That First Step

I’ve always said that blogging has been my own source of therapy. I write about my issues, get everything out of my heart and head and typically I feel better. I often get feedback from my readers, many of them being my friends, and usually I feel like my head is clearer, my body a little lighter and I’m not as alone as I thought I was.

But now….now I think blogging might not be enough.

As I’m writing this post, my brother has been gone for 11 weeks, 5 hours and 11 minutes. I think I hurt more now than I did that day. Everything was fresh and raw and horribly painful that day, but now I feel empty. Hollowed out. Lost.

For the past few weeks, I’ve known that I should seek out counseling. The combined stress of trying to care for my mother and dealing with my grief has been overwhelming.  One morning when my boss encouraged me to give the counseling program a call, I broke down in tears and told her I just couldn’t. My mom’s health has deteriorated very quickly in the past few months and I’m taking her to one doctor or another each week, sometimes twice a week. The thought of adding something new to my schedule broke me.

Then my best friend started nudging me, trying to get me to make that call. I put it off for another week then finally made the first call. This was just to set me up and give me a list of counselors I can call and try to meet with. My stomach hurt the entire time and I willed my voice not to shake. After the call ended, I put my head down on the table and cried. If it’s this difficult just to get a list of names, how the hell will I be at an actual session?

Now that I have my list, I still haven’t been able to call anyone. In fact, two days after getting the list I thought, “Ok. This is good to have, but I’m really fine. I can handle this.” I spent the afternoon cleaning my mother’s home, having lunch with her and taking her to the store. Sometimes when I spend time with Mom, I miss her. I miss the person she used to be. I felt like that this week, but I also tried to make the best of the situation. We chatted about food, my son, our cats and how beautiful the leaves were looking. “I can do this, ” I thought.

And then I spent the evening with my son. We’ve been watching The Flas71289d196e3604c520bb1fdd7bf20310h on Netflix. So, if you haven’t been watching season 3 of The Flash and intend to, skip this part now. *SPOILER ALERT*  In this episode, Cisco, one of my favorite characters because he makes being a geek look so damn cool, has been seeing visions of his dead brother, Dante. Cisco gets his hands on an artifact that messes with his mind and he eventually must seal the artifact away. But in doing so, he will never see his brother again. His rational mind knows that this image isn’t really his brother, but it doesn’t make the task any easier. So he has to choose–see his brother again or lose his brother forever but save his friends’ lives.

As Cisco makes his choice, I cover my face and sob into my hands. My son asks me what’s wrong, but I can’t answer. I’m sobbing so hard that it’s difficult to breathe, much less talk. My sweet boy then slides closer to me on the couch and hugs me. I end up crying on his shoulder, literally. I finally pull myself together after a minute and let my boy go. All he says is, “Uncle?” I nod. I apologize to him, but he said that it was ok. Then he takes off his shirt and says, “Here, Mom. You can just use this as a tissue.”

I love that kid so much.

So…after that little breakdown, all from a damn tv show no less, I think I might be able to make that phone call. Or I know I should.

I know I have to at least try. That’s all I can promise myself right now. But it’s a start.

 

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49 Days

Yesterday I ran what used to be my usual 5k. It’s the furthest I’ve run in months.

Running used to give me joy. It was my time to just be with me and nature and music. It’s a time to push myself physically and very often mentally. But now running is just….meh.  Actually it’s more than that. It’s very difficult. It’s often impossible. And for the past two months it’s just seemed pointless.

Yet yesterday was different. I started out walking in the morning, but after only a minute I decided to try and run for at least the length of one song. I told myself it was ok if I couldn’t go far, just do what I can. But then my music kicked in and it was a different mix then my usual playlist. I let my Ipod shuffle through the thousand songs I have on it and come up with whatever. And what it came up with was my brother.

Phil made me a running cd a few years back and on it was just pure Philip. It was a mix of dance music and alternative stuff and angry songs and show tunes. It was awesome….except not to run to. I remember running to the playlist right after he gave it to me and I had to stop when I came to “Tonight” from West Side Story.

Not the easiest thing to run to.

