I have learned….

Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the death of my father.

He was and will always be a lot of things to me.

He was my hero.

He was the first man I fell in love with and wanted to marry (he informed me he was already taken, but would always love me)

He was the man who understood me, often times better than I understood myself.

He was the person I went to for advice with all sorts of issues – personal and professional.

He was gentle.

He was kind.

He was fair.

He understood people in ways I can only dream, and usually his understanding was within minutes of meeting them.

He was quiet, until he did not want to be.

He a laugh as big as the sky.  It was a laugh that make you smile because it was just so full of joy.

He had blue eyes that could be cold when he was in his cop mode, but more often were twinkling with his latest practical joke or love.

His hugs were strong and long.

 

I miss him. I miss him a lot.

I miss all those things I wrote about.  But I just miss his presence in the world.  One of the biggest feelings I had those first few weeks after his death was anger and disbelief that the world did not realize what was gone.  The world should have stopped, even if only for a day, an hour, to mourn a man who impacted so many people.

 

There are parts of this past year that I don’t even remember.  I feel like I have lost time. I was wading through a muddy fog that sucked at my legs and blocked my vision of everything around me. There were times I would get angry with myself because I could not “just get over it”.  Sometimes I would feel so overwhelmed by the rawness of my emotions that I felt as if someone was pouring salt and sand on blistered feet and forcing me to walk miles without end.

 

As the year progressed I would forget for a moment what I had lost.  I could see a break in the fog.  I could laugh and joke.  I could sing and play games with the Cubs.  And I knew that is what he would want me to do.  He would not want me to wallow in grief.  He would be angry that I had lost even one precious moment with my Cubs and with Papa Bear.  This was the man who always told me “I did not make much money when I was in this world, so you better have a cash  bar over my coffin so that you can make some money off me once I am dead”.  He called his 8 year battle with cancer “just a bump in the road”.  Those are things that he would want me to remember and cherish.

 

As 2013 ended and I contemplated this upcoming anniversary and the beginning of a new year I knew I had some choices to make.  Before I could make those choices, though, I needed to reflect on what I had learned this past year.

 

I learned that grief can be so overwhelming that it almost becomes a physical entity.

I learned that there are people who truly love me for me and are willing to sit by my side (physically, in cyber space and on the phone) and pass me tissues as I cry.

I learned I could cry and laugh at the same time.

I learned that no amount of preparation can reduce the pain of loss.

I learned that grief is definitely not a straight path.

I learned to be vulnerable.

I learned there is strength in vulnerability.

I learned that even in the midst of the deepest sadness God is there, waiting with open arms.

Still Struggling

I have taken a long hiatus from  blogging.  Part of it is because I have been trying to stay focused on the important people in my life and spending time with them.  The other part is because I don’t want to sound like a broken record.  I am still grieving.  I am still hurting.  I am still struggling to find that “new normal”.   I realize that it has not been a year yet, and because of that I am trying really hard to cut myself some slack.  But there are times that the fog still makes it hard to move forward.

We are in the middle of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas.  I am terrified of that holiday this year.  Honestly, I have been scared since Thanksgiving.  This has always been my favorite time of the year.  I love everything about it – the decorations, the music, the specials on TV, the family traditions.  One tradition was that Dad and I always went out on a “booming around” day.   It was a shopping day where it was just the 2 of us (until the Cubs came along and then they came with us) and we went shopping for mom and whoever it was I needed to buy a special present for (boyfriends as I was growing up and then gifts for Papa Bear as we started dating and throughout our married life).    The day would always include Dad taking me out for lunch.  As I got older the day became more about the lunch and the conversations we shared than about the actual shopping.  When I graduated from Nursing School and started working he would pull out his date book on Thanksgiving weekend and say “we need to plan when we can do our day”.   We always aimed for weekdays since the stores would be less busy.   Until I was in my late teens the man had me convinced that he did not know how to wrap a gift, so I always wrapped the gifts for him after we got home from shopping.  Once I was living on my own I would always have a big pot of chili waiting for us so we could warm up while I wrapped.   This will be the first year in 46 years that we have missed a shopping day.   I have tried to think of so many ways to “honor” that tradition and create a new one.  I have yet to come up with one that feels right.  I thought about doing a spa day, but money and scheduling just did not work out.  I have tried to think of other ways….go out with the Cubs for a shopping day,  make it a family day of shopping, do some sort of service project with the family.  Nothing has worked out from a scheduling standpoint, and honestly, nothing has worked out from a feeling “right” standpoint either.

