12 05 2007

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“I’m away,” the message on my instant messenger reads.  The brief message gives the reader plenty of opportunity to imagine that I’m catching up on some cleaning and organization around the house, using up the last of my monthly cell phone minutes, or lost in the fantasy realm of an old, dusty book.  When the truth is, I’m just hiding.   

This Mother’s Day marks the third anniversary of The Beginning of the End.  Three years ago exactly, I fell down the rabbit hole, and I’ve been lost in Wonderland casing after white rabbits and Cheshire Cats ever since.  I remember walking into my mom’s bedroom to find her staring in disbelief at several credit cards bills in her hands – credit cards we supposedly didn’t even have.  My dad had racked up quite a hefty sum, but not only that, he’d been lying about it to all of us for months.  I was angry and confused, to put it mildly. 

It wasn’t until later that same year — while on vacation in Disneyland – we realized it was much more than a midlife crisis and a pricey shopping spree.  We learned he’s dying very slowly at the hands of the silent killer known as Dementia, which was why he’d lost interest in his family; along with losing impose control and his moral compass to boot.

Things have changed drastically since our first unforgettable Mother’s Day.  My dad’s living in an apartment on his own, we’ve moved to a new town, and his heath is much worse.  But much like three years ago, mom and I find ourselves very concerned about yet another thing he appears to be concealing from us.  Only this time, I’m concerned he’s become involved with someone.

Three years ago, if I’d even suspected for a moment my dad was involved with someone else I would have been devastated, but now I feel too apathetic to even care much.  When mom and I discussed earlier today how we’re concerned, my eloquent, thoughtful response to the situation was, “Well, this isn’t cool.”   

I know my dad wouldn’t have wanted any of this; I know he doesn’t have the same level of control anymore, but that only adds another layer to my frustration.  I don’t blame anyone; its nobodies fault, but I’m still angry any of this is even happening. 

I need a moment to breath, a chance to collect my thoughts, and to simply get away.


Four Little Words

11 02 2007

My birthday is in a few weeks, I’ll be twenty, and as most everyone who has seen or heard from me within the past month knows, I’m very excited.  I don’t have any earthshaking plans, but I’ll be forever rid of “teen” from my age.  I can hear the hallelujah chorus now.

My dad gave me my present yesterday, and with it, a birthday card.  It was the card that got to me, or rather, the note inside.   

There were just four words inscribed, “Happy birthday.  Love, Dad.”  My dad’s never been a writer, so I wasn’t expecting anything profound and poetic, but the fact he’d written his short birthday greeting to me in pen, so there was a permanent record of just much he’d struggled trying to arrange the letters caused a sharp twinge of pain.  Because even in the end, he still hadn’t found the right mix of lettering to spell those four modest words correctly.   

When my sister, Shannon, was little I’d smile at the cute little cards she’d give me, and I’d try to decipher the text as best I could.  It was fine her notes could be a challenge to read, because she wasn’t even school age.  In fact, the illegibility and creative spelling added to the overall cuteness factor, but it’s not cute when it’s your dad.           

Here I am almost twenty and my dad can no longer always address a simple card.  He won’t be able to play a prominent rule in my adult life, because he’s unable to even now.  If I ever get married, he won’t be able to be a the supportive dad he would have wanted to be, and it’s going to be awhile before I’m done with school, because I’d like to get my masters, and by then he might not even be able to fully comprehend what that means.   

The reality my dad won’t be able to be there when I cross each hurdle and enter into each new stage of life, is painful, but the hardest part has nothing to do with me missing out on “dad time,” but that Shannon – who’s turning twelve this month – may not even have her dad cheering her own when she graduates from high school. 

It’s remarkable how four little words can jolt you back to reality, and leave you feeling like Alice tumbling head over heels down the rabbit hole.  I didn’t allow the note to wreck havoc on my day, but I did go for a run to wear off the “Alice” feeling.  Sometimes, you just need to run.     


16 12 2006

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Life is filled to the brim with bittersweet moments that make you want to smile while dancing around the room, and curl up into a ball and cry.  When the phone rang and I heard my dad on the other end of the line, it was one of those moments.  

I honestly cant remember the last time Id talked to him for even a moment where I knew he was connecting with me.  I still see him about once a week, but the strong, sociable, hardworking man — who once was my dad — has slowly been slipping way, out of reach, for years, and a strange, confused, paranoid man who resembles a small child — has been left in his place.  No tearful goodbyes, no forwarding address; he’s just gone.  It’s as if my dad died several years ago and somehow I wasn’t informed.  

