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The Power of a Smile

Ever feel like your world is crashing in on you? That everything you touch turns to shit?

I’ve felt like that so much lately.

I’ve been trying to help my aging parents and it’s incredibly frustrating. I hate to see how much my parents have declined. My mom has dementia and can’t dress herself or do much of anything else. My dad’s health has been getting worse and his abilities to help my mom is decreasing as well.

I do as much as I can to help… which unfortunately isn’t much. Living on the opposite end of the state makes it difficult.

My oldest son and I, recently spent 5 days at my parent’s house. I am so happy that he was able to spend time with his Papaw, provide comic relief, and give lots of hugs for Gramma. While I was busy going through loads of my old stuff, my son spent his time drawing and playing with their dog.

Five days of sorting, cleaning, lugging crap to the donation center, talking to insurance, taking my mom to appointments, arranging home care, and helping with anything possible. Pretty much, the only “downtime” I had was the 5 hour drive back home. But at least my son slept most of the time and I got to listen to Mel Robbins’s new audiobook “Take Control of Your Life.”

Fitting title… right?

After returning home, the next 48 hours consisted of the following shit storm… a leak in the basement, moldy carpet removal, our geriatric cat peed in the living room, ants moved into our kitchen, and I forgot my wallet when I went to the grocery store.

Then a zit popped out on my chin.

Enter the Power of Positivity!!!

Turning a frown upside down is not easy. Being a positive person takes a lot of work… Especially when your world is crashing around you.

So What Did I Do???

I vented. I vented to some friends, my husband, and even this blog!

But now it’s done. I have to let it go. Carrying around a “why me” attitude does not serve a purpose. It’s not going to help me function. It will only continue to bring me down. And make me crave chocolate… Not good for the zit.

I so love this Jimmy Fallon skit from SNL!! Totally how I felt about my zit!

To help me change my state of mind, I use my favorite grounding technique. Here’s the steps…

  • Wherever I am, I focus my attention on the chair or couch that I am sitting on. Just kinda feel it holding me… supporting me.
  • I hold that moment for about 10-20 seconds as I slowly begin to even out my breath.
  • I then shift my attention to the floor that is supporting the chair… Then to the earth that is supporting the floor. I am not holding things down by my weight… I am being supported by the ground beneath me.
  • Then, I smile.

Smiling activates some positive neurotransmitters to be released; serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These natural, “feel-good” chemicals can lower heart rate and blood pressure. This is greatly needed when stress is high.

Forcing a smile feels weird, especially in difficult situations. But the benefits feel much better than moping and feeling sad.

So anyway, my stress is not gone. Tomorrow will bring another tornado of events. That’s what life is like right now. I’m dealing with elderly parents while caring for young children. I can’t expect anything to go as planned and need to be ready for the unexpected.

The best way for me to get through this time in my life is to ground myself in the moment, realize that I am doing my best, and smile.

caregiving, grief, Parent loss, parenting

The Messy Part of Adulting

Normal, everyday adulting is challenging. Juggling work, kids, a house, relationships, and countless duties can easily become overwhelming.

Life is busy. There’s no doubt about that. But the busyness of life doesn’t stop when your world comes to a screaming halt.

When I lost my dad this past spring, that’s exactly how it felt… my “normal,” crazy adult world ended, and the rest of the crazy kept going. My youngest kid needed his third set of tubes placed in his ears. My oldest was about to graduate from kindergarten. My husband was finishing up the school year with his high school students. All of this and more was happening when my world stopped.

I used to view parent-loss as a “natural order” death. I mean, that’s how it’s supposed to go, right? As an adult child of aging parents, we know that someday our parents will pass away. Even though parent-loss is an inevitable part of life, nothing could have mentally prepared me for life without my dad.

Grief is a bitch. I feel like I miss my dad more and more everyday. Yet, I still have to live my normal life. I have a husband and kids who need me, plus the everyday responsibilities of maintaining a household and a job.

No Time for Grief

When I say that I haven’t had time to grieve, I’m not exaggerating. As an only child, I had no choice but to go straight into work mode.

I’ll tell ya why…

My mom has advanced dementia and I am not capable of caring for her by myself. After my dad passed away, I had to quickly make a decision about where my mom was going to live, for her own safety. (This on top of planning my dads funeral).

