Category Archives: aging

Hey Stranger, Don’t Tell Me What To Do

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Hey Stranger, Don’t Tell Me What To Do

A friend posted something on Facebook yesterday that pissed me off. Not sure if it was guilt/shame related or if my reaction was strictly oh FFS not again. This particular post was

8 Things Kids Need to Do By Themselves Before They’re 13

In fairness, these were logical tasks, nothing extraordinary in the group…but why? Why is this person specifically qualified to determine when my kids should make their lunch or do their own laundry? She seems lovely but honestly, she doesn’t get to make the rules in my household.

This can be extended to all of those what to wear/when posts too. As if I need a stylist telling me that sleeveless is no good unless your arms don’t have that flabby mass where muscle tone used to be. I can make those critiques on my own. Personally, I think I’m going to let my freak flag fly higher with each decade. It seems I care less and less about what others think with each year, by the time I’m 90, I may embrace the nudist philosophy or maybe I’ll start piercing everything and 90s hair, don’t care. If I make it to that age, I hope to have my wits in tact and perhaps a mo-hawk, I’ll probably skip the tongue piercing. Probably.

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‘Tis the Mofo Season…

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‘Tis the Mofo Season…

It’s been a morning straight out of the children’s horror section, made me think of this –

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My bad morning started last night when I received this email from the school district Superintendent :

I am communicating at this time to inform you that we were notified by the XXXXX Borough Police Department that a potential threat was made to our schools. We are taking direction from the police department with regard to this threat as they continue to investigate the situation. We are going to have police presence at all of our schools tomorrow. We will also increase staff vigilance with regards to this potential threat to our schools. This is all the information we have at this time. We will keep you updated as we receive more information.​

I told my kids about it and said we would make a decision about school in the morning (this morning). I was up at 6am and my daughter was awake already wanting to know the answer. She had a doctor appointment at 7am so we both needed to be up and out. I was still on the fence with school, so I asked for a few minutes to see if there were updates. This is now part of parenting in 21st century America. Parents doing the mental gymnastics to sort out if it is worth sending our kids to school the last day before winter break when there is an unspecified threat.

The initial response is hell no, keep them home. Then you wonder if this starts to happen on the regular, do you just home school or pick and chose which days to send them in if there has been a non-specific threat? If it’s finals week do you roll the dice and hope it’s just a hoax, knowing you will never forgive yourself if they get harmed at school? We got lucky because the school district decided to close in an “abundance of caution” and I felt my small town breath a collective sigh of relief.

One of my friends who doesn’t have kids commented that she can’t imagine what it is like to parent in 2018. This is how I responded:

It’s like diving off of a cliff in the dark and you don’t know what you’re diving into – it could be a soft fluffy mattress, shark invested waters or rocks, no one knows. #Parenting2018

School was closed and I got my daughter to her appointment. At 8am I received a panicked call from my new client who insisted he had a doctor appointment to get to at 8:45am. I immediately left my house to fetch him and his wife who are both in their 90s. Did I mention that it is pouring out, because of course it is. I get my clients to the doctor and was informed that Rob’s appointment is on Monday (sure, why not).

Rob (embarrassed): I hope you are counting your hours.

Me: I am Rob, this though, this never happened. Consider it a test run. I’ll see you at 12:30 to go to Physical Therapy (that’s confirmed).

I get my new friends tucked in their house and head to the grocery store to tick some things off my to do list which is the length of a CVS receipt. I stop at the pet store first, the register isn’t working properly. It’s fine, I’m smiling at this nonsense by now.

 

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This is a CVS receipt well over 5 feet long, he purchased 3 items. My to do list is just as long with no “extra bucks” (well except for the extra bucks I spend).

When I leave the pet store, I notice I have a voice mail from my mother. Her cat needs to be put down, she’s 18 and has been sick, can’t pee or poop. Her vet is 45 minutes away and my mom got lost the last time she went. I called my local vet and got her in for this afternoon when I can go. So yes, this day may very well end with a dead cat because, of course it f*cking will.

I’ve now finished at the dermatologist, doctor’s office and the pet store (it’s barely 9am). Next stop is the grocery store. I can’t buy everything I need for Christmas Eve yet because I need fresh fish for the 7 fishes feast. I go to get bread in the bakery and realize – holy sh*t I need to order a birthday cake for my sister in-law. The lady behind the counter looks at me like I’m on fire – what idiot orders a cake 2 days ahead at the busiest time of the year (guilty as charged). I apologize profusely and explain it can be any chocolate cake with happy birthday on it. She obliges me (she’s a mom, she knows how nuts life is for us).

Then I wander around the store trying to go through the mental list of what I can buy now and what needs to wait until Sunday. At one point I found myself staring at the beef broth, overwhelmed. My brand wasn’t there which threw me into a quandary. I went back and forth a few times before I settled on something unfamiliar.

