Explaining Death to Three Year Olds.

When I called my wife around 1:30 on Tuesday she knew something was wrong. She knew I was supposed to get my first allergy shot at 1:15 and that I generally don’t call unless something is wrong.

After about sixty seconds from the time of the allergy shots- there were three- my throat started to close. It’s an odd feeling, not totally like my throat was closing, more like it gets tight and so itchy that I want to stick a coat hanger down it.

The nurse was pretty calm, though she later told me I gave her some gray hairs, as she told me I was having an anaphylactic reaction and they needed to give me epinephrine. The allergist came in, he’s also one of my favorite doctor’s, and also calmly explained what was happening as I was injected with epinephrine. My throat opened up, and then they gave me benardryl and told me to call some one.

I had to get a second shot of epinephrine about thirty minutes later because the whole throat closing thing started again. In the middle of it I was surprised and at first, not anxious. But then as I realized what happened and remembered all of the cases of anaphylaxis in the emergency department I took care of, I started picturing the worst.

Three days earlier I threw out my back. So I was also uncomfortable.

The next day I went to work. My arms hurt from the shots, and I had started wheezing the previous night leading us to wake up at 2 AM to make sure I didn’t miss a Benadryl dose and albuterol. Then I went to work. Being my own boss, knowing I’m taking three days off next week, I don’t get PTO. I saw patients with a sore back and sore arms, wheezing, and hoping the anaphylaxis was going away.

That was last night. I stayed at the office until after seven, catching up on paperwork and billing after seeing thirteen clients.

I came home but eight, to my wife saying the boys wanted to say goodnight. I dragged myself upstairs, and fell into bed with my Jackson. He told me all about his day. Declan chiming in at times from his bed. Then Declan asked about going away on Sunday. “We goin to Hampshire?” “Yes baby, we are going to New Hampshire,” “With Gramma?” “yes baby with Gramma,” “Mama!” “What baby?” “We forgot Poppy!”

I was half asleep, feeling like I got hit by a truck, and my son chooses to bring up my Dad. He died in April. We went to New Hampshire together as a family every year. This will be the first time for us up there without him.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Poppy going to come down from the sky to Hampshire?”

At this point I had tears in my eyes, “No baby, he’s not,”

“Aww, Mama, then he won’t give me a hug and a kiss. I wanna hug Poppy,” he said “I want him to meet Hediz and give him a hug too,” (a friend at daycare).

Now I’m openly crying, and I choke out, “I miss his hugs too baby. I wish I could hug him too. But it doesn’t work that way. He’s never coming back from the sky, he’s an angel up there now baby.” He looked disappointed but accepted this. Jackson sat up and gave me a hug. Then I kissed them both goodnight and walked out of their room.

I walked downstairs sobbing and tried to explain to my wife what just happened.

The thing about parenting is that I am never prepared for those moments. I had a shitty week. It was only Wednesday! I was ready to fall into my bed and sleep. Instead I was caught off guard by a random thought from my son about my Dad. They go weeks without mentioning Poppy. Then the night that I am feeling physically and emotionally beat is the night I have to further explain that he is actually permanently gone. It’s the night I have to think about his hugs, and how much I miss them.

It’s been six months since he died. I dread each day because I think about him every day. But I look forward to each day because it’s one more day we make it through since he died. I keep waiting for the day it gets easier. So far it’s not here yet.

Within a twenty four hour period I was recovering with my back, I had an anaphylaxis reaction so bad I required two epi-pen’s, I saw thirteen clients at my practice and saw six patient’s inpatient at the hospital, I fought with Anthem, shocker, and I explained death to my three year old twins. Again.

The whole adulting thing is overrated.

Parenting makes me appreciate and admire all parents. We all have these moments. These five second moments that make up our day that bend us, touch us, torture us, because our kids are innocently enquiring about something that can be incredibly triggering for us.

I don’t get days off or time outs as much as I crave them.

Tonight we made cookies and doughnuts (I bake them) and butternut squash Chile. I did three loads of laundry, and I tried not to think about the packing I haven’t done for New Hampshire yet. But we didn’t talk about my dead Dad and they fell asleep without screaming. I’ve had about an hour to watch The Office, write a blog post, and fold all three loads of laundry.

At some point this week will be over. I likely won’t remember that my back was thrown out or the emotional toll of my clients this week.

