Here I Come A-Wallowing

I was feeling really happy this week. Really hopeful. I had many good conversations with library patrons, friends and family over the past few days. I reached my goal weight on Thursday. Someone asked about my mom’s house and is interested in buying it. I applied for a new job at my library and felt good about it. And I’ve been looking forward to a few holiday activities I planned with my family–our annual gathering with my extended family, an upcoming viewing of Elf the Musical with my boy, and ushering for Santaland Diaries with my dear friend, Tiffany.  So many cool things coming up. Life was good.

And then Friday evening happened. Once I got home from work, I made clam dip for my family’s get-together the next day. I went to the bedroom to get comfy and my husband came in and closed the door. He said to me, “Remember what it says in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” He then handed me a towel. “You always need a towel…and don’t panic.” Then he told me he got laid off from his job that afternoon. A permanent layoff. I stood there for a minute until he made me sit down before I fell down.

You need to understand something. We’ve been through this…many times. When we were first married, my husband found it difficult to find work and then he was laid off quite a few times in the first 12 years of our marriage. But we’ve been lucky for the past 8 years and felt somewhat job secure. But the last time my husband was laid off, he didn’t find work for 18 months. That’s a year and a half, people. I nearly divorced him by the end. He was withdrawn and depressed and I couldn’t take it anymore.  The only reason we didn’t lose our house was because my mom helped us. But there is no one to help us anymore. We are it.

After I sat on the bed, my husband sat beside me and we stayed in the bedroom for a few minutes, trying to wrap our heads around the mess, hashing things out. Husband told me about another guy laid off the same day who had a little baby at home. There were a few layoffs the week before and a few more to go next week apparently.  It’s crappy no matter how you look at it.

Then we came out of the bedroom to tell our son. I kept my shit together until then. But once we told him, he wanted a hug and then we all cried. I explained that there would still be a few Christmas presents because I had already purchased some and he immediately said he didn’t care about that.  I told him that his allowance he received that day would have to be the last one until Papa got a job, but his chores would need to continue. And that we’d need to cancel a few subscription services immediately.  He was ok with all of that, but was worried about food and our home. So was I, but tried not to show it.

The next day, I went to Mom’s to visit her for a bit, but I never mentioned the layoff. I knew Mom would probably forget it anyway, but there’s no reason to worry her even for a moment. When I returned home, the three of us went to our family gathering. (I just couldn’t take Mom to this one. It’s very difficult to get inside my dad’s house and I think the amount of people would have been too much.) Some people already knew about the layoff, and we told the others that didn’t. We tried to just enjoy ourselves and perhaps eat our feelings for the afternoon. Which we did.

Then last night, as we got ready for bed, I asked the boy if he’d like to have his new light on, a Christmas gift he just received from his cousins.

darthlightHe said yes but then, “Well, how  much energy does this use?” He asked about other lights in the house, too, and what could we shut off while we were home.  You know, I’ve been trying to get the kid to turn off lights for a few years now, but I really didn’t want him to finally learn this way!

He was definitely concerned with how much everything costs. Everything. Apparently I wasn’t hiding my panic about the bills very well. (I was calculating all of our expenses in my head over and over until I finally just threw my hands up. If only I had a money tree!) Both my husband and I are trying to reassure our son that we’ll be ok, but we’re also not lying about what could happen if Papa doesn’t find a job soon.

There is no doubt that my husband is grieving over this job. He really thought he would be there until he retired in another 15 or 16 years. He liked his work and the people he worked with. This is a real blow to him, to his confidence. He’s really trying to be positive and already has a few places he plans on applying to, but I also know how sad he is.

Today, he spent much of the daylight hours cleaning out his work van (essentially his office), washing his uniforms to give back to the company, working on his resume, packing away his phone and laptop to give back. All of the stuff you have to do when you have to leave a job. So at this point of the day, after watching my husband and helping him when I could, I think I am at the anger stage of our grief. I am royally pissed off.

