Category Archives: grief

Hallmark Milestones (make me cry)

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Hallmark Milestones (make me cry)

It’s fine, I’m fine, everything is FINE….my Gawd why do I get so emotional at these predictable Hallmark milestones? My kid just finished 8th grade and naturally there was a ceremony, we have one for everything now, first period parties, hard pass. I approach these events with the cynicism of a crone, meh, it’s 8th grade not med school, calm the hell down and yet…

As I scan the faces on the stage I feel a strange mix of emotions. I’ve known a dozen of these kids since preschool, most since Kindergarten, half the grade has been at my house at some point. It’s not a huge grade maybe 115 kids and as I watch them, I’m reminded of the ever growing gap in the parental/child relationship. I’m keenly aware that while I once knew everything about my kid, I’m no longer the primary confidant. One of my friends summed it up – once we shared them with the world, now they share a piece of their world with us.

Throughout the day I hear the refrain of Sunrise, Sunset go through my brain and my emotions play out like a predictable plot, so pedestrian in their ebb and flow. Somehow I’m OK with that because this is the shared camaraderie of parents. I can catch a side glance toward another mom and within seconds I know she’s on the verge of losing it as I quietly pass her a tissue. There’s comfort in that, knowing your peers are experiencing a similar cocktail of bittersweet emotions.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When, did, they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they, were, small?

Sunrise, Sunset – Jim Nabors

I’m sure the middle school promotion ceremony plays out in a similar format throughout America. The same six kids get recognized every year – leadership, citizenship, athleticism and all around Stepford child awards. My kids never get them. My son was one B away from straight A’s in middle school.

The single B was from 7th grade gym class where they had to choreograph a dance. Three dudes where set to shake it to Shaggy’s  Bombastic but some Lynne Cheney type bish decided that was too risque so they had to switch songs at the last minute. So basically censorship prevented my kid from making straight A’s in middle school. That same year they were forced to do square dancing and since there were more guys than gals, his partner was a known douche bag who likes to pick fights. I don’t think I’ve hated anything more in my kids school careers than 7th grade PE.

Bombastic

My girl had one C in middle school and it happened last semester in Algebra. I can barely spell Algebra let alone do the equations, I won’t hold it against her. My kids are good. They usually make the Honor Roll, don’t get in trouble and they are respectful around adults (well, the girl gets testy around me, she is fine with other adults). So in sum, my kids are slightly above average academically and there isn’t an award for that.

They stopped doing sports when they realized that concussions are a strong possibility and my son got sick of @ssholes on the soccer field. My daughter flirts with instruments – flute, piano, and now guitar, she has some musical abilities she just hasn’t stuck to one thing long enough to excel. Should I force her to play the piano an hour a day? Seems stupid to me and I’m done paying for lessons that aren’t enjoyed.

And those six kids that get the awards, they work their asses off and so do their moms. These kids have been groomed in utero and on through to this day to stay on track – musical instruments, student council, tutors, travel sports – resources and talent have been carefully mixed to keep their kids in the front of the pack. I admire their tenacity yet I opted out. I picked calmer weekends and weeknight dinners around the table, I was hoping for some sanity.

If my kids decided they wanted to do something specific, I followed their lead. We had one year of travel soccer (crazy and expensive) and a brief foray into lacrosse, neither stuck and I wasn’t too sad about it. So now my kids don’t do sports and I think the Grown & Flown types would have me feel bad about it but I just can’t muster up the guilt (yawn). BTW, the Grown & Flown Facebook Group has some seriously mean people in it. The posters routinely include “please don’t be mean” in their posts because there are some ragers in there.

As I’ve been a witness and a participant in this raising of humans, I am constantly aware of the privilege around us. I did not grow up like this. I was raised by a single mother and I had a dead beat dad, we were broke. My brother and I had to fend for ourselves. There were no tutors, no activities that required rides from mom or added any extra expense, it wasn’t an option. We were latch key kids who understood that there wasn’t money for extras, we barely got by.  I used to clean my neighbors apartment so I could earn money to go roller skating.

My kids don’t know that struggle. They have two parents that would set themselves on fire to give them what they need and we have financial resources that neither my husband nor I had growing up. He came from a working class family, his parents were immigrants, they worked their asses off to get their kids a better life.

