Grief Beauty

Today as I was drying my hair, I noticed how unsatisfying my arms looked. I mean yes, at that angle, very few of us at this age have lovely tight upper arms. However, a year ago I remember looking in that same mirror and thinking that they weren’t bad arms. Not as terrible as I thought they were growing up. Certainly not bad enough that they deserved to be obscured by a cardigan even on the hottest summer days. Now, though. Now there’s no cardigan negotiation. These are not arms I want to be dragging around town where everyone can see.

Completely related, a year ago I was at the gym 5 days a week. I was cardio-ing away the intense sadness of watching my father die. I cried on every treadmill in the gym. I walked miles with tears streaming down my cheeks. I lifted weights I can’t imagine lifting today. I was at the gym during his final days, making an exception to my no-texting-at-the-gym rule so that I could make sure I wasn’t missing the Big Goodbye. By the time fall arrived I had stopped going entirely. I’m not even sure the gym is still there.

My weight held steady until last month when it seemed like a dam broke on the scale. I can see the extra pounds on my arms and my stomach and I am not at all happy. In fact, I think the only things I’ve done for my appearance in a year are to dye my eyelashes and cut my hair. I got tired of wiping off mascara smears every time I cried. I cut my hair because half of it fell out and it made me feel better not to be reminded every time I pulled my hair back…to go to the gym.

So now I have more weight, short hair, and brown lashes which I probably won’t dye again. My summer clothes don’t exactly flatter. I am slowly coming around to the idea of going back to the gym. If only because I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not be unhappy. That makes sense, right? Why is it so hard to actually do it? And why does it feel like it won’t make a difference if I do?

 

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Gracefully Aging

Look, that title makes it seem like I’m going to write thoughtfully about mid-life and we’ll all nod sagely and think kindly about our own mortality and tell each other we love each other.

This is not that post.

Last week a mole that was new, or at least incognito, arrived on my neck, started to bleed, and subsided into a small scabby thing that wasn’t that much different than the spot that turned out to be melanoma. That spot relieved me of a couple of lymph nodes and a good part of my upper right arm. In exchange, I got a startling scar that looks more like the aftermath of a shark bite and less like surgical precision. At my last appointment, I received a scolding about ignoring another similar spot that faded into nothing so I went in for reassurance that it was some post-ingrown hair irritation.

There were all sorts of people in the waiting room and more than a couple with white bandages on their faces or ears. The kind that I associate with my mother and grandmother. I imagine you know where this is going. At least I walked out with a beige, smallish, bandage, a hole in my neck where the spot used to be, and a promise that they’d get back to me on Monday.

I grew up in the sunbelt. My heritage is so very fair. Skin cancer was a thing we had in my family. My mom would show up with a giant bandage on her nose. The next month my grandmother would have one spanning across her shoulder and up her neck. We mostly pretended not to notice. The bandages came as gradually but as certainly as the wrinkles and age spots did and I came to associate them with getting older. And now that’s me. I’m the person that my child will look at and see as unimaginably old, bandaged, and sacrificed to the sun.

I want to handle this with laugh lines (check) and good humor (eh). It’s not so easy. I can’t ignore the fact that the skin of my hands and the capillaries on my face look like my father’s. That I have a belly like my grandmother’s who I knew, intellectually, wasn’t pregnant but who was surely shaped like someone who was. That nothing on my body is smooth or silky and that my eyes are fading to a lighter blue every year. I want to handle this gracefully. Perhaps with sheer determination I’ll succeed.

 

 

That Feeling When…

You check your voicemail because, even though you never check it, it has been a shitty week and why not because it can’t get worse, and you see a March message from your died-in-April Dad and you think, “I’m strong enough to listen to that and, man, it would be nice to hear his voice.”  and then you open it and it’s from your mother asking about Girl Scout cookies.

And then you fucking sob.

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Just One More Silver Lining

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My dad passed away on April 21st, five days before his 73rd birthday. I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty saying that I’m glad. That’s the silver lining. I told him as much and I’ll tell you. Glioblastoma, and all cancers, but this incurable one in particular, is a tremendous fucking asshole and it took my dad from me. Stole him away when no one was looking and left us with a shell that couldn’t be trusted to support him, to say the words he wanted to say, to think the thoughts, to cherish his family the way he would have liked. It erased parts of him altogether. I’m glad he doesn’t have to wait to die anymore.

