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.

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. ❤