But yesterday? Yesterday the shuffling of the music found all of Phil’s songs and it was wonderful. The dance music pushed me along, the angry music pushed me harder, and then, as I was running up a small hill I heard Maria calling out for Tony. I laughed out loud, shrugged my shoulders, and said “What the hell.” I listened to the entire song as I trudged along the road, thinking of my very unusual and eternally entertaining brother and I finished the run with a small smile on my face.

Today, though, was not like yesterday.  Missing my brother, I watched a short video I have of him because I needed to see him again. I needed to hear his voice, his laugh. I haven’t watched it since his “get together” six weeks ago. Later I took a short walk instead of a run. I thought of Phil just like I did yesterday, but ended up sobbing on the side of the road, bent over with my hands on my knees, trying to calm down and breathe.

Grief is a fickle thing. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Maybe I’ll hear about the new movie, “It,” and it will make me think of Phil. Well, I know it will but whether it makes me happy, sad or angry is anyone’s guess. Or maybe I’ll have another dream about him but it will be a good one this time. Or maybe none of those things will happen and I’ll get up, take the boy to school, go to work and just go on.

And sometimes that is the hardest thing of all.

But somehow we manage do it anyway.

 

 

It’s the Little Things

This morning I awoke with anticipation of a decent day. My boy started 5th grade today and like most first days of school, he was looking forward to it. (Sadly, that excitement typically ends by week 2, but we hold onto the good as long as we can.)  My husband made me a lobster omelet for breakfast, the kid was smiling as he entered the school and I was off to work.

Typically driving makes my mind wander and during those moments, my mind always goes to my brother. Either to good memories or questions I want to ask him or I relive that last visit with him. I always end up in tears, no matter what my thoughts. But this morning, my mind didn’t wander. I kept it focused on my driving and on the radio. Nothing else.

But the day would not be a tear-free day, nor would it let me put my brother aside. I had a visit from my brother’s partner early in my work day. We had to discuss legal issues about my brother’s estate. This was not an unpleasant conversation, but just having to do paperwork for this kind of thing is not fun. It’s much worse for my brother’s partner, but we are all trying to make this as easy as possible for him. If that really is possible.

Later in the day, a book title nearly sent me into tears. “So Much I Want to Tell You.” It’s a book by Anna Akana to her younger sister who committed suicide ten years ago.  Every day I not only want to tell my brother something, but want to ask him so many questions. Like, aren’t you pissed you couldn’t see the new Planet of the Apes movie? Or the fact that Lego Batman came in the mail after you died? Or the fucking fact that you were listening to an audio book but you were only on disc three? Doesn’t that make you angry?!?

It makes *me* angry. It makes me really fucking angry. And unbelievably sad.

But you know what broke me today? Even after the paperwork and the book title, I pretty much kept my shit together. I went home early to be with the boy after his first day of school. It’s a tradition I’ve been able to keep up through all his school years so far, and I look forward to being the first one he tells his day to. As usual, he gave me a pile of papers I had to look through and sign and all that jazz. We call it “Mom’s homework”. So after he told me about his day and had a snack, he asked to veg for a few minutes with a YouTube video. I obliged so I could fill out all the paperwork and get started on dinner. I sifted through the papers, signed where I needed to, recycled what didn’t pertain to us. And then I got to the emergency contacts.

Since Kindergarten, my brother has been my son’s number one emergency contact.

But I forgot.

I wasn’t expecting to see his name and phone number listed in this pile of papers.

It stopped me cold. I just sat staring at his name, knowing I had to cross it out.

That’s when I cried.

I crossed my brother’s name from our emergency contact list and it felt like our lives got so much smaller.

I felt much lonelier than I had a few minutes before.

I felt…guilty….lost….defeated.

And sad. Always so fucking sad.

Grief

 

 

 

The Pretender

Dear Phil,

I really don’t like this.

I’ve cried every day since we said goodbye. Most days have been those horrible gut-wracking sobs, the kind where snot runs from your nose to your mouth. I’m not sure when those will stop.  I’ve cried everywhere. Every room in this house, in the car every day, other people’s homes, at the library, in bathrooms, at a bar, outside during my walks, even at the Maine Discovery Museum. But you’re probably not surprised by any of that. I cry at everything, right?

