lastmandystanding

Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Blogger. Aspiring writer. Smartass. But you'll probably still want to be my friend.

Archive for the category “Serious Stuff”

Ask and you shall receive? 

This is a quick one, but I just had to share.  I posted this blog just this morning. 

Dragonflies have been symbolic to me since about two days after my father died.  I can go into detail on that at a later time, but they are SO symbolic that I have a tattoo of a dragonfly, next to my dad’s signature that says “Love, Dad” which is from a poem he wrote me when I graduated high school. So, safe to say, pretty darn meaningful to me. 

I took my daughter to the doctor this afternoon and he’s always got a self-illustrated trivia question posted on a dry erase board in his office. It changes every day, in case you’re wondering. 

I sat down across the room and looked (squinted, because I didn’t have my glasses or contacts) and I said “umm…is that a dragonfly?”

Yep. 

It took all I had not to lose it and start crying, but I told him I had to take a picture and just simply told him dragonflies are very symbolic to me of my dad who passed, and the irony/beauty of this being there TODAY, when the appointment was just made TODAY, is rather incredible to me. 

So…maybe he’s not that far after all. Or maybe they get blog subscriptions in heaven? Either way, I’ll take it. 

Thank you, daddy. 

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Grieving: “Where have you been?” Moving your feet and life forward after heartbreaking loss

“Where have you been?”

That’s often the first thing we say when we see someone who hasn’t been where they were supposed to be at the time they were expected. Your spouse, your teenager, friend, etc. is late to show, and we beg to know where they’ve been…what has kept them from us? It may be part relief, part curiosity, part fear…but we ask – needing that answer. 

And sometimes we need that answer from someone who can never give it to us.

I’ve written before about my father’s sudden passing here, which unfathomably is approaching the five year mark. I cannot ever convey in words the devastation it brought me and my family, and how much of it I feel so deeply every day, even still. There are events so pivotal that they divide your life into categories: before and after. 

I am not the same woman I was before he died. I will never be her again. A part of me died with him. I’m still working on my “after.”

I’ve found solace in “feeling” him near me over the years. Dragonflies have an extremely unique and special significance for me, and I consider them a sign from my dad. I’ve had a few dreams of him, but never once has he spoken words to me in a dream…he’s just – there. Funny thing is, the ONLY words he has spoken in any of my dreams since his death, were telling my mom not to open that bottle of a really odd flavored vodka, because we already had one open and it would go to waste. My dad drank bourbon. Go figure. Dreams are weird.

He was cremated after an open-casket service, so I don’t have a graveside to go sit and visit him, talk to him, have that symbolic “place.” 
My mom just sold the last house they shared together. I can’t even imagine how difficult that was for her. I can no longer go there and feel his presence, catch a passing smell of his cologne, sense and feel him as if he’s there, just in another room, out of site. 

It was when I went THERE, to their home to visit, that reality really wound it up tight and throat-punched me. Walking into the house and up the stairs and he wasn’t there waiting. Agony. But then slowly I’d start to feel him all around me. Bittersweet memories of him either kissed me gently on the cheek or punched me in the face everywhere I turned. I could feel him there… and it brought some needed comfort, if only temporary. I can’t go there anymore.

I will admit that my grieving process has functioned on a healthy dose of denial, supported by the fact that my parents have lived in another state for over 20 years now. When my mom comes here to visit, it’s easy and protective for my mind to just casually tell itself “Oh, dad just stayed home this time. No big deal.” My sister and I joke that he’s just on a nice vacation. The joke is that he must be having one hell of a time to be gone this long. But the funny truth is, my dad hated vacations. He was a worker; two jobs for most of his life. 

I have only a small amount of his ashes that I shamefully admit are in the small pill bottle in which they were given to me. I haven’t found anything special enough to hold the small amount, and I have plans to eventually have some of them added to blown glass and created into something unique and beautiful, forged by fire – just like him. They sit in a curio cabinet that is rarely seen, and even more rarely opened, along with my other “dad” stuff. Stuff that is special and sentimental, and comes out when I feel the need to bawl hysterically for a bit and just let it all out.

Are you like me? Do you ever seem to just torture yourself with sad things?

Like, “damn it all, I need to ugly cry, and I’m going to look at the things, and listen to the songs, and smell the smells, and relive the moments that make me saddest in life. And while I’m at it, I’m gonna think about orphans and starvation and cancer and abuse and homelessness, and how my kids are growing up at warp speed and I’m running out of time to fix any ways I’ve screwed them up and omg, I’m 40, will have BOTH my babies walking around in teenage bodies in the next few weeks and life is a little hard and overwhelming right now. I better just get it all out and be REALLY super miserable for a bit — then put it away ‘til next time.”

No? Just me who does that?

Ok — Don’t judge my borderline unhealthy coping skills. It’s cathartic because I say it is and we’re all friends here. If, on the other hand, you do the same thing, then “hey there, crazy-cry friend. I see you. I get you. I already love you. You are safe with me.”

What usually brings me to one of these ridiculous crying sessions is my complete and overwhelming grief. I grieve many things, as do many of us. I am trying to muster the courage to write about some of the others, but mostly, and presently, it’s grief for my father. And lately, what takes me there is the fact that HE. IS. NOWHERE. 