When the college admissions scandal blew up this spring, I wasn’t surprised. I can see this happening where we live, these people are so primed for it. All the money, time and sweat equity they have poured into their offspring, they aren’t settling for anything less than Penn State. The ones that want Ivy Leagues pay for college coaches, they’ve all spent at least a year’s tuition on the prep before they receive their admissions letters.

Back to the ceremony…there was the obligatory photo montage featuring a small collection of photos for each student. A guarantee for tears is what it is…pictures of babies morphing into high school kids on a continuous loop until the ceremony begins. My brain went through a total recall of my daughter’s childhood. It extended into the known parts of her friends, past and present.

There were times when I felt like I knew too much…that girl is on anxiety meds, that one is struggling with her sexual orientation, another was once a close friend until she wasn’t, that kid’s dad has cancer, his parents are separated, divorce, divorce, affair, those 4 kids each lost a parent (one dad died 7 weeks ago, heart attack), the boy who has been in a wheelchair since he was two, the blind kid who has the same birthday as my daughter…..my heart broke a million times yesterday knowing some of their struggles. And while, I am still somewhat involved in the district, I don’t know everything. Each one of those kids is struggling with something, regardless of the awards, perfect hair or blatant talent, privilege can’t take away every obstacle in life.

Last night there was a party at the school for the kids. It had a theme because of course it did. I can barely remember a time when parties didn’t have a theme, barbaric. The theme last night was Aloha High School. Some moms came up with theme related activities. Decorations included grass skirts around the basketball hoops. These parents are EXTRA, they go all out. There were at least 8 different activity stations all with Hawaiian flair – hot potato, scooter hockey, volley ball, an inflatable obstacle course, limbo, hula hoops, and my personal station Flip Flop Flippin.

Flip Flop Flippin or FFF as it is known on the street, features two elevated hula hoops and flip flops. The goal is to flip a flip flop off your foot through one of the hoops. Yeah, sounds easy, in reality, not so much. It’s easier to do with a heavier shoe, I know this now, I know it deep in my sole (typo intentional, calm down grammar nerds). I had maybe five customers in 2 hours.

Midway through the party,  I went over to assist at the inflatable obstacle course. Actually, I wandered over to chat with a mom friend, she soon put me to work. Before I knew it was the inflatable course warden yelling at boys to stop grabbing each other’s ankles as they attempted to climb the slide. I yelled to the point where my throat hurt and some dudes got black listed from the course. I have without a doubt destroyed my daughter’s chances of dating any of those guys, mission accomplished.

Despite the carefully planned curated activities it turned into a zoo in no time. Noodles for the scooter hockey were immediately weaponized as 14 year old boys unleashed their inner Zorro. The boy in the wheelchair had at least 4 kids on the square scooters trailing behind him in a whip chain for at least 40 minutes (I was happy about that, he had a blast and his mom is a G-damn hero).

In the end, the gym looked like a Hawaiian party war zone. The “no food in the gym” rule was breached, a Moku dessert bowl bleeding pomegranate on the wooden floor. Remnants of leis were scattered like ashes from Mauna Loa. No doubt, the remains of a good time as they leave this part of childhood behind. I’m not crying, you are.

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Next Stop, High School

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Next Stop, High School

Things have been busy around here. The Holderness Family made a video called MAYcember which is a beautiful tribute to the insanity that is the end of the school year.

Holderness MAYcember

My daughter is about to finish 8th grade which apparently is a big deal now. When I transitioned from 8th into 9th grade in the ’80s, not so much. There’s a promotion ceremony which requires a new outfit and shoes ($$$$). There’s also a party for which parents are expected to donate time, money and a pint of blood (specifically, unicorn blood).

Of course a Sign Up Genius went out via email and I was ready. I beat out at least 17 other parents to be the virtual first which means I get to be Napkin Mom. This is the most coveted of all of the sign up options, followed by Paper Plate Dad with Aunt Disposable Utensils coming in third.

Yesterday Facebook made me all gooey by showing a photo of my daughter from five years ago. It was her third grade field day and let me just say, we do field day big here. Until middle school then it falls off a cliff because middle school should suck every damn day. When I was a kid we had tug-of-war and races, that’s it. If you were lucky you got one of those frozen POP-ICE sugar water things that bled purple dye on your legs, done.

