getting personal

i’m feeling very jumbled and hostile and uncomfortable.  i want it out.  i want all the gunk out.

the holidays were hard and i couldn’t be more happy that they’re over.  it’s not that they were bad;  they were pretty good, considering.  but i’m just done.  i’m done with expectations, and with not getting what i expect.  i’m tired of the loneliness of the grief.  i’m sad that it’s so hard to connect.

i’m having a lot of trouble connecting lately.  about a week ago i was feeling confident, and then i slipped backward.  i think it started with a letter from my dad.  i’ve been thinking about our relationship lately and i think it would be fair to call it estranged.  so i got this letter saying that he thought now would be a good time to resume talks but some bad news came his way (very cryptic, no explanation) and so we’d have to wait a little longer.  a note like that would’ve been fine, but then he finishes it off with how he doesn’t know who he’s gonna get when he talks to me – the old me or the new me.  he doesn’t like the new me.

the new me says what’s on my mind, expresses hurts and angers freely, doesn’t bite her tongue, is assertive and sometimes aggressive.  the old me is very diplomatic, always carefully crafting communication so that you’ll have the best chance of hearing what i’m trying to tell you.  of course, they’re both part of me, but my dad doesn’t see that yet.

i’ve also been out on a few dates with someone new.  he’s great, he’s many of the things i’m looking for, and he seems to really like me.  but i feel like i’m fucking that up, too.  because i feel uncomfortable and scared.  because our last date was after i got this email from my dad.

why can a few careless words from my dad ruin my self-esteem?  why do i allow that?  or why do i think i can control that?  sometimes i hate him.  i’m very quick to cut people out sometimes, and i have exciting fantasies of unfriending him on facebook and not allowing him to contact me anymore.  i’ve always been looking for this acceptance from my father who was never here in the first place.  he was across the world in my formative years, while i was witnessing all kinds of fucked up shit that my mom allowed in the home.  i always dreamed that if my dad were around i would’ve turned out totally different, felt more affirmed and loved, if only…

but this summer i had a sort of breakdown.  having him here, having him pressure me to file for him to get a green card so he can come and go as he pleases…  dealing with the feelings around taking care of him when he never took care of me…  i had the realization that all my life i’ve wanted him to come here, so that i could be complete, so that he could love me and fix me, so i could be all better and suddenly be able to have healthy relationships with men and not be scared.

and then he came.  and i fucking hated it.  and i realized having him here didn’t fix anything.  it didn’t even change anything.  i just had this epiphany that all my life i’ve been waiting for him to be able to come here so that i could be healed.  but he came and nothing got better.  i only felt worse.  at the time when i was having this realization, i was working through it with a friend of mine.  what i said to her was that i was waiting for him to come fix me… but i’m not broken.  and i don’t need him.  i’ve survived this long and developed into this person without a dad.  the time for a dad to love and shape me has passed.  now he’s just some guy that looks like me, trying to fit me into the nigerian cultural role of a daughter and i’m not having it.  there was a freedom this summer in realizing that i don’t need him to be healed.

i’m not broken.  i just reacted to my circumstances and i can heal myself. 

now it sounds hollow seeing as this recent letter is bothering me so much.  it feels abusive.  it feels backhanded.  i know that he’s not an evil man or a bad person.  i know he did not intend any abusive communication.  i understand that.  still.  someone alluding to me that there’s a jeckyl and hyde thing going on with me, and that me expressing myself freely is offensive, wrong, and bad… it feels abusive.  and makes me second guess myself.

i have not responded to this letter because reading it made me angry and feel insulted.  i really haven’t gone deeply into any thinking about my dad since  he left.  he arrived here just after my aunt’s cancer diagnosis.  he left a couple weeks before she died.  it was terrible timing.  on top of the regular feelings about him, i felt resentful that i should have to take care of him while one of the women who actually raised me was the one i wanted to be taking care of.  i have so many ugly, ill feelings about him and that time period, and the grief upon grief on top of it now.  it’s like a dark oily muck on top of my heart and my mind.

and now i’m trying to date.  it was going well at first.  maybe it’s still going well and i’m being paranoid, but i feel like something changed.  i want to move slow so i can remain comfortable and feel in control, especially at the beginning.  i want to know that i like the person for who they are, not because they’re paying attention to me, or because they look good on paper, or because i finally feel comfortable.  i’m at a point where i really do want to get to know a man, and get into a real, healthy relationship.  that’s where i’m headed now.  but i’m so guarded, so incredibly guarded.  how much do i share before i know you are worthy of my vulnerability?  in the past i’ve been so open and forthcoming, i’ve felt like an emotional whore.  so i’m cautious.

