Saying Goodbye, Part 4: Difference in Perspective

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Rorschach blot

Monday came with no improvement and my father was taken to the Emergency Room via ambulance. It was a rush of fear that went through me as I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

By this time my father’s condition was pretty bad. He was mostly unresponsive with eyes closed and mouth open. His cough was due to aspirating pneumonia, but after being suctioned at the E.R., the gurgling was mostly gone. The hours were long and cold as we waited, hoping to get some news on what was happening and what could be done.

This is when things really began to get surreal.

The doctors came to us with dire news. “Send him home for comfort care, so he can pass in peace” was the suggested action, although there was “no pressure” in making our decision to treat or not. This decision was not easy to make as the attending physician said that he couldn’t determine what was wrong based on my father’s symptoms, lab work, and scans. You read right, “We don’t know what’s gong on, so send him home to die” was what we heard.

We decided to treat as our belief was that my father was able to get stable with the right care. They gave him IV fluids and antibiotic. Slowly my father began to regain some responsiveness. He began to move a little, folding his hands across his sternum, and touching his mustache in his familiar way.

I stayed with him throughout the night, until he was admitted into a room the next morning.

For the next two days my father’s condition improved. He talked more, recognized people, made requests, and asked questions. His personality began to show again, and his vitals began to improve. He still wasn’t strong enough to get out of bed, or sit up for long on his own, but once again, we were hopeful that things would continue to improve for him.

The only thing that wasn’t improving was his inability to swallow. He didn’t pass a swallow test, but the speech therapist said she would try another test when his strength improved.

Up to this point, the attending physicians inquired on our decision to keep treating or begin comfort care. In the spirit of informed decisions, we decided to meet with the palliative doctor to better understand what this option meant.

The information she provided was grim. Worst case scenario seemed to be all she could give us. Which makes sense since that is her job. But we weren’t ready for death yet. Not with my father’s condition improving by the hour.

Options to treat were also reviewed with the palliative and attending physicians. The treatment options were more invasive, as they included feeding tubes and dialysis.  Then there was the issue of dementia.

Even with my father’s improvement, and even with invasive treatments, my father’s dementia would still be present and progressing. The degree to which he could improve with treatment was unknown, but what was known was that dementia wasn’t going anywhere and would only get worse.

Although there was no rush, we felt pressured. It was an implied pressure in the urgent tone used by nurses and doctor. “He is not going to improve, he will only get worse, let him go” was what I felt.

I became angry and frustrated at the lack of possibility in the hospital staff. They were treating my father as if he came in with a toe tag and death certificate and had no idea of what he was like weeks before being admitted. They met an 84 year old man with a dementia diagnosis, and saw a dead man. I saw my father who was strong and a fighter, and this discrepancy between myself and the doctors felt powerless and infuriating. The doctors would say I was in denial.

 

“Get Over it Already!”

In the first half of 2010, I was in the depths of my depression and anxiety. I was on a leave of absence from work, having consistent suicidal thoughts, inert, had no appetite, and prone to fits of spontaneous crying. I was receiving counseling, medication management, going for daily walks, receiving care from a naturopathic doctor, and attending my mediation sangha.

I was doing what I could, and yet, found myself unable to get out of bed or living room couch. Some days were slightly better than others, yet I couldn’t shake the persistent negative thoughts, suicidal callings, and paralyzing panic.

It was during this time that my father came to visit me for 2 weeks. He was worried about me and, I suppose, wanted to check-in and/or keep me company. I welcomed the visit, yet was not sure how it could bump me out of my depressive state.

He came with me as I drove to my counseling and psychiatrist appointments. We went out to lunch and went for daily walks. It was nice having company, but it didn’t shake my lack of energy or appetite. If anything, it make it worse.

For most of my father’s visit I was thrown across the bed unable to sleep, move, or talk. On one occasion he said “Talk to me!” and when I expressed the suicidal thoughts and feelings I was having, he yelled at me for having them. He made the critical remarks of “I have no idea why you are still fat if you don’t eat”, and “I came here to spend time with you, and all you do is sleep.”

