Category Archives: Loss

When you can’t go home again

My mother is planning to sell her house. It is the right decision: she is newly widowed; the house is much too big for her and too hard to maintain; the property is rural and isolated and requires too much work; she is a long drive away from her siblings, children, and grandchildren; and she does not have a strong support network of friends in the area where she currently lives.

It is a big house that got away from my mother and stepfather over the last few years as he became increasingly unwell. It is in an economically depressed area. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I’ve thought about the reality of Mum selling the house, my thought process has largely revolved around the fear that my mother will want to sell the house and not be able to, or that she will sell it for such a pittance that she will not be able to move closer to me and my sisters, even if we help financially.

I’ve been afraid that the house will be an albatross, a millstone wrapped around my mother’s neck, dragging her down and chaining her to the past when she is willing to move forward and explore a new future.

When I saw my mother last week, she commented that the real estate agents who have been in to see the house have called it a “breath of fresh air”. There are, apparently, not many houses of its size on the market, and there are buyers who want a larger house.

They don’t think it will be hard to sell.

Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but in that moment, when the sale of the house became a real possibility, the door that I have been keeping resolutely shut cracked open and the emotions that I have been holding at bay flooded in.

Because it’s not just a house, of course.

It’s our childhood home.

It’s the place my city-born son loves to visit most of all.

It’s where I can see all the stars.

Selling the house is absolutely, without a doubt, the right decision. And yet, last week, when I was sitting in the bedroom that used to be mine, looking out the window at the snow and the trees and the landscape that my body recognizes as “home”, it seemed impossible to comprehend that it might be one of the last times I was there, that at some point very soon visiting my mother will not mean returning to the place where I grew up.

It’s another loss.

How do I make the space to grieve it?

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Microblog Mondays: (Un?)Welcome Memories

Microblog_MondaysI started a five year journal (this one) in May 2014 (on E’s third birthday). I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the pressure of a “full” diary (I’ve tried multiple times and, except for travel diaries, always get bogged down after a few weeks), but I also knew I wanted something a bit more quotidian than this blog or the notebook where I write down E’s milestones and witty sayings.

This particular journal was perfect- even if I miss a day or two (or a week, as has happened), I am always able to go back and reconstruct what happened in enough detail for an entry.

I don’t have a single blank day. And, for close to two years, the journal entries are a mix of notes about E., my PhD, places we went, things we did, dinners we ate, books I read, etc. Just ordinary days in an ordinary life.

I didn’t know, of course, that 2016 was going to happen.

Here’s the thing: my journal preserves memories that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I usually reread the entries for that particular day from previous years and there have been many occasions where the entry has triggered a flood of memories about a day or an event that up until that moment I would have said I’d forgotten about completely.

So I don’t know that I would remember that particular sliding outing at E’s school with my Dad, or that lunch with my stepfather on the patio with the waitress who messed up all of our orders without the prompt of the journal entry.

The entries are nothing special. I didn’t know, of course, that those visits would turn out to be the last visits. I thought we had years left.

There is a stark contrast in the journal between the entries I made before my father’s accident and those that come afterwards. Rereading is physically painful. I don’t recognize the woman who made the entries in 2014 and 2015 or the life that she was living.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll be glad to have those ordinary visits preserved in more than just my memory.

Right now I feel like I never want to touch this journal again once it’s full.

Would you want the memories of those last ordinary days, or would it hurt too much to be reminded of what you had lost?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss, Microblog Mondays, Writing

Microblog Mondays: The (Not-So) New Normal

Microblog_MondaysOn Saturday, it was a year since my father’s accident. As I said to my sisters that morning over our WhatsApp group chat, he has survived, and we have too.

My Dad sent round an email that broke our hearts. He has fought so hard and accomplished so much. He has defied the doctors’ expectations time and time again. He has, despite our initial fears, decided that he can still have a meaningful life, even though it is not the life that he wanted, not the life that he had planned.

And yet his email made it clear just how much he still struggles to reconcile himself to this life.

I am still struggling too.

When I finished my PhD in December 2014, I got a card from my Dad and my stepmother. In it my Dad had written quite a lengthy message poking fun at himself by commenting that whenever he has told anyone about his daughters’ accomplishments the response has always been stunned silence followed by “Well they didn’t get that from you!”

I don’t have the cards my Dad gave me for any of my birthdays or for Christmas. I don’t tend to keep cards unless they were given to me by Q. (or made for me by E.).

