Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End

It is very early in the morning on the last day of 2011.  Like many of us, I am reviewing the events of this year as I prepare to welcome the next.  Interestingly enough, I found a note on facebook that I had written on the last day of 2010, lamenting what a terrible year it had been.  Dear friends of ours lost children, spouses and parents.  Others had lost jobs or their relationships had ended.  The economy wasn't improving, the housing market still sucked and we still had brave men and women away from home fighting wars.  I was so glad to see 2010 come to an end. 

Yes, 2010 was tough for me, the Queen of Empathy, however none of those losses were my own.  I plowed into 2011 full of hope and excited for the new year.  We started the year with a great trip to Wyoming with friends where we played in the winter wonderland like kids.  February did see knee surgery for me, but it was minor and I felt so much better afterwards.  March was great for me professionally as I was recognized by my peers with two awards at our annual conference.  By April, I knew my dad wasn't well although it would take almost two months and numerous tests to finally get the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.

The next few months were a whirlwind of running between home and Bowling Green to help take care of and spend time with daddy.  All that time I was also doing my best to keep the balls in the air at work.  As many know, watching someone you love die is terrible, so much so that while the final breath is heartbreaking, the relief is sweet, at least until the numbness wears off and the grief sets in.  Grief is debilitating.  I've said before that the loss of my father reopened the wounds of losing my mother and sister before him.  I struggle daily with the loss of my family.  Grief has become my constant companion.  It has robbed me of my joy, my ability to be kind and my patience.  I keep a grasp on knowing that it is a temporary state, at least I hope so.  I pray that this current version of myself is not permanent.  

We buried my dad on a lovely summer day at the end of August.  I have missed him every day.  Within a week of my dad's passing, one of the dearest friends I have ever known told me that she is moving to California.  I did not think my heart could possiblly be any more shattered, but I was wrong.  I still can hardly talk with her about the pending move.  At the first of this month a beloved friend, who had also been a member of my team at work for the past ten years had major surgery.  She did not recover and died just a few days before Christmas.  Sweet Robbie, I will always miss you.  Christmas was bittersweet.  My small family spent it in St. Augustine, which was beautiful and nice, however my husband had to stay in Tennessee to care for our dog who had complications after a tail surgery.  I hated being apart from him.  

As I ramble on and on, I am trying to get the the point that all years are challenging.  Maybe not for each of us personally, but probably for someone we know.  As we get older our losses grow.  It is logical.  It is sad.  It is true.  The New Year will be here in just a few hours.  I'm not one for resolutions, I fail enough without having to set myself up to do so.  This year, I especially do not need to set resolutions.  I am entering this year depressed, bitter and angry, not really the mind set you need to tackle a resolution.  I am going to allow myself to ride out these feelings for as long as it takes to waddle through my grief.  I'm not going to pressure myself to make a change, have a new beginning just because the calendar rolled back around to January.  

I am, however, ending this blog with the end of the year.  It feels right.  During the months that I have used blogging as a tool to help me cope with my dad's sickness, I did discover that I love it.  I am intending to blog further, but not in the forum that this one was created.  Thank you for reading, thank you for reaching out, thank you for the support.  I sincerely wish each of you a Happy New Year. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Warriors One and All

I saw a quote a friend posted on facebook this morning which said "be kind, everyone is fighting a hard battle".  Could anything be more true?  Just in the past few weeks I have had friends lose children, parents and spouses.  I've had friends diagnosed with serious illnesses, some waiting on transplants to save thier lives, others facing extensive surgeries.  Friends have recently lost jobs, had to put their loved ones in nursing homes, put down beloved pets.  I know people who are barely paying their mortgages, worrying about how to provide Christmas presents for thier kids and keep food on the table.  Everyone has something going on in their lives and outward appearances don't always clue us in.  Be kind, everyone is fighting a hard battle.  Another quote I have always loved is "Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible".

Both of those quotes are great mantras for daily living.  I wish I could say that I am always kind, but in truth I am not.  I think that I used to be much better at being kind, but lately grief and maybe hormones have challenged me.  I am impatient with people.  I have very little tolerance these days for much of anything.  Bad drivers, people who interrupt conversations, whiners, silliness, over-friendly clerks and servers, people who turn every conversation into something about them, inconsideration of others, politics...everything bothers me.  I truly hope that my intolerance is because I am depressed and that as time moves on, all will get better.  I know I don't feel like myself. 

Certainly the holidays approaching are not helping my frame of mind.  This time around, it isn't that I am just missing my dad but I am missing my entire family. My mom, my sister, Memaw, Papaw, Mawmaw and my sweet cousin Danny and all the other beloved aunts and uncles that have passed on. The emptiness dwelling in my heart right now is so vast.  I remember the first time I visited Mammoth Cave as a kid, the guide walked us past a "bottomless pit" and told us if we threw a coin into it, we would never hear it hit the bottom.  That is how deep my sorrow feels to me right now.  I listen to others planning their holiday celebrations with thier big families and I feel like the most alone person in the world. 

Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.  I am going to do my best to concentrate on that over the next few weeks.  I am going to hold others in my heart who are walking the path of grief during this holiday season, as well. I am going to embrace the small family we are now and give thanks for each one. I am going to try to remember that everyone, stranger and friend alike, each one of us are doing battle.  We are warriors one and all. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Silent Suffering

I seem to have some unreal expectation of myself that I should be over grieving for my father by now.  It has just been two months since his death.  Two months!  Why on earth should I be beating myself up when I catch myself grieving is a mystery to me.  I certainly would never have that expectation of any one else.  I would more than likely be reinforcing their grief with acknowledgements of how little time has truly passed.  We are so much tougher on ourselves than others would be. 

Truth is I am so sad that I can hardly function.  Every single little thing is a chore for me.  It is my busiest time at work and I swear I don't know how I am managing to get through it.  I am rolled up in self pity like a baby in a swaddling blanket.  I feel incredibly alone.  A few years ago, before my church home became so dysfunctional that I had to leave it behind, the pastor did an exercise during the service where we wrote our greatest fear on a piece if paper then tacked it to a wooden cross.  The point was to give our fear over to God and I loved the symbolism of that exercise.  Until that day, I had never voiced my greatest fear outside of myself, but I bravely wrote the truth on that slip of paper.  My fear is that everyone I love will leave me and that I will truly be alone. 

I realize that a good deal of us share that fear.  I believe it started for me when my parents divorced and a few years later my sister dying soiidified it. Each time a friend moved out of my life, or another loved one passed on, it grew.   Now that both of my parents are gone, the fear seems more palpable than ever before.  I know it is unfounded, i have a loving husband and great friends, but in the quiet times that fear flickers at the edge of my thoughts.  I am working daily at giving that little slip of paper over to God again. I am so glad that I am a believer, for the comfort that brings is medicine to my injured soul. 

Life is tough for all of us.  Losing an parent who was sick from cancer pales in comparison to things I know others are dealing with.  I fight feeling guilty in my selfish grief, but we all have our pain.   From experience, I know that eventually I will become more engaged in my life again and that fear will fade back to the closed vault I keep in my mind.  Time is a healer, that much is true although it never can truly fade the ache of a mourning heart.  In the meantime, I am going through the motions, doing the best I can while silently suffering. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Here We Go

Today is the beginning of the milestones we will mark as life marches on without my dad.  Tonight we would have been dining together and celebrating his 80th birthday, probably at the Catfish House or O'Charleys or Cheddars.  He loved them all.  Instead of celebrating his birth today, I am intensely aware of my personal loss.  There will be no more birthday celebrations for my dad, just as there will be no more birthday cards for me from him with a crisp $50.00 bill inside.  I miss him so much today.  I've been watching the calendar for weeks, this day creeping closer and closer, just as Thanksgiving and Christmas are lurking in the future.  There is no joy in the anticipation of the holidays this year.  Only a heaviness. 

