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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Thanksgiving without

Truthfully, I have been struggling with the concept of Thanksgiving this year. Losing my mother has been incredibly difficult for me and there are many days when I feel haunted by the pain of that loss. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks crying on and off again. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile our gathering for Thanksgiving when the person who held us together was my mother.

Our group was small this year–nine adults and two little ‘uns. And three dogs.

Normally a small group for us is fifteen people. When my parents had their current house built, my mother made sure her dining room was L-A-R-G-E on its own…and then she had a sunroom attached to one end in case we needed to expand the seating for some occasions. Some years we had my grandmother’s large dining room table which seats ten, plus two 3’x8’ tables attached. At my grandmother’s house we had more than 30 people some years. At my mother’s house, it was usually an average of 20 people.

No matter the number of people sitting at the table this year, my mother was the gigantic hole. Even the last two years when she wasn’t feeling 100%, she was there at the table while the rest of us buzzed around taking care of setting out food or cleaning up. She was there making faces at the turkey (which she hated), at the stuffing that everyone scarfed up (which she disliked), and p’shawing at the homemade pies she made (pumpkin, apple, and last year she added pecan pie for my Hub). She was there, in her seat to my father’s right. Across from me. That’s how we always sat in this house. Right across from me, right in my line of sight…we would make eye contact and roll our eyes at the conversation. We would communicate without talking. We would exchange commentary on the food and on the noise and whatever else. She was right there.

No more. Never again.

We did almost everything else the same. My uncle and aunt bring a barbeque turkey they like to eat. They brought their sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. They brought their salad. My brother (who lives there) cooked a 19 pound turkey. He made stuffing the way my mother made it (as best he could). He made my mother’s apple business. My other brother made fresh cranberry sauce. My cousin made a pumpkin pie. Hub and I made a couple of desserts (gf brownies and peanut butter cookies). I brought pickles and black olives. There was apple sauce on the table. A couple of baked sweet potatoes for those who don’t like the casserole.

But she wasn’t there. She didn’t miraculously appear. She didn’t buzz around the kitchen directing the traffic. She didn’t yell at my uncle for getting up and clearing the table too early. She didn’t remind us to put out little dessert plates after dinner. She didn’t offer tea and coffee. She didn’t laugh at the cranberry sauce spilled on the tablecloth…she didn’t wave her hand and say that stupid old inexpensive blue tablecloth doesn’t ever hold a stain no matter what gets spilled on it. She didn’t watch my father scarf down every dessert and scold him because of all the sugar. She didn’t make a face when he grabbed large pieces of turkey skin and “gobbled” it down. She didn’t laugh at how crowded her kitchen was while everyone was cleaning up, saying, “Even this kitchen isn’t big enough!”

She wasn’t there. She won’t be there. Ever again.

But my aunt and uncle were with us again. My cousin and her husband and their kids. My two brothers. My father. My husband. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that I was able to be there. I’m thankful we were able to feed all of us without blinking an eye. I’m thankful we had a place to get together that was warm and furnished and large enough to seat us all. I’m thankful we’re all trying to keep our traditions going. Even when it’s hard as hell.

And I try to remind myself to be thankful for all the years I had my mother sitting across from me (or next to me or near me). I’m thankful for all the years my grandparents were with us. I’m thankful for all the years my aunt and uncle on my father’s side were with us.

Maybe next year the guest list with be larger. Maybe it won’t. But I’ll try to be thankful again for what we have.

Right now, I’m going to go cry again. And when I go to sleep tonight, I’ll make my grateful list. And tomorrow night I’ll recite it again. And again the next night. Because I have so much to be thankful for, no matter what I’ve lost.

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2016 in anxiety, crying, death, family, grief, loss, love, mom, thankfulness

 

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These days (on God and faith)

There are days I wake up feeling mad at God. And days I go to sleep feeling mad at God.

