Category Archives: Family

Playing it Safe vs Taking Risks: Fighting the Fear

A few weeks ago when I was in my home state my father was kind enough to drive me to a friend’s birthday party dinner about an hour away. As he drove me to this party (which, by the way, was a dinner at a respectable venue, not that it should have mattered) he, with much paranoia, told me to stay safe and shunned my plan to be driven to the airport after the party was over so I could sleep there for my 6am flight.

I didn’t realize how paranoid my father is about any sort of risk until I grew up. I always thought he was just logical – that it made sense to be worried about all of the horrible things that can happen to you if you test the waters a bit, even if those waters mean arriving at the airport early and spending the night uncomfortably sleeping on a chair.

When I look at the success stories of my peers in the tech industry I look at a bunch of people who thrive on risk well beyond an early arrival to the airport. These are school dropouts, people who believe in themselves so much that they make shit happen whatever it takes. They don’t second guess themselves. They don’t worry that despite their instinct that getting to the airport early will be more convenient than sleeping four hours, catching a cab for 30 minutes and getting to the airport equally exhausted and probably late.

I wonder for these types of risk takers if they grew up in families that supported this type of risk or if they were rebellious and went off and did their own thing anyway. I also wonder if my parents – my dad especially – would have been different with his kids if they were male. Would he tell a 31 year old son to be careful? Maybe. It probably wouldn’t be the same.

Before you say that it’s sweet that he cares so much about me, it really isn’t like that. What he really should be worried about is my killing myself for all of the mental health issues his abuse of my mother and emotional abuse of me over the years has caused. Not that I’m going to kill myself, just saying – on the days I think about it, I picture his reaction, of course not thinking it has anything to do with his behavior and how I’m a mental wreck largely thanks to it.

I’m an adult now and I can make my own future. But I’m still so scared of so much. I want to be someone I’m not but I’m tired of trying to be that person, whoever she is. I’m a scared, timid, shy and weak person in a lot of respects. I’m not a risk taker. I hate risk. I like stability, I like routine – to some extent. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. I just want to be that person who can be bold and confident and amazing. I hope if I ever have children I can raise them to not be afraid – to not feel criticized for every little thing they do. To be able to have opinions and to learn that there is no such thing as a “right” opinion (that’s why they are called opinions.) To always allow a reasonable amount of forgiveness before making someone feel like shit for making a mistake.

I’m having a difficult time with growing up. Being grown up. I’m turning 31 this month… in less than 15 days. I’m a real adult now and here I am still kvetching about my parents. That’s what therapy is for, right? I didn’t have a terrible childhood in the sense that I wasn’t neglected or beaten to the point where I was unable to walk the next day. But I’m still mentally shot over the barrage of paranoia and criticism from both my mom and my dad – to this day they continually judge me for everything I do or wear or think to do. That’s why they’re fairly removed from my life right now, though I wish they didn’t have to be, because I know they won’t be around forever and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend time with them, even though it can be quite painful.

The other day watching Shark Tank with my mom she made the comment “why don’t you come up with a brilliant idea?” I’ve never been encouraged to take risks, that’s why. Entrepreneurs are some of the world’s most productive risk takers. But my mother doesn’t get that in order to get to the point where you have a successful pitch on Shark Tank or to any VC you needed to take a ton of risks. You need to not be afraid and to trust yourself and your ideas. You need to not be afraid.

I wonder who I’d be today if I didn’t grow up in that environment of neurotic paranoid fear and hyper criticism. Would I be a very different person? Would I be able to stand up in front of a room and speak without stuttering, without the ums and the likes? Would I have the respect of my colleagues because my presence garnered respect just by walking into a room vs having to build it slowly and painfully through hard-earned results (and sometimes it being too late to get those results with all the lost respect?) I just wish I was someone else. I wish I was a confident, well adjusted woman. I’ll have to make due with the actual woman I am because that’s just the way it is.

 

Gone Girl: The Modern Marriage Commentary

The stories within a story of my life are endless. Take, for instance, my mother’s decision for us — my father, her, and myself — to go see the movie “Gone Girl” at the movie theatre for our family night activity together. I haven’t been paying much attention to pop culture lately so I didn’t know what the movie was about other than a wife’s disappearance. My mother had read the book so she had “a clue.”