I am going to slap the first person that says to me "it is time to make new traditions".  As I write that, I realize I have said that very thing to friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones.  How lame am I?  I know just as I was trying to be positive for them, others will feel compelled to do the same for me.  I am not ready to hear it.  I don't want to hear it.  I need to grieve through the holidays and mark those anniversaries, the first Thanksgiving without, the first Christmas without.  I still need to feel sorry for myself, little orphan Katona.  Orphan.  Webster defines Orphan as a child whose parents are dead.  Becoming an adult orphan is hard.  You have lost the last person who could love you undonditionally and care for you like no other can.  No matter how old we become, when your parents are living you are still someones little girl.  When they are gone, no one is left to nurture your inner child except yourself.  It is very sad. 

Nearly every time I saw my dad or called him on the phone, he greated me with "Hi Shug (short for sugar)"  I loved that so much.  It went right to my heart and warmed me from within in a way I can not really explain.  I adored my father.  I've said before that our relationship was often challenging, but he was my daddy and I wanted nothing more in the world than to make him happy.  I didn't usually go about it in the right ways, but I really did want him to be proud of me.  We often butted heads, argued about choices I made, but no matter what tensions were between us, I was still his Shug. 

I miss him so much. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Those Odd Moments -Reprogramming

it is about 2:33 in the morning and I am spending a sleepless night in my cozy room in my friend's home in Wyoming. I want to be sleeping, as I am very tired, but it just isn't happening. I have been struggling for the past few weeks trying to get through my busiest time at work while dealing with grief fog. It isn't easy. I am literally exhausted at the end of each day because I have been struggling to work hard and take care of business when I really don't give much of a damn about it right now. My patience is thin and hanging on to my temper some days is like wrestling a python for eight hours. I am going to have some serious scar tissue on my tongue from biting it so much in order to keep words from flying out of my mouth that I can't take back.

I still can't believe my daddy is dead. His absence in my life is palpable. It is a weight bearing down on me every minute of my days. How then is it possible to forget he is gone? Tonight after dinner we were wondering through a gallery in Jackson Hole and I saw a puzzle on a table a table of some bears. I picked it up thinking that daddy would enjoy it for his birthday which is coming up next week. What the fuck! How does that happen? How do you forget? The reality of his absence from my life crashed over me so hard that I almost dropped to my knees in the middle of that gallery. I miss him. I miss my mom. I miss my sister.

While this is not a good time for me to be out of the office, I need a few days to be away from my daily routine and honor my grief. I need to be in a place where I feel close to my Maker and the quiet peacefulness of Wyoming is about perfect. I need time to clear my head of work stress and quiet my mind and mediate and pray. A lot. I need to work on Reprogramming myself to my new reality.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This and That

I spent most of this weekend in Bowling Green.  I am finding that being there brings me comfort since daddy died.  I wanted to see my step mom and spend some time with an old friend, but I also had a personal ritual in mind, too.   I love tattoos and had been wanting to get one in honor of my dad for the last couple of years.  Since his death, the need to get it done became greater.  He hated tattoos, hated that I had a few and would hate that I got yet another.  It was sort of fitting though, maybe that last act of defiance, but this time in some twisted honor of our relationship.  I also felt very strongly about getting it done in BG, where he lived his entire life and I grew up.  It is funny the little rituals that we go through to deal with all that life throws us.  After daddy died, I became obsessed with cutting my hair and did so as soon as I could.   In some cultures even today, women cutting off their hair after losing a loved one is a badge of grief.  I've been reading a book about grief that a friend gave me.  In one chapter it mentions how in today's busy society, we tend to hurry everything including mourning our losses.  The writer mentions that once upon a time when a loved one died, family members would dress in black or wear armbands or black ribbons every day for a year.  These tokens were to remind everyone of thier loss. 

Today we are constantly rushing from project to project.  I have friends with kids who seldom have an evening where they are not rushing from work to pick up a kid to take them to ball practice, cheerleading, hockey, youth group or any other of a dozen activities.  Americans work more hours than most any other country.  We are plugged in all the time.  Me too.  We are always asking each other what plans we have for this night or that weekend almost like if you don't have something going on, it's wrong.  Rarely do we just allow ourselves to do nothing.  Sit.  Listen to the quiet.  Unplug.  It isn't how we roll.  At my company (which I can say nothing but great things about) we get three days of bereavement time for the death of a parent.  Other companies give one.  Not to say that you shouldn't get back to work, life does go on after all, but one day?  When you are grieving, one of the hardest things is to accept that the world keeps on turning.  You just feel like everything should stop, even just for a little while and acknowledge that your world has changed forever. 

You can't hurry dealing with grief and it never truly goes away.  Each loss leaves behind it's own little cell of grief that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.  My sister died 33 years ago, but there are moments still where her absence in my life takes my breath away.  My mom has been gone for nearly 13 years and I often have days where I sob as hard over losing her as I did the day she died.  I miss my Memaw everytime I watch a squirrel play in the yard, or eat dumplings.  I am not going to let anyone tell me that I should "be over it by now" or "I should get on with my life".  I am getting on with my life and part of that includes allowing myself to wear my little internal black ribbon for as long as I need to.  No one knows what is best for me but me. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No Two Alike

Grief can be incredibly dibilitating.  It fascinates me a little, quite frankly.  The old saying about death and taxes is so true.  Death is the one thing not one of us is immune to, therefore we all experience loss in our lives.  Friends, family members, beloved pets, odds are you are going to lose someone you love in your lifetime.  Grief will at some time or another be a part of our lives.  I do have friends who have not yet experienced the loss of a significant loved one, but most of us probably have.  Some maybe many times over. Just as there is no escape from dying, there is no escape from grieving. 

I've said before that grief is very personal.  While all of us will probably experience grief in our lifetime, we will all handle it differently.  There are scores of books written on the subject of grieving.  Someone even came up with the five steps of grieving, although not everyone goes through them.  I wear my emotions on my sleeve.  I've always done so.  I honestly don't know how to be any other way.  Others hold tight to their emotions, never show a tear or quivering lip.  Many are somewhere in between.  There is no right way or no wrong way to grieve, just as long as you do.  Grief is important in healing a broken heart.  Someone very close to me, who I have rarely seen cry told me the other night that he feels like if he cries because someone has died, he is in some way disagreeing with God's big plan.  He can't cry because he is afraid of offending God.  I find that to be so beautiful, even though I don't feel the same way.  I think crying is cathartic and necessary and when I shed tears for a loved one, I don't think God is offended by that.

I'm a big fan of the tv series "True Blood" because is is great escapism.  There are lines in that show that sometime just knock me out of my seat they are so funny, like "don't go all lost in nature retarded on me" or "I'm a fairy, how fucking lame".  In one recent episode, two characters were talking about how to go on living after someone they loved died and one said "you just keep breathing, baby".  I loved that.  We just keep breathing.  We just keep taking one step at a time.  We just get through this day before thinking about tackling the next.  We just keep allowing ourselves to have the days you want to scream.  We go back to work, go out with friends, look for a little joy in each day. We know that while no two grieve alike, we all are brothers and sisters in heartache and we are not alone in our experience. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Moving Forward

Today marks the end of my first week back to work after losing my dad.  I spent most of last week alone in my house allowing myself to breakdown and roll with each new wave of seemingly unbearable grief.  I had my "Big Chill" Glenn Close moments sitting in the shower sobbing, I yelled, I prayed, I laid in my bed and wept for hours.  I avoided my friends for the most part and just spent time alone with my grief.  When Tuesday rolled around I dreaded going to the office.  I was not ready to face getting back to work because it meant that life continues whether I wanted it to or not.  Day one back was tough.  I wasn't sure that I could make it through the day.  I have worked at my present company for nearly 20 years and we are a big family.  Knowing that I was going to have to talk to a lot of people, all who were going to ask me how I was doing, was not something I wanted to do.  It was tough.  I had already gone by the office on Saturday to pick up the big pile of sympathy cards that I knew were going to be waiting for me.  I am glad that I did that, rather than face those on that first day.  I managed to make it through the day and each day this week was a little easier to bear. 