I’m not overly religious, but I was raised with religion. I follow many of our traditions but I do not attend services every week. I did not grow up attending services every week. My life now as an adult is pretty close to my life growing up. My family’s traditions and habits stayed with me through the years to now. When my grandfather died, my mother started taking my grandmother to weekly services because my grandmother found comfort in the ritual. And I think it gave my mother special time with her mother. When my grandmother passed away, my mother continued attending weekly services because I think it became comfort to her. She generally attended the services with my father, who only went because she did. Sometimes she went alone, but that was pretty rare.

I do not find comfort in weekly services, so I never got into that tradition. I found comfort in my family. That family is in chaos without my mother.

I’m angry at God for taking my mother away. I’m angry at God for not giving me the ability to heal her. I’m angry at God for leaving me with this emptiness, this pain, this loneliness. I’m angry at God for putting my father through his own personal hell.

I’ve had previous tiffs with God. When I first got sick, I was so involved with being sick that I didn’t have time to think about God’s part in it. When I got sick again–more on top of the first illness–I was tired and I wanted to just give up. I didn’t think about why I was sick, only that I was. But as the years went on and my chronic pain and other chronic issues continued, I got mad at God. Why was He letting me be in pain all the time? Why wasn’t He helping the doctors figure out what was wrong with me and how to help me?

Why did He give my grandfather leukemia? Why did He let my grandfather suffer? And why did He let my grandfather die at only 82 years old? Why did He give my grandmother an eye disease that left her mostly blind? And then the stroke? And the dementia? Why did He let her linger year after year, lost in her own mind, needing others to care for her physical body because she was no longer able? My uncle, my aunt…on and on.

Why the cancer released on my mother’s body? Why did it have to be so aggressive? Why so fast, so hard? Why did it have to ruin her body and her mind at the end? Why did He have to take her away from us?

I know a lot of people who find comfort in their faith. Some give all their problems to God and accept whatever the answer is. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to get past the anger. I’m not saying I spend my days raging at God, because I don’t. But there are days when I sure want to rage and scream and ask WHY WHY WHY. How do I have trust in God and in a universe that has stolen my mother from me?

I watch commercials and I’m angry at kids with their mothers. When I’m out in stores I silently scream at kids with their mothers, wanting them to relish their time together because it won’t last. I’m jealous of Hub, who has his mother in his life. I’m so pissed off that my brothers had my mother in their lives longer than I did. I know these are petty things and don’t change what happened, but they are more reasons why I question God and faith and religion.

So many things in life I can attribute to decisions made by human beings. Why the election results? Too many people made the wrong decision. Why are people being killed in our cities? Too many people make wrong decisions, do bad things, trust the wrong people.

Why did my mother get an aggressive and rare form of cancer that took her away from me too fast and too early? I can’t blame that on a person or a decision. I can’t point to something and say, “oh that’s it! that’s why she’s dead and I’m living my life without her and my father is barely living a life at all…” Who else is there to look to? Who else was there to make the choice to give her cancer and take her away other than God?

Is any of this rational? Is anger at God rational? Does God even care if I’m angry at Him? Does God even care at all? Am I terrible for even asking these questions or feeling these feelings?

Hub often calls himself a heathen. He grew up with religion because his mother (and then his step-father) were religious. But he was very turned off as a youngster by the religious leaders in his community and he moved away from his religion. At this point I think he considers himself to be agnostic, though he deeply respects my feelings for my religion and traditions. These days I can more clearly understand his feelings, though not because of any religious leaders, but more because of my current predicament.

Despite my mother’s faith in her religion for most of her life, I don’t really know how she came to grips with any of this during her illness. It wasn’t something we discussed, mostly because I’m not sure she wanted to think about dying. At the end, I don’t know how much of her mind was still there, so I’m not sure she had time to question her faith. Even when we were at the point that the cancer had spread and there was no other medical intervention available, I don’t really know that she knew that. None of us wanted to say that outright to her, and when she didn’t ask specifically, we kept the information to ourselves. In those final days when her mind was still with her, we didn’t talk about the fact that her death was imminent.

I don’t know how to forgive God for my mother’s illness and subsequent death. I don’t know how to let go of the anger.