Yesterday, I wanted to call you. Not only did I find something totally cool in a library book, but I heard on the radio about a restaurant in Japan that has monkeys as waiters. Monkeys, Phil!!

waiters-1

I wanted to talk to you and laugh with you so badly…that’s happened every day, too. I hope that doesn’t ever stop.

We went to your house today. I’m not sure how Larry does it. He’s strong, I know, but this is hard. I sat on your bed and cried. I just kept looking at that green and white striped shirt you wore so much. It’s hanging in your closet, waiting.

The boy couldn’t go inside your home yet. I thought he was ready, but not quite. Maybe next month….or next year.

So…I did something kind of weird. A few days after we spread some of your ashes around my house…I panicked because it had rained and I thought all of your ashes would have dissolved into the ground and I wouldn’t be able to see…well…YOU anymore. But there was a bit under that little bush by my front steps….and I scooped you up into one of Mom’s empty memory medicine containers.

I know, I know! It’s fucking bizarre and I’m sure you don’t want to be there but you’re not there anyway. Just a little bit of your body is.

I just….I just can’t let you go. I didn’t think I wanted any of your ashes because that’s a bit freaky for me but when it came right down to it? I couldn’t bear the thought of not having you somewhere near me for the rest of my life.

It may have been a fantasy, but I thought we would get to be old together. I thought that you and Bonnie and I would get to sit on my porch with our creaky bones and sit in creaky rocking chairs and reminisce about the old days. I just…I really didn’t think you’d go this early, Phil. As sick as you were? I really thought we all had more time with you.

I really did.

I miss you. Every single one of us who loves you misses you. The world was pretty fucked up before you had to go, but it’s even worse now because you’re not here to make fun of it and make us all laugh at the absurdity of it all.

I can clearly hear your voice telling me that I’ll be fine, that I’ll be ok, that I’m stronger than I think I am. (I know, I know, because Bonnie said that, too.) But right now I’m really not ok. Instead I’ve become very good at pretending to be ok. I keep on working and tending to my family and I thank all that need to be thanked, but I feel so fucking sad and empty that sometimes I cannot take a breath.

So….yeah. This sucks monkey balls. It really does.

Love,

Holly

 

Broken

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve started this post. Maybe I shouldn’t write it if I can’t get my thoughts together, but maybe it will help? I don’t know.

My brother, my big brother, my first friend….Phil….died on July 23. To say that I’m heartbroken or to say that my family is devastated does not seem to really say what we’re feeling. I don’t want to speak for them, but any parent who loses a child, whether 2 months old, 14 years or 49…it’s unspeakable, unfathomable. And my brother-in-law lost his partner of nearly a quarter of a century. My brother was the younger of the pair. How does this man, who was with my brother not only throughout the years but through the past few weeks of pain and uncertainty and thankfully with my brother as he took his last breath…how does this man go on without having Phil there to make him laugh every single day?

How do the rest of us?

If you know me well or if you’ve known me for a long time, you know I looked up (literally and figuratively) to my brother. He was a giant in my life, and being 6’6″, a giant in most people’s lives. He was always naughty, like in a Groucho Marx kind of way. He was incredibly kind, especially to his family and friends. He loved us with everything he had and it showed. I don’t think I realized how good he really was until I saw him with my son.  Watching my brother read to my son or play action figures with him or chase my boy with a squirt gun not only made me happy, but it allowed me to watch another person become completely enamored of my big brother and with good reason.

Phil made us all laugh until we cried. He could find humor in nearly every situation, no matter how dark.  He listened. He was never afraid to be himself and encouraged that in others. Hence the photo.

Phil&Brihats

He loved to cook. He loved to try funky foods because he knew he would never travel again and that was how he could “vacation” or experience life to the fullest. His music tastes ranged from Weird Al to Adele to show tunes. His taste in books were as varied as his taste in music. He loved Stephen King and other horror writers, but he enjoyed Liane Moriarty, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and MAD Magazine.

