Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dear Dad

Dear Dad;
I am missing you big time today. So many people have told me that grief comes in waves. If that’s true, today’s waves were the kind that take you down with them, swoop you under the water so that you can barely breathe. It would have been a Red Flag warning on the beach in Fort Walton, for sure. As I sat in my cancer committee meeting I thought of you, and got this pang in my chest of missing you. After I saw the memorial for Laurence I so badly wanted to call you to tell you about it. As I sat in a talk on fighting for cancer treatment fairness I thought of you and your fight, and how I wish you could be sitting next to me in those types of talks. I also had a deep desire to know if I am making you proud. I just want to hear you say those words again. Then, I got a phone call from one of the hospital staff that I work with and he said “I sent you a note...” that’s what you used to say! You always said note in reference to an email or a text. I found myself starting to tear up just hearing the word note! When I got to my workout class I tried to see if I had any old voicemails from you just so I could hear your voice again, talking to me. I don’t. I do have the last text you ever sent me, which is your response to me saying “love you”. Your answer was “right back atcha”.

I just miss you, dad. I miss your hugs and encouragement, I even miss your silly jokes and puns. I miss telling you about my day, making you dinner, taking you to church. Maureen recently said that she finds herself wanting to tell everyone about you. I didn’t realize it until she said it, but Ive been doing the same thing. It’s important for me to tell your story. I want people to know what a wonderful dad and human you were. You were truly the greatest.

I have recently found myself having a very deep desire for connecting to others. Finding common ground. I’m not sure if it’s from your influence, or feeling something missing in my life, but I have been wanting to find and connect with people like I never had before. You were such a natural at that. I’m not so natural. But I’m trying.

I mentioned earlier that I want to make you proud. I want to be as kind and fair as you were. I want to make people feel as welcomed and loved as you made them feel. I want to fight hard because you fight like hell. I want to stand tall, breathe in your confidence and compassion and put it back into the world.

I know there will be more days like this, where I’ll miss you so much it hurts. And I know you’re here with me, but that doesn’t always take away the hurt. So I will carry your spirit with me as best I can and be ever so grateful that I was lucky enough to have you as a dad.

Love you.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Get some Sleep

Last night, as I started to head up the stairs of my sister's house to go to sleep, I heard myself yell "goodnight, get some sleep!" to the dog.

I told a dog to get some sleep.

He's a dog.

He sleeps on and off all day.

I started to wonder why I said that. I must need some sleep. I'm loopy.


It's the exact sentiment I used to say to my dad when I would stay at their house when he was in hospice. I would pray with him or give him his medicine or give him some yogurt, and then tiredly march up the stairs and say "get some sleep", knowing it would only be a few hours until one of us checked on him again.

It is the moments like that where the grief overcomes me. Where my heart begins to ache again. Where I remember that he is missing.

And those are the moments that I hate. But I have learned from my grief group that they are inevitable and that they are healing, as hurtful as they can be. So I soak up those moments. I use it as time to think about my dad, to be grateful for my dad, to talk to him. I know he’s listening to me and that he is here with me. In the craziness and busyness of life, it’s rare I get moments of silence to reflect. So perhaps these painful moments are actually little nudges.

Grief is similar to the cancer itself in that it is uncontrollable and unpredictable. There is no set path, checklist, or map. Grief is messy. It is surprising and it is lonely. It is an invisible load I carry with me daily. It is a balance beam. It comes at you fast and engulfs you, before you get a chance to catch your breath. Grief is giving me a thirst for faith, a longing for empathy, a cry for compassion. My grief wants to be seen and yet hidden. Grief is painful. But with all of these, comes gratitude. I know that the pain I feel is a representation of how deeply I loved my dad, and the very important role he played in our family. I am mighty lucky to have someone like him to miss.

Get some sleep, dad, for I am sure your duties in Heaven are exhausting. I love you and miss you so much.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Grief is lonely

I am on a tightrope, taking one tiny step at a time. My legs are wobbling and I am holding my breath, hoping it will steady me just enough that I don't fall down.

I am somewhere in between wanting to be human and show my grief to wanting to hide my emotions and carry on as if nothing has happened. I am stuck between wanting to yell "don't you know my dad has died?" and wanting to yell "please don't ask me about my dad". I am riding the line between wanting to be surrounded by people to wanting to be in hiding.

I never knew it was going to be like this. I never knew that my emotions, wants, and needs to drastically change from one moment to the next.

