Category Archives: Death

The Slow March of Death: My Father’s Cancer and Necessary Denial of Mortality

Yesterday, I joked with my husband that it’s difficult to say “poor dad” in any scenario. My father, with his chronic narcissism, is quick to blame you with a massive guilt trip for any slight mistake, to debate your opinion to the ground telling you you’re flat out wrong, and to make thousands of careless mistakes only to get extremely angry at you if you dare to call him out on any of them. Yesterday was a day when “poor dad” would be the tinge of empathy I feel for him bubbles to the surface.

It has been nearly 10 years since the doctors told him that he has an aggressive form of late-stage prostate cancer and he had “two years” to live. He is 67, and with all his health issues – his obesity, his diabetes which he fails to keep in check, and the cancer which was supposed to take his life long ago, has surpassed the lifetime of Carrie Fisher and many others who have died too young. Still, there is never a good time to die, and despite his personality shortcomings we all want him to live as long as possible and as comfortably as possible. I had a bit of a breakdown years ago about his looming mortality, and then as time passed and the drug concoctions they put him on started to slow down the growth of his cancer we all just put the thoughts of death out of our minds. He briefly lost weight and seemed a bit happier. Then he returned his old habits – overeating, yelling horrible things at my mother, and being his typical anxious, narcissistic, grouchy self. Continue reading

The Point When Your Dream Ends and Someone Else’s Begins

How in one breath can reality shift from a romanticized daydream of being a somebody who creates to success begin defined by job title, income, and home furnishings? Of course, this didn’t all happen in just one breath, but today I stop to pause in half-congratulations, half-jealousy of a fellow graduate who has gone on to do great things in the arts and now, 10 years post graduation, has worked hard and created and become one of those people who I thought I aspired to be and I’ll never become because – why? Because I was afraid? Because I didn’t believe in myself? Because I didn’t know what I wanted. I still don’t. Perhaps I never will.

I could easily blame money – the fear of not having money especially – but that was never really primary to the equation. I never gave myself the opportunity to not have money. When I failed in roles that mattered little to me psychologically early in my career I just moved on to the next, each role one further step removed from my deep-rooted passion to make something form nothing and so on – no comment on whether or not I had or have the talent to do so. It doesn’t matter. I’m one of the everyman. No better or worse or different than the next person who is here and gone in the blink of an eye, atoms of self splattered back out to the universe in due time.

Every single day I lose more and more of myself. I try to tell myself that’s a good thing. That’s growing up. That’s being an adult. That’s taking charge of life – grabbing it by the balls and saying fuck you world I wasn’t supposed to do this well but here I am. I’m doing well at that game I didn’t have a clue how to play and fucking A I’m faking everyone out and trying my best when I’m not having panic attacks and somehow I convinced people to pay me a lot of money and now every day I wake up knowing that I’m not a good actor after all and the opportunity is slipping from my grasp yet again… but I never clutched it tight enough to feel so distraught about losing anything anymore. I am not directing a performance where opening night will make or break its run. I’m not painting a picture which might one day hang in a gallery somewhere and be talked about in schools. No one will sip tea and muse over by blue period… of marketing. That’s life. I should be so proud. So proud that I let go of dreams because I wasn’t confident they were even my own, and just said fuck it, I’m going to just do whatever it is the world will have me do and pay me for because that’s better than sitting on my ass, wallowing in self pity and drowning in my solitude.

But I’m always one step, one moment, one millisecond away from this inevitable crash which I return to time and again. It’s as frustrating and horrifying as it is soothing. It’s my eternal womb state to return to, when I am shaking so much I cannot do much of anything except curl up in a ball and cry, deeply wailing alone because I know that there including anyone else in this pity party would only be a childish, selfish activity outside of any paid therapy sessions remaining in my FSA funds. But there I am, a grow woman, falling apart again, just like she did at 5 and 12 and 15 and 21 and always. Growing up doesn’t really go up if you’re constantly falling down. And, I admit, there are so many times when it feels so hopeless. I have these serious deliberations with myself over whether or not it makes sense to keep trying, keep faking it, when I’ll just always be a lie. I’d like to think it’s imposter syndrome – plenty of women suffer from that – but trust me, it’s not. I’m not a fit for this world, but I also wasn’t a fit for any other.

My self worth is defined by my networth. I am $320k give or take in happy with myself at the present moment. I am what I consider approximately five years away from being destitute without outside help, and five years away from having too much pride to ask for any. I could maybe last for five years on about $50k a year and spend down my savings. I’m five years or less way from total failure. I don’t think I’d ever let myself get there, though. If things got that bad  – I don’t know what I’d do. But  I can’t fail like that, I have too much pride. I’d find some freelance work. I’d do something. I’d get another job. I’d pick myself up and walk again. I’d walk as fast as I could until I fell. Over and over again. For many years. Until it’s over naturally and no one can accuse me of being suicidal or selfish for wanting to disappear or any of that nonsense. I’d just be old and gone and have made it, have survived through it all – for what, these days I’m not so sure, but I’ll keep on running until I see that finish line and when I do I’m sure I’ll regret having wasted all that time sprinting with my eyes only half open.

I guess the short of it is that I have no idea who I am anymore. As a child I defined myself as an artist, even though I knew I wasn’t good enough to really BE an artist – but I wasn’t an athlete or mathematician or scientist or academic or much of anything else — I could only see myself as an artist and the only purpose of life was to create – to output something(s) unique that no one else could share. To give some gift that comes from my hands or my voice or my mind – because I was raised to think this is all I was worth, my entertainment value. And now, I wake up, I go to work, I crack a few jokes I probably shouldn’t be cracking in order to maintain my appearance as a senior business leader (as if I actually have that appearance in the first place is a funny and inaccurate notion), and then I come home, and I go to sleep, if I go to sleep, to do it over again.

When I have children this will change. My life will be for their dreams. And maybe that’s ok. I don’t want to push them towards any dream of mine that went unfulfilled. I know that’s a recipe for disaster. But I’m at this point where I feel so empty because I don’t have anything to care about. I could do a better job caring about myself to start, for sure, but I have so much to give externally and I can’t help but think that’s motherhood calling, hello biological clock. Or maybe it’s just what is feels like to truly mourn the loss of possibility, accept and embrace the status quo as my forever now, just suck it up and live without wanting life to be anything more than a collection of mundane moments with the occasional exceptional spark which warms the heart until the next one comes along.