But he was also a writer. A really good one. I have some stories and poems he wrote years ago, including a story he wrote me for one of my birthdays, that portrays himself as a monkey. Which is perfectly fitting because he had a thing for monkeys. He was finally published a few years ago by Forbidden Fiction with some of his gay erotica stories. And before you start judging, you should read some of it. He always said that his erotica (and most others) were really romance but with a bit of nastiness thrown in. Love, not sex, is the true focus of erotica.

Phil was an amazing human being. And I miss him. But even saying that doesn’t sound right. It’s so much more than missing someone. I’ve had this constant ache in my belly since he died. I’m so tired and I feel heavy and even when I think I’m ok, something will trigger a memory and I’m caught off guard and I’ll let out this quick little sob. I try to hold it back, but what’s the point, really?

My brother is in every room of my house. He was here nearly every week for the past decade, either to visit with us or babysit my boy after school or here for family gatherings. He has a pair of slippers here that I bought just for him after my husband and I bought this house. (His size 16 feet were not easy to buy shoes for.)  There’s a box of Splenda in my cupboard for when he came over for a cup of tea. He has his own profile on my Netflix account. He’s everywhere.

And yesterday, we even scattered some of his ashes around the outside of my home. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, but my boy did. He knew right where Uncle should be. And once we scattered a few of Phil’s ashes, my boy said, “I’m never going to wash my hands again.” We squashed that idea immediately, but I knew exactly what he meant. I didn’t want to wash my hands again, either. In fact, I kept rubbing them together, trying to embed some of my brother into my skin. Later in the day, when I started to wash dishes, I realized what I was doing and pulled my hands from the water like I had been burned. I was so mad at myself. I forgot. I fucking forgot. Rationally I knew I had to wash my hands at some point but did it have to be then? Couldn’t I have tried to hold on longer?

But here’s where everything gets *really* difficult.

Life goes on.

How the hell does that happen? Actually, I’m not even asking how right now, but why? Why does it have to? There’s a big chunk of me missing. That person I used to watch the Oscars with, the relative my boy would look forward to seeing each week, that guy I’d talk books and writing with….fuck.

Easter, all of our birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Phil was here for all of those things.

And now he’s not….and I’m just…..

 

Getting My Shit Together

A few months ago, I read this fantastic book:

getyourshitHave you read it? Or anything by Sarah Knight? I love her. Yes, she swears a lot (hence my attraction to her work) but she also gives great advice. And although I loved her last book more (The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck), this book came at the right time. A time when I was feeling out of control and needed to get a grip. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, though. Maybe I need to read it again?

Last week at the library, we had a fantastic speaker by the name of Janie Downey Maxwell. She has a blog called Organizational Habits where she discusses what one can do to become more organized. Her talk was called “Organizational Zen” and she not only talked about tools to become more organized (planner vs. calendar) but also how one can find a bit of peace while becoming organized.

I’ve been anxious to hear what Janie had to say. I’ve never felt more out of control than I have this past month. Last week I had an appointment with a surgeon (Dr. Huang) to talk about my pancreas. I didn’t fully understand why I was seeing him before my new gastroenterologist. Huang wants to do a CT scan of my pancreas so he can see it when it’s not screaming at me. Totally smart and completely understandable. I may have a cyst or a pseudocyst or possibly something else sitting on the tail of my pancreas. He very subtly mentioned the rare case of pancreatic cancer, but said there’s no reason to worry right now because they don’t know anything yet and I seem fine at the moment.

Huh.

Ok. I wasn’t too horrified…until I left his office. I went to take one of his business cards and realized that not only this doctor, but everyone in this office were surgical oncologists.  Well….fuck. I’m just glad I didn’t know that BEFORE my appointment.

So…between my health issues and attempting to “fix” Mom’s finances, all of my goals for this year have gone right down the tubes. Our spending moratorium hasn’t gone well since the end of April. We’ve helped my mom out a bit, then had an unexpected car repair and dentist appointment, so out came the credit card from my little hiding place. My goal of running a half marathon again this year is going to go on the back burner. This body just isn’t having it.