For 22 months I’ve struggled to grieve and keep my mom upright. I’ve had to repeat to her, over and over, that the cancer isn’t in remission, it can’t be, they didn’t “get it all”, they can’t. It’s not possible to survive. I’ve had full days where it was one what the actual fuck after another. I’ve cried so much my pillow was still damp the next morning. I’ve begged my sisters to step in and take my mom off of my hands for a few days. I’ve missed countless days of work,  I’ve walked with my head down, I’ve crumpled inside.

As much as I feel ready (who is ever ready) to move on, I also feel like I want remember all of it. I do a lot of talking to myself, but it isn’t enough. I know it will fade (so much does with me) and so I plan to write it down. It isn’t all pretty. The words won’t be smooth. And, if goes like I expect it to, there’s more there than just my dad. This doesn’t feel like the right place for it really; this blank page that would prefer to host my child’s honest smile, the shenanigans of an almost seven-year-old, and the ongoing saga of her bladder because no it is not over.

So here are two things for you
1) My dad’s obituary and my addendum. Because he’s super cool and, man, I miss him.
2) The link to the place any other posts about this sort of thing will go. It’s my first home and one I only left when what I had to say became more about RR than about me. I’m delighted I kept it and it will be nice to go home.

In the Weeds

So you guys, I’m struggling every day over here. Struggling with inner guilt and pressure, the physical and mental health of my parents, a constant longing for my sisters to help with this terrible cancer, money, my relationship, my professional success. It manifests in the weirdest ways. For instance, I spent a good five minutes this morning worrying about the amount I’m contributing to retirement which may sound reasonable but, given that it is not even remotely an issue, was five minutes too much. In the five hours I’ve been awake, I have also had to haul myself away from the traps of:

Whether RR will ever ride a bike
How I have failed as a parent for not knowing how to teach her to ride a bike or swim
Whether my blood pressure was too high
Why that guy at the gym just can’t follow the rules
How to write reference letters for three people for the same job
Why I want to eat sweet things for breakfast or whether I would kill my wife if I didn’t
Why the school board meeting is tonight and not on the regular fourth Monday
If someone broke into the car
If I would get arrested for not having my license (this, after confirming I did have it)
How warm it is and what that is doing to iceburgs, seals, and polar bears
And New York and Miami
Why I am tired of eating
Whether I would cry at my therapy appointment on Thursday
Whether I cry enough or too much
Why my wife and I don’t take advantage of our alone time
Whether we would ever have alone time when we didn’t feel like just being still
How much I miss childless Saturday afternoons
If my new boss will want me to keep more regular hours
Why I am worrying about that when the position hasn’t been posted or even written
How we will ever get our grass to regrow
Whether I am going insane

It certainly doesn’t help that we’ve been through the wringer with my parents in the last two weeks. My father asked me if I couldn’t just pray away the gay. My mother ignored me when I told her. She spent the week not speaking to us and denied it ever happened while also complaining about her entire life to my sisters and copying me. Which only reminds me how much help she needs help. And also of my dad’s cancer which has visibly taken its toll in the last two months. This leaves me thinking hateful thoughts, like how it would be better if he just passed away in his sleep which is no one’s fault but my own.

I started getting daily texts from Shine which have a pithy saying (Today: “Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”), then suggest a general plan of attack (Today:”Give yourself positive motivation through action. Take one small action to help you feel present.”) and sum it all up with some strategy (Today: “Stop waiting for the perfect time to write that short story, your dissertation, or a thank you card. Just do it.”) And so, while what I suspect I need is to resume a meditation practice, instead I’m spending 10 minutes writing to you, which is often just as good.

Enough. Just enough.

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This week I had two people mention that my work calendar was a bit behind. This actually isn’t that unusual since I frequently forget to change over weeks into any given month. But January. You guys, I’m not sure I worked more than five full days in my office.

I worked from the hospital while I watched my dad uncomfortably shift around, without any arm or leg strength. I worked from the ER while they checked him for broken ribs from yet another fall. I worked from the ambulance even, on my phone, emailing what I thought was a “be in tomorrow” but turned out to be a “be in next week. probably.” I worked at the Rehab center while he lied to the physical therapists about how and how often he falls, while my mother alternately refused to care for him anymore and tried to leave on a vacation, while biting my tongue as he ranted about his roommates, the conditions, life.

I worked in between putting our remaining and beloved cat to sleep and cleaning the house, trying to rid it of the smell of sickness. I called HR while picking my daughter up that day, hammering out some long-standing and stagnating issues, and then sat with her while I explained that our cat wouldn’t be coming home. On the way to the car, I held her hand and mentally ticked off the list of things I needed to get done the next day. “We’re all out of cats!” she proclaimed from the backseat, eyes welling up and so we cried a bit together while I ignored the constant pinging of chats from my staff.