and i have touch issues.  i deeply want to be touched, but not before i’m comfortable.  physical affection is something i sometimes have to grow into.  this sounds strange to me even now because i love hugs and comforting touch with my friends.  but i get so physically rigid when i’m touched before i’m ready.  or when it’s not me that’s doing the touching.  control, there’s a control issue there.  so this seemingly nice, respectful, intelligent, together guy is trying to show me physical affection and i’m stiff as a board.  so awkward!

so on the post-dad’s-letter date, i was just feeling strange.  it was still a nice date and he made it clear that no matter how i changed direction, he was there to spend time with me.  i expressed to him how i wanted to move slow and make sure i was choosing well this time.  he commented about how he hopes i don’t lose something good, like him, because i’m waiting for perfection.  though he has said a couple of times that he looks forward to when he can see me again, he has been less forthcoming and less responsive since that date, and now i’m paranoid that i was too offputting.  we aren’t able to get together before i go out of town for a few days, so i’ll have some time to think and work some things out, hopefully.  part of me wants to pour my heart out and lay it on the table, tell him all that i’m going through, but i know to keep the emotional whore in check.  it’s only been 3 dates.  rules, regulations, i don’t know how this is supposed to go.  but i’m also coming to terms with that.  my head knows that it’s supposed to go the way it feels right for me.

it’s a jumble.  this is all connected.  and unresolved.


the blog i wanna write about today is not cooked enough yet, not ready to spit it out.  but here are a few things i want to touch on:

  • fuck christmas.  fast forward.  no thanks.
  • one thing about grief is that my grief bursts don’t seem to coincide with my family’s and i hate that.  during the days when all i could do was sob uncontrollably when i got home, other people weren’t feeling it.  looks like my mom is really going through it now and i’m just not wading that deep into it.  we’re not connecting in the level of grief, the tide is off.  that sucks.
  • thanksgiving went surprisingly easy so i was optimistic about christmas.  but i’m not doing ok.  even though i’m not bawling like my mom, i’m still crying more than i have, and it’s hard, and i don’t want to do this.
  • i loathe holidays that become filled with booze and smoke.  i don’t do it anymore and it further alienates me from your experience when that’s how you celebrate.  MOM.  TIM.  PARTY GUESTS.
  • i don’t really care about other people’s problems today and i don’t care about your domestic situation when i’m spending my first christmas without them.  PATTY.
  • i feel like i’m shifting slightly backward into that other dimension where i lose my words and my connection and my caring.  back into shock.
  • i’m trying to date, and when spending time with my family and i see the way they operate, i’m reminded of why i haven’t dated for so long and why i haven’t had a good, solid relationship that was going somewhere.  my family and their social patterns terrify me.  and my obsessive thinking about it overwhelms and then bores me.

i’ll let it cook some more.

“This will never happen again.”

“I think we cry at funerals – even at funerals of people we don’t like – because we realize what a miracle a life is.  You realize, ‘This will never happen again.’  There will never be this exact combination of genes, there will never again be the things that have created this person to be what he is.  God has spoken uniquely here, and it’s gone.  It’s over.  And I think there’s some regret, because we all realize, boy, we didn’t pay enough attention.”

-Rich Mullins


i’m not generally a card person.  i don’t send a lot, i don’t save them forever.  in fact, i think i have used the same box of christmas cards for the past 2-3 years.  just don’t care.

but this year is different.  this year i have something to say.  or rather, thanks to give.  so i bought a new box of cards and sent them out with loving gratitude to a few people that really showed up for me this year.  as i was writing them out i started to cry, thinking back to the presence of friends during the funerals, before, and after.

the thing that struck me most, that brought a special brand of tears, was the kindness shown to me this year, the care.  from close friends, hospice and nursing home staff, and people i didn’t know as well.  just amazing.

as i was thinking how to sign my cards, i thought back to the last thing my aunt signed for me.  which got me thinking about when i received it.  hours after she died.  and then i remember.

this week has been harder.  in grief counseling on monday, i cried a lot more, wordless tears, than i have since i started.  thanksgiving went better than i expected so i feel optimistic about christmas.  still.  i miss them.  so much.

Augustana Epilogue

Grama spent her last 2 years at Augustana Care Center, a nursing home.  During her stay, she had 4 different roommates.  The first one was there the longest, a woman who didn’t seem old enough to be in a nursing home, she rode around in a scooter and was on continuous oxygen.  She died.  Then there were 2 short term roommates, both who moved out.  The last one was Marie.  Unfortunately, she was the one with near perfect hearing, the one who had to endure months of Grama’s incessant praying, which became chatter, which became gibberish, which became crying out in pain in the last couple of weeks until her medications were properly managed.

