And then….

It’s 2020. The roaring twenties? A new year, a new decade, maybe even a new you? I used to love the beginning of the new year–a fresh start, a clean slate. Time to start eating better, exercising more, doing new things, achieving those goals I couldn’t get to last year, and becoming a new person.

Starting over used to really appeal to me. I used to love the thought that I could become a new person, someone I would like more and others would like me more, too. I really thought that losing weight would do that for me. So I did it. I lost over 85 pounds and kept it off for nearly a decade. As a matter of fact, 10 years ago yesterday I began running. I had already lost the weight I had intended, but now I wanted to challenge myself. And so I did. I became a runner. I became that crazy lady you saw at 5:30 on a winter morning with the head lamp running in the dark. I ran some road races but really just ran for me. Did I like this new person I had become? Sometimes. But not completely like I thought I would.

And then 2017 came along. I started to struggle with running because of injuries and motivation. And then my brother died and I didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t know how to and I honestly didn’t really care to. But I did. I even tried to run some but often I’d start to sob in the middle of the runs or stop a half mile before home and drop to my knees because the darkness just overcame me and I couldn’t put one step in front of the other.

So I stopped. I started to care for both of my parents off and on and tried to parent my son the best I could and still be a wife that was semi-present at least and still work 40 hours a week. I stopped caring for myself or about myself. I was no longer moving forward but backward and if I was lucky, sideways.

Then my husband was laid off. Backwards I went. Then I got a new job directing the library I had loved for over 13 years. A few steps sideways and one forward.

Then my beautiful, hilarious, sweet dad died. Back and back and back…

Then my husband got a new job. A hop forward. Then I broke my arm so badly I needed a metal plate and 9 screws and 6 months later I still can’t completely move it. A step to the back.

And then my mom died. My loving, badass mom. Backwards I fell. Literally. (I passed out the evening of my mother’s service.)

And now we’re here. January 1st, 2020. Am I a new person? Well…yes. I’ve become a new person over and over and over in the past two and half years. Every time an “and then” occurred, I became a new person. Every one of these life-altering events made me into a new person. A different person. I don’t always like the new person I’ve become or am becoming, but that’s something I have to figure out. I don’t even know who I am most of the time, but that’s something else for me to discover and manage.

I do know that losing the 20 pounds I gained these past 2 1/2 years will not make me a new person or happier. Will I try and lose it? Of course! I need to be a healthy me and I need to fit in my clothes better because restrictive clothing makes me a very grumpy Holly and no one needs that. But will I try and lose it by going on a diet? No. I can’t be that person anymore. I’ll eat as best I can, but I’m hoping that running will help me lose some of it.

I hope I do not become that person I used to be that constantly posted my stats or photos of running because honestly? I hated those assholes for the past 2 1/2 years when I didn’t have it in me to run. Look, I know we all need to do it sometimes. We need that encouragement or pat on the back. I get it, I do! I’ve done it many times, too! But I’ve also been on the other side where I couldn’t run due to injury or grief and I felt like my friends were rubbing my nose in it. “Look what I can do and you can’t or won’t, you lazy bitch!” (Hey, I know you didn’t say it and probably didn’t even think it, but my mind just went there.)

So let’s make a deal. I’ll post this photo of the end of my run on Christmas Day.

Me in my dooryard at the end of my first 5K run in eons. This was a happy moment. Just before this run, I had been sitting in my living room sobbing and rocking myself while I thought about my family. There is so much photos don’t say.

This will be it for at least a week. Of course, I’ll probably be on the treadmill or in front of my tv for the next 2 months due to Maine weather, but whatever. Feel free to keep doing whatever you’re doing and posting what you’re posting. If I start being annoying with running posts, tell me to pipe down and give it a rest. I will probably oblige because I’ve been there.

Or I’ll tell you to fuck off because my pants are still too tight and I’m cranky. But I’ll still love you. That much I can promise.

Hail and Farewell

Today on CBS Sunday Morning, there was a long segment entitled “Hail and Farewell” featuring many famous people that died this past year. My husband and I watched in awe and sadness as many performers we knew as kids and teens were gone–the voice of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird, Caroll Spinney; the voice of Minnie Mouse, Russi Taylor; musicians Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek (of The Cars); actors Peter Fonda and Diahann Carroll and for us, the absolutely incredible and lovable Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars films.

