The world as seen through the eyes of an exhausted, caffiene addicted, homeschooling, atheist mama.

Posts tagged ‘death’

On Being a Mother and a Daughter

Four years ago, I cut my mother out of my life. I have mentioned that I talked to her while planning my brother’s funeral. Of course, I had to. Stuff needed to be done and I had to have some of her input. Her son had just died and she needed help planning things. My brother had just died and I needed to take care of things in a way that I felt would honor him. I went out there to lay my brother to rest, not to mend fences or re-hash the past. I drove 12 hours through barren dessert for a reason that was much bigger than her or me. I went out there with the intention of putting all of my own baggage and shit aside for a few days so that I could focus on the task at hand.

But I hadn’t spoken to her in years, and I’ve spent those years agonizing over whether or not I did the right thing in telling her to back off. I spent those years mourning for the mother I needed but knowing I’d never have her, no matter how many chances I gave. I spent those years fighting the demons of my childhood–trying like hell to be the kind of mother she wasn’t. Trying like hell to be the mother that my son deserves.

When you grow up in an abusive home,  that abuse is always inside you, just looking for a crack in the armor so it can get out. As a mother, I’ve struggled with finding appropriate ways to deal with appropriate childhood behavior in my son. The appropriate reaction to a kid who doesn’t want to eat his salad is not to throw him into a wall or force the food down his throat. Hell, even toddler could tell you that. But that reaction is in me and it takes a lot of work and self reflection not to let that reaction out. When you grow up hearing that you can never count on anyone, that everyone will eventually let you down, that you should never get your hopes up because you’ll always be disappointed, when you you grow up hearing  “get the fuck outta my sight” , “you ruined my life” and “it’s your fault”, you start to take it to heart; you start to believe “it” is your fault, whatever “it” may be. You start to believe that since your own mother felt you ruined her life, then clearly you must not be worth much to anyone else. You start to think you are worthless, ugly, stupid, unlovable, unloved. When you grow up knowing these things are truth, it’s hard to back up enough to realize that what you know as truth is nothing but a pack of lies that were spoon-fed to you so that you wouldn’t struggle, so that you wouldn’t question, so that you wouldn’t complain or cry. They were lies that were spoon-fed to you so that the one who was really and truly responsible could absolve herself of responsibility.

It has taken years of anguish and hard work to realize that I wasn’t at fault and that putting up clear boundaries wasn’t selfish or wrong, it was a necessary step in becoming the mother I want to be–the mother my son deserves.

While driving through all that barren land, between calls to the funeral home and family members, I was trying to wrap my head around seeing my mother again. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless. I didn’t know how I would feel or react when I saw her. The ball had been in her court of a long time and she never bothered picking it up and tossing it to me. God, I was terrified that seeing her would make me feel like a small child again. I was so afraid that I’d just fall right back into the role of trying to please and appease, knowing perfectly well that I would fail.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Apparently, all the agonizing I had done over the years since I cut her out had been part of a healing process. I saw her, I hugged her, I let her hug me, and I took care of business. But I never felt that rush of guilt I expected to feel. I also didn’t feel an overwhelming need to mend the fence, either. I pretty much felt…empty. I felt like  the desert that I drove through–capable of sustaining life, but just barely.

A desert landscape

I was capable of being gentle with her, I was capable of  being kind and compassionate as she dealt with her guilt and grief. I was able to be patient as she tried to find the words she needed to express her wishes or thoughts concerning my brother. I was capable of keeping things on task as we sorted through his stuff and chose clothes for him to wear. I was capable of holding my tears back so she could shed hers. It turns out, I was totally capable of being a wonderfully decent human being.

But I was incapable of falling into those old patterns. I was incapable of just forgiving and forgetting. I was incapable of pretending that my brother’s death was the thing that would make me see that life is fragile; life is tenuous and unpredictable, so I need to patch things up with the only mother I’ll ever have, before it’s too late.

My brother’s death helped me to see that by letting go of my mother, I have become a better mother. His death has showed me that I am a strong and healthy woman in part because I was able to put up boundaries with my mother. My brother’s death helped me to see what my son and husband couldn’t: It’s not my fault. I am not a horrible, vile, evil person for making the choices I have made. I am a good mom, I am a good wife, and I deserve all the love my family has to give me. I deserve to be happy, I absolutely deserve everything she taught me I didn’t deserve.

