A Deeper Call to Being Child-Free

child-within.jpg

Artist: Katie m. Berggren

I knew from the age of 4 that I did not want to have children. “I’m going to have puppies!” was my declaration when someone imposed their kid-wanting assumptions on me, when I was just a kid myself (why do people do that?). Throughout my childhood, I didn’t like dolls and preferred stuffed animals. It is believed that children hold the most genuine of truths, so I am happy to say that 40 years later, I have no regrets about being  child-free.

Throughout my teen and early adult years, the desire to have children did not present itself. “But what if you regret not having kids?” was the common response I received from others. As I grew older, I kept my mind open to the idea that I might meet the right person who would pull this maternal desire out of me. But that never happened. Except for two situations that lasted about a week, I never came up against a desire to have kids.

One of the situations where I did, was after a painful and disappointing relationship ended. I was in my late 20’s and believed that I had so much love to give, and needed to give it to someone who needed it. As I said before this lasted for about a week. I realized that, for me, this wasn’t a good enough reason to have kids. This belief was simply another co-dependent belief akin to my preexisting beliefs of: “if I only had the right relationship (job, home, lifestyle, etc.) then I will be whole and happy.” I think I knew then that replacing a baby for a relationship just wasn’t the answer.

As I look back, I am so glad I never became a mother. I know myself too well. I love my freedom and free-time. I cringe when it comes to unsolicited obligation and hate stopping what I’ve started. I know most people do, but when I have to sacrifice these things, I become depressingly miserable.

More importantly, I believe my life’s journey has been about growing and healing myself to the point that I truly needed to know how to mother myself. A few years ago, when I mentioned my decision to be child-free to a woman (that I have a lot of respect for), she replied with “You were too hurt”. I was immediately angry inside as my brain scrambled as if I had been clocked in the head. I didn’t know how to respond, and I didn’t want to ask for clarification. Now I know what she meant. This part of me that was hurt has always been here and wasn’t going to make room for anyone else, and I respect that. This hurt part in me needed me to be its mother, and being a mother to anyone else was not going to work.

I am grateful for my 20-something self that knew I couldn’t solve my heartbreak with a baby. There was a wisdom there that would reveal more of itself later. Yes, I do have so much love to give, and yes, there is someone who needs it. That person in need is myself, and I have more than enough on my plate when I take on that task.

Am I saying that you can’t mother yourself if you have kids? Absolutely not. I know many women who do a lot of inner-healing while raising children. Am I saying that every child-free person has a deep pain that needs healing? Definitely not. The decision to be child-free is an individual one, and I can only speak for myself. I have no desire to have children and  I truly believe that my decision to be child-free was born from a deep need for something else. There was a core place in me that was screaming for care, and needed all of me to attend to that care. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Re-Adjusting: Resurrection and Transformation

looking back

Source: pexels.com

If you have ever experienced the death (or loss) of a loved one, you know that your life becomes a series of firsts. First birthday without them, first holiday, first year, and so on. So here I am in my first month without him.

These last 30-days have been a slow drip through the surreal. My emotions have ranged from acceptance to anger, but mostly I just want to be in silence. My hospice grief counselor says I am right on schedule for feeling all the feels. She mentions that after 2-3 weeks the shock usually wears off and the emotions begin to rise. This feels about right, because it has only been recently that I have felt more anger and irritability mixed in with the pre-existing sadness.

I wish I could go on retreat, somewhere in the hills or forest, and just be in silence with every emotion that arises. This feels like the ideal thing to do, but instead I go to work, and mostly it has been okay. After a full day I am exhausted and do nothing (and I am grateful for the ability to do nothing). Sometimes I get a burst of energy, but as quickly as it comes, it slips away (I guess that’s why it’s a burst).

Being in my grieving life, and “old life” has had it’s consequences. One day, I came home form work to suddenly feel a horribly paralyzing anxiety that left me feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally agitated for hours. I realized that being in both my grieving life and my “old routine” life felt like a schism, and that living in both worlds was/is probably too opposing for my psyche.

The flashbacks have been the hardest. At times I can’t stop thinking about my father’s last days. I remember the lightness of his thin body, his agitated body movements, the pained expressions on his face, and the sadness in his eyes. The inability for us to verbally communicate haunts me as I wonder if he was in more pain that we knew. I wonder if he was scared. I wonder if dying was scary for him.

Then there’s the wondering. Wondering if he really had dementia. Wondering if there was something else going on and that we could have helped him more. Everything happened so fast that we didn’t get a chance for a decent second option or tests. This helpless experience has made it easy to feel guilty for not doing more, especially before he became symptomatic.

