maribeth wilder doerr

Shades of Healing ~ Creating a Wholehearted Life

The choice is mine

My dad died on December 2, 2011. I was with him as he passed from this world into the next. He struggled and fought hard. I held his hand and told him it was okay to go to Mom. I told him I forgave him for everything and I hoped he forgave me. I combed his hair because he was so very fussy about his beautiful hair; he wouldn’t have wanted to die with messy hair. When he died, his struggle ended; mine gave way to a different struggle, one I will need to walk through in order to heal.

The trauma of Dad’s accident affected him physically and in an elderly person with dementia (even the mild dementia Dad had at the time of his accident), trauma will upset the brain in ways that we cannot fathom. Dementia truly is a terminal disease and it does its deed very insidiously, inch by inch. Physical compromises are not easily seen because we all focus on the mental changes and how to work with those. Trauma ramps up those physical changes which in turn causes serious mental changes which in turn . . . . you get the picture. Trauma can be mental or physical and it might not even look like trauma to a younger person.

In my dad’s case, his trauma started when he lost his wife of 65 years and leaving his home of 20 years. The three months from the time my mom died until Dad’s accident were challenging but we were all adjusting and learning how to live together. We were “growing” into the situation and that is quite amazing for an 87 year old man with mild dementia. He could still learn new things even when he didn’t really want to. It takes a lot of patience and we were just at that point of figuring it out. At the time of his accident, he was settling into his new digs, laughing, eating well, and still enjoying golf three times a week. We’ll never know why he took off in his truck without telling us or where he was going. He did remember his accident and praying someone would find him (he probably laid outside his truck for several hours before anyone saw him in that ravine), but he had no idea why he was where he was.

My parents died 4 months 2 days apart. Mom died two weeks before their 65th wedding anniversary. I believe they were always meant to be together and things are as they should be. This doesn’t mean I don’t grieve. I miss my mother terribly, and I have a lot of challenging thoughts concerning my dad and his hospitalization to process and release. During those first three weeks of his hospitalization, he bit me, slapped me, balled his fists up to punch me several times, threw a filthy bedpan at me, screamed at me constantly, and flipped me off and other assorted hand waves. Even the things he’d say to me in a calm voice were ugly. I’d run home from the hospital and cry, have my own tantrum, or beg my husband to take me to a restaurant where people were laughing and having a good time. I needed to be where there was positive joyful energy!

During Dad’s last week, he had calmed down except for a few hours in the late afternoon when he’d be sick of laying in bed and being restrained (and who could blame that!). This is when his body began to shut down bit by bit. The trauma of being his object of rage changed to being the decision-maker for him and every day was filled with it. In December 1982, I made the decision to terminate life support for my 5 day old baby son. The week before Dad died, I was once again discussing end-of-life options with doctors—and during the holidays. It seemed an impossible choice for my own child, and yet, it was more challenging with my dad. He wasn’t on a respirator, there were no machines breathing for him and he wasn’t brain dead as my son was. Dad was still very much alive and talking to us (and to many people we couldn’t see!). There was no clear cut choice so each little medical decision was discussed with me and I would constantly ask myself what Dad would want. I found his medical directive and that helped a great deal as it took the much of the onus off me; I wasn’t truly making the decisions but speaking for Dad based on his wishes. And yet, not everything was totally written down in that directive so there was a lot of guesswork and assumptions. I hope I assumed correctly Dad . . .

It’s now been 8 months since Mom died and 4 months since Dad died. I am stuck in family trust executor hell. There is so much to do to settle Dad’s bills and legal issues, sell his house in a lousy real estate market, and sort out the extra furniture and “stuff” we acquired when we moved him in with us. Trying to manage his trust has been a comedy of errors, and the way things have worked out, I cannot legally fulfill my parents’ final wishes. This pains me greatly.

Some days I feel those angry thoughts grabbing hold of me and shaking the sense out of my brain. I’m learning to notice this pattern and go with it, rather than against it, remembering to breathe life into my hurting heart and overwhelmed brain. My husband hasn’t had a commission in 20 months. My business has been neglected since Mom died and it shows terribly in my monthly income. My business server went on the fritz yesterday and I will need to spend an entire weekend with an OS reload and reconfiguring my sites. We are on some seriously shaky financial ground. We have health issues, stress issues, and our poor house is falling down around our ears. We’re feeling assaulted on all sides except one . . . we’ve grown closer through this and closer with our sons. It’s a blessing we’ve accepted with full grace because something positive MUST come out of this chaos.