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Finished at the grocery store, I’ve moved on to Chick-fil-A where I beg for high quantities of chicken nuggets before 10am. My daughter is hosting a gift exchange party tonight (because of course she is). They take pity on me and I get 60 nuggets at the crack of 10am. While I’m waiting my friend texts me pics of her beautiful dinning room table which is set for a Christmas Dinner. I note that I will never be that much of an adult and that I would love to use paper plates – compostable ones because I’m not a monster (yet).

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Ride on

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Ride on

Today I spent a few hours driving a 94 year old man to do some errands. Sadly, he can no longer drive himself though his mind is still sharp, the body protests. I met Rob a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting introduction, one of his daughters called me to ask about my services. I have a small business that fills in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. The daughter lives at least 1,000 miles away and was coming in to visit her parents. We talked a bit on the phone and within half an hour of ending our call her father called me (independently) to schedule a meeting. I let the daughter know and we decided that Rob would take the lead.

I always offer a free consultation for new clients. I like to meet the client I will be working with directly and any family members or caregivers that are involved with decision making. Sometimes my clients direct their own finances and decisions, other times a family member takes the lead. I take notes and observe, I try to read the situation without being overly intrusive.

I met with Rob his wife Laura and their daughter about a week ago. The daughter warned me that Laura is resistant to outside help, she told the last employee that she hated her. This resentment of caregivers is more common than you might think. It’s hard to live your entire adult life as an independent person and then have some stranger try to tell you what to do. I strive to find ways to empower my clients and ask them to steer the ship as much as possible. Laura was upset that the last helper was only available after 11am so I asked if she preferred a 9am or 10am start, she perked up. Everyone wants to be heard and validated, sometimes it’s a simple fix.

Today was my first time working for this family and I was tasked with running some errands with Rob. Rob is delightful, he has a smile like Dick Van Dyke and a kind soul. Our first stop was at a Quaker School that he co-founded in the 80’s. This school was created to offer an inclusive educational environment for children that have learning issues. When we came through the door, Rob was greeted with genuine affection and adoration. As we were walking to the front office Rob told me how he always wanted to skateboard down the halls which, he noted, have some peaks and valleys that could make the ride interesting.

Then I got to hear stories about some alumni and the positive impact my new friend had on their lives. It was overwhelming and I felt fortunate to be in his presence. Of course we were there to drop off a fruitcake because everyone over 90 is required by law to make no less than 27 fruitcakes each December. It was presented in a practical yet festive way. The treat was on a square holder (I suspect cardboard) which was covered in aluminum foil. The wreath shaped fruitcake was placed in a extra large Ziploc bag and attached to the base with festive red ribbon and holly. It was quite attractive and if I attempted such a presentation it would be a complete disaster.

Our next stop was at a feed store. I didn’t know feed stores existed until I moved to this somewhat rural area 15 years ago. We were there for two kinds of birdseed something with corn and black sunflower seeds. I have no working knowledge of birds or their seeds, I suspect I will become somewhat familiar, at least at filling the feeders. Once I filled the car with seed, we were on our way, this time to the post office.

The post office was in an old house that was converted from a general store. This building is on a minimum of it’s third life. It offered two ways to get to the door – traditional steps or a ramp. Rob decided to chance the stairs. I get nervous with new clients that have mobility issues using stairs fortunately, we made it without incident. We were there to check their post office box and to mail some…guess…yup, fruitcakes. After about 10 minutes we were on hour way back home.

In between errands Rob and I chatted in the car. He told me that he was only in the Navy for a year during World War II. He was discharged due to medical reasons, he had melanoma. For those unfamiliar, melanoma is the most lethal of skin cancers, he was 19 when he was diagnosed and treated. At 94, he has certainly exceeded longevity expectations. Rob mentioned that he is now the lone survivor from his high school class. I commented that it must be lonely to outlive most of your peers. He gave me a snort with a “you bet”.

When we got back home, his wife of nearly 70 years was preparing to host a book club which, is heavy into discussion and light on actual books. There was some interesting jockeying of cars in the short driveway that borders a busy road. I needed to drop off 50 pounds of bird seed, park their car and move my own vehicle. While we were parked in the driveway working out logistics, a friend offered to walk Rob to the door. I could tell he was uncomfortable with the offer and yet he smiled and made his way up the walkway with his friend. I suspect this family will find it’s way into my heart in no time.

 

 

I Workout

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I Workout

Whenever I say “I workout” I think of that song by LMFAO – “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” the video plays in my head and whomever I’m talking to is left wondering why I’m laughing. I’ve been exercising on a regular basis for over 30 years. Yes, I know I should be in better shape, thanks for pointing that out (b*tch). It’s a stress reliever for me and it’s cheaper than therapy. We moved to the area 15 years ago and in that time I’ve belonged to a handful of gyms. I’ve been going to my current gym for at least 5 years and I see the same 15 people on a weekly basis. Sadly I have memorized maybe 3 of their names. I recently got called out for this.