Really, Universe? Really? *shaking my fist*

This was the first year in quite some time when I could purchase little gifts for my family members and send holiday cards out without feeling like we’re hemorrhaging money. We even adopted a local family through Christmas Is For Kids. I’m so grateful I had already purchased their gifts because I knew I couldn’t say, “Sorry unnamed family! There is no magic of Christmas. Just disappointments and despair!” And although I haven’t purchased stamps for my cards yet, I’m still going to. I won’t send as many as I used to and I still can’t write a holiday letter yet because the world isn’t as bright without my brother, but I will send a few cards. It gives me little heps of happiness. (Thanks for the term “hep”, Paula Poundstone!) As do the lights on my tree and my beautiful Christmas unicorn, Fred. (Tacky? I don’t give a shit.)

fredunicornSo this holiday season, I will first attend a pity party I’m having. It will feature me, lots of cookies and a glass or two of wine. Then I’m going to pull up these damn big girl panties, give the finger to the universe, and attempt to spread a pile of kindness and good karma out into the world once again.

But first, another cookie, a good rest and hopefully some kick-ass dreams.

Happy holidays, my friends. ❤

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Looking for No Regrets

I wish I was that person that had no regrets. They exist, don’t they? I have regretted things that I have said and chances I did not take both personally and professionally. But if there’s anything this past few years has taught me, it’s to try and have fewer and fewer regrets in life. I am striving to have more integrity, to do what I say, to do what I think is right. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a goal.

Most of my weekends are filled with familial obligations. I visit my mom each Saturday, hang out with my dad for half a day on Sundays every few weeks, take my boy to various sports activities, attempt to clean my house, and cram in a few precious hours of family time with my husband and my son. I used to get pretty stressed about all of this. It’s not a lot of down time, and I am a person that needs that time away from people, even my own family, just to decompress and unplug from the world. But a few months ago, I had a brief conversation with a colleague about our weekends, and she told me that she understood the stress I was feeling, but since she lost both of her parents she’d rather have those stressful times with them than not have them at all. And just this week, my dear friend lost her mom after a few stressful years of rehab and nursing homes…and her heart is broken.

I don’t want to have any regrets when it comes to my parents’ final years. I’ve been to hell and back with my mom this past year and have felt every emotion there is about her and her situation, but right now I know she’s safe and ok and I’ve mostly stopped beating myself over the fact that she has to be in a home. When I went to visit her today, she was so sweet, not just with me, but her fellow residents. There’s one woman I know Mom doesn’t like, but Mom was so kind to her today. It’s something I haven’t seen in a long time. Later, we went to Mom’s room to chat, eat cookies and drink coffee (three of Mom’s favorite things to do) and after we sat on her bed, Mom dug out her brush and started to brush my hair. I’m not sure why, but she had the urge to do so and I let her. It was really quite lovely. I’m not sure Mom has done that since I was a kid. My sister brushed my hair or helped me with my hair more times than Mom did, so this was a bit of a treat for us both.

Then I thought of my dear friend and her mom. So I closed my eyes and just tried to live in the moment.

And I did.

So no regrets today. I hope you had a “No Regrets” day today, too. ❤

no1

16 Months

This is my favorite time of year. My tree is already up, the interior of my house is decorated with a mixture of fall leaves and turkeys and snowmen, and tomorrow I’ll put a few lights up outside. I listened to Christmas carols this evening and have already started watching holiday films. Typically, this is how I am from November 1st through January 1st. I love all of this stuff. But this year, I may be forcing it just a bit. I’m trying like hell to get into the spirit of the season.

This is Holiday Season number two without my brother. On Black Friday it will be 16 months since Phil died.  As I decorated my home last week, I didn’t cry as much as I did last year. This year I laughed as I put up the X-rated Christmas ornament he gave me years ago (two reindeer getting down and dirty) and just sighed as I put his picture on the front of the tree. But today as I shopped a bit for the holiday, I kept finding things I would buy my brother. I would pick something up then just shake my head and put it down again. But I held it together and all was ok.

