Tag Archive | grieving

Like my father

There’s a song on the most recent Brandi Carlile album that starts out, “I haven’t seen my father in some time / But his face is always staring back at me”. Every time I hear it, it’s bittersweet. I miss my dad. After six years without him, the memories aren’t as fresh. They’re faded, like the photos we took thirty years ago. When I make the effort, I can see his face. I can see his smile, hear his voice, feel his hug. But those aren’t automatic, fresh like they were the first couple of years. I know I take after him in some ways. The small jaw that required years of orthodontia? Thanks, Dad. The crazy crooked toes that look weird and caused me to have foot surgery years ago? Yep, that’s him too. There are things I can appreciate, of course: the wave in my hair, or my smile. But what I appreciate the most is seeing my dad in my son.

I don’t talk about the boy much. He’s younger, quieter, not as outgoing as the girl. Not as active in as many extracurricular activities. But he’s just as delightful as she is, in such different ways. He is growing into such an amazing person and I love seeing the changes happen. If there’s a silver lining to the girl going to college (besides her getting to live her exciting life), it’s that it might give him a chance to shine more. I’m looking forward to some time with him, some time to focus on him. (My girl, I know you’re reading this. You, and the rest of my readers, should know that this doesn’t take away from how much I love having us all together. How much I will miss you. It’s like they are two separate things, existing on the same plane.)

Physically, the boy is very much like my dad, like my brother. They are tall, slim in a way I envy and he feels is gangly, I think. He has my hair, those crooked toes (but even worse than mine. Sorry, kid.) and that small jaw (yeah, sorry about that too). And even though some of the features aren’t all the same, there’s something about his gorgeous smile that reminds me of my dad. Most importantly, I feel my dad’s spirit in him. I don’t mean a ghostly spirit. Just…character, or soul.

Like my dad was, the boy is shy, introverted, quiet in larger groups. But get him in a small group where he’s comfortable and his quick wit and delightful sense of humor come out in full force. I don’t know if anyone outside our little family group knew just how funny my dad could be. In general, like Dad, the boy is a gentle person. He is calm and patient, and does his best to avoid confrontation, though being a teenager makes it hard sometimes. It takes a lot to get him fired up. That part skipped a generation: I didn’t inherit that temperament, to my husband’s dismay. I tend to have a hot temper more often than not. It has gotten better over the years, at least.

The boy is smart, and really could do anything he decides to put his mind to, like my dad learning computers early on to support his family. I don’t think he loved what he did, so I hope my son finds something that brings him more joy, but I admire my dad for what he did for us. And I think the boy has that loyalty too, that desire to make sure that the ones he loves are happy. He’s not overly demonstrative with his emotions, not the type to give random hugs just because. But he’s open to affection, willing to accept it, and every once in a while he’ll say or write something so sweet and thoughtful that my heart melts.

He’s my boy, my son, my baby. He got many wonderful qualities from my husband, and I love those things. I see myself in him, and love that too. I love all the things that make him unique. And I love him even more for all the ways he’s like my dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Miss you.

Grief Redux

Grief is a tricky thing, isn’t it? You think you’re making progress, and really, you probably are, and then something comes along and takes you by surprise and kicks you in the gut. And when that happens, it can feel as hard and as fresh as when the grief was new.

I lost my dad a little over five years ago. No. No more euphemisms. I didn’t lose him. My dad died in April of 2012. I’ve been able to say that, in my head and out loud, for quite a while now, without needing to cry or feeling the sharp twinge in my heart. I felt like that was progress. Still do, actually. It took a long time to move past the vague euphemisms, and when I did, it often made me tear up just to say it.

So, yeah. I’ve been making progress, doing well. I’m happy. My life is full and rich, with as many up as downs. I still think of my dad every day but not with the sharp pain, more like a faint ache that I know will always be there. Some days it’s stronger than others, but it’s not crippling. It’s just…a brief sadness.

I’ve recently gotten back to my pen hobby. For years, I’ve collected pens. At first it was any fun pen, but it’s gotten more refined, and now I think it’s fair to say I’m a pen snob. I love beautiful, high-quality pens. I love gorgeous fountain pens. And when I was cleaning out my collection, culling some I no longer wanted, I started poking through all the pen boxes I’ve got, and I found the box for my MontBlanc. Inside, I found a letter from my dad, from when he gave me the pen for Christmas one year. It was a company gift and he’d used it for years, until passing it on to me.

