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.
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
“Y’all gonna make me lose my mind. Up in here. Up in here.”
I jammed to this DMX song at frat parties 21 years ago as beer spilled all over me and the random guy I was dancing with. I didn’t care. My life was all about having fun. My biggest worry was getting my GPA up so I could graduate college. Nowadays, I jam to this song in my Mom Mobile on my way home from a 12 hour shift at the hospital.
Life is different.
And now we’re living through a global pandemic. Where I live, in Northern Indiana, we went into quarantine on March 13. Within a matter of days our lives flipped completely upside down. Over 4 months later… without a break from family, work, or coronavirus… In fact, I am “gonna act a fool up in here!”
Even though we are opening back up, it is clear that we are gonna be living with the ‘rona for a minute. So how the hell are we gonna do this? I’m losing my mind and turning inward. Other than my weekly Zooms with my college friends and the short conversations with my colleagues at the hospital, I don’t feel much like interacting with others.
This recent change within myself has me wondering how everyone else is getting by. I’ve been observing behaviors that I have not personally been seen before. If I’m feeling all kinds of weird, I know others must be as well.
So, how are we doing this?
Too many changes within a short amount of time causes many people to feel out of control. Our brains just cannot process all of this change at once. Feeling completely whacked out is actually a pretty normal response to a shit show.
Naturally, we develop new strategies called coping mechanisms in response to changes in behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. These coping mechanisms help us adjust to stress. Our backgrounds, personalities, and the communities we live in influence the way we cope. On top of these, other factors like age differences, professions, mental health, and substance abuse problems all form effective (positive) or maladaptive (negative) coping mechanisms.
I mean honestly, it all makes sense. We are living in the most upside down time in our lives. Who isn’t losing their mind up in here?
Using Common Coping Mechanisms to Ease Pandemic Stress
Humor: From face masks with mustaches to funny social distancing Quote T-shirts, some people are making humorous statements to cope with our ever changing lives. Fashion has long-sense been a way to express ourselves, so why wouldn’t there be a T-shirt to commemorate the pandemic? Statement items can spark interactions with like-minded people on social media or in person, from a distance (of course).
Having a playful response to the absurdities of life can force our minds to develop a positive perspective. Making light of situations with humor helps with mentally distancing ourselves from stressful situations.
The pandemic is for sure an absurd situation. So rock on with your cat mouth face mask. We could all use a good laugh!
Support Seeking: When stress is out of our personal control, we typically turn to others for support. People need people… especially now. Not having normal interactions with others is frustrating. Video chats, texting, and social media can only work for so long. I’m craving time with my friends and I don’t know if it is safe.
I also see how lack of interaction is effecting my kids. They don’t say it often, but I know that they are getting tired of only playing with each other and their parents every single day. They need their friends too. Even at their young ages, social support is important for well-being. As much as I want to keep them (and their friends) safe by continuing to social distance, I have to let my guard down a little. I’m not the only one who needs to be with others outside of my immediate family.
In another way, I see how much the social distancing is effecting people who have to be sheltered from the outside world. The elderly, for example, are experiencing declines from lack of interaction. This realization was brought to light by a recent conversation with one of the managers at the memory care facility where my mom lives. He told me that he has seen many of the residents (who all have dementia or Alzheimer’s) advance in their disease. Since this population is a pretty controlled group (meaning the residents are all experiencing social distancing at the same level) it is clear that lack of in person interaction must be the cause of their mental decline.
These realizations decrease the anger and confusion I have been experiencing about re-opening during the pandemic.
Taking Care of Yourself: Being mindful of the basic necessities for healthy minds and bodies seems like a no-brainer. Getting enough rest, making healthy food choices, and engaging in physical activity is hard for a lot of people without a pandemic. We all know that we should do this and it’s even more important now. It is just so much easier to lay on the couch.
I have found myself spiraling down a hole of bad habits during the past 3 months. Staying up too late, binge watching Netflix and binge eating everything in the house has caused the scale to jump up 10lbs. I can’t keep going down this hole and must make a change.
