Wrecked

Today, on this grey and chilly fall day, my sister and I buried our mother.

As we stood around the small hole where Mom’s urn would be buried, we stood with our husbands, our children and our brother-in-law. We told a few stories about Mom and my husband read a poem out loud because I wasn’t able to. (“If I Should Go” by Joyce Grenfel)

I looked over at my big sister and she, like me, was a wreck. She said, “Remember when Grammie died?” My first memory was what my niece recalled, how my mother shook her head as we stood by her mother’s grave and kept saying “I can’t do this.” But what my sister reminded me was of Mom’s comparison to losing a partner to losing a mother. Just the year before Grammie died, our stepdad died suddenly of heart attack at 58. It was devastating. But the day of my grandmother’s funeral, Mom said that when your partner dies, yes it’s awful and horrific. But when your mother dies? You just want to follow her.

What you see here is me leaning against my sister. I was sobbing at this point, not wanting to put our mother into the ground. It may have only been her ashes at that point, but I could still touch the box she was in. It sometimes gave me a weird comfort. But our mother’s wishes were to be buried beside our stepdad.

So that is what we did.

Before we left the cemetery, once again my sister says between sniffles, “Well, no more of this. Let’s not do this again!” I shake my head and this time whisper, “There’s no one left.”

Searching for Signs

Yesterday afternoon after I got home from work, my husband and I helped our neighbor for a little bit then took a short walk. Once we got home, I went for a longer walk by myself. I listened to an audio book, anything so I wouldn’t think too much. Yet as I walked, I had an incredible urge to go to my father’s grave. I haven’t been there since we buried him in May, but I needed to be there at that moment.

As soon as I got home, I told my husband and son where I was going. It’s about a 20 minute drive through back roads in beautiful farm country. I tried to take in the last of the fall colors as I drove. When I got to the cemetery, I parked my car directly in front of the site.

This was the first time I’ve seen my father’s gravestone. It seemed so small to me. My father was not only a large man, but he was larger than life sometimes. He had a great booming voice when he wanted to and his love for his family sometimes seemed larger than the room you were in, you know?

I stood in front of Dad’s grave, said “hi Dad” then waited. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything back obviously, but I was expecting…something. I thought I would feel like he was there listening. But there was absolutely nothing. I felt nothing. I went back to my car, put my head on the wheel and cried. I just needed my father to be there. I needed to talk with him, but I really needed him to talk back. I was hurting and I missed Mom and I just needed my papa right then. I needed him to hug me and rub my back and tell me that he understood. He wouldn’t say it was going to be ok because it wasn’t, but he’d probably tell me how much it sucked, but I would eventually be ok.

Once I got home, feeling sad and tired and frustrated, I got out of my car and saw a small murder of crows flying over my house. I find myself looking for signs of my family everywhere now and I wondered if Phil and Dad and Mom were a part of this group saying “hey” before they went wherever they were going. I had this overwhelming feeling of being left behind and I whispered, “Wait!” They didn’t wait but flew away, as they should.

Foolishly, I decided then I should take care of Mom’s things I had from the nursing home and some of the photos we had out for the celebration of her life. I sat in the middle of my home library surrounded by her things and her photos and her smell that clung to the clothes I was unpacking. I only cried once, but I could feel the loneliness creeping into my bones.

My husband was in his office and my son was in his room. After I finished with Mom’s things, I started to fold laundry in the living room. When my son came out and asked me something, I got upset at him. When he asked me what was wrong, I broke down and in between sobs told him I missed my dad and my mom. My heart was broken but I didn’t want to tell him that. Instead I held the washcloth I was folding close to my heart and just rocked and cried. My poor boy put his arms around me as my husband came out of his office and sat with us. The three of us began to talk and we cried and we laughed and we just were.

We were together.

Caring

As a parent, you raise your child or children and although you never stop loving or caring or worrying about them, you get to a point where you start taking caring of yourself or try taking time for yourself. That’s what running was for me when I started 10 years ago. But all of that came to a standstill over two years ago when I started to care for my mother. Even before my dear brother died in July of 2017, I was at my mother’s home more and more, trying to get her medication under control and taking her to appointments. I moved her in with my family later that year and the care increased dramatically.

Once Mom entered a residential care facility, I remember my sister saying to me that now maybe I could properly grieve for our brother and start taking care of myself.

That didn’t happen.

I continue to grieve for my brother, but I know that will be for the rest of my life. There are some things you just can’t fix. And as far as taking care of myself? I visited my mother each weekend, cared for my father every few Sundays, and still tried to be the best parent and wife and librarian that I could. I’ve stopped running and I don’t think I’ve been a great friend over the past few years, but something had to go.

