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.

Unloading

Since the day I could form words on paper I have loved to write.   I enjoy the artistic part of crafting the letters together to form beautiful script.   I play with words until they create the perfect image in my mind.  Then I actually write them and my script looks like chicken scratch and my word images become a jumble that really don’t do justice to what I had created in my mind.  But that is OK, because when I write in my personal journal, I don’t care what others think, because it is not for them.  It is for me.  It is my safe zone to unload all that boils in me all day.   Now one big problem I have is keeping my writing to something less than the length of  “War and Peace”.   That is why I have the journal I use.

It is full of prompts that focus me on the important parts of my day.  The space to answer those prompts is large enough to allow a couple of sentences, which forces me to really think about my answers and to distill my thoughts to their purest form.  The back of each page of prompts is a plain pages with lines so that I can free form anything that was not covered in the prompts.   Often I use that page as a gratitude journal.  One of the struggles of depression is finding the good in a day, especially when buried under the dark feelings. My mother gave me the exercise when I was a child, to report to her one good thing about the day when she was tucking me in at night.  I have carried that forward to my journal and I have found, even on my darkest days that I stop writing the good things only because I have run out of space on the page.  Not every day is that easy, but as long as I keep up my journaling and writing, it becomes a habit to focus on the good and identify it before I identify the bad.  My snarky sarcastic jabs lessen and I become a much nicer person.

I had fallen away from journaling for quite a long time.  When my dad’s cancer came back this last time I knew I needed to dig my journal out again and start writing.   But I was having a really rough time and just could not get motivated.  So I checked my e-mail and found a 50% coupon at one of my favorite craft stores,  marched myself in and spent the whopping $3.50 on myself and bought a pen that creates lovely writing even out of my scrawling hand!

As I write I imagine I am a regal lady who has wonderful history to record for posterity instead of a working suburban mother of 2 just trying to make ends meet.   In reality, though, when I write with that pen my writing becomes art, it becomes more important, if to no one else but me.  And at that moment, as I pour out my day onto the page and work to make sense of the struggles and celebrate the victories and fulfill my mother’s request to find something good at the end of the day, I am writing a unique and priceless story because no one else will ever do the things I do or feel the things I feel in exactly the same way.   And by filling in the blanks on the daily page I empty myself so that the next day I can once again be filled with the love, laughter, and joy that my family brings to me each and every day.

My Spiritual Home

Right now my life is going through an overhaul.

I am once again taking charge of my physical well-being.

I am being proactive in taking care of my emotional health while grieving and working through the stress of this time of my life.

I am also leaning on and building up the spiritual part of my life.  It is not actually a “part of” my life, it is my foundation.  I have never been very open about my faith life on this blog, but if I am going to continue to grow I am going to have to talk about it a bit more.   To do that I am going to have to tell you a bit about my worship tradition in order for you to understand some of what I talk about in future posts.   First and foremost I am a Christian – I profess without hesitation that my entire life is influenced by Jesus.  I attempt to follow him, though I am only human and fall many times, DAILY!  But because of his forgiveness and grace I am able to get up and try again, knowing that he is always there for me.   The way I worship is guided by the Roman Catholic Church.  I was baptized as an infant into the Church, and have been a practicing Catholic my entire life.  I went through the normal teen and early adult years where I questioned not only my faith tradition, but also Christianity as a whole.  It was only through this time of questioning that I was drawn back to my faith and the Catholic Church and have been able to embrace it with my entire heart and soul.   That time of questioning, exploration, and even flat-out denial gave me the chance to step away from the faith that my parents spoon fed me and return to it as an adult making a conscious decision to enter into a relationship with God and accept the traditions of the Catholic church.