I wish her well in her life. I wish her happiness and love. I wish her health and friendship. And if or when she can do the things I need in order to have her a part of my life, I will be here. The ball is still in her court, I’ve just stopped caring whether or not she throws it my way.

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A Whole Lotta Shit

Six months ago, life was awesome. Hubby had a secure job, we had enough money to go out for dinner now and then, and we were saving for a trip to Disney World. Six months ago, we made resort reservations (we were going to stay in one of the new Pirate Rooms!), we made dining reservations (so many fun and interesting restaurants to choose from!) and we chattered excitedly about our week in paradise. For Christmas, Hubby surprised me with tickets to see Cirque du Soleil on our trip, and I cried. I had wanted to see Cirque du Soleil since I was a teenager; it was an experience I had always wanted but never quite dared to dream of.

Six months ago, our life was simple. Six months ago feels more like about a hundred years ago.

In January, Hubby lost his job suddenly. Oh crap, that was scary. But he signed up for unemployment and hit the (virtual) pavement, looking for work. Funny thing about the unemployment, though. It didn’t come through for us. At all. He was denied benefits because of an administrative screw up on his employer’s end, so he appealed. Since we never actually got the unemployment we needed and deserved, we had to make the tough decision to cancel our vacation. At least we had that money to help us through, though.

Poor BB. He was so sad and he cried so much when we told him we’d have to give up going to Disney World this year. But we told him, promised him, swore to him that we would go again. Maybe not this year, but eventually we’d make it back. He’s a great kid and a he accepted the loss of  our dream trip amazingly well. He accepted that we couldn’t go out to eat anymore, buy random books or even run to the store every couple of days like a pro. He helped me inventory our pantry and made a sign for the pantry door that says “Kitchen Shop…The Only Shop At Home!”

We were okay. We were plugging along, trying to pick up the pieces of the mess unemployment made of our lives. But the money just kept not coming and not coming. The hole under our feet kept getting bigger and bigger. We were on unstable ground and it was getting hard to find footing.

Then our cat got cancer. It came on suddenly and we had to make the terrible, awful, horrible, no good decision to put him down.

Poor BB was so sad. Saying goodbye to his Pnut was probably one of the most heartbreaking things he’d ever gone through. It hurt him so much that he said he’d gladly have traded Disney World for Pnut. Oh, my sweet boy. How do you comfort a child who has a broken  heart?

A week went by and Hubby’s new employer said they no longer needed someone out here, but if he was willing to relocate to the Dallas area, they had a position open for him there. We sat on it, not sure what to do, how to proceed. Because his current position is 100% commission, we still didn’t have money coming in, even though he was working 13 hours a day. All of our financial reserves were depleted. It was clear we couldn’t afford to stay put, but we couldn’t afford a move. Gah! So much shit all at once!

On the day we decided to tell BB we were moving, Hubby and I dropped him off at music class and we went looking for boxes. We took them home, I cried for all we had lost up to that point, I pulled my shit together, and went to pick BB up. We decided to take him out for lunch (Chick-Fil-A was a rare treat at that point after Hubby’s job loss) and then we’d tell him that we were moving.

I had been crying all day, and I wasn’t terribly hungry. My nuggets kept getting stuck in my throat; swallowing proved to be nearly impossible. But we got through the meal. We got in the car and on a whim I looked at my phone. I had just missed a call from my grandparents–they had left a voice mail.

Sweetie, this is Grandpa. You need to call us on the cell right away. We need to talk to you. We love you, Moms Eye. Bye.

Grandpa? He never calls. My grandma sometimes calls if it’s been more than a week since she’s talked to me and she’ll leave a message asking me to call right away. I always call and it’s always something like:

Oh, everything’s fine. I just haven’t heard from you and I wanted to make sure you are okay.

If it had been my grandmother calling, I would have blown it off for an hour or two. We were on the way home to tell BB that we had to move away from the only home he’s ever known. But something was niggling at me. My grandpa has dementia, or at least the beginnings of dementia, and something about him calling just had me worried. I told hubby I needed to call back. He put the car into reverse as I called. My grandpa picked up on the second ring.

