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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And Now Thanksgiving

Grief kicks everyone’s ass, right? Oh the holidays are the worst, they say. That first anniversary…the favorite moments…birthdays… Fuck them. Also, why do they have to be right?

I got through Halloween, his favorite holiday. I am hoping that’s the worst of it. It’s not though, is it? It’s equally as bad as the rest. Take Thanksgiving, for example. I don’t have many dad-specific memories locked up in this one. Sure, I can see him carving the turkey (Badly. He insisted on carving the breast in long slices rather than crosswise) but I can also see my grandfather (also badly) and my wife (beautifully). I can see him raking leaves but also insisting on inefficiently blowing them into the wind. I can see him kicking back in an arm chair with a martini, football on, and a fire blazing while we wiped away sweat, splattered gravy, and otherwise created a Thanksgiving Masterpiece while making it look easy. I can imagine what RR would say when he started puffing his pipe. She would be HORRIFIED.

But here I am anyway. I can’t decide how many to invite or even what to cook. And I’d argue that deciding what to cook on Thanksgiving is pretty much the easiest thing you can actually do. I love having huge Thanksgiving parties. Last year we numbered 23 and 2 turkeys. I remember gazing down the long table (yes, one long table for the grown-ups) and thinking, “A few more could fit, couldn’t they? And wouldn’t that be fun?” I do most of the cooking and I love that, too. I love hearing my friends and family laugh as they get to see new people and meet up with old friends that were new just the year before. I love getting out the punch bowl and filling it with homemade eggnog that is, let’s be honest, mostly cream and alcohol. I love putting our 1950s house to the hospitality test and finding that it’s down for a good time, every. single. time.

I’ve been agonizing over a guest list. Do we invite everyone? I cry. Do we keep it family (chosen) only? I cry. You, know, that’s still a party of 13. I cry. Should my mom come? We cry. Should she go to my sisters? I cry. How many pounds of potatoes for an unknown party of people? I cry. Should we cancel the whole thing? I cry. Do we go on vacation? I cry. My wife is probably crying in frustration, even though she politely does it out of sight.

Someone decided we would stay home and invite our chosen family. My mom has gone to my sisters. She asked me if I’ve ironed the tablecloth (that is so long it’s meant for a table of 16). I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we might be eating from paper plates standing in the kitchen. I didn’t tell it because that was ripping a small part of me into pieces. I like these traditions. Not everyone gets that. I like having to hand wash the china and silver. I like wondering if that gravy stain will ever come out of the linens. I like saving our money so we can afford to entertain everyone.

I’m going to cry. Hell, I’m crying right now just thinking about it and I’m sitting in a coffee shop. This is only a tiny bit better than last week when I cried in my office, got my sandwich wet, and had to go to a meeting with no mascara and a red nose.

Fuck this. And, Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

RR > Gloom

I’m gloomy lately. It’s the best word for it. A sort of foggy shadow. You can still be happy in the gloom but the bone deep pressure of it is still there. I wish that it was more like passing clouds on a sunny day. I’d even take those days when cold wind and sudden storms gets replaced by a chilly blue sky. And, you guys, I complain a lot and loudly about those days. Ugh. Cold. Instead here I am in the gloom.

Like I said, there is still happiness and a lot of it. For example, RR is potty trained. When I typed that I wrote, “RR hasn’t had an accident in…” and then I realized that we are past the days of counting accidents like injuries at a construction site. We still ask, she still checks, but none of us are sure about when exactly the last day was. For those of you that got here by searching (and lots of you do, judging from search terms), the answer to “when will my child be potty trained” is, in our case, seven years old. We survived it. I wasn’t sure we would. I’m not sure how we did.

Also, I love being her mother. Every single day. She’s independent and delighted with each new milestone she achieves. She can make her own sandwiches, getting down supplies from the highest shelves. She charms strangers. When we stop at a light or go through a drive-thru it’s not unusual to find her batting her eyelashes and getting a genuine smile in return. She’s funny. So funny. She has timing, and delivery, and loves a ridiculous joke.