But as the photos passed by on the screen and the narrator talked about these people and their amazing accomplishments, I could only think of the two people that passed away this year that had the most influence on my life.

A rare photo of my parents together and smiling.

My parents may have not influenced a world with their charm or musical ability, but they influenced a generation–their children. My father’s sense of humor and ability to laugh at nearly everything (“You can either laugh or cry, but laughing feels better”) was passed down to the three of us kids, but with my brother embracing that philosophy more than my sister and I. My mother’s work ethic was drilled into each of us, although her obsession with a clean and/or picked up house was certainly a trait I inherited (but I’m not nearly as good at it as she was).

My parents also passed down their love of Christmas and family. Christmas was an event in our home growing up. We were not church going folk and the three of us kids actually became giant skeptics, yet Christmas was “celebrated” by being together. It was our time to be a family and exchange gifts and eat good food and enjoy each other. Truly. Even after my parents were divorced and my stepfather moved in, we all still had Christmas together. It was so strange to other people, but not to us. It was our normal. And I’m absolutely grateful my parents were able to set some issues aside and be together at least once a year.

The tradition continued as we children grew up and found partners and had children. We still all met sometime during the Christmas season to be together. When we had our family Christmas a few weeks ago, my sister and I tried to make our parents proud and have a big extravaganza for our family. We did the usual exchange of gifts and ate great food but we added some games to the mix and made it a little more fun and loud. It was good. But we also felt a great absence. I felt uneasy at times, knowing that something….or someone was missing. At the end of the day, my sister, my husband, my brother-in-law and I all toasted our family–Phil, Dad & Mom–they were sorely missed and will never be forgotten.

And now a new year is about to begin. A new decade without 3/4 of my family. A new year of my son growing to be a little giant and acting and looking so much like my brother. The beginning of my life as an orphan, without the two people I turned to for advice and comfort and love. Another year of living with grief and learning how to keep taking those steps forward without turning to alcohol or food or complete inertia.

I’m beginning 2020 with trying to run again. I’m slow and it’s difficult but I don’t push myself too hard yet. I just move and see what happens. I’ve started taking an antidepressant, hoping that will help move me along, too. I’ve also booked a vacation for my family and I in April so we have something to look forward to.

I need this coming year to be different. I know I can’t have my family back, but I can write about them and you can read about them and their lives will live on in a way. It’s not exactly the way I want it, but I have no choice in the matter. I know I still have guilt and anger and frustration that’s mixed in with my grief that I must deal with, but that is for another day and probably another year.

I don’t know if I’ll make any resolutions for 2020. A friend recently asked people to post on FB what they were most proud of accomplishing this past year, and one of our good friends said, “Surviving.” Maybe that should have been mine, too. I do hope I accomplish a little more than that next year, but it’s always good to have low expectations, right? Maybe instead of surviving, I can make a resolution to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward.

Friends, I wish you all a safe new year and may you be as happy as you can possibly be.

Trying to Care

Since just before Thanksgiving Day, I have walked a mile a day. It’s not a lot, but when my friend and colleague, Sonya, put the challenge out to a private Facebook group, I decided that if I didn’t have it in me to run, that I could at least walk. Some days it’s just marching for 20 minutes in front of my tv, and other days it’s on the treadmill watching Netflix. As long as my mind is occupied and not in tune to what my body is trying to do, then I’m ok.

Today, though, it was 50 degrees at 7:30 in the morning…in Maine…in December. It wasn’t raining, just gloomy. I even had extra time before work. So I had absolutely no excuse to at least walk outside. So I plugged in my headphones and listened to an audiobook for a bit while I trudged a half mile. At that point I thought I could jog past a few telephone poles. I did but tuned into the radio then to give me a little pep. I did this for 2 1/2 miles and thought, “Ok. This is why I used to run. This feeling that I can accomplish something and that I’ll be alright. Now maybe I don’t have to go on antidepressants.” This little jog/walk left me feeling more positive then I’ve felt for a very, very long time.

I got back home, stretched, cleaned up and went to work. Yet minutes after I got to work, I could feel myself deflating. Not just energy-wise but attitude, too. I was starting to feel overwhelmingly sad and emotional and honestly?

I just wanted my Mom.

And my dad.

And my brother.

I can’t always separate my longing for one member of my family. Sometimes I desperately miss one person, but other times I just miss everyone and want to see each of them and talk with them. And not just one more time. Fuck that.

