caregiving, grief, Parent loss, parenting

The Messy Part of Adulting

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

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

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

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

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

No Time for Grief

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

I’ll tell ya why…

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overwhelmed By Adulting

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

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

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

Things I Do to Survive:

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

Invaluable Professionals in My Life

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

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

Things I Have to Remember

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

Learning Points

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

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

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

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

Parent loss, Uncategorized

The Value of Clutter

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

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

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

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

A sample of my once prized possessions.

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

My response?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a fan of the deer head.

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

I felt lost and utterly overwhelmed.

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

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

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

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

NKOTB super fans for life!!

WTF???

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

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

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

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

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