But I will remember my son asking me if Poppy can come down from the sky to hug and kiss him. Because it’s something I wish with all my being could be a reality.

 

Water Wednesday…#Mom Fail

You ever see The 10th Kingdom? Great series. I’ve watched it hundreds of times. Starting in seventh grade I think when it first aired. Back in the days before DVR and youtube.

I always identified with the main character Virginia because she was guarded but people liked her. She was incredibly smart and also brave. There were two scenes that always stuck with me. One with the Wolf (human looking but with a tail) who said, “Well, you may not get hurt, but huff puff, you won’t get loved either.” The wolf was as emotionally open as Virginia was guarded.

I felt that was very wise and that has always been in my head a bit when I’ve entered into relationships.

Another scene that always stuck with me and especially recently was with Virginia and her Father. She opens up about being abandoned by her mom, “I still have this uncontrollable urge to just go up to people and say, ‘My Mother left me when I was seven!’ As if that would explain everything. And I miss her.” 

Seeing it written doesn’t do it justice. The actress does an amazing job in that moment making herself very vulnerable and raw. I think of it often now after having lost my Dad.

This morning I dropped the boys at daycare and realized when I got there it’s Wednesday. Water Wednesday. It’s only the second one since they started and I forgot all about it. I also forgot that at this daycare we don’t leave their swimsuit like at our previous one.

The director of the daycare asked me to tell the boys they couldn’t participate before I left.

I kneeled down on the ground, with tears welling in my eyes and for some reason as I was telling them that Mama forgot their swimsuits and they couldn’t play outside with the other kids all I could think of was my Dad and that scene in The 10th Kingdom because I was like how dare she? My Dad died in April! I was screaming in my head; I can’t remember that there’s Water Wednesday’s and their swimsuits are at home.

Anything extra throws me over the edge.

The boys looked pathetic. I was in tears. I’m pretty sure she took pity on me and said they would figure it out and I said I didn’t care if they were out there in their underwear. I wanted them to be included.

When I left they were figuring it out and I was crying less. Of course now I’m crying again writing about it.

Grief I’m learning fills you up. I tell my clients with depression and anxiety, that they are filled up, like a teapot, and so when there is normal stress added they boil over. Apparently the same holds with grief. It sucks.

Our washer crapped out, it’s my Dad’s birthday on Friday, I forgot Water Wednesday my clients all seem to be melting recently, the boys don’t have shoes that fit and I just can’t seem to make it to the store, I’m on a smoothie diet so I’m generally starving and there’s no wine or chocolate in my house…the list goes on. Boiled over.

These are all innocuous seemingly normal every day stressors that normally don’t throw me for a loop. But the week of my Dad’s birthday every little thing has me breaking down.

I keep waiting for the layer of grief to lift. I’m sure at some point it will. Maybe Election day 2020 if America gets its head out of its ass long enough to vote for a non-homophobic and non-Islam/Immigrant/abortion-hating-racist dude. That will help.

Wine and chocolate would also help. Sigh.

 

 

 

Month 3 Dad-less

A lot happened this month.

We switched the boys daycare. We made progress painting our fence around our pool…we started in June. It’s kind of a horrible Summer project but needs to be done.

And we passed the three month mark since my Dad died.

I’ve been super irritable. I kept blaming PMS but then I realized it revolved around July 6. The closer we got the more irritable I became. Then it came and now it went. Still irritable but less so. More just sad.

The thing about Dementia is that you sort of grieve the person when they are alive because you lose pieces of them along the way, but the shitty thing is that for me at least, I also walled off some of that grief because he was still alive. I wanted to enjoy as much time as I could and not dwell in the morbid thoughts of him slipping away.

It was hard and I think I’m paying the price now. It’s like I’m double grieving.

I’m grieving the Dad I had in the last two years because it wasn’t the dad I knew for the 32 years prior. I’m grieving the loss of those two years. That my last times with him were with him fighting an illness. I saw him fall, I saw him have a stroke, literally in front of us at my niece’s birthday, and so many other things that signaled decline after decline and it was heart wrenching.

Death sucks regardless and I don’t know which is worse. Losing them suddenly and unexpectedly or watching them slip away into nothingness slowly.