I want many more times.

But I don’t get that right? Right. So…what now?

Thankfully, I got busy at work and then received a really nice email from a friend that was sent just to make me feel good. The combination of the two brought me out of my darkness enough to get me through the day. Once I had a cappuccino in the late afternoon, I felt mostly ok again. I could more than function and went on with my day.

I’m guessing that’s how much of my life will be now. My stepmom told me this week that we have to keep going. We have to keep living somehow and some days will be easier than others. And although I know all of this, I also know I might need some help. I’ve had a bottle of antidepressants in my cupboard for several weeks, but I’m holding off taking them for now. I no longer feel “bad” if I have to take them. I know it’s ok for anyone to ask for help, although I never thought it was ok for me. But after the past two years? If I didn’t ask for help then I’d be even more lost than I feel right now. And that scares me.

For now my helper will sit in my cupboard. I’m done with turning to food or wine for help. The food (and pounds) have just made me feel worse, although sometimes it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I needed some kind of comfort and that quick little hight of “happiness” was what got me through these many months. But now if a walk or run doesn’t help me or if writing this blog doesn’t bring me some sense of comfort or control, then I’ll give the pills a shot.

And if I can find a counselor that I like, then I might give that a try, too. But since I’m a little gun-shy after the last one, I’ll wait. Let’s attempt just one thing at a time.

Reflecting

I wear my heart on my sleeve. If you and I are in a room and you’re crying, you will not cry alone. I am a very emotional person. Always have been and probably always will be. A few months after my brother died, I didn’t think I would ever be that emotional again. I was numb, kind of cold. Not much could penetrate the shield I created. But with the deaths of my parents this year, I have returned to that weeping mess I’ve always been.

So yesterday, when I was on my way to attend a high school classmate’s funeral, I knew it would not be a good day. When I saw the large church and the people already filing in 40 minutes before the service, I could feel myself start to panic. But I kept my shit together and walked in with a few old friends.

While looking at the photos of Vicki at the back of the church, my stomach started to lurch. I just wanted to stand there for a few minutes, catch my breath and look at all the pictures, many of our friend as an adult with her children, but we were herded into our seats. I was mildly irritated but I understood. There were going to be a lot of people there and they needed to seat people right away. But I also didn’t want to cry uncontrollably before the service even started.

As we sat down, we watched a slideshow of other photos on the wall of the church with this sad, sad melody playing in the background. That damn music. I can barely stand to listen to any music these days unless it’s angry. Although I often cry after listening to that, too. So we watched the show and saw images of Vicki with her husband and children, some with her colleagues, her siblings, her friends, and other photos as a child and teenager. While the slideshow played, we could see her family at the front of the church, greeting folks and waiting for it all to begin.

When the pastor started the service, he made me angry from the beginning. “Vicki’s work on Earth was complete,” he said. Complete? Finished? At 46? Screw you, man.

But then her adult daughter spoke. She was funny and sweet and told great stories. One of Vicki’s colleagues quoted a variety of children from the school where Vicki taught. These were little ones, elementary school, and some quotes were sweet and others were exactly what we were thinking. “I just don’t understand. Why?” Listening to the thoughts of children losing their beloved teacher, this woman whom I knew years ago but apparently remained the incredibly kind and gentle person she had always been, this started to break me. Why indeed.

Two of Vicki’s nieces read a “Pete the Cat” book aloud. Vicki taught Pre-K so Pete the Cat was a great character to pass wisdom on to kiddos. A parent whose children were taught by Vicki spoke and told a wonderfully funny story about Vicki’s thoughtfulness and kindness. Then Vicki’s husband got up to speak. I sat up straighter in order to brace myself. This man was devastated and sobbed on and off throughout his speech. The love he has for her poured from him as he spoke and cried. To witness this act of love and loss was a privilege. A gift. This high school classmate of mine was loved so much and it seemed she became who she wanted to be and lived the life she wanted and loved. I won’t call her lucky, because to die at 46 is not lucky. It sucks. But to live a life that you chose, surrounded by people that you loved and loved you, that part was lucky.

Vicki’s adult son was the last to speak. He was just as eloquent as his sister, told some funny stories and gave us insight on the mom that she was. She loved her children fiercely and went to every single sporting event or activity that they were in. She did everything she could to be there for them.