I don’t feel him. I don’t hear his chuckle when something happens that he would find hysterical. I don’t get signs from him that used to be abundant. I haven’t felt his presence in so long. Haven’t heard his voice in my ear, whispering the answer to something I’ve silently asked.

Radio silence.

Daddy… where have you been?

Make no mistake, I KNOW where he is. I know he is ok. He suffers no more. He is in beauty and splendor of which you and I have no earthly comprehension. And I KNOW I will see him again one day.

But yet I struggle.

I just feel like he’s slipping further and further away… and it kills me. I was having this very discussion with my boyfriend, who, I have to say, is completely full of love and non-judgment when it comes to this battle of mine. He never got to meet my dad, which breaks my heart, but I’ve told enough stories, he has an idea of his personality. And he said to me: “Baby… I didn’t know him, but I feel like I do. And I think, from what I know about him, that maybe he’s still very much there, but keeping distance, kind of as an act of tough love, to tell you, in a way – to ‘stop this…this level of grieving is holding you back. You need to know I’m ok and GO LIVE.’ And then he said “your dad is on the OTHER SIDE of what we can only imagine. He knows you worry and you wonder and you miss him, but you’ve grieved so hard and so long that maybe he’s trying to tell you to that ‘one day, you’ll fully understand, but until then, you need to stop focusing on me because I am more than ok, and focus on loving and living your life, because currently it’s holding you back. I am holding you back.” 

It was a clarity moment. This made a lot of sense to me, especially knowing my dad – the KING of tough love (and also a softy.) But in my true last-word-Lucy fashion, through my ugly sobbing, I said “well yeah, sure…that’s totally something he’d do, but can’t he throw me a freaking bone when I’m crying out for him right now?!”

No, dear readers. I don’t think he can. Nor will he. I think I gotta do this one on my own. I have to find ways to cope and deal with his death so that I can get back to living.

I suffer fiercely from anger over his death. It was sudden. Unexpected. No closure. Sure, I said things at his bedside before he took his last breath, but did he hear me? And the anger… oh, the anger… manifests in ways I can’t understand, let alone try to explain right now. 

I have anxiety, general and social. Sometimes it’s completely overwhelming. Those closest to me may be surprised to hear that and know what I go through just to go to an event where there will be lots of people. That can be anything from the grocery store to a hometown football game to a get-together with friends. Hard to explain or understand, coming from a woman who’s been described as being able to talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything. Most, not all of the time, once I’m IN the situation, I can mostly fake being ok. It’s the build-up to going that’s hell. And the rest of the time, I can’t get out of there fast enough, even if I’m having a decent time.

I believe the only way FOR ME to get through this is to pray and move and write and love my way out of it.

I will move myself back to life. I will, to God, pray myself back to life. I will write myself back to life. And I will love myself back to life.

I need to get out more and interact with people. (Working from home, that’s easily avoided.) I need to move my body. I need an outlet for stress and anxiety before it literally kills me. I’m looking into yoga classes. I plan to write more. About my dad. About grief. About anger. About happy and funny things again. About pain. About whatever it is I need to write about. Even if no one reads it, I need to say it. I need to put it in writing.

I have to start more DOING and less TALKING.

I have a framed quote in my office that my dad used to have in his. It reads:

“Don’t ask the Lord to guide your footsteps if you’re not willing to move your feet.”

Well… It’s time to start moving my feet.

And pray that one day, I will hear – clearly – the answer to “Daddy, where have you been?” 


Picture in blog is me and my sweet daddy when I was a baby. Looks like he was doing the “soooooo big!” ❤️ Precious to me. 

**I’d love to hear ways that YOU have coped with grief and loss, and the anger and anxiety that follows. Please comment and share your thoughts. I read them all. And if you enjoyed this post and think someone else may need to hear it, please share the link on your social media. Thank you! XO**

When you lose a parent 

It’s been almost four years since I lost my dad suddenly. I’ve only really written about it on this site once. But it’s at the forefront of my mind every day. 

I have some friends going through this pain right now. They’ve lost a great man. Their father, husband, grandpa, a great coach, friend, family man. Very much the patriarch of their family.

I remember after my dad died, I felt the need to go back to every friend of mine who had ever lost a parent and apologize to them profusely. Of course I had sympathized with them over their loss. I brought food. I prayed for them. I went to visitations and funerals. I was present in the best way I knew how to be. But I felt the need to apologize, because with my newfound intimate knowledge of this loss, I felt I hadn’t done enough. Had I known that THIS…this absolute personal hell…is what they were going through, I would’ve done more. Been there more. Said more. Been more of a presence for them. Not just immediately after, but in the weeks and months to follow.  

But the fact of the matter is, until it happens TO YOU, you have no idea what it is like. You can feel bad and sad and sorry for their loss. But you cannot possibly fathom the agony. You will one day. But if you haven’t gone through it, you have no idea. 

So, with intimate knowledge I wish I did not have, I can only offer advice based on my personal experience, to those who have recently lost a parent. 

First and foremost, however YOU grieve is the right way FOR YOU. Your grief process is as unique as your fingerprint. Unlike that from anyone else on this planet. Your siblings, your surviving parent…they will grieve differently from you, I promise. And you may not like the way they grieve. But that’s ok. No way is the right way. I can tell you that all the “stages of grief” are normal and each stage may cycle through you in one day and drop you right back off at the beginning. 