So far, the genetic gamble is paying off. Of course, it depends on a heavy dose of luck and the donor being truthful, but we did our best to engineer a little girl who looks like me, doesn’t struggle with her size, is chill by default, and has an easy talent for music and rhythm. Of course, she does love to read Captain Underpants books and watches too much My Little Pony. I spend too much time telling her to chew with her mouth closed. I lose my patience. She has the regular allotment of sass. I am over the moon in love with my family. And so, I have indulged myself and included the following. The gloom, you guys, it doesn’t lift but it lets life happen.

Post -Dad Halloween

I wrote this last week. Today is Halloween and it isn’t easier or better, though I hoped it would be. We have done some decorating and RR is getting to trick or treat (to her delight). All day I’ve felt prickling under my skin, like I just. cant. But I can. And I will. And there isn’t much more to say about that.

Today I saw an older man flanked by two woman moving ever so slowly down the street. One must have been his daughter – it was in the nose and the hands – and his wife, possibly, probably, judging by her own weary walk. They were holding his hands, holding him up, and I saw my dad’s late cancer gait and balance. I’m seeing my dad everywhere these days.

I’m trying not to be too critical of my grief. I vacillate between a neutral sad but not too sad and being overwhelmed by tears. I catch myself judging my own degrees of grieving, comparing it to my sisters’ (why are they still so deadlocked in sobbing) and my mother’s (if only she had just recognized the inevitable sooner) and sometimes I feel a bit proud of having kept a practical, realistic mindset throughout the last two years. And then, especially when I start crying and can’t stop (in the car, while loading the washer, walking the dogs, taking a shower), I’m frustrated for not being kinder to my family and for being prideful to begin with.

It has been worse this month. Much worse in the last week. I’m nearly crying most of the time and it just takes a tiny thing to tip me one way or the other. There’s a lot of beauty and good in my life and so, most of the time, I get pulled back in the nick of time and saved from the embarrassment and indulgence in tears for a person gone six months ago. Other times, I take the chance to break and find it’s for the memories more than anything else. Happy tears for having had those moments, but leaving me with a red nose and bloodshot eyes nevertheless.

My therapist once told me I was a pretty cryer at least. I choose to believe it, especially the times when I know it isn’t true.

Halloween was one of his favorite holidays and fall his favorite time of year. He delighted in decorating the house with tombstones and cobwebs, displayed evermore sophisticated fake limbs and rats and spiders, and ran surround sound speakers to our front walk which he could use to personally spook trick or treaters. He was kind to the little ones and devoted himself to getting at least one good jump out of the older kids. When he moved here he handed out candy while we took RR around the neighborhood. He never once had anything but compliments for my own displays which, while in the same vein as his, never have reached the heights he regularly achieved. Even last year, when he was at the end of his ability to walk at all and certainly couldn’t climb the stairs, he sat outside the house with a gruesome looking mummy bandage on his arm and a plastic, wiggling hand in the candy bowl, distributing treats and greeting the children.

My mom can’t drive in the dark. We’ll be on our own for Halloween this year. I just want to close the door, turn off the lights, and fast forward to November. We don’t have pumpkins or a halloween costume for RR (it’s coming, I’m not that terrible). My sister isn’t bringing her kids. There are no spiderwebs or tombstones. I can’t see my way through setting them up without sobbing. And that makes me cry more.

Tell Them You’re a Mama

The last two weeks have been a slog. Not caused by any one thing in particular, just the general press of life day in and out. I’ve been so busy at work that my wrist started to hurt from typing. Then there was less typing and more meeting and my ass started to hurt from sitting. Finally there was more teaching than sitting or typing and I got a cold for my efforts. These are not actual problems*. Still, September has been oppressive in its unrelenting pace.

And then I got a UTI and I hated the world. Especially the insurance company whose machines were down and couldn’t process my prescription. I spent any free time I could find (and that is rare these days) working on it, including the ride home where I called both the main insurance company (we can’t help you ma’am) and the prescription insurance company (the system is just down, ma’am, I don’t know when it will be back). RR was deeply concerned about me because, as you know, all things urinary are in her wheelhouse. Her little brow wrinkled more and more as I talked and she kept repeating, “Just tell them you’re a mama!” as if that would magically move mountains.

Sometimes Being a Mama feels like moving mountains, and sometimes you take a moment to ignore the burning when you pee and realize how grateful you are to have someone who thinks it’s the most important job in the world.

 

*I live in Charlottesville

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.

for-petes-sake

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.