I see this woman with blonde hair at the gym at least twice a week. We’ve had several conversations about social activities and work. Here’s what I know – she turned 50 last year and did a hiking trip with a good friend to commemorate the milestone. She injured her left knee while training for it. She works for a company that helps seniors downsize, she’s divorced, never had kids, used to manage a bagel shop and recently adopted a dog ( the dog is a bit of an asshole). So basically I know everything about her shy of her social security number and her name which she has likely told me a minimum of 5 times.

She suggested that we exchange phone numbers for potential business referrals. I asked her to spell her last name (in the hopes that she would say her entire name) and she called me out for not knowing her name. I hesitated a second to see if her name would magically appear in mid air so I could save myself the embarrassment but no such luck. I admitted that I did indeed forget her name and I’m pretty sure I won’t forget it again. Sorry Katie (or is it Kathy? Kimberly? OHFFS, I suck.)!

There’s one guy who is particularly enthusiastic about kickboxing.  He’s tall with noticeably long limbs that are constantly flailed about during the class. Sometimes his timing is off and he goes left when everyone else goes right. Not a big deal unless you get punched in the face because pterodactyl man is going the wrong way.

A tall brunette is late to every class. I don’t care about that people are busy, she probably has to get kids on the bus. My issue is real estate. She’s one of those people who doesn’t have a good grasp on the importance of personal space. When she comes in late, she typically squeezes into a space that doesn’t exist when there are other more logical places to set up. That space is usually next to me, the most uncoordinated person in step class. I predict a collision at some point mostly due to my lack of coordination and an inability to follow directions.  Perhaps an “accident” will finally get her to migrate to the other side of the room.

 

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One of instructors reminds me of Jack McFarland from Will & Grace. He screams things like – “Get those knees up!” “Keep them up! Higher! Get higher!” while enthusiastically running in peacock inspired leggings with a matching headband. He’s always dressed better than me and he makes me smile.

Another instructor is a retired marine. He’s big into push ups and planks and he shouts the same corny sayings at us every week. “Keep it tight, keep it right.” “It’s mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” And this diddy….“It’s all about the core – that’s what we’re here for.” He chuckles whenever he spouts of his rhyming bits of wisdom.

At some point in the marine’s class I have the urge to vomit and/or cry. I usually only cry on the inside. Sometimes he sets up different exercise stations – jump rope, push ups, planks, bicep curls, balance challenges, whatever sadistic task the instructor designs. We rotate to each station throughout the course of the class. My favorite is the “napping” station. It’s supposed to be the pull up station but I can’t do more than 3. That gives me 50 seconds to snooze before I move on to the next round of torture. I usually whisper “f*ck” with each exhale like an exhausted mantra.

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The napping station.

Consistent exercise has been great for reducing stress and allowing me to eat Oreos without getting too fat (medium fat, perhaps). All this working out has some drawbacks, I have a legit pain in my ass. Somehow I injured my coccyx. No I haven’t grown a man part, that’s my tailbone you filthy animal. It’s been hurting since May, I blame it on Pilates. That was the only thing new about my exercise regime.

There was a lady in the class who was at least 20 years older than me and she has the flexibility of double-jointed ballerina. I was the clumsy one who couldn’t roll my feet over my head in a smooth, controlled motion. My moves were more Frankenstein and less Cirque du Soleil. C’est la vie! I kind of sucked at Pilates so quitting that wasn’t a huge sacrifice. I stopped going, thinking the problem would alleviate, it didn’t.

I’m not incredibly observant when it comes to my own aches and pains. I prefer the ignore-it-and-maybe-it-will-go-away approach. I couldn’t ignore the pain which was my constant companion when we went to see Jim Jeffries in May. That’s how I know approximately when this whole mess started.

The show was great but I was in considerable pain, sitting is my current Kryptonite. I found that out about 15 minutes into the two hour show. I kept switching seated positions, like an overactive toddler that has to pee all the time. The roll over to one cheek method helped, but it made it look like I had to pass gas all night.  Not the vibe I wanted to achieve while out with a group of my husband’s friends and their wives.

Still, I’m not one to run to the doctor. I did my research online. Bryce Warden, MD (Medically Deficient).  I scoured the internet to find out what was wrong with me. Webmd suggested a bruised or fractured coccyx, it sounded right. In July, I finally hauled my aching ass to the doctor and she ordered an x-ray.

Feeling very adult for going to the doctor, I sat in the parking lot of the doctor’s office reviewing the paperwork. Fun fact, x-rays of the sacrum/coccyx area require an enema prior to the x-ray. Good times. Having never had an enema before I had to research to get some pro tips from those who have “gone” before me. My husband and I had a brief conversation about this.