It was odd for me to go to this funeral. The last three funerals or life celebrations I’ve attended, I helped plan. They were the core of my family. My grief lives on, long after any church service or get together. Yet after Vicki’s service, it became a time for my friends and I to reflect a bit on our own lives. What would our children or spouse or friends or family say about us? Would they say we were kind, a great parent, a good friend? Maybe. Would there be standing room only in a huge church? Maybe not.

Once I got home, I could only think of Vicki’s family, and what they were doing right then. Did her siblings cry themselves to sleep that night or drink until they were numb? I’ve been that sister and I did those things. Did her mother just want to follow her child in death? My father did. Did her children try to stick close to their father, worrying about him and wanting to care for him? I was that child and I worried, too. Did her husband even sleep that night, or does he just want to sleep all the time?

I don’t know Vicki’s family but I just wanted to hug all of them and tell them this sucks so much and you can call me whenever you want and I’ll listen until my ear falls off. But since I don’t know them, that probably would have been weird. And they don’t need this tall crazy woman hugging them and crying on them. They have enough to deal with.

This holiday season, don’t forget about those that have lost someone. This can be such a difficult time to try and celebrate with and for those around us and pretend to enjoy ourselves when we just want the day to be over with or to just be alone with our thoughts and memories and possibly a glass of wine. Try and understand if that friend doesn’t want to go shopping or she has to turn the radio off because Christmas music bothers her or he wants to skip the holiday office party this year. They may be able to do those things with you next year, or they might not. Just tell them you’re there for them and will listen if they need to talk.

And if they need someone to cry with, I’m always available.

Wrecked

Today, on this grey and chilly fall day, my sister and I buried our mother.

As we stood around the small hole where Mom’s urn would be buried, we stood with our husbands, our children and our brother-in-law. We told a few stories about Mom and my husband read a poem out loud because I wasn’t able to. (“If I Should Go” by Joyce Grenfel)

I looked over at my big sister and she, like me, was a wreck. She said, “Remember when Grammie died?” My first memory was what my niece recalled, how my mother shook her head as we stood by her mother’s grave and kept saying “I can’t do this.” But what my sister reminded me was of Mom’s comparison to losing a partner to losing a mother. Just the year before Grammie died, our stepdad died suddenly of heart attack at 58. It was devastating. But the day of my grandmother’s funeral, Mom said that when your partner dies, yes it’s awful and horrific. But when your mother dies? You just want to follow her.

What you see here is me leaning against my sister. I was sobbing at this point, not wanting to put our mother into the ground. It may have only been her ashes at that point, but I could still touch the box she was in. It sometimes gave me a weird comfort. But our mother’s wishes were to be buried beside our stepdad.

So that is what we did.

Before we left the cemetery, once again my sister says between sniffles, “Well, no more of this. Let’s not do this again!” I shake my head and this time whisper, “There’s no one left.”

Searching for Signs

Yesterday afternoon after I got home from work, my husband and I helped our neighbor for a little bit then took a short walk. Once we got home, I went for a longer walk by myself. I listened to an audio book, anything so I wouldn’t think too much. Yet as I walked, I had an incredible urge to go to my father’s grave. I haven’t been there since we buried him in May, but I needed to be there at that moment.

As soon as I got home, I told my husband and son where I was going. It’s about a 20 minute drive through back roads in beautiful farm country. I tried to take in the last of the fall colors as I drove. When I got to the cemetery, I parked my car directly in front of the site.

This was the first time I’ve seen my father’s gravestone. It seemed so small to me. My father was not only a large man, but he was larger than life sometimes. He had a great booming voice when he wanted to and his love for his family sometimes seemed larger than the room you were in, you know?

I stood in front of Dad’s grave, said “hi Dad” then waited. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything back obviously, but I was expecting…something. I thought I would feel like he was there listening. But there was absolutely nothing. I felt nothing. I went back to my car, put my head on the wheel and cried. I just needed my father to be there. I needed to talk with him, but I really needed him to talk back. I was hurting and I missed Mom and I just needed my papa right then. I needed him to hug me and rub my back and tell me that he understood. He wouldn’t say it was going to be ok because it wasn’t, but he’d probably tell me how much it sucked, but I would eventually be ok.

