a four year degree in grief

We are approaching the four year anniversary of my father’s passing.  I haven’t posted here in a while because, well, life has gotten in the way.  Weeks have been filled with life; karate practices, meetings, laundry, mowing lawns.  You know… life.  I rightfully should have been on here posting about all my parenting (mis)adventures, but I haven’t.

I intended for this blog to be an outlet for my observations about life and motherhood.  In a way it still is, but it really became a major outlet for me as I navigate(d) my way through the grieving process.

In a nutshell, I’m a bummer and this blog is depressing.  There, I said it.   The wonderful thing about cyberspace is you can simply click the x in the right upper corner and be done with me… OR you can continue reading.

Usually we associate a four-year period with some sort of graduation.  We spend four years in high school and then we graduate.  Four years in college and then we graduate.   On April 24, it will be four years since we lost my dad.   I feel as though I’ve been attending a very depressing school on grief for the past four years, and I’ve completed a graduate degree on how sudden loss changes you.

Since our world, as we knew it, stopped around 3:00pm, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, life has not been the same.  That was the day I began my navigating my way through Grief 101.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my family and people in general. Please note, the following epiphanies will be rather cliché.

I’ve learned I’m stronger than I ever knew.  I’ve learned about the power of prayer.  I’ve learned how precious life is. I’ve learned how to be gracious, grateful and compassionate. I’ve learned people are assholes.  (well, to be fair, I always knew that, but I really saw the backside of some people over the past four years).   I’ve learned how to explain (albeit not very well) death to a very young child.   I’ve learned to wonder and appreciate.  In essence, I’ve learned a lifetime of lessons over a short period of time I’m grateful for… but I just really wish it didn’t come at the price we paid.

It’s really hard to ignore my dad’s absence at family functions.  It’s hard to ignore him not being there to delight in watching his grandson achieve milestones.  It’s really hard to watch other people essentially waste opportunities (their choice) knowing how fleeting life is and how, in an instant your world can be turned upside down.

It’s really hard to have sudden waves of sadness and gut wrenching grief wash over you (sometimes in the wee hours of the morning for no reason, or while you’re in the hot dog aisle at the grocery store…weird, I know).

It’s really hard to explain to your spouse, who has never lost a parent that somedays you’re just sad, and that it will pass, but that he really needs to call his parents because, well, he can.

It’s really hard to put on a brave face for your kid when you’re choking back tears knowing his grandfather will never ever see his next big achievement.  It’s really hard explaining to that same kid who his grandfather was, because he was so little his only memories are those we’ve planted in his brain.

It’s just really hard.

And what is really hard is letting it all out.  After the sympathy cards are sent, no one wants to hear this crap anymore.  Sadness makes people uncomfortable.  It’s not polite workplace or dinner conversation to talk about how your father had a heart attack and drowned and your poor mother found him and dragged him ashore while trying to revive him.   No, that’s not really good party conversation.

It’s hard to pull yourself out of the spiraling hole of grief.  I vaguely remember the days and weeks after my dad died.  I had a two year old to take care of.  I had a job.  A house, a husband.  I could barely shave my own legs let alone pull myself together to be ‘on’ for other people; but somehow I managed.  I’m not sure how.  I’m pretty sure it was by the grace of a higher power.

A line from James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” became (and still is) my daily mantra.
“Won’t you look down upon me Jesus, you gotta help me take a stand.  You just gotta see me through another day….”

I still cry in the shower.  I still get up at 3am and pound out my grief on the keys of my computer writing a post, much like the one you are reading. Those days are fewer and further between, but they’re still there.

The waves still come, but not as frequently.   Usually they come around holidays and anniversaries.  You know, the typical stuff when families gather.  But sometimes they just come.

I delight in getting small signs from the universe that my dad is actually still with us in spirit.

My anger has subsided and I think I’ve moved on to acceptance. But, to be honest, somedays I still get angry.  Very angry.

I haven’t ‘finished’ grieving.  You never do.  But four years ago when people told me it would get easier, it felt like an impossible far away place I would never get to.

I may not be completely there, (and I doubt I will ever be) but I think my point is that things are a little more manageable now.  And that, is something I never thought would happen.

Yes, I’m still sad.  I still have breakdowns.  I still worry about my only living parent.  But the past four years have changed me for the better too.

I work harder to appreciate, notice, validate and be kind.  I work harder to notice what I’m ‘putting out there’ to the universe.  I am gentler in my views, more accepting of what doesn’t agree with me.  I am more compassionate toward people who have started on their grief journey and feel compelled to reach out to them, to let them know that yes, they will be ok and yes, it’s ok to cry.