 

Hello 32. Such a strange age.

I woke up this morning from one of my continuous wedding nightmares as of late and I completely forgot it’s my birthday. I guess that means I must be 32. This is the age when some people have been parents for a while and their kids are starting to become serious “kids” or even young adults. For me, this is the age I’m getting married, starting a new job, and maybe starting to build my family.

What does 32 feel like? I am not “old” yet, but certainly not young. There is a huge gap in behavior and mentality from myself and the youngins. Even college students, once the epitome of youthful old age, are babies, while 40-50 year olds are relatively childish and childlike. No one seems to really grow up ever, it’s just that young people change in their ways so the old youthful behavior suddenly seems like old people behavior. But we’re not much different from who we were when we were kids.

I don’t feel excited to turn 32. I’m excited I’m alive, of course, but nothing really feels like a “happy” birthday. The next birthday really worth celebrating is 50, so I have some time until then. At this point I just know my life is really rolling on and I’ve got to make some quick decisions to make it work. As each day goes by the more and more I want a family. It doesn’t help matters that many of my friends have their first child – even though few of my friends gave birth in their early to mid 20s, the majority of them hit that milestone prior to now, expect the ones that don’t plan to procreate (there are exceptions, of course, with some having waited even longer.)

I went and tasted cake last night for my wedding – felt that was a good “goodbye 31” celebration to have secretly in my mind. After 30 I think we should be celebrating the day before our birthdays, not the day of. Celebrating making it another year, the never-ending sun setting of our youth, and all of the things we survived mentally and physically in the year prior. No need to celebrate getting older at this point. Nothing to see here, carry on.

When you’re 20, or 20-something, that’s a great excuse to make mistakes. I made my fair share. Then 30 rolls around and you don’t quite accept that you’re not in your 20s anymore at 30. You try to forget the whole turning 31 thing. Then 32 is here and you can’t deny it, you’re heading rapidly towards your “mid 30s.” Biologically this is significant. As a woman, you only have a few more years left to bring life into the world. As a professional, the lines forming on your stressed forehead mean you’re suited finally for those coveted VP and partner jobs, or at least you’re getting closer to those opportunities.

You always looked young. You always got carded. You haven’t gotten carded in a while.

When we’re 2, we expect to grow significantly by the time we’re 12. Yet there is a grand denial about the aging process between 22 and 32. But, man, I’m OLDER. Older than I was. That’s how life works.

At 32, I see my family less and less. Everyone is moving away, even though I deserted them years ago. My sister may move off to the midwest soon and work weekends and holidays, so I’d only see her on specifically planned joint vacations. My parents have their new winter condo in Florida so should a work trip to the east coast occur during the months they’re gone I won’t just happen to be able to have dinner with them. I’m at that part of my life when your family unit is depleted and you must start to build your own. I am fortunate to have a partner in life, because if I didn’t I’d feel horribly alone and depressed right now. I look at us and see us aging and hope that we have a long, relatively and fairly healthy life together. That’s the most one can do, is hope.

What did I think I’d accomplish by 32? Heaven knows. I never had a plan. I wanted to have $500k in net worth, but I’m only about 70% there. Not bad. Not great. But it’s something. I never thought about when I’d have kids, just that I’d have them and not wait until the latest possible time I could, which really means I thought I’d probably have kids by now. At least I’m getting married to a man who will be a great husband and father. Check. That’s some progress. I’m terrified of this whole adult thing which I’ve put off for so long. It’s time to grow up. Goodbye 31. Hello 32.

 

 

 

 

There’s a New Star in the Night Sky

The large crowd filled the funeral home, spilling into the overflow room which was opened to the right of the casket as many friends and family and friends of family and family of friends showed up to pay their final respects to the man who – was – my grandfather. At 8:30am the casket was open for those who wished to see my grandfather one last time, which was customary due to his Catholic upbringing. In fact, despite his wife and many members of our family being Jewish, the funeral itself was a Christian service led by a Priest.

This morning after a relatively good night’s rest following a bittersweet couple of hours attempting to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite a short speech for the funeral to represent his grandchildren, I rolled out of bed and threw on the black dress I ran to the store to pick up yesterday so I wouldn’t wear a brightly colored outfit, which seemed to be the only options I brought with me on this trip. While I considered walking up to the casket — which was later covered in an American flag to honor his Navy service as a teenager — being as this was the first funeral I attended ever and I also had the opportunity to see my grandfather alive yet in a state of near-death – I didn’t want my last memory of him to be a lifeless body. Later my father said I should have gone up, but I stand by my decision. Dad said he looked at peace. I know they buried him in a full Yankees getup, just as he would have liked.

It was so surreal to see my large family there – well, almost all of us – so somber yet glad to see each other on this unfortunate occasion. I sat in a corner for a few minutes cleaning up my speech some more and then worried I wouldn’t be able to make out my chicken scratch. I mostly just felt more comfortable staring at a piece of paper than interacting with the living. I’m much more in touch with my emotions than my sister (the daughters of a mother with no empathy, we’ve each turned out a bit emotionally disabled, and don’t know how to handle such situations) and as such I felt like a child when third cousins twice removed that hadn’t seen me since I was six or so hugged me as if we were the closest of family and said that they were sorry for my loss. I hugged them back and said thank you, of course, but after a few minutes of that I realized standing right by the entryway waiting for the service to spot was putting myself in the line of fire, so I moved further back and started to edit.

At the service a few family members brought framed pictures of my grandfather throughout his life and put them on the front table. Being as I’ve never been to a funeral before I didn’t realize this was customary. I managed to make out a few hellos to people who I knew and those who maybe I knew once a long time ago before the service started. I was glad when it did. My cousins – the ten of us who were able to attend the service – sat together in the front row of the overflow area where we had a good few of not only the casket, which held my deceased grandfather but also the majority of attendees. My grandmother attempted to hold herself together but it was clear that composure wouldn’t last for long. She sat between her youngest son and her oldest son (my father) who comforted her as much they could while trying to also comfort themselves.

When sitting there waiting for the service to start, the emotions hit me like a brick. I had been crying on and off for the past few days, angry at myself for not being sad enough, or being sad for the wrong reasons. In these moments it’s human to feel completely at a loss. Yet I live in a household where my mother – never malicious yet always juvenile and self absorbed – doesn’t know how to care about other people. She just doesn’t have it in her. My father, for all his faults, at least has feelings and understands some level of basic human decency in such situations. I just hoped – maybe even prayed – to god that she wouldn’t do anything too irksome to set my father off today.