Very well meaning people, some who have known and loved you for your entire life, will completely, utterly, and unintentionally piss. you. off. They will say something with the best intentions, but it will come out wrong. Or it will come out right, but you will hear it wrong because your emotions are running amok. It will rub you the wrong way. It will make you angry. Forgive them. Or at least recognize no one means you any harm, especially now, and try not to dwell. They know not what they do. Truly. 

Most people do not have a clue how to act towards you. There are no words to say to bring your parent back. They don’t understand the relationship you had with that parent. They don’t know what to say or do but they desperately want to help. This usually is expressed with offers of food. I remember my mom getting so upset after my dad died. Everyone wanted to bring her food or take her out for a meal and, while she appreciated it, she wondered why everyone though food was the answer. I think that’s just a human connection. We all know that everyone needs food and nourishment in order to survive. They don’t know what to say or do…but they know you need to eat. And THAT they can take care of. As much as it may irritate you, the best thing to do is say ‘thank you’ and allow them to feel as if they’ve helped. And it does help. It’s one less thing for you to worry about. But after a while, it seems repetitive and may be even annoying. That’s just because your emotions are at a constant heightened state. And that’s ok. 

You may find yourself analyzing how many years other people have had with their parents, in comparison to the amount of time you had with yours. You may be angry that someone older than you still has both living parents. I mean, you may be really, truly, legitimately pissed off. Not that you wish anyone ill will or to experience this loss – but you will be mad at the circumstances. Mad at the universe. Mad at God for cutting your time short. 

It’s hard for me to admit, but I have been mad at God for taking my dad from me. I’m not proud of that, but it’s an honest admission for me. I have only been to church a handful of times since he died. Most of which were for holidays; not a typical service. Not because I don’t want or need to go. Church has always been an emotional experience for me, even when I was young.  I cry almost every time I go because I always get a great message; one that feels like it was directed specifically at me. And I’m just not sure I could make it through a service without breaking down. Maybe I’m just not ready for THAT breakdown yet. It will come. In the meantime, I still talk to God every day and am working on that relationship. He’ll get me to the right church at the right time. But I digress. 

If your parents were still married, like mine were, you will have two losses to grieve. The loss of the parent that died, and the loss of the surviving parent as you have known them up until this point. Somehow, everyone finds the strength to get through visitations, funerals, dinners, etc. But the hardest part is yet to come. The hard part is watching your parent live alone in the house they shared with their spouse for so many years. To know they are sleeping in a bed that now seems way too big to them. To know they probably have an item of clothing they will cling to until every trace of their lost love is gone. That piece of clothing will soak up thousands of tears. It will become a security blanket. Your parent will never be the same. How could they be? That was one of the hardest things for me. The pain of losing my dad was almost completely unbearable, but watching my mother grieve for him…that was gut wrenching. 

Your family dynamic will be forever changed. None of you will ever be the same. Relationships with siblings may change. You may fight with the people you love the most in this world. They say death either brings out the best in people or the worst in people. You will find this to be true. As much as you hate it and swear it will never happen to your family, a loss like this may cause irreparable damage to some of your relationships. Try not to let it. Remember – everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way. It’s when we place expectations of how/when/for how long to grieve on others that feelings are hurt. Things can be said and done in a highly emotional state that will never be able to be taken back. If you’ve been holding it in for years how much someone in your family has annoyed or hurt you, now is not the time to voice that. No one is in their right mind, and no one will hear it the way you want them to. We, as humans, tend to go into very self-centered, self-preserving behavior when we hurt so deeply. Our hurt, our grief, our sorrow, our loss is paramount. It is important to remember that to each person grieving, their grief is the biggest thing in the room. The truth is, grief will now always be in the room. The ever present, uninvited, rude guest who has overstayed her welcome. I use a female pronoun because, to me, grief is a cold, heartless, cruel bitch. 

You will divide your life into categories: Before they died. After they died. Dates from here on out will cause you to file  everything into one of those categories. 

The year of firsts is horrible. It seems like you can’t get a moments rest from grieving, because every time you turn around, there’s a new “first.” The first holiday without them. Their first birthday in heaven. Your first birthday when that parent won’t be calling you way too early in the morning to give you crap about getting older (as mine always did.) The big crescendo is the first anniversary of their death. You will want to lie around and shut out the world and cry all day. Lie, shut out and cry if you must. But at some point on that day – on all the days of those “firsts” – take just a moment to remember them and smile at all the wonderful memories you shared. And share that with the others grieving with you. Then, the next day, you get up and you live. Because that is what they would want you to do. I know for a fact my dad would kick my ass if he knew how much I “carry on and fuss and cry” about him. I can almost hear him reprimanding me for it all the time. 

I wish I could tell you it gets easier. That has not been my experience. I can say that I deal with it differently now, almost four years later, but the pain and heartache today is every bit as raw as the day he died. I get so effing MAD when I still go to pick up the phone to call my dad about something. Or when I panic for half a second because I didn’t get his Father’s Day card/gift in the mail yet and it won’t reach him in time. (How great would it be if heaven had mail service?) WHY does the mind allow you to that to yourself?! How is it possible to momentarily forget that it’s real? That they are really gone? Yep. She’s a cold bitch, that grief. 