Luckily, I had already done some heavy lifting – I had already toured numerous assisted living and memory care facilities. I had even joked with my dad that I had found a perfect place for Mom, “just in case.” I truly never believed that I would lose my dad first because my mom was always the one with health problems. My dad was always the strong one. Always the one who pulled through.

I digress.

So, I moved a couple of mountains (seriously had no idea how I was going to get my mom out of her house). Now my mom lives 3 miles from me, in a memory care facility. I don’t personally take care of her physical needs but I am in charge of her health care, insurance, and finances.

Aaahhh… and then my parent’s house. You may read more about the beginning stages of clearing out a house of 55+ years of memories right here.

To briefly sum it up, taking care of my parent’s house has included cleaning out every nook and cranny, deciding to rent or sell, interviewing auction companies, the actual auction, junk haulers, moving company and storage facility comparisons, and the final decision to sell.

Then there was the overwhelming emotions that engulfed me when I saw my parent’s stuff rolling away. The pain of “moving day” and watching my parent’s belongings move into the storage unit made me feel like I was saying goodbye all over again.

Legal and financial BS has had me cross eyed at times. Even just calling to cancel services has sent me into ugly crying mode.

Currently, I’m living through the process of selling my parent’s house. Battling fears of not selling fast enough or not getting it’s actual value makes my stomach turn.

Let me just say… every part of this has been excruciating.

All of this while my “normal” life keeps rolling along. Juggling everything has become my main job.

Coincidentally, I was forced to step down from my position a few weeks after my dad’s funeral. I used up all of my FMLA due to my dad’s hospitalizations. I had bereavement leave but that didn’t allow me the time I needed for the amount of work that needed to be done.

Luckily I was able to stay in a position where I can work on an as needed basis. I’m starting to squeeze in more work which actually feels better than I thought it would.

Needless to say, adulting really sucks right now. I don’t like it and I want it to go away.

As much as this sucks, I am an adult and I can do hard things. I don’t have to like it. It’s what I have to do right now to make it through the hardest time in my life.

Overwhelmed By Adulting

I really wish that life came with a panic button. I’d sure as hell use it!

Because I don’t have a panic button, I keep a list of all the things that I can do when I’m overwhelmed and emotions are hitting me like tidal waves.

So, I thought that I would share this list in hopes that someone may learn through my personal experiences. If you ever find yourself in a crazy, overwhelming mess and the end does not seem to be in sight, I hope that you can find something from this list to help.

Things I Do to Survive:

  • I write. Just doing this, writing on my blog, helps me get feelings out. The thought of someone reading my stories and learning from my experiences, brings me a little joy. It feels good to put my emotions into words. Even if you do not blog, keeping a journal is incredibly therapeutic. There’s a lot of research out there to back this up. But I’m not going to get into that. Just get out a pen and paper (or journal on your phone) and get those feelings out. It feels good.
  • I cry when I want to. There really has been no rhyme or reason to when my emotions will bubble up. When they do, as long as I’m somewhere I feel comfortable, I will just let myself feel those feels. There’s just something about a good hard cry that makes me (eventually) feel a little bit better. Side note: I am very open with my kids about this part of grief. I want them to understand that it is ok to express emotions. Crying doesn’t mean that I’m weak. Also, if I get teary when talking about my dad, I remind my kids that they did not cause me to become upset. I’m always going to miss my dad. Bringing him up in conversation shows me that other people think about him too or legitimately care enough about me to have a conversation that may bring out emotions. Try to refrain from the fear of showing emotions. It’s actually a healthy thing to do.
  • I joined Facebook support groups. At first, I did not have time to see my therapist but I needed people who understood me. I joined a group specifically for people who have lost a parent. I also joined a group for caregivers of loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These groups have been wonderful for me. There’s always someone who understands. I’ve “met” a few people going through similar things and we check in with each other. It really does help.
  • I listen to music. I feel like music is very therapeutic. Sometimes I just need to let my emotions out and there are certain songs that make the flood gates open. Other times, when I’m literally crying on the floor, I need fun/happy songs to pull me back up.
  • I listen to audiobooks. I am a firm believer in reading (or in my case, listening) to at least 10-15 minutes of a personal development book as often as possible. Because life is busy, I listen to books/podcasts/TED talks in my car.
  • I lean on my friends, husband, and family. I have to. I have to talk to them about my feelings. I needed my husband, friends and family to help with my parent’s house, watch the kids, and move my mom to her memory care facility. I needed my cousin to bring me food when I was camped out at the hospital during my dad’s last few days. I need my husband to stand in when I physically or emotionally cannot be there for our kids (and to hold me when I just need to be held). I need my neighbor friend who unwinds with me after the kids go to bed. I need my coworkers who listen to me as friends and social workers! (Love that motivational interviewing). The list of friends and family who have been there (and will continue to be there) could go on and on. I just couldn’t do all of this without my tribe.
  • I keep a list of accomplishments. Before bed, I make a list of the things I accomplished that day. With this “tool” I am able to divert attention from the frustration of all the things left to do.
  • I have turned back to my faith. I have never given up my Catholic faith. I just haven’t put much effort into prayer or attending mass. Although I’m still not a weekly regular at mass, I am attending more than I have in the past years. And it feels good.
  • I talk to my dad. I talk to him and ask him questions about the decisions I am making. And you know what? I might sound crazy… but I believe that he sends me little signs that he’s still with me. Those little signs are everything to me.