Last week, someone who heard my story of loss for the first time (5 babies, both siblings, both parents 4 months apart) asked me how it is that I’m still standing. This question always surprises me because I don’t think I have a special trick for it. My answer is simply because I CHOOSE to be. It’s a conscious choice every.single.day. I didn’t have a choice in losing those 9 significant people in my life but I have a choice in how I live the rest of my life. I can choose to wallow in self pity or I can choose to remember them with love and joy and incorporate their memories into my life in a loving joyful way. When the difficult feelings consume me as I deal with the family trust mess, I try to remember that my attitude about it can make it easier or harder. I can chronically live in flight or fight mode through this or I can remember to breathe, do what needs to be done, be thankful for my blessings, and keep in mind that this isn’t forever. The choice is mine.

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Gratitude Month 2011 – Week 1

It is November already and that means it’s gratitude month. For the last two years, I’ve publicly announced a daily gratitude during November. To be honest, I really really don’t want to do it this year. My plate is full, and I’m emotionally spent; adding one more thing to my day just doesn’t appeal to me. And that’s why I know it’s even more important that I do it.
Here goes . . .

November 1, 2011 – My Support Team

I absolutely have to start my gratitude with my support team. My mom died July 30 and we’ve moved my 87 year old dad in with us. He has some dementia and was born with a grumpy egocentric attitude that hasn’t mellowed with age. My life has changed dramatically in the last three months, and I would not be doing as well as I am (and trust me, I still have moments of utter darkness) without my support team.

At the top of the list is my husband who is the one who suggested my dad move in with us. He helps as much as he can, he listens to me when I need a shoulder, and he holds me when I think I can’t go on. My sons are also incredibly helpful whether it’s helping out with Dad or making dinner – or especially making me laugh. The four of us were a very tight family when Dad moved in and we’re taking good care of each other through this experience. I wish everyone could have three such men in their lives!

I need to add my brother-in-law to the list because he’s the one who listens to my husband when he needs to vent!

My Halos711 soul family and Inner Child soul family have also all been there for me, without judgment, and with so much love. Wow!! I love you all!

For those of you who have called, sent cards, notes, and emails – thank you! It helps to know I’m not alone.

It’s such a gift to know that when I need something (or someone), I just have to ask. It’s such a gift and a blessing to have a support team. I know that I’ll get through these challenging experiences because I have you all there to help and cheer me on. THANK YOU ALL!

What are you grateful for today and this month? ♥

November 2, 2011 – A Roof Over My Head

Not speaking for anyone here but myself, I have a tendency to take some things for granted such as having a safe and warm place to live. For anyone who lives in Reno (or any other place hit hard by the economy), a short drive around town will show you how many people don’t have a safe place to call home. For today, I vow to think about all those things, big and small, that I take for granted and having a roof over my head is a big one. I don’t have a fancy schmancy, spotless house, but I have a place to hang my hat that keeps us safe, warm and is filled with a lot of love. That is much to be thankful for!

Hope your November gratitude list is filled to the brim already! Mine is. ♥

November 3, 2011 – Police and Hospital Support

On Wednesday, November 2, my dad left to go to the grocery store at 3:30pm and never came home. Two hours later, I was getting frantic and by 7:30, when my family had gone everywhere Dad would normally go, we called the police and the hospitals. By 11:00pm, we filed a missing person’s report with an officer who was beyond kind and took us seriously. It was a LONG night. Early in the morning, a woman from Reno PD called and got all the information needed to put a flyer together for the news media. She gave me her private number. I called the hospitals again, and one hospital was over-the-top fabulous, encouraging me to call every hour until he was found while another hospital hung up on me.

The lady from Reno PD kept in touch (and I hate that I don’t remember her name) and finally, she called closed to 1pm saying he’d been found by the California Highway Patrol nearly 100 miles away. She was beyond kind, giving me the information needed. My husband called the contact with CHP and he was beyond kind. My dad had crashed his truck and rolled it down a 50′ ravine into a creek and was semi-conscious. Once the had him extracted from the truck and out of the ravine, CHP called again to tell us Dad was being careflighted to the trauma center in Reno. Reno PD also called to tell us.

As soon as the helicopter landed at the hospital, a social worker from the hospital called and everyone there has been fabulous. This kindness and going the extra mile for us has made a very frightening experience bearable. I am so very grateful for all of them and of course, to God as well because it’s a miracle Dad was even found in the remote location he was in – and with no broken bones or serious injuries! He has hypothermia from being in the truck overnight in freezing temperatures and water (core temperature was 84 upon arriving at the hospital).