That letter ripped off the scab a bit, and it hurts. I miss my dad. He was a wonderful man, a kind and gentle person who gave everything to make his family happy.  There’s so much I wish I could share with him now. And I can’t, and that sucks so much. I’d gotten to a point where I didn’t remember how much it sucked, and being reminded is…not fun.

But I’m grateful to have the letter, which I’ve tucked back inside the box to discover again in a few years. And until then, I’ll write with his pen and remind myself how lucky I was to have him as long as I did.

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Depression Remission?

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I mentioned that I’m supposed to go off my antidepressants this spring. Her reaction? “Oh, that’s good!” And that’s a pretty normal reaction; I’ve the same reaction in the same situation. Why? Why is that good? Because it’s supposed to indicate that I’m “all better now”? Because I’m supposed to be able to handle my emotions on my own? And maybe that is/should be the goal of happy meds: help you get over the hump of depression, when they can, so you can get back to living a happy life without them. I suppose it’s no different than blood pressure meds, or meds for diabetes. If you can get your body to a point where it’s healthy enough without them, it’s a good thing to be able to stop taking them. I’m just sensitive to the subject of meds for mental health, and when the reaction to going off them is “Good!”, then I start thinking, “Wait, does that mean it’s bad that I was on them?” And the answer to that is always NO, it’s not bad. If you struggle with depression and can’t manage it on your own, and your doctor has prescribed them, and you take them properly, and they HELP? That’s not bad, that’s great.

Am I all better now? Who knows, right? I believe my depression was caused (for lack of a better word) by a lot of stressful, crappy things going on in my life at the same time, and my mind/body sort of collapsed. So now that I’m past the worst of the stress/grief/pain/anger, I am in a much better place emotionally. I feel happy these days. I worried about my broken foot bringing me down again, and it did, but I didn’t realize how much until it was healed. It’s like you don’t know how much something hurts until it stops, right? I’m back to my calm, peaceful, content place again. THAT’S what’s good, whether it’s with meds or without. And I *think* I’ll be fine to stop the meds, I really do. But it’s still scary. I don’t want to go back to where I was before I started taking them. And if I do, I’ll have no reservations about going back on them.

So it’s not “good” that I’m going off my meds; it’s “I’m glad you’re doing well!” Just like it’s not “bad” if someone starts taking meds; it’s “I’m sorry you’re struggling.”

I know what my friend meant; that part is fine. But it just got me thinking, and I want to be aware of the effects of my words. Maybe I’m overthinking this, maybe I’m too sensitive. The most important thing when dealing with depression is finding something that works for YOU, be it exercise, diet, therapy, meds, or any combination of things. For me, it’s been my meds, and my knitting. (I’m going to start exercising soon. I think. I mean, I am. Sighhhh.) The meds may go away, but the knitting will be here forever. IMG_5007

Better Living Through Drugs

“I tried so hard to do it without medication.” “Don’t let them put you on those crazy pills!” “Antidepressants are just the easy way out.” And just today, “Antidepressants are causing an epidemic of violence.”

I’ve seen or heard all of those, and today I want to call Bullsh*t.

Antidepressants are NOT the enemy. Antidepressants are nothing to be scared of or ashamed of. There is a hashtag going around right now, #MedicatedandMighty, that was started to combat the shame associated with treating mental health issues with medication. If you want to read how it started, click here.

But at the same time, there are articles like this one that claim antidepressants cause violence, despite counterarguments like this one. Are crimes committed by people struggling with mental illness? Hell yes! The fact that some of them are on or have been on meds does not mean the antidepressants are causing the violence. It’s more likely that the mental illness is causing the violence. It’s more likely that either the meds weren’t the right ones for them, and thus weren’t working properly, or that they stopped taking the meds against medical advice.

ALL drugs can have side effects, and that’s why they should all be taken under the supervision of a medical professional.

Medication is not the right avenue for everyone. But it does help a vast majority of people, help they couldn’t get otherwise. And that’s why it’s dangerous to proclaim that “antidepressants are bad, they’re the enemy”, shaming people into thinking they’re not an acceptable solution.