Invaluable Professionals in My Life

This list would not be complete without mention of some of the invaluable professionals who are in my corner. I’ve also learned the importance of “shopping around” for the ones who beat fit my needs. Side note: There are so many more professionals that I have utilized than what I have included in this list. More invaluable professionals will be discussed in a future blog.

  • My therapist. A professor of mine in grad school once said, “every good therapist has a therapist.” I’ve always taken this to heart. My therapist helps me see things in a different light and acknowledges my feelings in an unbiased way. I look forward to my appointments with her to help me sort out emotions and deal with the most important things.
  • My doctor. I’m living with more stress than I’ve ever experienced which resulted in increased depression. When I began to have thoughts about driving off the road into a tree, I knew that my depression required medical management. That’s not a quick fix. My doctor has encouraged me to get some physical activity, drink enough water, eat a little bit healthier, and sleep more than 5 hours a night in order to treat my depression. This is definitely a work in progress, but on the occasions where I do all of those things, I feel like a normal person again.
  • My financial advisor. I’m dealing with financial duties that are so over my head. I don’t know how to manage it and I can’t even try to do this on my own. So, professional help is my saving grace. Just having someone who understands this stuff tell me what I need to do, gives me peace
  • My attorney. This was a hard lesson to learn. I had no clue that some lawyers charge just to talk to them! Well, I found out when I received a bill for over $800. I literally met with my parent’s lawyer for 2 hours. She did the small probate paperwork and filed it. Something I know that I did not have the ability to do on my own. But $200 an hour? WTF? My mind was blown and I felt taken advantage of. So, my financial advisor referred me to another attorney who doesn’t charge me to ask questions.

Things I Have to Remember

  • Focus on what is important in my life. I have to focus on my kids and husband (plus our 2 cats and dog). I’ve been away from home so much this past year and I’m always dealing with something in regards to my parents. Sometimes I just have to refocus and play with my kids or snuggle up with my husband. They have been effected by this change in life too. I must give myself permission to enjoy life with them.
  • I know there is an end to this stress. One day, my parent’s finances will all be in order and the house will sell. I know this will not last forever. One day, the only things left will be my undying love for my parents and memories. It’s up to me to keep my dad’s memories alive and to make new memories with my mom. And that will be okay.
  • I am grateful to have my grief. This seems like an odd thing to say… but this is my rationale. My grief over the loss of my dad (and my mom too) is due to the amazing love that we have shared for 41 years of my life. I miss my dad and I miss who my mom used to be. If I didn’t love, I wouldn’t have anyone to grieve. Life is full of loves and losses. Because I have so many people to love and who love me in return, I will continue to have someone to grieve. It wouldn’t be much of a life if I didn’t have love.

Learning Points

  • Let others help.
  • Tell people what you need.
  • Expect messiness

Just knowing that I don’t have to do all of this on my own does help. Grief can be isolating. That doesn’t help the situation. Trying to manage something this big by myself would drive me deeper into a hole.

