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…
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.”


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 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.”


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.


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 ♥️