Field Day here has a theme and kids are encouraged to build something to go with the theme. They order special t-shirts each year which kids (and adults) customize. One year it was flying machines…most kids went with airplanes and helicopters, my girl made a flying saucer and it was the sh*t!  The memory photo that came up yesterday featured the seafaring vessels. That year both my kids participated. My son made a viking boat and my daughter brought out the big guns and made a submarine.

Obviously these projects require some supervision. Unlike the Boy Scout Derby Car that my husband totally made (1st place winner), field day projects are individual with minimal construction help. My daughter would always consult my father in-law. Nonno was the fixer of things around here, that Italian ingenuity deep in his DNA, he could jury-rig anything. She would come to him with a very specific vision of what she wanted, sketches in hand and he would search for the materials to make it happen. They would tinker in the detached garage until the structure was built and then she would take over with painting and any finishing touches.

Yesterday’s memory photo featured my daughter at 9, beaming with pride next to an equally proud art teacher, the submarine in the foreground. That particular teacher is a mentor of emerging artists, an innovator, one of those teachers that makes a difference. Nonno helped her make that submarine, letting her lead, making gentle suggestions only when necessary.  It was a snapshot of that precious time between childhood and the teen years. The last real bits of childhood, before you care about how you look or what others think. Before she was on Instagram or Snapchat, when she was a ball of creativity and enthusiasm guided by the gentlest of souls, her dear departed Nonno. She still has those qualities, they are just a bit muted now by life experiences and the realization and pressures of the real world beginning to unfold.

Next stop, high school.

 

 

 

Fixer of Broken Things

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Fixer of Broken Things

A great tree fell in the forest of life on this day a year ago and I am sad. I miss the colors of fall, the snow on winter branches, the shelter for spring birds and the clean air he so effortlessly provided. He made our world a better place and asked for nothing in return, except perhaps, some pasta.

I talk to the ghost of my father in-law daily, I miss him every day. He was a quiet man, a man of action, a family man, a zen master. He could pop over any time and I was always happy to see him. Not even a hint of internal – oh shit I need to….his visits only brought joy – a smile, an enthusiastic hello, would you like some coffee/breakfast/lunch/anything and it truly would have been my pleasure to serve….just the pasta, that’s all he wanted.

He would spend hours at our house, pulling weeds, fixing things, dawdling in that classic old school Italian way, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, the dog at his feet hoping for a crust of bread which, he always shared as he exited his car in our driveway. He was the fixer of broken things, the finder of stuff (he knew where everything was), the quiet gardener, the happy chef, a humble man who loved his family.

When the kids were little they would become attached to tiny toys that were given in party bags, random gifts and tchotchke items. One of a kind special things that were beloved and irreplaceable or at least hard to find. If something broke it would be set aside for Nonno to fix. His success rate was pretty high somewhere above 90%. He had that Italian mind designed to solve problems and find solutions, curious and steadfast in his thoughts, the man had an abundance of patience.

He painted when something needed to be painted. He organized, he cleaned, he made himself useful, he had to be productive, it was in his DNA. Like a border collie, he needed a job. He was happy here toiling around our house during the day and when he was done he would drive the 8 minutes back to his house. Freedom and independence without isolation.

He could sew too. My daughter had a brief stint in the Daisies and the Brownies and I never sewed a single patch, Nonno did that. He even sewed the dog’s toys back together. He could do stuff with gorilla glue and duct tape that defied the laws of physics, truly a fixer of broken things.

If I’m honest he fixed me as well. I didn’t grow up with a father in my life. He showed me what a good father was, I felt loved and appreciated. Perhaps that’s why I never lost patience with him popping in unannounced or declining invites to the kids events. Behavior which annoys me when someone else does it. I simply enjoyed his company and knew he loved us whether or not he attended the Holiday Concert.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. It feels like yesterday and another lifetime all at once. I don’t know how that’s possible, it just is. My husband seemed distracted and down today. He’s horrible at remembering dates so I didn’t want to remind him if the date slipped his mind. Why scratch the scab?

