The Big Scary World

briaroceanI’ve always loved this photo of my son. He wasn’t quite 4 years old when it was taken. It always scares me a bit to look at it, thinking of my boy going out in the big wide world, having to face some challenges alone but also having to handle problems I never even imagined.

This past year my boy has had to deal with more than his fair share of sadness, despair and hard times. It’s one thing to think that I will never be the same after my brother’s death, but I’m 44 years old. To realize that my 10-year-old will never be the same is an entirely different story. He certainly has sad days but he also has more anger than ever before. Just this week, the topic came up about saying goodbye to someone before they died and my son started to cry and spit out, “Just like I never got to SEE someone and say goodbye!” I started to sob right along with him but held him tight against me. I told him how sorry I was, but I also told him that his uncle would never, ever forgive me if I had let my son see his uncle in the hospital hooked up to all of those machines. Phil didn’t want any of us to see him that way.

As a parent, I often wonder what my child can handle and what he can’t. I want to believe him when he says certain things don’t bother him or that he really can do this or that. He told me that sometimes when my mother lived with us, it was ok.  And sometimes it was, but the relief that kid showed when his grandmother moved out was unmistakable. And I don’t have any doubt that seeing my brother the way he was on that last day would have been horribly traumatic for my son, because it certainly was for me.

For whatever reason, I thought a lot about that day today.  I couldn’t tell you what triggered the memory, but there it was. I was actually in the dentist’s chair when it trickled through my mind and I had to hold back a sob while keeping my mouth open so the hygienist could clean my teeth. Really not the best place to have a mini breakdown.

Will my son always wonder and possibly regret not having those last few moments with his uncle? I tried to remind him this week of his last conversation with Phil. It was the same day I had my last back and forth conversation with him. He was in the hospital and my son was in Florida visiting his grandparents. I brought my laptop into the hospital and my brother and son talked via Skype. They chatted about the weather and my son showed his uncle some YouTube video about a video game and they joked around for a bit and they told each other that they loved each other. They said what mattered.

I know I don’t have this parenting thing pinned down yet because I’m still making mistakes every damn day and I’m not sure I’ll ever know what good or harm I’ve done to this poor kid. I’m just trying to listen to him and love him and do what I think is best for him. I think I’m doing and saying what matters.

That’s all I can really do, isn’t it?



Walking the tightrope

After 2017, it’s difficult for me to think about what the next year will bring. It will be the first year I’ll begin without my brother. There are still so many “firsts” our family has to live through without him: the Oscars (last year I watched it with him in the hospital), his niece and nephews’ birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, our shared birthday party (his birthday was 6 days after mine). Thanksgiving was sad and weird. Christmas was fucking horrible. The family Christmas get-together was nearly as bad. We’re all faking it until we make it, but not one of us is doing a very good job. We’re lost and haven’t figured out where to go.

When I started to think about resolutions for the coming year, I thought maybe I could try to climb out of this darkness. Maybe this journey could be something I work towards. But what I’ve come to realize is that this pain and darkness I feel? It is now a part of who I am. It won’t always feel so intense, but losing someone you’re close to can only change you.

I know I’m still going through the grief process and I’m certainly at the angry stage now (and have been for a while) but my grief feels double or maybe even triple-fold. Having Mom live with us has been unbelievably stressful in many ways. I grieve for what our lives were before she came here. I’m angry about certain situations that we’ve had to endure. That probably sounds really shitty and selfish, and maybe it is, but I realized that I was spending more time taking care of and spending time with my mother than with my son. And that, my friends, is not ok.  I have apologized to my boy and promised things will change. And I’m working on that now. But that promise will bring more grief for my mother and for me and for what her life used to be.

So what will 2018 bring? I just don’t know. I don’t have a whole lot of hope for much right now. I do *wish* for peace for our entire world, for my friends and family, and for me. But right now the only peace I am able to find is either in a candy bar or a glass of wine or in a pipe. And that isn’t really peace or contentment or anything real. Yet it’s how I have to survive at the moment. Maybe in another month or so I’ll be able to find some balance so I can throw all of these crutches away.


Balance. Balance is what I long for. Sanity would be good, too, but I won’t push it.