But this is just one of the things that have changed.  There are some not so great memories of last year’s Christmas that I have to work through.  Mom and dad usually came up to decorate our tree with us, but last year dad did not feel good enough for long enough to come up, so our tree did not even get decorated until 2 days before Christmas.  I am not even in the mood to decorate the tree this year.   After Christmas Eve Mass last year is when dad took a very bad turn for the worse and they had to leave our home in the wee hours of Christmas Morning while the cubs were still asleep.  It was the 1st Christmas morning that the Cubs did not spend with my parents.

During this precious time of the year I am just sitting in a low spot.  I know I have to work through the pain.  I know that have to just survive until the healing starts to occur.  I know that eventually there will be a “new normal”.  But right now, at this moment, it hurts.  And I want things to “old normal” again.  But normal would mean he would be in pain again.  Normal would mean that the loss was still going to occur.   Neither of those things would I want for him or my family.   But that does not stop what I am feeling right now, at this moment.   All I do right now is to cry out to the only one who knows completely about my pain and hang on to the faith that has been given to me.

Starts and Stops

I have not been writing frequently because there are so many emotions that I have been feeling that…

a) don’t need to find their way out into cyberspace, cluttering it up with negativity

b) are so repetitive that after the first 20 times you hear them you won’t ever want to come back to this site

c) have cluttered my mind so much that I haven’t been able to focus on what I want to write

So I ask you to please be patient as I stutter around and try to figure out my new normal.

Never being one to stay organized for more than 15.3 seconds, my cluttered and clouded mind has decreased that time to about 3.2.  I have become a relatively decent typist, but there is no way I could complete a post in that short a time span.   My to-do list is huge, as is the list of topics that I want to write about.   I have a calendar on which I plot out my posts – or at least topics I want to cover, if not the specifics.  So far I have moved topics 4 different times.  So you see, I am not ignoring the blog, or you readers, all 4 of you.  I am simply slogging along through the mist, waiting for the sun to burn through and allow me to figure out how to reconnect my brain.

The mist….

There is something that has caught me by surprise during my mourning for my father. It is the foggy, disconnected, numbness that I am feeling. It is not an all pervasive thing – I am not saying that I don’t feel anything. There are times, though, that I feel like I am wandering around a field in a dense fog and can’t seem to find any landmarks to get me home. I guess the problem is that I have to figure out what exactly is home since the home that I have known for 45 years has been permanently changed. As I walk through this field I can’t see the furrows and am unable to prevent myself from tripping, losing my balance, and sometimes landing face first in the mud, scratched and bleeding. I know eventually the sun will come out again and burn off the mist. I also know that no matter how bright it shines there are always going to be pockets of fog which will engulf me from time to time for the rest of my life. But I am tired of feeling this way. I know it has only been 3 weeks, I know I need to give myself more time. But I have never been a patient person, and I am even more impatient than usual. I don’t want to feel this constant ache, this disconnect from the rest of the world. I go about my daily life, working, taking care of my family, going to church, starting back to TKD, but what I really want is for the world to stop for a little while, to realize exactly what has been lost. But that is not how life works. The world continues to revolve, people continue to live their lives, and eventually I will be back to “normal”. But for right now, I am going through a lot of soap and water and band-aids as I clean myself from each tumble in the mud.

Temp Check

Today is not Monday,  it is not even Tuesday!  Somehow the week has really slid past me and I have not written a thing.  I am not sure how I manage to lose track of time like that.  I wish I could blame it on something like the emotions of grief, but I have to admit that I am a major procrastinator and I just did not get stuff done.  Now, I will say that there have been some serious disruptions to my sleep because the Cubs have been very needy and not sleeping well themselves.  They are going through the normal fears that occur in a loss.  They are afraid that Papa Bear and I are going to die or just disappear.   So there have been several long nights of sitting up and holding one or the other Cub while they slept and giving them squeezes and whispered assurances that I am there when they get restless.   I hate that they have to go through this.  Like any mom, I wish I could protect them from all the pain, the loss, the disappointments, the hurt feelings, and anything else that takes away their innocence and belief in a perfect and safe world.  But I am glad that I am here to help them through it, even if there are times that I know I say the wrong thing or I snap at them when I am going through my own emotional upheavals.

Anyway…..I think this is how I end up losing track of time!

So on Mondays I try to do a temp check of where I was last week and how I can improve the upcoming week.  That includes evaluating things like exercise (or lack of), my dietary planning and execution (healthy or otherwise),  how the message from Mass is going to impact my week, how much time I committed to deepening my friendship with God, and how much effort I put into being the wife and mother God wants me to be.   In order to increase my accountability, I decided that I needed to put some of that our here in cyberspace for all 3 of you who read this little collection of words.   So here it is…..