If you plan to see the movie and/or read the book, spoilers ahead, fair warning. So the plot pretty much starts out with a woman and a man who supposedly fall in love at a time in their life when they’re young, self-entitled, horny, and everything is going right for them. But then the shit of life hits the fan – parents get sick, recessions crumble the economy, people lose their jobs, trust funds are tapped into – and the two lovebirds realize that they aren’t in a relationship with the person they wanted to be in the first place. The prenup just adds to the jealousy and drama once the perfect relationship falls apart. Because, as I took it, all of us are faking who we are when we’re dating and all of us say we’re not going to end up like those horrible married couples that nag and bicker at each other and have sex like route routine vs with passion and many of us do. Then one cheats with something newer and younger and more like the fantasy that they originally married, the other feels hurt, angry, and wants vengeance. For a moment they may even want the other partner to greatly suffer for the rest of their lives.. And there you have the plot behind Gone Girl, or at least the rational for it.

Well, going to see this movie with my parents, for those of you who follow my blog and understand my relationship with my parents and their relationship with each other, is a bit of a farcical plot line to begin with. Add to that attending the movie in one of those  newer “luxury” cinemas with the comfort seating and recalling chairs, and both my mother and father for large chunks of the movie falling asleep and beginning to snore quite loudly, and their golden commentary on the film afterwards, I couldn’t help but find myself cackling inside.

After the film was over my dad could in no way shape or form hide his disgust at the film. With my father there are no opinions that matter but his own. This time around I mostly agreed with him (it was a dumb plot line in terms of what actually happened and the constant elevator music to, I think, add a state of creepy and coldness to the film, was annoying as fuck, though I appreciated the social commentary.) Yet when my father has an opinion, he takes it personally. He even gets a bit angry or at the least annoyed – like, how dare anyone create a movie that’s so stupid that other people like that he has to see.

I must admit my favorite review from him of the evening was his frustration with the detective being female, as, and I quote, “that’s just not realistic.” He apparently has been annoyed for years with all the leading female detective characters souring the reality of his favorite shows like Law and Order. This conversation, of course, led into my mother noting that it is like how there are too many gay people on television these days – not that she has a problem with gay people – but there “just aren’t that many gay people” and that too isn’t realistic. I asked her to note a specific show where a gay person was written into it where it didn’t make sense (I’m waiting for her to tell me about some show in Rural Georgia where there’s a flamboyantly gay person who never gets threatened or shot, and perhaps that I could believe as unrealistic) but then she goes on to tell me she doesn’t watch a lot of TV these days so she can’t name a specific case, this is just in general.

Oh, my parents. At some point you just have to accept the crazy that is. My favorite part of last night was after the movie when we went to a cafe for dinner. Following our crepes my father ordered a pecan tarte. I asked if I could have a bite and he said ok. I noticed that there weren’t actually many pecans on top and tried unsuccessfully to secure one with the tiny piece I took off the site of the tarte. My mother then asked my father if she could have a taste. “Sure,” he said, as if it was rude of her to assume he might say no (but heaven forbid she just take it without asking, that would start a shit show.) My mother, knowing that any cut she takes will be horrible in the eyes of my father, asks him to cut her a piece. He, again in some sort of offended manner says “you cut your own piece.” She noted out loud that if she did he would say “she took too much.” He continued that she can cut her own piece and he wouldn’t get upset.

Ha.

She then initially takes a tiny bit of the tarte only to cut further into it about half way to get a piece with one of the few pecans on it. It does look like she took half the tart but I could see clearly that she just wanted to get the pecan. My father, of course, throws his hourly temper tantrum by saying something along the lines of “what the hell” and grabbing back the piece she cut with the pecan on it and leaving her with the original tiny piece she had cut. He then, as a peace offering, and to retain his belief that he’s a rational person, took a tiny pecan and put it on top of her tiny piece of the tart.