And then Dad died. I found myself unable to sit still on Sundays because I felt like I should be somewhere else than at home. Then I broke my arm horribly in June. I had a great excuse to no longer run but the pain was so debilitating at the beginning that I truly understood why people want to die when they have so much pain. I just wanted it to end.

Then the pain finally got better but I was very down and frustrated and angry. I ate my feelings once again and put another 5 pounds–that’s 15 extra now since Phil died. Yet, I haven’t really cared that much. Not like before.

And now Mom is gone. The woman who gave me life, taught me how to bake, and tried so hard to instill all her confidence and love into me so I would be proud of and love myself, is no longer on this planet.

Three of the most important people in my life are gone–all their love for me is gone and all the love I have for them is bursting from my body and soul and it doesn’t know where to go. I didn’t think I could feel more lost after my brother died, but after each parent left this world I felt more bewildered and sad and shocked than ever before.

Last weekend we held a celebration of my mother’s life. It was sad and exhausting yet also exhilarating to hear new stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Once my son and I arrived home, we unpacked the car, got into our pjs, ate dinner and just watched tv. I napped a bit on the couch on and off, but I felt ok. At bedtime, we talked to my husband on the phone, but I told him I had to go because as I stood at the sink I started to feel woozy and knew I needed to sit down. Yet as soon as I hung up the phone, I fainted. I don’t remember falling, I just remember being on my kitchen floor and blood was dripping from my nose. My poor son was freaked out and helped stop the bleeding of my nose and cleaned up the mess. I twisted my right knee and foot pretty badly and apparently knocked my face on the counter because not only did my nose hurt but the area under one of my eyes is still sensitive to the touch. I got myself to bed and my boy called his father to explain what happened and to express how scared he felt.

I wish I could tell you I knew what happened, but I don’t. I think I fell from exhaustion. I ate plenty that day and had my usual 8 cups of water. But I was so tired and had a week of planning for my mother’s celebration, ordering an urn, picking up her ashes, getting paperwork for probate court and on and on. Plus I worked a few days.

And my mom was no longer here.

I think that was reason enough for my body to give out on me and say, “Fuck you. I’m done. Let me rest.”

So now…to take care of myself? My son is only 12 and I will still put him first and I’m trying to figure out how to care for him. He has also lost three people that he loved and idolized. His mental and physical health is my priority. But maybe with time, I’ll not only re-learn how to care for and about myself again, but I’ll have the desire to do it.

And maybe this blog will once again be about running instead of grief.

One More Day

She’s gone.

These are the words my sister says to me over the phone, just 5 minutes after I left my mother’s bedside.

I think that’s what she said. I’m not quite sure now. My sister and I had been with our mother for 24 hours–sleeping in recliners, talking and reading to Mom, rubbing her arms. She had been unresponsive for the day. We knew it was near the end but I thought she’d be here for one more day.

Mom had been with hospice care for 3 weeks, but at first, we thought she had a few months left. Or I did. She had a gastrointestinal bleeding that they couldn’t fix, so she began pain medicine to help. We took her to the waterfront for her birthday and ate ice cream and whoopie pies and drank coffee–all some of her favorite things. We had some wonderful visits with Mom and she seemed more like herself than she had in ages. I’m assuming she had been in more pain than anyone thought.

Then her pain increased and she was on a regular dose of morphine. Two days later she fell. It was awful. She was so fragile and now in more pain than ever. Her morphine dosage increased just to keep her from crying out. So my sister and I sat with her, told her we loved her and told her it was ok to let go. We would be ok.

Friday morning I left to go home and wake my son up, take a shower and take my boy to school. I drove back to the residential facility, thinking about the afternoon. My sister was going to go home and take a shower and I would sit with Mom, read more of her favorite book aloud and just be with her. Weirdly, I was looking forward to it. I would spend some time with my mom and hang out. Just the two of us.

When I got back to the facility, Mom’s breathing had changed. But it still wasn’t like Dad’s had been. He had long bouts of no breathing before he died, so I thought we still had a little time. I stayed for a bit then had to leave for an hour to get another x-ray for my arm. I was just down the road when my sister called me. I turned around and raced back. I ran from the parking lot into the facility and down what seemed like a very long hallway. When I got to Mom’s room, the hospice doctor, nurse and my sister were there but I didn’t look at anyone. I hurried to Mom’s bedside, touched her face and arm and just sobbed and sobbed. My body shook with grief as my sister rubbed my back.