Working while in what my friend Tracie calls "the grief fog" is tough though.  It amazes me that I can't remember a single thing for more than a minute.  I remember when my mom died I went through the same thing and that was when I really got in the habit of writing down everything.  Email makes it easier because there is a trail to follow now, but it still just floors me how little I am retaining.  Case in point, earlier today when I got to the office, my low fuel warning on the car chimed.  I honestly couldn't recall ever looking at the gas gauge recently.  When I left the office, I had an appt to get my nails done and on the way, the chime went off again.  I reminded myself that when I left the nail salon to go get gas, I was even chanting it in my head while getting my manicure. I just now realized that I never did go fill up the car.  I joked recently about putting the milk in the oven and the peanut butter in the refrigerator.  I wasn't kidding.  I have been finding things in the wierdest places.  It is almost frightening, this memory loss from grief. 

I hate how fragile I feel.  Fragile is not a word I would ever use to describe myself.  I realize it has not even been two weeks since I buried my father, but I just feel like I could break into a million little pieces at the drop of a hat.  I have never felt like this before.  A few years ago at my 15th anniversary dinner at work, which is one of those affairs where people say nice things about you and you get a clock or something, my friend Rhea said I was resilient.  At the time I thought, wow, that really is true about me.  I'm not saying that my life has been any tougher than anyone elses, we all have our trials, but I have dealt with a lot of stuff in my life.  I keep holding on to that description of me by someone who knows me well, because it gives me hope that I won't always feel like some delicate piece of china.

I am also struggling with anger.  I don't really think it is anger like the kind talked about as one of the stages of grief.  That anger is usually directed at God or the loved one you lost or the medical community.  This is more like I have just don't have any tolerance for things or people.  Maybe this is because I have just experienced a tragedy in my life and so by comparison so many things just seem so trivial to me.  I'm impatient with everything.  I know that this will fade just as my memory will get better and I will become less fragile with the passing of time.  Right now I just feel so inside out and raw.  I am doing the best I can though, trying to find a little bit of joy in each day and moving forward. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grieving for More Than My Dad

Yesterday someone said to me that I should be grateful that I had my dad for so long.  They went on to tell me that their dad died when he was in his 60's.  Although my reacation was seething anger at their assumption that I had not experienced loss before, I knew they didn't know my sister died at 13 and my mom at 64,  so I graciously smiled and expressed my sympathy at their loss.  I realize that death freaks us out and we never really know what to say to someone who is grieving (by the way, "sorry for your loss" is enough), but most times comparing your loss with someone elses when it is recent, is not really a good idea.  Grief is personal and all consuming and while a recent griever appreciates the sympathy, they probably don't care at all about your own experience.  Not right now.  They will in time and sharing similar losses actually becomes a source of comfort, but initially, not so much.

I am grateful I did have my dad for so long.  Very grateful.  I am grateful that until about six months ago, he had an active life doing the things he wanted.  However, whether he died at 79 or at 99 doesn't change the fact that he is gone and that I am going to grieve for him hard, regardless of his age at the time of his death.  The loss of my dad is about so much more for me than just losing him, though.  My immediate family consisted of me, my sister Karen and our parents.  Karen died as a result of injuries she sustained in a car wreck.  My mom died in 1999 at age 64 from Hep C that she contracted through a blood transfusion that she received after losing so much blood from injuries from the same car accident.  My dad, as you know just died from lung cancer.  That's it.  They have all gone on. 

While I am certainly grieving the loss of my dad, I am also grieving the loss of my entire family.  While my dad was alive, there was someone else on earth who shared memories with me.  He remembered when I overfed the guppies that my Mawmaw raised to sell to Woolworth's.  He remembered when I won a Kennedy half dollar because I won my first grade spelling bee.  He remembered when I dropped the glass of chocolate milk and that milk shot straight up and left a stain on the ceiling in our house that we could never quite get rid of.  He remembered that on a drive to Louisville, we had to turn around at E-town to go back home and get Karen's favorite toy, T-Bone.  He remembered when our family represented Kentucky in the All American Family Pageant back in the early 70's.  He remembered coming to my house to tell me my sister had died.  When he died, a big piece of my history went with him.  Shared experiences are now gone forever.  I can't truly express how sad this is for me.  This grief is so much more for me than just grieving for my dad. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

I Can't Breathe

Anniversaries are are big deal to us.  We are always marking the passing of time.  We celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays, years in a job, how long ago we quit smoking or drinking, what day you had your first panic attack.  We know how many years ago we lost a sister or a mother or an aunt.  My father died a week ago today.  How can it already be a week?  How can I have functioned (if you can call what I've done all week functioning) without him in my life for seven whole days?  How is it possible? 

I feel like I am trying to breathe underwater.  I feel like my chest is full of holes so the air pours out of me rather than fills my lungs.  I would rather have a limb cut off than go through this pain of losing someone I love again.  It is the hardest thing we do in life.  There are no words of comfort, no one's embrace, no distraction that can ease my wounds today.  I don't want to hear about time and memories bringing comfort.  I know these things.  I've lived through loss before.  Today I want to roll in the razor sharp edges of my loss.  I want to feel fucking sorry for myself.  I am going to scream and cry and beat my fists into the pillows until my arms hurt.  I'm going to be angry.  Not that my dad died, he was suffering and I am grateful that his pain is over.  I am going to be angry at the disease that took him.  I am going to be angry that we can put a fucking man on the moon, but can't figure out how to cure cancer.  I am going to be angry at the morons who think I should be able to shake off my loss in 7 days time and "get on with life". 

I'm going to admit that even though I am strong, I am also breakable and that I am broken.  I am more broken than I have ever been before.  I can't breathe, I cant breathe, I can't breathe.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reliving Loss

It is 2:00 in the morning and once more I can't sleep.  Without sounding too much like Oprah, one thing I know for sure is that once you lose someone significant in your life, every new loss reopens old wounds of grief.  I realize that my family is not unique in grieving.   Everyone experiences loss.  It is one of the few things that you can take to the bank.  No one is immune from it.  Some of us may have had more experience than others, but we will all suffer from grief. 

Losing my sister when I was 18 was one of the first major events that shaped the person I was to become.  My parents had divorced a few years before her death and I had never really dealt with the feelings that their divorce left me with. Karen's death left me feeling that no one that I loved was going to be steadfast in my life. I spent most of my young adulthood either trying in all the wrong ways to find rock solid love or doing everything I could to run from it.  It would take me well into my 20's to deal with my fear of being left behind and on my own.

My mom and I had a very close relationship.  In hindsight she probably let me get away with way too much, but she taught me so much about being a strong, independent woman.  She taught me about faith and loyalty and to really care about others.  She was so special to me.  She died unexpectedly in 1999 and her death truly rocked my world like nothing else had.  To make matters worse, my beloved aunt Mary Ann died on the same day.  Mom died early in the morning and my aunt later in the afternoon.  I adored my aunt and her passing, while expected since she was in the final stages of lung cancer, was so devastating.  The next few days were a blur as I dealt with arrangements for my mom in Nashville, visitation for my aunt and funeral in Bowling Green and a burial service for my mom's ashes in BG.  It was a whrilwind and frankly I don't have a lot of memory of those couple of days.  I do know that losing my mom left a hole in my heart right next to the one already there from losing my sister.

My dad and I had a lot of friction in our relationship.  My dad had very defined ideas about how I should live my life and when I didn't follow that path, it was hard for him.  I know he never really forgave me for not finishing college.  I know he disapproved of the party girl lifestyle of my youth.  I know he was sorry that I did not choose to stay in Bowling Green.  I spent a good deal of my life just trying to live up to my dad's expectations and feeling like I always fell short.  Although I know he didn't always approve of my decisions or actions, he always loved me and I never doubted that love.  I know that he was proud of me, of the life I made for myself, for the career path I chose. When he became sick and I knew our time together was short, I never felt that there was anything unsaid between us.  I'm glad of that because it made the time we had left so pure and full of love. 

My heart has broken yet again, and behind the cracks that his passing has caused are the newly opened cracks left by loved ones that have gone on before. Because I have suffered great loss before, I know that I will survive this one, too.  I know that at some point the feeling of emptiness will be replaced with fond memories that bring comfort.  I know that life goes on regardless of how I feel my world has stopped turning for a bit.  I know that sooner or later, the grief fog will lift and things will gradually get back to how they were before my dad died.  Right now, however I can't sleep for reliving the losses of my past along with the newly added loss of my daddy.  I miss him so much. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Okay....Now What?