Does proper diet and exercise help your mental health? Absolutely. Do people suffering through clinical depression have the ability to fight the depression enough to eat the right foods and force themselves onto the treadmill? In my experience, nope, not at all. Sure, that’s the easy answer: “Oh, just exercise more, then you’ll feel better!” I confess, I have been guilty of that thought in that past. But then I went through it myself and it made me realize how stupid that can be. Now, I can’t help but wonder if anyone who says that has any idea what kind of hold clinical depression can have on your motivation, your self-esteem, your ability to do ANYTHING. I certainly didn’t, until I was smack-dab in the middle of it. I had to find a way to get through that dark cloud before I could even see the benefit of exercise.

I have been on an anti-depressant for two years, and should have been on it for longer. I was a mother working full-time in a stressful job (is there any other kind, really?), I’d recently switched locations at work so I’d left all my friends and was working with new people. My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, my FIL was diagnosed with congestive heart disease. My FIL died suddenly. I decided to quit my job to spend more time with my family, but before I could even give notice, my father died. Three weeks later, I left my job and became a stay-at-home mom. And for the summer, it was great. My kids kept me busy, taking care of my dad’s dog kept me busy, doing all the “running a home” stuff kept me busy.

Then the kids went back to school. Suddenly I was alone all day, with nothing to distract my brain from the stress and grief. I cried. A lot. I was short-tempered and snappish with my kids and husband. I had no desire to do ANYTHING. For quite a while, I thought it was normal, and it probably was. I’d been through a lot, was still dealing with the losses as well as being a part-time caregiver for my non-driving mom. And then there was the big question of “What now? Who am I now that I’m not a full-time retail manager?” And I didn’t have an answer.

Time didn’t heal me. It didn’t get any better. I spent many months on the couch endlessly watching Grey’s Anatomy, pretending I was crying because the story lines were sad or moving. They were, they are, but not to that extent. I cried at everything, at the drop of the hat. I was constantly on the verge of tears. And I was defensive about it, arguing with my husband when he started suggesting I go see a therapist. I fought hard to put up a good front around other people, but it was exhausting. I slept hard and long, and still felt tired all day long. I ate like crap because I wanted *something* that brought me pleasure, and I love junk food. Exercise was hard, too hard. I couldn’t get my brain to take the thought that “exercise might help”–which I totally knew–and force my body to take action. And something new for me: social anxiety. I’m an introvert, always have been, but I had always enjoyed going out with friends. Until I didn’t. I obsessed about it ahead of time, wishing I could just stay home where it was quiet and safe. It made my stomach hurt to think about having to socialize and talk to people and pretend to be happy.

That was the breaking point actually. I had dinner plans with a couple of old friends, and all day I was literally sobbing at the thought of it. I cried ALL DAY LONG. I was a knot of anxiety. I texted my friend, explained the situation and apologized but said I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t do it. She was great, very understanding and supportive. Then, still sitting on the stairs, hunched over, I texted my husband and said I was ready, I needed help. I called the therapist the same day and made an appointment. Those few small steps were a huge release for me. For the first time in many months, I felt the tiniest sliver of hope.

At my first appointment, I cried through my whole story, answering all her questions about my feelings and behavior. And at the end, she said, “I really think you’re suffering from clinical depression, my friend. I want to keep seeing you. But how do you feel about maybe trying some medication?”

Yes, please. I needed help, and I knew it. I knew people who had been on meds, had seen how it helped them, and I was more than willing to try. Something had to help because I couldn’t do it alone. And as loving and supportive as my husband had been, that wasn’t fixing it either.

I started a low dose and it helped almost immediately. Like my therapist said, the meds ideally should still let you feel the emotions without letting them cripple you, and that’s what they did for me. I was still grieving, but I could feel joy again too. I felt so much better, it was astounding. I wish I’d done it ages ago.

And guess what? I started exercising and eating better. And yep, that felt good. But would it be enough to keep me going?

Winter came. My husband’s grandfather, who we all loved dearly, passed away. Then my dad’s dog died. And for some reason, that was the thing that knocked my feet out from under me again. I was devastated. And I knew it wasn’t about the dog as much as it was about him being a link to my dad, but I just couldn’t seem to get past it. My days were dark again. It was horrible, especially since I had so recently been reminded of what happy was like, and I couldn’t find my way back there. I was back to crying, sad TV, and skipping my workouts.