Of course, these lists are a work in progress. Some days I really need to lean on my family and friends. Some days I don’t feel like being social, so I reach out to my FB support groups. Whatever works in the moment to get me by. I’m sure that I will add more to these lists over time or when I have a new discovery.

For now, I must keep on learning how to adult through the messiest time in my life.

Parent loss, Uncategorized

The Value of Clutter

Decluttering is very posh right now. Everyone is doing it. People are blogging about the “best way to clean out your closet.” There are books about “simplifying your space.” Everyone is clearing out their house, selling their stuff online and hoping that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And hopefully said “man” will pay handsomely for that trash.

My parent’s house has been in need of decluttering for many years. But when my dad passed away and my mom moved into a memory care facility, my childhood home needed much more than just a few rooms and closets cleaned out.

I’m talking about the kind of stuff that accumulates over 55 years of marriage. That also includes stuff that came along with my parents when they merged their lives. My grandparent’s stuff that my parents inherited were also amongst the hundreds of boxes that filled the basement. Magazines that chronicled back to the 90’s, clothes from the 70’s, antiques, artwork, kitchen stuff, plus a 2 car garage full of equipment and tools. Our house consisted of 4 bedrooms (3 with walk-in closets), a cedar closet, a hallway closet, coat closet, kitchen, living room, laundry room, basement… FULL. OF. STUFF.

My mom never wanted me to get rid of my old toys... or anything, really. Being an only child, that meant a lot of old toys. There was still a bunch of my old stuff from grade school, high school, and college that I just “couldn’t part with”… so it stayed at my parent’s house. Obviously, I really needed it.

A sample of my once prized possessions.

Over and over again, I heard friends and family say, “Julie. What are you going to do with all of this?”

My response?

“I don’t have a fucking clue. But I gotta stay positive.”

Going into this situation, I was positive that we would be able to do everything on our own. I thought that I would take pictures of everything and then post them on some sort of selling platform. No estate sales would equal no middle-man. My thought was that we would be able to make enough extra money to be able to take care of my mom’s memory care facility bill for a few months.

Forty eight hours into this process, I knew that I just do not have the ability to do all of it on my own… emotionally, physically, or mentally.

On top of the magnitude of the situation, I just couldn’t fathom the thought of someone walking into my parent’s home, handing me money and then walking out the door with an item that once belonged to my parents. It was just too much to bare.

So, with help from a neighbor, we arranged for an estate sale expert to come check everything out. I was very hopeful that this person would be able to help us. Especially after hearing how much this person had helped others in similar situations. The thought of handing the job over to a professional gave me a sense of relief.

Until the day he arrived… toured the house… and told me the opposite of what I had hoped for…

Out of all the stuff in my parent’s house, this professional told me that it’s mainly just “clutter.”

Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong. I had done a lot of research on estate sales. I’m an active, online seller of vintage items. I wasn’t walking into the situation blindly.

But hearing that my parent’s cherished possessions are considered “clutter” really threw me for a loop.

But there’s no way that I could keep everything! Nor did I want it all! And I knew that I did not have the time or the mental capacity to do everything on our own.

I was already struggling with guilt over selling my parent’s stuff. Especially because I know how much my parents cherished so many things.

One item in particular is this deer head. Oh. My. Geez. I did not want this thing. It creeped me out as a kid. I don’t remember the story behind it but it’s been a part of our family since before I was born. My dad loved to put lights and a Rudolf nose on it during Christmas time.

I find the deer head repulsive. Yet, I felt guilty for selling it.

Not a fan of the deer head.

Anyway, there I was, sitting in my parent’s living room, listening to a stranger (with a thick Southern accent) explain to me that since many things aren’t “name brand,” he could not help me. I could not believe that there were just a handful of things that he considered “valuable.”

I felt lost and utterly overwhelmed.

Pretending to be strong in front of my family and loved ones, I went to work on another plan. I arranged two more appointments with estate sale companies, “interviewed” realtors and rental groups, hired a paper shredding company, and researched “junk removal” companies.

With the help of my husband, aunt, cousins, family friends and my two oldest/bestest friends, we began packing.

