Moving On

There could be a long explanation about no new posts for nearly 2 years.  Eh.  Life happens.

Or doesn’t.  I’m writing now to reflect on this turn of events over the last day.  And years.

I’ve been feeling incredibly stuck over the past 6 months to a year, but I hadn’t really allowed myself to fully acknowledge it.  All I know is that things were getting worse as the fall came and bled into the holidays.  Since Barb and Grama died, I have not really enjoyed the holidays, and in fact, I’ve dreaded them.  The first ones were because it felt uncomfortable to be around family and not talk about the elephant in the room:  Here we sit, in Barb’s living room, the scene of the crime, but none of us are really talking about it.  Just catching up, laughing, being around new people, silently missing the old.  This year was different because my cousin sold the house.   Her house.  Where I’ve spent every Christmas of my entire life.  Without telling us.  I still haven’t talked to him.  He still never told me.  So for the first time ever I think, we didn’t spend Christmas with Barb’s family.  It was super weird.  A relief in a way because it was so casual, it was like nothing.  But definitely not special.

I made it through the holidays but things weren’t really a big relief like they usually are.  I’ve found myself over the past year having the best times in recent past (great self-care, excitement about creating my future), but then also really icky lows (hermitting and binge watching/eating/drinking).  This has been on a rapid cycle as of late, and my friendships started to suffer.

There’s a number of reasons that my therapist brain can point to:  the death of my father last year and experiencing mourning in mild, drawn out waves; the death of another family pet; friends moving on in partnerships and family planning; being 39, still single, still never having had a strong need to have my own children, but acutely aware that time’s almost up and I likely won’t have that experience, and the knowledge that Grama’s line and my dad’s line won’t pass through me; the abstract loss of my sister as he came out as trans; the absence of a clear, sure goal in the near future; settling into just… life… and wanting to make it something else, expanding life outside of work/school/caregiving, yet being terrified that nothing will ever change.  I’ve identified in my brain these things that have kept me on a weird, tired loop of leaps forward and plummets back, never really gaining any momentum into creating this next phase of my life.

I’m self-reflective, I write.  I do EMDR on myself and identified and worked through some negative beliefs.  I was almost ready to return to therapy myself (still considering it) when I remembered that a recent client told me that acupuncture worked in amazing ways with their anxiety.   Last year, I had my first experience with acupuncture in the form of a cosmetic facial treatment series.  It was interesting but I never knew what I was supposed to be looking for.  Toward the end of those treatments I asked my acupuncturist to explain what my client experienced with acupuncture.  I was impressed and interested to hear more about treating the body as a whole and that certain points on the body connect with certain emotions and organs.  I told her I would probably try that treatment next.  I looked a little bit into research and testimonials so I kind of knew what to expect.

A couple of months later, yesterday, I scheduled an appointment and went back in.  I told my acupuncturist that I’d been feeling some depression and anxiety lately, lingering grief, explained briefly about the cycling moods and behaviors.  I told her I knew all of the pieces that were contributing to this, but couldn’t figure it out.  I just felt like something was stuck in my spirit, in my energy.  She told me she understood, and that Chinese medicine is perfect for these kinds of things.  She took some pulses, looked at my tongue, asked about my digestion, and started sticking me.  She warned me that I might experience a wave of emotion.  I got comfortable for the 40 minute rest.  I cried a little bit early on related to grief.  I had thoughts of Barb and Grama and acknowledged that I was afraid to let go.  My next thought was that it was ok to let go because they were still with me.  I continued to lay there, thinking sometimes and not thinking other times.  Tears on and off.  I was more aware of physical sensations in my body.  Then it was time to get up.  She told me to drink a lot of water and don’t do anything strenuous, and reminded me that waves of emotional release was normal.  She told me to come back once per week for a couple of weeks and then we’ll re-evaluate.

I left the clinic feeling exhausted.  And my left arm felt super heavy and sore.  I was dazed as I drove myself home.  I got a little weepy about my dad.  I made a snack and got back into bed for a couple of hours to rest.  I got up later and decided to run some errands.  I got a horrible sinking urge to go into unhealthy mode again and was terrified that nothing was going to change.  But I got to where I was going, my mind shifted, and it turned into a productive day.  I grocery shopped.  I picked up a big storage container.  I was exhausted again when I got home, and got into bed again.