When I was sitting with Grama in the last week, Marie would always open the curtain and chat with me on her way in or out.  It was a kind of awkward relationship.  Marie wasn’t shy about telling me how horrible it was to listen to my Grama crying out.  Her face mirrored the horror and disbelief of being subjected to listening to someone in the throws of dementia who also had a bad bedsore on her lower back.  It was the strangest thing to watch Grama react to the pain.  She would contort her face, arch her back, try to reach underneath her and sometimes just scream, but then a second later her body and face would relax and she looked peaceful.  Such an expressive face.  Sometimes when I would stay late, I would hear Marie making her bedtime phone call to her husband, telling him about her day, complaining about Grama.  I was angry to listen to her talking shit about my Grama, but I also felt so sorry for what she had to go through.

It’s holiday time, with potlucks and parties, so I’ve begun making batches of pumpkin gingerbread.  I first made it last year and went through some compulsive bingeing on bread that wasn’t given away right away.  It’s not a safe food for me to keep on hand at home 🙂  And you know, might I say, it’s fucking delicious.  Each batch makes 3 loaves and this weekend I had 2 parties.  I’d been thinking about bringing a loaf to Grama’s staff at Augustana for a while.  I even thought of making a mini loaf to bring just for Marie.  But what I decided to do was bring a full loaf to staff.  I put a couple of Grama’s funeral programs in the wrapping and headed down.

Walking down the familiar hallways was weird.  And totally normal.  Like my body went back to the days when this was a regular occurance… up the elevator, past the main nurses station, down the hall and through the doors to Grama’s wing.  I passed her room.  I’ve always been curious about who Marie’s new roommate would be, who would take Grama’s spot.  I was surprised to see a man’s name!  Co-ed?!?  The must be low on space or something.  I passed her room and went and chatted with the nurse and handed off the bread.  “Hi, I’m Naomi’s granddaughter.”  My standard introduction there.  “I know who you are!” she said accross the desk. This was my least favorite nurse and I was really hoping it would be some of the staff that I actually liked.  But oh well.  She thanked me and said how much they liked treats.  She told me she would put the program up on the bulletin board.  Short but sweet, I headed back out the way I came.

As I passed Grama’s old room, I looked again at the nameplates in passing, and my eye caught that the separation curtain was open.  I did a double take while my legs were still moving.

Same last name as Marie!

I turned around, kind of shocked, big dopey smile.  Oh my God, her husband is her new roommate!  I started to remember more of those bedtime calls.  One time she asked him if he was surprised to see her when she came to visit.  During the early days I remember taking note that Marie had a living husband.  I assumed he lived independently at home, but then in later conversations it became clear that he was also living in a nursing home.  At the time I had assumed that he was living at a different facility.  Maybe he was, or maybe he had been at Augustana all along.

I walked into the room to say hi to Marie and try to get the story, but she was fast asleep.  And so was her husband, in Grama’s old spot.  The space looked totally different, so it didn’t feel weird that she wasn’t there.  And I just felt such a peace and happiness that when Grama died, she made room for him.

Something about it feels just.  Like, Marie put up with so much unpleasantness as Grama was dying, and here is her reward.  I don’t know anything about their marriage.  Who knows, maybe they annoy each other, maybe they fight, maybe he’s much sicker than I imagine, maybe Marie has gotten worse.  I don’t really care.  I just know that Grama’s last act brought a husband and wife back together, and that makes me happy on this mad search to find meaning in death.

wednesday with Barb

it was wednesday and i was exhausted.  not just from the pace of trying to stay healthy and self-caring while making a couplefew times a week trips out to hospice, but the emotional toll that went along with it.  i was exhausted.  with every fiber of my being.  she wasn’t supposed to have lasted this long, and i didn’t know why she was still here.  she had begged for death.  she had intently laid down to die already.  we’d made sure to tell each other those sweet and loving words, we made apologies and amends, forgiveness.  we had said our goodbyes so many times already.  i was sick of it.  frankly i had gotten to thinking in my denial brain that if she had survived 7 weeks without eating, maybe she was just gonna survive.  who cares that it didn’t make any sense.  maybe…

so that night we sat around chatting.  she had been allowed to do some comfort eating in the form of blue raspberry freezie pops.  she ate hospice out of them, so my cousin decided to make a mad dash to the grocery store before i left for the night and the doors were locked.  so it was just Barb and i.  i liked it when it was just us.  i had had her to myself for such a long time.  first when i was a kid.  she was mine for 11 years til her first daughter was born.  then in recent years when the kids were grown and we would take care of grama together.  finally, when it was my shift on the caretaking team while she tried to stay at home under hospice supervision.  as much as it creeped me out to be alone with her sometimes while meds were up and down (those horrible hours when she fell asleep with her eyes open, sitting up in her chair, gradually leaning over to one side or sometimes backward with her back arched and mouth wide open), she was still just mine then.

so on wednesday night, i pulled up close to her in a chair and felt nervous.  part of my m.o. with her had been to give her comfort in the promise that i would take care of grama from now on and she didn’t need to worry.  but i had recently had a visit with grama where she didn’t remember me and that disturbed me a great deal.  fucking dementia.  anyway, we got to talking about that and i told her how hard it had been on me, running all around to visit the sick, and how it hurt me so bad that grama didn’t know who i was.  and did i mention how exhausted i was?  who was it for?