You will feel the pain and heartache and profound loss every day. But you will have sweet, sweet moments when you feel their presence with you. They will come to you in a dream, a song, a memory, a beautiful sunny day, the way one of your kids does something that reminds you of them. A million ways, they will be there. Not in the way we would like, but there nonetheless. And I promise, one day, you will feel them and remember them and be filled with love and happiness – not tears. You may feel guilt over not being constantly sad, and while it’s normal to feel that way, it is important to remember that your grief and your tears are not what ties you to their memory. This is something with which I have personally struggled. 

After the funeral, everyone leaves… they go home, you go back to your job and your other responsibilities, but you are left with your blinding grief and pain. The calls, visits, texts, etc. all slowly subside. It’s not because people no longer care. I think they just don’t know what else to do, other than leave you to try to pick up the pieces and move forward in your grief journey. You are not going to “get over this.” You will never be the same. You will wonder how the sun dares to continue to shine; how the world continues to turn while yours is falling apart. Grief will be your constant companion. But one day, you’ll realize that you have the ability to tuck that grief safely away in your pocket for a bit, in order to continue living your life. But there will always be times when it falls out of that pocket, landing at your feet, causing you to trip right over it. Go ahead and fall…but don’t stay there.  

However you need to grieve is the right way for you. And you are NOT alone. ❤️

My last birthday in my 30’s

Well, this is it. My 39th birthday. My journey to 40 begins. 

Do you ever stop and look at your life, or look at yourself in the mirror and think to yourself: “this is SO not where/who I thought I’d be when I was this age.”? 

Me, too. 

I also remember thinking people who were this age were SO. Super. Old. I mean…ancient. But the older I get, the younger people older than me seem. Read it again. You’ll get it. 

Hanging around my teenage daughter and her friends, I swear I’m the cool mom. I actually GET what they’re saying. I get the stupid crap boys do. They haven’t changed. Mean girls are still mean girls — only meaner with more ways to be mean. I remember this age, this time in life, like it was yesterday. Because it WAS yesterday, right?? No. No, it wasn’t. It was 25 years ago. That’s when I was where my oldest daughter is now. How can I feel so young, yet so damn old? 

But let’s get honest for a moment. The truth is, I’m not at all who or where I want to be. And I have no one to blame but myself. I control me. Period. Of course, there have been things that have happened that I never could’ve foreseen – not in a million years. Maybe calling attention to their existence is a cop-out on my part. But the reality is, if I’m not happy with me and certain things in my life, I have only myself to blame. 

[What did she say?!] Yep. Accountability. 

I wake up and give my “ok” every day. My “all I got to give.” Not my best. I know that. And more importantly, I know why. I know what things weigh so heavily on my heart, soul, body, mind, spirit, that make me feel this way. And I have cowered to these reasons for far too long. 

Is this going to sound cliché? Yes. It is. But my last year in my 30’s is going to be one hell of a year for me. A year of transformation. A year of letting go. A year of speaking up, speaking out. A year of forgiveness. A year of enlightenment. A year of awakening. I will slowly start to recognize that woman staring back at me in the mirror. And I will love her. 

Yes. I will love her. 

#FortyByForty  

   

An open letter to all moms

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out WHY” – Mark Twain

I first became a mommy a little over twelve years ago. I had “a touch” (<–said with sarcasm) of the baby blues after she was born, and I would just cry at the very sight of my baby girl – of course, I cried when the wind shifted directions, too (post partum nonsense). But mostly, I cried because she was just so amazingly perfect and beautiful, and for the first time in my life, I realized WHY I WAS BORN. This tiny, beautiful, perfect little girl was my purpose. I was born to be HER mother.

Because of life-long female medical problems, I wondered if I would ever be a mother. I had one miscarriage before my first daughter was born, and another miscarriage between my first and second daughter. To say I had rough pregnancies would be an understatement. My second little miracle came three years after my first. She came blazing into my world two months ahead of schedule and spent the first month of her life in the hospital. As I spent every single day, all day, at her side, I kind of had an inner dialogue with myself that perhaps pregnancy is not for me. Motherhood, yes. Pregnancy, not so much. It hated my guts. But I have always been, and always will be, eternally grateful for the two amazing little girls that take up space in my heart and in my arms.