I popped in his office and asked if he was OK. Told him I thought he seemed distracted. His response let me know he didn’t realize the significance of the date – he asked if it was “that time”. That usually gets a steely gaze from me, on this day I practiced restraint…then he asked if I was OK, suspecting I was hormonal. I responded with a cheerful “just checking on you, I’m good”.

I’m not good.

 

Grief Fog

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Grief Fog

Apparently there is a Mercury Retrograde phase right now which means we are all ripe for disaster my friends. Mercury is a bit of an asshole whilst in retrograde and this year March, July and November are on track to be awful. Here’s a link if you want your head to explode with all the retrogradey stuff….OHSHITMERCURYRETROGRADE

Mercury aside, I have been feeling all the feels today. You ever find yourself driving and suddenly realize you can’t remember the past 15 minutes? You’ve been on the road so many times that you slip into autopilot and you aren’t really aware of your surroundings. The past 10 months have felt like this for me. First my Father in-law got sick and passed away, then four months later I lost my own father. I’ve been in a grief fog ever since. Sure I do all the things that need to be done but I’m a muted version of myself.

During this process I haven’t been fully aware and in tune with the world including my small community. I know I’ve missed some important stuff and I haven’t been present in my usual capacity. Last night I found out that a local parent has been having chemo treatments for several months, I had no idea. Year ago me would have set up a Sign Up Genius and initiated a meal train, the current version of myself found out haphazardly in a group text. I’ve clearly been out of the loop bogged down in my own muck. I’d beat myself up about it a little more if I had the energy, I don’t.

Grief is a process, it isn’t a stage or a series of milestones that you pass and then it’s behind you. It becomes a part of you…sometimes it’s a tiny speck and sometimes it envelops you. If you are grieving, I hope you are patient with yourself…you deserve that.

 

 

Featured Photo Credit:

 

 

 

 

 

These are my People

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These are my People

Hello internet friends. For those that are following my blog, thought I’d update you on some things. It’s riveting so grab a hold of your hats and hold on (I may have just oversold it):

Remember how I wrote about my friend Pam a few days ago…well today I went to an appointment and to my surprise, three of her friends were there. We all shared Pam stories, held hands and sang a song. OK there was no actual singing I just find it interesting that she is reminding us all of her fabulousness. Damn, I miss her.

After that, I stopped by my friend’s bakery. She’s magic and makes the most delicious knishes. I came home with two boxes of goodies and when I took a peek I saw that my friend added some extras (she basically doubled everything). Did I mention that I have the best friends. When I got home I saw this meme. I’m totally fine with having a pet sloth named Knish:

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This week my client Laura told me about polar bear picnics. When her kids were little and driving her crazy inside during the winter months she would send them outside with instructions. They were given some sticks and a can of soup. They were expected to make fire, heat the soup over an open flame and eat outside. This woman’s bad ass level impresses me to no end. I also found out she used to ride her bike to work – 5 miles of country back roads with no shortage of steep hills. On the way home she would stop to look at wildflowers. I think she was just trying to get out of cooking dinner and again, she has my respect. Now I can’t get the image of little kids bundled up in 60’s winter gear over a driveway campfire with a polar bear. If only I could draw…

100

The above picture was downloaded from my Facebook newsfeed. This woman is 100 today and I instantly fell in love with her. Notice the banner in the background – “I’m 100 Bitches”. Other photos included toilet paper encased in a box that read “Holy crap, I’m 100!” and a mug that stated “It took 100 years to look this good!”

These are my people.

Pam

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Pam

Pam was one of my first clients, she reached out to me because she was recovering from an injury and needed some help. She was young somewhere around 60 and had a Chihuahua named Short Sale (Pam used to be in real estate and she had an incredible sense of humor). Short Sale needed to be walked twice a day along with other odds and ends like shopping, opening jars, rides to the doctor and anything else she needed. One time she wanted advice on a mouse infestation issue, I had to refer her to an exterminator. I have limits.

We became friends and the lines between work and friendship blurred. Pam had the charm of a Southern Belle and the wit of a seasoned New Yorker, she was one-of-a-kind. One day I came over to help out and she insisted that we watch The Devil Wears Prada. I am a fashion misfit so it made me realize how much she liked me to watch that with her. Perhaps she was trying to nudge some fashion sense into me, it didn’t take. Sorry Pam.