On most days, it’s the experience of a routine that no longer is. I never realized how much my dad was on my mind. Like an idling car, he must have been a constant hum in my subconscious. I still wake with the thought of calling my dad to see how he is doing, or spontaneously have the desire to tell him what I saw that day. If I have a really good cup of coffee, I think of him and sending some to him. One afternoon I sat in a medical lab waiting for a blood draw. I imagined the many times he did the same. Even though he was relatively healthy, he had routine blood draws and doctor visits to monitor his health. I imagined how this must have been so tiresome for him.

Despite all this, I trust that both he and I are well. I trust that I will land in my new normal. I trust that dreams of him are our way of staying connected and I trust he is with me in my waking life.

With today being Easter, I find myself more aware of resurrection. It’s everywhere all the time! A resurrection is an awakening, and re-birthing, a renewal, and a transformation. On my dad’s final days, I was well aware that he was in his own transformational journey. It was intense to feel our lives changing and falling into deep stillness. At that time I wondered what both our resurrections would look like.

Today I still wonder, and yet know, that resurrection and transformation is happening in it’s own slow and gentle way everyday. Anxiety attacks and all.

Saying Goodbye, Part 11: Earthquakes and Landscapes

I awoke on Wednesday to my first day home without my father.

I had spent the greater part of February in his home 3-hours away, in an unexpected whirlwind of emotional chaos, intense vulnerability, and the eventual release of him as I watched him being taken away for cremation.

I know enough to not expect that I’d return home to life as I knew it. “Now back to your regularly scheduled program” does not apply here.

I know that my life is now altered. Yes, everyday, our lives change. Each day is unlike the next. But this is different. There are these life-altering events that completely changes the landscape. Subtle shifts become earthquakes and aftershocks.

Upon waking, I take it slow. “What’s next?” in every moment. I try some “old life” on by checking e-mail (that felt okay, let’s try…) listening to a recorded call from a training I’m in (yeah, not quite feeing it. Let’s try…) suddenly it’s too much. My heart aches and I feel my energy in my belly. I remember a song that feels the way I feel now.

I listen to “Winter” by Tori Amos on repeat and break down sobbing just as I need to. Every part of me vibrating in grief. Why does life seem so stupid. All the things that took up space in my life seem to riduclous. I should have spent more time with him. Should have, should have, should have….

Goodbye Part 10: Earthquakes

arna 1

Arna Baartz, “You Are Beautiful”

The next few days felt silent. I took things slowly and found comfort in the company of my sisters. We shared memories about our father and continued to ask questions out of confusion. I mean really, what just happened? It was all so fast, so confusing, and so severe. We continued to re-trace our steps, question and doubt out decisions, and remember that my father’s quality of life was at stake. How do we begin to make peace with all of this?

Leaving my father’s home was harder than expected. Each day I was there kept me tethered to the lingering essence of him. As long as I was there, I was still “with” him. But I can’t stay forever (or can I?), and at some point I must re-enter my altered life 3-hours West.

So I wandered into his bedroom, saying goodbye to it, to him, and trying to remember him here. Sitting on the bed’s edge with his pack of chihuahuas surrounding him, making it hard to get close to him.

I said goodbye to the house, and goodbye to “visits to see dad”.

It was Tuesday when I made the drive home. It went surprisingly fast despite feeling my past-life slip away with each mile. No more thinking of my next time back, or what I would bring with me next time I see him. No more calling him to let him know I arrived safely.

As I merged onto the 101 South, I took a deep breath and sighed. I could feel the difference between the dusty flat land, and green rolling coastal landscape.

Luckily my first stop was at my therapists office. I somehow managed to recount my last 2-weeks, and by the end could feel a slight sliver of my life returning. As I stepped out to my car, the warm weather felt intrusive, reminding my it was too soon to be outdoors.

Once home, I lost myself in the distraction of unpacking, vacuuming, having dinner, and laying on the couch watching mindless t.v. I slid into sleep and dreamt about earthquakes.

Saying Goodbye, Part 9: Silent Departure

phoenix

Marina Petro, “Phoenix Rising”

Friday morning came and I checked-in on my dad. His breathing was so peaceful and easy. He sounded like he was having the best sleep of his life, like he should be laying in the grass in the park on a late Sunday afternoon. I looked up at my sister who sat next to him and made a “wow, that’s great” face.