The boys talk about him less. But we were looking at picture books from when they were babies and there were a ton of pictures of Poppy holding them as babies. He was generally okay when they were born; started to really decline when they were about 10-12 months.

There are so many times I think oh Dad would be playing with them with this toy right now, or Dad would want to know about the new daycare, or Dad would be helping us paint the fence. Because that’s the kind of Dad he was.

The other crazy shitty incredible thing is he was a twin. His twin is still alive and well living in Florida. My Dad and his twin and actually their younger brother too, they all looked incredibly similar. I just think/know my Dad would get such a kick out of all the crazy antics my boys get into because he would see himself and his brothers in them.

The last week or two has been rough. I don’t know why all the sudden it’s hitting me hard but it is. Maybe because we are also now in his birthday month. It was always fun because he made a big deal about his birthday being my half birthday. Because it is. Half birthdays are cool. Don’t knock them.

Time is supposed to make it easier but it’s not. It’s making it more painful.

Because I keep seeing all this stuff happen in my life that I can’t share with him. That I will never share with him. That my sons will never share with him. And it sucks. That he won’t ever see them past the age of three just sucks. It’s like the more time without him the more stuff I have to tell him, and the more I have to accept that he’s just not here.

People told me losing my Dad wouldn’t get easier. They were right. It doesn’t.

I also don’t think I ever discussed the Office with him. He would have loved The Office. I don’t know if he even ever watched it! I feel remiss in my daughter duties for never having this discussion with him. We watched a lot of sci-fi and bad 80’s action movies together. Star Wars and Mel Gibson and stuff. We had similar tastes. I’m sure he would have loved The Office. Dwight would have been his favorite.

Update on waxing- I have an at home situation set up. I was literally laying on the ground  in my bathroom with wax on a delicate area of my body thinking, “My friends will be here in thirty minutes. I’m still going to have wax on me because it hurts too freaking much to pull it off and I’m literally going to have to have one of them pull it off.”

I screamed and cried and writhed around on the floor in the bathroom but I got it off. I told my friends. They think I’m nuts. As does my wife. I mean I got it off…

******In the picture I’m wearing one of my Dad’s button downs. I took many of his shirts and ties. I have been wearing the button downs to work and actually getting a lot of compliments on them. But that face is me trying to hold back tears as I take a photo before work knowing I’m wearing my Dad’s shirt and that he won’t be wearing it again.

 

My First Dad-less Memorial Day (And Power-Washing and hot yoga).

This Memorial Day I didn’t think would be a big deal. I thought it would be like all the of the past ones that I’ve experienced. But while I was power washing the cement around my pool (and yes that was an amazing experience and firmly cemented the fact that I’m an adult because I love power-washing) and painting the fence I missed my Dad.

I keep promising myself and I keep trying to sit down and write blog posts about something other than my Dad but I always come back to him. It’s been just under eight weeks since his death and I did not think that Memorial Day of all weekends would be hard. But it was.

He loved the power-washer. He loved to paint. He would have laughed so hard at Jackson running and peeing directly in the walkway to the pool. He would have helped me power-wash and we would have squabbled over pretty much everything that day because we both would have wanted to be doing the power-washing not the fence.

I also remembered every single Memorial Day parade I marched in with him and all the parades I saw him march in.

I walked into work this morning and the woman who is in the office down the hall from mine said “Hi,” and I burst into tears. She didn’t quite know what to do because we don’t generally have that type of relationship but she gave me a hug and we talked about my Dad.

I was with my Mom and sister and our kids and spouses all weekend also which was good. But it was such a keen absence. I thought Father’s Day would be hard or his birthday and Christmas. Never did I envision falling to pieces over Memorial Day.

This is the stuff our society doesn’t talk about. The grief that is ever present and unpredictable. I had been doing well. But little by little this weekend wore me down. Worst of all I couldn’t make it to hot yoga until today. Where I cried during the end meditation quietly.

It clears my head though and I landed this sweet arm balance recently and one of my instructors loves this particular arm balance and I knew she would be stoked about it and she was. She put it in about four times tonight. I know yoga’s not about the arm balances. But for me it’s about the journey I’ve taken to get into that arm balance.

Eighteen months of building my core and my triceps got me into that arm balance.

CaLTkVDIQdeNxAs26E+XNg
Arm balance. My head is not on the ground.