Hi, Hijita. Grandma needs to talk to you, hold on…
Hello? Moms Eye? (she was crying)
Grandma, what’s wrong?
(sobbing, swallowing) Jeremy. He died, Hijita.
What?! When? What?! How?!
Yesterday, honey.  He had a seizure and died. Can you make it to Arkansas?
Uh, I uh…He’s dead? Oh god…I have to go…I can’t breathe right now. I have to go. I love you Grandma. I’ll call later. I have to go now.

Hubby glanced at me. I wasn’t crying I was just sitting there, stunned. “So who died?” he asked.

My brother. Jer. Jer died. Shit. Shit. Shit. My brother…RAAAAAAA!

Hubby drove us. I think I called my mother from the car, but I don’t remember. Maybe I didn’t. Probably I didn’t. We got a couple of minutes from home and Hubby looked into the backseat at BB. Then he looked at me and said “Let’s do this like a band-aid. BB, we have to move.”

Oh, my son’s face crumpled. I started to cry, he started to cry, Hubby pulled into the garage. I got a drink of water and we all went to the patio. I pulled BB into my lap and held him while Hubby explained that we had to leave our house and our town; that we’d have to move to another state. Like a zombie I told him about the great things there are out there: Six Flags, lakes, museums…

Fortunately, we had a play date set up, so we were able to have our talk about moving and then I could take him to his friend’s house. My intention had been to stay and hang out, but it occurred to me that there was a lot to be done, a lot to take care of for my brother. So Hubby drove and we dropped him off with friends.

I came home and I called people. I called lots of people. I made plans, I dealt with shit like a pro.

The next day, we dropped BB off with friends and Hubby and I went to Arkansas to take care of business.

And now we’re back, dealing with life, trying to figure out how to move us with no money. As of now, Hubby is going to leave this weekend, and BB and I will stay behind until the end of the month to pack and say goodbye.

I’m at the end of my rope, here. I’m so fucking sad about everything. I hate that everything has happened to us at once, I hate that any of this has happened at all. I hate that I have to be alone with BB and my grief for almost a month. I hate that I have to leave my network of friends who have become my family. I hate that my cat died. I hate that our trip to Disney World died. And I fucking hate that my brother died.  This is so wrong. It’s so  unfair. It’s so much more to deal with than I can handle.

But I will handle it. What I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that there will come a time where we can look at each other and say: “Remember 2012? Yeah, that happened. I’m glad it’s over.”

For now, though, I’m stuck in the middle, hoping to come through to the other side pretty damned soon. For now, all I have to say is:

Fuck you, 2012! What a lousy, piece of shit, horrible year you’re turning out to be! I can’t fucking wait until your over and I never, ever, ever have to look at you again!

Promises To Myself

I will allow myself time to feel the sadness when it comes.

I will acknowledge the pain and the regret.

I will hold his memory in my heart.

I will breathe in and out. In and out.

I will allow myself to smile.

I will acknowledge that laughter in not a betrayal.

I will take time to enjoy the way the sun feels on my face.

I will make sure to eat good food and drink lots of water.

I will allow myself a break when I am overwhelmed.

I will acknowledge my fear but I won’t let it consume me.

I will write. I’ll write for me and I’ll write for my brother. I will write so that I don’t forget–so that the things we went through together will not be lost. I will write so that my son can read about his mom when he’s older. I will write so that he can better understand my quirks and fears, so that he can know how hard I try to break the cycle I was born into. I will write not only to honor and remember my brother, but also to honor and help the living and yet-to-be-born.

I will remember.

Coping

I am sad.

The simple, everyday tasks of living overwhelm me;
Yesterday, I went to the store for vegetables and forgot why I was there.
I stood in front of the vitamins and the herbal teas
Does my son have a sore throat? Does he need tea?

Driving to a friend’s house, I missed my turn–
I knew where I was going, I just forgot how to get there.
When I turned around I missed the turn again.
And coming home was the same story.
I just kept driving, right past my street.

The sadness is making me distracted– forgetful.

It is hard to find the energy to cook meals for my family.
My legs don’t want to hold me up–
They are weak and wobbly, like I’ve run a marathon.
I want to sit on the couch–
Read.
Drink.
Write.

I want to cover my head with a blanket–
Sleep.

But my boy needs his mom.
He needs breakfast and snacks and dinner.
He needs to show me his Lego creations
He needs me to be present.