I kept this one.

I didn’t know, of course, what was coming.

But keeping it has meant that I can turn to the card and still see my father’s familiar signature, his instantly recognizable script.

He’ll never write like that again.

Layer upon layer of loss.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

 

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New year, old grief

I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen.

For months now, my family has been marching to the drum of “just get through 2016”. And even though it threw up one more unexpected complication (in that my poor Mum developed shingles right after Christmas, which meant that we couldn’t go and see her since P. isn’t yet vaccinated), in the end we all sent each other relieved/celebratory messages when the clock finally clicked over (or the next morning in my case since the idea that I will stay up until midnight, even to see a festering, wretched year out, is laughable).

And then 2017 got started in a big way with the birth of labmonkey’s son (on New Year’s Day, no less). I’m excited to meet the little guy, and excited that P & E will have a close cousin (geographically speaking), and relieved that everything went relatively well (actual message to a good friend of mine: “My sister had her baby and no one died!”).

And yet.

*********

My mother is still widowed.

I am still wrestling with what I discovered when I went to stay with my mother for a week in October. As her executor I helped her sort out a number of administrative issues still outstanding from my stepfather’s estate. Along the way I learned, to my abject shock and horror, that my stepfather had been steadily digging himself and my mother deeper and deeper into a financial hole, one that within a few years, if he had lived, they might not have been able to get themselves out of.

It has changed my memories of him.

It has forever altered our last few conversations, when he lay in his hospital bed and spent so much time telling me (telling all five of their children) that he could die at peace because he knew that my mother would be looked after financially.

It wasn’t true. My mother is not facing a lifelong sentence of poverty in her retirement solely because my stepfather died the day before his 65th birthday and not on the day itself (which would have invalidated the life insurance policy that has meant my mother could square their debts and start with no financial burdens, although no financial cushion either).

My mother should be able to be comfortable. She should be able to do some travelling. She should be able to spoil her grandchildren a little bit (because she will always spoil others and never herself), but she needs some luck in the next year or two for that to be true.

And it was so very nearly a disaster.

I don’t remember my dreams very much any more- too many nights of broken sleep thanks to P. But when I do dream about my stepfather, I’m usually fighting with him about his funeral.

I’m sorry that he’s dead.

I’m relieved that he died.

I’m carrying so much anger and there’s nowhere for it to go.

*******

And then there’s my Dad.

Because of the shingles, we ended up staying with my stepmother for the entire visit. We saw as much of my Dad as we could, but juggling two kids in an ICU room is not exactly easy. It will be easier when they have bought a new house (or renovated their current house), but this visit really drove home that it will never be easy again.

I don’t dream very much about my Dad either, but there was one dream, the first dream, that I will never forget. I had it in September, when E. had started school and P. was still sleeping well and I finally had a bit of quiet space to myself. In the dream, we drove up to their house and Dad answered the door. He was old Dad, the Dad from before the accident, right down to what he was wearing (black jeans and a green pullover sweater that my youngest sister had bought for him). He invited us in, and then the dream jumped to the dinner table and Dad was pouring wine for everyone. In the dream, I said to him, “Wow, Dad, so the operation with the pacer gave you back the use of your arms!” And then, in the dream, everything went blurry and grey and Dad’s face became so sad and there was a long pause before I finally said, “But how are you walking?”

Even in my dreams, I knew what I was seeing was impossible.

It still hurts so much.

It is worse when I see him.

When I’m at home and getting his emails or Skyping, it’s easy to take the most positive view of the situation possible, to focus on the future and the next steps that need to happen, to plan and organize. It becomes possible for my mind to skirt around the realities of my father’s new life.

You can’t skirt around it when your son is helping your father eat his dinner and casually wanders off after putting a piece of naan bread in your father’s mouth and all your father can do, your great, tall, powerful father, this pillar of strength in your childhood, is open his eyes really wide and make some noises around the bread that is clogging up his mouth so that you notice and come over and take it out.

My father is a real-life superhero. He has chosen to embrace the life that he has been handed, a life unimaginable from the one he was living a year ago. He has defied the statistics and the likely outcomes and the risk factors time and time again. In the last eleven months he has relearned to eat and to talk, twice. He has mastered using an eye tracker to control a laptop and has moved on to voice-controlled software. He can drive a power wheelchair with his head. He is on the diaphragm pacer (and off the ventilator) fifteen hours a day, every day.

