It’s been 5 years since I wrote my family’s annual holiday letter. Since my brother, Phil, died on July 23, 2017, I’ve had no desire to write a happy holiday letter, or any holiday letter at all. My favorite time of year became the time of year I dreaded.
I no longer dread Christmastime, but I also don’t look forward to it like I used to. I enjoy the music, the lights, the gift giving and receiving, the stories, and the movies (I’m an absolute sucker for holiday romance films). Yet all of those things blend with loss and longing for the people that are no longer here.
I’m currently in my kitchen typing this with cookies cooling on the counter and George Michael crooning a Christmas tune about heartbreak. This is my element, folks. Yet my stomach and chest are tight from all the withheld tears I just refuse to shed today.
Phil should be here right now. I should be slapping his hand as he tries to steal a cookie. We should be drinking tea at this very kitchen counter, gossiping about one of his friends or editing his latest erotica story. Instead, I keep looking beside me, just fucking wishing for him to appear.
I do understand why I’m feeling this grief so intensely this week. Besides it being Thanksgiving (which my brother came over to my house every Thanksgiving), I stumbled across a bunch of photos from the last Christmas we had with Phil. At first, I was just in awe and was enjoying seeing his face. Then I became across this photo:
This is my then 9-year-old son, leaning over to kiss my brother on the cheek. They were both enthralled with the new Yoda my son received, and honestly, they both just loved each other fiercely. When I saw this photo, I gasped because I forgot its existence. Then I sobbed. And sobbed. I rocked my body and just sat in that feeling of immense, overwhelming grief.
I took a long break from looking at any photos, then I dove in once again last night. This time, I came across a few short videos of my son as a toddler and my brother’s voice or laughter is in them. There’s one video in particular that my entire family knows and we’ve all watched it probably countless times just to hear Phil’s voice and laughter. He’s reading to my toddler and it’s sweet and funny and wonderful. My now 15-year-old son came over to me as I started to go through the videos, and he asked to watch and listen to that one video a couple of times. “I haven’t heard his voice in years, Mom. But it’s like my chest lit up when I heard him!” This kiddo of mine then thanked me and asked for a hug. ❤ I’m a really lucky mom.
So….that letter? I really thought this was the year, but I guess it’s not. I’m realizing now that I may not be able to write it again. Each year I did a bit of a recap of what was happening in all of our lives, and although we’ve made some wonderful memories in the past 5 years, we’ve also suffered so much loss that it’s difficult to do an annual letter without talking about who or what we no longer have.
Maybe a January letter about what we hope to accomplish in the new year? Maybe.
Until then, enjoy these pics of my dear big brother. If you watch the video, I hope you can see why I miss him so much. (And you can see what an annoying mom I can be.) Phil brought us so much joy and I am certainly grateful we have at least this video to refer to so we can see and hear him whenever we want. Obviously, it’s not the same as having him here with us, but it’s something.
For the past few weeks, my work has taken over my life–something I’m always telling other librarians NOT to do. But in this case, I was fighting for the library I work in and for the community it serves. It was a battle worth fighting and it looks like things might be ok. In another month the town’s budget will be voted on, and we’ll see how things turn out. The community has spoken and have shown their support for the library, its services and its staff. It was an amazing thing to see the community come together and show their love for this institution and for the work we do.
After this long, exhilarating yet exhausting week, I was looking forward to a weekend at home, reading a few books and getting some cleaning done. Yesterday morning I decided it was time to change things up. We have a sectional couch in our living room, and half of it has had some issues for some time. It was time to get rid of it.
As I pulled the cushions from the couch, I listened to Anderson Cooper’s podcast, All There Is. (Thanks, Anne.) Cooper begins the first episode of the podcast with cleaning out his mother’s apartment after she has died. This included finding some of his father’s and brother’s things. His father died of a heart condition when Anderson was 10, and his brother died from suicide when Anderson was 21. Most of the episodes talk to other famous people who have faced tremendous loss in their lives.
I had my earbuds in, listening to Anderson’s voice break when he discussed his dad, sometimes cry when he talked about either of his parents or brother. While I listened, I found myself really getting into tearing apart this couch. I took a sledgehammer to part of the wooden frame, I cut the fabric in places and other times I tore at it with my bare hands. At one point I found myself crying on the floor, thinking about my brother sitting on this very couch with me. How we would sit side by side and watch a movie and drink coffee together or talk about our latest read. I thought about my mom’s last Thanksgiving and how my son sat between us on that couch as we watched a Christmas movie together.