If only I could stop scrolling through Tiktok and go to bed before midnight!
Decreasing Expectations: I’m not really sure if this is an effective or maladaptive coping mechanism. Either way, decreasing expectations (sadly) serves a purpose in this pandemic.
This makes me think about all of the graduating classes of 2020. Ending the school year (at least in person) before spring break, took away so many fun things that students expected to experience. That has led to a lot of disappointed people. Whether it’s the students missing out on memorable experiences or the parents who don’t get to witness them, that stupid virus has caused a lot of grief.
While the disappointment is strong, we’ve done our best to have alternative versions of missed life events. My family’s 2020 grad had his ceremonial graduation from preschool while in his booster seat, inside our car. We cheered and waved to the school director as my husband and I wiped our eyes. Not exactly the send-off that I had envisioned for him, but still a memorable moment that we won’t forget.
Decreasing expectations could actually be a good thing during this pandemic. As states open up, there’s bound to be a hiccup or two. Do we really know how this all will end? Could this be our way of life until we get a vaccine? Having high expectations for lives to return to normal, seems like a recipe for disaster. It’s kinda like that saying, “Expect the worst but hope for the best.”
Problem Solving: Well, since I am not employed by the CDC and I am not an infectious disease physician, I personally cannot solve the Corona-crisis. I can, however, utilize the problem solving coping mechanism by looking for strategic ways to influence my new everyday problems.
For example, as I mentioned before, a big problem of mine has been lack of care of my physical well-being. By making a change in my mindset, I am solving my own problem and making self-care a new coping mechanism. Since I have begun to eat better and increase my physical activity, I am starting to feel better mentally, which helps with the stress of the corona-madness.
Maintaining Composure: As the media continues to remind us, we are “all in this together.” Hand washing protocols, maintaining distance from others, and wearing face masks in public are individual ways that we can directly influence the way coronavirus spreads. Although somewhat stressful, following these guidelines with composure, helps us to adjust to this craziness.
Frontline medical professionals are using composure to get through hospital shifts. Taking care of COVID-19 patients has to be scary, stressful, and awkward. The required PPE takes a long time to put on correctly and it’s hot and uncomfortable to wear.
Maintaining composure amongst so much fear is necessary. A little humor also helps. I saw an incredible picture of a fellow hospital employee dressed in full COVID gear with the caption “I love it when you call me big PAPR” (instead of Big Poppa, for all y’all unfamiliar with the Notorious B.I.G.). The best was one of the hospitalists wearing a large laminated picture of herself pinned to her lab coat, for patients and staff to know who they are talking to. That gave me a nice big smile (under my mask).
I respect the hell out of the doctors, nurses, therapists, case managers, medical assistants, dietary and environmental services, and pharmacists that I work with at the hospital. We are dealing with a consistently inconsistent world of policies and procedures. Every shift, we strap on our masks and head into the hospital to care for people who need help. Bravo Healthcare Heroes!!! It’s not easy!
Distancingfrom stress: There are no ways around this. We cannot take vacations to get away from the corona-madness because it is literally everywhere.
Mindful distractions are the best things we have right now. Playing games, listening to my favorite music, gardening, and working on home projects have been the most distracting things for me. I’m also trying to spend time, in the moment, with my husband and kids. It’s amazing how I can be with them all day and night and feel like I haven’t really done anything with them. Because of this, I have to remember to ground myself in the moment and really enjoy their sweet faces.
Living With the ‘Rona
Let’s face it, we’re going to be living this kinda life for awhile. We’re doing our best to cope with a messed up situation.
We have no way to predict how the corona-madness will end. One thing is certain, the virus is calling all the shots. The only thing we have control over is our personal reaction. Developing healthy coping mechanisms will help us live with these absurd lifestyle changes.
How am I coping?
I’m mentally escaping back to a time in my life where I hadn’t a care in the world. With my hair in a bun and a mask on my face, I’m coping with the Covid one 90’s rap song at a time.
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.
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.
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.
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 inwith 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.
Let others help.
Tell people what you need.
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.
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?”
“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.”
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!!
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 Itrying 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.”
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.