My brother is dead and I am sad.
But the living need tending–
Loving
Feeding

And as I stand at the stove, turning crepes and bacon–
Even as I forget what I’m doing–
I find comfort in the mundane tasks of life.

Picking up the Pieces

I laid my little brother to rest on Saturday; what a horrible fucking day that was. Hell, this whole week has been among the worst of my life.

It feels like it happened a lifetime ago, but at the same time, it feels like it was only moments ago. Things happened at warp speed and in slow motion at the same time. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced that sensation before.

The trip itself was exhausting. A friend took BB and another friend took the dogs so Hubby and I could go to Arkansas alone. It was a long and boring drive, and I think I cried more tears during that drive than I’d ever cried  in my life. And I’ve cried a helluva lot of tears in my time.  I passed the time, between crying jags, making plans with the funeral home, getting cost details, and passing information on to other family members. It was somehow surreal and appropriate to make funerary arrangements in the same desert landscape that my brother and I drove through as kids. Talking to a funeral director on a cell phone with no reception in the middle of the desert is probably a situation that rarely happens, so at least I experienced something that few people have.

While we were there, I got to meet and hang out with some of my brother’s friends. It felt good to listen to stories about him and it was nice to know that he wasn’t alone; he had a network of people who loved and supported him. I’m so thankful to his friends for all they did for him while he was alive and for helping me in his death.

Now we are home and it’s time to pick up the pieces of my life and move on. In about a month we are moving out of state, so on top of the grief for my brother, I have to get us packed and ready to go. I have to help BB say goodbye to all of his friends. I have to say goodbye to mine, too. I have to go through our stuff and have a yard sale, I have to help Hubby figure out where we’re going to live, and I have to figure out how the hell I’m supposed to make friends as an atheist homeschooler in the bible belt.

There is so much to do. Too much to do to leave room for grief. Somehow I need to find a way to set it aside for now so I can focus on the tasks at hand. That’s what got me through the funeral. One task at a time, one hug after another, one foot in front of the other. Forward momentum keep me going and allowed me to keep the tears at bay. It was only in the hotel, when there wasn’t someone to comfort or a paper to sign that my grief seeped out. When it was just me and Hubby, I cried. And cried. And cried. At night, when the lights were out and I was floating in the unfamiliar darkness of the hotel room, I had vivid flashbacks of my childhood. The memories played in my head so vividly that it was like watching a movie. I laid there in the dark, crying and watching memories until I passed out from exhaustion. Then I dreamed that my brother was dead and I was planning his funeral.

My brother was almost like a son in a lot of ways. Even though we were less than two years apart, it fell to me to be his parent. When he had asthma attacks, I fixed his nebulizer treatments; when he had bad dreams, I was the one who nurtured him back to sleep. When he needed food, I figured out how to cook for him. I beat people up when they called him a sissy or hurt him. I raised him.

And now he is dead.

The sorrow, the regret, the depth of the anguish I’m feeling is unimaginable. It’s like I’m stuck in a black hole. I can’t think. I can’t breathe. I can’t move.  How do I keep going when I can’t breathe? How do I move forward when I can’t think clearly? My words don’t even come out right when I’m talking.  The book I’m reading doesn’t make sense. I can’t find meaning in the symbols on the page. And when I do find the meaning, I can’t hold it in my head long enough to understand the context. I go back and re-read a paragraph and I think: I didn’t read this…I don’t remember reading this…

How do you pick up the pieces when they are shattered into dust? How do you keep putting one foot in front of the other when you can’t even pick up  your leg? How do you do this?

Goodbye, Little Brother

My little brother died yesterday.

He wasn’t really little. He was less than two years younger than me, but I practically raised him. We went through hell together when we were kids. My parents would disappear for a day or two at a time when we were little and I had to figure out how to scramble him an egg when he was hungry. When he had a bad dream, he woke me up and I helped him go back to sleep. When I was about ten, he developed a fear of the boogey man after we had been  home alone for a couple of days. I was afraid of the boogey man too, but I didn’t tell him that. I told him that the boogey man was called the boogey man because he carried a boom box into kids’ rooms and boogied the night away.

He said I helped him be brave and strong. The truth is, he made me  brave. I couldn’t have faced the demons of our life if I hadn’t had him to help him face them.