As tears started to paint my cheeks, I thought back to something an old high school friend had said to me this week. My good friend from high school happened to be visiting the area and we picked up another more distant friend to go to yet another friend’s house to say hello. It was all quite surreal. The friend who we picked up, I’ll call him Mike, was always a bit out there in his personality, and I didn’t get to know him well in the past. Mike is this blonde hippie type with an Eastern European accent and a thousand pounds of passion in his heart.

What I didn’t know was that Mike had made a career as a massage therapist. He didn’t go into this profession just because he needed the money, he went into it because he loves to help and heal people through touch. He loves it so much that the other night he gave me and my friend both these amazing massages as we sat in the kitchen of our other old friend’s apartment and looked through a mid century issue of Life magazine. And they weren’t just any old massage – he had this sort of magical way of using his hands to find points of pain and knead away the stress.  I think he said it was Jin Shin Do massage, an ancient Chinese form of healing, but it clearly came out of him in such a love for healing, his hands soft yet firm at the same time, and while I felt uncomfortable accepting such touch from a friend I had not seen in years and had never been close to, I felt so content to have connected through this kind of touch.

“Mike” brought up that touch is what drives him and is how he expresses his care for other people, noting that there are five or so different types of things that can drive you as a person, and then posed the question what drove me the most. It was an interesting question to ponder given that I’ve never been a touchy-feely type, yet even just sharing a moment of non-sexual touch in the form of a back massage reminded me that I am actually a very touchy-feely person. I grew up in a household that never expressed through touch with the exception of the burning snap of my father’s belt finding its way onto my flesh again and again. Past the age I was certifiably cute I don’t recall hugs or kisses or any sort of warmth physically.

And today as I sat watching my grandfather’s funeral, I felt my arms cross my chest, hugging myself, my hand on my knee, subconsciously squeezing it, longing to understand how to connect through touch. As my grandmother sitting there collapsed into tears, I wanted nothing more to reach out and comfort her, to hug her, to put my hands gently on her shoulders, or to give my dad, also caught up in his own tears, a hug that meant what other loving family’s hugs means. Instead, I hugged myself tighter and hoped no one would notice.

The priest began his sermon (is that what they call it at a funeral?) and discussed how my grandfather, while not being a very religious man all his life, had come back to the church in his final years. He read sections from both the old and new testament, and gave quite a moving infomercial about not waiting until the end of life to return to God despite that God is going to accept us even if we do end up waiting. As a marketer, I found his pitch needed some work.

After the priest finished his section, the grandchildren were called up to say a few words. I was told we were going to go after the direct children of grandpa, so I wasn’t quite ready to speak. I had just recovered from a fit of my own tears sparked my one of my grandmother’s, and I was worried I wouldn’t get through my short speech. Thanks to the review by quite a number of family members I changed my original talk entirely, shifting the focus to say the same thing but from another perspective. It actually worked out perfectly. My speech was an overview of what it means to be in our family and how this is largely due to my grandfather’s strong will, belief in standing up for what’s right and perseverance in the most difficult of times. I noted how he taught us that being in this family meant simultaneously ruling with an iron fist and a heart of gold. I think my father liked that bit. While I removed a few jokes that were maybe better suited for a roast then a funeral, I kept a good one in about how he taught us that family always came first. Well, maybe the Yankee game came first. Family a very close second.

That one got a laugh. Because it was true.

When I concluded my speech three of my cousins read their own. My youngest cousin on that side, now a senior in high school, read an essay she had just written about grandpa for her college applications. She talked about how grandpa was the Cribbage king – and while she always wanted to one day beat him she never could. Her brother then read a moving speech about how in the last few years he got to know grandpa quite well, living so close and being there to help out when help was needed. He shared how he got grandpa’s Indian chief necklace charm tattooed on his back. It was a great speech. Then another cousin got up without a prepared speech and shared a short story of a memory he had with grandpa – which was really representative of my memories the older cousins had with him – like getting yelled at for doing something like changing the channel during a Yankee game. I surely had my fair share of run ins with grandpa and learned to not get in his way.

It actually worked out nicely that the cousins gave their speeches first. Of my grandparent’s six children, three of them decided to talk — first the youngest brother, then one in the middle, and finally, my father. The first brother got up and struggled through his speech, with his wife standing firmly at his side to help him through it by holding his hand. He talked about how his father had three rules — do not disobey him, do not wake him up, and do not disobey his mother. He went through each of his siblings and a time they had gotten in trouble. While he didn’t go into much detail of the discipline, it has been said my grandfather was known to throw his kids through walls. Everyone knew he had quite the temper. When he went through the list and got to my father he said he couldn’t remember a time when he got in trouble, he must have been the perfect kid (later my father noted that he did get in trouble for things like being lazy and not cleaning up – sounds familiar – but not for anything too crazy like some of the things his brothers did. My dad was the quiet nerd, so it was the next born, a firecracker, who started all the trouble.)

But in this speech my dad’s youngest brother also shared something very significant about the character of my grandfather. One day he and his friend were walking around a movie theatre – think it was a drive in – not causing any trouble, but just being where they weren’t supposed to be. They got caught and the cops or security guard called up his parents and his friend’s parents. When his friend’s dad showed up the dad gave his friend a smack across the face. My uncle thought to himself oh no, I’m in so much trouble now. But when his grandfather showed up instead of beating the living daylights out of him, he instead asked the man who called him what his son had done wrong. When he found out that his son hadn’t disturbed anyone and instead was just walking around this place, his father told off the cop and said it was ridiculous that he had gotten in trouble in the first place. He definitely had a strong sense of right and wrong, albeit a black and white one, but if he didn’t think you were wrong he’d stand behind you and fight for you as hard as anyone would.

Next another brother gave a very moving speech with his wife clutching his arm, standing strongly by his side. His speech was generally about his time apprenticing with his father. My grandfather, I was reminded, had served in the Navy from age 16 to 19, returning at 19 to then meet my grandmother who was then 16 and to soon get married and take on a job as a toolmaker. My grandmother, it turns out, was kicked out of high school for getting married, because that’s the sort of thing they did back then. (Crazy.) And, being as my grandmother has been with my grandfather so long, I can see how she really can’t recall life without him. I’m sure that makes losing him all the more hard. My uncles story went on to talk about how his grandfather taught him  how to love making machinery and gave him the passion that lead to him becoming a mechanical engineer. My grandfather was a strict and hot-tempered man, but he was also a very hard worker. While the family did not have a lot growing up, he worked long hours to make their lives comfortable.