Then I went to the grocery store. I was feeling good,  humming the new Panic! At the Disco song (High Hopes–a very fun, jump up and down song). I had my cart nearly full with food for Thanksgiving dinner, when I passed by the snack aisle. I wish I knew what I saw or heard or thought, but the realization that my brother was no longer on this planet immediately overwhelmed me. I lost my breath, hunched over my cart, and pulled to the side of the canned vegetable aisle.  I refused to sob in the middle of the store, so I left my cart for a moment and started to wander down the aisle, taking in deep breaths.

And then I saw it.

FREE WINE TASTING.

I am not a person who believes in signs or religion or the afterlife. BUT, if any of that shit is real, then I was confident my brother sent me a sign to go and drink whatever free wine I could. “Drink up, you lush,” I can imagine him saying. Especially when I saw the label:

freakshow

That’s right, people. Freakshow wine! If you knew my brother, you knew how much he loved a good freak show. Weird? Yes. But that was Phil. He was so fucking weird and funny and loveable. And I still wish like hell he was here.

The wine was not fabulous, although the one with elephants on it was pretty good, but I didn’t buy any. It was enough to get a little buzz (especially since I had an empty stomach). I finished the rest of my shopping feeling a bit more relaxed and no tears were shed. I thought about Phil off and on for the rest of the day–as I visited with Mom at the home where she has photos of all of our family around her room, and when I went to the Feztival of Trees where I saw someone dressed as Super Grover. (He was one of Phil’s favorite Sesame Street characters.)

supergrover

I’ve come to realize that everything I do for the rest of my life will always have this little twinge of sadness in it. And sometimes I’ll be able to handle it just fine. Like today. And other times I know the grief will be too much and I’ll need to shut down for a bit, even for just a minute. Also like today. Time does NOT heal all wounds, but maybe time will allow me to know when to put a bandage on that bleeding festering gash in my heart and keep going, and when to let the blood (and tears) run dry.

Let your freak flag fly high, my friends. Cheers to you. ❤

 

Missing Pieces

This week I joined Weight Watchers. I have 10 pounds of sadness, sweet creamy coffee and gluten-free baked goods to get rid of. My occasional running and eating everything I want when the mood hits me is certainly not working. Do I need a therapist more than the WW app? Probably. But trying to lose the weight gives me a sense of control that I may or may not really have. For now I’ll take the illusion.

I happened to start my weight loss program on the same day I got a message from the facility where my mom currently lives. For reasons unknown, Mom has started to pull her hair out…by the fistfuls (trichotillomania). And when I went to visit Mom yesterday, I realized they were not exaggerating. Much of her hair on the left side of her head is gone.

Mom’s hair has been thinning over the past few years due to medication, so honestly, it didn’t look as bad as I had feared. I was so worried, though, that I brought both my son and husband with me to visit. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I’m really good at faking happiness and cheer, but sometimes I need back-up, you know? It turned out to be a great visit. We all laughed, they ate donuts and drank coffee, and I just kept my smile on. I didn’t even cry when we got back to the car, or even that night. I was ok.

But then when I told my sister about Mom, she said one little thing that just broke me. She said how sad it was that Mom had to end up this way. And she’s right. It IS fucking sad and horribly depressing to see a bright, energetic woman end up with half of her hair, scratches on her face from her own making, and only a handful of memories left.  I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking about Mom and when I finally did sleep, I was restless and I kept hearing things that really weren’t there.

