Life Without My Dad.

No one prepares you for the morning you wake up and are slammed in the face with the fact that today is your dad’s funeral. A part of me wanted to get it over with and another part of me wanted to run far far away. But I did it. I wore a black dress and cried a lot and hugged a lot of people I didn’t want to touch. But I did it.

I’ve been going to hot yoga at least 4 times a week, usually I go only 2-3 but I realized that I needed that hour to zone out. Because what’s been also difficult is dealing with my kids. Twin three year olds actually don’t care that my Dad died. They still want my attention, my love, and energy. Lots and lots of my energy.

Hot yoga gives me space away from them, away from my phone, and the world. Where I can just feel my feelings and if there are tears that mix with the sweat no one notices and if they do they don’t care. I’ve been doing hot yoga for roughly fourteen months, and until three weeks ago when my dad passed I didn’t realize how incredible it has been for my mental health.

Before now it was a workout but the last three weeks it’s been this sort of emotional cleansing. I only told two of the instructors that my Dad died. I went to a class the day after he died and I told that instructor later in the week when I saw her again. I didn’t want them to treat me any differently or feel awkward if they didn’t know what to say.

I credit hot yoga with my ability to function and move forward step by step over the last few weeks.

I realized at one point that I don’t have pictures of my Dad around. I mean there were a couple, but mostly it’s pictures of the boys in our house. I went to Rite Aid to print a couple 8×10’s- one of him in his military dress uniform and one of our entire family. It was a disaster. First it stopped uploading with a usb cable, so I uploaded a second time, then in the middle of printing the printer stopped working and the staff had to replace the cartridge and paper, then it erased my order again…

I mean literally anything that could go wrong went wrong. Including my twin three year olds screaming and running around the store.

Yes we were that horrible family who everyone is wishing would leave. When the worker came over for maybe the fifth time(?!) my eyes welled up and I said, “Listen I’m just trying to print literally two pictures of my Dad who died two weeks ago. Could you just get it to work this time?”

She gave me two coupons so I paid one dollar for both pictures, and apologized profusely and said, “We’ve all been there honey,”.

It’s true. When I talk to some one who has lost a parent it’s very different from when I talk to some one who hasn’t. There’s an understanding among those of us in this horrible little club of kids who’ve lost their parents that it’s just awful and nothing can ever really prepare you for it.

Even when the dementia was setting in, he was still there, I still had a Dad. Now I’m Dad-less.

The pictures printed eventually and I framed them and hung them in my house. When I walked by one tonight carrying Jackson to bed, I said “Look baby, say good-night to our family, good night to Poppy and Grandma,” and then named off my sister and her wife and our niece. Everyone in the picture. He looked at me, and looked at the picture and then kissed my cheek and my eyes welled with tears as I walked him up the stairs.

It feels comforting to me to say goodnight to my dad still.

My yoga instructors often talk about transformation and how going into a pose you will not come out the person you were going in. Embracing the pain and sitting with the uncomfortable will teach you how to tolerate distress.

I certainly am not the same person I was three weeks ago. I am transformed. I feel like I’ve gone deep into the pose and am trying to work my way out of it. Some day I will.

When I see the picture of my Dad in his dress uniform I remember all the times I hugged him and laid my head against his chest and felt those buttons push into my head. I remember the scent of him.

I loved hugging my dad as a kid. It was safe and warm and there were many times I hugged him in uniform. The fatigues had a different smell and feel than the dress. I see him dressed for the military and all I think of are the hugs.

 

How I Talked to my Three Year Olds About Death

My dad died last Saturday. He was ill for the last couple years, with a steady decline in the last six months. It was horrible for me to watch and even more horrible for me to contemplate explaining this to my sons.

Saturday came and he was on in-home hospice care. We brought the boys over and spent the day there. I do not regret this because the boys got to spend the day with our family and we all surrounded my dad with love the day he died. He even opened his eyes and smiled when Declan came in and said Hi Poppy when we arrived in the morning.

My boys are very intuitive and they knew Poppy was sick because he was laying in my parents bed, and not talking to them. They were timid at first being in the room, and then as the day progressed and they were outside running around with their cousin and we were all acting as normal as we could…they started running in and out of the room to check on Poppy.

Jackson left a purple flower on his bed.

Later in the evening they left and Jackson said “Good-bye Poppy” loudly.