Good luck to you all, my friends, in the new year and may your dreams, not nightmares, come true.

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.






So Many Words

They say actions speak louder than words. I suppose that’s true in most situations, but what if words are all you have? What if what you say and how you say it is the only action you can take?

We’ve had lots of discussions in our household lately about words and phrases you’re allowed to use at home but not at school or at work or even around friends. My son got in trouble at school for using words like “freakin'” and “bullcrap” because they were too much like actual swear words. We had a chat about it and I reassured him that he was not in trouble at home but would need to use other words at school. The very next day he used “freakin'” again and although he apologized and is trying to change, he was sent to the principal’s office and I got a phone call.

You may be thinking, “Well, of course he got in trouble. Kids should not be using those types of words!” And you’re right, sort of. I don’t think kids should use those words in school, just like I can’t swear at work (except in the back room where my boss lets me spout off at whatever is ailing me). There is an appropriate time for certain types of language. I try not to use the phrase, “Oh my god!” around some of my friends. I think it offends them and I have no desire to do that. I feel like being sensitive to what others may feel when you use particular words is a part of growing and evolving. I’m still trying to teach my 9-year-old some of that sensitivity but I think he’ll  learn it. It can take time and many mistakes, but it’s doable.

At home, though, I think you should say what you feel. When I get angry or frustrated, I will use words that can make your ears burst into flames. Sometimes I’m muttering and other times I’m yelling. But as a person who ate all of her anger since the age of 7, I like to get all of my anger out before it becomes rage and consumes me. I can run out my frustration at times, but words are typically what purges my body of all the anger or hatred I may have. (And after being bulimic for a time, let me tell you that this type of purging is much more satisfying and so, so much better for me!)

After receiving the second phone call about my boy’s language and feeling scolded for allowing him to use certain words at home, I thought it was time to use my own words to express how I felt. I couldn’t do it over the phone because I knew I’d get upset and say things I shouldn’t. So I sent an email to both the teacher and principal, thanking them for alerting me of my son’s use of language. But I also explained that he is allowed to use those words at home because I don’t want him to eat his anger or punch the wall in frustration or hit someone because they ticked him off. I don’t want him to say nothing and push his feelings deep down until a little nuisance becomes fury. Using words is what we’re taught to do, right? In school, we’re taught to express how we feel by what we say, *not* what we do. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He knows he shouldn’t use those words at school and he’s trying not to, but it will take time. (I suggested to my son that he use the word “fishcakes” like my 85-year-old colleague from the Blue Hill Library used to use. She used “fuck” when no one else was around. My boy has decided to try the word “flipping” instead, because a girl in his class uses it and she doesn’t get in trouble. I think this might end up being an experiment in gender studies.)

In my email, I also explained that in our home, we really do love words. We compliment each other if we use a good word or phrase. For instance, instead of saying, “That’s not what I was talking about,” my boy says, “No, Mom, that’s not what I was referring to.” AWESOME! Or we talk about words that we enjoy saying because of how it feels in our mouths, like “Mozambique” or “planetarium” or “hullabaloo.” Maybe instead of using boring words like “freakin'”, I can teach my boy to use Shakespearean phrases like, “Thou art like a toad!” or maybe “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage!” Well, he might not be able to remember that one.  We’ve been trying out other words like “wretched” or “crikey” or “dang nab it.” Something funny or clever that won’t get him into trouble.


As we continue to discuss the power of words, do you ever find yourself having difficulty in saying certain words that should be simple to say like “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or even just “No”?  I know I do. Currently I have a tough time saying “My mother has Alzheimer’s Disease.”  I can say she has dementia just fine, but something about the word “Alzheimer’s” makes me stutter. The word gets caught in my throat. I think it brings so many depressing images to mind that it’s hard to spit it out. Or it feels like admitting defeat.

However, saying “I love you” to those that I do love or “Thank you” to those that have helped me or been a good friend to me, brings me joy and makes me feel all warm and squishy inside….

…as does saying “fluffernutter.” Seriously. It’s a great word, isn’t it? It uses your tongue and teeth and lips and it’s delicious! Oh and “delicious!” I love that word, too.

What about you? What words bring you joy or make your blood boil?

Let’s have an orgy of words!