Thank you Reno PD, California Highway Patrol, Nevada Highway Patrol and Renown Medical Center for being so incredible at your jobs!

November 4, 2011 ~ My Sons, the Chefs

I’ve spent a very long very difficult day at the hospital with my dad. My husband and I are spent. We just came home and my sons have cooked dinner for us. Shopped (paid for it themselves) and cooked! What a gift! Yes, the kitchen is wrecked but I could use the clean up time to decompress. I have the best sons in the world! Thank you Eric and Chad!

November 5, 2011 ~ Nurses at Renown Medical Center

Today was another difficult day at the hospital. The nurses taking care of my dad, both RNs and CNAs, are incredible. He is nasty to them and very difficult to take care of and they handle him with dignity. They take the time to answer my questions, reassure me that I’m doing the right thing (even when I got upset with dad), and I just rest easy when I’m not there that Dad is in good hands. They take a huge load off my mind and that is absolutely something to be grateful for right now.

November 6, 2011 ~ Fresh Air

This might sound like a nutty one but I feel half nuts at the moment. 🙂 After being stuck in a hospital most of the day, it’s a joy to go outside and breathe in the fresh crispy Fall air. It smells good, it feels good, and after a long stressful day, it felt wonderful to experience this change in perspective. Thank you Mother Nature for this gift.

November 7, 2011 ~ Dogs Who Know

Today, I came home from the hospital absolutely spent. I crawled into my bed with all my clothes on and started to sob. Within a minute or two, my 21 month old German Shepherd jumped up on the bed and laid against me – spine to spine. He let out a great big sigh that made me giggle. He knew I needed comfort and he was there, giving it in the best way he knew how. All we really need when things get challenging is to know that we are loved and he reminded me. He didn’t fix anything, but he helped me shift my perspective and that’s how we keep putting one foot in front of the other through these challenges. Thank you Rolf! ♥

First Week of Gratitude Month Recap

What a week – certainly one I didn’t expect. I’m very grateful for all of your prayers and well-wishes. My dad has a long tough road ahead and I don’t know how this will turn out, but I am very grateful that I don’t have to walk it alone. Thank you all so much!

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When the Going Gets Tough . . . or How I Became a “Bootstraps” Woman

I think it’s a common denominator for those who have had multiple losses or tragedies to feel as though a Pandora’s Box opens with each new loss/tragedy. No matter how much we resolve or work with our wounds, there is always a bit more healing that needs to be done and these things tend to gather together in Pandora’s Box just waiting until the scab is picked at.

When my mom died nearly six weeks ago, the box opened again but it hasn’t – and won’t – swallow me whole. My Reiki attunements and training have kept me out of the box this time. I’m better equipped to deal with the scab picking and allow healing rather than resisting the waves of emotion. However, when my brother died five years ago, I was swallowed by the box for awhile. I got out of that box, finally, because I’m a bootstraps kind of gal . . .

I spent my teenage years in Wyoming and one of my favorite expressions from that time is when the going gets tough, pick yourself up by the bootstraps. You know those straps on each side of the boot that you use to pull the boot on with? Those are bootstraps and it can take some work to get those boots on – one at a time. When you think you can’t go on, pull on those boots and trudge through the muck to the other side. I became a “bootstraps” woman in 1983, and I’d like to share my story . . .

On December 11, 1982, I gave birth to my second son. My first was premature and stillborn three years earlier so I was naturally scared of losing another. I went nine days overdue before I went into real labor with an infection. Everything went wrong during labor and Mark Adam was severely asphyxiated due to birth trauma. We made the decision to terminate life support which is a horrible decision to make for your own child. Two minutes before the respirator was scheduled to be shut off, Mark died on his own in my brother’s arms; he was 5 1/2 days old.

During the gravesite service, each of my brothers had a hand on the back of my chair. They were shaking so much I was sure I’d fall into the grave with the baby! I was struck by how wrong it was to be burying my own child when he should be burying me. I really wanted to just fall into that hole with him. My mom, who thought she was being helpful, told me I probably wasn’t meant to have children since I’d now lost two.

After the funeral, my family went home (all in different cities and states), and I was alone with my ex-husband who got drunk the day before the funeral and stayed that way. He was a violent drunk at times, and I was too afraid and ashamed to tell my family.

Within nine months after baby Mark died, my ex-husband’s alcoholism (and physical abuse worsened), I was raped by someone I knew, and I had an early miscarriage. The day after the miscarriage, I just didn’t think I had it in me to go on living. It was too much, and my coping skills were non-existent. I was 24 years old, and I just didn’t know how to make it better or go on.