I was angry that my brother wasn’t there with me, helping me tear that fucking couch apart. I was angry that my mom wasn’t truly my mom for so many years before she died and devastated again that she had to die in a god damned nursing home.
And then….I wasn’t angry. Just achingly lonely. Although I have my family and my friends, sometimes the people I want are no longer here and I just feel so lonely without their presence, without their conversation and laughter and love.
Yet, what could I do at the moment? I could pound the shit out of that couch. So, I did.
This morning, though, as I drove my son to school, he turned to me and said, “You know what I realized this weekend? Right after I left work, my first job, I realized that I couldn’t share that first with Uncle or Grammy.” I nodded my head and sighed, “Yeah,” then rubbed his arm. We sat in silence the rest of the ride and told each other that we loved one another as he left the car.
As a parent, I celebrate so many of these firsts my son experiences–his first steps, first word (“no” by the way), his first ice cream cone, his first plane ride–and now I celebrate and grieve each of his firsts, and I have since my brother died 5 years ago. I just never realized that my bright, beautiful boy did, too.
When my brother, Phil, died, I was not available to my son. I thought I was to a point, but when I think about it now, and the fact that I didn’t realize that my kid would be missing his family just as much as me, I realize that I fucked up.
Yet I know I couldn’t have done anything different. During those dark days, there was a time when I was ready to die myself. I didn’t know how to live in this existence without Phil being here, too. To help my son was pretty much impossible at that time. I know I did try to listen to him and spend time with him, but once my mom moved in a few months later, my kid couldn’t count on me.
I truly hope that I’ve done better by my son since then. The amount of grief he’s had to experience would be insurmountable for some adults. He’s had to see me go through this loss while going through it himself, and literally having to pick me up off the floor. (I fainted after my mother’s funeral while he and I were home alone.)
I’ll do my best to keep the memory of my family in the present. We’ll keep acknowledging all of those firsts and talk about how proud the family would be, or what hilarious jokes my brother would tell. And I’ll keep taking my child and myself to therapy so we can continue to heal or at least function.
After all, we only have so much furniture we can tear apart.
I’ve always enjoyed Mary Oliver’s poetry, and “Wild Geese” is one of her most popular ones for good reason. But it’s been a while since I read it, and earlier this week, I saw the first line of the poem, “You do not have to be good” in someone’s email signature. It stopped me from moving past the email, from doing much of anything really, except crying. What was it about that line that got to me?
I found the poem and like nearly every other time I’ve read it, I got stuck on the line “Meanwhile the world goes on.” I never hated that phrase until my brother died. The world was supposed to stop that day. I wanted what W.H. Auden wanted in his “Funeral Blues” poem, to “stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” How could the people on the planet be so cruel as to keep on living while my brother could not?
And now here it is, five years later today. This shit hole of a world didn’t stop. It’s certainly gotten worse, but it hasn’t stopped.
So, I went back to “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and read the poem again. I stopped at my usual line, then finally pushed on. I had never understood the poem, really, because I could never finish it. My anger and grief built a wall tall enough for me not to see or hear anything further after “the world goes on.” Now I finally see what the fuss is about.
“Wild Geese” is about living. It hasn’t been easy for me to really do that these past five years. I tried but have often failed. I did start learning to appreciate the little things in life that make me laugh or bring me joy–just watching dragonflies flit around my head made me so happy that I logged it in my brain to remember later. I have tried to cement a few friendships and relationships that I never, ever want to lose. But I also cut a few people loose that were not good for me. I want to and need to do more of that in the future.
I’m not much of a risk taker, so I won’t be skydiving or jumping off cliffs to swim with sharks. I won’t be traveling the world, only because I don’t have the financial means to do so. But I’ll at least get my passport so if a windfall of cash comes my way, I might finally be able to go to Europe or even see my lovely friend and soul sister, Becky in Mexico. But what else?
Knowing I was a step away from pancreatic cancer and also knowing that my big brother never got this second chance that I have now, I don’t want to piss it away. But unfortunately, bills still have to be paid and responsibilities still have to be tended to. Is there a way to fit in this new vigor for life into my current life?
I’ve recently begun training to be a volunteer for The Trevor Project. This will require one 3-hour shift per week and the training is 10 weeks long. It’s quite a process and I love it. I’m learning so much and honestly, it’s really difficult. But I’m so, so happy to do it. Watching my son and his friends try to live their lives and seeing how much pain some of them have gone through specifically from being part of the LGBTQ+ community, has given me the push to help more young people like them. And hopefully I can.