As wonderful and rewarding as it is, this being a mom thing is NOT for wussies. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the weak in spirit. It is not for the selfish. It is not for the weak-stomached. It is not for the weak-minded. It is not something to be taken lightly. It is wearing your heart on the outside of your body, and praying that you just don't screw up. It is being the only one in the house who can clean up puke without puking herself. It is being pooped on, peed on, puked on. It is picking baby boogers out of their nose with your long pinky nail because it's the only thing small enough to get it – screw that booger-sucker thing. It is sneaking into a sleeping baby's room like you're 16 and it's past curfew. It's the legitimate desire to throat-punch anyone who disturbs your sleeping baby. It is the sharp-tongued pre-teen whose words can cut like a knife. It is the same pre-teen who comes crying to you and needs to be hugged because they got in a fight with their best friend. It is going without things for yourself so you can provide things for your kids – and being ok with that. It is rarely getting to eat a warm meal at the same time as everyone else. It is sometimes rarely eating a meal while actually being seated. It is sometimes being the bad guy, the mean parent, the "heavy" to your kids because that is what's best for them. It is pride-swallowing. It is humbling. It is relishing every opportunity to escape for 30 uninterrupted minutes to read a book, take a shower, talk on the phone, hear yourself think. It is giving up your boobs to a baby who wants to be constantly attached to them and when THEY aren't on them, a breast pump is – making you feel less like the sex kitten you used to be, and more like a momma cat nursing her kitten. It is giving up your right to sleep in your own bed with your husband alone. It is being questioned and judged by other parents. Sometimes it means giving up or doing without. It means trying to explain the unexplainable to the little faces looking to you for answers you simply don't have. It means standing in the middle of the store, literally rendered speechless, watching your 9 and 12 year olds act like they've never been in public or have any concept of manners, and only being able to muster up the words very slowly "Have..you…lost…your…minds?". It is leaving your child at their very first apartment and feeling pride and sadness all at once. Sometimes, it is realizing that your child has special needs – different from other children. It is realizing a hundred times exactly what your mother meant when she warned you of certain things 25 years ago. It is beating yourself up for forgetting an important school function. It is being so overwhelmed with love that you feel your heart just might burst. It is realizing that you should've told your mom more often how much you appreciate everything she did for you. Sometimes, it is realizing that there are no more chances to say or do the things you should've. It is realizing that if you have a 9-year-old, they are half-way to being "grown". It is realizing how precious time is. It is realizing that someone always has it worse. It is feeling pain for a friend who has to bear the unthinkable and bury a child. It is feeling hurt (and in a way guilty) for a friend who cannot conceive a child of her own. It is feeling invisible sometimes – like you're just the man behind the scenes who make everything happen but no one really pays attention to. It is constantly questioning the choices you make as a parent. It is facing criticism as a single parent. It is being a model for your showing your son or daughter how to pick the right partner for them — and teaching them to be the right partner for someone else. It is having your children be the first thing you think of when you wake up, and the last thing you think of before you fall asleep. It is realizing that you aren't perfect – and that's ok. You aren't the perfect parent, but you are the best one for your kids — however they became yours — because that is YOUR purpose. No one else can do what YOU can do for them. No one else can take YOUR place.

I will lay my head down tonight, once again grateful for my two little blessings, and grateful for my mom and ALL the wonderful women in my life who have made me who I am today.

No…this being a mother thing is NOT for wussies. I am woman. I AM A MOTHER. Hear me roar.

Five Thirty-One Twelve

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve written about my funny dating stories, my trust issues, relationships, my quirkiness, funny, light-hearted stuff, etc.  I’ve even written about my mom.  But I haven’t written much about the first man I ever loved – the last man on earth that I trusted completely with my heart and my life…my dad.  I had started writing a piece about him a few months ago, but could never get it “just right” – so I never posted it.  Maybe it’s because the story wasn’t finished.

 

Sadly (and inconceivably), the only thing I’ve written since my last post has been my dad’s obituary and a speech for his funeral.  In a whirlwind of events that still seem unreal to me, my entire life – my entire family – changed forever.

 

This is the series of events that runs on a constant reel in my mind…

 

I talked to my dad on the phone on a Friday. It was a good conversation, ended with “I love you.” He and my mom spent the day together on Saturday. My mom sent me a picture of him teasing and laughing at her (being himself). They went for ice cream later that Saturday evening – my dad told my mom that it was just exactly what he wanted – hit the spot perfectly – the ice cream, and I suspect just the entire day with her as a whole. The next day, on Sunday, he told my mom he was running out to get a garage door opener. He was gone too long. The kind of too long where you start to get a little worried, which my mom was. The next thing we know, the local hospital was calling. He had been in a car accident (minor, thankfully) because he had suffered another stroke. (He had one in early April – minor in comparison). He was being air-lifted to another hospital with a team of neurosurgeons, and my mom had to get there by car – almost an hour and a half away (a trip I think she made in just about one hour).

 

 I got the phone call that he had had another stroke, and we had to wait and hear more details from my mom. The first time he had a stroke, my sister and I (daddy’s girls, through and through) dropped what we were doing and made the five-hour drive to be with him and my mom.  I was upset and scared by this news.  It had only been 6 weeks since his first stroke.  What did all of this mean? Was he just going to keep having strokes? What can they do about this, etc? I was trying to go with the “no news is good news” theory, but couldn’t convince myself.

 

Then, in a blur of events that I will never forget, my oldest brother called me and asked if I was home. “Yes”, I said. “Ok, well I’m outside, I’ll be up in a second, just come to the door” – This. Was. Bad. And I knew it.  I started shaking and answered the door to him and my sister-in-law, walked them upstairs and tried to play the “so, what’s up?” card, trying to pretend this was just a surprise visit to say hello. Instead, his exact words were “…our family is f*cked. Dad is on life support, and there is nothing they can do. The brain damage is really bad, and even if they did surgery, it still wouldn’t help…so we have to go there and say our goodbyes and let him go. You’re coming with me and we’re going. Now.”