Barb stared at me for a while.  “well, what are you doing?  are you trying to be a good girl?  let me just tell you then:  you can give it up.”  i just stared back at her.  she continued with authority, “i’ve got the easy way out.  i’m dying.  i don’t have to make this decision.  but i don’t know what i would decide if i wasn’t.  you don’t have to keep doing this.  don’t waste your life on the sick and the dying.  you especially.  hmm?”  she continued to stare at me with those sunken eyes, sparkling.  she winked at me.  she became a winker in her last few days.

i didn’t really know how to respond and my cousin had come back with assorted wrong popsicles (my aunt was particular, if nothing else).  so i quickly said my goodbyes, kind of refusing to say another real heartfelt goodbye.  instead, quickly and without too much more eye contact, saying i’d be back in a couple days.  i started crying as soon as i left the room, and i bawled all the way home.

did she just give me permission to leave grama behind?  moreso, did she also give me permission to leave her behind?

by saturday morning, she was gone.  i never saw her alive again.

life goes on

i’ve had an incredible week at work.  yesterday was kinda tough, to fully capture my strong feelings i should’ve written this a day or so earlier, but… what can you do.

i truly feel that my work has a component of holiness.  i’m a therapist and i’m lucky enough to share in people’s process from hurt to healing, darkness into light.  i have individual clients and do group work with people in treatment for chemical dependency.  i’ll mention that chemical dependency is very intertwined with social services and the legal system where i live, so many people are either court ordered or are there because it’s a stepping stone into other services.  i have mixed feelings about this.  obviously when you’re not there for the purpose intended, or you’re being forced to be there, you may not reap the benefits intended.  but, you may get something unexpected.  and that goes along with what i believe about my profession.

in group this week, one of the men asked me if i take my work home with me, the things i hear, the sadness.  i told him i’m not a robot and i think about my clients a lot outside of work.  but i also don’t see myself as a savior.  i didn’t get into this field to save the world.  i came to give whatever help i can – to provide conversation pieces, to be a second pair of eyes, to build perspective.  i’m a gifted listener, that’s kind of what my talent boils down to.  with that, i built on skills about what to clinically listen for, verbalizing helpful support and pointed questions.  some people will take what i bring and run with it, others won’t.  i can’t be connected to the outcome (though i notice change and rejoice in it).  i choose to focus on the growth, hope, and beauty of people, even in periods of brokenness.

this week at my agency, we’re implementing some new groups and re-vamping our programs.  it was terrifying and exhilerating to try new content and methods.  i’ve really taken a leadership and ownership role on this project and the benefits are amazing.  i feel so good!  a colleage came in to say hi and said i was glowing, she could see it on my face.  i told her what i had been working on in group, and she said, “you’re stretching.  doesn’t it feel nice to be brave and stretch and grow?”  it really does.  in addition, each individual session i have had so far this week has had this holy element, too.  we’re connecting.  i’m asking the right questions and my clients are having this wonderful insight, and i can see them growing, too.  to be with people as they experience growth and insight is the most humbling, exciting, heartfelt feeling.  i really love my work.

finishing school in the summer and moving straight into intensive caretaking and grief, i’ve been halfway checked out of my work for a while.  granted, this is the only kind of work i would’ve wanted to have been doing this year.  it had to be meaningful and helpful for it to make any sense with what i’ve gone through this year.  diving head first into grief over the past couple of months has made returning to work manageable somehow.  i’ll never get over the deaths of my aunt and grandma.  i still burst into tears unexpectedly and i’ve got so much more to process.  but really feeling the grief allows for me to set it aside and get present with my work and my life.  i’m determined to move forward.

my last conversation with Barb has haunted me and stuck with me, it always will.  i’ll save the details for another time, but the gist was her encouragement for me to leave the dead behind and to go LIVE.  in her last weeks she also pointed out how we liked the same things – art and psychology.  my decision to go into therapy had little to do with my aunt.  but during these times when i feel the holiness of the work now, i feel a part of her in it with me.