I did not realize how lonely grief could be. I knew that it could be painful and sad. I knew that it would challenge me to not turn to food for comfort. But I did not realize the loneliness.

It is not that I am completely alone, and it is certainly not that I am the only one grieving. All of us are hurting. It's just that I am not living side by side with my mom or my siblings every day. Plus, grief is personal. We're all feeling different things, at different times. So even though I am not "alone", I am lonely. And I know I will not find a person on this earth who is feeling exactly the same way that I am.

No one is telling me to "move on" or "get over it". But LIFE is telling me to move on and get over it. I HAVE to keep going. That's where it gets difficult and frustrating- that there is no pause. I sometimes feel as though I am acting in a movie, pretending as though everything is just fine. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and that has not changed. But having to be "on" all the time, when I don't want to be, is exhausting. And it's not just at work. It's at the grocery store, the gym, church. I feel like people are looking to me to be okay, and I hate putting people in awkward situations, so I try to just put a smile on, muster up all my positive energy, and forge through.

Everything I've read says to not be afraid to ask for help. But I hate shedding the burden of my grief onto others. It feels super awkward to text my friends and say "hey, I'm super lonely! fyi!". Especially when my friends are going through their own challenges. It also feels weird to say to a coworker "I'm having a rough day today, I may not be my best". I know that those are things I CAN say, I just don't feel like I should.

And so I start to look for ways to help to heal. I listen to music and podcasts, I go to the gym, I try to eat healthy (have to work on that a bit). I make jokes, I write thank you cards, I look for activities like yoga and prayer services that might quiet my mind. I spend time with my husband. I call my mom. I talk out loud to my dad, knowing that he can hear me. But still, I cry. I hurt. And then, it repeats.

I don't think there will be any one single thing that heals me, and I need to remember that. I think it might get easier, but with hard days mixed in. There will be no magic potion or no spectacular yoga class that will suddenly bring clarity and healing and take away the sadness.

Instead, I will continue on the tightrope. I will dip here and there, I will find highs and I will have lows.

And I will know that when I do fall, there will be people down below to catch me, and to get me back up on the tightrope. It may not be the same people every time. It may not even be the people I would expect it to be. But there are people there, because I am not alone. I feel lonely, but I am not alone.

And I have hope.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Back to Normal?

On December 17th, just days after my dad entered into hospice care, I wrote the following paragraph on my blog:

Knowing what I know about grief, I am fairly certain that one of the most challenging parts about all of this will be that the outside world will go on as normal. It isn't going to stop because of what my family is going through. There's still work to be done, problems to be solved. I will want to hit a pause button but I will not be able to, and will have to go on balancing it all, envious of everyone else who gets to live a "normal" life. 

We are now two weeks post my dad's passing, and I can confidently say that I was right. 

I returned to work just four days ago, after being on FMLA, then intermittent FMLA, then bereavement leave. I haven't worked a "normal" schedule (as normal as my schedule can get) since early December. It's been a difficult and exhausting transition. I feel behind at work, and trying to get caught up while also knowing a busy season is just around the corner. I'm also distracted at work, busy getting things done and scheduling meetings. It doesn't give me time to to think about my dad. In my mind, that's both good and bad. Good that I have stuff to do to keep me busy and active, but bad because I start to feel slightly guilty. Like I've just forgotten it all already. Sometimes at work I feel like I am acting, acting like everything is fine and I was just on vacation for a while, so that's why I am so behind. I hate that feeling.

Then I come home and I'm just so tired, and fall into the couch exhausted, going to sleep by 9 pm. 

It doesn't help that I've been sick all week, making me even more tired. 

This doesn't feel normal.

Normal, for me, is working, going to the gym, spending time with Tom and family, reading, watching Netflix, seeing friends, going to church. Getting the grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning done on Saturdays.

Normal right now is working, sleeping, doing very minimal housework, checking in with my mom, repeat. It's bursting into tears at random times. It's not seeing my friends in months. I can't tell you the last time I did something socially. It may have been before my wedding, in September.

And I miss him so much! Even when I call my mom and know he's not there with her, it's hard. Miss his hugs, his encouragement, his gentleness. 

I know I will keep fighting. I know I will be strong. He has instilled that in me. And I fight for him. But I also know it's going to be the toughest fight yet. My body aches and my heart is heavy. But it's one step in front of the other, while carrying this grief with me.

Thank you for walking on this journey with me.