I have gotten up and started moving again.  I have not managed to get back to the TKD DoJang for a few reasons – all of them fairly whiny and not worth your time right now.  But I have managed to get off the couch, raise my heart rate and sweat just a bit.  I have done that using one of my very favorite work-out DVDs –

Leslie Sansone’s Walk Away the Pounds.

 

I was introduced to Ms Sansone’s videos through another blogger, Ellen.  Honestly, it was her blog, along with Baby Cub, who managed to get my saggy baggy body moving again.  But back to Ms Sansone’s videos.  They are easy to do (I did not even come close to falling down once – score one for the video since I managed to fall down several times in TKD) and don’t require any type of coordination (also another attribute that I sorely lack).

Starting to move again after almost 3 months of doing nothing, I was very glad to do this in the privacy of my home.  It also gave me the chance to get out some emotions that I was keeping bottled up.  There were several times that I would march around my living room with tears coursing down my face and screaming just because I was alone and could.  It is time for me to get out of the house and back into society, but I needed that time for some emotional healing, and for the most part I do that by curling in on myself until I am able to gain some sort of control.   Ahhh, control – an illusion, but one best saved for another day.

Well, there you have it – my emotional and physical temp check for the week.

The tricks of emotions

I have an entire calendar filled in with topics I want to write about here.

But right now my emotions aren’t letting me write about things.  In fact I feel like I am paralyzed.  I realize that this is the product of grief.  I am the one who wanted to be a grief counselor way back when.  But reading and studying about it and then living it are two totally different things.  That, and the fact that I always think I should be the exception to the rules and speed through things more quickly don’t make a good mix when I need to just slow down, allow the emotions to come, and hang on through the resulting turmoil.  I am learning that I need to take care of myself through this – take a long soak in the tub, or just close myself off in my office and do things that are comforting to me, such as scrapbook.  I don’t have to be the one to take care of the whole family and be strong for everyone else.

As an only child I have done a lot of thinking over the years about losing my parents and the fact that when it all boils down I will be going home alone – there will be no one else who shares the same memories that I do of family dinners, New Year’s Eve, refinishing and reupholstering furniture, or drawing on the walls with pencil.  But my aunt put it perfectly –

You can see the train coming and you can brace for it, but there is nothing to prepare you for when it actually hits.  

Today I was working and reviewing a chart for a medical test. That led to me thinking about the amount of times that dad had undergone that same test.  One thought led to another and suddenly I was sitting at my desk watering my keyboard and mopping my nose with that roll of toilet paper on my desk.  (Note to self – pick up tissues at the grocery store) Because of the amount of emotion and the sheer magnitude of my family’s loss, I feel like it has been weeks since my dad’s death and funeral.  But when I look at the calender it has been less than 2 weeks.

Emotions, they play tricks on the mind and on the heart.

Bruised and Battered

I have alluded to my father’s illness in past posts.  He has been battling Esophageal Cancer since 2005 – at least that is when the diagnosis was made.  I am sure he had been fighting it long before that.  The average 5 years survival rate for his type of cancer is 25%.    On Saturday, January 21, 2013, my dad’s body could no longer keep up with his will to live.  His soul departed this earth at 11:00 AM with me, my mother, Papa Bear and both Bear Cubs at his side.  While I miss him terribly and would love to have just a few more minutes with him to hear his laugh and see his sparkling blue eyes, his death was a spirit filled, holy, and peaceful event.

The last week has been filled with all the social etiquette that surround the death of a loved one – making the arrangements, family and friends arriving into town, the wake (or visitation), the funeral.  Throughout this time my family was surrounded by people who provided us so much love and support.  Yet there were times we wanted, no, needed, to be by ourselves.  We needed to absorb the enormous change that had rocked our world.  We needed to feel the pain, to accept its presence in our lives and accept that it is not going to go away any time soon.  My aunt opened her house (located just across the field from my parents’ house) to be the gathering place so that my family could retreat to mom and dad’s house when we needed that solitude.  It was the perfect arrangement.  We were able to reach out whenever we needed to have social interaction while grieve privately when we needed that.  We laid my father to rest on Wednesday morning, and late that evening Papa Bear and the Cubs and I headed back to our house.  I took the rest of the week off work and spent the time sleeping and just feeling the depth and variety of emotions that are still clamoring to be released.  Right now I feel emotionally bruised and battered.  But I am comforted by the love that has been shown to me.  I am strengthened by the promises of my faith.  And I am sheltered by the arms of Papa Bear.