I went back to my therapist for several more sessions. They helped some, but not enough. She suggesting upping my dose, which meant an appointment with my doctor for approval. My crying, my fatigue, my helplessness, all of those things were preventing me from living a full life. It could be better. *I* could be better, and with the increased dose, I started to get there.

A few months later, at a checkup, my doctor ordered bloodwork. It revealed hypothyroidism, or low thyroid levels. I would need medication to even that out, and here’s the kicker: hypothyroidism can cause depression and fatigue. Now, does that mean this was my problem all along? There’s no way to know for sure, but I doubt it. Certainly not that first bout with depression that hit me like a ton of bricks, when bad things were happening left and right. My brain had struggled to cope for so long that finally it was like, “Dude. Stop. I can’t even.” But the second round, after my dog died and I was still struggling months later? I think it’s possible, because once we got the dose adjusted and my thyroid levels were normal again, I felt like a new person.

I FEEL like a new person. My brain isn’t foggy anymore. The world is clear and bright again. I find joy in little things. I am content in my small, quiet everyday life. I still don’t have an answer to the question of “Who am I, and what will I do with my life?” but it doesn’t cripple me anymore. It’s a big question mark that I get to explore and discover.

I am still on my antidepressants. At my last therapy session, my therapist recommended I try going off the meds in the spring. Knowing that winter months are hard for me (as they are for most people), she didn’t want me to stop then. But come next spring, I’ll be cutting back. It’s scary, because I don’t want to go back to how I felt before. But I also don’t want to keep taking them just because of fear. My meds did their job: they helped me, held me up while I was healing.

So here’s the bottom line, what I hope you take from my story: antidepressants were a tool for me, one tool in my fight against depression. They weren’t the only thing, but they were absolutely a key ingredient. I was lucky that the first med we tried worked for me. Sometimes you have to try several to get the right med at the right dose. And yes, absolutely talk to your primary care physician. Get yourself checked out, do that bloodwork if s/he orders it, because there might be something else going on.

But if that’s all clear and meds are recommended, don’t be afraid of them. And PLEASE, don’t be ashamed of them. It is so hard to ask for help; believe me, I know. I suffered for many long months because I wouldn’t ask for help. But I am living a new life since I did. I suffered no adverse side effects from my med, and I know many people with the same experience. You want your life to be happy, right? Why would you deny yourself something that might help? If it doesn’t work, fine, quit them. If you want to try diet and exercise, go for it, and if it works, wonderful! That’s the goal. But don’t assume that there is one answer for everyone, and don’t judge someone for taking a different road than you. Antidepressants have helped many, many people live a happy life. And there is nothing shameful in that.

Grief Takes Away So Much

This morning, as I lazed on the couch with my cup of tea, I was idly scrolling through Twitter when a tweet caught my eye. “It didn’t surprise me, when my parents were dying, that I couldn’t write. But it shocked me…that I couldn’t read.” It was a teaser with a link to a NY times column, and it was so unexpected, and so close to home.

Four years ago, I was working full-time as a retail manager, but I was also a bookaholic. I read as much as I could. I’d grown up with books, worked in my mother’s used-book store for years, even went to a seminar for antiquarian book dealers. And even though I was no longer in the business, I still loved books. All kinds of books. My parents and I shared a lot of authors, too, mostly mysteries/thrillers. We shared Ridley Pearson, Carol O’Connell, Philip Margolin, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Kathy Reichs, Linda Fairstein, and so many more. I shared a lot of fiction with my mom: Maeve Binchy, Nancy Thayer, Elin Hilderbrand, Kristin Hannah.

Then, as many of you know, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. I still worked, but managed to get out to Arizona for a few visits. I remember one trip, on the way there, I read my first Lee Child book. Lee Child was my dad’s absolute favorite author, and he’d said this book was the best. I read it, and it was thrilling and gripping and tense, and I had a grand time talking to my dad about it when I got there.

My dad died in spring of 2012, and I stopped reading. For a very long time, I didn’t really read anything. I watched a lot of TV, I played stupid games on my phone. I learned to crochet a few months after my dad died, and that was my outlet. Then knitting. It was creative and soothing, and didn’t remind me of him at all.