Last my father walked up to the podium, wobbling under his weight as he does with his thin cane. My mother, being the child she is, gave me a look as if asking my permission to go up with him. While the other couples were seated together my mother sat behind my father who was in the front. I wondered if my dad would have her come up with him since the other brothers had done the same with their wives, but figured he wouldn’t. He was caught up in his own world. Not that I blame him today – it was a tough day for him, losing his father – but he didn’t even think to ask her to come up there with him, which looked a little strange as she was right there behind him. Later he said he didn’t know where she was. He clearly didn’t look. His speech was hard to watch because it’s always a struggle to see my dad, always such a strong man, break down. But I’m glad he talked and in his own way asked for peace and forgiveness for not being able to say a proper goodbye. He noted that his dad was a very honest man, sometimes brutally so, highlighting how in the last week at the hospital, barely able to communicate with the outside world, he managed to get out “there’s a problem here that no one wants to talk about” before getting lost in himself again. My dad is broken up over not being there in the moments when his father was more aware in the final week, and I wanted to be able to comfort him but that wouldn’t be possible in my family – my dad can have feelings and strong ones but he doesn’t want to be comforted. My mother wouldn’t want to or know how to comfort a person so I guess on some level they work perfectly together.

After the service they carried the casket out to the hearse and we drove in a funeral procession about 30 minutes to the cemetery. We were reminded before leaving to obey all driving laws as just because we have our emergency lights flashing we still do not have right of way. I was just commenting how dangerous it was to drive in a funeral procession (especially given that when one’s emergency lights are on use of the blinker to signal turns or lane changes is moot — after my mother put on her blinker to move over when getting left behind at a stop light, thinking she was signalling to the car behind her that she was shifting lanes but instead actually just getting lucky she didn’t ram into him) when two cars in the procession that had made the light rammed into each other. It turned out to be my cousin’s car in front and my uncle in back. Luckily the car was ok but he had him them pretty hard – my cousin mentioned a little back pain later. I think someone needs to rethink this funeral procession situation because it’s just straight up dangerous. There’s enough death in the day to not accidentally conspire to any more.

In the car I asked my mother if I could perhaps have a piece of her granola bar since I failed to eat breakfast that morning and was feeling lightheaded. My mother who was driving and who had eaten breakfast told me that I could have half of it, though she did so in a way which made me feel bad for asking, so I just decided to hold out until lunch.

We arrived at the cemetery shortly after most of the group did since we had gotten a bit of a ways back and missed the turn off. A slightly smaller group than those at the funeral parlor service stood under a green tent that I could see in the distance when we pulled up with two sailors in their white uniforms standing and waiting for the burial service to begin. I didn’t realize that sailors were going to be there so I first noted that we were going to the wrong spot, but then was informed that they were giving him an official U.S. Navy send off. I thought that was nice. My mother took out the granola bar (because she doesn’t realize how rude it is to eat a granola bar at a funeral service) and when I wasn’t paying much attention handed me a small piece of it. I didn’t fully comprehend that she was handing me the granola bar there with everyone around waiting to start the service since we were already a bit late, and thought I waved it away to signal that I didn’t want it then and to keep it but instead she just dropped it on to the floor and scolded me for wasting it by saying my name with the tone which means just that.

I tried not to be bother by this and focus on the moment. My phone had been accidentally left at home which was good so I could for once just be present. It was the right thing to do. I looked around and saw that the beautiful wooden casket had been taken out of the hearse and rested over an open space in the ground waiting to be put in. In front of it sat flowers, a multi-photo picture frame with pictures of my grandfather as a young man, many of him in his Navy uniform, and a small sailor figurine. My grandmother – who seemed about to crack open in her fragility – sat in the front row and burst into tears every few minutes. The two sailors took the American Flag which was previously on top of the casket and very carefully and ceremoniously folded it from one end in these very neat, sharp triangle folds as another played the trumpet for the formal Military Funeral Honors.

At this time, I heard this “crunch, crunch, crunch” behind me and I was upset that my mother was chewing this granola bar during this very serious moment in the service. I gave her one of those looks that a mother is supposed to give her children, not the other way around. That was a bad idea. She whispered – loudly – to me “you can hear me?” and I couldn’t help myself but turn to her and say “shhhhhhhh!” I tried to return my focus to the sailors who were nearly done folding the flag. My mother bit into another piece of the granola bar to finish it off. “Crunch, crunch, crunch.” I tried to ignore it. My boyfriend has given me quite the complex for chewing noises since he is so sensitive to them and in this situation eating at all was just not appropriate. I took a deep breath and returned my focus to the ceremony. The older sailor took the perfectly folded triangle of blue with white stars and presented it to my grandmother, thanking her for my grandfather’s service to the country. I’m pretty sure I lost it at that point, completely forgetting that I was upset with my mom seconds before, just bursting into tears. I wasn’t the only one sobbing. With no one to hug I just found myself wrapping my arm around the tent pole, feeling its cold steel against my flesh, comforting me in its stability but by no means its warmth.

Once my grandfather was presented the flag the very short cemetery service was over. It was very short. The cemetery workers came over to lower the casket in the ground. I found out that they are burying him vertically and will one day put my grandmother in the spot next to him. They lowered him for quite some time. I stood and stared at the open hole in the ground, not sure how to feel or what to feel. I walked up and looked closer at the pictures of him as a young man, with all that life in him, long before I was even born. A family friend suggested that we wind up the figurine to play music for him, and we did. It was a beautiful moment, the soft ringing of Anchors Away which only those of us closest to the grave site and decorative display could hear, most of the notes lost just a few feet away in the wind.