I’ve also signed up to train as a hospice volunteer. Training starts with that in the fall, with a 2-hour shift requirement per week. This has been a passion of mine for a while now, especially after talking and working with Mom’s hospice nurse. I’d like to be able to help patients and/or their families in any way I am able.
So…back to the “You do not have to be good” line. There is SO much in that line to unpack. First, I saw the sentence in a hospice worker’s email, and I think it’s one reason why it caught me off guard. I had forgotten the line and maybe when I read it before it just didn’t mean much to me then. But now it means everything. I think I cried because I immediately thought of my brother. Much of his life, especially his adult life, he lived with no excuses and no regrets. You didn’t like how he lived his life? “Fuck you,” he’d say and sometimes with a smile. To me he always lived as large a life as he could with what he had. He was loyal to his friends and family and loved us fiercely. He was a voracious reader and wrote humor, horror, romance and erotica, and sometimes all in the same story. He was known for his morbid and often perverted sense of humor that often had you shaking your head but also holding your belly from laughing so hard. He was a giant of a man with a giant heart.
But again, why did “you do not have to be good” resonate? Because Phil was like that. He wasn’t always “good” and certainly didn’t get on his knees to repent (he got on his knees for other activities), but he loved what he loved and loved whom he loved. And he lived. For those few 49 years and 33 days, he fucking lived. No excuses. No regrets.
I’m trying to be like my big brother. I want to fucking live, too. Volunteering at these two places is one way I can live more like I want to. It may seem like this isn’t me jumping out of an airplane, but it sort of is. This is me putting my heart out there and seeing people when they are at their most vulnerable–asking for help because they don’t feel heard or understood or loved and just want to die, and those that are actively dying or watching their loved ones go through that process. I suppose I’m trying to save lives with one position and help those die with dignity with the other.
Will these activities make me happier? Eh, I don’t even like that word right now. That’s a blog post for another time. But I think the work will help me feel fulfilled. Being a librarian was always what did that for me but being a library director is not the same. I’m fortunate to work in a small, rural library so I still get to know and help people, but nothing like what I did before. Now there’s too much of the bureaucratic bullshit and that part sucks. Right now, though, it’s where I need to be.
There are other things I need to do to make my life a better one: getting rid of more “stuff,” finding my own space in my home, eliminating more debt, writing and reading more poetry, keeping up those forever friendships and relationships, and having more new experiences. Will I have time or energy to do it all?
Probably not, but I have to try, right?
Not just for me, but for Phil. At 49 years and 39 days old, I am officially older than my big brother. It’s time for me to try and live, to prove to him and to myself, that I don’t waste this “one wild and precious life.” (Seriously, Mary Oliver was kick ass, so check her stuff out.) Sometimes that might mean I take a walk to observe the leaves dancing in the trees or to see that momma turkey and her adolescents wander the field instead of finishing a book I was supposed to read for work. Or it might mean giving up an evening of relaxing to talk with a friend who needs a shoulder to lean on. Or it could mean that I make some bigger changes in my life and figure out who Holly is.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I wish Phil were here, too. I know he’d have a lot to say about it, and it would probably be a bit sarcastic and/or hilarious, and also said with love.
If you ever met my brother, I hope you think of him today. I won’t let him be forgotten, so even if you didn’t know him, think of him anyway. Just know that you probably would have liked him. I certainly did.
As many of you know, recovering from any kind of surgery takes time. It’s typically not pleasant. There are wounds to care for, pain to manage, and a wide variety of little issues you may have never had and now have no idea if it’s “normal” or if something is wrong. For instance, my chest hurt quite a bit while I was in the hospital having the tail of my pancreas removed (distal pancreatectomy). When I asked one of my doctors about it, she informed me that my pain was legitimate since they were up in my ribcage at one point and she could see where my heart was beating. 😳
It’s been 2 1/2 weeks since the surgery and I’ve really been recovering well. I did feel awful after getting home and I was frustrated and angry and sad. My husband was sick with some kind of infection, and he did not have the capacity to take care of me. I’m not gonna lie–that was heartbreaking for me. I needed him and he just couldn’t deliver. Our son helped me tremendously though and one of my dearest friends in the world visited me with treats and conversation and it gave me a great boost. All in all I didn’t think I was doing that badly. And then I took a survey the surgeons sent me. And when I finished, they told me to call the doctor. It was because I wasn’t moving much, I was in pain and trying to go by what they did in the hospital, and I was honest about my depressed state. But I was grateful for the survey because it made me look at what I was doing and feeling, and I had to change.