She really appreciated everything I did for her. In a generous act, she gifted me with 4 tickets to a football game. It was an Eagles game and they were playing the Carolina Panthers. Pam’s brother had an executive level job with the Panthers so the seats were in the visiting team box and included passes to get on the field.

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Short Sale sporting his love for the Carolina Panthers. The Jersey was a gift I got him that Christmas.

Pam was a little upset when I told her that I wasn’t going. My daughter and I weren’t into football so we wanted to pass our spots on to someone who would appreciate them. My husband and son went with another father/son duo who are close family friends.

Tragically the mother of my son’s friend passed away the prior year. I told Pam because I knew she wouldn’t be mad at me for giving my spot away to a kid who had been through so much. On the night of the game, I took Pam out to dinner along with my daughter. We had a great time.

A couple of days after the game, Pam was getting physical therapy at a local facility. Physical therapy takes place in an open room with other patients at different stations. Pam liked to talk (a lot) and she was telling Bill, her Physical Therapist, about the game. She went on to tell him how two of the tickets went to a boy and his father and how the mother passed away the prior year. She went through the whole sad tale. Wouldn’t you know it, Bob, the widower was also getting physical therapy and heard the entire conversation. He introduced himself to Pam, thanking her for the tickets. See I’m not the only one who does cringe-worthy things (I wonder if my cringe is contagious…).

Pam and I remained friends after my services were no longer needed and I was heartbroken when she died unexpectedly in 2017. I couldn’t make the memorial service because I was out of town on a family vacation. A dear friend went on my behalf. She said the crowds were spilling out of the local funeral parlor, every seat taken with many people standing.

The place was filled with equal parts tears and laughter. Funny Pam stories and heartbroken friends mingling with family. Her family and closest friends decided to give Pam’s costume jewelry away to the mourners. There were trays and trays of her prized collection on display for friends to take as a remembrance of Pam. My friend picked out a spectacular bracelet for my keepsake. We take it with us when we go on adventures together.

In July of 2017, my friend and I went to see PINK in concert on the beach in Atlantic City. Pam was supposed to join us. We made plans to attend the concert at prior outing (the one where Jam Man donated $3. of Pam’s change). Pam reserved the room because as she said, “I got the senior rate ‘cause I’m so old”. I purchased the concert tickets. The three of us were so excited for our girls road trip. Sadly Pam died 6 weeks before the show.

When it was time to go, the two of us packed up and went. We thought about giving the ticket away but decided to keep it. We took her bracelet everywhere on our adventure and turned Pam’s ticket in with our own.

Ticket taker: “3 tickets, there’s only two of you.”

SC: “Pam’s here, you just can’t see her.”

Now when I go somewhere I think Pam would enjoy, I take her bracelet with me.

 

Don’t Stop Believin’

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Don’t Stop Believin’

My regular readers may recall that my father died this past September. We had a complicated relationship and I was mostly on the losing end of that situation. We’ve gone from childhood abandonment – to awkward random sightings – to being able to socialize and converse about superficial stuff. We weren’t close, we weren’t estranged, we were in some weird limbo state that we were never able to breakthrough.

Everyone goes through emotions when their parents die, even if you aren’t close. I didn’t know what to expect in this situation. My father in-law whom I adored died this past May, that was heartbreaking. I miss him every day, I carry that with me daily. With my own father it was different, like our history, it was complicated. I didn’t know how to “unpack” this complex variety of emotions. I even went to see a Medium about it, I wasn’t impressed.

So now I refer to my father as “Ghost Dad” and we chat. Mostly I chat, he’s a pretty good listener. The Medium I saw said I could ask him questions (simple yes or no questions) and if the answer was yes I would be granted a yellow rose of some sort. Well that sounded like some basic bullsh*t to me. Our relationship wasn’t generic it was a kaleidoscope of dysfunction, not something a yellow rose could handle. I came up with my own sign and I told Ghost Dad about it several times, dozens of times. I wanted, no demanded, a unicorn on a unicycle farting rainbows.

