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 woke up thinking about my mom this morning. Actually…I woke up thinking about everything I did wrong with Mom during the last two years of her life.
I just began training to be a hospice volunteer. Much of our homework is reading about dying and watching videos about hospice care as well as the dying process. In just two weeks I’ve learned a lot about what actively dying looks like (which I witnessed with Mom) as well as what all of the signs actually mean. For instance, when someone seems agitated as they are going through the dying process, the person could have a full bladder, could be in pain, or maybe the music being played in the room reminds them of a particularly bad time in their lives.
I was with both of my parents as they lay dying. Much of the literature and information I’m consuming reflect my own experiences. Stories of people dying who talk to a dead loved one or reach out to something that you can’t see. (Dad saw his grandfather.) Stories of people dying after their spouse leaves the room or once their adult child finally made it to the hospital after they flew across the country to see them one more time. (Mom died less than 5 minutes after I left the room. My sister said it was because she was trying to protect me one last time.) As I work through the coursework, I feel like this is all in my wheelhouse–bereavement, dying, extensive grief, hospice care–these actions and feelings have defined my life for the past five years. I feel like I’m ready to listen to others now and be present for those families that are suffering and for that person in hospice care. And to be honest? Although I’ve set some boundaries in my life, I know at some point I may need to be my husband’s caregiver as he continues his congestive heart failure journey. That journey may end in hospice care. I want to be prepared and help him prepare for what that involves.
This morning, I started to doubt my hospice volunteer readiness. I watched two hours of videos yesterday about the dying process and Mom’s birthday is in two days, so of course she’s on my mind. But I felt sick thinking about Mom being in the memory care unit of the nursing home. I know she had many, many good days there, and I know I was not able to take care of her. (I tried but was not successful.) But what about once she went into hospice care? Why didn’t I bring her home? Could I have taken a leave of absence and taken care of her here? Would she still have died just three weeks after she went into hospice care, or maybe she would have lived longer?
I’ve been doing exactly what I tell people not to do. I have no idea how things could have been. She could have died sooner, or what if she lived even longer? Could I really have afforded to take a leave of absence? (I already know the answer is “no.” And if you’re one of those people who say, “If that was my mother, I would have stayed home with her,” then congratulations to you for not living paycheck to paycheck.)
Don’t second guess yourself, I tell people. I want to say I did the best I could with what I had, but I’m not sure that’s true. Tomorrow I may feel differently. I may be ok with how it all went down.
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.
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.
Anxiety: “The state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen.”–Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. The Mayo Clinic defines anxiety as an “intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur.”
Have you ever had an anxiety attack? Not a panic attack–where you truly feel like you’re dying–but a sudden feeling of anxiousness and worry and maybe have trouble breathing? For the past few days, since we came back from our “vacation,” I’ve had a few of these attacks. This “vacation” was time away from home, but not nearly enough relaxing. There was a LOT of stress between the actual traveling (slept in an airport, spent 7 hours in another one) and visiting family and honestly…me being me. Trying to make everyone happy at least some of the time is what I tend to do in ALL situations–family, friends, work. And this was a visit to some family we haven’t seen in a while and I knew it was bound to be stressful but…was it really any worse than any other visit?
After arriving home (10 hours later than we were supposed to) and enjoying sleeping in my own bed again, I felt a bit off. Again, that’s to be expected. Post vacation blues are a real thing, hence my large brownie for breakfast that next morning. I spent several hours doing laundry, emptying suitcases, vacuuming, and feeling productive. Then I headed to my scheduled therapy appointment…and completely lost it.
I’ve been told that sometimes when you completely relax, emotions and memories and pain can all rise to the surface because your body and mind are no longer going at top speed. And although I didn’t get a lot of that relaxing time, I did have at least a few hours where I just swam in the sun or dozed in a dark, cool room or walked along a secluded lakeside path. But I thought about so little during those times nor did I think of much again until I sat in my therapist’s office. And even then I just FELT everything. I was completely overwhelmed with grief and confusion and loss and maybe wishing for something I can’t have?
I don’t know.
All I know is that I couldn’t leave my therapist’s office. I could not stand up. I did not know how to leave, how to take one step in front of the other and walk out her door. I was sobbing and asked her to give me an assignment because I knew if I had one thing to focus on, I could at least leave her office and get to my car. So she did, and somehow I left the building.
The next afternoon I was on my way to drop my son off at the mall when all of a sudden the noises I could hear were literally taking my breath away. The radio was on, my son was talking, his phone might have been playing something, we just passed a bunch of kids on bikes…it all became too much. I had to pull over, shut off the radio and asked him to just stop for a minute so I could breathe. I closed my eyes, took a few breaths, and I was better. He asked if I was ok, and I said not really, but would be. I cried a few miles later and we talked about how this trip, this “vacation” affected us both. The horrible traveling really got to my son, as well as the heat and possibly a bit too much visiting. 🙂 He then played us some 80s music as we continued on to the mall and we both felt immensely better.
On Sunday I had planned to run and boost up my endorphins. But a friend called and needed my husband and I, and honestly, I was glad he did. Focusing on someone else’s problems and/or pain is a great way to distract you from your own! It also resolved some issues that have lingered for nearly 30 years, so I’m grateful for that and the fact we were able to help and be there for our friend.
But today, as I drove my son to school, anxiety overwhelmed me once again. There was no music, no noise, no talking even. I didn’t need to pull over this time, but I did need to take many deep breaths and try to just focus on the road. Once I dropped my son off, I called my doctor and asked to double my antianxiety meds. (I’m currently on the lowest dose possible and have been for nearly two years.) He said I could, so tonight I’ll give it a shot and see how the next few weeks go.