Instead of calling the surgeon, I got up and moved every hour, took mini walks with my son, changed my pain meds to make sure something was always in my system (only Tylenol and ibuprofren). But I started to feel a bit better, or at least more in control. (And I wish I could tell you more about what I can eat and can’t eat, because it’s still a crap shoot.)
The next day, 8 days post-op, I went to see my PCP like you’re supposed to. I think I’ve talked about Dr. Lauer here before. He’s a great guy, my age, and has become like a family friend. I have his personal cell phone number and I text him with concerns and he actually responds. (We should all have doctors like this!) When he walked into the exam room, he first told me how great I looked. “Umm…you look 7 weeks post-op, not 1 week.” See why I love him? 😉
He did an exam, we talked about the surgery, what I was doing, etc. He asked me to not run or train for anything for 12 weeks, and for the first time in my running years, I was happy to say yes. The thought of running right now is painful. We talked about my spleen, and the hope that the few blood vessels going to it now can keep it healthy. We discussed the possibility of diabetes and having to take enzymes, but right now we just see how I heal and go from there.
Then he went over the pathology report with me. When Dr. MacGillivray removed the tail of my pancreas, he sent it to the lab for them to dissect it and see what’s what. Dr. Lauer was reading it out loud and then stopped. At this point, I’m still lying on the table after the exam because I’m tired and didn’t want to get up yet. I looked over at him as he’s reading and I said, “I’m not sure what that means.” He repeated part of the report and said, “You just sidestepped pancreatic cancer.” If I had put my surgery off, which is what the great doctors at Portland Gastro told me to NOT do (they said to please get it done within a year, but preferably before fall), then I might be talking about chemo in this post instead. I knew the lesions on the tail were precancerous but having my doctor (and then my surgeon) say that I was able to avoid pancreatic cancer, at least for now, was a bit mind-blowing.
Dr. Lauer then went on to give me this lovely philosophical speech about letting go of people or situations in my life that I’ve been fretting over. “This is a new path forward,” he said. He had a few medical situations in his own life recently and it’s made him look at his life and everything around him a little differently.
As he was giving me this talk, I got very teary of course. Not just because I was feeling grateful and proud that I took charge of my health and that my doctor listened to me when I had problems, but also because I was sitting in my doctor’s office at the age of 49 and being told that I had a new lease on life. But my beautiful, funny, big-hearted brother never got this speech. Instead, he was being told at 49 that he had to choose to either stay on those machines to keep him alive or die.
To say I was feeling a huge mixed bag of emotions is an understatement.
But…I was and am grateful.
I hugged my doctor before I left, then told my son who was in the waiting room the news and he smiled a big smile and hugged me. My husband had a delayed reaction, but there have been lots of “I can’t live without you” moments. Plus we’ve agreed that he has to die first so there’s that. 😉
My appointment with my surgeon the following week was not so joyful. The physician’s assistant was awesome, and she told me how fabulous I looked and was happy with my numbers. The surgeon, Dr MacGillivray, doesn’t have the best personality. He knows his shit, which is what matters, but he did tell me that it’s possible the rest of my pancreas could still become cancerous, and we have to scan it each year to check on it, as well as my spleen to make sure that it doesn’t die. I asked, “Since I had precancer in my pancreas, what about the rest of my body?” But he couldn’t answer that, and it left me feeling bereft.
When I left that office, I ended up going to Holy Donut and eating a gorgeous gluten-free donut while walking around a park in Portland. At first, I was like, “Ok, Holly, just enjoy this delicious treat and the sunshine and the beautiful space.” And I did. And then I ended up angry eating the last half of it. I should have thrown part of it to the ducks, but I said, “Fuck it” and ate it. (These are delicious and large and expensive, so the thought of throwing away any of it seemed insane.)
Later that day I cried and cried with a dear friend about the whole situation. We talked about it and I had to just let all of that news settle. I had been on high, thinking I had dodged this big bullet, which I did, but then the surgeon was waiting for more rounds to shoot my way.