 

After collapsing into a puddle of tears and screams, I grabbed some of my things, made arrangements for my girls, and we were on our way there – an agonizingly long drive when you NEED to get there, like, yesterday.  By the very late hours of that night/wee hours of the morning, all five of us kids and most of the spouses and grandkids were there with our mom to say goodbye and let our dad go. We each had some time alone in the room with him, saying everything we wanted and needed to say – if that’s even possible.

 

Then, the team of doctors came in and were asking my dad to squeeze their hand, checking his pupils, etc. and he was responding. I don’t care how bad the prognosis is…when your loved one is responding to the doctors’ and your own requests for a hand squeeze or a thumbs up, taking them off life support is no longer an option. Period.

 

There was talk of which side of the brain was involved, etc. and we learned that because my dad was left-handed (meaning he was right-brain-dominant), there might be a little glimmer of hope.  The right side of his body was affected by the stroke (as the stroke had started in the LEFT brain – not his dominant side).  We could deal with a long road ahead of us, as long as we had him, and he had a good quality of life. But we wouldn’t know anything until the brain swelling went down. And so, the next few days were a cruel emotional roller coaster of hopes being built up and torn down over and over again. We were told he was somewhat stable and this would be a long road, so on the 4th day, I was planning to head back home so I could get my girls ready and be with them for their dance recital, which was a 3-night event.  So that morning, we headed up to the hospital to see him before I left, and the doctor met us and wanted to talk to all of us as a family. There’s that sick feeling again.  

 

In a private conference room, they told us that the swelling in my dad’s brain was getting worse and beginning to shift the entire brain. To have ANY chance of survival at all, they needed to do surgery to remove half of his skull to allow the brain to swell without damaging itself any further. And they needed an answer quickly, as in minutes. It was an extremely risky procedure on an extremely compromised person. They laid out – in no uncertain terms – what our options and likely outcomes were. And all of them SUCKED. We asked each of these doctors – off the record – this is not your patient, this is YOUR DAD – what would you do? And every one of them had the same answer. They would not put him through this surgery, under the circumstances, with the likely outcomes. They would let him go.  Despite the rapport we had developed with them over the past few days, I suddenly hated every single one of those doctors. And their options.  

 

As someone who used to be a respiratory therapist, I knew what was about to take place. I knew that he would be taken off the ventilator and made as comfortable as possible until the end. I knew that it could happen very quickly, or that he could last several hours, even days. At that point, my prayers changed. They were no longer selfish. My prayers of “please save my dad” became “please take my dad…and end his suffering…and help us all through this.” I remember laying in a reclining chair in his ICU room, staring at him, wondering if he was scared, if he could hear our last words, our cries, our pleas, our prayers. I was actually sitting there trying to telepathically get inside his head and speak to his innermost self – “daddy…can you hear me? It’s ok to go now…” I took pictures of his hand in mine, pictures of his tattoos.

 

For the next 8 hours or so, we stayed by his side until he passed away at 8:31 p.m. on May 31, 2012.  FIVE. THIRTY-ONE. TWELVE. Numbers that I will never forget.

The world lost a one-of-a-kind man. My mom lost her best friend and soul mate. My kids lost their funny, silly grandpa. My siblings and I lost the best father we could ever ask for.

 

I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number or days I haven’t cried since that day.  And I can tell you that, on the days that I DON’T cry, I feel guilty at the end of the day. Guilty for not crying, as if my tears are what keeps me connected to him. I know better than that. I had a very strong connection with my dad. And I know, as if I can hear him saying it out loud, that he would be furious at how upset I am, at how often I cry, scream, fall to my knees, think to myself that I just…can’t…do…this.  

 

I’ve read about the stages of grief (some sources say there are 5, some say there are 7). Either way, I’ve cycled through all of them and back again – sometimes all in the same day.

 

SHOCK & DENIAL:    Yep. I can recall every sordid detail about the hospital – the smells, the tile pattern on the floor, the way my dad’s skin felt. I can recall people who brought food to the house, or just stopped by to offer condolences – friends of my dad – grown men – crying. I remember seeing and hugging certain people at the visitation – remember how someone smelled – their perfume or aftershave, what someone was wearing, etc. I can recall everything. But there are many, many times when I have to stop what I’m doing and actually CONSCIOUSLY convince myself that it was all real. And then I tell myself “there’s just no way…”

 

PAIN & GUILT:   This is self explanatory.  The pain is nothing short of unbearable at times, and comes out of nowhere at any place, any time. God bless the WalMart check-out clerk who hurried me through with my groceries the other day as best she could because we had a moment of eye contact which must have conveyed my need to get the hell out of there ASAP because I was about to completely lose it.

Guilt over all the times I “should’ve” but didn’t.

 

ANGER & BARGAINING:    The anger part – definitely. I’m so horribly angry. I’m angry about so much…and it’s more than just losing my dad.  It’s as if it set off a domino effect, going back to some of my earliest memories, and falling down piece by piece through different events in my life. Simply put, I am pissed. I have no other way to express it. And I know others around me – those closest to me – are suffering for it. I am quick-tempered (more so than my usual feisty self). I scolded my girls for something that was really nothing more than little girls annoying their sister, and my youngest said “gee, mommy…why are you so mad?” – and I completely lost it, and told them I was mad because my dad died and there is nothing I can do about it. I’ve had to reassure them that my anger is not at them, it’s just because mommy is so sad over losing their papaw.