I woke up at what I assume was way too early of an hour and just laid in bed and paid attention to my body and my breathing.  I noticed that depending on who or what I was thinking about, parts of my body lit up with sounds, tingles, or emotions.  I’ve historically been terrible about living from inside my body.  My brain is a mile a minute, so physical and emotional mindfulness is not something that is natural for me, but I’ve been working on it.  It was an interesting experience, and gradually I drifted back to sleep.  I dreamed of a family reunion with my second family, an artsy bus, and skating.  Just before I woke up, I dreamed of leaning over to my friend with the epiphany that we needed to buy a roller rink together.

My body felt slow and heavy and tired, but my brain wanted to get up.  I had coffee and started laundry and set some intentions for my day while reflecting on the experience from yesterday.  I did some budgeting and paid bills, putzed around a little bit, made breakfast, then got exhausted again and went back to bed to rest.

After finishing a movie, I knew I wanted to take on the overdue task of taking down the Christmas tree.  I barely got the thing up before Christmas.  Frankly, I plugged it in and haven’t unplugged it since.  It’s had the same design for a few years – it’s a raggedy old Charlie Brown looking tree from my grandfather’s basement, with red ribbons and tinsel left over from years ago, disco ball ornaments, and some handmade ornaments from 2011.  That year I gave all my friends and family personalized ornaments with pictures of them.  I used old family pictures for family members and made some for myself. As I removed them this morning, it struck me that pretty much everyone on my ornaments is dead.  Sugar, my dad, Grama, Barb and Rick, Grampa.  It didn’t make me sad, it just struck me.  Parts of my apartment and my life are just a shrine to people who are gone now.  They died and what I understand now that I have more experience with death and a shifted spiritual perspective is that everyone dies, it’s natural, and it’s sad, but it is what it is.  The problem is that I hadn’t moved on.  It’s time to move on.

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Louie watches as his world turns upside down.  

After I got the tree packed up in the big storage bin I picked up yesterday, I looked around at my plants.  They were in pretty bad shape, so I decided to do some pruning that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.  They were so overgrown in some places, rotting in others.  As I cut the long tendrils for clipping to start new ones, it reminded me of cutting hair.  I got a significant haircut this year as well.  Looking at the plants, I kept thinking that I don’t know why I let them get this overgrown when I could’ve started fresh, but I was avoiding cutting the length.  I now have much healthier looking plants that aren’t so tangled and bound together (they can breathe!) and I may have a healthy new crop on the way via clippings.

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Old pizza box doubles as a dead vine recepticle. I’m all about multipurposing. It’s all going to the trash anyway.

I still had the energy so I kept with my momentum.  Another project that’s been calling my name was starting to sew.  I’ve had Barb’s machine but never officially used it in the last 3 years.  It’s a nice looking table!  But I also meant to bring together all the Nigerian clothes that have been made for or given to me.  For the ones I have never worn – some are outfits my dad sent me before we ever met – make them into something I actually want or use them as practice material.  I pulled them out from closets and storage, hung the ones that didn’t need altering on the hangers I bought a couple of months ago, and sorted the rest into my old Christmas bin.  I thought about how long I’ve avoided doing anything with these clothes because they were made for me and I thought it would be bad to alter them.  But were they any better, hanging out in storage not getting used?  The fabric is ready when I’m ready to begin.

In a final use of my energy, I transferred all my CDs and very old tapes from a cardboard box my cats had been scratching at for several months into another bin.  And I packed some of the Christmas stuff I’m giving away into the cardboard box.  I now have 3 tidy containers waiting to go into storage or given away, rather than a ransacked wasteland of unfinished projects.

Is it the acupuncture that unblocked some energy and got my Qi moving around again?  Is it positive expectation and a real desire to move forward in my life?  Is it an incredibly cold Minnesota weekend that kept me cooped up and coincidentally productive?  Who knows.  I’m just grateful I haven’t wasted another day on the couch binge watching some crappy show.  (I take it back, Nurse Jackie is a really good and important show, I’m not sorry for that time spent!)

I keep having this vision of Grama waving and waving to me.  “Bye bye!  Bye bye!”  But it’s not sad.

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.

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.

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.