So what did I do? I texted Dr. Lauer. He reminded me of the major scans I had done in the spring that showed no cancer anywhere else and I didn’t have symptoms of other cancers. He told me that he’d let me know when to worry, but now wasn’t the time. 🙂
And so I’ve taken his advice. My job now is to heal. I have definitely been doing way too much–I was walking up to 2 miles at a time, and that would have been fine if I didn’t try and do other things during the day. But I did and this past weekend I was really sick. Naps helped but overall, I felt awful. Today, though, I started my day with a half mile walk, then went to work for a few hours. Came home to rest and worked some more but am able to take more breaks than I could at work. I’ll keep pecking away at it and do my best to get stronger.
I’m not sure what I’ll do with my newfound lease on life or wake-up call or tremendous gift. I don’t want to squander it, you know? Maybe it just means I keep going down the path I started before the surgery–doing more activities that make me happy and making my voice heard about issues that matter to me like LGBTQ+ rights and being pro-abortion and that I want to fight for a longer bereavement leave for people in this country. (Having a 3-day bereavement leave that most organizations “allow” is a slap in the face to every human being that has lost another human being.) Maybe it means cutting more people out of my life, or maybe it means letting even more in.
Whatever my “path forward” will be, I hope some of you will join me. Or who knows? Maybe I’ll join you instead. ❤
June is a friggin’ minefield of grief. My birthday isn’t much fun anymore without my family. Father’s Day is typically sad, but I try to think and remember good thoughts about my Pop and we celebrate my husband, the father of my child. And today, June 20th, is my brother’s birthday. He should be 54 today and not still 49 like I am now.
Summer is just filled with all of these dates that I used to embrace and enjoy and now just dread. Today though? Today was just a little bit different.
A friend asked how I was, knowing that Father’s Day can suck, but then I told them about Phil’s birthday. I ended up recalling and telling some really fun stories of our childhood. Like the time when that wench of a bully who lived up the street came down to either play with me or be mean to me, and both my brother and sister ran her off, yelling at her and chasing her with their bikes.
Or how we used to swim in the brook out back, the one that our toilet actually flushed into. (I know, I know!) Hell, we swam downstream in this lovely little “swim hole” yet we also used to carry sticks so we could push the poop away while we swam. It was beautiful without the shit and occasional clumps of toilet paper.
It sounds so crazy, disgusting and unreal now, but it was fun!
We certainly were not the Waltons, but rural life had its moments. Of course, there was also the alcoholic parent, the verbal and physical abuse, the fear of not knowing what you’ll find when you get home…like I said, we weren’t the Waltons. But honestly? I’m not sure I’d change much. I wish Phil had born a few years later, because he’d more than likely be alive right now. The technology just wasn’t great in 1968 and he was the only one born at that time with the heart problems he had, to live until the age of 49. No one else even came close. Imagine if he had been born in 1970?
I can’t do that to myself, though. Not tonight. Instead, I’ll just keep thinking of some of the great times we did have, and how Phil’s humor and laughter made everyone around him laugh until they nearly peed their pants.
Or that might just have been me. 😉
Love and miss you, big brother. ❤ Wishing you were here.
No. Wait. Let me say it like you always did. “Hhheeeeeyyyy.” 🙂 You always said it a bit like Fonzi.
My birthday? I’m going to be 49. We often acted like twins and now we’ll actually be the same age.
I hate it. You’re my big brother. We’re not supposed to be the same age. And if I live until at least next year, what happens then? You have to be my big brother. Forever. But your forever wasn’t long enough, Phil. I miss you. So god damned much. My life often doesn’t feel right anymore. Nothing fills that hole that you left. I know, because I’ve tried a lot of things! Food, alcohol, running. Then other things to help with all the feelings–anti-depressants, therapy, yoga, writing. I guess in some ways I’m learning to deal with the fact that I can’t talk to you every day. But sometimes I just can’t deal with it. Those are the days that I just fake it, find a place to cry, fake it some more then go to bed.
Do you remember this song, Phil? You put it on one of the running cds you made me. I wonder about it now. Did you put it on there because of the beat or because it’s about being there for your siblings? And did you know the video was about the brother dying? The first time I heard the song after you died, I sobbed until I nearly threw up.
I know. You’re probably sick of me talking about how much I miss you and how many fucking tears I’ve cried because you’re not here. Fine.
Let’s talk about the kid. I wish you could see him, Phil. He’s your height now. Sometimes he laughs just like you. Even his cough sounds like yours! He’s so bright and funny and mostly kind. I like him. You would, too.