Over the past couple of days, my family has gone through the rituals of saying our final goodbyes to my dad.  I was dreading visitation, because it puts you in such a position to "host" the event, when you really just want to sit and cry.  A friend who has experienced a great deal of loss over the past few years told me to really focus on the stories people would tell of my dad.  She said to really listen to what folks had to say about him.  I really did try to do this.  I learned things about my dad from his friends, co-workers and fishing buddies that I did not know.  I did hear some great stories.  I did see that my dad was really loved and respected by so many in the community.  Many of the guys that worked for him at B.G.M.U. had tears in their eyes when they spoke to me about him.  It made me proud to be his daughter.  I know that in the coming days, weeks and months, these stories about daddy will bring me comfort.  You do "host" visitation, but I also did enjoy seeing friends of my family, family members that I rarely spend time with and a couple of big surprise reunions of dear friends from my childhood.  I was sincerely moved by the number of friends who came up from Tennessee to pay their respects to my dad and to show support for me and my family.  I want to write more about the friends I have been blessed with at a later time, but just haven't found the right words to even start that tribute.  They deserve so much more than my simple words. 

My life over the past many months has revolved around doing my best to help take care of my father and spend as much time with him as I could.  I don't know how many times I have driven between my home in Tennessee and his in Kentucky since May.  When I was home, it was a whirlwind of taking care of my household, showing my face in the office for a bit and figuring out how quickly I could get back to my dad's.  When I was at my dad's I hated when the days would roll around that I had to leave there.  It was exhausting running up and down I-65, but it was what I had to do.  Being with daddy was bittersweet.  I wanted to be there all the time, but watching him failing was heart wrenching.  I enjoyed the times he was talkative, but knowing those conversations were the last ones we would share was hard.  The days were filled with helping him, getting him medication, food, to the bathroom when he needed it.  During the times he slept, I worked furiously at my job because I didn't want to let any of my responsibilities there falter.  I wasn't sleeping when there because I was always listening to see if he and Jan needed my help during the nights.  At home I wasn't sleeping because I could not shut off the thoughts of his pending death and what that meant to me.  These last months have been the hardest of my life. 

After dadddy died on Friday night, the next couple of days my time was filled with making arrangments, planning, running errands, spending some time with friends who had rushed to be with me and making calls and answering emails.  Then visitation and the funeral and the family coming back to the house to share a meal and memories of daddy.  Dealing with death is very busy for a bit.  Yesterday evening, I packed up the items in my dad's house that I had taken and left because of living there a few days a week.  We loaded my car and Kim's with suitcases and flowers and plants from the funeral, food that Jan wanted out of the house and made our trek home.  I've not slept more than 2 or 3 hours a night since last Thursday. Last night I turned out the light at 9:30 and slept nearly straight through until 10:00 this morning.  I've not slept that late in the morning since I was in my 20's.  I'm rested, but foggy minded, which I know is grief.  I came downstairs, drank coffee, spent some times with the dogs, started some laundry and then found myself standing in the kicthen overcome by an overwhelming sense of emptiness and struggling to figure out what I am supposed to do next.  I no longer have to rush through taking care of things at home so that I can hurry and get back to my dad's.  I know that my life will get back to the routine I followed before my dad got sick pretty quickly, but at this moment all I can think is what?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Going Through the Motions

I couldn't sleep last night.  I was exhausted, a wee bit drunk and even with a sleeping aid, just couldn't shut off my head.  I seem to be well on my way to another sleepless night.  I wish there was a switch you could throw that would turn the spinning throughts in my brain to dust. 

Today we made the arrangements for my dad.  It was surreal talking about his life to come up with the perfect obituary.  How do you sum up someones life in such a short space?  Choosing a casket is such an odd thing to do.  The casket showroom is eerie and has such a used car lot feel to it, in my opinion.  We picked our model of casket and color and I half expected the guy to say that he would have it washed and gassed up for us before we drive it off the lot.  Oh, don't get me wrong, the funeral home person was great.  It is just the experience.  So, I guess we have the bones of the service and visitation together, the obituary sent off to the paper for tomorrow's edition and daddy's final outfit for burial.  It is all so weird and I felt so disconnected from it.  The afternoon was spent making phone calls, accepting visitors bringing gifts of food to the house and answering calls.  The medical equipment company came by and picked up all the tools of caring for my dad.  They whisked off with the wheelchair, hospital bed, walker, oxygen units and other supplies.  It was like erasing that my dad was sick.  We moved the furniture back in place now that we don't have to maneuver a wheelchair through the house.  All is like it was, except my daddy isn't here. 

Tomorrow we will meet with the preacher and nail down the service details and gear up for the difficult days of visitation and funeral service.  It is crazy how you just walk through this stuff on auto pilot.  I don't give a fuck about his casket, his wardrobe, his obituary.  What I care about is my own broken heart, the broken hearts of his wife and his nephew.  The desire to see him when you know you can't is overwhelming.  You smile and make choices and just get through it when all you want to do is wail, rend your clothes, tear your hair and lie of the floor kicking and screaming like a toddler.  I want to climb on the roof and scream to the world that my dad has died and how dare the world continue like this is not the great catastophe that it is.  You can't do that, though, so you put on the brave face and continue going throught the motions. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Goodbye My Sweet Daddy

This evening at around 7:00, my dad drew his final breath.  I knew on Wednesday afternoon when I left BG that he was taking a turn for the worse and we probably did not have much time left.  He had a terrible night last night and this morning my cousin called to tell me he thought I needed to come back to BG.  I got to daddy's around 3:00.  He was fairly alert, knew who I was, but was complaining about pain.  He had been throwing up quite a bit from the morphine and was refusing to take it.  Hospice came around 4:00 and decided that he needed to have a catheter inserted since he wansn't going to the bathroom  The insertion of the catheter was brutal for him and I wish in hindsight that we had refused to have them do it.  My cousin and I finally coaxed him to take some crushed up pain medication in a spoonful of pudding, which did ease him, although mostly he was agitated.  At around 6:30, I locked myself in the bathroom and proceeded to beg God to take him home.  Shortly afterwards, he quieted down and his breathing became more and more shallow.  Jan, Jim and I gathered round him, laid our hands on him and told him we loved him.  I told him to go on, we would miss him but would be fine.  He died quietly with those of us who loved him best at his side.  It was peaceful at that moment.

I am numb.  My cousin and I proceeded to drink way too much Grey Goose while we discussed funeral arrangements. I am sitting here in the bed listenig to my husband sleep and all I feel is just numbness.  I'm grateful that my dad's suffering is over, but devastated by his passing.   I know the next few days will be filled with a lot of activity, planning a funeral, friends coming by to visit, phone calls to make.  It is so surreal.  It is like I am in someone elses life.  I miss him already.  Goodbye my sweet daddy.  I love you so much.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Unanchored and Adrift

Daddy graduated to Morphine today.  I knew when I headed home yesterday that we were about to enter a new stage of decline.  I know that our time together is drawing to a close.  My prayer is still that it is sooner than later.  Watching someone you love being tortured by disease is horrible.  I wish I could take it away from him, but I can't.  All I can do is make sure he knows how much I love him, how honored I am to be his daughter and help to make him as physically comfortable as possible. 

I've mentioned that my sister was killed in a car wreck about 33 years ago.  She was 13 years old.  Karen was a wonderful little imp.  I called her monkey.  She was full of life, sweet as could be and I adored her.  The day she died was certainly the worst day my family had ever experienced.  My dad has been angry at God ever since the day he buried his baby girl.  Since becoming ill, he has been working his way back to a relationship with God.  I'm sure that is common for everyone who is dying, but I am glad that daddy is trying to heal his soul.  He has been reading spiritual books and literature, talking a good deal with the preacher from the last church he attended regularly and I hope he has been praying, too.  I have no worries about my dad's salvation.  I know that God is in his heart somewhere and that he will be welcomed in heaven as one of God's beloved children.  My stepmom and I spoke a good deal about daddy's spiritual life and she told me that he had asked the preacher if my sister would know him in heaven since he was now an old man.  That statement just wrecked me.  I'm glad he is thinking of heaven and I hope that being reunited with Karen and other loved ones who are gone are bringing him peace. 

