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. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

You're the light through my window from afar

I think we all float through life knowing that, unfortunately, we will lose people close to us. From a young age, we learn that people die, it's sad, and it will keep happening. No one is protected from this.

I've had a lot of people close to me die. Some were tragic, some were sudden, some were much too young. And yet, none of these prepared me to lose my dad.

I have spent the last four and a half years wondering when my dad's cancer would get too strong. We knew upon diagnosis that his cancer was strong, and that while he could find ways to beat it, it would always come back. My dad fought hard. He overcame every odd that was against him. With every new medication introduced, he willingly gave it a try. He and cancer were in a war against one another, one full of twists and turns. Eventually the cancer found a way to defeat. This does not mean that my dad wasn't strong. It doesn't mean he gave up. It simply means that the cancer was stronger. Way too strong.

When my dad entered into hospice care, I really started to "prepare" to lose him. I put that in quotes because I realize now that there is truly no way to prepare. You think you're ready, but you're not.

And then it happened. After 3 days of what they call "actively dying", my dad took his last breaths at 5 am on a Saturday morning, while most of the rest of the world was sleeping. It didn't seem real. It didn't seem like he could actually be gone.

It seems crazy to think that my dad has joined my army of angels. Even though I knew this day would come, I still can't quite grasp the idea that he's standing with Laurence and Susan and my grandparents and all the other people I have lost.

He's shown me that he's still with us, though. There have been flickering lights and deer and dreams. There was a song, one that is not well known, playing loudly in Target, just hours after I had been listening to it on my phone, thinking about the lyrics and how they related to death. There was the Target cashier who, as I was about to pull away, said "Wait, I feel like I have to tell you a dad joke!". Sure, each of these things could be a coincidence, or have a logical explanation, but I am choosing to believe that my dad is giving me signs that he is okay.

Watching my dad fade away was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The man we once knew as "the big guy" became thin and weak, his skin grey and the blue in his eyes started to dim. During all of this, I couldn't understand why it went on for so long. If God was ready to take him, why didn't he just take him? Man, those weeks were rough. I cried out so many times. I prayed for trust. I know now that it was my dad fighting back, just as he always had before. He wanted to stay on this earth as long as he could, just to be with us.

There is a small part of me that feels guilty now, wondering if I prayed too hard for God to take him, worried that my dad felt like I was pushing him away. That's something I am going to have to work through, and in the meantime I have made a point to tell my dad how much I love him every chance that I can, because I know he can hear me.

But I do truly believe that my dad is home now, and even though we don't have him physically on earth and that breaks my heart, he IS in a better place. I know that's one of those things that people say after someone dies, but I do truly believe it. And one day, we'll join him in this home.

I will miss my dad more than I can possibly express. He was, without a doubt, a wonderful man, husband, and father. We are all so lucky to have had him. He made an everlasting impact on our lives, and even though it doesn't feel quite real yet that he is gone, we will carry on his legacy in our own ways.

I will likely be blogging a little bit more as I process thoughts. I may share stories of my dad or stories of grief. I may tell you about all the way he's reminding me that he is still here. I just know that I have to write. My dad was one of my biggest cheerleaders for writing, he read my blog posts faithfully. For him, I'll let the words that are flowing through me out. Maybe they will help someone else. I hope so.

For now, I'll leave you with the song I mentioned up above that started playing in Target- loudly- just a few hours after I listened to it on my phone with a new perspective of the lyrics.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A gentle reminder

I’m a fixer. I like to fix things. I like to help my friends and family and my coworkers. When I see a problem, I work to fix it. 

There’s so much going on in my life right now that I simply can’t fix. I can’t take away my dads illness. I can’t take away my moms stress. I can’t keep my apartment as neat and tidy as I would like. I can’t see my husband as much as we both would like. I can’t be at work. I can’t always be at my parents house but I can’t always be at my own house either. I can’t workout as much as I want to. I can’t hang out with my friends. 

And it’s weighing on me. I’m used to being in control (for the most part) and able to balance giving a little bit of myself to everyone around me. Right now it’s more like whack a mole. I temporarily “fix” one thing, while I million other things pop up. 

And while I KNOW that no one around me expects me to fix everything, I put an immense pressure on myself to be the fixer. So I start to feel guilty. Things left undone or unsolved drive me absolutely crazy.

Tonight I sat in these thoughts for a few moments. I kept hearing the same phrases over and over again running through my mind “give it up” “let it go”, and “surrender”.

I have to let it go. I have to know that I am only one person. That I am not going to be able to be there for everyone else right now, and that’s okay. That my work can be put on hold. That my friends can (hopefully) be there on the sidelines, supporting me and waiting for me. That my husband is the most understanding and kind person I know and that he doesn’t feel like I am abandoning him.

Why are we always the toughest on ourselves? Why is it so hard to block those nasty, untrue thoughts that come into our brain? Why is it so hard to let go? And to forgive ourselves?

And so, Megan, the next time you start to feel like you aren’t doing enough, remember this:

You’re the only you that you’ve got.
You deserve to be cherished and protected just as you cherish and protect those in your life.
Be as gentle and kind with your heart as you are with others.
Let go.
And take one step at a time. 
You cannot plan too far ahead, not now. 
You can only live by each moment.
The world is not going to stop, that’s true.
But you can stop.
And you can come back to your to do lists when the time is right.
For now, just take small steps.
And deep breaths.

And know that you are doing enough, and that you are enough.