Me: “I need to have an enema before the x-ray.”

Hubs: “I’m not giving it to you.”

Me: “Damn right, you’re not.”

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen – http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

And we have preserved our sex lives a little longer, perhaps until one of us winds up in Depends. I got the gist of what needed to be done and took matters into my own hands (ass). Got the x-ray and no fracture was detected. That was in July, surely this thing will improve, I hear it “takes time.” Pro tip: if someone tells you that something “takes time,” buckle up you’re in for a bumpy ride and that person likely has no flippin’ idea of how much time it actually takes.

At the end of October, I’m back at the doctor because this thing isn’t letting up. I’ve tried ice/heat, I sit for maybe five minutes at a time unless I’m driving. In the car I have one of those sexy donut pillows. The pain just won’t let up and I went to physical therapy.  The place I went to had a bunch of tables, and random gym equipment – treadmills, exercise balls, etc. The median age was 83.

The staff brought the median age down to 83 as most of the therapists looked to be about 12. That’s a sign you’re getting older when people in their twenties look like middle schoolers, sigh. Anyhow, I filled out 47 forms, was reminded of how sh*tty my insurance is and realized this will be an out-of-pocket expense.

I’m was committed to try it at this point and met my Physical Therapist named Chris.  Chris is a good-looking guy, maybe 23 years old. We go into a room to discuss my “problem.” Let me just explain something….this may sound sexist, I don’t care. Midlife men tend to see younger attractive females as bait or a conquest. I know some midlife women act similarly with younger guys hence, the term cougar. I am not a cougar, an alley cat or any kind of wanna be predator. I saw Chris and thought, I wonder if my son will look like this guy in 10 years. That’s right, so in my mind this guy could be my son in 10 years.

Chris takes my history with copious notes. He then proceeds to examine me which includes extensive handling of my ass. There is really no other way to describe it. It wasn’t sexual he was just doing his job. But dear Gawd it was awkward. I’m doing exercises, hoping to not pass gas while this guy is kneading my backside. Then at the end of the session, I am placed belly side down on a table in a common room. Electrodes are placed directly on my butt cheeks and the current is cranked up to whatever level I could handle. Then, an ice blanket is placed on the offending area.

As I’m lying there, freezing my ass off while simultaneously being shocked, I thought is this some awful middle-aged hazing ritual? Did AARP set this whole thing up? Is there a hidden camera somewhere?

…and my ass still hurts.

 

That’s My Business…

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That’s My Business…

I recently met with client who used the word “f*ck” as a noun, a verb and an adjective. She switched tenses with the finesse of a linguistic ninja, it was spectacular. The fact that this person is an ordained minister is the icing on the cake. I love my job.

I started a small business in 2014. I fill in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. My usual clients are elderly and they need a little TLC. I check in on them while their adult children work. I share a meal, do some light housekeeping and socialize. I am the eyes and ears for loved ones when they can’t be there.

I’ve visited clients in their own home and at nursing homes. I used to visit a 97 year old man who was in a nursing home. Twice a week I would take him out for lunch at Chick-fil-A and each time he acted like it was the best meal of his life. Every week he would hold up his drink with the wonderment of a young child at Christmas.

“What is this?” Jack would ask

“Sprite” I’d reply

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever had” Jack would say that every week.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be the best part of someone’s day, even if they don’t always remember the details. My lunch date never could get my name straight but he always leapt out of the day room chair when he saw me. He walked across the room with a happy stride and a wide smile planted on his face.

One time around the holidays, I told my nonagenarian (great Scrabble word) friend that he looked festive, things got jumbled a bit. But I liked his version better than mine so we went with that.

“You look festive Jack!” I exclaimed

“Did you say I look sexy?”

“I sure did.”

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen – http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

It isn’t always so fun and carefree. There are often medical concerns lurking in the background, potential embarrassing moments and the sad realization that this friendship likely won’t last that long.

I used to visit Edith, she was 88 and had severe dementia. One day I came in for my usual lunch visit and she wasn’t wearing pants. How do you handle that you ask? I said “Edith, you didn’t tell me it was no pants Monday” and I promptly got her dressed.

I have a client now who has dementia and a feisty sense of humor.  Last week we were walking in the hallway (“airing out” as we call it) when I had a brilliant, awful idea. The residents put a lot of thought into the decor around their front doors. Wreaths, plaques, photos and other seasonal tchotchkes line the narrow shelves that flank the apartment doors. I suggested that we switch a few of the wreaths around and then watch to see what the residents would do. She thought it was the best idea ever. Of course we didn’t do it, we only dream of being that rotten, but it made her laugh.