He gave me a nickname around that time: Little Mama. He said I was more a mother to him than our mother was. The nickname stuck and eventually our parents started using it. At the time, I took it as a badge of honor. I was a good person. I was helpful. I was responsible and I was grown up. Looking back, it breaks my heart that I had to take on that role. And it breaks my heart that the only kind of mothering he got was from a sister a couple years older than him.

Don’t get me wrong. We fought. A lot. Siblings do that. But we also depended on each other. Siblings do that, too.

As we hit puberty, we started to get on each other’s nerves, but we were still really close. All the moving, all the uncertainty, all the fear bonded us in a way that seemed unbreakable.

When I went away for college, I cried for the entire first year. I felt so much guilt for leaving him behind, but I knew I had to get out of there. I knew I’d die if I stayed where I was. We started to drift apart. Bad shit happened to him and I wasn’t there to help him through it.

He told me he resented me for abandoning him.

How could he not? I was the only mother figure he had, and I left him with a strung out mother who dragged him half way across the country to live with her drug smuggling boyfriend.

I had BB and we tried to reconnect, but I think he was too far broken to ever let me back in all the way. We fought. A lot.

Apparently grown siblings do that.

I abandoned him again. He was so angry with me and we couldn’t have a conversation without fighting, so I just stopped contacting him. He stopped contacting me. We just let each other slip away.

I didn’t expect him to die. In the back of my mind, I always thought we’d come around again. I always thought that’d he be there for me to bounce my memories off of. I thought he’d be there to help me make sense of everything we went through together. I thought he’d always be a witness to our childhood.

But the only person who could attest to what we went through together is gone. The only other person who has the same memories as me, the only other person who can validate my past, had a seizure and died.

My brother is dead and I’m alone with my memories. The good ones and the bad. I’m alone with nobody to understand-nobody to laugh when I sing “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. There is an entire lifetime of memories that are only half-memories now.

Jer, I’m so sorry for all you went through. I’m so sorry you felt I left you, and I’m so sorry I didn’t get to tell you goodbye. No matter what you may have felt or thought, I always loved you, I always worried about you, and now I’ll always miss you.

Love,
your sis.

Death Without Heaven

Sometimes I can understand why people hold on to religion. In times of crisis and grief, the notion that there’s something bigger than us, something with a plan, something that cares and directs us down the path we’re supposed to go, can help you put one foot in front of the other.

As a parent, it’s my job to help my son make sense of the world and deal with his grief. Religion would sure be handy for that. It would have been so easy to hold him yesterday and tell him “I know you’re sad about Pnut, but he’s in heaven now. He’s happy now. He’s chasing shadows and rolling in grass and drinking from a little stream. His earthly body is gone, but he’s not.”

But I don’t believe that, so my challenge as a parent who happens to be an atheist is to find a way to help him cope without spoon feeding him bits of stories that I don’t believe. It’s hard. How do you comfort your kid when you need comfort yourself? I don’t claim to have all the answers, or even some of the answers. I just know what Hubby and I did, and I believe it was good and healthy for BB.

We allowed him to feel his emotions, talked about good things, we let him hold Pnut, before the vet came, after the first shot when he just fell asleep, and after the second shot that stopped his heart. After the vet left, we all held our wonderful cat and we reminisced. We cried as a family and we allowed the other pets to sniff his body.  We reminded  BB that as painful as it is to see him lying there like that, his body was just a body. Pnut wasn’t in there and he couldn’t feel love or pain anymore. We talked about his body rejoining the earth and we talked about holding him in hearts and memories.

And an amazing thing happened. BB stopped crying, pulled out some paper and colored pencils, and drew a picture of Pnut lying on the blanket where he died. He worked at the dining room table for a long time, and we told him he could have all the time  he needed. Once in a while he’d come over and look at the shape of his tail or legs, once he came over and opened Pnut’s eyes to try to find just the right shade. BB found his own way to deal with his grief: scientific inquiry and artistic expression. It was so inspiring to see, and I felt humbled and small next the wise soul of my ten-year old.

It turns out he didn’t need God, heaven and platitudes. All he needed was the freedom to feel his emotions and to find his own way to handle them.

Pnut: My favorite cat. This is my gift to you. I love you with all my heart.

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