Since I was going to be there longer, I decided to mail out my rent check and pick up what I needed for the next few days. before leaving, I helped change my dad, reposition him, and gave him his medication. I hated leaving, but I knew I had to take care of these things if I was going to stay longer. Throughout this time I tried to stay with my dad as much as possible, so on those few occasions where I headed out I was antsy and anxious.

When I arrived home one of my sisters asked if I needed help. “No, I got it.” and I placed the bag of groceries on the kitchen table. I looked up to see my dad alone in the living room. “Why is he alone?” I thought. For the last two weeks someone has been by his side 24/7. Now he was there alone and it was so quiet. Too quiet. I quickly put the few cold items in the refrigerator and went to my dad’s side.

He seemed too still. I placed my hand on his chest, right above where his hands were folded. No movement. His mouth was open as I placed my hand under his nose. Nothing. “Dad. Dad…” I don’t know if it was a question or a statement, but I kept repeating “Dad” as I lightly shook him. No response. I looked down to see his belly sunken and his lips barely changing color.

I ran to my sister’s room to tell her dad wasn’t breathing. We stood next to him checking again to be sure. ” I swear” she said to me, “I checked on him 5 minutes ago, and he was breathing.” I ran to my other sister who was on the phone in another room, “Dad isn’t breathing” I told her. All three of us stood by him, each of us crying and trying to understand what just happened. There wasn’t a moment he was alone, and the one time we all tended to our responsibilities, he left. I felt flashes of guilt, inadequacy, and stupidity at my decision to leave that morning.

“This is what he wanted” one sister said. “He had said that he wanted to die in his sleep and to be found gone.” I had to believe this was true in order to keep my guilt at bay. But most importantly, my dad was gone.

We called his brother and when he arrived, we prayed, gave our words of gratitude, and bathed and oiled my father’s body. My sister played a recording of my father re-telling a story from his childhood. My father was a great storyteller, and hearing his lovely voice brought me to tears. The reality hit hard, that I would never have conversations with him, ask him how to do something, or ask him to tell me about the time when…

I made a final prayer before the cremation service took his body from his home and suddenly, it all felt so void.

Saying Goodbye, Part 8: Hospice Begins

gemini

Jonathan Clark, “Gemini”

Sunday came and dad made it home. The admitting hospice nurse showed us how to care for our dad, and answered any questions we had. When she left I was nervous and anxious. It was up to us now, to make sure our dad was comfortable, safe, and cared for. At this point there were four of us, all sisters, rotating tasks and providing care.We rotated his position every 2-hours during the day, and every 3-hours throughout the night. Before each procedure I would tell him, “Okay dad, we are going to change you/move you/give you medication now. Is that okay?”

By now our father was less verbal. He could respond with head gestures or in the expression of his eyes. He still recognized family members, but couldn’t talk. As each day passed he became thinner and lighter. As his pain became more obvious, we had to decide between him being awake and in pain, or medicating his pain, which caused him to sleep. When you want to have as much time with your dying loved one, these are not great options, however the right decision was obvious.

One of our sisters left on Wednesday, and I felt her absence quite rapidly. She understood me most, and so with her gone, I felt alone to some degree.

On Thursday the nurse visited and helped us with concerns that arose along the way. She checked my dad’s vitals and informed us that his breathing and digestive noises were still good, and that his blood pressure was a little high. We talked about the changes in his breathing being an indicator that he was close to the end of life. It sounded like my dad might be around a bit longer, so we talked about how we could best stretch out our work leave in order to stay with him. We all decided to stay as long as we could and address any gaps in need if that time should come.

We knew that every person’s death was different, and that although there are similarities in process, you just don’t know what to expect. So we were prepared for a longer stay if that was what was needed.

 

Saying Goodbye, Part 7: The Wee Small Hours

shadows

Artist: Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov

I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, so I decided to stay overnight at the hospital. As you may know, when you stay overnight as a guest, you don’t really sleep. The pull out bed is okay, but the nurse visits every 2-hours and hospital noises prevent sleep from happening. I figured that this discomfort was minor compared to what my dad was gong through, and in truth, it was an easy thing to do.

During those the late nights and early mornings, we had very tender moments together. I would sit by him and telling him I love him, stroke his hair, and hold his hand when he felt pain or was having a procedure done.

Then there were the times when he responded to me. These times were what I held on for. One night, when he fell asleep, I kissed his forehead and whispered “goodnight”. As I got up to walk to my bed, he said “You’re leaving already?” I recognized that tone. It was a tone he used when I would tell him I was going home after a weekend visit with him. “I’m not going anywhere dad. I’m right here. Do you want me to sit with you?” “Yes” he replied so I sat next to him, holding his hand and loving him.