It’s a work in progress. I’m not perfect.  My life is not perfect.  But I’ve survived four years of life ripping changes.

And for that, I deserve a diploma.

Peace.

 

saved by construction paper

We had an intruder drill at school today. Having watched the interview with Dylan Klebold’s (one of the Columbine shooters) mother on 20/20 last week, it was hard to not imagine what today would have been like if this was real.

My son, who is five and also attends my school, was very upset at the prospect of having an intruder drill.  Despite having prepped him, reassured him,  and calming him the best way I could, nothing helped.  His teacher is fabulous and was very helpful.  It breaks my heart that at the tender age of five, he has to learn the reality of how to hide in a cupboard if a crazy person with a gun comes to school.

As I sat in my classroom with my own students huddled on the floor out of sight of the windows and doors (not an easy feat in an ancient school built pre-crazed gunman shooter days) I couldn’t help but think that if this was real, my very life, and the lives of my students depended on a flimsy lock and a single strip of black construction paper I was instructed to hang in the window of my door in order to block an intruder’s view.

A single strip of black construction paper.

If this was a real drill, I tried to calculate how long it would take us to pile desks in front of our one and only exit.   I mentally pictured using the hammer I keep in my desk to break a window (none of my windows open) and how exactly I would usher  20 some kids to safety through shards of glass.

The day went on, the drill was over and life returned to normal.  It was a pretty routine day until I got reamed by a parent because I dared speak to her precious snowflake about an incident where he/she was clearly in the wrong.  HOW.  DARE.  I.

I was then forced to listen to what a crappy teacher I am, how her ten year old thinks I have an “attitude” with him/her (not that it needs justifying, but I have never had an incident until yesterday with student X).  I was basically handed my ass on a plate by a woman whom social services and local law enforcement is familiar with.

I stood protecting her child from a possible intruder, yet my ass gets handed to me on a plate because dear precious broke a rule.

The conversation went on.  I won’t bore you with the details.  In fact, if I complain too loud, or with too many specific details, I will be fired from my job as countless teachers have before me when they turned to a public forum to express their frustrations.

I don’t blame anyone but myself for my career choice.  I try hard to remember that possibly in some small way, when I’m buying school supplies parents neglect to provide, bribing my kids with treats I purchased from my own pocket, or when I’m keeping my cool for the 65th time in a day that maybe I’m a good teacher.

It’s hard to tell and it’s getting harder.   20 years is approaching fast and my fight is gone.
I won’t lament about my lack of options.   It’s not worth it.  Everyone knows the shitty deal educators get dealt and everyone knows I asked for it.  I got myself into this profession.   Now it’s time to get out.

Lately it is taking all I have to remain positive.  I look at my son and relish the opportunity I have to work in his school.  I love the fact that I seem him during the day and I’m in the “know” about what is going on.  It is that small blessing that keeps me going.

I do this for him.  Not for me.

So tomorrow I will put on a happy face, choose my words carefully and readjust the black strip of construction paper hanging perilously by the classroom door.   I wish there was more than a single piece of kid’s art paper to keep me safe from the thoughts of ditching it all, grabbing my son and homeschooling him.

Peace.

new year, old habits

Happy New Year.  Here we go again. I hate this time of year. There. I said it.   I’m tired, worn out, and I don’t want to go back to work.

I’m tired of everyone telling the world what they resolve to do this new year.

Shut up.

You and I both know promises will be broken by about mid February.

I’m grumpy.

I look at the new year with anxiety and dread, not hopefulness.  I lost my innocence a long time ago.

A long time ago I believed anything was possible in the 365 days that lay ahead.

A long time ago I believed my world would never be rocked by anything bad, and that bad things only happened to other people.

A long time ago.

A long time ago I had energy to care.  Energy to want better, to do better.

Now I’m just faced with a whole shit load of reality.

Bad things happen when you least expect it.  Unexplained.  And it’s up to us to pick up the pieces, cling to hope and move on.

It’s up to us to figure out how to navigate through the muck and mire and trudge on like good soliders.

I don’t have energy to do that anymore.   Bad things just happen and no matter how much hope I hold out and positivity I exude, I am not immune to bad things happening.

And now there are 363 empty days to fill.  Who knows what will happen.

Many readers will tell me to stop being so negative and to kick myself in the ass and move on and up with life.

