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.
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I love you, Dad.

As I sat beside my father’s hospital bed last Sunday, I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 6:30 am. I thought about the local Irish pub that was already opening up because it was St. Patrick’s Day, their busiest time of year. I found it quite ironic that my papa, a recovering alcoholic of over 31 years, would die on a day when people around the country would be celebrating with booze. I can imagine him shaking his head and give a little cynical chuckle at that.

For over 18 hours my father’s family gathered beside his bed to relax him and soothe him and to say our goodbyes. Dad was not conscious throughout much of the day, but when he was, he told all of us how beautiful he thought we were and that he loved us. But a few times my dad said things in this semi-conscious state that just broke my heart. When my stepsister was swabbing the inside of his dry mouth trying to give him some relief, he said, “No. I’m not worthy.” That took my breath away. Did Dad really not believe that he was worthy of a little kindness and relief from his suffering?

Dad made many mistakes in his younger years and when his children were young. He had a deep remorse for his actions while under the influence, but I always felt he made amends for everything he did. He found God shortly after becoming sober and although the church or his religion were not my cup of tea (nor my siblings), it was good for him. He was still Dad. He loved to laugh and constantly made us laugh (see where my brother got it from?) and he was a really good person. He taught nearly every one of his children and grandchildren how to fish, and his love for all of us was always evident. So as we sat beside him just one week ago, I smoothed out Dad’s forehead and told him what a good man he was, that he had righted all of his wrongs, and that it was ok to go. My stepmom assured him that we would all be ok, and I told him he had people to see. I may not believe in much, but my father did. So if there is an afterlife, he needed to go find my brother and hold him tight.

In a way, I feel like Dad gave me one last gift by allowing me to be there when he died. I was not there when my brother died, but I was able to say goodbye to Phil while he was completely conscious. I still struggle with knowing that I didn’t say enough to him, but he knew that I loved him and I suppose that has to be enough. I don’t know if Dad really knew I was there. My stepmom thinks he did, but I have my doubts. Yet….I was there. I don’t know how much comfort that was to him, but it comforts me in a way I can’t fully comprehend yet.

Dad supported and encouraged me throughout my high school and college years, and although he could never financially support me, he always told me how proud he was and happy he was for me. He was even excited for me when I got my library director position just last month. His obvious joy for me made me even more proud, if that makes sense. So maybe me being there for him during his last hours was just a small way that I could repay him for his love and support for me over the years? I don’t know.

I will miss my father every day. I am still having a hard time at the thought of never seeing him again. Never hearing his laugh or his singing ever again. I am hoping beyond hope that there is a recording of my father’s voice somewhere that I will be able to listen to. I don’t want to forget, but I am afraid that I will.

My boy and my dad about 10 years ago.

Another year and you’re not here….

Hey, old man.

It’s Oscar time again. I’ve actually seen half of the movies this time around. Aren’t you proud? You know, I was actually looking forward to watching them this year, even though they don’t have a host. How’s that gonna go? Odd, but we’ll see how it goes. I actually made a homemade pizza this year like you always did. See?

Homemade gluten-free mushroom pizza

I know. Not as many veggies as you always had, but it’ll still be tasty.

You know, now that the Oscars are about to begin, I don’t want them to. I was fine all day, in a decent mood, cleaned the house, read a book, exercised, then started making a veggie platter and that pizza. Then the kid was putting up a fuss about cleaning his room and although I kept my cool, I could feel myself getting sad. Not angry, just tremendously sad. And as I continued to make the pizza I could feel my shoulders slumping and I just felt really heavy until I finally started to cry.

I miss you so much, Phil. I really wish you were here. It was 19 months yesterday since you left, but right now it feels like years and years since I’ve heard you laugh or had a conversation with you or hugged you or tried not to laugh at something totally off the wall that you said. And I really need you to make me laugh, ok? I’m always trying to find humor in everything like you did, but I’m just not as good at it. Your humor was always much darker than mine but it always helped dig me out of whatever slump I was in, you know?

*deep breath* Ok. I’m shaking it off. I’ve wiped away my tears, blown my nose and tossed my tissue…which didn’t make it in the basket but landed on Wally’s table…near his coffee. Well that would give us a chuckle, wouldn’t it? 🙂

Ok, big brother. I’ll eat pizza and drink wine and attempt to fill out my Oscar ballot without your insights. It’ll never be the same, you know? Never. But I’ll do my best.

I love you.

Hugs and sloppy kisses.

Flexible Thinking

I have run only once or twice a month for the past three months. I don’t have it in me right now to run on the treadmill and the cold weather forces me inside. So I march in my living room or jog in place to get my 10,000 steps daily. It doesn’t always happen, but I do give it some effort.

Today was grey outside and a bit breezier than I expected, but at 36 degrees I had to give the outdoors a chance. I had planned on walking for a mile or so and see what happened. After just a tenth of a mile, I threw a little jogging in and decided I’d give this a shot. I listened to a variety of TED talks while I walked/jogged/ran 3.5 miles. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, I cried.

