Love, Loss, and Reevaluating Life (part 3- who am I?)

Do I know who I am?

Recently, as my mother-in-law was leaving after a visit, she asked me if I believed in God. The question caught me off the guard.

To give you a little background. My mother-in-law believes in the literal translation of the Christian Bible. I, on the other hand, do not like labels. At first glance, these statements may seem to have nothing to do with each other. However, throughout my whole life, having to define myself has made me feel a bit trapped.

It is not as though I have a fear to commit to something; it is more the fear of judgment. I do not eat meat, and for a significant period, I did not consume any animal products. The minute my family started describing me as “Vegan,” I panicked. What if I messed up?! What if one day, I just really wanted a juicy red meat hamburger. I would be a hypocrite and ruin the good name of vegans everywhere. The world would come crashing down in flames, all because I ate a hamburger after being defined this way.

Yeah, sounds a bit crazy when written out this way, but there is a point. I recognize the irrational nature in those feelings, so I try very hard to always give understanding to those around me (especially to those who think differently than me). Sometimes, I struggle with finding grace for myself. Its easier to be free of labels.

So when my Mother-in-law asks me about my belief, I panicked a bit. Part of me wanted to sit her down, and spend hours speaking to my philosophies on a higher power, and how each aspect of “God” is as individual as the person who has a relationship with it. However, I suspect what she was asking was, do you believe in “my God.” I did not dare to verify this is the answer she wanted.

In the wake of my Father’s death, it brings many questions to mind. Who am I? Who do I want to be? Is there an afterlife? Does it matter?

I deeply admired and looked up to my dad. He was a teacher (quite literally), but it was also the essence of who he was. My sister and I were both raised as Catholics, but my Father always taught us to think for ourselves. He never preached, he asked questions. When one of us “believed” something, he argued the opposing belief. His actions have always given me the ability to look deeply at things.

When I have a belief, I need to understand it, and all sides of it thoroughly. So when my thoughts on God were questioned, it is not such a simple answer. Is it my job at this point to teach? If I take on the role of Devil’s advocate my Father so loved, am I disrespecting the background of someone who was not raised to question everything?

I ended up answering her with “yes, but not the literal translation of the Bible” ( Hopefully that is enough for her to rest well, believing that her Grand kids will not go to Hell.) It was a safe answer. I tend to choose safe more often than not. How is it that I can argue something I do not fully understand? How can I expect a book written by someone else’s relationship with God to instruct me (divinely inspired or not.)

I believe that God is something bigger than ourselves. That is my faith. I think my Father is part of this bigger. He always has been, and always will be. Will, I ever see him again in the way I understand now? Probably not. Will I seek guidance on how to process that? I hope so.

The next time anyone asks me what I believe, or who I am, maybe I will answer: “I am growing and evolving, and I hope each day I continue to do so.” and genuinely mean it.

Love, Loss, Reevaluating Life (Part 2- Being the strong one)

I am a dependable person. I can look at life and be content. Things are not always perfect, but I am generally happy. I also see the best in people. I don’t look at character flaws as unfavorable. They are just hurting that need to be healed. A “bully” doesn’t need to be shunned; they need to be hugged. I attribute much of this to my Father.

When I was in my teens, my Dad often worried that I was to Naive. Someone was going to take advantage of my good nature. Little did I know he was the same way. He grew up in a situation that would make most people cynical, angry, and reactive. He was the opposite of this, and his life was a testament to that.

Fast forward 40 years, a husband, and two kids later and I tend to be the rock or water, as I like to think of it. Water doesn’t break; it flows. It can wear you down over time. Water parts and joins back together. It is flexible and robust.

In my family, we deal with Alcoholism and Addiction, Social Anxiety, General Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, and more. Mental illness can be ugly. It’s not always black and white. Sometimes it unintentionally hurts the people around you. No matter how much information you get, it will still creep up and surprise you. I have the ability to at least be consistent. A safe person that if nothing else, can say, “I am here, and I am not going anywhere.”

Then sometimes life throws you a curve-ball. For the first time, I can remember, I am too tired to be stable and consistent. It is me at the therapist’s appointment, and not in the waiting room. People lose family members all the time; why should this trigger some crazy mid-life crisis. I quit my job, decide I want to move us all across the country to be close to my side of our extended family (spoiler, this doesn’t end up happening). I justify doing this because being close to a stable family will make everyone happy.

Surprise, the world did not end when I was weak. The people I love most stood by me in my crazy (they even came along for my 6-week stint back East, too see if it was a fit). Now I am a little bit broken, a little bit lost, but things might be okay.

Love, Loss , and Reevaluating Life (part 1- Losing my Father)

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa

This was one of the quotes given at My father’s Memorial recently. Losing him was surprising, fast, and something I never expected. Having lived on the opposite ends of the country for the last 18 years, we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, but it was enough. He was one of those people that understood your life and dreams didn’t have to coincide with being a part of each other’s world.

I had the opportunity to spend more time in the last six months with my family of origin than I usually did. Having turned 40 this year, it brought about and unique mix of experiences that I lovingly like to refer to as my mid-life crisis. Before he passed, I had been focusing significantly on that the fact that I had just turned 40 and I had nothing to show for it (Mind you this is what my brain told me, not necessarily reality). I had a low paying job at a call center, I had very few friends (at least not the kind I did anything with regularly), and there was nothing I wanted to aspire too. I didn’t care. Mind you this all sounds very depressing when putting into words- but In reality, it was more of just a meh moment.  