I always look for ways to add humor and preserve a person’s dignity. If someone doesn’t want to be checked on I’ll tell them I’m there to walk the dog or do laundry, we a find a way to make it work. My goal is to make them feel like a friend is stopping by to visit because inevitably that’s what it feels like.

I meet most of my clients through a friend or family member. My business is based exclusively on referrals. I tend to have one or two clients at a time because I can serve them better that way. The family dynamics vary with each client but they all love their family member and are so grateful to find reliable help. They each hold a special place in my heart and I am honored to be entrusted with their care.

 

I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

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I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

On Monday I went to visit a Medium (I’ll insert the eye roll for you). Personally, I would love to believe in magic, the Tooth Fairy, comprehensive affordable health insurance and “the afterlife”. Truth is, I don’t know what happens when we die. My father died in September and I’ve been struggling with the aftermath so I figured why not see someone.

I got the name from a dear friend who lost her husband several years ago when he died suddenly at 39 years old. Someone dragged my friend to see this woman and it was an amazing experience. My friend is more of a skeptic than me so I was intrigued. I got the number and made my appointment.

While I didn’t expect a miracle, it would have been nice to get a clear cut sign. A little wave from the people on the other side that I think of often. I was most curious about my father since we had some unresolved issues. Well, now I guess it’s just me with the unresolved issues, he’s been pretty quiet about the entire thing.

In my grief, I’ve had some heated one-sided conversations with my father and his second wife (she died twenty years ago). I basically cursed them both out for neglecting myself and my brother. I give my father the bulk of blame for this…as a woman and a mother, I can’t let his wife off the hook entirely. Abandoning us for a couple of decades until they figured out what to do with us (not much). Justifiable anger is the stuff that will rot your soul. I want it gone. So I thought perhaps seeing a Medium would help.

I did go in there as a cynic, a non-believer if you will. I have no poker face, and a very thin filter. My resting bitch face may have given away my cynicism. She immediately told me to uncross my legs so she could look for breaks in my aura or energy or something. I don’t know, apparently I have a 50 foot red aura which indicates some anger (thank you resting bitch face).Later in the conversation (not a reading) she said that she hoped my aura would change to green for emotional healing.

She also acted kind of weird at one point. Not sure if this is normal for this setting (OK, nothing is normal) but here goes:

Medium: You are the most spiritually evolved person I have ever seen, what could you possibly want to learn from me. I’m an asshole, you’re a saint.

Me: Um, whaaaaat?

Medium: You’re a saint, I’m a pig. Why are you here?

Me: I wanted to see if you saw any…um, relatives around me.

Medium: That’s not my specialty. Do you have photos?

Me: I do.

And she looked at a photo of my father and of my father-in-law (he passed away in May). She talked about them both made some observations. I was pretty quiet as I didn’t want to feed her information (still a cynic despite her pegging me as the most spiritually f*cking evolved person EVER).

In my one-sided chats with my deceased father I have requested a very specific sign and it is pretty ridiculous. Let’s just say that I demanded to see a-black-lab-juggling-flaming-swords type of ridiculous. (Psst…that’s not it, I can’t tell you the real sign because then if I see it somewhere I’ll just assume one of my blogging friends engineered it. Yes, I realize that is also ridiculous, don’t judge me I’m grieving, damn it). Let’s just say my new Medium pal suggested another sign as reassurance from my father, flowers. I may have rolled my eyes out loud when she suggested this because it was so far removed from the sign I envisioned and it’s just so damn basic. Bitch, I am not basic.

So I left there pretty much the same way I came in, a non-believer. A deeper realization that if my father didn’t put the effort in while he was on earth, why would I think he would change now. This isn’t new information, I know this, so today I bought my own flowers. Heal thyself.

The Man on the Bed

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The Man on the Bed

I made a new friend yesterday, his name is Lenny and he’s 85. He happens to be dying of lung cancer but we didn’t talk much about that. I went to visit him as a hospice volunteer. Lenny’s house is a treasure trove of art and dust. His room smells like urine and his clothes are in a pile on the floor near his bed. If you can look past that, you are rewarded with art from several cultures and genres.

Soon after I arrived I noticed a copy of “The Man on the Bed” painting. This painting was created by Robert M for the December 1955 Grapevine (an Alcoholics Anonymous publication). I commented on the painting and informed my new friend that I was sober 35 years though I don’t go to meetings anymore. Lenny also got sober in the 80’s and attends 6 – 10 meetings a week.

The man is on oxygen and has a catheter and it doesn’t stop him. We joked about the car he drives which happens to be a Ford Escape and we decided it was the perfect name for his vehicle. Indeed he is escaping every time he leaves the house. For an hour or so he is welcomed into a warm room full of people he is fond of, embracing the humanity of it as a respite from the confines of his bed.