One reason I stopped running this fall had nothing to do with the weather. It was because I’d end up crying in the middle of every run. When I listen to music, my brain will wander to wherever it wants or maybe even needs to be, and that would eventually lead to thoughts or memories about my brother, and I would cry. But after a few of these “grief runs”, I started to dread running. My conscious mind was not ready to face more memories I didn’t want to remember, and since running seemed to bring those out, I just stopped doing it.

So today I went for some TED talks instead of music. My body has craved the movement of running and I felt like I could handle whatever my crazy brain had in store. Of course I didn’t look in depth at all the TED talks first.

I ran to a few talks and I can’t tell you what any of them were about except the artificial intelligence one that I skipped over and the one that made me cry that stayed with me this whole day. It was about money shaming, and how some people are taught that their self-worth is tied to what their bank account says. And the woman giving the talk is a financial advisor and near the very beginning she says that her brother died. And she started to cry.

For fuck’s sake, how do I get these?!? Of course I started to cry because I am that person who will cry if anyone else in the room is crying and plus we had this one shitty thing in common. And like nearly every other time I’ve run these last few months, the grief started to overwhelm me. But today I let a brief thought of my lovely brother enter my mind, then let it go out. I concentrated on the speaker’s voice instead and listened to her story. This was about her, not me.

Once I got home, I walked around a bit outside, stretched on the front steps then went into my house where the wonderful aroma of bread baking greeted me, along with the sounds of my husband and son playing RISK. I stretched some more with a smile on my face as I let those endorphins do their job as they made my world seem like such a nice place to be.

Running used to calm me and put me in a better place mentally and physically. Today it definitely helped with that tightness in my chest I mentioned last time, and it typically helps me with my “flexible thinking.” When something doesn’t go my way, I can take a deep breath, assess the situation, accept it and come up with something just as good or better. I’ve said many times that having a positive outlook does not come naturally to me (my brother was the same way). But how I feel after I run certainly helps that.

Does this mean I’ll run every day or nearly ever day liked I used to, looking for that runner’s high once more? I doubt it. I’m not being negative here, just realistic. If I can change the time I wake up, then maybe I can, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do that. I currently enjoy my mornings with my family and I need to really map the morning out if I’m going to do this. It’s something to work on I guess, right?

I hope you’re finding your calm and happy place this winter, wherever you are. Take care of you. ❤


16 Months

This is my favorite time of year. My tree is already up, the interior of my house is decorated with a mixture of fall leaves and turkeys and snowmen, and tomorrow I’ll put a few lights up outside. I listened to Christmas carols this evening and have already started watching holiday films. Typically, this is how I am from November 1st through January 1st. I love all of this stuff. But this year, I may be forcing it just a bit. I’m trying like hell to get into the spirit of the season.

This is Holiday Season number two without my brother. On Black Friday it will be 16 months since Phil died.  As I decorated my home last week, I didn’t cry as much as I did last year. This year I laughed as I put up the X-rated Christmas ornament he gave me years ago (two reindeer getting down and dirty) and just sighed as I put his picture on the front of the tree. But today as I shopped a bit for the holiday, I kept finding things I would buy my brother. I would pick something up then just shake my head and put it down again. But I held it together and all was ok.

Then I went to the grocery store. I was feeling good,  humming the new Panic! At the Disco song (High Hopes–a very fun, jump up and down song). I had my cart nearly full with food for Thanksgiving dinner, when I passed by the snack aisle. I wish I knew what I saw or heard or thought, but the realization that my brother was no longer on this planet immediately overwhelmed me. I lost my breath, hunched over my cart, and pulled to the side of the canned vegetable aisle.  I refused to sob in the middle of the store, so I left my cart for a moment and started to wander down the aisle, taking in deep breaths.

And then I saw it.

FREE WINE TASTING.

I am not a person who believes in signs or religion or the afterlife. BUT, if any of that shit is real, then I was confident my brother sent me a sign to go and drink whatever free wine I could. “Drink up, you lush,” I can imagine him saying. Especially when I saw the label:

freakshow

That’s right, people. Freakshow wine! If you knew my brother, you knew how much he loved a good freak show. Weird? Yes. But that was Phil. He was so fucking weird and funny and loveable. And I still wish like hell he was here.

The wine was not fabulous, although the one with elephants on it was pretty good, but I didn’t buy any. It was enough to get a little buzz (especially since I had an empty stomach). I finished the rest of my shopping feeling a bit more relaxed and no tears were shed. I thought about Phil off and on for the rest of the day–as I visited with Mom at the home where she has photos of all of our family around her room, and when I went to the Feztival of Trees where I saw someone dressed as Super Grover. (He was one of Phil’s favorite Sesame Street characters.)

supergrover

I’ve come to realize that everything I do for the rest of my life will always have this little twinge of sadness in it. And sometimes I’ll be able to handle it just fine. Like today. And other times I know the grief will be too much and I’ll need to shut down for a bit, even for just a minute. Also like today. Time does NOT heal all wounds, but maybe time will allow me to know when to put a bandage on that bleeding festering gash in my heart and keep going, and when to let the blood (and tears) run dry.

