AARP, alz, alzheimer's, amylodosis, cardiac amylodosis, caring for parents, courage, dad, daughter caregivers, death, death and dying, dementia, family, fear, featured, grief, loss, memoir, truth, Uncategorized

Gone

April 4, 2018

I’m still in the middle of the gone as the anniversary of my father’s death nears. Some nights I wade in the grief around 6 pm when PBS NewsHour comes on and the seat next to me is vacant. There’s no 2 oz of Dewar’s to measure in the shot glass and pour into his insulated glass with just enough ice, a cherry, and a splash of bitters. I don’t go to the pantry to fetch a Rykrisp and spread the thinest layer of Merkt’s on it like I used to a year ago. No, Jod, can you get me a spoon? so Dad can fish the cherry out of his glass.

God, how I miss the rituals. Those rituals though make the gone so fucking difficult.  I wish I had an imaginary box of each ritual or small moment in the closet to unpack so that I could select one each time I get sad. I’d layer on each memory as if preparing for a winter hike in the Northwoods. Whether it be an imaginary box of small moments or a movie in my mind, these bits of magic–they are here with me–even though he’s gone.  Sure, some days that consolation prize feels as fantastic as the Mr. Coffee they’d give to the losing contestant on The Match Game, other days I am grateful it for the blessing it is.

Either way, I acknowledge the gaping hole that is the gone. Shit is different. I’m different. Everything is different. Loss creates this hole where substance once was. Be it a relationship, a job, a friendship, an activity, anything that was once a part of your identity–if now gone--you might feel like you need to plug the hole with a shitty wad of Double Mint gum that won’t conform because the loss is too real, too raw, and too recent. What’s the saying, “Time heals all wounds?”

That’s bullshit.

The gaping hole changes form a bit. It may scab over or shrink a little as life continues and you figure out how to live with your respective gone. The thing is you might not be 100% healed because you’re not 100% YOU anymore. You’ve changed. The gone changed you. It had to, didn’t it? Unless you are a completely soulless individual (which you clearly aren’t because you’re reading this book), loss changes people. That’s the gift like a  plate of fries next to the shit sandwich that grief served you with your gone. Get it? And now you’re standing in the kitchen with this shit sandwich of grief, but you’re still here-standing. You acknowledge the hole next to you where the ritual was or the memory or the person. You see it. You feel it when you need to or want to. Some days you take down the box and try on the memories like preparing for that hike in The Northwoods. Other days you praise The Almighty for a heaping hot plate of fries next to that grief sandwich and keep it movin’. The fries so tasty, you might not even take a bite of that grief sandwich, not today-anyway.

5 second rule, alz, amylodosis, cardiac amylodosis, caring for parents, courage, dad, daughter caregivers, death, death and dying, family, fear, grief, loss, mom, truth, Uncategorized

The “F” Word

The pictures that Dad taped to our outdated fridge have started to curl and bend. Circles of scotch tape have become more prominent than the pictures they are supporting. Pulling a couple off the fridge to do some triage I consider tossing one in the garbage. I love the picture, but I have zero patience for the woman staring back at me.

I shake my head remembering.

Me in my green t-shirt and a little black eyelet tank I’d gotten from this trendy, now shuttered store on Damen Avenue and Dad in a red striped Pokegama golf shirt he’d bought on one of his latest golf trips smiling for the camera.

A crowded room of friends in a bar whose name I can’t recall, drinking Miller Lite and toasting a move to North Carolina.

Hindsight being 20/20, I’d have suggested that my former self get a new pair of glasses and a lobotomy prior to leaving Chicago with a man she met a year prior. What a fool I say. Negative self-talk for the moment be damned!

Sure, I knew him. But do you ever really know someone?

People only reveal what they want to sweetheart, I’d have told my former self.

Some are lovely, lovely people. Others are complete pricks. I plucked a prick right off the rack. Tried him on, but didn’t read the label. And we moved to North Carolina where my life unraveled.