Last week one of my teenage clients who is hard to engage sometimes; well I showed them the arm balance. In dressy jeans, my Dad’s pink button down, and heels. It broke the ice. We talked about transformations and moving into something slowly and learning that in the hardest poses the greatest transformations happen.

I admit I am shameless and will do literally anything to get a teenager to talk to me in therapy.

IMG_7404
My Dad’s pink button-down

It was in these arm balances tonight I thought about my Dad and Memorial Day and power-washing. I realized I needed to write another blog post about it. I tried very hard to write one about farts and hot yoga, but it just kept falling flat even though I know there is a hilarious post in there somewhere about farts and hot yoga. I mean how could there not be?

But it will have to wait. Wait for the grief to lift and for me to exhaust myself with thoughts about my Dad.

 

 

** Picture for the article is my wife and Declan. Just a candid shot I got of them this weekend when Declan needed a hug. Be still my heart!

Funeral High Heels

I have struggled with writing recently because I feel so heavy with grief. Sounds cliche or weird but it’s true.

I could write about the law in Georgia but I literally can’t wrap my head around the fact that it is now reality and there are a population of women in Georgia who are having their rights to their own bodies stripped from them.

I could write about the two hours I spent at the AT&T store today to fix the mistakes made in a 45 minute phone call last week. Much of the time today was more pleasant discussing last nights episode of Game of Thrones with the sales guy. He predicts Danaerus will kill Jon Snow. I predict Arya will kill Danaerus and Sansa will end up queen with Jon Snow ruling the North. Tyrryon? Death. I’m just not sure how.

But it all falls flat because most of my thoughts have revolved around my Dad dying. Because before my Dad died my best friend’s Dad died in January. Then two weeks after my Dad died my business partner (and friend)’s Dad died suddenly. Everything bad happens in threes. I just didn’t know it would be three dead Fathers.

The last time I saw my best friend’s Dad was on Christmas Eve. The last time I saw my business partner’s Dad was at my Dad’s funeral. And the last time I saw my best friend’s mom was at her husbands funeral. Too many Dads. Too much death.

It makes me contemplate my own mortality; and that of every one elses. So you see why I haven’t written. My mind is in a dark place.

I asked my mom about the urn at some point, as my dad was cremated, and she told me that they wouldn’t have an urn. It would be a “biodegradable container” that would be buried on church grounds in their memorial garden. My sister and I sorta looked at each other, and didn’t say anything, well I think I repeated the “Biodegradable container” part because it sounded like we were talking about coffee grounds or something.

We had dinner with my cousin the night before and she was raised Catholic, and I preemptively told her about the container. She also took it in stride. Sorta. She in her Jersey way said, “A what? What?! Wait what?!” then asked why we weren’t scattering him somewhere and I had asked that very question, my Mom said they decided they didn’t want to do that because “We don’t want to blow all over each other if it’s windy.”

I mean it’s a fair point.

The day of the funeral it was raining. We walked outside with umbrellas with the pastor carrying a rather large nice looking biodegradable container. Without much preamble and with very little circumstance he tromped through some leaves and plopped it into the ground in a hole while we all stood watching and standing in the mud and rain.

My Dad could have asked us to do any number of things with his ashes. He chose to be buried anonymously as the grave is not marked, it is just a large memorial garden with a plaque when you first enter with the names of those who are buried there listed.

He picked this so I couldn’t say anything about it, though I did have many thoughts about it. The plopping of the container into the hole was a bit much for me, as I had only been to funerals when one was lowered slowly into the ground or at memorial services where we did not see the actual burial. But it was as my Dad wanted it to be.

He liked his pastor, and he wanted his family there, and as soon as he was in the ground by the church he loved; it stopped raining. My business partner, and my friend, told me much later that during the funeral her dad sang each song and each verse without ever looking at the hymnal, he knew them all.

She clung to him crying and she remembered thinking, “What you wouldn’t give to be able to hug your dad right now.” And she was right, but she also didn’t know until two weeks later how incredibly prophetic that thought was.

I didn’t truly break down until I saw my best friend’s Mom. I’ve known her since I was 14 and like I mentioned, the last time I saw her was at her husband’s funeral in January. It was all incredible heart breaking and like fate had dropped us all together all those years ago so we would all have each other during this horrific year of loss.