I gave up, called in sick to work and planned my death. After sending my goodbye note as a telegram to the ship my husband was on (he was in the Navy), I hung up the phone with incredible peace and was prepared to do it.

At the exact moment I turned away from the phone, there was a knock at my front door. I was going to ignore it but something in me made me go to the door anyway. I answered it and there stood a co-worker who had heard about my miscarriage. I will never forget the look of concern and compassion on his handsome face.

I should back up and explain that four months earlier, I had started a new job. On one of my first days, I passed by a man in the office courtyard and instantly KNEW without any doubt whatsoever that I would marry him some day. I clearly remember shaking my head and telling myself that that was nuts because I was already married–unhappily so but still married. I later learned that this man worked for the same office and we became friends. It was this co-worker who stood at my door with a single flower in his hand saying he thought I could use a friend. How could he have known?

I let him in and we talked. He let me go on and on and cry my eyes out without trying to fix anything. I felt completely safe which was amazing considering I’d been raped a short time before and my comfort zone with men was nil. He listened and he cared; he cried with me. And I forgot all about my plans to end my life. Why would I want to when there truly was goodness in the world? You see, that was all I needed to know – that there truly is goodness in this world.

I know an angel sent him to me that night – or maybe he’s really an earth angel – and we’ve now been married 25 years.

That was the night I decided to pull myself up by the bootstraps; that was the night I decided to LIVE; that was the night that giving up was no longer an option I cared to entertain.

The way back wasn’t easy . . . I had another miscarriage four months later. I left my ex-husband and telling my family was HARD. There was shame involved. I felt like a failure, but I honestly couldn’t live with someone I was terrified of. I deserved better than that; we ALL deserve better than that. He refused to get help so I had to help myself.

I flunked that semester of college, and I nearly lost my job with so many absences. I decided to stay in San Diego instead of running home to my parents. I worked harder at my job, talked to the Dean at school and got the F’s removed from my record, I found an apartment I could afford which was in a horrible part of town but I survived it, and I worked hard to pay off my share of the bills I got from the divorce (my ex charged thousands of dollars while he was deployed). I started to feel better about myself because I was taking care of myself for the first time EVER. I didn’t need a man to do it for me; I didn’t need my parents to do it for me. Those boots were carrying me through the muck and it sucked while I was doing it but it was the best education in the world. I learned that no matter what, I could take care of myself and that life is absolutely worth living.

So for me, when the going gets tough, I pull out those boots and yank ‘em up by the bootstraps. They carry me through the muck until I get to the other side. They never let me down because they were sent by an angel who knew my shoe size. 😉 They’ve carried me through losing both of my brothers, some serious injuries and illnesses with my sons, financial woes, a near death experience . . . they’re a thing of beauty, those muck covered boots! Sometimes I forget them for awhile, as I did five years ago when I lost my last brother, but they appeared when it was the right time. That’s the thing about my boots, they have divine timing too.

If you’re a bootstraps woman, I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email and let’s chat!

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Giving Google a Sabbatical

I’m sure you all know how googling health situations can scare the hell out of you with an overload of information. You always find the worst case scenario rather than the good news or the best case scenarios. I’ve come across this when I’ve tried to find information on dementia and elder care. I do like having the facts and being prepared but yowzaa! Everything I found made me feel helpless; seriously, I found absolutely nothing hopeful or positive. Okay, so it’s hard to find the good in dementia, and I didn’t want sugarcoated information but surely I won’t become as demented as my dad because I chose to bring him into my home when my mother died instead of pushing him into a nursing home. He’s not close to needed a nursing home anyway – perhaps assisted living, but not the drooling, urine smelling hospital wards of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My husband and I won’t get divorced over this and I will retain some autonomy. I haven’t figured out quite how yet but we’ve only been doing this for a few weeks. According to Google, we’re all doomed!

I imagine a few who have traveled this road before me are thinking I’m just another Pollyanna but make no mistake – I have no delusions that my life with Dad is going to be a piece of cake. I’ve already learned otherwise. He’s 87 and been catered to his entire life by his parents and then his wife of almost 65 years. My mom waited on him their entire marriage and I can honestly say that she grew to resent it in her last five years. She rarely said no to him and when she did, it was with extreme anger followed by the silent treatment for days. Now with early dementia, his logic escapes him in the late afternoon so it’s pointless to try to reason with him (something Mom couldn’t stop doing). Yes, it gets irritating answering the same questions over and over . . . of having to flip through the three local news channels between 5-7pm so he can record the high and low temperatures from each channel twice even though the numbers tend to be the same, . . . etc, but I also feel it’s important not to sweat the small stuff and those things are really small potatoes.