We talked a lot about Lenny’ s life, he’s had a fascinating life. He was born in Copenhagen in 1934. He spent his childhood in institutions as he was abandoned by his parents. His country was under German occupation during World War II when he was a child. He has vivid memories of interacting with German soldiers as a young boy. He recalled one memory when he was affectionately picked up by a German soldier and placed in the sidecar of a Zundap motorcycle which had a machine gun attached to it.

He never sat in a traditional classroom, he taught himself to read by working out the captions under illustrations. He has always been drawn to art and artists. He credits his time at the Summerhill School in Suffolk England for encouraging his creativity. He described it as a free range approach to education, no classroom required.

He became a mason apprentice at 14 and got his Mason Certificate and Union Book four years later. He traveled the world through his trade and spent time in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He came to the USA in 1963, he arrived on old freighter which was riddled with bullet holes. He disembarked in Hoboken, New Jersey and got his green card.

We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his three marriages. He did tell me that each of his wives was wonderful and that the blame for failure was his alone. He had four children and two died from overdoses. We didn’t dwell on it, he took the blame for that as well. He told me he was a lousy father, not at all present for his children when they were growing up. Three decades of sobriety has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of self acceptance.

Sometimes you need to spend time with the dying to fully appreciate living. I can’t wait to visit my new friend again.

Blur

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Blur

Halloween as always been one of my favorite days of the year. I love to dress up, marvel at the decorations and of course, CaNdY!!! My kids love it too. The past few years we have split up. Me with one kid and their group of friends and the other with a different group in another neighborhood. Everyone dressed up and candy was abundant. This year things changed. My oldest didn’t really get to “trick or treat”, his friends weren’t into it. My youngest, didn’t want me around. This is as it should be at their ages. Just another reminder that this sweet time of parenting when we share a home and talk every day, it’s going to end in a handful of years.

It’s seems like yesterday or maybe a week, a few years ago at most, that I dressed up as Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 by my side. A more accurate description would be Thing 1 holding on tight with his right hand secure in my left. Thing 2 was riding my hip, arms loose around my neck. I was sweaty from exertion and they were just plain hot in fuzzy costumes.

I’ll never forget that Halloween, my kids were 3 and 5 years old. We met a friend and her family for pizza in a town that celebrates Halloween on an epic level. Our littles were in preschool then. We were on the precipice of big changes, elementary school was around the corner and we were trying to soak in the last bits of a schedule that wasn’t encumbered by school district rules. It was a glorious time and I was too exhausted most days to fully appreciate it.

That Halloween was unusually warm and the “Thing” costumes were not designed for that level of heat. We didn’t make it far that night, a few blocks at most. The uneven sidewalk, perpetual lack of sleep and the physical strains of being weighted unevenly on one side for hours was catching up to me. I was relieved to get them in the car and back home before long. It was a short drive but Thing 2 was also weary. I had to carry her sweaty, sleeping body into the house from the car. Then I tried to slip her out of her costume and into bed without waking her, mission not accomplished (sigh).

I ran a tight ship in those days, kept a schedule. It took so long for my oldest to sleep through the night, that I made a bedtime ritual mandatory. I tried everything – baths, books, warm milk, sprayed the room with monster deterrent (water) and finally resorted to meditation CDs. At 5, he was finally getting the hang of it. I tried to stick to that schedule because I had years of sleep to catch up on. My husband traveled almost constantly during this phase so I was on my own most nights.

Fast forward to my “Things”, 13 & 15 and oh, what I wouldn’t give to relive that night. That friend from the pizza place, she passed away nearly five years ago. She died on Thing 2’s 9th birthday. We knew it was inevitable, she fought cancer and the horrific effects of chemo since the birth of her son who is the same age as mine (Thing 1). And our boys, they’re still friends. I’ve kept a vigil on that as I promised I would. It was an unspoken promise, the one you make in your heart when the words can’t come out because you want to be brave but you’re jello inside. So I guess I should stop lamenting over the passage of time and all that is getting to be in the rear view mirror, because I got to be here for it.

 

Less Than

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Less Than

My emotional bandwidth is full at the moment. The world seems to be a swirling mass of chaos and I cannot process one more thing. My father died a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been trying to find my footing ever since, I’m still shaky. We weren’t close, we weren’t estranged, we were somewhere in-between, a relationship on hold. A quick call on birthdays and holidays, a visit or two throughout the year and lately one or more of those visits was in a hospital room. I always tightened my stomach before dialing his number, it never got easy, but I kept trying. Walking through the awkward became somewhat less traumatic yet, it never vanished.

Our relationship went off the rails the summer I was 9. My twin brother and I were back in New Jersey after living in Florida for a year. Before we moved, there was a custody case, mom won and promptly took us away. While we were gone, we would get weekly calls from our father and stepmother telling us how much they missed us and couldn’t wait to see us again. We believed them.