You know there’s a new David Sedaris book that just came out. I’ll listen to it for you, ok? A new Batman movie just came out, too. Haven’t seen it yet. I have difficulties with some things still. There will always be films or books or events that remind me of you. Some I’ll be able to handle, and others not so much. I’ve been watching a show on Netflix, “Sex Education.” It’s a freakin’ riot and it’s something I would love to talk with you about. We’d have the best laughs and conversation over it.
But…yeah. I guess we can’t. You know, someone will read this and say, “But you still can, Holly. You can talk to him and he’ll be listening.” *insert your scoff here* People mean well, Phil, they do. And sometimes I DO imagine you listening to me, laughing with me. I have to. Otherwise I’m not sure I could continue to put one foot in front of the other.
My distal pancreatectomy is in two weeks. In the past month I’ve had scans and blood work and so many phone calls about anesthesia and what to do the night before and the morning of. But I’m also prepping my staff and my family and trying to do everything I can to make this absence be as smooth as possible. I’ve ordered extra supplies for work and have made a crazy-ass schedule with part-time staff and substitutes galore and volunteers. I’m training some of those people next week, but like I’ve said before, I do have confidence in everyone. I’m just trying not to stress anyone out more than absolutely necessary. Except myself, of course.
It’s been hard to focus on one thing lately. As I typed that last paragraph? I actually stopped and emailed one of the new subs to update them on their schedule. Why? Because I’m afraid if I don’t do things as soon as I think of them, they’ll be gone from my brain and by the time I remember, it’ll be too late.
Here at home I’ve also been prepping, but more like prepping for my death. I pay the bills in this family and although we have a password notebook anyone can consult to pay said bills, it’s kind of a mess. I know most of the passwords by heart, but if my husband would have to pay a bill, he’d have no idea where to pay or how. We do have a budget and bill payment schedule on our refrigerator, but he doesn’t know which things are automatically paid and which you have to pay online or that one thing we actually have to send a check to or pay in person. So I’m in the process of re-writing our password notebook and have re-done the budget with AUTOMATIC written on certain things. I’ve added all of our passwords to various streaming services to the notebook along with bank info that he probably doesn’t know. I’ve dug out my living will to bring to the hospital and to send a copy to a friend because I want to make sure several folks have it.
When I started doing this a few weeks ago, it made me feel good. I like to be prepared. Remember that post about preparing myself and my home if my husband were to die tomorrow? That shit just helps me cope. But this week? Oi. So not good.
The stress at work felt insurmountable yesterday. Like a child, I actually closed my eyes and put my hands over my ears at one point and told a co-worker to please stop talking. I could feel a full-fledged anxiety attack coming on and I just couldn’t answer one more question. It scared me. Their questions were valid and they should be asking them, but I just COULD NOT deal with them at that moment. I took a few minutes to breathe and we talked and then I was able to answer them again. But that anxiety lingered into the evening and I ended up eating three brownies trying to make myself feel better. Instead I nearly hyperventilated when it came time to go to bed. I put my head between my knees and tried to breathe. I was finally able to lay down, but it took effort to not think. (One of my cats snuggled in on my shoulder and purred away, so that helped.)
Today was a bit more of the same, but not at that same level. I still don’t feel like I’m breathing normally, but I am able to take a deep breath. There’s definitely this level of worry and concern of the unknown–as in how my surgery will go and what my recovery will be like–but also anxiety of the incomplete tasks that still need to be done.
And did I tell you I’m turning 49 next week? The same age of my brother when he died? And that he died at the hospital I’m having my surgery at?
Yeah. I’m freaked. I’m scared and sad and angry and worried and all the damn things.
So…I told my husband last week that I want a session at a local sensory deprivation tank. I have been doing all the things I can to try and relieve stress. First I did the bad things–drink alcohol (which I can’t do anymore until sometime after my surgery or never again) and eat junk food or just eat non-stop. Then I did my usual schtick–run, read with mellow music or nature sounds, walk near the woods (there are so many ticks right now that walking in the woods stresses me out), take my usual anti-anxiety med, chat with friends. But sometimes all of the good things are just not enough.
My husband is the worst gift giver in the world, even when I tell him exactly what I want. And trust me when I say I don’t ask for a lot. I don’t have particularly expensive tastes, and I’m not into jewelry or flowers. Yet typically, even after 25 years of marriage, the old man sometimes just doesn’t quite get it. But this time? This time he came through.