We went through everything. And it was the craziest emotional roller coaster that I’ve ever been on. There were many laughs over old things that used to be soooo cool. There were moments of “what the F— is this?” And countless times where I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in the bathroom.

By far, the basement was the most tedious. Hours and hours were spent carrying these boxes to the garage, sorting, breaking boxes down, and sweating profusely (July in Southern Indiana is hotter than balls).

NKOTB super fans for life!!

WTF???

Amongst the “clutter,” we discovered irreplaceable treasures worth far more than any estate seller could offer.

We found… blueprints of a subdivision that my grandpa designed in the 1950’s, letters my grandpa wrote to my grandma when they were dating, the first ever Father’s Day card my mom gave to my dad from me when I was just a baby, pictures that I drew for my dad as a little girl, scribbles from my kids to their Papaw and Gramma, and boxes and boxes and boxes of pictures that are valuable beyond words.

My cousins and I trying out Big Mama Blue… a treasured raft that provided hours of fun for us as children. The raft still inflated… but I swear, it used to be bigger!

After a collective 4 weeks of work on the house, I did find an auction group that will take one the rest of our stuff. They will be arriving in just a few days. I have arranged for my childhood friend (and realtor) to take care of this for me. I just cannot watch this happen.

So, no matter how much this stuff is actually worth, I discovered the most valuable thing… I have such an amazing family and friends (who love me like family). I have a lifetime full of precious memories of my parents who gave me everything a little girl (and grown woman) could ever need. This difficult process uncovered a deeper understanding of undying love that goes far beyond a house full of “clutter.”

Uncategorized

Sometimes the Toilet Overflows

Why don’t toilets overflow when there’s substantial amount of time to clean up the mess? Or when you have a lot of extra money to actually spend on something like a plumber? Why does it always seem to happen when things are already going bat shit crazy?

We don’t choose when life gets hard.

The first weekend in January of 2019, changed the trajectory of my year.

My dad… the epitome of everything strong… my rock… my biggest fan… was admitted to the hospital, for reasons unknown.

And I am 5 hours away.

Simultaneously, my mom’s dementia was rapidly progressing. I discovered just how bad it was when my mom could not tell me which hospital Dad went to.

There are at least eight hospitals in the metropolitan area where my parent’s live. By the time I found my dad, I had called five of them.

I found out that he was being admitted to the Critical Care Unit and almost fell on the floor. I work at a hospital and knew that meant there’s something serious going on.

But wait!!! My mom is alone in their house. She cannot be alone!!!

Quickly, my husband and I went into planning mode. I had to call my boss because this was a Friday and I had to work the next two days. Then we needed someone to pick our son up from school. Luckily the other could stay longer at preschool if needed. Then I had to pack and decide if I’m leaving immediately or in the morning. We chose the morning for safety reasons.

When I arrived at my parent’s house the next day, I was faced with the sight of how bad things have been. Like I said, my dad has always been strong. And because of that, he had not been honest with me about how bad he was feeling. The house was 83 degrees. It smelled. There were dishes with moldy food and cups with curdled milk. Actually, there was even more that I just cannot mention because I might break down while typing.

Over the course of the next few days, I took care of my mom, cooked, cleaned, and removed countless bags of expired food. I drove back and forth to the hospital and talked to nurses about the situation. Honestly, I did so much over the course of four days, a lot of it is a blur. When my dad called to tell me that he was getting discharged, all I wanted was to get him home. Stupidly, I thought that his discharge instructions would supplement the fact that I could not be in the room to talk to his nurse and ask questions. I didn’t have the energy to drag my mom in a wheelchair back up to his room.

Luckily, a few days later, my aunt flew into town to stay with my parents so I could get back home. I missed my husband and my kids and plus I had to work.

So why the toilet analogy? Well, let me tell you!

Two weeks after I got back home, I found myself back at my parent’s house because my dad had to be admitted again. This time, our 4 year old made the treck to Pappa and Grandma’s with me. We walked into a much better situation than before. My aunt had been there for two weeks and my mom had a smile on her face.

Now, I was faced with taking care of my mom, who needs as much care as a toddler, and my soon to be 4 year old (we celebrated his 4th birthday during this trip). The stressors were a lot different this time. Imagine trying to coordinate two cats simultaneously. One cat who can’t groom herself anymore and the other who keeps chasing after birds. Getting those two cats ready to leave the house plus trying to shower and get yourself ready. Can you feel the chaos?

