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…

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.