caregiving, grief, mental health, coping mechanisms, Parent loss

The Last Roll of Toilet Paper

Remember when you could go to the store and be able to purchase essential commodities? Wow. That was nice.

Had the COVID-19 pandemic hit prior to 2020, my parent’s house would have been the perfect place for my family of four (in-laws, nieces, nephews, AND cousins) to ride out quarantine. No, the house wasn’t that big. But the amount of nonperishable and essential items was enough to provide for a small Army.

For many years, my parents were obsessed with shopping at warehouse stores like Sam’s or Costco. Who can resist a good bargain? There’s just something satisfying about having a stock of essential supplies, especially when you know how much money you’re saving in the long run.

Need some canned tomatoes? There’s a case in the basement.

Out of minced onion? There’s a “warehouse size” container in the basement.

Sprite? Plenty.

Cleaning supplies? Whatcha need? We got it!

I called my parent’s basement the “Fallout Shelter.”

After my dad passed away, in 2019, I was left with the decisions of what to do with my parent’s house. With vascular dementia, my mom couldn’t care for herself. So, I had to move a few mountains (with the help of some dear cousins) and got my mom into a memory care facility. Not an easy task, but it was the safest choice for her.

Once Mom was safe and secure, my husband, kids, and my parent’s dog returned to Southern Indiana to clean out their house. You can read about that process here.

Out of all the rooms in the house, my husband chose to dive headfirst into the “Fallout Shelter.” It was a bold move.

My dad built these shelves which, prior to 2019, were stocked with everything under the sun.

That’s when we discovered an unexpected inheritance. 2 ½ warehouse sized packages of toilet paper. At the time, we had no idea how valuable this “goldmine” would be. My husband calculated the net worth to be approximately 8 months worth of toilet paper.

The ginormous packages of toilet paper moved into our house at the end of 2019.

Fast forward 10 weeks… NATIONAL TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE!!!!

Empty shelves at the store… Never imagined that we would live in a time where this is a normal sight.

Let me tell ya, an Indiana public school teacher and a hospital social worker, with 2 kids in private school, don’t normally feel privileged. Yet there we were, sitting pretty, on a big ass tower of toilet paper.

After a few months of toilet paper bliss, the inevitable happened… one last unopened package of six rolls. 

A strange fear washed over me. It wasn’t a fear of not having enough toilet paper. The shortage was over and toilet paper lined the grocery store shelves once again. This emotion was much deeper than the fear of being stranded in the bathroom without a square.

I was scared to lose something that once belonged to my dad.

Crazy, right?

No. Not so crazy. When we lose someone we love, we form attachments to objects the remind us of them. Those objects are a reminder of our loved one’s life. Almost as proof that they still have a place in this world. Losing that object, can pull on emotions very similar to that of the real loss.

My therapist mind understood that. But my grief-filled heart wanted to hold onto something that reminded me of my daddy. even if it was a roll of toilet paper.

The thought crossed my mind to hide this last package. No one would know and I would still possess something purchased by my dad.

Logically, I knew that was silly. I couldn’t hide toilet paper. But maybe I could find something to make out of the empty rolls! They can be very useful for something. Just had to find it.

As I scrolled through Pinterest, I reminded myself again, that I was not losing my dad. Saving toilet paper rolls was not going to bring him back.

I literally forced myself to sit with the sadness. It sucks and I hate it. But, by slowing down my mind and focusing on my sadness, I was able to pinpoint the root cause for this emotion.

This is what I discovered…

Every time an account closes, an item sells, or I run out of something that once belonged to my dad, it’s like I’m losing proof that he existed.

This sadness and fear happened a month later when I ordered new checks for my mom. Right before I pushed the purchase button, I realized that I had to change her address (because I sold the house). And sadly… I had to remove my dad’s name from the account.

Sitting with my grief and giving myself the time to be sad has opened my brain (and my heart) to reframe this negative thought process.

The proof of my dad’s existence isn’t in the materials that he left behind. MY life is proof. The way that I live and love and work is due to the way my parents raised me. My dad is in the choices that I make. His continued love influences the care I give to my family everyday. His life goes on through stories I tell my sons and memories that we make together.

My dad didn’t teach me how to live. He lived and he loved. And I am the product of his life and love. That means he is still with me. Always.

My dad’s frugal decision to buy toilet paper in bulk, literally saved our asses during the quarantine. Even though he’s not physically here, I know that he’s smiling.

I can still hear the laughter…

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