Then take a big ole shit and clog the toilet. Feel that panic starting to set in? Imagine how fast your heart would start to race when you’re standing naked in the bathroom with the shower running and water starts spilling over the toilet bowl. And the water keeps coming. And the clothes you were going to wear after the shower start getting shit water on them (by the way, you only brought one bra).

Oh! And add a dog to the mix! (Cause my parents have a little Boston Terrier).

So here we have my mom bitching from the other room about how she’s going to be late to her hair appointment. My son running around because that’s what little boys do. The dog trying to get into the bathroom to lick the water. Me, naked, trying to throw towels on the floor and stop the water flow. With 10 minutes available before I had to be showered, dressed, and get my mom and son buckled into the car.

What did I do?

Contained the mess until I could have time to clean it up later. There were too many other things that had to be done and not enough time to sufficiently do it all. Somehow, I was able to pull myself together and get on to the next part of the day.

If you haven’t figured out the correlation, here it is…

The toilet represents the shit that life sometimes throws at us. It’s never a good time for a toilet overflow as well as it is never a good time for a life changing circumstance to explode into your life.

We have a saying in the social work field, “just roll with it.” When you don’t have the time to process what is happening, you have to quickly make a plan and somehow be okay to come back to clean up the mess later.

The technical term for this is compartmentalization. Basically, if you shift your focus to other things, instead of the situation at hand, you can temporarily avoid the emotions that can consume you. That’s not the same as suppressing, or burying the emotions. This just allows you to revisit the mess when the time is more appropriate.

It’s been almost a week since we left my parent’s house. Right now, I’m in “clean up” and “fix it” mode. I’m completing intermittent FMLA paperwork, working with my parent’s insurance provider and family to arrange the care needed for my parents at home. I’m taking care of my kids, grocery shopping, getting back to my small business, and selling my old toys that I’ve brought back home with me.

The mess has been contained, and now, the emotions are bubbling up. This is definitely a better time for me to be able to process the situation and allow myself to feel the emotions. It’s totally normal to be sad. It sucks to see my parents struggle with their health. Coming face to face with the inevitable is… well… I just can’t find the words to appropriately describe how it feels. I only know that my life is different and will not ever be the same.

So, I have to take care of myself somehow. I’m seeing my therapist and I’m going to schedule that massage my husband got me for Christmas. I’m listening to Mel Robbins’s “Mindset Reset” YouTube videos to keep my head in check. I’m doing the best damn job that I can. And I’m putting things into place so that the next time the toilet gets clogged and overflows, the mess will be easier to clean up.

Thanks for reading.

Uncategorized

Not the Same

I’m at my childhood home… but it’s not the same.

I wake up in the morning and go downstairs to fix a cup of coffee. My dad is not sitting in his chair reading the newspaper. I don’t smell coffee. I don’t hear his voice saying “Mornin’ Babe! You sleep okay?”

I take my coffee outside to the front porch and watch the sun rise over 12 Mile Island on the Ohio River. My dad does not come out to tell me how humid it’s supposed to be today.

My dad is not in the kitchen cooking bacon. There are no eggs on the counter getting “the chill off” so they are just right for frying. ESPN is not on the tv. The kitchen is quiet.

The house is changing more and more everyday as we clean out each closet, cabinet, and drawer. My parent’s closet and bathroom are bare. My dad will never wear his University of Kentucky t-shirts again or his favorite jeans. His work clothes will help men who cannot afford nice clothes for an interview. I hope his immaculately pressed and starched dress shirts bring them confidence. Thinking about how much my dad’s clothes can help makes packing them in a box just a little bit easier.

But it still pains my heart as I hug his soft turtleneck and remember how it felt to hug him when he wore it.

Rooms are beginning to fill up with “stuff.” Some of it will be packed. Some of it will be sold. Some of it will move to my mom’s little assisted living apartment.

The garage has become a sorting area between trash, items to sell, and items to ponder. My dad’s car is not there. It’s in my driveway, 5 hours north of my parent’s house.

The grass is just a tad long, but not bad. My dad’s long-time friend cuts the grass every week. He tells me that he has to “keep PL’s yard lookin’ nice.”