In a few days I’m going to give this thing a try. I’ll float in a tub of water with 1200 pounds of salt. I may have lights and music, or I’ll skip all of that and just be. I have no idea how this will make me feel, but I’m looking forward to giving it a shot, to trying something new, to try and find a little peace.
May you find your own bit of peace this weekend, too. ❤ Hugs to you, my friends.
Just a few days ago I wrote to y’all about my anxiety, my frustration and my helplessness. Since I began therapy a year ago, I’ve been trying to not compartmentalize my emotions as much and instead attempt to actually feel them and deal with them at the moment they happen. Well that turned out to be a mess! As I told a friend today, it’s like I’m trying to stop a waterfall with my hands. Every feeling and thought overwhelms me until I feel like I’m drowning.
So I began my extra anti-anxiety/depressant med a few days ago. I truly felt like a zombie the next day and ate a lot of sugar and salt throughout the day just to function (and comfort). But Thursday was a little better. I got to talk with my sister and a few friends and it was doable.
And today? Today was pretty ok. I didn’t go to work but had a meeting via Zoom. I got to laugh with some of my colleagues, ask questions, offer a little assistance, and generally felt good when it was over. I felt…worthy, competent, maybe appreciated in a weird way? Then I had to race to my appointments at the hospital, tests to have done before my distal pancreatectomy in June. The tests were not horribly unpleasant, but I wasn’t able to drink coffee or eat until 3pm, so I was a little fuzzy. It did remind me of what it feels like to have pancreatitis again, though, and not being able to eat or drink coffee and having your brain be foggy and just wanting to eat absolutely anything. I started to think about the upcoming surgery (and knowing I won’t be able to eat for several days then) and decided I just couldn’t. Back to stuffing shit into my brain boxes so I don’t have to deal with it!
As soon as my CT scan was done, I decided to go directly to the hospital cafeteria for coffee and a gluten-free blueberry muffin (which are especially delicious when you haven’t eaten in 20 hours). Normally I immediately leave the hospital after any kind of appointment. I’ve been there so much in the past few years for myself and my family that I don’t like to linger. I always have this feeling like if I stay for a bit, Fate will think I should stick around and something will happen to someone I love. I know. That makes no sense but my brain often doesn’t.
But…Dad died in this hospital. I’ve been thinking of him so much this past week, missing him SO much, desperately wanting to talk to him and be hugged by him again. I needed him. He’s not here. The last time I heard his voice and said he loved me was in this hospital. So today….today I lingered. I got my coffee and muffin and sat down in the eating area. I didn’t read my book or look at my phone. I just tore my muffin into bits, popped them into my mouth and washed it all down with Snickerdoodle coffee. I didn’t think of anything in particular. I didn’t think about the fact that this hospital was the last place I had a conversation with my brother, the last place I saw and touched my father, but also the place where my son was born and the place that saved my husband’s life. There is so much grief and joy for me associated with this hospital that it’s difficult to even know what I’m feeling.
So instead of trying to identify what I was feeling or thinking, I just sat. I watched a few people, but mostly I enjoyed what I was eating and drinking and concentrated on the tastes and textures. I lived in the moment. It’s something I wish I could do more.
There’s always tomorrow I suppose.
Here’s wishing all of you more times of living in the moment. ❤ Hugs to you, friends.
I began my morning and thought I’d check in on Facebook before I started work. What comes up? The year 2016 in photos–the last full year I had my brother. He was there in my memories, pics of our Halloween tour of the local winery. Other photos of me where I looked so fucking happy…some I know weren’t real smiles, but others showed genuine happiness. I look at that Holly and want to scream at her. “Tell Phil every single thing you’ve ever wanted to! Go and see him each day. Take time off and take your boy along and just be with Phil. Do nothing and everything with him.”
I miss him. I miss my brother so damn much.
Typically, I love this time of year but everything is still tinged with sadness. And mornings like these? It’s hard to function. It’s difficult to not just say, “Fuck it. I’m not going to work today.” I know I could legitimately do that, but my mother’s voice is telling me to just go to work and you’ll feel better. My own inner voice is also saying, “Don’t let your staff and patrons down. Just go and you’ll be ok.”
So I went.
I went about my day, doing whatever needed to be done–working on reports, paying bills, answering emails. I still felt like I was in a fog, but it was manageable. Then I went to make a cup of tea, something I rarely do. But I was freezing and needed something warm and there sat a box of Earl Grey tea on top of the fridge at work. It’s been there for months, but today I really saw it…and thought of Phil. This was one of his favorite teas. I picked up the box, started to cry and whispered, “You’re everywhere today, aren’t you?”