I don’t remember a lot of my dad’s funeral. I cried a lot and people spoke to me and I spoke to each person who came in uniform and thanked them for coming for my Dad. They were all extremely nice and so open about their memories of my Dad. I know I wore high heels that I love and a dress that will forever be my Dad’s funeral dress.

My Dad took many secrets to his grave and I thought when I was younger that I wanted to know them all. That I knew he had a past and that I knew he even had a past family. I wanted to know everything. But when he died I felt like everything that needed to be said had been. That I knew all I needed to know. That for 34 years he was obsessed with being my Dad and I will be forever grateful.

I realized the things I didn’t know I didn’t need to know because they weren’t important to our relationship. I always say actions speak. He gave me 34 years of actions that spoke of his love and dedication to me and my Mom and my sister and that’s all I needed.

Grief makes you think about everything past and present and future. I hope for a future without the weight of this grief. But I long for my past with my Dad.

 

 

 

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.

 

Grief.

I’ve counseled people through grief. Acutely and in the moment when I worked in the emergency department. Then working in psychiatry I treat it sometimes years later. It is remarkable to me how many people have not properly grieved. But now that I am going through it I understand why. Grief sucks.

Acutely in some cases death is a “blessing” or a “relief”. In other cases it is a tragedy.

As I face my Nana’s death…even writing those words being tears to my eyes…I reflect on all the times in my life that I have truly grieved. They are, thankfully, few and far between. They include the deaths of my Grandpa, other Grandma, and the death of my cat. The other time I truly and deeply grieved was during my year of fertility treatments.

I’m not a crier. It takes a lot to get me to that point (at least it did before pregnancy hormones, now it only takes anything having to do with children). Previous to pregnancy though I truly and deeply cried when my Grandpa passed, when my Grandma passed, and when my cat died.

My cat adopted my family when my mom was pregnant with me. He ran inside on a rainy Halloween night. I was born the following January. Cookie was black and white and quite possibly the smartest and most loving cat to exist. We put him to sleep when I was a month shy of 18. He was three when he adopted us. I grew up with him sleeping in my bed every night. He went outdoors and would follow me to neighbor’s houses and wait for me and escort me home. He sat with me as I cried when I was bullied daily in fifth grade. Some days he was the only reason I survived. He was big, and his fur was coarse, and he had a big sturdy head that loved to be scratched.

He was my best friend.

I remember knowing something was wrong with him. My mom brought him home from the vet that December day and I knew it would be my last afternoon with him. I held him as our vet injected him and he took his final breath. We ended his suffering. He let out a final meow with his last breath, and I shook as my body was wracked with sobs. That was ten years after my Grandpa passed, and seven after my Dad’s mom.

I remember seeing a therapist in college and he asked me when I truly cried. I told him about those three deaths, and he specifically asked me to describe the death of Cookie. I did. I looked up and he had tears streaming down his face. Like my Nana said, I do things big or not at all. That was my first time in therapy and I made my therapist cry.

Grief is so hard because it is elusive. I think I am fine with something, and then I light a fire and think my Nana would have liked this and it hits me like a ton of bricks. I think I’ve laid Cookie to rest and then I look at my two current cats, Rajha and Maddy, and it tears me up to think of living without them. Rajha also is obsessed with me, and I’ve always thought she is Cookie reincarnated.

For women in my practice the most common unresolved grief I see is due to miscarriages or infertility issues. I remember receiving the phone calls from my fertility doctor’s office after our pregnancy tests and it feeling like a punch in the gut when they would tell me it was negative. Then I would just carry on with my day. No time to grieve.

Grief is realizing I will never hear my Nana’s laugh again. Grief was my deep pain in thinking I might never be a Mom. Grief was holding my best furry friend so he would enter death knowing he was loved and that I would never abandon him. I had to give him at least a fraction of the comfort he provided me over the years.

Grief at the core is a sadness and a heaviness that almost defies description. It hits me in the pit of my stomach. I’ve had to sit with clients as they process grief. It’s an ugly process to bear witness to, but it is powerful to be trusted that much by others.

The best part about grief is that it passes. If you can sit with it, tolerate it, feel it, and let it go, then it will pass. But it sure does fucking hurt.

Death always puts life into sharp perspective. It serves as a reminder that our existence is fleeting. That we too will leave our loved ones one day and they will grieve us.

Grief reminds us to enjoy our lives and to love to live.