There’s some drift wood on the beach and dried river mud leftover from the last time the “river was up.” But the dock built by my dad and Uncle Ronnie (at least 30 years ago) is still strong. That makes me incredibly proud.

Tonight, I’m lying in my parent’s bed, in the divot made by my dad. I am staring out the windows watching a summer storm over the river. I’m remembering every feature of my dad’s face and how his laugh always made me smile.

I’m also fighting off a huge sense of guilt. My mom is still alive yet I’m going through her stuff like she’s not. She wants to be here, in her home, but she no longer can take care of herself. It makes me so sad. I wish I could do something more. I remind myself that I didn’t always like the decisions she made for me as a child. But she always had my best interest in mind… even if I didn’t think so at the time.

This house is full of memories. The land itself holds a lot of our family’s history. I’m still making memories now with my family… just without two major people who I love.

The house is not the same… but I do still feel the love that has lived here far beyond my existence. I know my dad is with me… but it’s really not the same.

I miss you, Daddy. I’m not the same without you.

Uncategorized

Parenting Through Loss

I was 6 years old when I lost my last grandparent. The same age as my oldest son.

I don’t remember much about the time surrounding my grandparents’ deaths. I only remember feeling very sad. I never felt deprived or unloved. My parents did their best to give me everything that I needed during that time. Especially my mom. I always remember her telling me that it’s ok to be sad. Even though I didn’t fully understand, I knew that I was safe and everything was going to be okay.

My mom did her best to help me through, all while she was experiencing tremendous stress and grief. My last two grandparents passed away within nine months of each other and they were both my mom’s parents. I only know that she was struggling through that time because now I understand how it feels to lose a parent.

Here I am, 34 years later, trying to do my best to help my children… even though I’m faced with the greatest sadness and stress of my life.

I had to say goodbye to my Dad.

My grief is compounded by the loss that my children are experiencing. My boys love their Papaw and he was so in love with them. My heart breaks and soars simultaneously when the boys talk about Papaw.

I encourage my boys to remember their favorite times with Papaw. I don’t force it and try to keep it a natural flow. If my eyes should happen to well up with tears, I reassure them that it’s only because I miss him. I want them to know that they did not make me said and it actually makes me very happy to hear them talk about Papaw.

I’m trying to be open and honest with my kids about my emotions. Sometimes my emotions come out as anger and I might snap easily. I have found myself less patient which typically leads to yelling. I really hate when that happens. Once I remove myself and calm down, I make a point to hug my boys and let them know that I am sorry. I remind them that I miss Papaw and I get upset easily. They are such sweet boys. They always respond with hugs and “I love you’s.”

That is good for my soul.

You know, as a social worker, I’m constantly on alert for atypical behavior. I know that my emotions, stress, and behaviors are affecting my children. I’m starting to notice that they are acting different. They too are having outbursts of anger, crying easily, and a little bit of regression.

In the past, when I’ve experienced extreme emotions surrounding a stressful situation, I find that educating myself allows me to make sense of the craziness. I’m reading everything that I can about grief for myself as well as for my kids.

Currently, my only educational conclusion is that I cannot effectively help my own children on my own.

I’m relying heavily on my husband, friends, and family. People want to help… and I have to be ok with asking for this help. If a friend asks if they can take the kids for awhile, I am graciously accepting the offer.

Play dates that involve me being with with my kids, their friends, and my friend, are not going so well. My kids are starving for my attention and I’m incredibly anxious. Plus, I’m usually in a deep conversation with my friend, which causes our attention to not fully be on the kids. And if you’re a parent, you know what comes next… It’s best for me to just not be there right now.

I have found that activities with my kids need to include me being active as well. Trying to play toys with my guys becomes frustrating and tiring for me. So, we go hiking or kick balls around. Walking is the best thing for me right now. And really, it’s good for all of us.

I’m struggling. The kids know that. Sometimes all I need to do is just let them know that Mommy’s having a hard time and could really use some snuggles. I know that is the best way for me to be a parent amongst grief.

My parents didn’t teach me how live. They lived. And let me watch them do it.