What made me so sad about his question was the image I had of Karen and daddy embracing in the next world.  My mother (although my folks have been divorced forever and my dad happily married to a wonderful woman for 32 years) looking on with joy.  My small famiily unit all together again, the only one absent is me.  Don't misunderstand me, I still have lots of living I hope to do in the world, but being the last one left alive in my family is so sad for me.  I have great friends, really great friends.  The kind of friends that I can call 24/7, who would drop everything to rush to my side.  Friends who I know without a doubt love me and support me and are there to comfort me. Friends I can cry with, show my anger to, friends I feel completely safe with.  Friends I love so much I can't even put it into words. I know the saying "friends are the family you choose" and I really even believe that. However, knowing I will soon not have any of my immediate family in this world leaves me feeling unanchored and adrift. 

I've grieved terrible losses before and so from experience I know that I will get through losing my father.  I know that time will ease the hurting and that the memories of this horrific experience will fade and the wonderful memories of my dad will bring comfort.  I know that life is for the living, that I am not unique in this experience, that we all suffer great losses in our lifetimes.  I know that God walks with me and that he is the great Father that I can always turn to.  I know that the feeling of being abandoned as my last living parent is journeying toward death will be replaced by the love of my friends and that does bring me ease. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Smacked in the Face

I noticed today that almost every entry I have written has been done while I am in Bowling Green.  At home I have distractions that I don't have when I am here.  I have my loving husband, my wonderful friends, my pets, my household responsibilities, my life's home base, so to speak.  When I am here in BG, and believe me I want to be here, there are no distractions from the reality that my dad is dying from a horrible disease.  Today was one of the toughest days yet. 

I'm emotional to a fault.  I have been my entire life.  My mom used to tease me that I would cry at a K-Mart grand opening.  The stage of life that I am in now when my body is going through hormonal changes has ramped the emotions up to 11 (Spinal Tap reference).  I often tell people that it is really a handicap.  I have no control over it.  I have a pretty high level job in a large company that sells DVDs.  Nothing is quite as embarassing as sitting in a meeting full of peers while a studio is showing trailers from their upcoming slate of releases and tearing up during a preview.  I can't tell you how many times I have struggled to pull it together before the lights come back on.  It is terrible.  Since daddy has been sick, there have been days where I have literally cried the whole day.  Seriously, the salty discharge will not stop.  Today was one of those days.  Daddy just didn't want to get up today.  It freaks me out a bit when these days roll around because I know we are entering a new stage in his decline.  He did finally decide he wanted to get up and move to his chair in the den around 1:30 this afternoon.  I know that the day is coming where he just doesn't get out of the bed anymore.  His body is actually lumpy through his back and abdomen from the tumors that are growing.  He hurts.  He is weak.  Yesterday afternoon he had an episode where he got very flushed and sweaty, shaky, dizzy and nauseous.  I knew it was a sugar drop (he is diabetic) and tried to get him to drink some juice.  He got a few swallows down and began to feel better.  Jan told me this morning that last night when they went to bed, he told her he thought he was dying during that spell and that he was so disappointed when he didn't.  That breaks my heart. 

Where I am overly emotional, Jan holds tight to her emotions.  Today we were eating breakfast and chatting and the next thing I know she has her head on the table and sobs are wracking her body from the soleslof her feet to the top of her head.  I'm glad that she spilled some emotion.  I think that is healthy, but it was so sad to see.  I admittingly feel very sorry for myself that my dad is dying, but she is losing her life partner.  Today was full of conversations about his future care.  We both agree that giving him his maintenance drugs seems a bit ridiculous, but as long as he still wants to take them, we do.  His potassium levels are elevated and we are supposed to give him this liquid that will flush the extra postassium from his system.  Side effects are acute diarhea.  Hell, the man can hardly get stand, let alone get to the toilet.  We have both felt guilty that we have not given him that medicine, but why bother, really.  Why put him through the misery and maybe the loss of dignity that the side effects may cause?  His level will be out of whack again soon, his kidneys are failing.  These decisions are logical, but making them is very tough.  The hospice nurse helped us both feel a bit better about not treating him.  She was very matter of fact about the weeks to come and how much more difficult things will get.  I appreciate her frankness.  I want to know what to expect. 

A little while ago I helped put my dad to bed, told him I loved him and wished him a peaceful night.  I washed my face, brushed my teeth and climbed into the guest bed like I have done many nights over the past several weeks.  I try to read, try to meditate, am successful sometimes and calming my mind, but more often than not, in this quiet time, the reality of it all just smacks me in the face.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Overwhelmingly Sad

After my folks divorced when I was around 13, I never lived with my dad again, except for a few months in 1985 while I was saving money to move to Nashville.  Spending two to four days a week in his home now while I am helping to take care of him is so nourishing to the little girl that lives inside me.  Even though he is weak and frail and so very sick, I am comforted each night I lay my head on the pillow that he is just down the hall.  There is a photo of my late sister and I in the room that I stay in.  I remember going to have that photo taken years ago at Grant's department store.  I was probably 9 or so and Karen was around 4 or 5.  At that time in our lives, we were daddy's little girls.  While my heart is breaking a bit each day as we get closer to the day it shatters completely when he dies, this time in his home is so important to me. 

Being here is so difficult and extremely emotional for me, but I don't want to be anywhere else.  Today was tough.  He is growing increasingly weaker and is to a point where he can barely stand up for more than a minute or two before he collapses in exhaustion.  He sleeps almost constantly, although today he was alert more than he has been.  We chatted some today about his boyhood friends, his college graduation in 1953 and trips to Louisville to visit friends of our family.  I enjoyed that.  Some days he barely talks at all.  I cannot imagine all the things that are running through his head.  When he was in the hospital, the pastor from the church that he attended for awhile came to see him very often.  As of today, he hasn't called or visited him at home at all.  Daddy said he thought maybe he had offended him or something.  While it really isn't my business, I emailed brother Steve today and asked him to call dad.  He did and even came to visit tonight.  It cheered my dad greatly.  I was glad I meddled.  Steve apologized to me, said he had been super busy the last few weeks and appreciated the kick in the pants not to neglect daddy. 

I know I am rambling tonight.  Being here is so bittersweet.  I love the time with my dad, but seeing him suffer and deteriorate is so hard.   I've had to run to the back of the house a lot today to cry for a few minutes before putting my brave face back on.  I know dad feels bad enough without me spending the day in tears in front of him.  The sadness is so heavy that I feel it is pushing me down.  I know I have the choice to not spend as much time here, but I am not going to let the emotional toll rob me from spending time with my dad.  I will bear the weight of being overwhelmingly sad to have every minute that I can. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Taking Care of Me & Feeling Guilty

Only those who have experienced taking care of a loved one who is dying from a terminal illness can truly understand the stress that comes along with it.  Yesterday my boss stood in my office door and told me that I probably didn't even recognize the level of stress our situation is causing yet.  Last night while laying awake listening to Kim sleep, I realized that he is probably right.  It does seem to be a sneaky stress.  Some days I think that I am functioning pretty well.  I'm working and I think I am managing to keep the many balls I handle in the air.  I'm managing my household and so far have not missed paying a bill or vacuuming every week.  My pets are fed, healthy and happy. I am cooking and keeping up with the laundry.  Other days I feel like I am moving through mud all day long.  It feels like it takes a true effort on my part just to breathe.  My thoughts are crazy and jumbled, even my vision seems out of focus.

I am often asked if I am taking care of myself right now.  It is hard to answer that question, because I am not sure I understand what it means.  I am keeping my bi-weekly massage appointments, which I need now more than ever.  I am keeping scheduled doctor's appointments.  I am making time to spend with my friends, going to concerts, dinner, shopping or just hanging out.  I'm spending quiet time at home doing nothing but enjoying my husband and our pets.  I'm praying and talking to God.  I'm journeling (via this blog) to help sort out my feelings.  I'm trying to do things that help me stop the obsessive thoughts of my dad's suffering, my step mother's suffering, my own suffering for a little while.  Here's the thing though, every minute that I am not in Bowling Green with my dad, I feel guilty.   I feel guilty because I am not spending that time with him when I know our time left together in this world is short.  I feel guilty that while I am having fun, Jan may be struggling to get him to bed or to the bathroom, or having to change the bandage on his side that is still leaking fluid from the cancer.  Jan and I had this conversation last week about the guilt when you catch yourself in the moments away from him that are enjoyable. 