Over time, I started picking up books again. My mom and I still share a fondness for fiction, and we swapped what we called “light, frothy books”. They were fun, didn’t require much thought, didn’t challenge me or push any of those grief buttons. I’m so glad I had you, Jane Green and Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella and Susan Wiggs, Debbie Macomber. I still love you, still read you all religiously.

I shared some YA books with my daughter. I’ve always loved YA books, and even though these were often darker subject matter, it was okay because it was different. Thank you, Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell, Laurie Halse Anderson, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins.

After a couple of years, I started reading heavier books again, ones that made me think and cry and feel extreme emotions, and it was good. And just the other day, the boy and I went to the library, and I came home with six books, and I plowed through five of them within a week. It felt marvelous to fall into books like that again, to get that feeling of utter escape, that feeling where you close the book and you’re still thinking about the characters hours later.

For so long, I wrapped myself in the soft cushion of yarn crafts, and it saved me. I still love it, still knit more than I read, probably. But I think I’m at a point where there’s more of a balance. I can be a knitter AND a reader. A yarnaholic AND a bookaholic.

But I still can’t read mysteries. Well, no. I take that back; I’ve read a few. Harlan Coben is still a favorite. But they’re few and far between. I’ve never read another Lee Child book. I have an O’Connell and two Fairsteins in my To-Be-Read stash, and I pick them up periodically, read the description, and put them back. They’re too dark. There’s too much pain and anger and ugliness in those worlds. And of course, they still remind me of my dad. I think I’ll get back to them, someday. Until then, there’s still a whole wide world of books to explore, and I’m so relieved that I could find my way back to it.

Three Years Gone

Today marks three years since my father died. I still hate those words. I will always hate those words. I’m not in pieces today, not like I was two years ago. Today it’s a mild, pervasive numbing sadness. It still hits me at times with a shock: he’s gone? Wait, how can that be possible? And there are times when out of the blue I just miss him. Miss his hugs, his smile, the way he loved all of us so much. But there are many more times that I can think about him, talk about him, with ease and fondness and laughter. That part has gotten easier in the last three years.

Part of me is just sad that he doesn’t know me now. I’ve changed so much in the last three years, grown so much. I’m a different person in so many ways. I put my family first, and I try to appreciate every family gathering. I value truth and honesty and loyalty, which I always did, but now I don’t put up with the bullshit, the liars, the fakers. I worry less about how I may appear to to strangers, and more about how I’m treating the people I love. I’m not perfect, never perfect, but I try to admit it when I’m wrong. I apologize. I find more joy in a family dinner than I ever did at work. I live a quiet life now. A peaceful life. It’s a much richer life, and for that I’m grateful. I wish it hadn’t taken something like that grief to make such a difference, but at least it happened. I read somewhere that you don’t truly grow up until you lose a parent, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s true. It’s profound, or at least it was for me. Who else is such a big part of you? Who else is so instrumental in shaping who you are?

Today I’ll look at some old pictures, relive some memories. I’ll cry, but I’ll smile too. Tonight we’ll go out with my mom and siblings to have Mexican food and margaritas, his favorite. And when we raise a glass for a toast, in my head, I’ll thank him for bringing us all together. img031

Missing You

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. It was the third we’ve had since he died. He would have been 71. And I made it through the day. It wasn’t pretty, wasn’t fun, but I did it. It helped that I had errands to run, doctor appointments to deal with, things that kept me busy and kept my mind occupied. Of course it was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. And when I did have time, it was a different kind of grief than years past.

The first year, I kept thinking I was forgetting something, something I was really supposed to do that day. And then I’d remember: I was supposed to be calling my dad, but couldn’t. It was a series of sharp pains throughout the day. The second year, that feeling of forgetting something was gone but the loss was still sharp. We might have had cake but I’m not sure. This year the pain itself had softened, but it was joined by a pervading sense of permanence. No way around it, he’s really gone and I really won’t get another birthday with him. It was just a sad day from start to finish.

I’m glad it’s over, really. I woke up refreshed this morning, eager to have a better day today. No big plans, which makes for the best kind of day, doesn’t it? I see yarn in my immediate future, maybe a trip to Half Price Books.