About an hour later my dad died. I think he waited for them to leave.

Then we had to figure out how to tell our sons. Poppy was a constant fixture for them for three years, and toddlers have a concrete vision of our world.

Sidetrack: My cousin sent me what I refer to as “Death books” about three weeks before my dad passed. They are children’s books specific to speaking about death. I hadn’t looked at them yet because I wasn’t ready to and my wife and I joked about the “Death books” as they came prior to us coming to terms with the fact that he was dying. I pulled them out of the box and held one up and said, “Look babe, they got their first death books!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I finally visited the death books and talked to my sister and sister-in-law about how they talked to my niece. They used the heaven version and that she has guardian angels. The books did give me some good language to use and I agreed with the tactic of being concrete, not saying “he went to sleep and won’t wake up” because that seems like a set-up for a phobia of sleep.

We are not religious. But the heaven/sky/angel version of death is a positive one. I’m down with that. My wife came into my room the morning after Poppy died and told me she tried telling Declan about Poppy when he asked to go see him.

Declan came trotting in after her and said, “Poppy in the sky Mama?” So for lack of  a better explanation I said “Yes”. He’s in heaven which is I suppose in the sky. He accepted that and we moved on for the day.

Later in the evening though he and Jackson brought up Poppy, and Declan again asked about the sky. I told them that “Poppy’s body stopped working. He was very sick and sometimes when some one is older and sick their body stops working. So we would not be able to actually see Poppy or talk with him, but that he is watching over us all from Heaven.” I did use the term “died” at one point, I think later in the week.

They seemed to accept this. And since Saturday they’ve asked about it, and we’ve sat and talked, and I’ve cried and my wife has cried in front of them both, and we say, “We miss Poppy, and it makes us sad, and it’s okay if you are sad too.” And they generally give us hugs and move on.

Then today in the car Declan said, “Poppy’s body was hurting?” I said “Yes baby, he was hurting,” and then Jackson said, “We go see Poppy and Ba? I mean, we go see Ba? (Ba is Gramma)”. And I burst into tears. Because he gets it. He gets that he won’t see Poppy again. Then Declan asked me if my body was hurting, and I said “No baby, and Mommy’s isn’t either.”

Gramma came over last night, and they told her Poppy was in the sky, and she agreed. Her being here alone I think cemented it for them that we wouldn’t see Poppy again.

Grief is heavy. So heavy it feels like a weighted blanket on top of me all the time. But to grieve and have small children is awful. They rip off the band-aid every time it starts to stick a little. They don’t mean to, but they randomly bring up Poppy and they catch me off guard and it’s like a knife to the heart every time.

I’m glad that they understand and I feel like we have a parenting win with this whole explaining death thing to two toddlers. But as a daughter who lost her Dad, it’s incredibly painful. Because when they ask about Poppy I’m supposed to be a strong Mama, when really I just want to be a daughter crippled with grief. But I can’t be.

This is the stuff no one tells you about parenting. My heart goes out to any parent who has lost a loved one who has small children because to keep showing up as a parent in these dark days is the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

 

No Heat. No doorknobs. Purple Flowers. The Death of my Dad.

I got the call from the hospice nurse there was a sudden decline and went after work to my parents house. The two nurses and an aide were there as well as my sister and sister-in-law and Mom.

I had to pee.

Preface: My Mom decided to replace all the interior doors a month prior to my dad’s decline.

I went to one of two bathrooms at the house and when I went to close the door I realized there was no doorknob. Just a big hole where the doorknob should be. It also would not stay closed. So I shoved a towel in the hole and shoved some more on the floor to help hold the door shut. Then I peed.

I relayed my doorknob issue to my mom at one point and she agreed that there were in fact no doorknobs on any of the doors yet. The towels did the trick though.

Then we were all sitting around my dad’s bed. Watching him labor to breathe and we realized it was rather chilly. The furnace died.

After we made that realization there were a few seconds of silence, and I broke it with the statement, “No heat. No doorknobs.” Another few seconds of silence and then we all cracked up laughing.

The problem with being a nurse who has worked with the dying is I knew the timeline. I knew when I saw my Dad that night with the heat and doorknobs that it wouldn’t be that night.