When I answered the phone, I was surprised to hear, not the voice of a confused man in need, but the cheerful voice of my dad.  

Our conversation lasted for five minutes, and never went any deeper than the whether, but for a brief moment, I could hear him again.  But then, in the blink of an eye, he was fading away again; he was slipping back into a black hole somewhere, out of my reach.  I wanted to call out, “Please, don’t go!  I miss you.”  But he was gone, and the confused stranger had taken his place.         

 Months will pass without me seeing the real him, and then for a fraction of a second he?s there again, which only makes it harder, because it reminds me again just how much I miss him.   

Sometimes, I feel like I?m being teased, or tormented with these “dad sightings.”  Of course, I love hearing his voice for even a second, but it’s also a chilling reminder I can’t turn the clock back, that he’s truly gone for good and there’s no getting him back again, not even to say goodbye.

Grief and the Holidays

3 12 2006

The month of December is an odd time of year.  For some, it’s full of hope, good cheer, and wonder, but for others, it can be a time of pain, heartache and a cold reminder of the great loss they may have experienced in the prior year.  It seems as if however someone is already doing becomes magnified times a hundred during December, whether they want it to be, or not.  This year, I find myself swinging between the two extremes like a child on a tire swing.     

Because Holidays are landmarks in the year, it makes reminiscing easy; recalling the smiles, laughs, and pretty wrapping scattered to the four corners of the house as if Santa’s toyshop had exploded, but there are also memories of tears and pain.     

For the past few years, the holiday season has been something I’ve both anticipated and secretly dreaded, because sometimes, even the cute holiday TV specials seem like a hard reminder of how imperfect life is.   It’s not only that there are so many hopes and dreams resting on this season — and sometimes even on a short twenty-four-hour window in time — but there’s also the feeling you’re suppose to be giddy, warm all the way down to your toes, and uncontrollably happy while spreading your festive spirit to anyone who happens to cross your path, but sometimes life doesn’t look like a scene right out of “White Christmas.”     

To paraphrase something I was once told, “Even though the holidays are fun, I sometimes wish we didn’t have any, because it’s so much worse when something go array on one of them than any other day during the year.”    To be honest, right now, even simple holiday chitchat is awkward.  Since my dad isn’t living with us any more (see “Life in a Nutshell”) I have no idea what we’ll even be doing this Christmas, how we’re going to work out all the little details, and I’d rather not think about it.  I hide how I’m feeling about it with a smile, joke, a bit of friendly sarcasm, or a long list of question posed at whomever I’m talking with, so that I don’t have to talk.  I’d almost like to just ignore the holidays, so that I don’t have to deal with them and all the emotions and grief they drag out into our plain view.    

I still do enjoy hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” playing on the radio, wearing fuzzy gloves and warm winter coats, and seeing the snow fall from the sky and stick to your eyelashes.  It isn’t that I no longer care, or don’t want to enjoy this festive time of year, but while I’m smiling and humming along with my favorite carol, I sometimes also feel like crying.  

Since skipping the holidays isn’t very practical and wouldn’t help things any, and hibernating is clearly out of the question because I can’t sleep past ten o’clock in the morning, I guess I need to take this one step at a time, and be patient with my family and myself, and remember it isn’t the magic that makes this time of year worth celebrating; it’s the miracle.  There’s reason to be joyful, even if I don’t always feel happy.    

A Byproduct of Loss

13 11 2006

“An odd byproduct of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if it they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether… I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.”-C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed)

Maybe everyone who’s lost someone, or is in the process of losing someone, should be isolated like lepers. I’m sure it would be a depressing colony, but at least there would be people to understand. 

The trouble is grief does isolate you from the rest of the word, even if there isn’t a visible barrier, but you’re not surrounded with people who aren’t afraid of or embarrassed by you and your situation. The strained smiles, fidgeting, short and awkward conversations make it challenging to be anything but isolated. You can’t blame someone for not understanding, because everyone’s grief is unique even if they’ve lost the same person, but it does make it challenging.

After reading “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis, I didn’t come away with answers, or feeling at peace with everything, but it was helpful to read someone else’s fears, doubts, feelings and thoughts as they walked through the long road of grief. To know I’m not alone as I ask my questions that have no answers, when religious comfort that’s offered seems trite and cold, and when the only thing that seems to have come out of this is that I’ve gained a broader vocabulary.  Sometimes the most helpful thing is simply to know you’re not alone.

Talking about Grief

4 11 2006

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Few things make us more uncomfortable than words like “grief,,” “loss,” and “death,” so when it comes to dealing with loved ones who are grieving, we don’t know what to do, say, or how to act, and sometimes this ignorance can do horrendous damage to someone already in pain.