 

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Follow-up with trifecta ending

So last post I said I had to go out today and then drive home in the dark. I haven’t driven in the dark in many many MANY years. When I make appointments that I need to attend on my own, I generally schedule them during the daytime. This allows me to avoid traffic for the most part, and also it’s generally easier to get appointments during weekday work hours when most people are otherwise involved at THEIR work.

Somehow, this particular appointment didn’t work out that way, so I girded myself for driving home in the dark.

Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the high winds on the way to my appointment. I made it, but it was kind of sucky. When I left the house it was windy, 70 degrees and overcast. Two hours later, when I was ready to leave my appointment, it was 43 degrees, pitch black dark, windy, and pouring rain.

I hate driving in the rain.

So not only did I have to struggle with the dark, I had to struggle with pouring down rain AND dark. I drove out the neighborhood I was in, windshield wipers going full-throttle, with high-beams on because the neighborhood had no street lights. I thought I would be relieved to hit the 55mph highway because at least I knew it would be lit, but the highway was worse than the back roads. There was terrible glare from the rain, always-happening construction crap littering the side of the highway, and cars wanting to speed very very fast. I literally crawled onto the highway and then took the very first exit not even quarter of a mile later because I couldn’t handle it.

Once I got off the highway and onto back roads that I am very very familiar with, I did better. There was still a glare but I was in nicely lit neighborhoods with very few other cars around. It took me probably half an hour instead of twenty minutes to get home, but at least I was home safely.

Hub had offered to come get me and/or come follow me home, but he had friends over and I didn’t want to interrupt his plans.

The good news, I made it home safely. And I’m okay with not taking the highway home because I drive that road all the time so it’s not like I would normally avoid it. I just didn’t want to make things more difficult than they needed to be, especially in such an uncomfortable position.

After Thanksgiving, I’ll be hitting the interstate (65mph commuter route into the city) with my father for one of his doctor’s appointments. Fortunately, it’s scheduled for mid-morning, so it will be after rush hour, during daylight, and coming home will be before evening rush hour. I’ll be able to drive normally instead of in bumper-to-bumper traffic or with crazy people.

The appointment I had today was with our family rabbi, to talk about my dad’s situation. I was kind of disappointed that he didn’t have any really amazing ideas to help us with the current status of things. He suggested trying to get my father out of the house more often, but that’s kind of hard to do considering my father doesn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I don’t know, I guess I’m really frustrated because without some kind of cooperation from my father, nothing is really going to change. And right now, cooperation from my father is not going to happen.

Maybe if I have some time to process today’s conversation, I might come up with something else. But right now I don’t feel like the rabbi had anything to say other than what we already knew (and what I already said in the last post).

 
 

A new character emerges

As if my life were a book. Ironic since I used to write those.

I’ve been hiding in plain sight recently. My world has seemed to orbit around my food issues (another blog) and my father. And then the election. Oh God, the election. Please, another day.

Today is for my dad. My father was born eleven months after my mom, so he is almost a year younger than she. And yet, he has always seemed to be older than her, and his health has not been the greatest. He–like me and others in my family–has been overweight all of his adult life. He never had a good diet, he never exercised regularly, and for as long as my mother has known him, he has smoked a pipe. He’s been through cigarette phases and on occasion would enjoy himself a cigar, but his vise is really his pipe. As kids we had to live with it, though my mother always hated it and the smell of it makes me physically sick. When my parents had a house built in the late eighties, my  mother told my father he was no longer allowed to smoke in the house. He had to sit in the garage or on the porch he insisted the house have. He was only allowed to smoke in HIS vehicle and then only if he was alone. When they had their current house built, the rules were the same. Still now, on days when the wind is blowing just right and I’m outside, I can smell his pipe smoke coming from his garage. I still hate it. He has a smoker’s cough, a wheeze when he breathes, and his teeth are in terrible condition. His skin is bad, he has zero taste buds and absolutely no sense of smell.