It seems unfair at Dad’s age to drastically change his routine so we’ve tried to be accommodating with a schedule. But I own my own business and as the current family breadwinner, I have to work. I can’t sit with him all day and entertain him. I CAN’T BE MOM. Most days I feel like a horrible daughter for being resentful of this enormous change in my daily routine, of having another person to care for who is so needy. My boys are young adults now and it was finally my time to create a schedule around ME. Boo hoo Mari!

The truth is, I never really knew my dad very well since he worked seven days a week when I was a kid and left the parenting to my mom. Now, with his memory issues, I’ll never really get to know the real him. This person who has moved in with us is practically a stranger. I hate to admit it but I’m not totally comfortable yet in his presence and when he makes his snide comments (something he has always done), I’m back to feeling like that little girl that couldn’t do anything right. My stomach flip flops and I feel sick. Something inside me wants to sit and hug that poor little girl and tell her she’s okay. Then my reverie is interrupted by Dad asking me if he can take a nap, and I’m instantly tossed into parent mode, leaving that little girl behind. It’s enough to give me whiplash!

So no delusions here but no worse case scenario playing either. We will get through this and we ARE okay. For now, I’m going to stay away from Google and focus on settling in. Lots of changes are traumatizing to elderly people, especially those with dementia. We all just need time to get acquainted with our new lives, a life without Mom and life as a family of five. Things do seem to get a little better every day and that’s enough for now. ♥

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Please Don’t Run Away

Way back a gazillion years ago, my son was born with severe asphyxia due to birth trauma and died at 5 ½ days. He was my second baby, my first was stillborn at nearly 20 weeks due to a variety of pregnancy related issues. I was fortunate when Mark died to have access to a wonderful support group in San Diego called Empty Cradle. I went to the monthly meetings for about a year until I realized all the parents who had started when I did were pregnant again and some had already had a new healthy baby. I was still losing babies and my marriage with it so I started to feel like the group freak. No one else at that time had experienced multiple losses, and I could see eyebrows raising and eyes looking away when we started the meetings by introducing ourselves. People didn’t want to hear my story; in a nutshell, I was scaring people. No one wants to think it could happen again and I was proof that it could . . .

At that time in my life (I was 23), that was cause for a pity party. Whooooo baby, what a pity party! I’ll spare you all of those sordid details today (I’m sure they’ll come forth at another time) but eventually, when I remarried and conceived again, I knew I needed support and I wasn’t going to be pushed away from it because people were frightened of my story. So, I created my own support group that was nationwide and international where I matched parents together by the types of loss they’d had so they could write to each other for mutual support. This was before the internet and people actually wrote snail mail letters. Lo and behold, there were hundreds (probably thousands) of people out there who had had multiple losses, some never able to have healthy babies of their own. They were all feeling like freaks too, and like me, looking for something better than the pity party routine. Just knowing there were other people out there like ourselves was wonderful; we really weren’t freaks and all alone.

I didn’t mention that to toot my own horn. Pen-Parents worked because so many people contributed to making it work; it was a team effort from the beginning. I mention it because it’ an important reminder to me that when my story gets overwhelming for other people, there will always be folks out there with a worse one. And there will always be someone out there looking for support or with support to give that will connect with me. I just have to get out my own way and reach out for it.

In 2006, we had another one of those overwhelming years. My brother Michael (last remaining sibling having lost my brother Mark in 1999) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He fought it HARD and in the middle of his struggle, my youngest son went through some scares. In February, he was hit in the face with a baseball during practice which broke his sinus cavity and crushed a lot of cartilage in his nose. Two weeks later after making the varsity team, his teammates shaved his head and found a lump on his head by the ear. After a few more doctor visits, we were referred to an ENT mostly for his nose because the pediatrician thought the lump was just a cyst. Long story short, the lump was a tumor and the ENT thought Chad had lymphoma and scheduled him for surgery the next day. It was terrifying especially given my brother’s diagnosis. The surgery went well although the tumor had grown quickly into the shape of a thumb and was invading the neck muscle and ear canal. The diagnosis was a dermoid tumor (benign), most likely remnants of Chad’s twin who died in utero.