I told my wife I predicted another 24 hours. And exactly 23 and a half hours later he passed. His color was still too good that Friday night and his skin still looked normal-ish, and roughly 22 hours later his skin looked different, darker, the pre-death look. And his breathing was more ragged. He also had the smell. The smell of a dying body is distinct.

I went home Friday night and took my time getting ready the next morning. With a feeling of foreboding I took a shower and picked out my clothes carefully, because what does one where to the death of their father? Black? Pastels? Casual or more formal? It was bizarre that I was even thinking that but I was. Then we got the boys in the car and my wife took her car too, as they would leave earlier than I.

We were driving up a main route and I saw a car coming toward me with flashing lights. It was a long line of cars with flashing lights, they all had a orange signs in their windows, “Funeral”. It wasn’t lost on me that the universe placed a massive funeral procession across from me as I drove to see my Dad for what I suspected would be the last time.

It was a long day. We kept it as normal as possible for my kids and my niece. We all played outside in the backyard, we had the boys nap in their sleeping bags in the guest rooms and we made sandwiches for lunch. All along though my dad was in their room, on oxygen, not conscious, and laboring to breathe, as he prepared to die. The boys and my niece would randomly run in and out of his room and ask about him sleeping and being sick.

At one point outside the kids were picking little purple flowers and putting them in our hair and their hair. Later I walked in to check on my Dad and my son Jackson had apparently placed one of the purple flowers on the bed with my dad just at the tip of his fingers.

I saw it and smiled and told my Dad it was there and we left it there all day until he died.

He waited. He waited for my kids and wife to leave; he waited for my sister and niece to leave, and for my mom’s friend to come and be with her. He always told me that he preferred me with him whenever he was admitted to the hospital. Said I was the most calm.

He knew I was the one who would handle him dying. That I wouldn’t’ want my kids there. That I would make sure he was comfortable.

I had this sort of detached feeling that whole two hours at the end. Like I knew it was coming but couldn’t process it or verbalize it at all. I just ran through the motions of existing and being aware of his increase in agitation and giving him more pain meds and telling him it was time to go. My mom and her friend and I sat chatting in between checking on him and trying to eat dinner. Trying to be normal.

My sons knew something was up that day. Especially after nap time. They were irritable and hyper. When they went to leave my son Jackson, who never says good-bye, ran into my dad’s room and said, “Bye Poppy,” very forcefully and purposefully. He stood there with me and looked right at my dad and repeated it, “Bye Poppy.” Then he looked at me and I said, “Good job baby, he’s sleeping, but he heard you,” and then Jackson marched from the room ready to go.

Somewhere in his little heart he knew.

Later that night I came home and smiled thinking of this morning when I picked out my outfit and I peeled it all off and put on the flannel button down I took from my dad’s closet before I left my parents house.

My Dad’s death is devastating to me, but watching him live with dementia for the last two years was was equally devastating. It’s been bittersweet on so many levels. I miss him, but I missed him before, as the disease took his brain and personality. I wish for more time with the man he was but I also wish him peace as he was suffering.

When I saw that he wasn’t breathing and knowing I had just been in the room not ten minutes earlier and I had been telling him it was okay to go for the last day; it was an acute pain and grief such that I never felt before. But I’m glad I was there for him. I’m glad he’s at rest.

What I will remember of my dad’s last day is the way he smiled when he heard Declan come in and say “Hi Poppy,” very loudly. It was the last time I would see him smile. I will remember a small purple flower on his bed left by little hands saying good-bye in their own way. I will remember curling up in my bed in his thick flannel shirt.

I will remember his death because it was a few days of waiting, but that was after two years of watching him slowly slip away. I hope that after this acute pain fades I will not think of his death but of his life. My Dad’s life revolved around loving his family.

I am at peace knowing the love of his family surrounded him in his death.

With much love…rest easy Dad.

At Home Waxing and Balloon Disasters…Mom Life

I went to the hairdresser today. Couple things happened when I had my boys. They started giving me gray hairs. Too many for me to ignore. So I started dying my roots and highlighting. I also developed an affinity for waxing. Lasts a long time and my pain tolerance sky rocketed after carrying and delivering twins. I go see some one who waxes upper legs/bikini line every 6 weeks or so. But some times I do a touch up in between visits.

There I am. Wearing a bath towel, in the kitchen, hair in a ponytail, boys watching a movie so I have about ten minutes before they lose interest and require my attention. I had waxed a few spots on my legs before, but none up close to the bikini line.

