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.

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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

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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 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.

 

Mercy

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Edvard Munch: “Death and the Child”

Most people say “When my time comes, I don’t want to be hooked up to machines! Pull the plug, just let me die!” Oh, but it is not that easy when you, as the family member, have to make the decision for your loved one. In my case, my father.

To treat or not to treat? It is a gut-wrenching, sleep-depriving, desperation grasping, doubt-filled, guilt-ridden nightmare. It’s the Serenity Prayer incarnate.

Sometimes, death doesn’t stare you in the face and take charge. Sometimes death dares you to dig deep down beyond your own existence, beyond everything you thought you knew. Sometimes death calls bullshit on your spiritual capacity to allow, surrender, and trust. Sometimes death turns you into a terrified child lost at the department store, worried she will never-ever go home again or see her parent’s face, or feel their embrace. Sometimes, death just sits back, and watches you writhe, like an earthworm in the dry daylight, as you wrestle with your humanness.

And then there is the one who breathes an inconsistent breath, whose fate is in your hands. And all you can offer is the the most tender mercy that arises from a place beyond the psyche and without words.

2/26/2016

Death

This week I have been raw. Emotionally raw. Or is it numb? I can’t quite tell.

Monday night I was affected by three very different experiences. The first experience resulted in me feeling angry. For the second one I was frightened. The third one had me in tears. For each experience, I practiced breaking the pattern of leaving my body and consciously decided to stay in my body. I stayed mindful of the now, noticed when I was future tripping, and cried when I needed to.

When I woke up the next day, I could feel the residual emotions from the night before. As I tried to make this morning like every other morning, I could feel that familiar lump in my throat. I stood frozen in font of the mirror, my eyes fixed somewhere in the distance. “You okay honey?” my boyfriend asked from the bed. “Yeah” I replied, but I knew it wasn’t true. The tears welled up and I knew what I needed. I sat in the living room and cried hard. Then things started to unravel.

Looking back I know that there were two parts of me sitting on that couch; new me and old me. The new me was practicing self-care by allowing myself to do what I needed. The old me was crying and waiting for my boyfriend to comfort me. When he didn’t, I was devastated, and added another layer of hurt to my already raw state. So I reached out. I called my ACA partner and therapist. This helped ground me enough to get back to my day.

Truth be told, my boyfriend has been really good at comforting me in the past. He holds me, asks me what I need, and has been beautifully present with me. This particular morning he was unable to support me as he’s going though his own hurt (I didn’t know this at the time). My mind knows this now, but my heart and little girl are so disappointed, angry, and hurt.

Later that night it was no better. Miscommunication between me and my boyfriend exacerbated my emotions and I went to bed in a mental tail spin.

The next day I made a second appointment with my therapist and processed some of my confusion, anger, disappointment and sadness. A lot of what I am feeling is so similar to when my brothers died last year, as if my world has been pulled out from inside of me and I’m filled with emptiness. I can’t seem to connect with others and feel a deep need for stillness and silence. All I can conceive of is that something inside me is dying, and it frightens me.

A Significant Birthday

Well, it was time of year again. It was my mom and I’s birthday weekend, and as some of you may know from previous posts, my mom passed away in 1997. In the past we always shared our birthday’s together, even after I moved out of state. There was only one birthday we didn’t spend together, and it was our last one in 1997. I don’t remember if we planned it that way or if it didn’t happen due to circumstances.

After she passed away, our birthday became a time of regretting that we weren’t together for our last birthday. Then in 2000, I decided that I would celebrate our birthday by doing something I’ve never done before or going somewhere I’ve never been to. I chose this as my mom had always had a love for travel, but kept it to places where she knew people. Her tendency to limit herself was also a lesson I learned and lived for so long. Choosing this way to celebrate our birthday is a way that I can challenge limiting beliefs by celebrating freedom and self care.

This year in particular was significant in that I turned 41, which is the age my mother was when she had me. I realized this about a month ago and it freaked me out. It felt like some kind of existential vortex. When I brought this up to my therapist we revisited enmeshment, and by the end f the session, I realized that, although a part of me still identifies with my  mother, at my core, I am still my own person.

So this year, at 1:18 am on our birthday, I sat in meditation. I imagined my mother in labor. I imagined the roller coaster of emotions and physical pain she must have gone through. I remembered that she wouldn’t allow herself to make a lot of noise during labor, mainly because she saw it as weak (which I translate as her belief that “I don’t get to have my feelings”). I also remembered her telling me that I was a quick birth. This made me laugh a little because I’ve always been impatient.

As the time of my birth passed, I meditated on gratitude, and loving kindness. And slowly I could feel the part of me that is my own person grow. I suppose this birthday has birthed in me a greater understanding that I am separate from my mom.

Yes, we share the same name, the same birthday, and many characteristics. I was created in her, and she birthed me to live out my life as best I could. I lived in her shadow for many years, and it is now that I can step into my own light, with gratitude for what she gave me, and compassion for what she could not give me.

As for the rest of the day, I drove to Northern California for the weekend and visited a few towns I’ve never been to before. That freedom to go to new places alone is something I appreciate about our birthday, as it has helped me to do the same internally.

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