It was the second time a doctor thought this child had cancer and it was traumatizing for all of us. I’ve lost five babies; I don’t want to lose any more children! (I know – who does want to lose a child?!) I was trying to move past that while helping my parents prepare to lose their last son and so I was off my game when it came to work (and most things honestly). I was distracted, slower than molasses and my decision making skills were not their best. I was dubbed Martyrbeth during this time – and that’s a story best left unsaid – but there was a lot of pain and sadness attached to that. Why couldn’t people empathize with what I was going through? Had they not lost someone they loved or been traumatized in some way that paralyzed them for a time (and how blessed they were if that was the case)? What kind of society is this that can’t relate to someone grieving or someone going through a difficult time? If you whine about getting ripped off at the grocery store, people jump up in righteous indignation with you. Complain about gas prices or the horror in Somalia and they’re right there with you. Cry about losing a brother and they wonder why in the hell you aren’t over it (in 15 days or less).

Fast forward to 2011 – my mom has died, my dad with early dementia has moved into my house, my husband hasn’t had a paycheck in a year, I need to finish sorting out my dad’s house to put it up for sale and in combining their house with mine, my house looks like a candidate for an episode of Hoarders. I need to find time in there to work to keep my business going. It’s a lot and there are times when it’s overwhelming like Friday night when Dad asked me where my mother was. And now . . . I’m beginning to scare people away again. Some people are avoiding me, and some only respond to the positive tweets and Facebook statuses. A lot of people are staying away from this blog now after loving the first few grief entries. Sorry folks; I can’t always be positive, and it’s not my job to make you feel better right now.

I’m not taking it personally this time and if someone wants to dub me something stupid like Martyrbeth, that’s their prerogative. That kind of thing reflects more on their state of mind than mine. Instead, I’m embracing those who aren’t scared of my story, those who have gone through much worse than I could ever dream of surviving, and those who will take my hand no matter what. I’m not the only one with a lot on her plate, and I’m not sitting here having a pity party. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and doing the best I can. And that’s certainly good enough for now.

So please don’t be afraid of me or my situation . . . and please don’t run away either. Let’s sit together for awhile and just be.

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Sometimes It’s Overwhelming and then Magic Happens . . .

It’ll be three weeks tomorrow since Mom died, and it’s starting to hit me how much I miss her. I want her to tell me we’re okay . . .

My husband is self-employed and hasn’t had a contract or commission since September 1, 2010. He has been working hard on a large project, and we thought it would be closed with a nice commission in early August. Nope. Then we were hoping mid-August. Nope. Now it’s MAYBE mid-September. Meanwhile, he hasn’t earned a penny in a year, we’re living off my self-employment income which is getting less and less, and we’re down to the nubs. Through it all, I’ve been confident that all was, and would be, okay. My faith and that flicker of hope keeps me going.

We took out the last bit in our line of credit from our second mortgage to pay our health insurance, mortgage and few other bills. Three days later, we’re told the money from the line of credit was removed from our account because we were three days late with the payment last month. We’ve paid on time every month for the last umpteen years but it’s not good to be late with a payment in this economy so . . . and, stupid us, the bills using that money had already been sent out. GULP!

There are definitely lessons to learn from this – painful lessons. My mother just died, my dad with early dementia has just moved in with me changing my life in so many ways that I can’t see straight, I’m cleaning out my parents’ belongings and getting their house ready to sell while filling up my house so that it looks like an episode from Hoarders, I’m trying to maintain my business through this so I can afford to feed my family and oh yeah, we’re broke. I just wanted to curl up in my mom’s lap with her arms around me telling me all would be okay, because honestly, my friends are getting a little scared to be around me these days. It’s not that I’m just not fun these days but that I’m overwhelming them. I’m sure when they see me they’re thinking what’s next with this woman.

This morning, it really did feel overwhelming and then something magical happened. I talked with a beautiful friend from my Pen-Parents days whose husband is in the late stages of ALS. Talk about an overwhelming situation! She’s full of love and light – and so much empathy for me that I didn’t feel I even deserved. This woman is truly an earth angel. My overwhelm melted into such love and joy because I connected with another human being who “knows” and gets it.

Instead of going to my Dad’s house to pack up more stuff, I stayed home and tuned into the Halos711 show on Blog Talk Radio. One of the hosts shared her story about her daughter who is about to lose her home but her faith is keeping her strong because she never gives up. Another listener gave her testimonial about never giving up and yet another talked about the miracle that cured a life threatening virus in his heart.