Today I hung out with my dad so my stepmom could go to church. Dad is on oxygen 24/7 now and can get confused easily, so he needs to have someone with him all the time.  I always have a good time with my dad, and he hasn’t lost so much memory yet that we can’t have a decent conversation. He typically asks how my mom is doing, but today I told him before he could even ask. I started to cry when I told him about her hair. He cried, too, and we both agreed that Alzheimer’s was a horrible fucking disease. Later, when my stepmom arrived, she asked about Mom and I cried again.  Maybe I’m really not ok.

puzzle

What I finally realized is that the missing hair is like a physical manifestation of Mom’s absent mind. Each week when I visit her, something else is missing–another memory or something is no longer understood. Last week it was my brother’s height. He was always the tallest in the family but Mom kept asking if I was the tallest. I guess I am now, but I won’t admit to that. I kept saying, “No, Phil was the tallest.” And this week she had stories to tell me about who colored pictures in her book or on her wall, and she said both of her grandchildren colored them. I know they didn’t, but in her mind they’ve been there to visit and that made her happy. If Mom can remain in these happy places in her mind, maybe she won’t keep scratching her face or pulling her hair? I really don’t know.  But I have to have hope that this trichotillomania will come to an end, either through medication or good thoughts or a bit of both. I have to hope because there is nothing else.

I’m watching my mother disappear, and I have to wonder, which of us will disappear first? Will I no longer recognize the woman I’ve known to be my mom first, or will she no longer recognize me?

Adulting

My 11-year-old son has recently asked for cooking lessons from my husband and I. We’ve tried to get him to cook or bake for his entire childhood, but he’s had little interest until now. We’ve done pasta and scrambled eggs and even a basic frozen pizza so he can conquer his fear of the oven. We had a little lesson on laundry, too, or at least how to work the washer and dryer, but that will take some more time.

All of this got me thinking about the term “adulting.” I will tell you right now that I despise the word.  It’s just some cute, irritating word someone thought up that just means basic life skills that someone should have taught you years ago. (And yes, I realize it can mean more than that, like buying your first appliance, but since I have been a responsible adult since the age of 7, the word just bites my ass.)

adultingSo…if creating a budget or balancing your checkbook (am I the only one who still does that?) is “adulting,” then what have I been doing these past few years? If that crap is adulting, what is taking care of your son and working full-time and attempting to navigate the healthcare system for your dementia and diabetes-ridden mother and now taking turns with your family to be with your father who can no longer be left alone?  And what about trying to maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships, including one with yourself?

Is this “Middle-ageing”? Being a member of the Sandwich Generation Club? Or maybe just Life?

I had a little meltdown a few weeks ago, just feeling tremendously overwhelmed with these responsibilities that I did not and still do not feel prepared for. I might have even stomped my foot. But with tears in my eyes, both my husband and I just started to laugh. I mean, what else can you friggin’ do? I can cry you and every other human being on the planet a river, but laughing is something I don’t do enough of these days. My brother was the one who made me laugh the most.  I need and want him here more than ever. But I guess that’s one reason why I can cry you a river, right? Maybe I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed if he were here. Or maybe I’d just feel like ME again.

And that’s what I’m really trying to do. I’m trying to figure out who I am without my brother. I can’t be whole again, that I know for a fact. But I should be able to piece me together somewhat. There are facets of me that still exist–a runner (even though I’m currently sidelined with an injury), a librarian, a reader, a writer, a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter and a sister. I am a FBG (Former Big Girl) on the outside but a Forever Big Girl on the inside. I’m mostly kind and generous but fiercely protective of my family. I am often brutally honest but sometimes not honest enough, especially to myself.

Maybe adulting is just another term for growing up. Maturing. Finding your way in the world. And many of us, even at age 45, are still trying to figure that out.

 

 

It’s Just a Car

For a year now, my brother’s car has been sitting in the driveway of the home he shared with his partner of 24 years. Their house is 3 miles from mine. I used to think how weird it was that Phil’s car was sitting there, but Phil wouldn’t be sitting in his house. Why did we have the car but not him?

But now, the car is gone. It was time. I understand that. I know it was hard for my brother-in-law to keep the car as long as he did, and also how hard it was for him to have the car removed. Yet as odd as it was to have Phil’s car sitting there, reminding us all of what was missing, not seeing his car today broke me.