We made our way back to New Jersey and were visiting a family friend who lived around the corner from our father and stepmother. My brother and I went to the house, excited to see them. We could barely contain ourselves, wouldn’t they be surprised! A somber version of our father emerged and coaxed us away from the door and sat us down on the front steps. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was – you can’t just come here unannounced, I have a family now. I’m sure it had something to do with his baby daughter and a wife that wanted to contain the crazy. Looking back I can see where the man had been put through hell. Trying to get custody, losing that battle, then his insane (certified) ex wife takes his kids to Florida, it must have been an emotional roller coaster for him. I lacked that perspective then. What I heard was I don’t want to see you and then it all faded to black.

I think my little psyche had been through too much at this point so I just shut down. Florida was a nightmare and I had witnessed far more than any child should. If he didn’t want us to visit, then fine I wouldn’t want to be there. I flipped a switch, threw up a wall, deployed the shield. My brother, God bless him, he handled it different. He just tried harder to get the man’s attention. For years, decades even, it was like watching an animal stuck in a trap trying to get free, wailing in pain with each pull of a limb. I avoided the trap.

My father and his second wife had 5 children. They raised them Catholic, took them to church every Sunday and didn’t mention the fact that they had half siblings. My brother and I would visit our paternal grandmother who lived 4 houses away from our father and he would not stop in to visit. A whispered hush fell over the town when we would visit, “those” kids were around. Our uncle lived next door to our father, we could hear our siblings laughing and playing outside while we were across the street. They didn’t even know we existed. I guess the plan was that eventually we would give up on every paternal relative but we didn’t. We kept showing up and at some point our father and stepmother had to tell the other kids about us. Is this the Christian way to raise a family? I mean I don’t go to church too often but this seems a little off, but I digress.

We never had a conversation about this. I wrote him when I was 21, suggested that we  get to know each other. I acknowledged that I had not heard his side of things. He never responded to that letter. In our late twenties my twin and I would see our father and his family at events for extended relatives, things started to thaw.

Back to Dad…

In mid September he went in for a test, that test resulted in an error which required a surgical fix. I went to visit him on a Wednesday, they were talking about discharging him, this was 5 days after his surgery. We did our usual small talk, I showed him digital pics of my kids from a recent trip, we listened to the weather channel. A somewhat bland visit, it was to be our last conversation. Oh how I wish I could redo that chat. The next day he went into cardiac arrest, 5 days later, he was gone.

Those days went by in slow motion, somewhat suspended as we sat in a CCU waiting room, anxious for the next update. I was there with four half siblings, my father’s significant other and other relatives that would stop by. I participated in conversations about his medical directive and eventually we got him transitioned into hospice. I’ve been a hospice volunteer for ten years so I was familiar with the process and knew which questions to ask. He died within 20 minutes of having the ventilator removed, per his wishes which he declared in an Advance Medical Directive. He was surrounded by people that loved him in his final moments and it went about as well as these things can, it was still awful.

I knew the wake would be hard for a variety of reasons. Of course there is the grief of losing a parent. If you’re lucky, you have a lifetime of memories to cherish, inside jokes, and special moments that live in your heart. My memories are scarce and tainted by abandonment, unanswered questions and decades of denial that I wanted, no, needed a father. No more do-overs, mulligans or second chances, in that regard, hope also died. Hope that somehow, someday, somewhere, someway, the awkward yet necessary conversation will happen, it won’t. It never will.

That’s a lot to take in when your standing in 4 inch heals for five hours straight on the back end of the receiving line for your dead father.  He was flanked by honor guards, standing at attention. Honor guards, and some people looked confused as they were trying to sort out my role. I was his oldest daughter, twin to a brother that bore his name and I had to explain that dozens of times throughout the wake. It’s not the first time someone has said “Oh, I didn’t know he had an older daughter”, perhaps it will be the last.

Of course there were pictures. Pictures everywhere of a life I never lived. A seemingly happy family with 5 kids and two parents in matching Christmas outfits, funny birthday shots, tons of beach and bay photos filled with beautiful people on sunny days. I forced myself to put a memory board together and only found one photo of us from my son’s Christening 15 years ago. I filled the board with twin baby and toddler pictures of my brother and I. Then I added some random beach shots of my kids in the town that my father lived in. It was pathetic and sad and I insisted on doing it, I needed to be in that room. I needed my kids to be there too, forced inclusion at it’s lowest level.

The pictures were of particular importance. Nearly 20 years ago, my stepmother died in a car accident. We had just begun to heal our broken relationship when she died suddenly and that wake had a thousand pictures filling the room. My brother and I weren’t in one, believe me we searched with bloodshot eyes, not a single picture. At one point, I needed to leave that wake because I was so overwhelmed by grief of the life we never had with them, it was palpable and I was choking on it. Then 4 years ago, our father’s youngest son died. Another wake, more pictures, more despair, this family has been through hell.