Folks, it’s all about that flicker of hope I talked about before. That’s all you need in the darkest of times. Reach out to people and ask for support. Yes, some people (and often a lot of people) will turn away because they can’t handle your pain or struggle, but there will be those that will walk through it with you and you won’t find them if you sit still and stuck in your pity party.

Remember this – you are loved. All you have to do is open your heart to receive it – not take it, but receive it – and then you can conquer most anything. My mom loved me, and I miss her fiercely. But my family is going to get through this because we’re going to continue moving forward with the love in our hearts that Mom planted in each of us. We can’t do any less if we just take those painful first baby steps and let go of the struggle . . . so who’s going with me?

When you need an extra dose of love (or have extra to share), check out:
The Healing Room on Blog Talk Radio with Halos711
Inner Child Radio

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Oh You Guys!

My husband and I are big fans of M*A*S*H, especially when we’re sick or stressed out. One of our favorite episodes is when Frank gets mad at his tent mates yet again and yells “OH YOU GUYS!” at them. It sounds so silly. Anyone else would blast them with a few swear words at least, but Frank just yells a silly retort, twists his lips and stomps off.

I’ve never really thought my anger manifested like Frank’s but today, it did. I had a list of phone calls to make (something I really detest) including canceling my parents’ phone and cable tv service. The phone company was wonderful so one task ticked off the list. Feeling optimistic that the cable tv company would be a similar experience, I dialed in and waited. It seems that because the account is in my dad’s name only, he’s the only one who can disconnect the service (the phone was in Dad’s name only but it was no problem to disconnect at all – thank you AT&T!). I explained that he has dementia and wouldn’t really understand what they were asking. Too bad – I have to take him to their office. Do they think he’ll understand better in person? No – I have to take him in so they can see that he has dementia. Isn’t that nice? I will have to drive him to their office and put him on display. He’ll be confused and frustrated at not understanding their questions which means that entire day will be a disaster for us as these feelings just don’t go away in a few minutes.

The lady taking my call was, to be clear, very nice, and she was only doing her job. But seriously, this was just one more bit of frustration that I didn’t need. I admit I got angry and as it bubbled over and out of me, I said much louder than I normally speak (okay, it was probably yelling) . . .

The phone company was great about this and you guys . . . well you guys are just THE WORST!

I slammed down the phone and boy did that feel great. That’s the thing with cellphones—you really can’t slam them down when you’re mad. I was on my parents’ landline (the one I’d just ordered a disconnection for from AT&T without a bit of hassle) and I slammed that baby down with everything I had. I’m surprised it didn’t come off the wall. I was instantly filled with guilt. I’m just not a screamer and that poor lady who was trying to be nice was just doing her job, yada yada. Man, I’m just evil.

And then the Frank Burns scenario popped into my head and I giggled . . . and then I laughed. Oh, it’s a terrible thing to yell ‘you guys are just the worst’ into a phone before slamming it in someone’s ear. Why couldn’t this lady have just ticked off on her computer that my dad said “yes” to her lousy question? Would anyone have really known or cared?

When I told my youngest son (Chad who is 22), he said, “Oh Mom, that’s just awful” and then rolled his eyes at me. My husband immediately called me Frank Burns! LOL! Great minds think alike! He’s been teasing me all day by saying, “Oh you GUYS” in his best Frank Burns voice. We decided that if my mom had been talking to that woman, she would have unloaded both barrels on her besides slamming down the phone. Ms. Charter Cable’s ears would have been smokin’ compared to what I said. I really chuckle thinking about that. I’m willing to bet Mom was watching from Heaven and getting a kick out of me, probably saying GOOD FOR YOU MARI!

And that’s the thing – find the giggles wherever and whenever you can. Laugh at yourself as you walk this road. It really does lighten things up. I think we’ll watch some more M*A*S*H tonight. Here’s to you Frank!

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Mind-blowing Contrast

According to Wikipedia, “The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.” In the last year, my husband and I have racked up quite a score. It’s almost frightening to think about – ALMOST. It’s true that the last year has been a wild ride, but it’s also been a most precious year in some ways. Through this turbulence, my husband and I have become much closer and our little family of four is closer as a result. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. In fact, I would have said on July 29 that I was as happy as I’d ever been despite the serious financial stress we’re under. I was absolutely confident that that situation would be resolved and resolved soon; I was content in a way I hadn’t ever been before.

