The Oscars

My brother and I started watching the Oscars together when I was in junior high. The first one I remember watching was when Out of Africa destroyed The Color Purple with their wins. Phil and I were shocked and really disgusted.  We were both like, “Wait…what just happened?”  A boring white film just defeated an amazing black film? Yup. That’s what happened. We both love Meryl Streep, but come on. Whoopi should have that and we all know it.

And that’s how some of our conversations would go. (Or we would talk about some of the outfits. Remember Bjork and her swan dress? We had our mouths open for that one then just kept repeating, “What the fuck?”) But mostly the Oscars was a way for Phil and I to eat yummy food, make fun of and drool over many of the Hollywood folks, and just talk.

Originally we tried to have Oscar parties. We would invite a few friends, usually his friends, and our partners. But that died off pretty quickly and it became just my brother and myself. And I loved it. I looked forward to this every single year. There were a few years, of course, when I lived in other states or Phil lived in southern Maine, and we didn’t even attempt to get together. But for the past 15 years, it’s been a pretty consistent event for us.  One year, Phil drove home from my place, only 3 miles away, and the snowstorm was so bad it took him 30 minutes to get home. A few years back neither one of us could get ABC on our tv, so we called each other and watched some of the Live Backstage stuff so we could find out who won and see what they were wearing.

Last year, we watched the Oscars from Phil’s hospital room. We got permission from the nurses to let me stay late and since Phil had his own room, they closed the door so we could be as loud as we wanted to be. I mentioned it in one of my blogs last year, how it was one thing that made me so happy last spring. We may have watched the Oscars from the hospital, but he made me laugh hysterically, as usual.

My brother was the one who typically watched every movie (or close to it) that was nominated. He’d keep me up on what was happening. We would have our ballots ready and whoever had the most right at the end of the night had bragging rights. It didn’t really mean anything, just something fun to do.

But this year?  How can they even show the Oscars when Phil can’t be here to watch it?

I didn’t realize how much I had been dreading the Oscars. I’ve been thinking about the food Phil and I usually made for it–homemade pizza or guacamole or veggie chili–and would I bother? And then Phil’s partner came over yesterday with a jar of homemade salsa that my brother had made. The grief hit me so hard that I dropped to my knees. Sobs wracked my body for about two minutes, then I was able to get up and move again.

And that’s when I decided that I would, in fact, still watch the Oscars, ballot in hand, while eating salsa that my brother made with his two large and lovely hands. I have no doubt that I will cry throughout much of the broadcast, just like I’m crying as I type this. I will think about the funny comments he’d probably be saying about the dresses and the people. And when the Academy shows the montage of all the people that have died last year, I will think of my brother and how his picture should be there, too.

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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?

 

Suddenly

I know. You want to sing it, don’t you? It’s ok. You can.

This morning started out as a typical Sunday morning. I slept a little late, watched a bit of tv with my boy, baked breakfast cookies for the week and started laundry. After a while, I decided I didn’t want to go out and walk on this dreary day, so I started to move furniture in the living room so I could work out there. I had to move my body but nothing too strenuous. As I was moving the hassock, my  husband asked me a question. I started to answer, then stopped. I tried to take a breath then apologized to my husband and started to sob.  He ran over to me and hugged me and just let me cry.

I had this sudden feeling of powerlessness and loss and sorrow. My mom is about to go through a pretty intense operation on Tuesday to help her circulation in her left leg. It’s a tough thing for anyone to go through, but a 71-year-old woman with a frail body and mind? It’s even tougher. I’m scared for her. I’m scared for us. I think she’ll make it through the surgery, but her mind might not. Will she know my sister and I when she wakes up? Will she know her son is gone? I don’t know.

I was missing my brother this morning, too. In the fall and winter, nearly every other Sunday my brother stopped by my house to have tea while I baked something. He would tease my son or chat with him while I washed dishes. I’d lean on one side of the counter while he sat on the other and we’d munch on goodies and talk about our week. Eventually we’d head into the living room and continue our conversation. It was a part of my week I always looked forward to.

I miss him so fucking much.

I wish he’d be at the hospital with us while we wait for Mom’s surgery to be over. He’d make us laugh and just be there. His presence just made me feel better. He’s part of my home.

After crying in my husband’s arms for a few minutes, I walked about the house and realized I just needed to be outside. So I slipped my headphones on, told my family I was going for a run and left. This is only the third run I’ve been on in the past month, but it felt ok. It was really difficult and I trudged more than I ran, but I refused to walk. I needed to sweat out some of this anxiety and sadness and just plant one foot in front of the other. So I did. And it was ok. I felt better than I had when I left my house. So that’s something.

On a side note, if you read my last post, you know I’m trying to get a counselor/therapist/someone to talk to. It hasn’t happened yet. I did make a few calls, finally got an appointment, but then cancelled it. Our electricity (like many in Maine) had been out for a few days last week and I couldn’t deal with doing one more thing. And no, I didn’t reschedule yet. I need to get Mom through her surgery and then we need to take life day by day after that. Am I making excuses? Probably. But the thought of adding one more thing to my life at this moment makes me want to pull my hair out. And I like my hair. So this will have to wait. For now.

If you’re feeling particularly generous or positive or hopeful on Tuesday morning, try to send a little of that my mom’s way, ok? I know she’s a tough ol’ bird, but a little extra optimism wouldn’t hurt.

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.

 

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