independent to my detriment

i’ve been thinking about this subconsciously (or refusing to keep thinking about it too long when it comes up consciously) for a while, but it has definitely come up in my grieving process in these past months.

i’ve always been pretty indpendent.  even as a kid.  i spent so much time alone.  i was a latchkey kid and frankly couldn’t wait for my mom to leave, spending the summers home alone, watching whatever i wanted on tv, acting out commercials for dishsoap, makeup infomercials in the living room mirror, whatever i wanted.

it’s what i’ve been working through recently, the effects of being surrounded by strong-willed, loud, micro-managing people… solitude is freedom.  being able to take care of myself so i don’t have to depend on anyone and put up with their shit has been very important to me for my whole life.

and so here i am:  single and childless at 36.  well educated, homeowner, starting into a good career, financially stable, healthy.  friendly introvert, excellent friendships. go-to girl, takes care of business, will always get the job done.  independent as hell.  super-single.

the local radio station has a facebook page and they had a question that sparked some conversation.  it was about these new gender stereotypes of the independent woman who has morphed into “super-bitch” and the sensitive man who has morphed into “needy, soft mama’s boy.”  they asked about the rage that has grown between the two camps and how men and women have become “too good for each other.”

in thinking about it for myself, i do consider my indpendence.  i’ve worked for a long time on what i don’t want (so much time wasted on that).  i know how well i have developed myself so there’s a certain elitist attitude about what i deserve.  obviously i’m not financially taking care of anyone (saw too much of that in my childhood).  i’m old fashioned to an extent, especially with chivalry.  on a date i pull out my wallet but if they let me pay i think it’s in poor taste.  sue me.  i like doors opened and things like that.  i know better than to consciously expect it in this day and age, but i’m keeping a mental tally (with brownie points or silent loathing).  financially, what’s really important to me is that the man is self-sufficient and responsible.  (i had an ex that was waiting out his unpaid bills in collection until they dropped off his credit report.  didn’t respect that.)  i’m not looking for someone to financially take care of my because i can take care of myself.  but i do still have some gender hang-ups around money.

the point i wanted to make here is the emotional and life independence.  what i’ve been learning through the grief is that i feel the absence of a partner who could have my back through this process.  i acknowledged to my grief counselor that i don’t feel comfortable expecting people who are not my boyfriend/husband to take care of me in the way i really need.  i don’t have a person.  someone whose responsibility it is to stand in this with me.  i’m too old to cry to my mommy all the time.  and i’m way single.  my friends are wonderful, i’m definitely not alone.  but i feel the saturation of this independence now, amplified.

taking it to the next level, what would i do if i wasn’t independent?  how would it be different?  would i be able to accept another person’s comfort in the way they express it?  what if it’s different than the way i wanted it?  i’ve put myself in this place where i’m good at distancing myself from what i don’t want, but not sure if i’m able to really have what i need.  and what does that mean?

i’ve been independent for such a long time that i’m rigid on what i expect and how i react if i don’t like what i get.  if i don’t like it, i go to retreat mode like the flip of a switch.  i can be in the same room with you, but i’m gone. but that’s easiest to do when i am by myself and can just ignore your calls, texts, messages, efforts.  ignoring and shutting out is my superpower.

that’s it.  that’s what i want to change.

that involves being more vocal.  when i don’t like something, when i know what i need and it’s not what you’re giving me, i should be courageous and ask for it.  when i don’t know what i need and you’re not giving it to me, i should try to be courageous and vocalize that. it scares me to be willing to be unsure with somebody else.  i’m supergirl, i should know everything.  in the past it has been, i don’t like it, i’m out.  i don’t like it, but i don’t know what i want instead, so get me out of here because i don’t want you to keep trying to figure it out and keep disappointing me, i’d rather go be by muself and be mad at you for not getting it.  i’d rather be right that no one gets me, reinforcing that i’m indeed alone.  too different/weird/unique/messed-up to be understood.  told you so.


tuesday morning gratitude

this morning i’m thankful for:

this solidifying belief that maybe who i am and what i do aren’t so separate after all.  the fact that people like me for what i do for them… i wouldn’t do those things if i wasn’t the person i am.

the soft place that allows for simultaneous joy and heartache.

exploring legacies.

hope for healing.

my ability to change.

i’m also very thankful for this site.  a year ago, i had the inkling that i wanted to start another blog, this time focused on gratitude. i not only did that, but i ended up importing an old blog, and then starting a second blog.  but what i was thinking about last night was that i started this for one purpose, but it has served an entirely different and vital purpose for me in grief.  through the stories i’ve read here by the phenomenal people who write so well about grieving, i’ve found exactly the support i’ve needed during the times i can’t reach into my real world.  i can’t begin to measure how much that has helped me.