They did a pretty damn good job ♥️

Uncategorized

The Realistic Holiday Survival Guide

Ahhhh…. The holidays are upon us. I’d love to blog about a fun family holiday tradition or maybe share a favorite family recipe along with witty quips of my darling children helping me in the kitchen. Even better! A blog about a holiday craft that I did with my adorable sons.

Well, no. None of that over here.

I look around our little house and see an explosion of toys, clothes, kid’s artwork, pictures that are not in frames, pictures that are in frames but not on the walls, stuff from work, stuff for my home business, everywhere there’s STUFF… (insert facepalm emoji). There’s a part of me that feels down about our lack of space. I don’t like that we are still in my husband’s former bachelor pad. I don’t like that we have a litter box in our living room because our old, sweet cat started using the corner as her new potty. I don’t like that our furniture has rips and our kitchen table looks like it belongs in a grade school art room (as my 6 year old pointed out). I don’t like that despite being married for 11 years, my husband and I have never hosted a family holiday gathering due to the size of our house and lack of room for eating/sitting/cooking/breathing.

First World problems. Having too much stuff in a small house. When I see my mental struggles in writing, it seems so insignificant.

There’s a couple of ways to look at my inner turmoil…

1. Be thankful for what I have because someone else has it worse.

OR

2. Acknowledge the problem as well as the emotional component.

As a child, I was often scolded with the following statement (make sure to read this with a Southern accent):

“Julie Amber! There are little boys and girls who live in shacks with dirt floors and don’t even have toys. Be grateful for what you have.”

My adult brain understands what my parents were doing. They were trying to teach me to be thankful for what I do have. I get it. Unfortunately, adolescent minds can interpret this message as “your problems are insignificant, so get over yourself.”

Yes, my particular problem may be insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I can appreciate that. But the focus is not on the severity. The root cause is a sense of inadequacy. That feeling should not be minimized.

Acknowledging that the problem sucks, allows the underlying emotion to be heard. It is not a form of weakness.

In other words, identify the emotion and then acknowledge it.

What can I control?

When I think about things that get me down, I have to look for the things that I can control. Some things are just too big and overwhelming. Those problems have to be set aside. Unless I can personally change the situation, I cannot let myself stress, worry, or feel down. The problem has to be compartmentalized.

So this is what I need to do:

  • Take a closer look at what I DO have control over. What are the little changes that can I make RIGHT NOW?
  • Become a “master of the mundane.” Do these little things over and over on a daily basis, with a good attitude. I don’t always have to like it, but if I keep doing these little things, eventually, they will pay off.

Here’s an example of how I put this into practice this past week when my parents were in town for Thanksgiving…

After my parents had been here for five days, I realized that my mom and my 3 year old display many behavioral similarities. My mom’s dementia has increased dramatically and my dad is not looking so good. I feel like I need to something but have no clue what to do. This has been weighing on me like a ton of bricks.

On top of those major life stressors, it’s cold and gloomy here in Northern Indiana. The kind of weather that makes me want to stay under a warm blanket and do nothing. I’m riding the Struggle Bus and make it stop!

How to Stop the Struggle Bus

  1. Is there something that I can do to make an immediate impact on this situation? — No. I can’t change the fact that my parents live five hours away. I can’t make my mom’s dementia go away either.
  2. How does this situation make me feel? — Sad. Powerless.
  3. Is there something that I can do today that will make the situation better in the future (or just allow me to feel a little better)? — Yes. I need some self care. I’m eating crappy, not exercising, and staying up too late. These unhealthy habits for sure have a negative impact on my life stressors.

Look, I have found something that I do have control over. And you know what? It’s ok to put the other things to the side because I know what I can do right now! Making the choice to do little, positive things, consistently and persistently over a period of time, will lead to a greater outcome.

So how does this tie into the Holidays?

The holidays can be overwhelming. Especially when everyday things like work, family, and life events don’t stop. If you find yourself spiraling out of control, take a minute to identify what is truly going on. Acknowledge the emotion(s) at the root of the problem and look for the pieces that you can control. Become a master of the mundane with a good attitude.

Your Holidays may look different next year. Step out of the whirlwind and admire the beauty of the moment.

Acknowledgement: “Master the mundane” is a phrase from the book The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. If you’re looking for more ways to positively impact your life, this is definitely a must read.