Pretty outrageous sure, but the guy owed me. Here are the links to digital bits of my soul that I have thrown out to the universe in an effort to exorcise the demons:

Broken

Less Than

I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

Anyhow, if you actually clicked on the links and read through that mess, apologies. I know it’s awful and maybe it made you cry…I want you to know that I’m doing well. On Christmas, I got a present from a good friend who did not know about the very specific sign. Here’s a picture:

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Socks which feature a unicorn farting rainbows with “Don’t Stop Believin'” on them. Sure there isn’t a unicycle but I’m still taking it as a sign from Ghost Dad. He heard my expletive laden rants and he has repented in his own way. Today I choose forgiveness.

I have felt so much lighter since I received these socks. So much so that I told the practical side of my brain to sit this one out, Don’t Stop Believin’!

 

 

*The featured photo is of a mug that my outstanding friend Katie gifted me. I’m pretty sure she knew about the unicorn sign thing, she just gets me. Thanks Katie!

 

 

 

Fear

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Fear

My brain is a swirling mass of bad ideas, thoughts that want to tell me the worst. Imagined bad scenarios pile up like cars on an untreated highway during a rush hour ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s an unexpected, unanticipated disaster threatening and menacing, I could be taken out at anytime by what I don’t see in the blind spots, navigation is treacherous. No actual cars, just the thoughts in my head that I struggle to not breath life into. I keep them locked up in the darkest recesses of my mind where they ricochet like a vintage game of Pong on meth or speed or whatever causes the most damage and chaos.

What happened? Nothing much, it doesn’t take much. My husband could go out for a walk or to meet a friend for coffee and sometimes my damaged mind assumes diabolical situations – mostly that he is cheating on me or dead in a ditch, perhaps mangled in a car crash. Sometimes I think it’s a girlfriend or a hooker, other times I go full blown psycho and imagine the “other family” like a plot from Brothers & Sisters where I play Sally Field’s character. I try to distract myself from my own wicked thoughts and it’s exhausting. Like the duck which appears calm on the surface of the water but if you go underneath you see the frantic kicking of the webbed feet. I’m the duck cooking dinner and answering homework questions while my mind is imagining horrendous scenarios.

I talk myself off of my woman made mental ledge by giving myself an internal pep talk. He loves me I tell myself, knowing that isn’t enough. I mean plenty of guys that love their wives cheat or die in a car crash, statistical fact. I go deeper into my analysis – what time of the month is it? Last menstrual cycle was 22 days ago – interesting, the math works. Didn’t sleep more than 3 hours, got maybe 4 hours the night before last. What did I eat today? Have I exercised? I do much better when I sleep enough, eat well and get in a work out. Has anything different happened to make me feel vulnerable – why yes two family deaths in the span of six months, some collateral drama.

Much like the pilot of an airplane, I have a pre-flight checklist. If any of these items apply I note them and the demons of my mind step back a bit. It has taken years of self introspection and observation to acknowledge these pitfalls. Inevitably though it always comes back to fear of abandonment.

The scars of a dysfunctional upbringing are the echos that haunt me. In the arrogance of youth when I had more energy, was physically more attractive and had complete financial independence, I had the naivete to think the ghosts of my childhood wouldn’t haunt me. I remember my own mother telling me that there was a certain level of her own damage that she had come to accept as insurmountable. Late twenties me thought what a bunch of bullshit that was and how if you had awareness then surely you had the ability to make some changes.

The decades since have softened my views on this…certainly as individuals we have some control over our outlook on life. I have also come to view these deeper flaws in a way that I view grief. You cannot jump high enough or dig deep enough to get around it, you must go through it. You need to absorb your personal truths and recognize them when they float to the surface. By all means fight the demonic bastards with everything you’ve got, just recognize that they will continue to be unwelcome and hopefully infrequent visitors.

So as much as I hate to admit it, mom was right. Some of my fuckedupness is just a part of me and I need to make peace with it. Not panic when the – damn is he cheating on me or why are they late, did they crash the car thoughts come in, because they wilI. I need to glance at my pre-flight checklist and acknowledge that I have a fear of abandonment which is stoking the flames of the negative fires burning in my brain. I need to go after them one thought at a time – dousing them with logic and pragmatic reflection until they are just smoldering embers waiting for the next opportunity to ignite.

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.

Less Than

Standard
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.