After one particular argument, my father became frustrated and left a week early.

As you can see, my father does not have a bedside manner. He never has. He is revolted at the mere glimpse of weakness. So when he saw the reality of my depression, he had absolutely no idea how to handle it. In a moment of absolution, he sat in the car ready to leave, with eyes cast down he said, “I’m sorry I yelled. I just don’t know what to do. I love you.”

The memory of this came to me this morning, as a reminder that, trying to “get over” something with force is not always a good idea. My father is a “get over it” kind of person, and when he imposed this on  me, my condition worsened.

I have heard people say to other depressed people, that they need to “get out, go do something, stop thinking about it” and so on. Although this is somewhat true, forcing one to do so at a dramatically different pace can sometimes be a set up for depression to worsen.

Depression calls us to listen to ourselves. Depression will be call out to us by any means necessary. When we don’t listen by pushing it away or ignoring (denying) it, depression will raise it’s voice and demand our attention. Yes, we must challenge ourselves when depression is here, but the challenge looks far different from what a non-depressives is familiar with.

When depression arrives, we must ask what it’ is trying to tell us and listen with compassion. We challenge ourselves in a manner that is so slow and gradual and we accept when inert will not budge.

Imagine your depression as a fussy newborn cradled in your arms. Forcing the newborn to do something it doesn’t want will only make the them fussier. Yet, if you slow down internally, pay close attention to the newborn’s cues as you try different soothing actions (feeding, swaddling, etc.), you may find what the newborn needs in that moment. Sometimes everything we try doesn’t work, and we simply hold the newborn, and accept the moment as it is.

It’s the slowing down and listening to your depression that can help you to find what self-care you need to take action on. ACA talks about reparenting, and this is one way we can re-parenting ourselves.

Boundaries

I’ve been thinking about this concept of setting boundaries and not enabling others harmful behaviors. It’s a little confusing because growing up, my family didn’t practice setting boundaries. Rules and demands were created from frustration, hurt, anger, or disappointment. These rules and requests were a big “No” that separated us from each other.

As an adult I learned that setting boundaries wasn’t about keeping people apart.  I learned that boundaries actually help people relate to each other, and as a result, become closer. Although setting boundaries communicates “This is not okay with me”, it also communicate “I want to have a better relationship with you”.

I also learned that setting boundaries is a healthy way to learn about and value oneself. It’s common to be unaware of ones own boundaries until they’ve been crossed. Someone does something, maybe even you do something, and quite suddenly you get angry, sad frustrated, etc. and you can’t quite pin-point why. In these cases, it was most likely a boundary of yours that was crossed, ignored, or invalidated.

When it comes to people with addictions or harmful behaviors it’s a slippery slope that starts by helping someone out of compassion that quickly leads to enabling. For example if someone is arrested for driving under the influence, do you bail them out? Do you pay the money to take their car from the impound. If you do, are you doing so for them or to soothe your own discomfort? Are you dishonoring yourself and your boundaries by choosing to take these actions? Did they cross your boundaries by making these decisions and expecting you to pay the financial consequences?

As young adult, I remember my mother no longer helping me financially once I began living with a boyfriend that she didn’t like. This was her way of telling me “I don’t support your decision”. To this day, I wonder if she was she setting a boundary, or was she being passive aggressive. This one experience has affected me when I decide to set a boundary. Initially I feel like my mother. I feel like I’m coming from a hurt place. From a place of trying to control someone instead of trying to be supportive.

I’m not quite sure what the answers are yet, but I think there’s a lot of letting go that is required to successfully set a boundary from a healthy place.

A Family Disease

One of the texts that OA uses is AA’s Big Blue Book. In previous meetings I hadn’t really though of it much before, but yesterday, it hit me pretty hard.