There are many traditions that Protestants object to in the Catholic Church, and there are many misconceptions about the Church.  There will be times that I discuss specifics of the Catholic church as it relates to my growth journey.  I will explain those specifics so that anyone who is not intimately familiar with the traditions of the Church can understand why it is important to me.  But never is my intention to preach or try to convert anyone.  I am merely speaking from my heart about my personal journey.    I may point out differences between my faith tradition and those of another denomination only to make a point, but never, ever to denigrate anyone else’s beliefs.  I would hope that my journey would encourage others to seek out their own spiritual path no matter what belief system.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Catholic Church in order to understand a bit more of my point of view and my origins, there are many really good books out there.  One series in particular is very good at explaining things, and is in a format that I really appreciate…..

Catholicism for Dummies

Catholic Mass for Dummies

Saints for Dummies

Falling Apart

Over the last few months I have felt like I am falling apart.  When I set my New Goals back in November I was doing pretty good.  Since that time I have had a string of pretty major health issues.  Part of the onset, I am sure, was influenced by the stress of my father’s progressing illness.  Stress, as we all know, has a massive impact on not only psychological and emotional health, but also physical health.

My body chose one of the worst days in the world to revolt and send me to the Emergency Department – Presidential Election Day.  Please trust me when I say there is absolutely NOTHING on TV during an election.  Sure, I am interested in the results,  but after the first 30 times of hearing the exact same numbers, I am sure I could manage with only the ticker along the bottom of the screen!  Anyway, I ended up there with chest pain.  I know all the protocols for someone entering the ER with chest pain.  But it is totally different when I am the patient, not the nurse.  Not only that, I knew exactly why I was having chest pain, and it had nothing to do with having a heart attack!  I just needed a medication adjustment to help control my heart rate.  But the staff had to follow the routine and I had to submit.  I do have to say that they staff was really good and took my teasing and light-hearted complaining all in stride.  After spending the night in the hospital I had to take a couple of weeks off from vigorous exercise to allow my medication levels to rise.  During that time I was fairly (OK, moderately to majorly) sedentary and made the mistake of taking up soda consumption again.  Subsequently, my old friends, kidney stones, came to visit.  I started showing symptoms right before Thanksgiving.  I finally passed one stone that I know of the last week of November.   Because I knew I had passed the stone I could not figure out why I was still having so much pain.  A CT scan showed an inordinately large amount of stones.   I was given the option of trying to pass them or have surgery.  Since it was 2 weeks before Christmas we made the decision to go ahead of surgically remove them.  Good thing we did, because the size of the stone that was causing the majority of the pain was not going to pass by itself.  I was healed and healthy for Christmas.

I relate these things, not to get sympathy, but to discuss the emotional impact this has had on me.  As I said before,  I really believe that stress had a huge impact on all of this.  Stress causes the release of the “fight or flight” hormone – the one that makes the heart race, causes muscle tension and creates a sense of alertness.  Some stress is normal and actually somewhat beneficial to our bodies.  And the “fight or flight” response is great when a mountain lion is about to attack. But long-term stress wreaks havoc.  It can cause high blood pressure,  lead to a suppression of the immune system,  aggravate skin conditions, trigger the onset of diabetes or worsen diabetes in those who already have it, and can even influence fertility.  (The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress By JANE COLLINGWOOD)  Those are the physical effects that occur naturally within the body.  That does not include the poor habits developed over life to cope – over-eating, eating the wrong thing, etc.  There are also mental effects such as being unable to concentrate, racing thoughts, negative thoughts, and inability to problem-solve, to name a few.  Long term stress can also result in depression, withdrawing from family and friends who can provide support, and ceasing to participate in stress-relieving activities such as hobbies and exercises.  (The Impact of Stress By STEVE BRESSERT, PH.D.)

You see, I had ALL of those symptoms, but I did not heed my body’s warnings.  I had to wait for them to get so bad that I ended up in the ER and cascade to surgery before I started to listen and become proactive.  My work life depends on my being proactive.   I need to move that proactive mindset to my personal life.  It is much easier to be proactive while I have the energy and the mental resources than it is to be reactive when I am rolling under a wave of stress.

In future posts I will be exploring ways to once again move to the proactive.  I would love to have a “discussion” about ways to actively negate the effects of stress before they become a problem.  So please chime in on the comments section!