After listening to Janie, I decided to finally put forward something I should have done months ago. I often feel overwhelmed by my range of responsibilities, don’t you? I was afraid to write everything down because if I saw it all in black and white then this feeling of drowning would overcome me and a breakdown would be inevitable.

Yet…I’m doing all of it anyway, so why not have a slightly better handle on this crazy thing called life?

Meet my new pencil and planner:

planner

It is time to yank up my big girl panties and stop freaking out and just do it for fuck’s sake. Write it all down.  Every appointment I take my mother to, every appointment I take my son to, and yes, even every appointment I need to take myself to–write it down. The dates to pay my mother’s bills, the dates to pay my bills, the dates to clean my mother’s house–write them down. When to run, when to walk, when to breathe—write it all the fuck down.

But I want to write down the fun stuff, too. The hikes in Acadia National Park I plan to do with my son, the ice cream we plan to eat, the anniversary dinner with my husband, the mini vacation in Bar Harbor, the beach day with friends, my friend’s wedding in New Hampshire. I have to write all of that down, too, because honestly? All that other stuff–the doctor visits, the cleaning, the bill paying–that is what life is really made of.  That’s the shit we *have* to do, but doing the fun stuff is how we are able to carry on and do everything else in life that’s difficult and messy and just plain awful. And I have to be able to see those fun things in my planner. I have to know that all of this hard stuff is not *just* what life is. It has to be more than that, right?

It has to.

 

 

 

The Good, The Bad and the Exhausted

It’s been a rough few months for my family. My mother’s health and mind are declining faster than I’m able to cope with. My father’s memory is fading, too. My brother was in the hospital for a month and I ended up in the hospital for four days for pancreatitis. We were all feeling helpless and at times, hopeless.

But within those two months of ickiness, there was Mother’s Day, my dad’s birthday, and my birthday. My son finished fourth grade, his baseball season ended (hopefully his last season ever) and he grew another half inch.  I lost 5 pounds (although I don’t recommend pancreatitis as a way to lose weight). My husband, son and I all read a bunch of great books during this time, had several amazing sushi dinners at our favorite restaurantsocks, Ichiban, and we finally saw the movie, Wonder Woman.

When the shit started to hit the fan in May, I was finally running more after this long winter. I was up to 8 mile runs on Sundays. It was a great stress reliever, but it was also nice to have mileage goals in mind again. I had hoped to be at 12 miles by now, but my body had other plans for me. So this morning, after my first full cup of coffee in a month, I put on my favorite socks and went for my first run in three weeks.

I’m not gonna lie. It was really difficult. The first half wasn’t bad, but I started to lose energy just after mile one. Had to take walking breaks on the way back and finished the 5K with nothing left in me. Just thinking about the power of my sock capes flying behind me was the only thing that pushed me through that last quarter mile. The heat and humidity were a factor, too, I’m sure.  I nearly passed out twice after I got home (saw spots, light headed) and my energy didn’t really return until the evening.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at treating myself well. But I really need to. I need to learn to be good to myself. I need to learn to let things go, to not stress over situations that I cannot control right now, or possibly ever. I need to listen to my body. I need to admit that it’s ok I don’t run as much as I want to and it’s ok I can’t eat whatever I want right now. It’s sucky, but it’s really ok.

Now that summer has finally arrived here in Maine, I’m trying to have a more positive outlook on at least the next few months. If I can’t run as much, I’m hoping to take more walks in the sunshine and try a little more weight lifting. If I can’t eat ice cream every day (which is a crime), I’ll try to find yummy but healthier options. I’ll try to spend more time with all of my family, bring out photos to remind all of us of good times in the past and continue to plan good times for our future.

I will try to live in the moment. I will try to not wish away the weeks, wanting the painful bits to hurry up then go away. I know the pain will pass and I can get to the other side eventually. I just need to live through it, learn through it and move on. As my dad always says, “You can’t live more than one day at a time, right?”

Right.

So here’s to you and me, living in the moment during this summer of hope. Let the good times roll!