I knew this would happen. I knew Mom would leave once I was out of the room. I said this to my sister the day before, and Mom just proved me right. I was the baby of the family. Before dementia set in, my mother did all she could to protect me, but not my sister. She was the oldest and honestly the strongest. My mother would tell her when she was in pain or when things weren’t right, but never to me.

I was so angry at Mom. Why couldn’t she have waited? Couldn’t we have this one last afternoon together?

I knew I wasn’t being rational, but none of that mattered. I was angry and sad and devastated. I thought I would be a little relieved after everything we’ve been through, but I wasn’t. This is my mom.

My mom.

My mother remained my mom until the very end. I essentially became her parent over the past two years, but she was still mom. She couldn’t remember I had visited her the day before or that her mother had passed away 14 years before, but she remembered that I injured my arm 3 months ago. Less than a week before she died, Mom stopped herself from touching my arm and asked me about it instead. My sister kept poking my arm because she forgot, but our mother with Alzheimer’s did not.

And I know she was still trying to be my mom with that last breath. Everyone has their theories about what people do on their deathbeds and what is intentional and what is not, but I do believe Mom wanted to save me from what maybe she thought would be too hard for me to handle. But I am so happy my sister was with her. When our dad died, I was with him and I felt like he gave me this incredible gift. I can’t tell you what it is or why I feel this way, but I do. I only hope my sister feels that way now with Mom. My sister’s was the first life my mother brought into this world, so it seems fitting that my sister was with Mom as she left it.

I feel lost tonight. Earlier today I found myself walking back and forth in my house, not sure what I should be doing. I called my sister and she was doing the same thing. What do we do now? What does one do without their mom? I feel like I’m in a foreign place that looks familiar, but I have no compass so I don’t know which way to go.

I miss her. I miss my mom.

And then today…

Sometimes I really hate Facebook. Or maybe I just hate some of the people that use it.

Today is my brother’s birthday. He should be 51 today, yet he will forevermore be 49. An age that many like to say they’re at when they’re really older. But no one, including my dear brother, wants to stay at 49 for an eternity.

Last year on this day, I did ok. Until my sister called me then I cried…a lot. But I was ok. Today? I just wasn’t. I felt uneasy as soon as I woke up, although I thought it was from the argument my son and I had the day before. My parenting skills were not at their best yesterday and I said things I shouldn’t have. I did apologize to my boy, though, and we made up before bed last night. But I thought this morning’s uneasiness was due to a guilt hangover. But then, like a lightbulb exploding, I remembered. It’s June 20th. Six days after my birthday. Phil’s birthday.

I knew it was coming. Of course I did! It’s just after my own birthday, typically just after Father’s Day. But for a few minutes it was not part of my conscious thoughts. And then it was. And the grief started to settle into the back of my eyes, my downturned mouth, even into my bones. Once I got to work, I sat at my desk in my empty building and sobbed. I tossed my glasses, covered my face with my hands and let it go.

And yet I couldn’t let it go. I could feel that sadness and grief cling to me all day. I thought I would go home early in the afternoon, but I stuck it out for most of the day. But foolishly, oh so so foolishly, I looked at Phil’s Facebook wall. I knew some of my family might post something, and I get that. I do. I sometimes write on his wall, too, or talk to him in my car or in my head. But today I just couldn’t write anything. I just read the few comments. And I started to get so damn angry.

One person just wrote “happy birthday.” So, does this guy know that my brother is gone? Maybe he doesn’t. So shouldn’t I tell him? Shouldn’t the entire world know that this amazing, hilarious, sweet man is no longer on this godforsaken planet and it will never again be as good as a place as it was? But what about the woman, who I KNOW knows about my brother’s death, and her fucking cheery message? “Happy birthday, Phil!” with stupid ass balloons in the background. WTF? Seriously! What is this?!? He’s not here! He can’t celebrate ever again! Why did you write this?!? WHY?!?

I know I need to ask myself, “why do you care, Holly, and why are you so friggin’ mad?” These are the exact questions Phil would ask me. I know he would. Especially the part about caring. He was pretty good about trying to distance himself from things and people that really didn’t matter. No sense getting worked up over people that don’t care about you nor do you care about them. Just let it go.

But sometimes….sometimes it feels good to be angry and hate someone for something as silly as a FB post, because there isn’t anyone to be angry at about losing my brother. There’s no one I can yell at for taking away the person whom I looked forward to talking to, the person my son confided in and needs so much right now, the person that made me laugh like no other. So instead, I rage to myself (and to you) about a stupid meaningless post, until my anger burns out and I cry once more.

If I had some wine (I cannot believe I don’t have any right now), I would toast my lovely, hilarious, snarky yet kind big brother.