Yes, I need to. I need to do that.

And I will. I will squelch my anxiety about the unwritten 363 pages that lay ahead because it makes others feel uncomfortable.  I will pretend that everything is peachy.  I will overlook the fact that a new year brings no new changes, only more and more opportunities for people I love to have bad things happen to them.

Yes, you can’t walk around your whole life under a dark cloud worrying about what might happen.

I get it. I do.

But anxiety riddled people don’t want to hear that.  To us it doesn’t make sense in our brains.  We can’t live a carefree life.  We pick up the pieces, plan ahead and are the dependable ones.  We are the thinkers who crave the known, want everything in its place and want routine and order.

But that makes others uncomfortable.  It appears to be a tragic human flaw.

So I will hide my anxiety of the unknown.  I will move on and move forward, living each day, doing the best I can.

It’s hard to be grateful and thankful when you feel like the boogeyman is about to jump out from the next corner.  Everyday.

It’s hard to be grateful when people assume you will always pick up the pieces and clean up their messes.

It’s hard.

Happy New Year.

Peace.

Thanksgiving and all that jazz

Another Thanksgiving is in the can. Thank God.  I’m Canadian. Though I’ve lived in America for almost 17 years, I have never fully understood the importance of an American Thanksgiving.  Don’t get me wrong. I respect the ways of your land.   I just don’t get it.

I don’t get why I have to drive 10 hours one way after working half a day to visit relatives out of state, sleep on an air mattress and suffer through four straight days of Fox News and football.  It’s cultural overload.

En route to the Thanksgiving spectacle my child barfed twice.  In a moving car. In the dark.  Armed with wipes and an empty Burger King cup I managed to straddle the front and back seats and clean up my wailing child.

After barfing in one state, he managed to barf in another.  I think it was somewhere around West Virginia my husband and I stopped speaking to each other.

We pulled into a gas station where a very sympathetic cashier and I bonded over plastic bags and to-go cups (for my child to barf in). I felt like a homeless person depending on the kindness of others outside a gas station.    The absolute worst moment was when my child was actually holding a cup of his own vomit as we drove on with nary a rest stop in sight.

All for Thanksgiving.

sigh.

After four days of non stop eating, children screaming, visiting a zoo in the dark to see the light show (did I mention it rained?) we got up at the crack of dawn to do it all again.  Drive home that is. Ten hours.

We drove home ten hours just to get home to find our heating and air system has conked out.

Sigh.

I guess I should be thankful for first world problems… barfing and the like.

And that was Thanksgiving. And all that jazz.

Peace.

carving, pounding, rocking

Carving, pounding, rocking.  All verbs.  All super important verbs.  All verbs I managed to incorporate into my life today.

Let me explain…

My doctor told me my stress level is sky high.  My cholesterol is sky high.  I lost six pounds and my cholesterol went up.  Go figure.  I started thyroid medicine.  My numbers went out of whack.  Go figure.

But enough of the technical stuff…

My doctor basically told me I need to exercise, and I know that I do.  That is not news.  My problem is WHEN do I fit it in?  I am busy with work, saddled (and I mean that affectionately) with a five year old after work.  I do what most working mothers do… I put everyone ahead of myself. I fix dinner. I help with homework.  I sort laundry.  I grocery shop.  I make sure everyone’s life is running smoothly. AND I hold a full time job.

But today I carved out a few minutes for myself.  I pounded the pavement.  In my head I was my 19 year old self jogging.  I used to run. USED to.  I rocked out to a playlist of favorite high school songs as I walked.   It was dark (evening) so it was even better.  I wasn’t visible enough for anyone to see me look stupid as I lip synched my way through my neighborhood.  I didn’t have to stop and wave at neighbors.  Complete solitude.  Complete bliss.

Today I carved, pounded and rocked.

And it felt good.

Peace.

the Lone Ranger…my new theme song

I am single parenting this week.  Again.  Hub is out of town for work.   Of course, this is the week when everything decides to fall… so, to the tune of The Lone Ranger… this is my “to do” list this week. (and I feel like this song is most appropriate for the anxiety I feel right about now knowing this is the week I face…)

Monday- meetings, meetings, homework with kiddo, Wal Mart trip for scarecrow supplies (see Thursday) dinner, bath, bed, household chores
Tuesday- meetings, meetings, meetings, homework with kiddo, soccer practice, dinner, bath, bed, grading papers, attempt to make scarecrow costume

Wednesday- meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, homework with kiddo, Karate, attempt to rectify failed attempts at scarecrow costume (while silently weeping and cursing my lack of sewing abilities), dinner, bath, bed, grading papers, drinking….