He wants to live at home.

He wants to travel.

I honestly believe they will be writing about him in medical journals.

I could not be prouder.

But every time I see him my heart breaks again.

**********

I don’t cry very much these days.

This surprises me, as I used to weep at everything even before I had children.

When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, back in December of 2015, when I was pregnant with P., I cried for pretty much the entire last third of the movie, plus the entire way back home (real ugly crying too).

I cried a lot in February, and March, and April.

But I don’t cry anymore.

I know I haven’t processed my grief, my anger, my loss.

I know it’s all sitting there under the surface.

I don’t know if I’m not crying because I’m just worn too thin to feel or if I’m afraid if I start crying and feeling I might never stop.

*******

I’m so angry.

There are lots of healthy, happily retired couples in my neighbourhood. They like to go and have breakfast together and read the paper, or they have morning tea with scones, or they have lunch with wine and salad and paninis. I see them when I’m out walking (always with one or two children in tow).

I hate them.

It is an instinctive, visceral reaction when I see them.

My parents should be doing that too.

*************

2017 happened.

2016 ended.

My mother used to like to say that “The calendar fixes everything.”

Time heals all wounds, and all that.

But the calendar didn’t make it better.

It didn’t make it go away.

There was no magic, no miracle.

No unexpected happy ending.

We’re still moving forward, one day at a time, in a reality that we could never have imagined a year ago.

Time heals all wounds.

I don’t know how much more time I’m going to need.

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Make space for grief

My stepfather passed away on Saturday.

It was a horrible day. I was on edge the entire time, anticipating the phone call. I had no patience for my children. All the usual weekend household tasks seemed like insurmountable obstacles.

When my Mum called, we were in the middle of dinner. I was trying to eat pizza with one hand and nurse P. with the other. As soon as Q. answered the phone I knew who was calling and why.

I talked to my Mum for a bit.

And then we had to finish dinner, and P. wanted to nurse some more, and then we cleaned up, and then E. needed a bath, and then I had to put him to bed while Q. walked the floors with P., and then I had to nurse P. to sleep and it was well after 9 p.m. before I had any time to myself and by then I just wanted to fall asleep on the bed in my clothes (as has happened several times in the past week).

When I last spoke to my counsellor, she told me it was important that I make space for grief. I had said to her that I felt I had mourned more for my cat than for my stepfather or my father. In part this was because (at the time) neither of them had died and there were still things I could do about the situation. But mostly it was because I have had to confront the physical absence of my cat every single day since she was euthanized.

I can’t ignore it.

I can’t hide from it.

I have been forced to wrestle with it and acknowledge it.

I don’t know how I will make room to wrestle with the loss of my stepfather.

My counsellor talked about a book called Tear Soup (or something like that) where the person grieving drops tears into the soup because making dinner is the point where they have time to mourn.

I guess I have Tear Showers.

They’re not ideal, as I seem to only manage to shower every third or fourth day at the moment. And when I’m in the shower, P. is usually in the bouncy seat so I’m trying to rush through as quickly as possible.

I could easily have Tear Evening Nursing Sessions, but I don’t feel like that’s fair to P. She doesn’t need to be attached to a weeping mother.

A good friend from my childhood reached out to me after I put the news on Facebook (that is maybe another post- grief in the age of social media- I don’t know that I would have said anything on Facebook but followed my stepsister and sister’s lead. But then not saying anything seems dishonest. I still have not said anything about my father’s accident on there and now I feel like the silence suggests I am somehow ashamed of our new reality.). She said she had been weeping off and on since I posted.

I think she has cried more than I have.

In part, I am sure it is because this has come as a shock to her, whereas I have had a full month to sit with the terminal diagnosis and the eventual decline, plus many more months (years, really) of health issues which had suggested we were on borrowed time.

But I’m sure part of it is that she has the time to do this. She has no children. I am not saying her life is not full or busy, just that if you are not always responsible for two tiny people with many, many needs, perhaps it is easier to find a quiet moment to sit with distressing news.

How do you come to grips with something when you have no time to think for yourself about even minor things?

I told both my sisters I want a vacation from my life.

In many ways, I mean I want a return to BEFORE. Before the accident. Before the cancer’s return. Before we had to choose to give our cat a good death (a better death, I might add, than that which was available to my stepfather, which is something I struggle with daily and is perhaps another post).