I knew the car wouldn’t be there, my brother-in-law told me. I drove to his house to drop off some veggies and to pick up a possible replacement hammock for our stand and I parked beside the empty spot where the car used to be. I couldn’t park in the same spot, that would be wrong. Larry and I chatted for a few minutes, then he put the rolled up hammock, my brother’s hammock, in the back seat of my car. As I drove home, I started to cry. I was sobbing by the time I reached my house, so I sat in my car in my driveway and let it all out. I think I missed my brother more in that moment than I have in over a year.

It’s silly, I know. It’s just a damn car. A car that didn’t even run anymore. But it was Phil’s car and he sat in it and drove it and drove me around and drove my son around. We laughed in that car and he forced me to listen to whatever music he liked at the time in that car. And although I didn’t want the car and am glad that it gave my brother-in-law some peace, it made me feel like I lost Phil all over again. And as I sobbed in my car, I just wanted to feel close to my brother again.

You hear people say that they would do just about anything to talk to their loved one again. I thought I understood what people meant.

But I really didn’t. Until now.

So through my sobs and sniffling, I talked to my brother out loud and told him that I missed him and that I loved him and how I wished he was still here. Then I scrounged through my glove box and found a napkin to blow my nose on (always classy, right Phil?).

When I was finally ready to go inside, I dragged the hammock from my back seat. I placed it on my porch, where it still is, waiting for a little clean up. I am hoping it will fit our stand so I can lay in it and read and enjoy a few good moments.

Just like my big brother once did.

hammock

525,600 minutes

For the past few weeks, the song “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway play Rent, has been going through my head. My brother introduced me to the soundtrack in the mid-1990s. I don’t know where he originally heard it, but he told me the basic story and I fell in love with the music. This song, in particular, gets me very emotional. It always has, but today even more so. “How do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.”

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death. It will be the end of our year of “firsts.” Our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him. Seeing the latest Star Wars and Marvel movies without him and wondering what he would have thought. Our first set of all the kids’ birthday parties without him.  Viewing the Oscars and crying so much my eyes nearly swelled shut. Watching Phil’s 50th birthday come and go and not know what to do.

It’s been a rough year. A really shitty one, in fact. I still don’t know how to navigate the world with the knowledge that my brother isn’t somewhere on this planet. I tried counseling briefly, but the person was really bad at grief counseling. She was good at helping me with stress, but I need to find someone who just deals with grief if I’m ever going to go back to counseling. And to be completely honest? I’m afraid to do that. In my crazy-ass mind, I think if I go to grief counseling and they help me function better, it means that my brother is really gone. That’s why I still have some of my brother’s ashes in a pill bottle because I can’t bring myself to scatter them or even to put them in something more permanent. Because then he’s really gone.

Can that really be?

Can he really be gone forever? But forever is so damned long. Am I really supposed to go through the rest of my life without Phil around? Without his teasing or his funny stories or his love?

“How do you measure the life of a woman or a man? In truths that she learned or in times that he cried, in bridges he burned or the way that she died?”

Each and every person in our family will tell you that they have changed since last July 23rd.  How can we not? When a person you love makes your life better, when they’re gone it can only make it emptier. Since I last saw my brother, there is a dead spot inside of me.  There’s this emptiness, this pit I can physically feel deep inside of my chest. Not enough food, alcohol or drugs could possibly fill this hole. It cannot be filled. I know that now.  So what to do?
I guess we just keep talking about Phil, don’t we? We keep telling stories about him, share his writing, show photos of him and laugh about the funny things he would say. Some folks probably didn’t think that Phil had a censor in his brain since he typically said whatever the hell he wanted. In fact, he knew EXACTLY what he was saying and looked forward to the reaction. He was an asshole that way, and I absolutely loved it. But he was also a super sweet man who loved fiercely.  After the birth of each of his nieces and nephews, he was at the hospital to be one of the first to hold them. He helped bury my son’s kitty cat and held my boy as he grieved.  And Phil was always there to listen whenever I needed him to. He was the best brother I could have ever had.

 

And I miss him. I miss him terribly. That is one thing that will never change.

“It’s time now to sing out tho’ the story never ends…..Remember the love, measure in love. Measure, measure your life in love. Seasons of love