looking forward: cautiously but with a smile

i was chatting with my mom tonight after work and as we were getting off the phone, she says, “oh i wanted to mention, kimmy wants to spend christmas eve with me.  i hope that’s ok.”  kim is her oldest friend, they’ve known each other since they were 4.  she and her kids came to our thanksgiving last week.  they have never been holiday friends, but it looks like we’ve got a new tradition.

i think i’m ok with this.  mom continued on, “kim is my sister now.  i’ve gotta have someone around who’s level headed, and you don’t always wanna listen to my bullshit.”  true.  and i liked kim and her family at thanksgiving.  surprisingly funny!

i talked about thanksgiving a lot in grief counseling this morning.  this was my second session with the new girl, my initial counselor from Barb’s hospice went on a leave of absense just before grama died.  i think it’s a good switch.  when i first met her i was a bit overwhelmed by the youth and the blond hair and the skinnyness and the fashionable clothes and the st thomas school affiliation.  but this weekend we connected a bit more.  i let my guard down and she offered some insight that i respected.  tit for tat.

in talking through thanksgiving and my caretaking of barb and grama, i realized that there’s a part of me that i don’t want to be anymore.  as barb was dying, there were a lot of family jokes about this control-freak, perfectionist, micro-managing streak that runs through our family.  i loathed my mom for it growing up, but taking care of barb opened my eyes to my mom not being an anomaly.  and they must have learned it from somewhere.  enter grama.  but the way i reacted to that strong personality was to learn to predict needs and excel, be a good girl and do everything right.  my grief counselor asked if i could see that as kind of a gift, that it made me into a good caretaker.

i explained that yes i can see that caretaking is a gift that i can give to others.  but it’s also a way for people to love me for what i do rather than who i am.  for instance, barb often told me i was her favorite caretaker of all in the end of her illness.  which feels good to an extent.  but it also felt shitty – you love me because i do what you say.  and over the course of my life, many have admired my obedience – quiet little good girl, so sweet, always doing such a good job.  but i secretly hate people who love me for that, people who are so focused on how good i make them feel that they’ve forgotten to discover ME.  but i loop around and blame myself for it.  if i had just been myself rather than wanting to please others, people would like me for me in the first place. 

my biggest complaint in this grieving process had been that i haven’t gotten the support i wanted from certain people who i thought should be looking out for me.  i’m glad to be talking about that in counseling, too, because it helps me see the selfishness in it, and the way i need to continue to work on asking for what i want.  today i realized that this is an example of me exhibiting my own control issues.  i retreated emotionally from the controlling women in my family, withdrawing to the safety of my solitude.  i connect, i have good friends, but at the end of the day i stay safe and alone so i can have life my way.  as mortality slammed into my life this year, i laid out my silent guidelines for how people should properly support me.  and when they don’t measure up i just as silently retreat back into myself, cursing names.

but when i take a step back, releasing control and practicing patience and acceptance of other people’s ways and time, i’m getting some lovely support and freshness.  that’s what thanksgiving showed me this year.  i went in thinking how inappropriate it was for my mom to invite all these new people, replacements.  but it was actually really fun!  and today my biggest fear around that issue was stated blatantly:  “kim is my sister now.”  my mom is definitely doing some replacing.  but is that such a bad thing?

maybe the question is not, can empty spaces be filled?  maybe it’s shouldn’t they?  perspective, man.

in the week after barb died, i got so totally broken down, broken open.  i felt a gratitude for divine timing.  there’s some spiritual books that talk about agreements made as spirits in heaven before they decend to earth to inhabit bodies.  partnerships, cooperation.  i don’t know whether i believe in that, but the sentiment is lovely.  the idea that there was an agreement on timing where barb had to die at the exact time i had to be broken open.  i almost forgot about that with the lowness i’ve felt over this past few weeks.

will there be other auntie figures in my life who will touch me as deeply as barb?  will i be allowed another grandmotherly figure to cherish and adore?  i don’t know.  but i know that i don’t want my silent rules of control, crossed with this militant loyalty, to block future opportunities.  can i let the obedient, caretaking, perfect daughter/neice/granddaughter go so that i can step further into authenticity?  simply live, connect, give AND receive, without expectation?

goodnight, good girl.

giving thanks for 2012..?

up until about an hour before going to my mom’s for thanskgiving, my attitude was stinky.  my sentiment was something like, i’m not thankful for a damn thing, are you kidding me?  after the horror that has hit our lives over the past 2 months, thanksgiving can kiss my ass.  done. 

i couldn’t sleep the night before.  i fed my sadness with funeral slideshows and memorial music, laying in my bed with my laptop and crying.  how was i supposed to be thankful when i just lost my grama and aunt, a full quarter of my living relatives on that side?  the only thing i could think of to really be thankful for was that there wouldn’t be another holiday where we celebrated together while Grama lay immobile in her bed at the nursing home.  my cousin was spending the holiday with her new in-laws, my other cousin would be able to do a drive by (which would’ve included Barb in the past).  my mom invited some extended family and her childhood friend and her family, and i wasn’t sure how i felt about that.  it felt like replacements.  i was in a bad place.