It’s not possible, of course, and I wouldn’t want to erase P. either.

But that is ultimately how I feel right now.

I cry uncle.

I would give anything for just a few moments free of all I have felt for the last seven months.

Failing that, I would give almost as much for a few moments to feel, really sit with and feel, all I have felt for the last seven months.

Because right now I just feel numb.

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Unbalanced

Sunday night, I went to bed after 11 p.m., only to get up again ten minutes later when I heard the car in the driveway and knew my mother and stepsister were back from the hospital. I went downstairs to find out how my stepfather was doing and to let them decompress (things can be very hard right now).

I eventually went to bed and fell asleep around 12:45 a.m. The next morning we woke up and got on the road as early as we could (7:45 a.m., which was 45 minutes later than Q. had hoped for and 15 minutes earlier than I thought would be possible) in order to make the long drive back home in front of the worst of the holiday weekend traffic. P., mercifully, slept most of the way instead of screaming like she had on the outward trip, but it still took us 8 hours (same as the previous trip but with two stops instead of six).

Monday night I went to bed around 9:30 p.m. I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to feed P. (she is still sleeping really well at night). Then I went downstairs and pumped.

And then, starting at 5:00 a.m., I marked essays. I marked until E. woke up at 7:15.

I felt like garbage the rest of the day.

Last night I did not get up after feeding P. at 4:30 a.m. I pumped after her morning feed. I did not mark essays. I slept until E. woke me up at 7:30 and as a result I feel like I can function again.

I can’t mark during the day as I get exactly 45 minutes of time to work (after lunch when P. naps in a carrier and E. is watching videos). That is enough to check work email and moderate the discussion forum. It is enough to keep my head above water with the course which is into its concluding week (I had originally planned to actually write a concluding lecture but that is not going to happen). I am only able to type this because P. is nursing.

I don’t want to ask Q. to come home early because he lost his entire week last week coming with me to see my family (where he took over in the kitchen and kept us all fed for the entire week so my mother did not have to worry. I love that man).

I will probably get an hour tonight when Q. takes P. for an evening walk after E. is in bed.

But I think tomorrow I have to get up again after her feed. They won’t get done otherwise.

I am heartsick and grieving, for myself, my stepfather, my mother, my entire family. I had to say goodbye and leave, knowing that I will never see him again.

I was supposed to be there this week with the kids. My mother was going to look after E. while I marked when P. napped. Instead, she has brought my stepfather home from the hospital and will look after him until he dies, and I can do absolutely nothing to help.

We knew teaching the course after P. was born would be a challenge.

We are so close.

There are only a few more days to go.

But this is really hard now.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Life after the PhD, Loss

An ending, coming

On Monday night, I was lying in bed nursing P. with my phone in one hand, waiting for my mother to call with what I knew would be bad news. P. was thirty-seven days old. She is so new, so fresh. She is at the beginning of it all.

My stepfather is dying.

A month ago my Mum was with me, helping while Q. was overseas. My stepfather was doing so well she said she almost felt she could have left him alone. My youngest sister, who went to stay with him, said he was the best she’d seen him in years.

With hindsight, this appears to have been the final rally that some patients get before they start that last downward spiral.

He is in hospital and is being made comfortable. They are looking into the options to see if he can be brought home and receive hospice care.

We don’t know exactly how long he has, but it is not long. We were originally told days. It is probably more like weeks, but things can change very quickly as we have learned.

All five of his children (one son, one daughter, three stepdaughters) will be here as of this afternoon. We will all get our chance to say goodbye, but we will all probably have to leave again before the end and leave him and my mother, which breaks my heart.

He was well enough yesterday to come out of the hospital to meet P. (as she is too young to be vaccinated and I cannot risk bringing her in to the hospital itself). We were able to get some pictures of him with his four grandchildren. He will probably not get to meet the one currently occupying labmonkey’s uterus.

My stepsister and stepbrother lost their mother nine years ago. Now they will have lost both parents. They are 36 and (almost) 38. That is too young, My stepsister and her husband are here with their two kids (7 and 4) on a prearranged two week vacation. She wants to be with her Dad, but her kids need her too. I am hoping to hand P. off to someone this afternoon so Q. and I can go in to see him, even if just for an hour.

It’s not enough time.

There will never be enough time.

We knew the cancer was going to come back. We knew it would kill him eventually.

We never thought it would be this soon.

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