In reference to the film, I can’t imagine how my parents ever were the type of people who were young and in love. Was my mother just so beautiful and youthful when they met (she was 17 so maybe) that my father looked past her lack of ability to empathize with others? Was my father so stable and successful that by the time they got married my mother just looked past the fact that he smacked her glasses off her face on their honeymoon and broke them? I don’t know how these two were ever in love. Like the characters in the film they’re extremely self-absorbed people who instead of working together on communicating just make up their own stories, live their own lives. My dad was always opposed to a divorce — because it “hurts the kids” — while my mother was to scared to leave as she didn’t want to have to “work” another day in her life.

So here we are. Neither of them tried to frame the other for murder, though I wouldn’t be absolutely surprised if one day the result of my father’s explosive anger seriously injures my nagging mother. I’m surprised it hasn’t so far. Oh, there have been bruises and other pains, but nothing deadly. They seem to work together some how in their home of narcissism. One fight after the other after the other. It really is not pleasant to be here. I come back to spend time with family because logically I think that is what I should do. With my father dying and my mother getting older I don’t want to regret not spending the time with them – and I enjoy to some extent being in my childhood home for the few years left when it’s still in our family name. The rest of the visits are usually painful if not viewed as a sitcom and watched with an internal monologue of canned laughter.

I do worry about my own relationship and marriage – if I am to get married – and how that will play out in life. It’s easy to say that you won’t be like that, not a spiteful, angry couple, but as Gone Girl points out maybe we all turn into that a little bit. We’re so caught up in ourselves that we forget to care for the other. When times are good and there’s money and there’s security we can get through it, but then when the hard parts of life strike things start to crumble. I don’t want to be that way with my partner. I already hear the nagging going on in my head, we have our arguments, our moments of tension. I try to remind myself the value of the relationship is in the love itself, in the comfort, the partnership, the security. I can’t imagine a person in the world who could be a better fit for me and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. As long as I focus on building the financial life that I want, and to save the money now versus later, to get to a point where with the exception of a major financial meltdown in the markets, I don’t have to worry about his career.

That’s why I’m so neurotic and crazy about my saving. I don’t want to ever rely on anyone else to support my happiness or security. It’s the moment we rely on someone else to do this when love cannot be the center of a relationship, it’s money – and when money is the center of the relationship that relationship will undoubtedly fall apart.

 

 

 

 

 

Focus, Time, and the Brevity of Life

There isn’t a day that goes by when I lack a sense of overwhelm and impending doom. That’s just my style. A lot of this is knotted up in a series of paranoid internal monologues that repeat ad nausem echoing off the corners of my mind.  Yet there’s some reality to the panic. Time isn’t a fake out. It’s this real, visceral, constantly moving stream of invisible life force which makes our bodies wither as the clock of the world ticks on with or without us. Time is the most real of all – because you can’t make more of it, once it’s gone it’s gone.

Today I visited two of my good friends who are both now parents and either my age or younger. A few friends back on the east coast have had their second children already. And I’m turning 31 in a smidgen over a month. The reality is that given my PCOS issues it’s going to be challenging to have kids of my own. Yet today I want them more than ever. The longer I wait the harder it will likely be. But when is the right time? My career is finally starting to take off. If I were to have a child now I don’t have the foggiest how I could also work my job. Well, it would surely be impossible to commute four hours a day and fly at a moment’s notice as a new mother. But would I even want that as my toddler grows from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, and enters his or her own childhood without a mother around?

Clearly I’ll have to work if/when I have kids. I never though I wouldn’t have to and it’s fine to be a working mother and all. I’m fortunate that my boyfriend is more than willing to be a stay-at-home dad. Still… I just worry about waiting too long. I know, I know, it’s not the end of the world if I can’t have kids, or if I only have one child… but I just want two or three children. Probably two though I feel like three is a good large enough family without being too large. And while that’s a nice thought the likelihood of it happening is shrinking by the day.

So my boyfriend and I should be getting married in spring 2016 when I’ll be 32 and a half. I mean… that’s getting old. Let’s just say I have trouble getting pregnant because I probably will. IVF clinics won’t even seriously consider you for treatment until you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year with no luck. So that gets me to 33-and-a-half. And who knows if I can get pregnant or how fast – even with the best treatment out there. And that treatment is expensive and can quickly burn through the savings that I’m working so hard to build up so I can afford what happens after I have kids.