dinner was to start around 2, and i hadn’t yet started cooking.  about noon i felt compelled to call my mom to check in.  we chatted about preparations and at the end of the conversation i told her i was nervous.  Not nervous, but didn’t know how this first holiday without them would feel.  i miss them and i’m sad my mom, with her strong spiritual lean, assured me they would be with us today.  and she told me i didn’t have to bring anything if i didn’t want to.  just come.  i warned her that i may not stay for the whole thing.

i somehow worked up motivation to finish my cooking and make it over there.  i made pumpkin gingerbread muffins and acorn squash with apple soup.  pretty good if i do say so myself!  it was a full house by the time i got there, and i just tried to breathe and be present.  as i relaxed into it, i felt suprisingly ok.  my mom had made a cute little place on the counter with a picture of Barb and Grama, a coffee cup for Grama, a big bottle of dr pepper for Barb, and one of Grama’s little fur caps hanging over the frame.  it was nice.  my cousin and his girlfriend arrived just as the food got done and we all found a place to perch and enjoy dinner.  so many people!  we’ve never had the food get so demolished, it was kind of fun, even with some people there that i didn’t really know.

i felt big pockets of sadness throughout the day but it was still good.  after some people left, i remembered that i brought the slideshow i had made but not shown for Grama’s funeral.  i put in on and sat with my mom.  about a minute in she pulled me over to lay on her shoulder and i cried.  i didn’t realize how bad i needed that moment.  it was really important for me to find a way to acknowledge and remember them on these holidays.  i don’t want to move on through the day without acknowledging our loss in a deliberate way.  everyone loved it.  i’m really proud of it.  it’s a simple slideshow with windows moviemaker, with added music.  but the combination of pictures from her whole life… it just turned out really nice, i love it.  everyone loved it.

after that, sometimes my mom held my hand, or hooked her pinky through mine.  sometimes i’m very awkward with touch.  when i was little, or maybe as i grew into adolescence, i became uncomfortable being cuddled or touched with family, especially with my mom.  but i’ve been needing it so much now.  it has something to do with my stoic-ness, my taking care of everything, being the go-to girl.  i have taken care of so many tasks and people, that i’ve been struggling with why i suddenly find myself with no one to take care of me.  is it because no one thinks i need it?  because i give off an air of self-sufficiency?  whatever it is, i don’t like it.  so those moments on thanksgiving of being cuddled and touched and loved were very special and meaningful.  letting myself be vulnerable and cared for is so necessary.  i was nervous to assert my need to show the video, but we all needed it.  i want to make more for christmas!

earlier this summer, my aunt said, “well… we’ll never forget 2012.”  at that time, she knew she was going to die, Grama was going to probably die, my cousin got married, i had just gotten my masters, everything was going to change.  and no, i will never forget 2012.  in the darkest times, it’s very hard to be thankful.  but i’m finding ways, riding these waves of grief.  i was talking to friends last night about it and said that sometimes i’m ready to move forward and live life, but sometimes i want to stop and sit down and stare at the wreckage.

it’s comforting to know that people heal.  this was a season of my life.  the season where Barb and Grama were here with me has come to a close.  that’s devastating.  but.  i can honestly say that i’m thankful for the hope of unknown, and presumably good things, in the next season.

“nothing is forever”

on the way home from the burial ceremony, i stopped at the drug store for a chocolate bar so i could properly eat my feelings.  the cashier checked me out and after our transaction, asked me how i was doing.  i said, “ok. how are you?”

she told me her hand was messed up.  she continued, “my cousin died and i just heard they got the body home.  i clenched my hand and now it’s messed up.”

this keeps happening to me.  strangers tell me personal stuff and the therapist in me always holds back, mindful of not disclosing my own shit inappropriately.  why can’t i be that over-disclosing stranger, spilling my guts about how i could totally relate? 

instead i just told her i was sorry, my face full of genuine empathy.  “yeah… nothing is forever,” she answered, and moved along to the next customer. 


today we bury my grama’s ashes.  i still don’t know how i feel.  there’s no coming to terms right now.  there’s only riding the waves of grief back and forth.  sometimes i get up and move and return to life.  sometimes there’s the other feeling.

you know how i like to find the right words for everything… this one stumps me.  the best i can do is say that when i look inside sometimes, i feel like i’ve backed off into into another dimension where it’s absolutely quiet, all my words have been stolen, and i just sit.  compact.  and stare sideways.  with furrowed brows.  that’s the visual i have.  that’s all i got.

i’m reading all these grief blogs.  it’s hard to believe, and very comforting, to find that there are others out here who have experienced multiple deaths of loved ones in a short period of time.  why does it happen?