Let your freak flag fly high, my friends. Cheers to you. ❤

 

Adulting

My 11-year-old son has recently asked for cooking lessons from my husband and I. We’ve tried to get him to cook or bake for his entire childhood, but he’s had little interest until now. We’ve done pasta and scrambled eggs and even a basic frozen pizza so he can conquer his fear of the oven. We had a little lesson on laundry, too, or at least how to work the washer and dryer, but that will take some more time.

All of this got me thinking about the term “adulting.” I will tell you right now that I despise the word.  It’s just some cute, irritating word someone thought up that just means basic life skills that someone should have taught you years ago. (And yes, I realize it can mean more than that, like buying your first appliance, but since I have been a responsible adult since the age of 7, the word just bites my ass.)

adultingSo…if creating a budget or balancing your checkbook (am I the only one who still does that?) is “adulting,” then what have I been doing these past few years? If that crap is adulting, what is taking care of your son and working full-time and attempting to navigate the healthcare system for your dementia and diabetes-ridden mother and now taking turns with your family to be with your father who can no longer be left alone?  And what about trying to maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships, including one with yourself?

Is this “Middle-ageing”? Being a member of the Sandwich Generation Club? Or maybe just Life?

I had a little meltdown a few weeks ago, just feeling tremendously overwhelmed with these responsibilities that I did not and still do not feel prepared for. I might have even stomped my foot. But with tears in my eyes, both my husband and I just started to laugh. I mean, what else can you friggin’ do? I can cry you and every other human being on the planet a river, but laughing is something I don’t do enough of these days. My brother was the one who made me laugh the most.  I need and want him here more than ever. But I guess that’s one reason why I can cry you a river, right? Maybe I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed if he were here. Or maybe I’d just feel like ME again.

And that’s what I’m really trying to do. I’m trying to figure out who I am without my brother. I can’t be whole again, that I know for a fact. But I should be able to piece me together somewhat. There are facets of me that still exist–a runner (even though I’m currently sidelined with an injury), a librarian, a reader, a writer, a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter and a sister. I am a FBG (Former Big Girl) on the outside but a Forever Big Girl on the inside. I’m mostly kind and generous but fiercely protective of my family. I am often brutally honest but sometimes not honest enough, especially to myself.

Maybe adulting is just another term for growing up. Maturing. Finding your way in the world. And many of us, even at age 45, are still trying to figure that out.

 

 

It’s Just a Car

For a year now, my brother’s car has been sitting in the driveway of the home he shared with his partner of 24 years. Their house is 3 miles from mine. I used to think how weird it was that Phil’s car was sitting there, but Phil wouldn’t be sitting in his house. Why did we have the car but not him?

But now, the car is gone. It was time. I understand that. I know it was hard for my brother-in-law to keep the car as long as he did, and also how hard it was for him to have the car removed. Yet as odd as it was to have Phil’s car sitting there, reminding us all of what was missing, not seeing his car today broke me.

I knew the car wouldn’t be there, my brother-in-law told me. I drove to his house to drop off some veggies and to pick up a possible replacement hammock for our stand and I parked beside the empty spot where the car used to be. I couldn’t park in the same spot, that would be wrong. Larry and I chatted for a few minutes, then he put the rolled up hammock, my brother’s hammock, in the back seat of my car. As I drove home, I started to cry. I was sobbing by the time I reached my house, so I sat in my car in my driveway and let it all out. I think I missed my brother more in that moment than I have in over a year.

It’s silly, I know. It’s just a damn car. A car that didn’t even run anymore. But it was Phil’s car and he sat in it and drove it and drove me around and drove my son around. We laughed in that car and he forced me to listen to whatever music he liked at the time in that car. And although I didn’t want the car and am glad that it gave my brother-in-law some peace, it made me feel like I lost Phil all over again. And as I sobbed in my car, I just wanted to feel close to my brother again.

You hear people say that they would do just about anything to talk to their loved one again. I thought I understood what people meant.

But I really didn’t. Until now.

So through my sobs and sniffling, I talked to my brother out loud and told him that I missed him and that I loved him and how I wished he was still here. Then I scrounged through my glove box and found a napkin to blow my nose on (always classy, right Phil?).

When I was finally ready to go inside, I dragged the hammock from my back seat. I placed it on my porch, where it still is, waiting for a little clean up. I am hoping it will fit our stand so I can lay in it and read and enjoy a few good moments.

Just like my big brother once did.

hammock