With this scenario I’ll be lucky if I’m pregnant by 34 and have my first kid at 35. I really would like at least two kids if I’m going to have one. But then that leaves me at being a new mother at 35 going on 36 and knowing that I need to try immediately to have my second kid… all while being the breadwinner of the household and attempting to not only keep my job but grow in my career and move into a serious management position. I just can’t make sense of it. It all makes me think that if I actually do want kids – the logical thing to do would be to say screw “marriage” (which I’m not sure makes sense anyway due to the tax penalties) and just start trying to have my first kid now. I mean, that would suck in terms of work, but it’s not like I’d get pregnant tomorrow. But if I start trying at 31… that leaves me eligible for IVF at 32… and that timeframe just looks a whole lot better. If I have my first kid at 33 I can have my second at 35 or 36 and if I decide I do want a third then I have time for it, or at least I can just have two without feeling incredibly rushed.

I just think it’s so crazy how fast time goes by… and how judgmental I’ve been of all the girls who got married young and had kids in their 20s. That’s what the uneducated people do, I thought, brushing off their happiness with a reminder to myself that I’m getting my shit together first, saving up a good amount of money, preparing myself to be ready for kids. Well, it might not be too late yet but time is definitely running out. My 20s disappeared in the blink of an eye and my 30s will surely be equally as fast paced. With the amount I plan to work and focus on my career it will be easier to forget to focus on the things that matter in life and just running ahead blinded to the truth.

The whole marriage and wedding thing is just for show, what really matters is family… a family that I maybe already have waited too long to have, or at least one that is going to take a whole lot of headache and heartache to make possible. And I’m terrified of that journey that is to come.

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?

 

In Limbo but Trying to Relax in my Looney Toon life

With so much up in the air and this cold that won’t go away and my grandfather’s deteriorating condition it’s certainly hard to do what I need to do this week – relax. Every day spent at home is certainly an eye-opening reminder of the makings of my psyche, for better or worse. It’s useful as I pry myself out of my narcissistic personality to address head on the makings of this neurotic mind.

Are your parents crazy? Are everyone’s parents crazy? Are mine just a bit more crazy? It made me chuckle out loud yesterday when – out at a very awkward lunch with my father at the local Indian Buffet – he described my mother as “looney toons.” While that, in fact, may be true, he isn’t exactly Mr. Sane himself. What both of my parents do not have is the ability to understand how their actions effect other people. It isn’t that they don’t care, they just don’t even stop to empathize with another person. Their lives are, individually, more important than any other thing in the world, except maybe – conservative politics, to my dad – and the holocaust, to my mom.

We walked into this nearly-empty Indian Buffet restaurant for lunch and my father, a regular frequenter of the establishment, puts on his awkward fake charm introducing me to the workers at the restaurant, making a comment about “this is my daughter, isn’t she beautiful?” and then he makes some awkward comment about the woman who owns the establishment and how beautiful she is two, he’s “surrounded by beautiful women” and for her to, jokingly, not tell her husband he said so. While that alone was not terrible, what gets to me is how unaware he is of other people and what is going on in their minds. Our waiter – a very awkward probably 18-year-old Indian male who seemed to speak little English and possibly have some sort of minor autism – was greeted with the following message by my father “this is my daughter. Ask her out, maybe you’ll have a date.” What dad? What was that?

I hoped the waiter he didn’t hear or understand what my father had just said. I briefly thought to explain why it was absolutely inappropriate to say such a thing, but saying anything of the sort would be fruitless in use anyway. I got up immediately and walked to the buffet, blushing. Despite letting everyone at the restaurant know how “beautiful” I am this didn’t stop him from later in the dining experience, when I was explaining my braces and how they work, spurting out that my teeth are yellow and I should get them whitened (as if I do not know this already or are not completely self-conscious about it.) A person who thinks about how other people feel might say the same in different words — maybe even “have you ever tried teeth whitening, I was looking into it myself” or “I heard about this teeth whitening thing but it probably costs a lot, are you going to try that for your wedding? I hear a lot of brides do.” There are just more elegant ways of telling someone such news, or not at all. But with him the comment comes out of no where in the middle of an otherwise momentary pleasant conversation. Sure – you’re spending thousands of dollars to straighten your teeth and fix your overbite, and I just told everyone here how beautiful you are – but your teeth are yellow. Nevermind that my father’s teeth are cracked and falling a part, that he has been morbidly obese in various ranges throughout my entire life, and that his own teeth are not exactly pearly white. I held my breath and changed topics.