They said those of us who wanted to could help put in the first dirt — apparently a tradition to symbolize that it is not stranger’s burying you but loved ones (even if strangers ultimately finish the job, it takes professionals to cover a hole that deep and do so safely.) While I didn’t put dirt in (I couldn’t bring myself to do that) I took two of the white flowers from the bouquet in front, kissed them, and threw them down into the hole where he would stay. I happened to be standing by my grandmother who, as the casket was lowered into the ground, broke down in the biggest fit of tears yet, and she said goodbye and I’ll be there soon with you. Luckily another person said what I was thinking to her “not too soon.” I briefly thought about how my father’s funeral will be – what my mother will say – how she will not cry, because she doesn’t cry,  and how she’d never have the desire to jump into the ground after her husband even after all these years. I won’t put that all on her – he’s been quite awful to her through the years – but it hurts to know my parents aren’t capable of that kind of selfless love. I’m not sure if my grandfather was, but my grandmother sure had the conviction.

I told her later that while I can’t at all know what she is going through right now I can understand how painful it must be after all these years to lose your one true love. I admit I thought of how in many, many years, hopefully after a long, healthy and fruitful life I would be forced to experience the same with the man I love, or he with me if I happen to go first, and I know the harder you love the harder it is to lose, but even with that I renewed my commitment to making the choice to love and love as hard as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.

After the service we drove to a lunch at this delicious Italian restaurant and sat around comforting each other and talking about our lives as we would at any other family occasion. I ate too much food and drank too much wine though paced myself because I didn’t want to be the funeral drunk. I had just enough to deal but not enough to drown.

Following the lunch we went back to my aunt’s house for more bonding time and dessert (which I shouldn’t have eaten but I cannot resist apple pie.) I spent some time with my grandmother never knowing what to say, trying to see how I could put my hand  on her shoulder in an organic way to express how I feel without words because words just weren’t cutting it. I am so sad for her, and for what she faces now. Her entire life has been lived as a caretaker – first for six kids and then for her husband – and now while she has a large extended family she finally has the time to take for herself. This can be a good thing, but for a woman who is an expert at caring for others, this is also a terrifying opportunity. In many ways it’s good for her – not to be alone – but to be free of these painful years of trying to take care of a man with dementia, trapping her in her own house day after day. I hope she can find it in her to live life for the moment and not dwell on the past, but I know it will take a lot of time. It’s wonderful that of her six children many of them live close and others visit often, so she will rarely be alone unless she wants to be. It made me think of how so many people in this world do end up in old age alone – whether they didn’t have kids or the aren’t on speaking terms with their children or they lost them due to some horrible tragedy. But it also made me, in a weird way, look forward to the next chunk of my life – which hopefully includes getting married, having a small handful of children (two can be a handful and three would be nice if I can manage it) and so grateful for having found at the very least the man I want to marry and have those children with. And it made me want to be closer to my family, not right away, but when I do raise those children… because my family, despite its crazies, is one pretty remarkable, loyal, and tight-knit bunch.

 

 

 

Life and Death and Everything in Between

When my mother was talking to my father on the phone this evening, I could read through the spoken lines what had occurred. My grandfather has passed. While I saw him in his rapidly deteriorating condition earlier this week and knew the time would come soon, I did not know exactly when it would or how I would handle that moment.

I wasn’t particularly close with my grandfather on an emotional level, but he is certainly the first person in my life to pass away who I was close to at all. My mother’s father and his brother died when I was younger, but I grew up far from them. My dad’s father, on the other hand, was a mainstay at our holiday gatherings with his sharp, hot-tempered, yet somehow charming personality. Ever since I can remember my grandfather was there, bickering with someone over something that probably didn’t matter at all, and taking our holiday pictures with our large extended family, making sure to fit everyone in the shot he’d set up and the run into at the last minute.

The death of an elderly grandparent is not unexpected or uncommon – in fact, it’s inevitable – yet I still am having trouble processing. While my first sentiment was that of relief, for I could only imagine how it must feel to be trapped inside your body unable to communicate with the outside world, unable to move at all, and losing all sense of self as you drift into this alter universe between life and death. My greatest fear and sense of emotion was that he was suffering silently and would be for a long time. I felt a sense of relief knowing that if he was suffering he would no longer know of it.

But then there is my father who is a highly emotional person yet unable to ever handle his own feelings. I expected him to be upset as he should be but the tears come in through waves. I feel bad for my father – who both was at my grandmother’s house when my grandfather who was supposed to be asleep went out for a walk to pick up the paper and fell, causing his rapid mental decline – and him spending many nights in the hospital with his father over the past week but not being there during the day when his father did respond to some people in the room and say a few words (I was there when he did this, so I just assumed my father had also seen this.) I told my dad that I’m sure his father knew that he had visited, but I’m sure that is something that will haunt him going forward. Of course, my father could have stayed one of the days instead of just at night, but in his avoidance of reality he stuck to the schedule versus admitting to himself the seriousness of the situation.

Yet just seven years ago we were all sure his father was going to outlive him – a late-stage cancer patient who was told he had maybe two years to live.  Here we are today – my father still alive, thank god, and my grandfather’s funeral set for Monday. I look at this whole situation and acknowledge that I will be facing the same with my father in the coming years, only I won’t be in my 60s saying goodbye. I’ll be in my 30s, likely before having children or a young mother juggling a billion other things as I try to make peace with his looming passing. And while somehow my mind can process my grandfather sitting in the hospital unable to talk, slowly fading to the end of his life, I take no comfort in my father, as crazy as he is, facing such a decline and losing his ability to be his angsty, hot-headed, bulldog, borderline self. As I see my father cry and go through his own grief, I don’t know what to say, only the words I keep quiet around knowing that we will be facing this moment again and I will be equally as saddened and pained – but that’s not exactly the right thing to say to someone mourning his father’s passing and trying to avoid his own pending mortality.

With this mentality he also failed to call my mother and myself earlier today when my grandfather passed though other relatives were notified and came over to my grandmother’s house. I will see her this weekend and am trying to decide whether it’s in bad taste to attend a baby shower tomorrow with my mother for a close family friend versus focus on my own family. Being as I live on the other coast yet grew up so close to the family on this one, I see how close those who remain here still are and I feel a sense of sadness and envy, and distance in trying to feel part of that now when family is needed most. But my father didn’t even call me to come over earlier, he waited until night to tell us what had happened.

If I still had my former job I would not be out here this Monday, but it turns out my life has enabled me to decide to stay out an extra Monday and fly back on Tuesday. I just felt like I had to be here this Monday versus heading back earlier. So it happens that my grandfather’s funeral is on Monday and I will be here for it. I don’t know if I would have been able to fly out for this if I was currently employed full time. And I start my new job very soon so I can stop thinking about that and instead focus on what matters right now – family. In the end, that’s the only thing that really matters anyway, isn’t it?