My family made the trip to Florida at the end of February to visit my parents and enjoy theme parks in the area. Unfortunately, my Dad was feeling a little under the weather, so he joined us minimally. Shortly after we got back home, we received the news that the hospital diagnosed him with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was aggressive cancer, but very treatable. My father had always said he was going to live until 80, and he was usually right. While I was worried, I did not doubt he would beat this. He started Chemo in March and did well with his first treatment. My sister and I wanted to plan another visit to hang out while he was still feeling pretty good (and before the chemo hit him too much.) He protested and wanted us to wait until July when his treatments were complete, and we could have more fun. Fortunately, he is not the only stubborn one in our family.  

We made our trip back to Florida early April (My Sister flew in from NH and me from WA) It was one of those trips that held moments that I would never forget. Its difficult to put into words, the feelings of just being with that family you grew up with- minus the teenage angst, the stress of having to parent, the worry of paying bills, passing high school, or any of that day to day stuff that seems to get in the way of just being.  

My sister went back to NH the day before me, early. I drove her to the airport that morning. My Dad insisted he go along, “he could nap later.”

 It was early, and the sun had not risen yet. I can remember the fog around us that wouldn’t seem to go away. The windows of the SUV would not clear. I also remember both of us wiping a tear or two when we dropped Jamie off at the airport (neither my Dad or I have never particularly enjoyed crying in front of others) It was as if we both knew it was the end of a magical moment that may not ever come around again.  

The next day I went home too. We had Mexican food on the way to the airport. My parents dropped me off, I gave one last hug and said see you in July (I planned on taking the kids out to see him then) This was the last time I ever saw him awake.  

My Sister and I had planned on spacing out some visits to keep his spirits up (and it was an excellent excuse to get out there.) She was going in May, and I would get June, and again with my kids once his chemo was officially over.

Life doesn’t always go as you plan. We got a call from my Mom towards the end of May. She needed us there. My Mother never asks for anything- so we were both out in a heartbeat (well, a 6-hour flight).   

Dad was not doing well. He had developed pneumonia, and when we arrived, he had been on a ventilator and a dialysis machine for about a week. The next few days were such a roller coaster of emotions. Doctors do not like to leave patients on a ventilator for more than ten days due to other complications. However, the machines were the only thing keeping him alive while he fought his infection. There were times when we thought he was going to improve other times when they instructed us to “be prepared.” Finally, it was time to let go. He was not going to get better. The medical community called it “compassionate withdrawal of care.” 

I hope you never have to make this choice, and if you have, all I can say is I feel for you. It was not a hard decision, that was the more natural part. If we had chosen not to remove care- The Doctor would have needed to perform a tracheotomy. There was likely severe brain damage, and he would need care for the rest of his life. Assuming he could fight the infection, and then cancer after that. Making the call to remove care was comfortable in that aspect. My Dad had never been one to live for the sake of being alive. He lived every day experiencing life. The hard part was having to say goodbye. There would be no return trip to see him this time, no see you next year. My Dad was a role model in my life, a rock of stability. I hope he knew this. I couldn’t remember if I told him this back in April.   

The hardest part of the process after we decided to let him go was waiting. So much waiting. Everyone in my family was raw. First, we needed to sit with the doctor so he could clearly explain our medical choices. Next, we had to sit with the hospice nurse to go over what happens in different scenarios of compassionate withdrawal of care, and of course, sign paperwork.  I remember being so angry with this hospice woman. Her phone would go off every couple of minutes like clockwork. I wanted to shake her and say are there this many people dying at this moment. Finally, it was just waiting for the medical staff to remove all the machines. (We chose to remain elsewhere during this process.) It was probably the longest 90 minutes I have ever had to sit through.

When all was complete, we were able to return to his side. He passed quietly and peacefully. I think he wanted to go.  At this point, I was in a surreal place, as if I was outside of myself. I do not remember much of the drive home. I know I drove so my Mother didn’t have to. We ate some frozen mac n cheese and my sister, and I walked the dog.

Home again. New Hampshire to Washington in 2 days

I recently returned from a 6-week trip to New Hampshire, the place of my origin. I went intending to stay. It didn’t quite work out that way. I have quite a bit of trouble making up my mind in life. In fact, I would rather just be in the moment. In reading this, you may think me as an impulsive adventure taker that lives on the edge. However, I am actually entirely grounded most of the time. I have 2 teens, two dogs, a house with a fence (although it’s not a white picket one!) Recent life events have had me reassessing everything I think I know.

Once the decision was made to go home, we all packed back into the Ford Sport Trac Explorer (2 adults, 2 teens, and 2 dogs..) and high tailed it back. There was not a lot of reason to stretch it out, and my own bed sounded oh so lovely. The first leg was NH to Minneapolis. After about 23 hours of drive time, we spent about 8 hours there to sleep and have a good meal, then high tailed it the rest of the way home (another 24 hours).

I went back to NH with the hopes that I would feel peace. Being around family and friends would magically lift me up. I would figure out exactly who I was and where I was going next. Unfortunately, all I achieved was more questions.

While I was out there, I took up writing, figuring it would be cathartic. I’m not always good at communicating my feelings. What came up was insecurities.

First, I decided to write a Novel. In doing that, my research told me to write, A LOT. So I decided to start a blog (obviously publishing didn’t happen when I was there), but I was afraid to do this because the voices in my head said who would want to hear what you have to say. Besides, there was nothing spectacular about my writing, so how are you ever going to be successful at any sort of writing. (My voices are not always the kindest).

When I came back, I pretty much gave up on the idea of writing and decided to go back to work (I quit my job shortly before I left for NH). Unfortunately, the world is full of no’s. I am 40 years old, no college degree, and most of my adult life has self-employed. Despite my lack of higher education, I think I would be a pretty kick-ass employee! Unfortunately, I can’t even get interviews…

So here I am stuck with all those negative voices in my head. The good news is when I think of my kids, and what advice I would give them if they were me- and that would be not to listen to those voices. So here I am, unemployed still, but and least diving in to share my thoughts to whoever may be listening…