The Game of Risk: We’d Rather Not Play at All

One thing I never quite realized about my father until this week was just how risk adverse he is. It’s not just risk aversion, which played into his career where his job was to calculate risk, he’s absolutely paranoid. For example, when I got dropped off at my friend’s bridal shower after he screamed at me for failing to have the right address (my phone internet was not working as I planned to look it up in my Facebook history and it took a few minutes or drive time to get into a better reception area) he then didn’t believe me that I had seen the restaurant a few blocks back to let me out of the car, as he was worried I might get hurt. This from a man who used to beat me with my belt and to this day if he gets the strength for it can shove my mother across the room. His definition of hurt needs some work. I convinced him to let me out and walk back a few blocks to the restaurant. He sat on the curb until he saw I got inside, as if I was 2.

My father also could have been a great physicist – for all the crazy he is a very intelligent man. I had forgotten and reminded my week by his sister that he received a full ride to MIT for undergrad, chose not to even apply to Princeton, and went to a much smaller, less prestigious school despite being able to go practically anywhere he wanted for free with his stellar academic career. He didn’t want to go so far from home or to be in a bigger school, so he went somewhere with 1000 people only. Then as a grad student he dropped out of Cornell, unable to take the pressure, it seems.

His parents are fascinating as well – a father who was both to a man from Naples who disappeared when he was less than two – and a Slovakian woman who raised him with a German stepfather in a very Catholic household. He was in the Navy and raised his kids as such. Seeing the shell of the man he once was at the hospital this week is unnerving as he’s always been full of spunk and an energy you know not to piss off. Now he can only make out a few grumbles while squeezing his fist so tight you think he’s going to rip through his hand.

My dad’s mother, on the other hand, is a Jewish woman of Hungarian and Polish decent. She, at the least, has the ability to somewhat understand how her actions effect other people. Yet her six children – my dad being the oldest of the six – all have their larger-than life personalities shaped by her parenting. She’s a strong woman in my mind, though a bit OCD, and I can see where my father gets his monotone range of panic over any unsettling situation from her. Everything that doesn’t go her way is, momentarily, the end of the world. It’s the same with my dad, though she doesn’t react in the same violent frightening way.

Mom is in Her Own Little World

Mrs. Looney Toons, my mother, is probably certifiably crazy. It’s interesting pitting the psyches of my mother and father against each other because in a lot of ways they are the same – living in their own self-entitled world. However my father – to give him some credit – has a limited grasp on reality (working to support a family of four for so many years and a wife who quickly spends a ton of money without understanding of what this does to ones savings can do such a thing to a person.)

A friend of mine recently shared some insightful wisdom on how kids don’t generally know how to do things well, they must have a model to follow. If the parents are constantly screaming at each other and being violent and then the child starts to act up and the child is punished for her behavior, well, then, the parents actually taught the child the same behavior they are punishing her for. It’s a vicious cycle. Same goes for my achilles heel – my lacking ability to clean up my room and keep my life organized. While this was the main source of my own beatings as a child, I had a mother who would simultaneously tell me to clean up my room while freaking out should I ever suggest throwing anything away. My father’s organization skills were no less troubling, his own room and desk flooded with papers and books. Yet somehow I had to understand how to keep things organized without throwing away any of the items. I guess organization comes naturally to some without the model but for me it was very difficult and to this day is a huge challenge. My mind runs on a thousand times in this paranoid loop of whether I will ever need an item before I can part with it – making cleaning take much longer than it would for the average person and causing more stress than it ever should. No wonder I avoid it.