 

What is the Cost of Dying?

Despite being nearly 31 years old, I’ve managed to live my life avoiding the confrontation of death. There have been people in my life who have died — my grandfather on my mother’s side as well as his brother — women who performed in community theatre with me only to have passed months later due to some recurring illness such as a fast metastasizing cancer — and, of course, celebrities who seem quite immortal yet who turn out to be very mortal humans just like the rest of us. But I never faced death head on. I never have attended a funeral. Death, despite being one of the topics that frequently preoccupies my mind, has always been this abstract concept third person twice removed.

But as those around me age escaping death becomes impossible and confronting it head on inevitable. My grandfather, long losing control of his limbs due to Parkinson’s, recently fell, broke his shoulder, and ended up in the hospital in much worse health than he was leading up to the fall. It just happened that I am visiting the area, unrelatedly, this week, so I’m able to visit him in the hospital. I went last night and then again late this afternoon. His six children – my father being the oldest – all flew or drove out to my grandmother’s house to discuss plans for their father. They work as a team, despite being a hot-headed, highly-opinionated bunch. Yet facts of this painful process that is the life one lives before death, and the cost of it, were lost in a mix of semi-truths and confusion.

The thing is dying is quite the expensive hobby unless you manage to do it quickly and without much pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile few people like to think or talk about the cost of death until it’s too late. I haven’t gotten my head wrapped around the fiscal world of long-term care and the ability to pay for a certain standard of living in one’s final years, but it certainly seems complicated to understand. While today the government does provide coverage if you make too little money and have not enough in savings, being just a hair over the line can take one out of the running for such coverage while they are still unable to afford reasonable care. Then what happens?

My mother’s mother lives in Las Vegas and not so surprisingly has gambled away $300,000 of savings. Her children don’t want her to suffer but also are not jumping to help cover her expensive care. She apparently receives $2900 a month in social security which is $800 above the limit for medicare or medicaid (again, I’m still unclear what’s what here, but basically if she made $800 less a month the government would cover all her medical costs but because she makes $800 more in social security she can’t afford them.) Meanwhile my grandfather and grandmother are doing what many individuals do and legally trying to spend down their money (because they don’t have a lot of it) so they can get the care that they need, especially for my grandfather right now. My grandmother has been trying to take care of him and has been for a long time now and she is not in the best health herself, there is no way she can take care of him now in the state he is in.

Seeing my grandfather in the hospital so fragile and unable to talk outside of a few mumbles of pain, I didn’t know what to feel, say or do. Could he understand me? Was being there bothersome to him (was he ashamed? Did he want to be alone?) Did he remember who I was? Today he opened his eyes and looked at me, but I don’t know if he recognized me. He did know his son who was in the room — his six children had been taking turns every night at the hospital to stay with him and his wife and their wives switching out during the day shift. Seeing him there in pain and mumbling to himself, his chest rattling with pneumonia with every breath, I thought how horrible it is for so many elders who are left alone – their only company a nurse checking in every few hours with no time to stop and try to understand the partial sentences moaned in between shivers of pain.

My grandfather is not going to get better, but it isn’t clear if he’s going to get worse either, at least not right away. He had at one point in his pain asked someone watching over him to let him die, but of course no one can let someone die if nature doesn’t take its course. He has gained a little more strength and I’m told that in a few days if his kidney holds up (he’s experiencing kidney failure and heart disease at the moment, not to mention a broken shoulder that he’s too weak to ever have operated on to fix properly) he may be released to rehab or a nursing home – one which medicare (caid?) would pay for and one which would not be covered, or something. It is all ridiculously confusing and complicated and not something people want to have to think about at such a difficult time. Meanwhile my grandmother, his wife, is still relatively young, hopefully with many more years of decent enough health to live, but any money that could have been available for her remaining years is eaten by the cost of a life lived in pain and extended as long as possible with very little hope of any major improvement.

I’m not saying that I want my grandfather or anyone to die, it saddens me terribly at the state he is in, but stepping back and looking at how much the cost to keep someone suffering alive for more suffering is, I just can’t help but think perhaps we’re handling death all wrong – but we’re all too scared and sad to deal with it properly so it just is what it is.

Meanwhile, with my father – aged 63 – suffering from terminal cancer among other health issues – I know that my own time to sit in a hospital room with his own body breaking down is only a short time away. My mother is so far removed from her feelings or ability to care about other people that she is always surprised when I say things like I would want to fly out to be there for him when he is in the hospital. To be fair to her he has been a horrible abusive husband. To be fair to him she isn’t exactly the most giving person in the world. Yet even today after an incident where my father got very angry at me because I failed to look up an address I had asked him to drop me off at after breakfast before we needed to get on our way (my fault entirely, but every single thing that doesn’t please him must be this giant blow up disaster, obviously some plan to ruin his life and disrespect him) I still feel like I’d want to be there for him, as he will be in the same state, sooner than later, given his cancer will at some point spread again, and it’s not like far, far off in the future, but probably a few years away…

This is what happens when we get old – new life is formed and old life is faded, both miracles in their own terrifying ways. We spend tens of thousands of dollars per month to support the dying, to extend their lives by months or years, because that is what we do. That is the only thing we know how to do. Death is inevitable and yet we must, no matter what, fight against it at all costs. If we do not stare death in the eye and attack it from all sides despite its undefeated curse, what are we? In all this life we flood ourselves with all this bullshit of meaning when in the end we’re just this faded ghost of who we once were, our veins dark blue lining our pale flesh, our eyes drifting in and out of sight, unable to function yet still somehow considered alive, alive enough to not be dead, yet still we fade, until each and every one of us, in our own time, is no more.

 

 

Welcome Home: Tick Tock Tick Tock

One of the things I had in mind when I lost my job was spending a chunk of time with my family — the time that I rarely have to see them. I could, I thought, apply to jobs aggressively from my parent’s house and also look for a position on the east coast at the same time. My ideal goal was to have a job with a start date during my visit so I could focus just on quality family time – I mean, the most quality family time I can have with my little circus of a family.

The older I get and the more I visit my parents, the more I realize just how my psyche is completely off kilter because of their crazy, and process it a little better. It’s not always so easy though. Yesterday I was extremely depressed and found myself alone in my childhood house with tears pouring down my cheeks unable to handle both being sick, the anxiety from job negotiations, and the passing of time.