 

DEPRESSION/REFLECTION/LONELINESS:    YES, YES, and YES. At times, I have not answered or returned calls or text messages from friends. I have declined invitations to go do things. I think I have even seen people that I know out in public, but I walk around in such a fog most of the time that it doesn’t hit me until later (after the moment has passed) that I just saw someone I know and I didn’t speak. Anyone who knows me knows that is NOT ME.  I avoid going certain places because I just know I will run into someone and it will come up in conversation.  Oddly enough, I WANT to talk about my dad, but on MY terms, if that makes any sense. So, if you are reading this and you are one of those friends – I apologize.  I am so very sorry.  Please know it is nothing personal.  Your sentiments are felt and appreciated more than you know, but more often than not, I just find myself thinking “I just can’t…not right now…”

 

THE UPWARD TURN:   This is supposed to be when life becomes a little calmer and more organized and depression lessens a bit. *If I have been through this stage, it was for a nano-second.

 

RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH:    This is supposed to be when your mind starts working again and you can come up with realistic solutions to life’s problems.  Currently, I find myself unable to come up with solutions to some minor issues.  Everything seems monumental to me. For instance, the transmission in my car went out this week. The car used to be my dad’s. That plus the fact that I am a single, working mom without a car right now plus everything else equals me inching closer to my breaking point. I can’t come up with a good solution. You know why? Because this is one of those times when I would pick up the phone, call my dad, and he would have a solution. And I can’t do that. And so, yes, it’s just a car…but it’s so much more. This probably doesn’t make sense to most people reading this, but it’s all I got.

 

And lastly – ACCEPTANCE & HOPE:   Accepting and dealing with the reality of what has happened.  Again, my time in this stage has been miniscule – tiny stitches in time – and usually sends me right back to the beginning of the cycle.

 

I know my life will never be the same, and neither will my family. Ever. This is the most profound loss I have ever experienced – that my family has ever experienced.  I find some comfort in a few things – wonderful memories, knowing he is no longer suffering, knowing I will see him again one day. I have some of my dad’s ashes, some of his cologne. I can close my eyes and smell it and imagine myself hugging him and smelling that.  I find comfort in seeing dragonflies after a dear friend shared a wonderful story with me about “waterbugs and dragonflies” You should google the story.  If I knew how to add links here, I would.  It comes from a book about explaining death to children, and is a wonderful story that I still can’t tell out loud without crying. Maybe I will try to post it here in the next day or two.  

 

Whether this is the first time you’ve read my blog or you’ve read them all – I hope you take something away from this.  Life is uncertain.  Say “I love you”.  Use the good dishes on a Tuesday night.  Go get some ice cream and enjoy it like a kid. *Quick funny story:  speaking of the ice cream, I spent two days in a row eating a chocolate ice cream cone – dad’s favorite – sitting in my car down by the river at lunch time, SOBBING. I mean all-out blubbering sobs. There was a guy in a truck parked next to me who must have thought I was some kind of psycho – licking the ice cream cone, tears just streaming down my face. Sad, but still funny to me. Something only I would do…TWICE.  

 

The funny, witty, sarcastic girl is very much still here.  She is just under layers and layers of grief, anger, despair, disbelief, and sadness right now.  But so much of my humor and wit came from my dad, so I feel I would be dishonoring him if I stopped writing.  He wrote a lot, too. I intend to do more of it, and I may even share something he wrote once just for me. I can’t guarantee my writing is going to be all Wheat Thins and Catman Don’t any time soon, because I have a lot of things I need/want to get out, but I still remember how to laugh and tell a story. I learned from one of the best.    

Starting Over and Stopping.

I’m going to apologize now for the (very uncharacteristic) serious tone of this particular post, and for the delay since my last post.  This one has been in the works for a couple weeks.  I promise the next one will be more like my usual comedic self. So, without further ado…

I was reminded recently by my 8 year old daughter just how simple love really is, or rather, should be.  With timing that couldn’t have been more perfect, she gave me a little handmade card that said “I love you” on the front, and on the inside, it said “I love you because…” and she put the following: “you help me get through problems, you make supper, and you love me.” Nowhere in there did it say “because you buy me cool things and take me places all the time” – just the basic needs:  kindness, food, and love.

Do you even remember when it was that simple? When it used to be as easy as “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” When people said “I love you” – and meant it, in every sense of the word.  A time long before a rampant divorce rate. Long before social media. Long before societal pressures reached a fever pitch. I’m talking about way back when…like when your grandparents fell in love, and even though they went through some really awful times, they stayed together, no matter what, until the day they died.

Somewhere between the innocence of an 8 year old and becoming an adult, we (grown-ups, collectively) have royally screwed things up when it comes to love and relationships.

When you break it down to its simplest form, the basic needs haven’t really changed. We all need a little kindness – both to have it and show it to others, and to receive it from others.  We all need “food” – as in, “to be fed” – to have every part of our being taken care of.  To be fed emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially, professionally, etc.   And we all need LOVE. Plain and simple.