Thing is, we both know that daddy wants us to get out, have fun, get away from him.  He is struggling with his own feelings of guilt.  He feels guitly that he can't do for himself and sees himself as a burden to us.  He feels guilty that we will never leave him alone.  I wouldn't take a shower the other day until Jan came home from running errands.  I know it made him feel terrible, but what if he needed to go to the bathroom, or choked while I was in the shower and couldn't hear him? Guilt is as much a part of our daily feelings as sadness, anger and grief. 

So, am I taking care of myself?  I honestly don't know.  I'm trying to find a balance between my life in the land of the living and my need to be with the dying.  I'm trying to allow myself to feel and roll in all the emotions that wash over me daily and not stuff them down.  I'm trying to talk about things when I need to and not talk about things when I don't want to.  I'm trying to squash the guilty feelings when they come along.  I'm just trying to get through the days, hell, sometimes I am just trying to get through the minutes.  I guess that is the best I can do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Head Is Spinning

When I got to the office yesterday, I realized that I had no recollection of actually getting in my car and driving there.  I know we all do that once and awhile, but the last week or so, I have noticed that I am having lots of moments like that.  Certainly it it stress.  I keep telling myself that I am really handling everything so well, but the truth is every action is a struggle.  I am not prone to depression and when I recognize that I am, I'm always a bit startled by it.  Not me, I don't get depressed.  Sure I have the occaisonal blue day once in a bit, but not depression.  No way. 

I'm so fucking depressed.  I feel like the air is just being sucked right out of my corner of the world and I am struggling for every breath.  I want to be with my dad every possible minute that I can and am spending two, three or more days a week here.  I want to help care for him, at least as much as he will let me.  I want to be here to ease the responsibility of caring for him for Jan.  Each time I am here, I am overwhelmed by the enormity of caring for him and pained by how difficult this is for Jan.  I don't know how she bears it.  Tonight we talked about the depression, how oppresive it is.  For me, I have my job to focus on.  Even when I am in BG helping out, I am working remotely while I am here.  Dad sleeps or watches TV and I work.  It is a blessing to have something to occupy my brain besides my dying father.  Jan has no release.  The days I am here and she gets out of the house to shop, have her hair done, have lunch out, she feels increasingly guilty because she is enjoying herself.  I ache for her.  I worry about her as much as I am worrying about daddy. 

Dad is miserable.  He often makes comments about wanting to go ahead and die and sometimes mentions suicide.  I don't blame him one bit for having those feelings.  I'm sure most of us would.  I sit in my chair behind my TV tray office peeking over my laptop at him praying that this will be over for him soon.  His days rarley have joy in them.  He struggles with feeling he is a burden to us every time he asks for something.  Cancer is eating away at his pride as much as it is eating away at his body.  He struggles with even the smallest thing like swallowing a pill.  It is heart wrenching. 

Tonight is just a jumble of thoughts.  We've talked about music for his funeral and who will be pallbearers.  We've talked about the possibilty of him lingering in his current state for a long while.  Please God, no.  I've had to fix the printer on her computer, figure out how to use the regulators on the oxygen tanks from a new company we are using now, entertain a family friend who dropped food by this afternoon.  Work.  I've also worked.  It has been a busy day, but I can't settle my brain down tonight.  I want to gather Jan up and somehow make it easier for her to walk this path as her spouse is dying.  I want to take all the pain and suffering from my dad.  I want to curl in a ball and feel sorry for myself because my family is going through this.  I want it to be over.  I want my head to stop spinning...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Illusions & Hope

This past Saturday Kim and I went to Bowling Green to spend the day with daddy.  I've been spending two or three days a week in BG, but Kim hadn't been to see daddy since he had been home from the hospital.  We got to dad's place and it was remarkable how well he was doing!  He had great color, his eyes were bright and clear and he was very talkative.  Just a couple of days before he was depressed, quiet and seemingly so weak you wondered if he would even draw his next breath.  Now here he was sitting up, engaging in conversation and even asked me to make him half a chicken salad sandwich with sliced tomatoes from the garden on it.  He ate all but a breadcrust then asked for cake!  This is the man who two days before ate 1/2 a cup of oatmeal and an ice cream bar and that was forced down.  I was amazed.  What is this...acceptance of his future?  Making the best of the time he had left?  It was the best I had seen him in months, honestly. 

Sunday when I called to check on him and again on Monday, he had a lilt in his voice, was chatting about the visitors he had those days and just sounded stronger.  Again I wondered, is this acceptance, is he honestly feeling better, is it the miracle I've prayed for in between the prayers for just making his suffering end?  I felt this spark of something in my being that had not been there for weeks.  It was this little flame of hope.  A friend said to me the past Saturday night that as long as there was a spark of hope, anything could happen.  I've been beating myself up a good bit the past couple of months because I just didn't have any hope for my dad's future.  Before his diagnosis, I knew in my heart it was lung cancer and that it was bad while everyone else had hope it was something treatable.  When the oncologist mentioned the chemo pill that he may be able to take, I knew it wasn't going to be able to help him while others hoped it would.  When he said once daddy got to go home and was able to regain some strength that traditional chemotherapy might be an option, I knew that he was never going to get stronger while others hoped he would.  I've felt sincerely shitty about my lack of hope. 

Those who know me know I am a half full kind of gal.  I usually am pretty good at keeping a positive outlook on things.  Hell, I dont think I could have survived certain things in my life if I was pessimistic all the time.  Daddy's well being over the weekend really got me hoping that he did feel better and would be able to embrace the rest of his life and find some joy in it.  I was so excited about getting to his place last night so I could spend hours visiting with him and chatting about our history and fishing and ballgames and golf and how Tiger Woods sucks.  My illusions were quickly dashed when I walked in last night.  In the three days since I last saw my father, his physical appearance has changed greatly.  His cheeks are sunken, his body even more frail and he is so pale he is almost translucent.  Getting him ready for bed last night, I realized he is even weaker than three days prior and that the smallest task, like brushing his teeth is as exhausing to him as running a marathon would be to me. 

Today Jan took a break from her role as main caretaker and got out of the house early to enjoy some shopping, lunch out and the opportunity to recharge a bit.  She said daddy has usually been getting up and moving to his den by about 9:30 or 10:00.  At 11:00 when I couldn't wake him I began to be concerned.  He is diabetic and I was certain his sugar level must be extremely low.  I tried three different times to get him to sit up and drink some orange juice to regulate his blood sugar.  He could not stay awake longer than a minute or two.  At noon I started to feel a bit panicked and was in tears when the hospice nurse dropped by to bring us some pain medication.  She assured me that leaving him sleeping was the thing to do, not to be concerned with his blood sugar, his morning medications that he missed or anything else.  Excessive sleeping is a natural part of the dying process, she said.  At 12:30 he finally wanted to get up.  It took from 12:30 until 2:10 to get his face washed, him to the bathroom, dressed and moved to the den, where he promptly fell asleep in his chair.  He has eaten about 3 bites of solid food and drank an Ensure all day and only used the bathroom twice.  I know his kidneys are beginning to fail.  Tomorrow we have to take him to the doctor, although Lord only knows why.  He is already dreading going out because it is so exhausting for him. 

I guess when I started writing this entry, it was really about my lack of hope.  I have realized that I do have hope though.  I hope this is over for him soon.  It breaks my heart to think of losing my daddy whom I adore and putting that into words seems almost cruel in some ways, but there is where my hope lies.  Not in illusions of wellness that is not there. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Orphanhood Pending

When my sister was killed years ago, I remember that I noticed siblings together everywhere.  Karen and I were worlds apart at the time of her death.  She had just turned 13 a couple of months earlier and I was 18.  The five years between us at that time might as well have been twenty, our lives were so different.  She was just discovering boys, Ronnie Barnes who lived behind us in particular and I was entering my adulthood.  We weren't close at that time although we loved each other dearly.  Once she was gone, I was so aware of not having a sibling to share life with and was so envious of anyone who did.  Her death left a huge void in my life and left me angry for many years.  You don't expect your baby sister to die. 