Once I got home, feeling sad and tired and frustrated, I got out of my car and saw a small murder of crows flying over my house. I find myself looking for signs of my family everywhere now and I wondered if Phil and Dad and Mom were a part of this group saying “hey” before they went wherever they were going. I had this overwhelming feeling of being left behind and I whispered, “Wait!” They didn’t wait but flew away, as they should.

Foolishly, I decided then I should take care of Mom’s things I had from the nursing home and some of the photos we had out for the celebration of her life. I sat in the middle of my home library surrounded by her things and her photos and her smell that clung to the clothes I was unpacking. I only cried once, but I could feel the loneliness creeping into my bones.

My husband was in his office and my son was in his room. After I finished with Mom’s things, I started to fold laundry in the living room. When my son came out and asked me something, I got upset at him. When he asked me what was wrong, I broke down and in between sobs told him I missed my dad and my mom. My heart was broken but I didn’t want to tell him that. Instead I held the washcloth I was folding close to my heart and just rocked and cried. My poor boy put his arms around me as my husband came out of his office and sat with us. The three of us began to talk and we cried and we laughed and we just were.

We were together.

Caring

As a parent, you raise your child or children and although you never stop loving or caring or worrying about them, you get to a point where you start taking caring of yourself or try taking time for yourself. That’s what running was for me when I started 10 years ago. But all of that came to a standstill over two years ago when I started to care for my mother. Even before my dear brother died in July of 2017, I was at my mother’s home more and more, trying to get her medication under control and taking her to appointments. I moved her in with my family later that year and the care increased dramatically.

Once Mom entered a residential care facility, I remember my sister saying to me that now maybe I could properly grieve for our brother and start taking care of myself.

That didn’t happen.

I continue to grieve for my brother, but I know that will be for the rest of my life. There are some things you just can’t fix. And as far as taking care of myself? I visited my mother each weekend, cared for my father every few Sundays, and still tried to be the best parent and wife and librarian that I could. I’ve stopped running and I don’t think I’ve been a great friend over the past few years, but something had to go.

And then Dad died. I found myself unable to sit still on Sundays because I felt like I should be somewhere else than at home. Then I broke my arm horribly in June. I had a great excuse to no longer run but the pain was so debilitating at the beginning that I truly understood why people want to die when they have so much pain. I just wanted it to end.

Then the pain finally got better but I was very down and frustrated and angry. I ate my feelings once again and put another 5 pounds–that’s 15 extra now since Phil died. Yet, I haven’t really cared that much. Not like before.

And now Mom is gone. The woman who gave me life, taught me how to bake, and tried so hard to instill all her confidence and love into me so I would be proud of and love myself, is no longer on this planet.

Three of the most important people in my life are gone–all their love for me is gone and all the love I have for them is bursting from my body and soul and it doesn’t know where to go. I didn’t think I could feel more lost after my brother died, but after each parent left this world I felt more bewildered and sad and shocked than ever before.

Last weekend we held a celebration of my mother’s life. It was sad and exhausting yet also exhilarating to hear new stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Once my son and I arrived home, we unpacked the car, got into our pjs, ate dinner and just watched tv. I napped a bit on the couch on and off, but I felt ok. At bedtime, we talked to my husband on the phone, but I told him I had to go because as I stood at the sink I started to feel woozy and knew I needed to sit down. Yet as soon as I hung up the phone, I fainted. I don’t remember falling, I just remember being on my kitchen floor and blood was dripping from my nose. My poor son was freaked out and helped stop the bleeding of my nose and cleaned up the mess. I twisted my right knee and foot pretty badly and apparently knocked my face on the counter because not only did my nose hurt but the area under one of my eyes is still sensitive to the touch. I got myself to bed and my boy called his father to explain what happened and to express how scared he felt.

I wish I could tell you I knew what happened, but I don’t. I think I fell from exhaustion. I ate plenty that day and had my usual 8 cups of water. But I was so tired and had a week of planning for my mother’s celebration, ordering an urn, picking up her ashes, getting paperwork for probate court and on and on. Plus I worked a few days.

And my mom was no longer here.

I think that was reason enough for my body to give out on me and say, “Fuck you. I’m done. Let me rest.”

So now…to take care of myself? My son is only 12 and I will still put him first and I’m trying to figure out how to care for him. He has also lost three people that he loved and idolized. His mental and physical health is my priority. But maybe with time, I’ll not only re-learn how to care for and about myself again, but I’ll have the desire to do it.

And maybe this blog will once again be about running instead of grief.