My grandfather is ill in the hospital and all of his six children have flown out to be with him and my grandmother. It sounds like this may be it. He fell, broke his shoulder, and his condition has quickly regressed. I’m an hour away from the hospital but I can’t visit because of this stupid cold that I’ve gotten myself due to all the stress and not sleeping. I’m getting better and I’m probably not contagious but the last thing I’d want to do is visit him in the hospital and for him to come down with a cold that may or may not have been my fault, only to become ever further ill and to get the blame for it. I also don’t want to miss out on the last opportunity I have to see him. I may go visit today but I’m not sure what to do.

And while I did manage to secure job offers before coming out to visit my family I did not finalize an agreement and start date, so I’m left wrecked with this horrid anxiety that’s pushing me into a deep depression. It hasn’t helped that I’ve been stuck in bed for two days trying to kick this cold. In the back of my mind I’m also freaking out about turning 31 in two months. I feel like maybe things are partially falling into place in my life and yet they aren’t quite locked in yet. I know from the outside things look hopeful but every day is a struggle with depression. Every day I have to remind myself that I should be happy to be alive and not the other way around. I wonder often if I have bipolar and try to remember my life’s ups and downs and try to pin where I am on the spectrum now, in 2014, this year, in the grand scheme of time. For the moment that would be down, quite down.

At breakfast my father asked my mother to pass the maple syrup. My mother, who hadn’t used the maple syrup in a good fifteen minutes, took it and poured it on her pancakes as soon as he asked her to pass the syrup. He, in typical my dad fashion, got extremely annoyed at her and started to fume. Her thought process is that she’d use the syrup first and then hand it to him so he could keep it on his side of the table, as if it would be as hard as climbing Mt. Everest to ask for it back should she need more. His thought process that she was doing this just to spite him, as he asked for the syrup so she was going out of her way to be rude to him. My mother is a lot of things but malicious in intent she is not. I was worried that he was about to make a giant scene as he often does, but luckily he wasn’t in the mood. My parents are just these two big children who never learned how to think about anyone but themselves. If I take it all in from an outsider’s view it’s quite entertaining. There they are, back and forth, every day of their lives, bickering about all the things that don’t matter because they can’t take a moment to think about the other person and their well being. I walked downstairs this morning and found a giant vat of ice cream upside down on the kitchen floor. My father says he asked my mother to put it away last night. She says she didn’t hear him. So it melted and someone knocked it over onto the floor. It’s always the other’s fault.

Last time I visited my mother accidentally left the laundry room sink running when she went upstairs to do something and it overflowed. She wanted to call the company that charged her $2000 last time to dry out the carpeting but I was there so I found a company that would do it for $500. My father came home and of course was angry at her but it was what it was. A few weeks ago, apparently, she flooded the sink again. Another $500. Another frustrated and angry dad. What a farce! Those two. And that is who taught me how to be a human being. It’s amazing that I have empathy and awareness at all.

A year into remodeling the bathrooms in the house it’s still the topic du jour. They don’t seem to enjoy discussing bathroom design as every bit of the conversation turns into a fight. “Tile to the ceiling?” “No, that’s a terrible idea!” “Do it yourself then.” “You won’t like what I come up with.” And on and on and on. You’d think that my father with his terminal cancer and who knows how long left to live would be doing something other than spending all of his remaining time remodeling a house, but I guess it keeps his mind off reality. It’s something to do. It’s his money and he can do with it what he wants, he just doesn’t seem to enjoy it much at all with how much stress it causes.

As I wandered around my – parents – house yesterday, I found little that I remembered. They’ve changed so much. The trees in the backyard separating our neighbor’s yards and ours – the ones I hid under as a child when I was sad and needed to get away from things – have been cut down – leaving a huge lawn but no privacy. The kitchen has been completely redone and walls knocked down with a huge modern living room that is home to a large TV, a new bathroom, laundry room, and garage made usable for cars but filled with junk and made unusable again. The living room  has new carpeting and the wallpaper has been replaced with a hideous blue paint that clashes with the sofa and curtains that remain from my childhood. Upstairs the only thing that remains is my bedroom, which I’ve selfishly fought to keep in the same arrangement it has been since I was seven years old. I know it’s terribly immature to want to keep things the way they are, but as everything changes and I’m forced into the rest of my adulthood, I feel somehow oddly comforted by returning to sameness even if it was a place where I experienced many years of depression and solitude.

I don’t really feel like I have a home anymore — I’ve been living in apartments for a good 12 years now — and without home comes a jolting sensation of constantly being off kilter. I’ve found a home in my boyfriend who I plan to spend the rest of my life with – in his arms where I can be quiet and at peace with stillness, and in his eyes where we can have a thousand hilarious conversations without a word. But I still feel the lack of a home, still look to my childhood house – where I lived until I was 17 from the day I was born – as something that is partially mine, even though it isn’t at all. If my parents wanted to they could redo my room and make it into the adult guest room it should be, not one decorated with early 1990s wallpaper covered in remnants of adolescent collage and sticky tack.

It’s this lack of stability and just growing older which is causing my current depression. It is life. Everyone goes through it and I’m no more or less special than the next person who confronts their own aging process and watching others around them grow older and pass, places change and become unrecognizable, the safety of home diminishing as adult life teaches us we are on our own and it’s up to us to make the life we want, no one else will be able to do it for us. It’s exciting to have the freedom to make the life that I want but terrifying to accept that it’s my responsibility and to let go from the safety net. I’m old now. I mean, not old, old. But 31 is an adult. It’s the age many women have children or are about to. It’s not this murky extended adolescence, it’s straight up adulthood, complete with an aching body which can no longer deal with a red eye flight and spring into action the next day or sitting on an uncomfortable chair for hours without straining her back. It is life.

What I want now, more than anything at all, is to find peace with cutting this string to my past, to stop only finding contentment in being the center of attention, that childhood fancy which drove me to where I am today. I just want to be the type of person to give and care and love. I want a home to make my own and a family and friends and enough money where I can invite them over for dinner and cook amazing healthy meals and entertain and travel and see the world.