You do expect your parents will die before you do.  It is the natural order of things.  My mom and I were very close.  She truly was my greatest friend.  When she died unexpectedly in 1999, it wrecked me.  I mean WRECKED me.  My life for months afterwards felt like I was living in a bubble.   I went through the days, tried to do my best at work, tried to be a good wife to my husband (we had just been married about four months), tried to enjoy my friends but I just wanted to curl in a ball and die.  I never dreamed that I would ever feel joy again, enjoy anything at all again.  The pain was nearly unbearable.  Of course, it does get better, but nothing is quite the same after losing someone you love.  It has been 12 years years since mom died and rarely does a day go by that I don't think of her and miss her. Every achievement I've made in my life since her death is a little less bright because I can't share it with her.  Every milestone, a little less of an event.  She was my cheerleader, even when she knew I was making mistakes and bad choices.  She had unwaivering faith in me even though she witnessed my failings.  She had my back.

Now as I face my father's illness with him and know that his death is bearing down on us, I have so many feelings about being left parentless.  Sure, I have great friends in my life and they really are the "family you choose" and they lift me up constantly.  But it won't be the same as having a parent's encouragement.  Who will nurture my inner child when she needs it?  Knowing that soon I will never answer the phone again, "Hi Daddy" breaks my heart in a million little pieces.  I'm really trying to just get through one day at a time, but I can't help it that in the quiet times my mind goes to the future.  I am cherishing every minute that I am spending with him.  I am cherishing every conversation that we share these days.  I am grateful to be able to take care of him at this stage in his life.  I cherish making him a sandwich, bringing him a glass of milk, watching "American Pickers" and "Pawn Stars" and every judge show on TV with him.  I really am trying to drink in every minute that I have left with him.  I am trying to keep the future out of my head but I keep coming back to my ophanhood pending.  My entire family unit will be gone once my dad dies except for me.  There is something so sad about that.  No one left in the world will share the memories of my youth growing up in that immediate family.  It feels like some of your history just begins to fade away, like even my presence is becoming fainter...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hanging On By A Thread

We saw the oncologist today.  He had been to see daddy in the hospital a couple of times and had thought that he may be a candidate for a chemo pill that might help him.  It turned out that his cancer would not respond to it.  He told me that once daddy got home and regained some strength, we could possibly try some traditional chemotherapy, but I knew in my heart that was never going to happen.  When you aren't eating and can't walk more than a few steps without being exhausted, how are you supposed to get stronger?  So, the visit today was just the official "we can't do anything for you" step.  Oh, the doctor was very kind, compassionate and honest and we all appreciated it.  He talked to us at length about pain therapy and Hospice and sent us home with an appointment in a month.  Frankly, I don't know if daddy will be with us in a month.  Anyway, we all expected that news, but hearing it officially was extremely emotional for us all.  During the visit I asked about possibly prescribing daddy anti-depressants.  Daddy said he didn't want those, but he wanted a pill he could take that would just make him die.  He got weepy and just said he couldn't stand being a burden to Jan and myself.  We tearfully assured him he is not a burden, but a bessing and that we love him and want to take care of him.  It was so sad.

The doctor arranged to have Hospice call us, which they did about half an hour after we got home.  Tomorrow we have a consultation scheduled with a Hospice nurse and I guess once we talk with them we will decide the next steps.  Daddy was very resistant to Hospice several days ago when we discussed it with him, but after the doctor spoke about them, he was willing to call them.  I hope once he understands all they can do for us in aiding with his care and comfort, he will be at peace with the decision to call them.  I hope that they can be of help to Jan when I am not here.  He is failing so quickly.  So we are plodding along, taking it day by day and still hangin on, even if by a thread.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Joining The Club

Humans are social animals.  From a young age we seek to form relationships and join groups.  I couldn't wait to become a Brownie, where I could have a cool little brown uniform and make a jewelry box for my mom out of a cigar box, macaroni and green felt.  Later it was about joining a dance class or being a 7th grade cheerleader.  In high school, it is all about clubs, drama club, speech club, student council and in my high school, the Ugly club.  I was thrilled to become a member of the GTB's, which was a social club that my boyfriend at the time belonged to.  As adults we join book clubs, civitan clubs, the Jr. Leauge and if we can afford it, country clubs.  Clubs are a part of our daily lives.  So much so that we often use the phrase "join the club" when someone may be describing experiences that we've already had. 

Life gives us membership to clubs we don't want to be in.  When my sister died in a car accident in 1978, I suddenly found myself a member of the Becoming an Only Child club.  In 1979 and again in 1981 I became a two time member of the Victims of a Violent Crime club.  In 1996, the Divorced an Alcoholic club and in 1999 the My Mom Died club.  My point is, until you've experienced certain things, you can never truly understand the impact events can have in our individual lives.  I have several friends who are also members of the My Mom Died club and all of us share a unique understanding of the special grief that losing your mother means.  I am now in the initiation process of becoming a lifetime member of a new club that I did not want membership in.  Dear friends of mine have cared for their loved ones while they were dying of cancer or other horrible diseases. I felt empathy for them and tried to be supportive and understanding of their experiences, but I truly had no idea of the horrors and hardships they endured. 

Today was a tough day. I bet daddy didn't eat a full cup of food today. He is in pain, can't walk but a few steps before he is gasping for air like a marathon runner in the last mile, is using a potty chair in the den because the short trip to the bathroom is too much for him.  Misery is his constant companion as despair is becoming mine.  Seeing a loved one uncomfortable and not being able to help them will drain your very soul and until you have walked this path, you cannot begin to understand the pain it causes. I have renewed sympathy and respect for my friends and others I don't even know who have experienced this difficult part of life.  Meanwhile, I am joining the club. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Isolated in the Crowd

My dad really had a rough time last night.  He was in acute pain, the pain pills didn't seem to be helping and he was refusing to go to the hospital.  I had been in Bowling Green since Monday night and although I hated leaving, I came home Thursday evening to spend a couple of days at home.  I know I can't be there with him 24/7 and I certainly have things to take care in my own household, but I struggled yesterday with not being there.  I was weepy most of the day and when I got home from work, had a serious and long case of the sobs.  About the time I spent most of the emotion, Jan called to ask me to call and talk to my dad because he wouldn't listen to her about going to the hospital, or even trying some medication to make him more comfortable.  I got on the phone with him and it was obvious that he was in distress, but wasn't going to let anyone try and help him.  It was extremely upsetting and the feeling of helplessness that I already feel in this situation was smothering.  I told him I would call back in an hour and if he wasn't feeling better, I was going back to BG and would manhandle him into an ambulance myself if that is what had to be done.  When I called back, he was sleeping and Jan did not want us to come back since I am already planning to go back tomorrow and stay for several days.  This morning he does seem to be a bit better, praise God.