If only he was. If only I could talk to my big brother, ask him questions I know he’d have answers for, or at least have a joke for them. I wish he could see his nephew and realize that he’d be able to see him eye to eye now. I’d love to hear them laugh together and share some dirty joke or discuss Star Wars films. I just…I just wish he was here.
You know, I’ve been desperate over the past few months to get down to a particular weight. I’ve obsessively counted calories, added a few extra miles to my long runs, and lifted weights. But absolutely nothing happened. I actually gained another 5 pounds instead. (Of course, I now realize I wasn’t counting some calories accurately, but that’s another story.) As I was telling my therapist about my weight dilemma, she asked why that weight. Why this arbitrary number? I told her that I know I feel good at that weight–it’s a little more than when I was running A LOT and when people thought I was sick because they thought I looked too thin. But it’s a weight where I felt good in my body…and the weight I was at when Phil died.
After I said those words to my therapist, my body became very still. I looked at her and let out a sob. I covered my mouth and shook my head. It was such an epiphany, an a-ha moment, and a gut-wrenching grief-inducing realization.
I think I’ve been trying to find my way back to a time when my brother was here and my parents were here, and although life was still difficult and complicated, it just wasn’t quite so lonely or sad.
But I know I can’t do that. Rationally, I know that no matter how much weight I lose, my family will not come back. Of course I know that. Will that stop me from trying to lose weight? Nope. Do I still want to find a way to be happy in this body of mine? Yes. Will losing the weight do that? Probably not. But my pants will fit better.
And hopefully my therapist can help me with the rest of it.
Friends, if you’re out there and you’re missing someone so much that you just want to turn back time and have one more conversation or hug or “I love you,” please know that I hear you. I understand and I wish for that, too. I might not be the one you want to talk with, but I’m here and I’ll listen.
I miss running. I haven’t done much of it lately due to stress (do I wake up at 4am to run so I can take my husband to his appointment then go to work?) or because my body and mind are incredibly sluggish from said stress and lack of sleep. Yet I become more tired the less I run and feel bad about myself so I eat a bit more and gain weight and feel bad and so on and so on and so on. Have you been on this ride before, too? Yeah. Not my favorite.
But this past week I was determined not to feel bad about myself. I was already missing my brother and I didn’t need to feel worse by treating myself like shit. So I did run on Tuesday then snuck a few walks in the next few days. My son and I went on a fantastic hike on Friday that began with his non-stop complaining and ended with his non-stop praise of the scenery. 🙂 We never saw another soul and loved the isolation. This was followed by amazing gelato at the Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop in Surry with my sister and brother-in-law.
The next day I went on a hike by myself and saw funky mushrooms and another little stream, all while listening to the birds and stopping every once in a while to just look up at the canopy of trees with the sky peeking through. It was cathartic and peaceful and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, until I met someone at the end who had two dogs, one that barked and growled at me. But even that creature couldn’t ruin my tranquility.
When I woke up this morning to grey skies, I knew if I wanted to run I needed to do it soon. I drank coffee, folded clothes, watched a bit of CBS Sunday Morning (my absolute favorite news show for the positive stories that are portrayed), then decided I could do a little run. I ate a banana, put on my “hanging out at home” clothes instead of my usual running tank and wicking shorts, and went out with the attitude that I was going to have a good time.
Just two minutes in and “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox started to play in my ears. I smiled broadly and looked to the sky. “Thanks, Phil!” I shouted. My brother’s love of Annie Lennox was infectious and this song in particular was always one of our favorites. “I look up to the little bird that glides across the sky. He sings the clearest melody. It makes me want to cry….I wish I could be that bird and fly away from here. I wish I had the wings to fly away from here.”
I can’t fly but I pushed my shoulders back, picked up my head and ran a bit stronger and faster. Even when the rain did start coming down just past mile one, I kept chugging along, looking to the skies.
At mile three I had started to lag a bit, but yelled and waved hello at a few of my neighbors that never acknowledge my existence. (They did today!) A half mile later with the rain coming down in a nice, gentle pitter patter, “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande hummed through my earbuds and right down to my toes. That’s when I saw a lone bird flying through the sky, possibly trying to catch up to its buddies, or just out for a solo jaunt like me.
For once, little bird, I don’t want to fly away from here. Not sure how long I can hold onto that feeling, but I’ll take it today. ❤