In his sixties, my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. He didn’t care and he didn’t take medication and he didn’t change any of his habits. To this day, he doesn’t stay on medication. He takes it randomly and is convinced that the pharmaceutical companies are all out to make a buck and none of the medications do anything. He also randomly goes on and off all kinds of herbal “medications” with the expectation that they will solve all his issues. And again, has no consistency with them. He reads every alternative medical article and pamphlet he can and spouts his knowledge to whoever will listen.

Now, he is not really able to manage his sugar levels, despite attempting to go back onto his meds “consistently”. He will randomly announce he is off carbs and only eating protein, then not follow through. He will randomly announce he is off meat and only eating cheese and fish and bread. And pasta. He won’t follow through on any of that, either. And he has diabetic neuropathy in his feet. Very very bad neuropathy. He is in pain every day, often severe, and has been for at least four or five years. One time he told me he figured losing a foot was bound to happen to him. He was resigned to it. It hasn’t happened yet, but he’s not very actively doing much to keep that at bay.

My father retired from his job in the fall of 2003. Since that time, his life’s passion has been to read and smoke in his garage. When my mother got sick, he took care of her. His life then revolved around doctor’s appointments and combing through medical or alternative medical articles on the web. When Mom died, he crawled into his book and his pipe and refused to come out. Randomly he would tell me that he didn’t want to leave the house anymore. Randomly he would tell one of my brothers that he was crying “a lot”. So when my father had a medical issue crop up and he made an appointment to see his doctor, I went with him. I didn’t ask, I just showed up at his car the morning of his appointment about ten minutes before he was due to leave. When we saw his doctor, he told her that he was crying a lot and really didn’t want to leave the house. She asked him some questions and they talked–and he cried–and they talked more. And she asked him to try Lexapro. And she warned him it would take 4-6 weeks before he might feel any change, but that it would help him manage the depression until he was able to manage it himself. Or until it “lifted”, since she felt it was due to my  mother’s death. He promised her he would try it, and we went home with the pills.

Two weeks after starting the pills, he told us that he was feeling a bit better. He was doing more and talking more and crying less. Three weeks after starting the pills, he abruptly quit them without telling anyone, including his doctor. When I found out, I asked why and he told me he didn’t like the way he felt on them. But he couldn’t explain that any further. I asked him to alert his doctor–which he did by email–and he said if he felt like the depression was a problem, he would go back on the pills. Which we all knew was a damn lie.

It’s been about three months since he took the pills. Roughly two months since he stopped. He has admitted to me since then that he feels responsible for my mother’s death (which is not rational), and he told my brother (I learned later) that he stopped taking the pills because it made the feeling of loss and pain go away. And he wanted to feel the pain of my mother’s death. He was punishing himself for her death. And more recently, he has told me that he isn’t enjoying his books anymore. The one place he was able to hide and pass the hours every day. So when he had another health issue come up, I did the repeat dance and showed up at his car the morning of his appointment. And in the doctor’s office, after he went through the current medical issue, I brought up the depression and his loss of enjoyment of his books.

The doctor asked him to try another medication, which he refused. I didn’t know at this point why he stopped the meds and he refused to tell the doctor, only saying he didn’t like how he felt on it and “didn’t know” what that meant. After explaining to my dad about the chemicals in his brain being responsible for the depression, the doctor suggested he go see a mental health professional, possibly one that would be able to help him find a better medication for him. He said he’d think about it–after he cried and I cried–then refused to discuss it any further. My brother and I confronted him the next night about doing something, seeing someone, SOMETHING, and he refused to talk to us. He later told another of my brothers that “nothing is wrong with my brain!” in response to conversation about the depression being related to his brain chemistry.

I am feeling so helpless. Although his cognition isn’t great–which he has admitted–he is still in his right mind. We can’t force him to do anything. But I can’t give up and let him just spend his last years rotting away. I’m not asking him to be someone he’s not, but I hate that he has lost even his love of his books. Today I made an appointment to see our family Rabbi so that my brother and I can go speak to him. He’s been a part of our lives for over 45 years, and he’s a trained counselor. I hope he might have some suggestions, and/or consider helping us talk to my father.

I knew my mother’s death would be hard on my father. I had no concept of what that really meant IRL.

 

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