I know many friends who have lost their parents, spouses and children to cancer.  I lost a dear friend to breast cancer a few years ago.  My aunt died of lung cancer in 1999 and my cousin of brain cancer many years before that.  Most everyone has experienced a loved one or someone they know dying of cancer. My sister died in a car accident when she was 13 and my mom died in 1999 quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  Although my dear aunt died of lung cancer (acutally the same day my mom died, but that is another story), I lived in a different city and did not experience the day to day diminishing of her life from her disease.  This experience with my father is my first stint on the front lines of caring for someone who is dying of cancer.  Several of my dearest, most beloved friends have lost parents and spouses to cancer and have stood where I am now.  They are holding me up daily with advice, prayer and the sharing of their experiences.  I'm surrounded by people who love me, who are there for me, who are reaching out daily just to make sure I am okay, who are willing to cry with me, give me a hug or just sit silently with me.  My husband is my rock and is walking this path by my side.  I have all this support from wonderful people and I have honestly never felt so isolated in my entire life.  It is hard to explain it, but I know that those of you who have been in my shoes will know what I mean.  I even feel hollow in my soul, like if i banged on my chest with my fist, I would hear an echo like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz.  My life feels surreal right now and I feel like a spectator to it a lot of the time.  I don't know what I would do without the loved ones who are keeping me grounded right now and making this isolation in the crowd bearable. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Home at Last

After 46 days, we finally brought Daddy home.  It is a little frightening for us all after so much time.  He has received such great care while in the hospital, are we going to be able to provide what he needs at home?  He is so frail and thin now and weak as a kitten.  Like I mentioned before, he was always such a strong man, that it is so difficult to see him in this state.  Getting from the driveway into the house was so hard for him.  He hates and I mean HATES that he has to have help to do even the simplest things.  We had a conversation earlier today about how hard it is to ask anyone for help.  The cancer is robbing him of his independence and it is so very sad to see.  I worry that taking care of him is going to be so hard for my step mom.  I want to be here every minute to help, but realistically I know that I can't.  While I work for an awesome company that is allowing me to work from my dad's home, I have responsibilities at my own home.  The 90 miles between our homes seems so far these days. 

So anyway, we are in a place now where he is home from the hospital, but we don't really know what's next.  We have an appointment scheduled next week with the oncologist to see what the next step is.  I know that he feels like daddy needs to be much stronger than he is now to withstand any kind of chemotherapy.  I am not sure how he is to get stronger when he isn't eating hardly a thing and any exertion is very difficult.  I am emotional today about entering the next phase and am struggling to be positive.  One day at a time has been my mantra for many weeks and I am trying to just hang on to that.  I am grateful, though that daddy is home at last. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crying on the Patio

My parents divorced when I was 12 or 13, I can't really remember now.  I always loved my dad, but those weekend visits were so hard sometimes.  It wasn't that I didn't want to spend time at my dad's house, but all my friends were back in my neighborhood.  I didn't want to miss out on any fun that might be going on in my absence.  Of course, I was a teenager too, so whatever boy had my attention at the time was far more important to me than spending any time with my dad.  I'd have time for that later.  Today, when I was sitting at the hospital watching my pop sleep, I was thanking God for that moment with him, and the next, and the next.  Life really goes by in a minute and I regret all those times that I avoided the weekend visits as a young girl because as an adult, I realize that hurt him and I am sorry for that.

Today was not a great day.  Daddy is discouraged and depressed and really didn't have a whole lot to say.  He has been reading that book "Heaven is Real", and while I am glad that he is reading something that choice makes me certain that he is scared.  I sort of like it when he sleeps a lot becuase when he is sleeping he is not thinking about his situation or uncomfortable.  He still has quite a few visitors and that cheers him.  Cards cheer him, too although they are slowing down.  If you would like to send him a card, send me an email and I will share his address.  My email is

Tonight Jan and I sat on the patio and had one of what I am sure will be many conversations about daddy's future and our lives without him.  There is a special piece of my heart breaking for her because she is losing the person she chose to spend her life with.  I'm sure she has her own fears about her future without my dad in her life.  I'm saying special prayers for her.  While it was a tough day, it was nice sitting with her outside watching the sunset, listening to the birds and crying on the patio. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Roller Coaster

Today is dad's 33rd day in the hospital.  We were encouraged the past couple of days because the fluid draining from his chest had reduced significantly, but today it is back over 300cc's.  It needs to be below 100 before they will send him home.  We were hoping that he could get the tube out and go home early this week.  The hospital is wearing us out.  Oh, the care he is getting is exceptional, but the sitting around and waiting for something good to happen is exhausting.  Daddy is so tired of being there.  Each time I visit he seems to be more depressed and withdrawn than before.  He told my step mom a couple of nights ago that he wished he would just go ahead and die.  It is so difficult to hear him say these things, but who can blame him? 

I am struggling with managing my own emotional reactions.  The return of panic attacks has really taken me by surprise.  In the late 80's I was diagnosed with panic disorder.  I did a good deal of cognitive therapy and both individual and group counseling to get to where I could manage it and not let it take control of my life.  Before I developed panic disorder, I never really understood Agoraphobia, but once you have a major panic attack while driving, while at the grocery, while in the movie theatre, at a friends, at work, at church, you begin to understand how someone could make the decision to never leave their home again.  I begin to volunteer with a support group called Agoraphobics in Action (AIA) and worked with them for a couple of years.  I sat on panels at Vanderbilt during classes that were studying Agoraphobia and panic disorder and even participated in an information video for use in classes.   I mention all of this only to let you know how much panic impacted my life.  I even had serious thoughts of suicide during the time before I learned to manage the panic.  Over the past 20 years, I certainly still had panic attacks, even a couple that made me go to the ER, but have not had the anticipatory anxiety that is starting to take hold of me again.  Anticipatory anxiety is really the fear of the possibility of having a panic attack.  It is a crazy circle.  

I have pulled out the "managing panic" toolbox and am working on keeping the beast at bay.  Also in play for me is being in peri-menopause.  I've always been overly emotional, usually to the empathy side of things, but lately rage is starting to be my go to reaction.  I don't like this at all!  I don't like how it makes me be with people I care about.  I don't like how it makes me be with my co-workers and I don't like how it makes me be with myself.  I realize that some of my anger is a grief reaction.  Of course I am mad as hell that my dad is sick with a horrible fucking disease that is causing him to suffer.  I'm mad because I selfishly don't want my dad to die.  I'm mad because I can't do anything at all to change the future.  I'm mad because I still have to function in my day to day life instead of curling into a ball and pulling the covers over my head until it's over.  I'm mad because the little girl in me is not ready to be an orphan.  I'm mad because I can't control being mad!  

So, here I am on this roller coaster of emotions, knowing that there are others that have shared this ride, but still having my own personal experience. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Where Did My Big Strong Daddy Go?

Daddy has been in the hospital for 26 days and we really have no idea when he may get to come home.  He still has too much fluid draining from his chest, which is being caused by the cancer.  Right now, he has no treatment options for the cancer until he can gain enough strength to handle traditional chemotherapy.  It is hard to be hopeful when I see him so weak, but I am trying to hang on to some hope.

My dad has always been a tall, strong, tough man and even as he as aged, I've never seen him any other way.  Our relationship was tough in my teen years and early twenties.  I was a wild child and he had already lost a daughter and I know that he often felt I was on the road to destruction.  He probably has no idea how often he has been my white knight, and I certainly do intend to tell him.  It is so hard for me to have that image of my big, strong dad stripped away.  He is struggling, too.  The first couple of days in the hospital, he was denying himself enough pain medication to keep him comfortable because "he could take it".  Convincing him that he didn't have to "take it" was tough because I know that went against everything he is.  He is putting on such a brave face, when I know that he has to be a jumble of doubt, fear, anger and every other emotion you can imagine. 

He is so brave and strong and I am a wimpy mess.  I have done a pretty good job not being emotional when I am with him and for me, that is quite the feat.  The couple of times that I have broken down with him, he has assured me that he has had a good life and that I shouldn't be so worked up.  That cracks me up because it is so typical a Daddy statement.  So I am keeping my worked up moments to those times when I am not around him.  It's hard, but I know it is what my big, strong Daddy wants.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Last Leaf on the Tree

Recently my father was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 lung cancer.  The impact that his diagnosis has had on me has been somewhat stunning and in order to help me cope, I've decided to write about it.  For those who may read this who know me, know that I am an open book about my life.  I think that openess began years ago as a teen and has become a tool that has helped me handle my life.  I don't know what this blog will become.  Maybe just a personal journal of my feelings about the pending death of my only living parent.  Maybe it will be about being the sole surviving member of my family unit, which is having quite the impact on me.  Maybe it will be about facing my own mortality, or my newly developed fear of becoming a lung cancer victim myself.  Whatever it will be, I know it will be helpful to me through a very difficult time.  Loss of loved ones is not new to me.  Death has not been a stranger to my family.  I know grief very well.  I am different now, though.  Older and wiser maybe, but my own body and mind are going through "the change" and I don't know myself as well as I used to.  I'm hoping that this little blog will help me find myself again in this ball of emotions that I live with nowdays.  We will see.