So how did it get so damn complicated?  Why is it so hard for two human beings to make it work? Do we get caught up in infatuation and idealism? Do we expect too much? Do we put too much pressure on each other? Do we get strangled by envy? By selfishness? Are we consistently fooled by the proverbial “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome?  Do we just give up too easily?

I think it’s all of the above.

As a woman who’s been through a divorce with young children involved, I speak from the heart when I say there have been times in my life over the last few years when I honest-to-God thought that the heartache just might do me in.  I’ve dropped to my knees in utter despair, cried until I gagged, thrown my fists up in anger as I cried and screamed through clenched teeth, re-lived every second of my failed marriage to try and find an answer for what happened, cried to my mother/sister/best friend that I just didn’t think I could survive it. It was the worst heartache I have ever been through. And mine wasn’t just an “over and done” type of pain. It was a long, drawn-out, holding on out of desperation – kind of pain. The kind that leaves scars.

I tried to limit my heartache to when my girls weren’t with me, and keep it together when they were around, but when the waves of emotion come, sometimes you just have to ride them.  I recall one particular night when everything just got the best of me all day long, all week long, and culminated with a gallon of milk dropped on the floor only to splatter all over every square inch of my little apartment kitchen.  I was literally crying over spilled milk…and a failed marriage, and feeling sad for my girls to have to go through all this, and feeling broken and alone and exhausted in every sense of the word.  Once I got the milk cleaned up, I just collapsed in a heap of sobs and was consoled – in the very same tender, loving, motherly manner in which I do them – by my two young daughters. 

That was a sort of wake-up call for me.  I told myself then and there that I would never allow them to see me that upset ever again – at least not if I could help it. And certainly not when a man was the source of my hurt.

I know that pain and heartache is not unique to me.  It is universal.  And no matter the source of the pain and heartache, the thought of making yourself vulnerable to ever being put through the same situation again is nothing short of terrifying. Becoming serious with someone new is hard.  It’s hard not to think they are going to do the same crap to you that the one before them did.  It’s hard not to group them into the same categories that everyone before them has been grouped into.  Starting over is hard and it sucks. But it’s a necessary part of living and growing.

I certainly have said “never again” more times than I care to discuss — I’ll never let someone in my heart like that again. I’ll never trust someone like that again. I’ll never believe another man.  If this relationship fails, I’m done for good, I swear it. I will never do it again. Ever.  I say that, but I know myself too well, and know that I won’t actually give up on finding the right person for me. I like the good parts of an honest, healthy relationship far too much to say “never again” and actually mean it.

Often times, when I am at my lowest of lows as far as loneliness, it’s usually in a crowded room full of people – surrounded by people, but not that ONE who just gets me. The one who knows what makes me tick, and can read my face from across that crowded room – and either shoot me a wink and a smile that speaks volumes, or know from my expression that it is time to wrap things up so we can go home. The one that looks at me across the room and just feels content in the idea of me being his girl – whatever that means. The one who would walk across that crowded room just to give me a kiss on my forehead. The one that I can trust – trust with my heart, trust with my mind, trust to let into my life – and know that, no matter what the day brings each of us, at the end of it, I can rest assured in the fact that I’m the only woman he wants to be with, and that he cares what I do and how I feel.  And vice versa. I don’t want someone perfect.  I want someone perfect FOR ME.   

I’m not foolish enough to think that available men my age aren’t going to have some of the very same wounds I have. Most are going to be divorced, and from what I have observed in the men I’ve dated or talked to, a large number of them were cheated on.  That wasn’t an issue in my marriage, but I have experienced it in my dating life. And I absolutely hate – no, I detest – that feeling.  The feeling when you first find out about it.  And then every time you think about it afterward (and get re-pissed, re-hurt).  Even if it happens before the relationship has been clearly “defined”.  It still hurts. It takes awhile to come back from that. But WANTING to come back from that is key to being successful at it.  If you want to move past it, you will.  But it may take time.

If you’re wondering what my point is, don’t feel bad – I’m wondering the same thing.  I know what’s in my heart and my head, but sometimes, getting it all to come out of my fingertips onto this keyboard is difficult to do.

I guess what I’m getting at, is that we all just need to STOP.  Stop over-complicating everything.  Stop taking people and things for granted.  STOP passing up something or someone really great because we think it might be just a teensy bit better on the other side.  I’m not saying we need to become stagnant in life and settle or lower our standards.  I’m saying that, if you find yourself sitting back in your life or your relationship and thinking “man…this is pretty damn good.  I’m not sure what I did to deserve this, but I like it” – then just stop.  Stop there.  Stop and take it all in and just…let it be. 

Don’t run when things are going good just because “that’s what you do.”  Don’t walk away for a possible “what if?” Stay right where you are and just take it all in for a bit. And whatever it is – a relationship or something else – if it’s working, do everything in your power not to screw it up.  And if you do, then do everything in your power to fix it and make it right. Because the person you hurt may have put everything in his/her entire being on the line in letting you in in the first place. It’s not easy, but in my heart of hearts, I have to believe that in the end, it’s going to be worth it.  

I read something the other day that kind of stuck with me. I’ve already forgotten where I read it, but I can’t forget what it said: 

“Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.”

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