it’s like the only way to move forward is to set them aside for short periods to do work, drive, connect.  but then it catches up again.  where is my family?  we were fine.  how did this happen?  where did they go?


i have been a hot, tangly mess for a while now.  and that’s how it’s gonna have to be.  i’m accepting it and will sit with it until it’s ready to subside. 

that said, i thought about a lot of the wrong things at Grama’s funeral.  who showed, who didn’t, plans, appropriateness.  for some reason, i was really hung up on whether people would come, and i attached love and respect for my grama’s memory on who was actually going to show up.  i was hugely disappointed to see that no one from our home church growing up came.  none.  a couple of cards with checks in the mail but not a body.  i was so angry.  the weird thing was, in my mind it felt like a a popularity contest.  a very primal, junior high, what if no one comes to her party? feeling.  And it did start off small but people filled in.  I’m still working on why that mattered to me.  The ugliness of it bothers me. 

the service went well.  there was a time for sharing memories, and that’s what i wanted to talk about.  more people than i imagined stood up to say something about her.  and the common theme that brought many people to tears was the way my grama showed unconditional love, warmth, kindness, and enthusiasm for everyone.  and i do mean everyone.  person after person commented on that quality, and had a personal example.  it was absolutely lovely. 

i knew her well, and i knew that she was not a saint, everybody has some darkness.  but i have a resurgence of awe in my special lady:  to leave a legacy of unconditional love that deeply touches others is an amazing gift.  it also goes to show how incredibly basic and essential is that need for each of us to feel loved and accepted. 

thanks, Grama. 

for grama

This is what I read at Grama’s funeral.

Grama is my favorite person.  I was the only child in the family until I was about 11.  I was the luckiest grandchild because I’ve been close to her my whole life.

She and Grampa took care of me a lot when I was small.  Grampa built me a swing in the backyard and taught me to swim, Grama propped me up on her triangle wedge pillow and read me the funnies in her bed.  Grama was prone to spoiling me.  She called me “Precious Honey” so much that I thought it was my name.  If she ever found out there was something I liked, she would have it on hand whenever I was coming over – root beer floats, fruity pebbles, kiwis.  In fact, for years after I became allergic to kiwis, she would proudly hand me a bag whenever I walked in the door. 

I was heartbroken when Grama and Grampa moved down to Arkansas, but I got to visit them once or twice a year, sometimes spending the summer.  When I was in high school, she moved back and that was awesome!  It was a wonderful experience to get to know her as an adult when I could appreciate her.  I had precious close years with her before her hearing was totally gone. 

Grama was really special.  Her spirit is so loving and welcoming, she had a wonderful zest for life, and a really fantastic laugh.  Her favorite thing in the world was just “being together.”  She loved to eat and to treat other people.  She loved her God.  She loved to share the stories of her fascinating life. 

I loved her face.  I used to love taking pictures of her.  In recent years when we would go out for dinner or get together for a holiday, I loved just looking at her face.  I thought she was the cutest person ever, and she got more beautiful as she aged.  I loved her facial expressions, the way she worded things, and her joyful content when we were together. 

In a way I have been losing her for quite some time.  With the deterioration of her hearing and sight, communication got steadily more difficult.  Then dementia ate away at her memory and ability to speak.  By the last week of her life, I didn’t know what she was aware of at all.  But I sat with her and talked through some of my difficult feelings and just watched her.  Sometimes she would raise an eyebrow, or the corner of her mouth, and I got a glimpse of that beautiful face again. 

A couple of years ago, Grama told me I was her best friend.  What an honor!  In many ways, she was mine, too.  I believe in many best friends.  It wasn’t that we told each other all of our secrets or that we spent so much of our time together.  But on a base level, we just really liked each other, in addition to the love.  In a conversation with her hospice chaplain a few days before she died, I was having a really hard time understanding whether Grama knew I was there or not, with her deafness and dementia, and what that meant for me.  I struggled a lot with myself about why I felt so guilty and insistent about being there with her in that state.  The chaplain gently said to me, “you are her person.”  For me, that said it all.  We have been each other’s person for my whole life.  So I began to relax about whether or not she knew me and just sat with her.  I played her the music you heard in the prelude.  In fact, that was the last thing I did for her.  I was not with her when she passed away, but one of her attendants at Augustana told me she asked for me about an hour and a half before she went.  So I think she knew I was there. 

Since she passed, I have not cried at all for her death.  She was more than ready to finally meet Jesus.  And imagining the celebration in heaven as she arrived always makes me happy.  But I have cried for me and the loss of my person.  Over the past few months especially, I had gotten used to the loss of her physical presence.  But after she died, the floodgates opened on all the precious memories of my lively, fun, smart, compassionate, quirky Grama, with all her warmth and expressions.  Her absence is huge.