Thursday-  meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, take snack into Kindergarten, take Halloween treat (which is separate from snack) into Kindergarten, take pumpkins into Kindergarten (remember to include one for the poor little lamb whose mother forgot…),  dress kid as a scarecrow for the kindergarten parade, attend parade, take endless amount of photos, maintain sanity and the full time teaching job I have (I work at his school),  homework with kiddo, dinner, bath, bed, copious amounts of drinking…..

Friday- take out recycling, maintain full time job, make sure child is in pjs (pjs, by the way, I had to go BUY for this ‘special’ day because none of our pjs were really school appropriate) for pj day at school, attend award ceremony (just realized I would have pictures of my kid in pjs as he accepts his award) prepare for Halloween.  With a Kindergartener.  Copious amounts of drinking

Saturday-  soccer game, soccer party, attempt to alter ‘soldier’ costume which is 2 sizes too big, curse, loathe inability to sew, attend crazy Halloween party, trick or treating, household chores, copious amounts of drinking.

Sure, there are a ton of things I accidentally omitted from the week.  I’m sure you get the point.

Kudos to single parents.

I don’t know how you do it.

Peace.

over the edge of exhaustion, just round the corner from a crash

It’s happened.  Yep.  It has happened.

That point where being a mother and a professional has collided.  With a bang.

That peaceful, easy feelin’ of summer has long since gone.  Back are hunched shoulders, deepened frown lines, shorter tempers and enough anxiety to fuel a small village.

Yep.

It’s back.

That point where you are so tightly wound that if you dare unwind even just a little bit you chance having your whole self combust, unable to be stuffed back into your being.

It’s an awful feeling, anxiety.  It’s awful to be so energized (for all the wrong reasons) at 1:15 am on a Thursday that it’s all you can do to force yourself to sleep as the hamster wheel in your brain spins and spins.

Being told to ‘just chill’ does no good.  It actually aggravates the anxious person even more (not to mention angers them).

Being told to ‘forget about it” does no good.  The anxious person ruminates and ruminates and ruminates over seemingly trivial problems.

Anxiety is no fun.  It’s like the nerdy kid who shows up at a high school party hoping to fit in, but who soon realizes they will only be the one uncomfortably picking up beer cans and making sure everyone’s coat is well looked after.

Anxiety is like a kite that gets picked up by the wind. It swirls you around uncontrollably.  You look down and see where you need to land but you can’t do it.  Gusts keep picking you up higher and higher, preventing you from free falling.

Anxiety is like one big mother long dog paddling session.  You try and try to get somewhere but tiny, little strokes prevent you from making any substantial headway.  You keep paddling and paddling trying to keep up, only exhausting yourself in the process.

And why?  Why are some of us built tightly wound, and others in need of a good winding?

Seriously.

Why?

Why are some of us destined to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and others just sit back, relax and let us do it.

Maybe they’re the smart ones.

I used to think that I was making up all of this anxiety.  As a child, I was called a perfectionist, high strung.  What the adults in my life didn’t realize is that I was an anxious child, one who hated going to bed because all I would do is lay there, eyes wide open worrying about everything, willing sleep but not getting any.  It was horrible.

But thirty five years ago, kids didn’t have anxiety, or at least they weren’t supposed to.  Anxiety was not recognized or labeled or whatever you want to call it.  We were just ‘worriers’.

No amount of being told to calm down works.  In fact, it just agitates me more.

I wish anxiety was taken seriously instead of treated like some made up problem inside my head.

It’s late and morning is only a few short hours away.

I will return to bed and will myself to sleep.

And get up in four hours to start it all again.

The ‘on’ button never shuts ‘off’.

Peace.

a walk in the rain

It’s been a while since my last post.  (why is this starting to sound like a Catholic confession?)  But life has been busy.  My kiddo started kindergarten and has transitioned well.  He is bursting at the seams with new knowledge, excited to sound out letters and attempt to read sight words.  It feels like he’s grown up before my very eyes in just a few short weeks.  Gone are the fears and trepidations of starting a new chapter.  Routines have slowly been established, summer has packed its bag and left.  Fall and all it’s pumpkin latte goodness has descended upon us.

For the past week or so we’ve had nothing but steady rain.  Reports say we’ve had about 16 inches in the past week.  We luckily missed Hurricane Joaquin, but the rain has been a force to be reckoned with.  It’s starting to get depressing.