While my father will comment about just anything about you without concern or thought for how such a statement makes you feel, my mother’s comments are much more shallow. Her primary goals are for you as a child are for you to look good in pictures and have a job that she can explain ad nauseam to anyone she encounters who she might possibly somehow know. For example, a neighbor walking down the street with her dog, obviously not intending to stop and listen to my mom’s story vomit for fifteen minutes, got caught up in this by stopping to say an unavoidable hello passing our house while we were out front. My mom – completely unable to grasp that someone may have better things to do then hear her life story du jour – starts to tell my life story, my sister’s life story, the story of what is happening to my dad’s father in the hospital. The woman, who is trying to not be rude, smiles and nods at her dog tugs at his lease and tries to move her along. It isn’t that the woman wanted to not stop and chat at all, but my mother – likely aspergian to some degree – doesn’t have it in her mind to read people’s faces and understand it’s time to stop talking.

In another example of my mother’s childish narcissism, and this is something she does often, we were at a sort of outdoor museum and in one garden area a wedding was being held. It was in public so it was her right to peer inside like many others were doing – however, while the other group remained further back from the opening between two sets of bushes she walked right up to the hole, loudly announcing that her daughter is looking for a wedding venue too. She wasn’t talking to the people inside the wedding itself, she was talking to the air, because she thinks people care. To her credit, this is how she gets into conversations with others about whatever topic she wants to be talking about at the moment – someone usually takes the bait and often it’s another Jewish woman with a similar penchant for rambling on and on and on. My mother, to her credit, has no social fear. She can walk  up to just about anyone and start talking to them on the topic of just about anything. I don’t know how she does it as the thought of such a thing makes me shrivel up and a panic attack arise, but she doesn’t have this fear at all inside of her. Maybe it’s a blessing. But it can be quite awkward and embarrassing in many situations. As my mom explained to the air and to the workers blocking the opening to the wedding that her daughter is looking for a wedding venue, her daughter, struck with the panic of embarrassment, disappeared into another exhibit.

Both of my parents are in many ways like children who are unable to be pleased. Another conversation I had yesterday with my aunt was around how I feel terrible for never buying my cousins and grandparents gifts but I have an honest neurosis around buying a gift that isn’t good enough for them. She said that’s silly, that it’s the thought that counts. I countered with the reminder that my parents would judge any gift I got them with contention, and often the gift would be not good enough for their tastes. My father would complain about it only to later make some comment boasting about his daughter got him a gift. My mother would, unless I got lucky, complain that the gift wasn’t useful or it was something she would buy anyway or she just didn’t like it. So I rarely buy people gifts. It’s not just a financial thing, it’s also this mental freak out I have every time I try to get anyone something.

What my immediate family never had was this ability to care for each other. Everyone is in their own world of self importance. We are a family of egos, my parents hyper-critical of everyone but themselves – and myself and my sister – caught up in this web of learned narcissism paired with a lack of trust in who we really are. That is why, for me, it is so remarkably refreshing to be in a relationship with a man who is the complete opposite of what I know. Where love in my family is only defined by financial support and the basics of life – “I love you therefore I feed you” – my relationship is filled with love and care. I’ve had all of this love boiling up inside of me for so long that I didn’t know where to put it or how to use it. But it really is simple. I love my guy and we can sit and cuddle and laugh and – I try my best – to care for each other no matter the other’s choices. His life is not my life and vice versa. I have no right to judge his choices as long as they do not severely effect my well being. And he doesn’t judge at all. He is there for me in my best and my worst and my worst again. That’s what actual love is. Money can get in the way but as long as you focus on yourself and the money you need to live the life you want and support your children in the way you want then it’s not an issue. Financial independence – from each other – in a relationship makes love possible. Then it can’t be about what the other person provides beyond love, care, and ongoing moral support for the chaos that is life.

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.

#WhyIStayed – Growing Up in Domestic Violence

There wasn’t just one incident that stands out, one knock-out punch or fatal wound, but my childhood was flooded with ongoing domestic violence, and for the most part I blamed myself for all of it. Even though I’ve gone through the story a billion times in therapy, perhaps I haven’t really processed what this has done to me psychologically. The terrible anxiety, overwhelming fear of failure, being so depressed ALL. THE. TIME., being unable to accomplish tasks that should be easy because my mind is a big mush pile of terror. Yea, maybe growing up in a house of abuse has something to do with that.