There were a few of these moments, when he would wake in the middle of the night. I could hear the shuffling of his sheets and that usually woke me up. “You okay dad? You want me next to you?” To which he would reply “yes”either verbally or with a head nod.

At other times my father would ask where he was, what happened, or how he got there. I told him he had an infection, but that it was gone, and we were preparing to take him home. I had no idea if he knew he was dying, and didn’t know if I should tell him.He wasn’t speaking much, and was unable to have conversations, much less complex conversations. I decided to trust my father’s intelligence and strong intuition, and stayed in each moment with him.

As he slept I reassured him that he was safe and loved. I asked him to trust his body as his body knew what to do. I let him know that although I would miss him, I would be okay in this world because he taught me well, both in lesson and by example. He was a strong man, and created strong women.

One day, my father asked my sister what he did. “¿Que hice?”. He asked as if to say “What did I do wrong to get me in this situation?” That night I cried and asked for some clarity on how to help my father. Then it hit me.

As a child, my father was loved, but also abused. His mother would hit him, sometimes with force and use of objects. She was angry at his behavior and took it out on him. Then when she was done, she would hold him and cry. “Why do you make me do this?” she pleaded. For years I wondered how this played out in my father life. How did this twisted experience impact him? Did he, like most children, believe the lie that he was wrong and deserved punishment?

I remembered his words “¿Que hice?/What did I do?”, and I leaped out of bed, and rushed to his side. “Dad, you did nothing wrong. You are  child of God and as such, you are perfect, whole, and complete. You did nothing wrong. I don’t care what your mother, your father, or anyone else has said. You did nothing wrong and you are not wrong or bad.”

Saying Goodbye, Part 6: Acceptance (Sort of)

acceptance

Thursday came and we told the attending physician about our decision to begin comfort care at the hospital. As the doctor spoke with us, the nurses began removing my father’s off his IVs. I found this to be extremely disrespectful. This was a major decisions, and we didn’t have the change to be with my father as he transitioned from treatment to comfort care.

It was also at this time that the physician told us that my father’s time at the hospital was limited as he was technically “stable”. Stable meaning, anything the hospital was providing, we could be providing at home. This was new to us, so we were faced with immediately having to prepare for home hospice.

As if the last few days weren’t a whirlwind already, things seemed to move in hyper-speed. My heart and mind were struggling to catch up, and my logic was trying to make sure my father was receiving appropriate care.

We continued to care for my father that day by being with him, talking with him, holding his hand, and providing people with one on one time with him. He continued to recognize people, make requests, and answer questions. His personality would appear in flashes, like when he stubbornly replied “Como que no” (similar to “Like hell it won’t”) when he was told his hospital ID bracelet couldn’t tear, as he tried to take it off.  “I want to go to Juarez” or “I want some coffee” were gifts to us. His “awake” times were brief, yet felt very rich.

That night most of us could not sleep. I found myself tossing and turning, and waking frequently throughout the night. “Did we make the right decision?”

For myself, I wrestled with so many questions and doubt in our decision to end treatment. He was slowly getting better, but his inability to swallow meant invasive treatments that we all knew my father wouldn’t want. I just couldn’t accept that there was no other way. I was willing to let my father go if that was where he was headed, but I  I also didn’t want to cause my father any unnecessary harm, and most importantly, I wanted to do right by my father.

It was early Friday morning when one of my sister’s sent us a text from the hospital, “Dad ate some food this morning…”

What the hell??? I stood in my father’s living room with my two other sisters as we scrambled to try and understand what was happening. we all reached out to physicians we knew to get some perspective.

When we arrived at the hospital we met with my father’s health care team to go over my father’s condition and options. The staff was noticeably frustrated with us, but we held firm with having our doubts and concerns addressed.

By the end of our conversation, it was clear that there was not much more that could be done with the health care team in the room. They we not going to understand us, and why it was so incredibly hard to make this decision. It was beyond the “difficult decision” regarding a parent. We just found out 11 days ago that my father had dementia, and now we are faced with end of life. Excuse me, but, it is a lot to take in, and leaves a lot of room for doubt, and denial.

From this point on, we slowly came to terms that my father was dying. Home hospice was arranged, and my nieces and nephews prepared my father’s home for his arrival. He could come home on Sunday, so we had two more hospital nights left before my father could go home. My father was expressing a desire to go home, and his rapid decline left me worried that he wouldn’t make it to Sunday.