While making small talk with some acquaintances, one of the young men in the group, James, tried to mention how his mother is dying, how greatly it’s affecting his entire family, and how hard the stress level and grief has been on him lately.  His friends — who he’s known for several years — suddenly became very awkward and completely tongue-tied.  They began to squirm around in their chairs and franticly glanced at each other as if they were looking for help.

Feeling Uncomfortable 

I’m also losing a parent right now, my dad has a fatal illness, and I’m slowly watching him slip away.  I know the heartache, but I don’t have any answers, no cure for the pain. In fact, I hardly even knew James, but I asked questions about how his mom was doing, how his family was holding up, and most importantly, how he was doing.

His friends continued looking around uncomfortably, and when there was the first break in the conversation, one of them jumped in and changed the subject to something more upbeat. Then, in order to avoid further discomfort, they dominated the entire conversation; a regular “one man band.”  They didn’t want to hear about the heavier things James is currently living with, so they avoided having to listen by not giving him the opportunity to talk about it.

Their friend wanted to talk about the hardest thing in his life, and they responded by changing the subject and dominating the conversation because it made them uncomfortable to talk about grief and death. But I’m sure it doesn’t make James feel comfortable to live with the reality his mother is dying.

Just Listen

Some people — even friends — never ask me how my dad is doing, or how I’m coping with things, even though they know what’s happening and they see me on a regular basis.  Maybe people think they’d be reminding me of my pain by mentioning it, but I haven’t forgotten my dad’s dying.  Even if it’s not living in the forefronts of my thoughts at every moment, the knowledge and reality of it is always there.  They don’t ask for fear of reminding me, but since they don’t ask I assume they’re the ones who’ve forgotten.

“I don’t know what to do,” I hear people say when someone they know is grieving. Well, I’ll tell you, take a deep breath, deal with the fact it’s not your favorite subject of conversation, and listen. You’re right, you can’t change the situation, you can’t make it all better, but they know that even better than you do.   Sometimes, they just need to talk, and they need to know you haven’t forgotten.

The Process of Grief

31 10 2006

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If I’d been asked to describe the progression of grief a few years ago, I would have assumed it’d work through a nice orderly timeline.  It would start at the loss and work through different emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, etc.) in some sort of logical order.  Each emotion would be a level and once worked through, you’d move on to the next stage in the process.   

I have since concluded that grief doesn’t follow a systematic timeline.  Instead, it often reminds me of a rollercoaster — up and down, to and fro, and all without any warning.  You hang on so tight your fingers hurt, scream your head off, and try not to get sick on the unlucky person who’s seated in front of you.  You can go from being at acceptance, to anger, and then right back to just feeling depressed, and you would’ve felt like you’d worked through each of those already.   

Just One Wild Ride 

Grief isn’t a cycle — once you’ve worked through something you’re on to the next phase — because the feelings and struggles are always there, but it’s impossible for anyone to try and deal with them all at the same time, so it comes it shifts.  The process of working through grief doesn’t inch along, slowly but surely, going in the right direction.  It takes quantum leaps that seem to lead anywhere but forward, but eventually, someday, comes to an end. 

Some days, I wake up feeling as if the world is almost as it should be, but the reality of what I’m dealing with can hit again and leave me feeling dazed.  It makes me hesitate when answering “How are you?” because I don’t want to drag everyone I know along on my rollercoaster.  If I cry when talking, they assume life must be “bad,” but if I’m able to smile while reporting the details of life to them, then life must be “good.”  But the struggles are always the same; they’re always there.  I think this is something people have a hard time grasping.

Out of the Box

Often, it seems as if people are only able to place me in one of their mental boxes.  If I?m in the “Poor Kelsey” box, they’ll ask sympathetic questions and make sad eyes to such a sickening degree I’d like to sign them up for acting lessons — if they’re going to act, at least they could try looking sincere.  When placed in this box, people seem to forget I’m even capable of talking about anything lighter than grief, death and the like, or would even want to do something simply for enjoyment. 

On the other hand, if I’m stuck in the “Life is Fine” box ,when I mention something about my dad’s health and how life is going, they’ll look surprised for a moment and comment, “Oh, that’s right? how is your dad anyways?”  They’d forgotten anything was even happening.

I hate being in either box, because both are such horribly inaccurate representations of my life.  Some of it might simply be that they can’t understand what the process of working through grief looks like; they still think it follows a timeline, so they don’t understand why I don’t feel “better” yet, or why I haven’t moved on to the next “stage.”  The trouble is, there aren’t stages in that sense; just one wild ride.