Since the whole Ray Rice scandal — where he knocked his fiancee out cold in an elevator and — oops, got caught on camera — domestic violence has been a hot topic. So has the hashtag #whyistayed where women are posting on twitter why they stay in relationships where they are abused. And, yes, men are often abused as well, so let’s not forget that. Regardless, of the stories out there about domestic violence one that I read talked about a woman whose friends asked her if her husband “hit” her and she said no (but he shoved her and bit her and even broke her wrist.) Not everyone is a puncher.

I feel bad for my father. He grew up in a working class family, the oldest of six. His father had a temper and a hot fuse. Since I can remember my dad has been morbidly obese, slodging to work an hour on the train five days a week, getting home after sunset with barely any time to see his family. So when he came home and my mother stood at the door complaining about how I didn’t clean my room or I wasn’t doing my homework, he got angry, very angry. If I did something “bad” enough I’d get a quick strapping and go up to my room to cry it off and tell myself how horrible I am over and over again. Then would come the fighting. My mom would tell him that he didn’t HAVE to beat me for it. He’s get extremely angry at her for suggesting that, as she went to him to solve the problem and in his mind he solved it. Or they’d be fighting about something else. I really don’t remember a day going by when they weren’t fighting.

Most fights were benign. They’d yell for a while, her in her high-pitched voice, him low-pitched and fuming. Eventually the noise would die down and I’d fall asleep. Then there were other nights… or weekends, when there was more opportunity for an eruption… when things got uglier. At some point I’d walk downstairs to try to stop them. I remember once walking between my dad and my mom and telling him that if he wanted to hurt her he’d have to hurt me first. He usually stopped then, and acted as if nothing happened.

When the worst fights occurred I wasn’t around. Once, he shoved her so hard that her glasses broke. Actually, I recall her telling me he had done this before – on their honeymoon. He’s caused her arm to bruise numerous times. He doesn’t think he abuses her. He thinks everything is her fault. And I think it’s all my fault. Well, not so much currently, it can’t all be currently as I moved far away and don’t tell them about my problems. On the phone the other day my dad could sense sadness in my voice and he said “are you doing ok, you sound sad” to which I replied “I’m fine.” There is no point telling them the truth. Removing my drama from their lives doesn’t stop the abuse, but at least I can’t feel responsible for it.

I was afraid that one day I’d come home and I’d find my mother dead. I knew that my dad would never mean to kill her. He wouldn’t get a gun or a knife or anything and plot her death. But he’s a big guy and she’s rather small. It wouldn’t take much for him to accidentally break her neck. I tried not to think about it. But the reality was you can’t just not think about this stuff, even if you’re not thinking about it, even if you are convinced that it is all your fault.

So now that I’m this 30-year-old adult and fucking up my life by being unable to maintain a job and get stuff done, now that I’m supposed to be self sustaining and prosperous on my own with a stable, full-time role where I can use my mind to make shit happen, I just fall apart. The saddest thing of all is that the only role in my life that I’ve ever done somewhat well in was one where my boss was rather mean to me and degraded my work. But he provided the structure I needed to succeed. I felt comfortable in that environment, go figure. He knew it too. And I worked my ass off and you know what, I did a really good job because I wasn’t trying to be great, I was trying to be good enough. And I needed to know that I wasn’t good enough and what good enough was so I could strive to be it. As soon as I was in a role where my boss was a sane, nice person, I fell apart. That makes me really sad. That makes me scared about my ability to succeed in any role in the future.

I don’t want to put all of my work issues on this, but what I can say is that growing up in an abusive household really fucks with your mind and your sense of self worth. I know a lot of other kids had it a lot worse than I did — I’ve heard horror stories of much worse abuse, alcoholism, molestation, etc, and I had none of that. My family was sober and made decent money and we lived a comfortable life, with the exception of all the fighting. I just need a way to get past all of it. But the reality is my mother is still with him after all these years. He’s dying of cancer and he won’t be around much longer so she wouldn’t leave him now, but somehow he still finds it in him to call her stupid, to belittle her, to shove her on occasion, to do everything to humiliate and degrade her and treat her like a piece of shit. And I’m trying to find a way to make peace with him and all of this before it’s too late. I just want to move on so I can be a real adult. So I can have a family of my own. So I can do well in my job and not feel like I need permission to be successful and happy. I don’t know how though.