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…
mental health, coping mechanisms

Coping with the Covid

“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!”

If you don’t know the song referenced in this article, hold on while I blast ya back to my college days in the 90’s.

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?

Coping Mechanisms

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!

Not promoting anything but this is pretty adorable!

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.

Photo cred:

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).

Not my coworker. Found this pic on Pinterest.

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!

Distancing from 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.

I don’t have to like it, I just have to do it. I’m choosing to do it with a good attitude and a smile on my face (under the mask).

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