…I want to somehow truly make peace with my parent’s crazy, to be thankful that somehow I’m nearly 31 and both of my parents are still alive despite ration saying that one of them would have likely killed the other by now. I am the product of narcissists and so is my sister and we’re both dealing with it in our own ways, both depressed, both fighting for a chance at a good and happy life. I have gotten so far and yet so often I fall back and I look ahead at all the challenges in front of me and I gasp for air, panicked, trying to comprehend how I can handle all that is the future, never mind the present. This is my depression. This is my life. I am ready to change but I’m still trapped in this quicksand. It tugs me down into the earth and I can’t move. I know I just need to lift my damn leg up and take a step but all of the sudden I just forget how to walk. I need to relearn all over again.

The Flavor of Fall: To Death and New Beginnings

Not long ago I visited a state where marijuana was legalized and decided to take an edible for a spin. Not a regular user of drugs, a little bit threw my  mind and body intensely. I recall life feeling like it was this movie on top of a movie on top of a movie — layered where everything I said one second just poof disappeared the next and I was in a new frame, a different movie, constantly confirming with others around me that indeed I had just said what I thought I said, if I even remembered. Everything in life a quickly flashing animation in a Zoetrope with nothing real at all. That feeling of all these simultaneously occurring instances that may or may not have been real was not only overwhelming, but it also took on its own allegorical reflection of life, its own moments flipping through as memories with no sense of solid time or place or even assured reality.

I feel old. I know I’m only turning 31 but the world around me isn’t getting any younger. My grandfather is severely ill right now and likely only has days or weeks to live. It just so happens I’m on the east coast this week so I have the luxury of seeing him alive at least one last time but this retched cold is preventing my admittance to the hospital nonetheless. My father who fell on himself this week and managed not to break any bones but to bruise himself severely seems to have picked up on his typical frustration vented at my mother anytime she so much as asks a question. I long to be there for my dad as I know he is not only facing his own imminent death due to cancer but now watching his father go through the final turns at the wheel. It seems the most unfortunate to see anyone in your family go through the strokes of death and yet that is something all of us share in common, our mortality, and our immortal moments as others fall forever while we get to live on, at least for now.

All the meanwhile I’m attempting to make sense of these two job offers and looking at my own very fragile mental state, leaning back and forth towards each depending on the intensity and angle on the sun, so it seems. That said the second offer hasn’t come in officially yet but I’ve been told I’m one of two to candidates and they seem to be expediting my offer since I told them I received another one. All of the stress has led me to boiling numbers in my head into the wee hours of the night and unable to sleep, getting myself sicker and sicker. I ought to be frolicking in the fields or something right now. I genuinely see this time as the end of my youth. I know – 30 isn’t exactly youth but today there is something about our 20s – inclusive of 30 – which are time to find ourselves and explore. And then there is 31. What is 31? It’s not much different than 30 and yet it is. It is when you’re IN your 30s. Your next major milestone is 40 and 40 is perhaps half your life is you’re lucky and less if you’re not. 40 is (probably) too late to have kids of your own and so your life path is set (unless you adopt of course) and you’re really at 40 preparing for the end of it all while working your ass off and trying to retain whatever piece of yourself you can in moments you can sing along loudly to a song from your actual youth while driving too and from work or to pick up the kids.

And in this crisp fall air I taste this seasonal transition of my life. I am, the heavens know, no longer any remnant of a child. I am a could-be mother, a would-be carer, a want-to-be producer of life. I am a woman caught up in a thousand vines staring down the rest of my time on earth, the rest of my time on earth with my loved ones and trying to grasp at preparations for the loss of others before my own end. If anything tells me that I’m now an adult and not a child is that I’ve started to fear the deaths of others more than my own. Every night I close my eyes and accept if this is it then it is, but being awake and aware of the passing of any once vibrant life is jarring to any human soul, no matter how much tragedy it has witnessed through its life. I, for one, have never even been to a funeral yet. At 31.

The taste of sick permeates my tongue down to my throat and into my salty, swollen lungs which breathe heavily and slow. I see the tree leaves unaware of their fate soon coming, the changing of the colors, their rotting out and falling to the ground in piles little unassuming children will bunch and jump into with no awareness of their own mortality or the death of life to birth yet another winter, only that of crunchy caress of motley-hued leaves.

I am having a lot of trouble processing everything. Yet for once I think I have a handle on the trouble itself. Maybe that’s a start.

It All Fades Away in the End

This blog isn’t just about money, it’s about how money is so tied into the life we lead, our morals, our contentment, our journeys. I write a lot about investing and income here, but also, I like to write about the meaning of life. Perhaps that’s because my grandfather was a Rabbi, and it’s hard for me to isolate talk of earning from my own philosophizing. Nothing ties the two together more than art, an expensive hobby as both participant and viewer.

A good work of art moves you once, a great work of art continues to move you long after you’ve parted ways with its formal presence. Musicals are unique in that while the storyline might not stick with you, a great score in its own right can slither into your thoughts for a long time to come.

Too many musicals these days are designed to purely entertain and not get you to that cathartic state that art is all about. But, as I wrote the other day, my recent entanglement with Bridges of Madison County (which closed today, WTF is wrong with people) left me reflecting on numerous themes posed throughout the piece and how they related to my life. Because I’m so vain. Or, that’s how art is supposed to work.

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There’s Logic to this Depression

I hate making every other post about my mental health situation (you don’t believe me, do you?), but everything seems to tie back to that these days. Some spans of time are better than others, but overall this deep sense of panic is inescapable. I’m not being overly dramatic, it is just what I’m feeling at the moment. So I write about it. It’s better than some other ways to deal with it, anyway.

That said, I could focus on doing things like meditating — recommended to me by both my doctor and therapist — to help calm down and feel centered — but ultimately I’m just grabbing at loose ends here. So I’m depressed. Clearly. I’m just lost. On the days that end in massive amounts of tears and gasping for air, looking for a way out, I just try, to the best of my ability, to pull the pieces together and give myself the positive reinforcement required to shut my eyes, clear my head, and face another day. It’s not that bad, but then it is. You know?

Turning 30 has been harder than I expected for me. Besides the whole biological clock – going-to-be-really-really-hard-to-have-kids-thanks-PCOS – situation, I’ve run into some new medical issues. Nothing life-threatening so far, knock on wood, but things that seem to swing into play at a certain age and genetic disposition. Not to be all TMI (isn’t that the point of this blog) but my mother and grandmother have GERD and apparently I now have it too (if you don’t know what that is and really want to know, be my guest and look it up, but anyway it’s not fun. A whole new diet and a pill should help.) Yeay for being/getting old* (*not to offend anyone older than 30! Trust me I’ll be there soon as well.) Continue reading