I started to write this tonight to try and figure out what is going on in my brain. I don’t know if I’m much closer to any answer, but it felt good to get something out on “paper.” Although my therapy can be tremendously helpful, my secondary form of therapy, aka blogging, can also clarify situations, problems, ideas or emotions enough for me to at least carry on until I can figure things out.
So…as always…thank you for listening. If you ever feel this high level of anxiety, please reach out to get some help, ok? Even if it’s just to talk to someone for a little bit. You can always reach out to me, too. You don’t have to know me but know I can listen. I’m not a professional so please reach out to a counselor or therapist if that’s what you need, but if you need a sounding board, I’m happy to help.
Today is my 3-year anniversary as the director of a small public library. I’ve worked at the library for over 16 years, but was given the gift of leading the library for the past three years. It’s no secret that I love what I do, and as much as I don’t believe in “things happen for a reason” or “soul mates” or even “destiny,” I think being a rural public librarian is the absolute perfect profession for me. Do I still dream of becoming a writer and actually making a living from it? Of course! But I know my writing isn’t good enough for that to happen, not without a lot more effort and practice and education. Right now, though, my heart is with librarianship.
As I talked to my husband today about everything that’s happened since I became director, I couldn’t help but choke back a sob. How did I make it through it all? Let me give you the timeline:
February 2019: Become director of the library. This was 2 months after my husband had been laid off. He was unemployed when I got this job. It was 18 1/2 months after my brother died. That may not seem relevant, but his life and death impact me in ways most people cannot understand.
March 2019: My funny, sweet, lovely father dies on St. Patrick’s Day.
May 2019: My husband gets a new job. Yes!
June 2019: I break my arm while walking with my son. I break it so badly that a plate and nine screws had to be implanted in my upper arm.
September 2019: My mother becomes ill and I make the choice to place her in hospice care.
October 2019: My loving, supportive, bad-ass mom dies on October 4th. She left this planet five minutes after I left her bedside.
January 2020: After the difficulties of 2019, we decide to plan a fabulous Florida vacation with a cruise.
February 2020: Husband goes into the hospital with pneumonia and the flu, then ends up on a ventilator and in a coma. Both our son and I have the flu, too, and for two weeks we wait. I answer questions from the doctors because they cannot wake him up from the comatose state they put him into. Questions about kidney failure and brain damage are thrown around. Yet on Valentine’s Day, he finally wakes up. ❤
March 2020: While my husband continues to recover at home, I manage pancreatitis at home. I know if I go to the hospital, there won’t be anyone to take care of my husband or son. So I drink fluids, get blood drawn every other day for my doctor to keep tabs on me, and I go to work to keep us all afloat. Then COVID-19 hits the U.S. and I close the library on the evening of March 16th and we cancel our dream vacation.
April 2020: We celebrate our son becoming a teenager with a family party via Zoom. Not quite what we had planned.
May 2020: While working from home, I go for a lunchtime walk and am bitten by the neighbor’s dog. My husband rushes me to the doctor for stitches and to check out all the puncture wounds on my legs. We re-open the library this month for curbside services.
June 2020: We re-open the library doors.
August 2020: I run a half-marathon because I can.
September 2020: I run another half-marathon on Mom’s birthday in memory of her bad-assery.
January/February 2021: I start training for a marathon. Just weeks later I get a stress fracture in my right leg. We watch our beloved cat, Miso, have a seizure and die in front of our eyes as my husband calls the vet and my son and I cry and try to comfort the sweetest cat that ever lived. We all hold him in our arms afterwards and cry until bedtime.
March/April 2021: I start taking walks and short runs again. My sanity is somewhat restored.
June 2021: Our son “graduates” from 8th grade. My husband has a widow maker of a heart attack on June 15th. He only survives because he was near a university medical center.
August 2021: The boy enters high school.
September 2021: Husband goes back to work.
Late October 2021: Husband told by doctor to stop working until he has another heart surgery.
November 2021: Two stents placed in husband’s heart. His energy improves dramatically!
January 2022: I have a procedure on my pancreas to determine if I have cancerous tumors or the possibility of cancer forming on said tumors. Still waiting for the results.
And there you have it. There were MANY activities and emotions not mentioned, and a lot of those were fabulous. I smiled every day, I think. They weren’t all real, but many of them were. I laughed nearly every day. I, like so many of you, juggled lots of other crap we don’t talk about because it’s life—flat tires, sick pets, stress from work and COVID and paying bills and EVERYTHING.
But…I’ve also read over 800 books since I became director. (Many of them middle-school novels.) I’ve written blog posts and poems and reports and letters. I’ve made new friends, some of them being my library patrons. I’ve created new connections at the library, both personally and professionally. I’m trying to lead the library into being the center of the community, and with the amazing support from the Board, the volunteers, and the residents, I think we can do it.
If I’ve learned anything from these past three years, it’s that I can’t do my work by myself. I can’t succeed alone. I have an incredible staff, support system and library users that makes the library a wonderful place to be a part of.
But I also know that I would never have survived these three years without my family and friends. Never. I received gift cards and meals when my husband was in the hospital. People sent me cards when my parents died and gave me hugs when I needed them. They were also there to just listen. I have friends all around the country and so many of them reached out in various ways over the past few years. Sometimes just listening is all I needed. And that’s why you reading this blog has also helped me. Tremendously.
So…thank you. I think that’s really all I’m trying to say tonight. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for supporting me in however you know how. Thanks for being you.
Now go to your local library. They need your support even more these days. And remember, keep reading. It doesn’t matter what it is. I am not a judgy librarian! Read what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, tell them your librarian said to screw off. ❤