.
I had the honor of being with my dad the day he died. Honor…yes, but I hated it. It’s a surreal thing to watch a loved one pass on. I had a very difficult time for a very long time afterward. I couldn’t get that picture of my dad passing away out of my head. That was all I could see. Whenever I had dreams about him, he was always sickly and pale, never talking, and sometimes wearing a hospital gown. Hard as I tried, I could not conjure a memory of my dad any other way. I feared I would only remember him in that sickly state. I was afraid I would forget him, and it overwhelmed me. This lasted for about a year. Until, when I felt like I couldn’t stand it anymore, I made a decision to do something. I got a tattoo. Yes, a tattoo. The only tattoo on my entire body. It’s on the inside of my right ankle, and all it says is, Que Sera, Sera, with the initials D.M.C. and 1928-2012 underneath. It was my solution to adding permanency to my memories of my dad. It was something, on my body (besides my nose), that, whenever I would look at it, would cause me to remember the most wonderful things about him, not just the sickly things. And, it worked. Slowly, I began to remember him young, healthy, laughing and singing. And, I started to hear his voice in my dreams.
I began my writing of this little memorial with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it. I’m so glad I did, for the finishing of it has only served to solidify what I said in the beginning. Loss becomes a part of who we are. That’s not a bad thing, or something to run from. Grief will do its own work, in its own time.