I miss you, jackass. I can’t quite move forward (there will never be moving on). I’m mostly standing still, occasionally going backwards, but I’m trying to put one foot in front of the other. I’m trying. ❤

Today

We’re burying my father today.

How am I supposed to get through this?

This morning, I woke up late because I flat out refused to get out of bed. I just didn’t want to face the day. Once I had my instant Maxwell House (also my father’s favorite), talked to my husband and got the kid up, I was kind of ready to get this day going.

I went for a run, or a semblance of a run, to clear my head. Instead self-doubt flooded my brain and I barely got to my turnaround spot just 1.5 miles from home and wondered how the hell I was ever going to get back. I just kept thinking about my dad and how much I missed seeing him and his laugh and his love. I thought, “I can’t get through this fucking run, how the hell am I going to get through this god damned day!”

So I walked then jogged then walked again. I started to think about the person Dad was when I was a little girl, and how much I feared him when he drank. But once I was in high school and he stopped drinking, I finally got to know the real man that was my father, and what a good guy he was. How much he changed his way of thinking when my brother came out, how supportive he was of us, how proud he was of every one of his children and grandchildren. He fiercely loved us.

These thoughts helped me to pick up my run again and keep going. I certainly didn’t make it home in record time, but I made it home.

And now I somehow have to get through this day and watch as they put my father’s casket into the ground. I know he’s not really there. Just his body. But you can say that all you want but it still fucking hurts. He’s still gone. He won’t ever call me on my birthday again and sing to me. He’ll never make up funny little songs for the grand kids again or hug me or cry with me about my brother or give me advice about my mom. He will never be here ever again and that fucking sucks.

I miss him so friggin’ much.

But I also know we’ll get through this awful, awful day. Right, Dad? You’d be telling all of us that we can do this. “This really sucks,” you’d say. “But you’re strong and you can do it.”

So….ok. Somehow. Some way. We’ll get through it. I love you, Dad.

Love you, sweet Papa. ❤

The Men are Gone

When people you love die, how does one fill in those holes that they left? Not only the physical space that they left–at the dinner table, on the couch, at family parties–but the empty spaces that are now in your brain, your heart, or even your senses. The smells you miss, the sounds, the sight of them. You’re reminded of them when you get a whiff of their cologne or the soap they used or the cookies they made. But is that why you can sometimes hear their voice? Or see them in the grocery store parking lot? All because your brain is trying to fill in those gaps?

When my brother died, I ate everything I could to fill in those holes his absence created. I needed to feel good for just a few seconds, and sometimes that cookie or whipped cream did just that. Dad has been gone for four weeks, and although I think I’m doing ok, I find myself drinking more. And when I’m not drinking, I’m eating. And when I eat I often think, “Dad would have liked this.” I’m justifying all the eating with the thought that I need to eat for him now that he’s gone. Is it ridiculous? Of course it is. Yet I haven’t been able to stop myself.

I went to the doctor just 10 days after Dad died. It was just my annual exam, but with a new medical provider. When she got to the question about stress, I started to sob. Here I am naked, in a paper gown, sitting on a damn table, and telling her about my life for the past 20 months starting with Dad’s death and going backwards, ending with Phil’s death. I told her I need grief counseling but I just can’t seem to do it. It’s like how I treat my brother’s ashes. Many of my family members have necklaces with his ashes in them, but I have a pill bottle that sits in my vitamin cupboard. I don’t want anything permanent because then he’s really gone. Forever.

At Dad’s funeral, I stayed near his casket until it was time for them to take him away. When they tucked part of the lining around Dad and closed the casket forever, my knees started to buckle and I had to sit down. There may have been the sound of keening coming from my mouth, but I don’t remember hearing anything. I know I had my niece on one side of me and my mother on the other and we were all crying, but that memory holds no sound.

My medical provider has lists of counselors “for when I’m ready” she said, but also offered an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication which I refused. I know I have to take some control of my life and stop filling in those empty spaces with food or alcohol, and I figure it’s not the right time to introduce any kind of drug I might enjoy too much. I’m not a complete mess, I promise. I’m ok much of the time, but I have to learn once again, to find my new normal.

Last night was the first night I’ve dreamt of my father. It was kind of a funny dream, where he had on a holey t-shirt and I had to encourage him to get a new one on, but he smiled and laughed and was wearing suspenders. Parts of it felt like a memory, but it wasn’t. It was just so good to see him and hear him again. I miss the Williams men so, so much. As long as I can hold onto memories and stories about both Phil and Dad, then I should be ok, right?

This was taken at my house a while ago. I like how neither one has a big smile but a tiny one.