I realized that my mom pooch from carrying twins (which is smaller now than it was, and hopefully with enough hot yoga will continue to shrink) was interfering in my waxing. However, hot yoga gave me enough flexibility to contort myself into a crazy position with my head practically in my crotch and my hands trying to spread the wax, hold the pooch out of the way, and then put the paper on and….then I realized my hair was stuck in the wax.

I tried flipping my ponytail up and then I had to let go of pooch, pull hair out of wax on leg, towel dropped, I’m naked, swearing, and in walks my wife. Literally I’m hopping around the kitchen going “Fuck this fuck fuck fuck” trying to pull the wax out of my hair, dropped the towel, and she looks at me, shakes her head, and keeps walking.

So I grab the meat scissors. Because obviously I couldn’t take the time to walk ten feet and get real scissors and I cut the glob of wax out of my hair along with a couple inches of my hair. One problem down.

Then I wax the spot on my leg, almost in tears at this point but trying to laugh about it. Then my kids come over and ask what Mama is doing, I’m struggling with the towel, and then I drop wax all over the floor. It didn’t improve from there.

A couple weeks later my wife asks me to not wax at home anymore. She says I can’t handle it, and neither can our kitchen. To her credit she said all of this with a straight face.

I’m at the hairdresser’s today and I tell her I need a trim. Then I hold up the bunch of hair that is about two inches shorter than the rest. I tell her it was a wax disaster and not to ask any further questions.

I can still see the boys faces, total bewilderment and I’m thinking, this is what makes a family. These moments when I’m such a freaking mess. No one else in my life sees me like this. Not that I would want any one else to see me with wax in my hair, naked, and swearing in my kitchen, but my point is these are the moments that make family. They are intimate, raw, and incredibly vulnerable. I can laugh about it now, and I cracked up telling my hairdresser.

It was a bad night and the damn balloons (about a week old) were still high on helium, weighted down with little hearts. I was sick of tripping over the balloons because I told the boys they couldn’t have them in the family room, so they would park them between family room and rest of house.

I tripped on Jackson’s three times. I told him all three times to get the balloon into the toy room. The fourth time I picked up the weighted balloon and tossed it into the playroom while yelling, “Move your balloon now!” Which was stupid because I was moving it. But I was losing it that night. They were wearing me down.

The boys were right there. Watching my meltdown me throw the balloon into the playroom. It somehow managed to skid over one of their little wooden chairs and much to all of our horror we watched Jackson’s balloon get torn clear in half. It caught on something on the chair and literally just completely ripped silently in half. Then it floated sadly to the ground in multiple pieces.

The three of us looked at each other. Then Jackson burst into tears, “My balloon Mama! Not Nice Mama!” And a whole litany of name calling and blaming me. How to explain to a three year old that I actually did not mean to do that at all, and I could never have predicted that if I tried. I felt like the worst human in the world. I tore my three year old’s balloon in half. I thought he had recovered though and we were putting it to rest.

But today, two weeks later, we were driving home from daycare and Jackson said, “Mama, you hurt my Elsa balloon,” and I had to say, “Yes baby, I did. I’m sorry.”

He wasn’t upset, just stating a fact.

The boys see me at my worst and I hope they also see me at my best. I guess it’s how we all react and recover from our worst that shapes our bond and love for one another.

My wife and I were just us for ten years. It’s taken such incredible adjustment for us to add two little beings into our life. But moments like the wax and the hair, that makes me feel like me. I’m being myself with them, and that’s such a relief. Because while they were newborns it was hard to be any one at all because we were so sleep deprived and before that pregnant so it was like I didn’t have my body to myself. And adjusting to two new people in our lives who are solely ours has been one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done.

So yes. I’m sorry boys. Your Mama is so smart in some ways, and so incredibly dumb in others. I own and operate a business and can bring pretty much any one to tears if I pull out my psychiatry skills. But I can’t wax my upper leg without cutting out a chunk of my hair. I have what I thought was incredible patience, but apparently not for tripping over balloons. And I seriously had no idea or intention of ripping it in half.

But I wouldn’t change these moments. Because I want my sons to know me and love me as I am. Just me. Because I want to know them and love them with all their imperfections too.

But for God sakes just move the damn balloon when I asked and then we could all have been spared the balloon murder. For real.