What complicates matters further, is that at 30, I thought and thought and agonized about being just past 30 and unmarried. The thoughts turned into a college-ruled notebook of fears: Fear of being alone, fear of being single forever, fear of not having babies, fear of never having my parents meet those babies, fear of never having dinner parties with the other marrieds-you get the idea. And on and on and on.

The faith I carried like the most curated protest sign in my 20’s had been blown to bits by the looming fear in my 30’s.

I’ve been thinking A LOT about fear recently. How fear became a houseguest and overstayed its welcome. Fear took a seat, ate a meal, did the dishes, came back for seconds, and took a long damn nap.

Fear is a motherf**er.

It was impossible, literally impossible for me to listen to my intuition because I made the decision to not be single. Checking my rear view mirror, love had zero to do with it. 

It was the “F” word. Fear.

Fear of my future. Fear of being the last of my single friends. Fear of no one ever loving me. And on and on.

I got a list, ya’ll.

Pushing the mute button for an extended period of time on instincts can do a number on the head and heart. My intuition, the knowing--an unbiased, unemotional assessment of the present, was outmatched by fear.  And when that happens– it sucks.

Reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld titled “The Opposite,” in it George decides that every decision he has ever made in his life has been wrong.  Jerry says, “If every instinct you’ve ever had is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” Therein George goes about his day doing the opposite of what he’d normally do and has better than average day.

Haven’t we all been there? So confused by outcomes of actions taken that we begin to question even the smallest decision.

Just pull a George Costanza.

Tried that a time or two!

But life can be like that. It’s like acting out of fear versus love messes with the equilibrium of the universe that surrounds you or something.

Acting out of fear is easy–especially if you’ve confused fear with intuition and your intuition has ear muffs on. Courage, man, it can be hard to conjure.

So what would I start by telling my 30-something self in this picture?

Well, I’d tell her this: Her life didn’t start unraveling in North Carolina like I said earlier. Nope. The analyzing, agonizing, and the thinking and overthinking created enough self-doubt and worry that I said YES to fear which propelled me into a series of bad decisions–well before North Carolina.

Dad likely knew it’d be a shit show when he met the man and I floated the idea and he tried to tell me, but did I listen? And Mom? She would’ve said, “What on earth are you doing? Haven’t I taught you to love yourself enough? Walk. Away.”

Yet, the list of fears that were once just thoughts prevented me from acting on the thing I needed the most: Courage. Because I was so in my head I wasn’t listening to my heart. My instincts had ear muff on, remember?

There’s a quote I’ve read and reread recently in Mel Robbin’s book, The 5 Second Rule that almost knocked me outta my chair when I read it. In the book, Mel writes, “When you act with courage, your brain is not involved. Your heart speaks first and you listen.”

Two of the most profound life-changing decisions I’ve ever made in my life I made in less than 5 seconds. It’s true. I hadn’t realized it till reading Mel’s book.

Life changing decision #1:

I moved to New Orleans in 2011 with a packed car, a $28,000 pay cut, and zero friends.

Life changing decision #2:

I moved back to Chicago 7 years later to care for my dying dad. Left my career, my life in New Orleans, and had no real plan aside from taking care of my Dad.

Here’s the thing about those two decisions: I never hesitated.  There are a million reasons why I shouldn’t have moved to New Orleans: Hadn’t taught in years. Had a great pension and job in Chicago. I was too old to have to make new friends. Did I mention I took a $28k pay cut? So, yea the list was L-O-N-G.

But the thought bubbles full of question marks and exclamation points–they never came.

I just acted. I went with it.  There weren’t lists of worries and self-doubt like before North Carolina. My heart was propelling me to go. And I listened. And you know what? I fell in love with New Orleans. And I made wonderful friends. And had a respectable career. And drank a sh*t ton of purple drinks.

Then, when I got the call during a teacher meeting that my Dad had been immediately admitted to the hospital at a doctor’s appointment, I remember turning to a colleague saying: I need to go home. Now.

No hesitation.

So I did. And it was hard. And beautiful. And then hard again. And here’s the thing: I have these teeny tiny moments with my Dad that makes the paycheck and job title just not that significant. 

Middle finger and ear muffs to the “F” word.

I choose courage.

I hope you will too. I really do.