I worked while I talked to her school that morning, jotting notes while hearing that she maybe had lice. Or maybe it was awhile ago. But probably there was nothing alive there, now. I dictated an email to my computer while scanning my phone for a lice solution and texting my wife.

I worked with a broken finger, crushed by the car door I thoughtlessly slammed on it. The nail is destroyed, the tip shattered, but now I have a new split, which makes typing emails on my phone easier. It’s still my dominant hand though so showering takes much longer, giving me ample time to decide which issues to push forward and which interpersonal dilemmas to handle first.

I stopped working, momentarily, when my phone fell in the parking lot and the screen broke into a million pieces. And then when I was at the gym, for about 30 minutes, until I tried to dismount the stationary bike at the front of the gym and fell flat on my face, banging my splinted finger. I was thinking of the evaluation I had yet to turn in and how to frame my accomplishments in a way that would still merit an increase but not oversell.

I also did not work while bandaging my wife’s finger, after she cut the tip off and passed out on the floor. She and I are both bandaged now and are significantly more knowledgeable about wound care.

It may look like I haven’t been working. But I’ve been bending the limits of my own multi-tasking and every bit of technology I have, often at the same time, in order to not fall behind. My staff are understanding but I’m exhausted. I hope I’m hiding it. I’d like to actually work*, from my office, during actual working hours.

*I am aware, of course, about family and medical leave, and the importance of self-care in general. But my boss is pretty understanding and so I had the time I needed. The self-care I need is a series of uninterrupted, boring days, not punctuated by my mother’s outrageous behavior, my father’s debilitating illness, and my everyday woes. I am also not a workaholic (which my wife would confirm wholeheartedly) but I am responsible and diligent and refuse to let life get the better of me.

 

 

 

And Didn’t Even Proofread This

I’m sitting in the parking lot of a local park like a creeper which is something I wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t raining which it is, and has been, which is making it hard to look on the bright side of things.
Things.
Things like my having to call an ambulance for my gasping and uncomfortable dad after my mom cheerily left. “Call the doctor honey, dad fell this morning and I’m worried about his ribs!”
Things like spending the better part of the last four days in the hospital keeping him company even though I haven’t been to work for more than a couple of hours this month.
Things like a text from my mother at 1am telling me that she couldn’t spend the morning with my dad and would I please followed by a last minute call to say that he was probably being discharged and couldn’t I go because, well, she just can’t.
She can’t. She can’t do anything. Follow instructions (mom, don’t go back to your house, I’ll take care of it). Keep her new house clean (mom, where is the walker for dad? under that heap of…things?). Keep her wits together (mom, we’ll find his wallet, relax, it’s in the house. mom, stop trying to flip the bed over.). Be there for my dad (mom, why aren’t you going  to come say goodnight to dad or have dinner with him?) Be there at all (mom, you’re not dressed, or rather you’re half dressed. mom, you can’t leave without shoes. mom, please open your eyes so you can help me pack a bag for dad).
I need her to pull it together. Somehow. My wife and I moved them to an apartment last week. Her sister and our friends chipped in to pack boxes and watch our daughter. We packed everything when she left the house for a hotel, leaving dishes in the sink and blood on the bathroom wall. We unpacked everything before she walked into the new place so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. Yesterday she drove an hour to her old house “to get dish tabs” and even though she realized on her way out of town that she could just go to the grocery, she still went. My sister came for 24 hours to get the dog and in the process stirred enough around that she snapped my mom out of the carefully complacent place I’d settled her into and suddenly she was 16 places at once and doing everything poorly. She won’t set up an appointment with a psychiatrist even though the office is just waiting (I’m just too busy to do that, she says). She won’t take a breath (I have so much to do, she says, while doing nothing at all). She’s letting the crazy spill all over everything and asking me to mop up the mess.
I’m stretched about as far as I can go. Well, I thought I’d reached that point already but here I am tapping into something more so clearly things are capable of getting worse, I’m capable of handling worse. I wish I wasn’t. I wish I could be as fragile as she and my dad are.
And so, I’m in this park. Eating a sandwich I don’t like because it was the thing advertised as a deal and my capacity for complicated choices, like sandwiches, ran out yesterday. Watching the water splash onto the empty basketball court and wondering how deep this reserve really is and how I can possibly replenish it.