Saying Goodbye, Part 5: To Treat or Not to Treat

 

crazymaking

artist: unknown

On Wednesday, my sisters, brother, and I, gathered to discuss how to proceed in my dad’s care. Do we continue treatment or begin comfort care in the hospital? As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

My father had a second swallow test, which he didn’t pass, and we were told that, due to the dementia, his inability to swallow was irreversible. Mind you, the speech therapist didn’t say he had difficulty swallowing but that he was UNABLE to swallow.

What does this mean? Continued treatment would include a long-term feeding tube (with it’s own set of complications). As I said before, continued treatment would also mean that my father would remain incontinent, have difficulty being mobile (most likely involving being bedridden),  and have progressive dementia.

Comfort care would involve removing him from his IV and antibiotics, and allowing him to die in the most comfortable way with pain killers.

This was not what I was expecting when I made the trip to visit my dad last Saturday.

Practically it was an easy decision for us to make. My father, like many men, is a proud man who doesn’t want to be dependent on anything or anyone. Throughout his life, he never was. He is a Texas born, self-made man who was born to Mexican parents and raised in extreme poverty. He worked hard from a young age (he never had a childhood), and managed to not only provide for his family, but his parents, siblings, siblings in-law, and their family’s as well. He bought his parents and sister a home before buying his own. He prided himself on never needing a handout or public assistance. With his conviction, and hard work, he not only survived, but thrived in his lifetime.

We all knew that my father wouldn’t want feeding tubes, being incontinent and being bedridden, and especially, needing his basic needs cared for 24/7. So yes, practically, the decision was an easy one. We would stop treatment and beginning comfort care.

Emotionally the decision was grueling.  “What if…” and “Maybe…” kept fucking with our hearts and minds. “Is there something else that can be done?” “These can’ be the only options!”

As a family, we made the decision to stop treatment, but didn’t say anything to the doctors. Instinctually, I think we knew that we needed to sit with the decision for a while before making anything final.

 

Growing Edges and Traps

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZAX1Yi

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZAX1Yi

Over the last few weeks, I have been sitting with and working through a growing edge about my subconscious set-up where, no mater what I do, I always end up wrong. At first, I knew it’s was a growing edge because I didn’t have the words to describe what I was facing. I get fleeting clarity, but as quick as it arrives, it dissipates. In short, I get confused about what I’m trying to process.

Having gone through this before, I know enough to just be aware of it, be with it, and let it unfold in it’s own time. I also know that it is a rooted and core issue, so I have some ego resistance to seeing it. My ego survival depends on the construct I am trying to work with, so I have a very subconscious resistance that blows confusion into my brain when I try to look at it.

As the days passed, I sat with the slight understanding of my confusion. I kept my feelers out for experiences that might make things clearer. Last week, I was at work and sat on the arm of the couch looking at my books on the shelf. My eyes set on the book “There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate“, by Cheri Huber. Now, I bought this book in 2010 but never read it. For whatever reason, on this day in 2015, it just felt right to thumb through it. As I did, I stumbled on something that shook me and brought more clarity to this growing edge I’m on.

“We learned behaviors when we were very young in order to survive. We were taught to hate those behaviors and to see them as signs of our badness. Yet we must keep doing them because they still mean survival to us. And we hate ourselves for doing them.”
The Trap:
I believe I must be this way to survive.
I hate myself for being this way.
Result:
self hate = survival
survival = self-hate

I brought this reading to my counseling session today, and found myself in tears as I read it out loud. I began to feel more clarity in just how scared I was to step into this new awareness. The awareness that, when I want something more, something that matches my deepest needs, I feel like an ungrateful spoiled brat.

As a kid, all my material needs were met, but I recall having  a deep longing for emotional connection, being seen, accepted, and understood. I learned that what I wanted was too much, and I was ungrateful for all the things my parents worked and sacrificed for. Of course, as a child I did not have the words for this, so I learned to stuff these needs and feel bad that I even wanted them.

Now, as a grown woman, when I experience this need for emotional connection, being seen, accepted, and/or understood, I immediately make myself wrong, even though a part of me knows I deserve what I want. This fires up especially bright when what I have is good on the surface, but lacks a deeper need. Then I make myself wrong for not wanting to settle for the good that I do have.

This is my growing edge, and it feels like all the healing that has come before this has been leading me to this moment. At this moment, I want and need more, specifically emotional connection, emotional safety, and being understood. I also feel like a ungrateful spoiled brat for wanting this.

As I left my counseling session, feeling lighter having unpacked some deep family shit, I was reminded that I need not do anything right now. I simply need to be present with this duality of wanting more, then feeling like shit because i want more, and look it in the face. At least now, I can see it more clearly.

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