After 5 hours of standing in line, trying my best to look less broken, we were asked to sit. I sat in a chair which was off to the side, it was closest to the casket and gave me a side view of the speaker. An elderly man, a chaplain from the firehouse, who gave a very passionate speech which at times, felt like a personal challenge.

Man: “He was a GREAT man, a great man!

(OK, stay calm this will all be over soon)

Man: “He was the best if you had a problem with him, then that was your problem!”

(Are you challenging me old man. Oh FFS, I saw him beat my mother, he abandoned his first two kids, didn’t pay child support and was likely a neglectful parent to his other kids after his second wife died, he was a serial cheater and probably an alcoholic)

Man: “We will all miss him so much. Truly, a great man (sniffs).”

(Maybe I was the asshole, everyone says he was great. This send off feels like a canonization. Dear God, was it me, was it my fault??? Table that for later…)

The wake was followed by a dinner with a large crowd and it was as nice as these things can be. I truly enjoyed spending time with my brother, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt and half siblings. I don’t know them well, yet I feel a pull towards them. An inexplicable pull that goes beyond having compassion for people that have been through some serious shit of their own.

The funeral was on a Monday and it was as if a Statesman had been laid to rest. His flag draped coffin was placed on the back of a vintage fire truck. Uniformed firefighters saluted his coffin, bag pipes wailed as the church swelled with people. I had to keep reminding myself to walk tall, shoulders back, head held high, looking straight ahead, like an android in mourning. I treated this like a last wish, playing my part in this orchestrated event. After the mass, his casket was placed back on the fire truck and  paraded past the places he frequented most. Cops closed off intersections to let the procession cars go through red lights. Surely, a legend had died, a great man forever sleeps.

The next day the sibling in charge of our father’s estate sent out a group text outlining the details of the Will. Yup, a group text which was sent while my twin was mid-route of his multi-state drive home. We were clearly not the favorite kids that hunch became tangible as some of the finer points were laid out. The house would go to the four kids from the second marriage. That was expected, in fact our father told us his intention in regard to that property. My twin was hurt, I was somewhat indifferent, it still stung a little. Another property with individual components would be divided 6 ways. Wait, there’s a catch, sales from the property being divided 6 ways would first go toward the house mortgage, any remainder would be divided six ways. (Geezus, do I owe money at this point?)

Imagine a pie – perhaps it’s blueberry, pumpkin or custard – it’s your pie, imagine whatever you want, no calories, so YAY! You need to share that pie because sharing is good. Right off the bat 2/3’s of the pie go to the younger 4 siblings. That’s OK 1/3 of the pie split 6 ways is still a delicious little sliver. But before you get your sliver you need to reduce it some more and give it back to the younger ones (the ones Daddy loved more) and you’re left with…crumbs. Crumbs and a bitter taste in your mouth because he didn’t warn you about that bit and clearly a lot of thought went into it.

So for the past two weeks I’ve been cursing at ghosts. Grieving the childhood I didn’t have, feeling my brother’s pain along with my own. I am determined to get through this, lose the bitter taste in my mouth and get on with it. I’m just not there yet, there’s no manual for this.

Finding my Way

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Finding my Way

65, 52, 47, 76, 83, 77, 68, 47, 49, 42, 42, 42, 39 I watched the numbers change like a heartbeat roulette wheel and I was betting heavy on black. Wishing for a different outcome and dreading the likely one. Praying it wouldn’t take that long, mouthing words of comfort, rubbing my father’s arm, listening to the sounds of tears and gurgling breath. I watched my father slip into the big sleep and still managed to be shocked when the nurse pronounced him. He is gone, it shouldn’t have gone down like this.

He went in for a routine test and things went terribly wrong from there – abdominal surgery, cardiac arrest and ultimately death. He was a firefighter, a first responder, he should have died in a fire, saving someone, or on the bay doing a water rescue. It was at least 15 years too soon, he left us brain dead for days before his final departure. A situation that caused his children from two marriages to come to consensus on his care and arrangements. Unlikely as it is, that has been the easiest part of this mess. His children are amazing, each and every one.

I feel robbed, I’m angry. I’m many things right now, anger is the easiest feeling to process. She keeps the depression an arm’s length away. Well she tries, the feelings seep in on their own schedule. I’m experienced enough to know that grief comes in waves. Sometimes those waves pull you under until you can find your footing again. Then you try to get yourself off the sandy bottom, wobbling into an upright position to face the next round. Sometimes you can anticipate the wave and jump up into the big one and ride it to shore. Be careful, if you turn your back on the ocean, those little waves can knock you down when you least expect it. My father didn’t give me much life advice but I do remember this, never turn your back on the ocean.