On July 30 I was sitting on the couch working through a lesson in Andrea Schroeder’s Creative Journal Magic course (BTW, I HIGHLY recommend this course!). I had broken through a big block and was really rocking the class. I was getting to know myself and loving the possibilities before me. All that was shattered with the news that my mom had died. Within minutes, I had to call people, make snap decisions, plan a funeral, make decisions for my dad who has early dementia and unable to do any of the things people do when there’s a death . . . including moving him into my home while emptying out his and disposing of my mother’s things. I now have the responsibility for an 87 year old man with early dementia; it’s like having a spoiled preschooler with ADHD and my life has changed so drastically, I almost don’t recognize it. I’m trying to figure out a work schedule and coming up short. I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” girl and my dad has had the same rigid schedule for years that my mom catered to. At 87, changing that schedule causes tantrums. It’s a lot harder to cope with your elderly parent’s tantrums than it is your toddler’s! This role reversal has thrown me for a loop and yet I often feel like that little girl with knots in her stomach because Daddy isn’t happy.

Is this the worst thing that’s ever happened to me? No . . . but it’s certainly thrown a monkey wrench into that delicious peace and contentment I was feeling on the morning of July 30. The contrast is seriously mind blowing.

My emotions have been all over the place today and that really is typical of the grief experience (as well as a woman in perimenopause!). I’m experienced enough with this process to know that the best thing to do is roll with it, acknowledge the feelings at the time and let them go. I’m so much better at “letting go and letting God” now than I was as a younger adult, and this is such a blessing. There can be joy in these challenges if we open up to the possibilities. This is when my gratitude journal keeps me grounded and reminds me that this new tsunami is temporary and doesn’t define me or my life (even though it feels like it quite often!).

Today’s gratitude journal entry will be about Eric (my 24 year old son) trying to recreate a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich that he purchased from some kind of food truck over the weekend. As the smoke was billowing through my kitchen, we laughed ourselves silly and I thanked God for the gift of this child in my life. There is ALWAYS a blessing if you just look for it. ♥

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Don’t Go . . .

I’m back at the Starbucks by Dad’s. He’s golfing with some friends and since our dryer is on the fritz, I brought my laundry over. How nice it would have been to sit there all day washing and chatting with Mom. I think about the last time I saw her and how happy she was as she was waving goodbye to us. If I’d known that was the last time, I would have grabbed her and whispered, “Don’t go.” As I sit here in Starbucks, the tears come and mostly for Mom rather than the chaos my life has been thrown into by moving Dad into my house. No, this morning, I miss my mom, my BFF, my confidante. I want her to tell me it’s all going to be okay, and that I’m doing a good job. I want her to throw her arms around me one more time and tell me I’m the love of her life. She did that just once, about six weeks ago, when we brought Dad home from the hospital after an overnight stay. Did she know then that our time together was short?

Monday afternoon was hard. I was alone with Dad and the move was so new that he was very confused. He got upset with our cable TV that requires its own remote. When did I change it? How could I do that without telling him? When I explained again that I had a different cable company than he had at his house, he yelled, “MY HOUSE!?” I finally realized that he was thinking I was Mom and we were at “his” house, that he didn’t remember the move. After a wee tantrum, he went upstairs to make his gin toddy and then within five minutes seemed just fine.

Yesterday we had a list of errands which we tackled in the morning. He had slept better Monday night so felt good in the morning. He got a shower and made his breakfast. He gave me directions to his doctor’s office without a problem (good thing because I get lost in a tea cup!). We turned in his medication fax forms to the doctor so we can get everything refilled. We even dropped off Mom’s urn to the cremation office. He was great through all of that. But by late afternoon, he gets a bit unsettled like a child with ADHD and that can be a challenge for me. I’m so used to doing my own thing and choosing when I want to work but I feel like I have to sit in the same room with Dad and follow him everywhere. I’m sure this will change a bit as we settle in – at least I hope.

Still, Tuesday was MUCH better than Monday, and I’m sure we’re going to continue to have ups and downs. All we can do is our best and ask for help. My guys are a lot of help, and I thank God for them always. But, the brunt of this burden is on me. I’m the family breadwinner; when am I supposed to find the time to earn it when I have to care for my father? When will I be able to grieve for my mother?

I do pray a lot and feel God and the angels with me. I feel all the prayers from family and friends. I admit that in my darkest moments I wonder if it’s enough. So much loss – 5 babies, 2 brothers and now my mom (and life as I knew it). Then I think about Pastor’s sermon from last Sunday, and all I need to remember is that flicker of hope – that little flicker of light keeps me from total darkness and is enough to keep me safe until the bad moments pass – and they always do. I’m too experienced with grief to think otherwise.

Mom – don’t go – please . . .

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