All this time inside is not good for thinkers like me.  I can’t relax with ‘down’ time.  All I do is think.

My former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, once took an infamous walk in the snow.  On his walk he contemplated his future and decided to announce his retirement.  Since then, the phrase ‘a walk in the snow’ has become synonymous with trying to clear your head and figure out your future.

I’ve been doing that for a long time, the debating my future part.  Today I took a walk in the rain, much like Mr. Trudeau’s walk in the snow.

I wish I could say that I cleared a lot up.  I didn’t.  I just got wet.  And more depressed.   I am so disheartened and disillusioned with my job I’m at a crossroad.  I’m not sure what to do anymore.

I don’t hate my job.  I work with great people.  I think what I do is important.  I’m just tired and beaten down.  Kids are now numbers and data points plotting expected growth.  If I don’t achieve said growth, I’m a lousy teacher.  It hurts having the weight of the world on your shoulder every. single. day.   It becomes too much to bear.  It makes me want to hand in my keys almost every single day.  But I can’t.

I have a kid to consider.  My job allows me to be on the same schedule as my child.  My job affords me the luxury of buying him clothes and food.   There is no other viable option.  I am in this for my kid.

So I will put on my raincoat and continue to walk until I feel better, or at least make my peace with the crossroad I am at.

I think I’m going to need a bigger umbrella.

Peace.

and so it goes…

September is here. I don’t care how many scarecrows, pumpkins, bales of hay and mums you park outside of Wal Mart, it’s not fall. It’s 90 freaking degrees here in the good old South.  It’s hot.

School has started.  I’ve gotten my kiddo off to kindergarten.  I am amazed at how he has bloomed and blossomed in just one week; full to the brim with a love of learning, excitement to learn letters and sounds and an unbridled enthusiasm to be all things ‘big boy’.

And it breaks my heart just a little.  Where did my baby go? Time. Slow down.

I’ve begun year 19 of my career in education.  It’s week 2 and I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails. You’d think in almost two decades I’d have a clue as to what I’m doing, that maybe, just maybe this year I’d get it right.  But nope. The same inadequacies and worry creep back in to my already saturated mind.  The curse of a perfectionist.

I’ve tried to watch the news. It’s too sad.  I want so badly to scoop up every refugee I see and give them a safe place to live.  I hug my child a little tighter when I see toddlers washed ashore, dead, lifeless.   It’s too much.  And then I feel guilty about complaining about my mediocre job.  I need to stop doing that… complaining.  It’s really unbecoming to bemoan first world problems.

Fall’s cooler temps and routines can’t get here fast enough.  I thrive on predictability.  The introvert in me silently cheers being indoors cozy and comfy, tucked safely away from the world.

I look at kids starting university with their whole lives ahead of them.  They are the least equipped to make decisions yet they have every opportunity in the world.  Cruel irony.

And so it goes, the onset of fall.  My annual pity party should be winding down soon.  By annual pity party, I mean reflecting on my career choices and kicking myself in the ass that I was not true to myself when declaring a major many moons ago.  I am the sell out I learned to hate.

But I will trudge on, buy my obligatory pumpkin spice latte and call it a day.

And so it goes.

Peace.

failing my child one babysitter at a time…

Tonight we got our first baby sitter.  Ever.

My child is five.

He has never had a non-family member babysit him.

Suffice to say we don’t get out much.  My family is in Ohio full time and Canada part time.

We had our first baby sitter.

We went to a movie.

I sat the whole time, cell phone clutched in my hand, convinced I was going to get a phone call about some unwanted tragedy.

I was able to enjoy the movie (Vacation… a fitting send off to my last day of vacation) and laugh like I haven’t laughed in years.

But then I felt guilty.

I hired a babysitter so I could do something selfish… just me and my husband.  For two hours.

I feel like a complete waste of a parent.

And why do I feel like this?

Because tomorrow I have to get ANOTHER babysitter for him as I go back to work.  It’s his former daycare teacher, a woman who loves him like her own and has a grandmotherly touch.  He knows her and likes her.  It’s a good fit.

But I feel horrible.

I’m leaving my child.

My husband doesn’t share this guilty feeling.  He is all business… “I go to work to provide for him…”

He wasn’t on the receiving end of the hugs and kisses I got when we arrived home from the movie.   I felt like a complete failure that I had abandoned my child for two hours.

Please slap me.