My brother, who passed away in May, battled alcoholism for most of his life. During one of his periods in recovery, he gave me a copy of AA’s Big Blue Book. “Here sis. They say it helps to have family know about what we are going through.” I remember feeling so honored that he was inviting me to know more about his journey. I kept the book, but never read it. Like him, I was a bit turned-off about the spiritual (God) aspect of the program at the time. I was also a bit scared to read about what he was up against. I think it’s the hardest journey to look at yourself and challenge your coping mechanisms. At that time, I would have never guessed that I would eventually be doing the same.

As I sat in yesterday’s meeting, I couldn’t help but feel so overwhelmed at knowing that this book that my beloved deceased brother gave me five years ago is now something I can use in my own recovery with compulsive overeating. It is said that addictions are a family disease, and this is definitely true in my case. I suppose I have known this to some degree, but it really sank in yesterday and when it did, I felt closer to my brother than ever before.

During the last five years of his life, my brother managed to stay sober by doing what worked for him. His relationship with his son and granddaughter grew stronger and healthier, which was a gift for all of them. I know it was no easy task, and I have been grateful for his sobriety. I have mentioned before that, even though losing him has been painful, I know that things could have ended up much worse. A lot of people die with their addictions still “active”. I have heard too many stories of people who were intoxicated and have died on railroad tracks, in alleys, in fights, and while incarcerated.

Last night I was working on a project for school that involves researching incarcerated populations. As I read the data I felt so much sadness and gratitude for my brother’s recovery. He experienced a lot of extremes, and the accumulation of damage to his body took its toll. Sometimes I do not understand what everything was about. The disease, the addiction, the reasons, the childhood experiences, the unresolved issues. It all seems like too much. Then I remember that there is not meaning for me to figure out. This was my brother’s journey. Because we are connected, our paths were paralleled and crossed paths. We are mirrors to each other, and even though he has moved on, I continue this journey with him.

Baggage

There is a man who lives his life with a deep fidelity to family. His commitment to his family is so deep that he considered it his life duty and extends his commitment beyond his immediate family. His desire is to be loved and accepted for everything he has done.

There is a woman who, despite living a life of familial fidelity, desires freedom and independence. She accepts the life that she believes is dealt to her, even though she finds little happiness in the daily routine. In stolen moments she wonders what her life could have been was she not tied down to her family. Simultaneously she fears that she could have had it much worse.

These two people live inside me. The duality of fidelity and freedom, duty and independence has been battling inside me for as long as I can remember. It was what a piece of what collided in me and creating a deep depression. It’s only now that I can see it clearly for what it is.

These are the lessons learned from observing my parents. In watching their actions and hearing their words, I can hear their internal scripts; what they believed was true, what they valued, and what they desired. This is what children do. This is how children adopt their parent’s baggage. Always.

Now that I’ve unpacked, I can finally give it back.

None of Your Business

As I drove to see my brother, I was listening to Iyanla Vanzant’s podcast titled “Moving Through Grief”. In this podcast she is joined by Robert Pruitt in talking with various callers about their grieving processes. I found many of the caller’s situations to be familiar, but there was one thing that Iyanla shared that hit me to the core.

She briefly mentioned dealing with the death of her young daughter and explained how she was so angry with God for taking her. In the midst of one of her tantrums with God, she clearly heard God say to her, “Your daughter’s life is none of your business.”

Got it.

Coming to Terms

I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster these last two weeks as my brother’s condition is getting worse.

I went to see him last Friday as he’s back in the hospital. He lives about 3 hours away and it’s tough not being able to be there. When I got there I was shocked at his condition. Hollow, small, thin, jaundiced, non-responsive. I’ve seen that look in others just before they pass on. It scared me to see him in such a state. I had just seen him last month and he looked like his normal self then. But the liver cancer and diabetes seem to be fighting each other.

Since then it’s been a waiting game. Waiting for the doctor’s to see him. Waiting for their input. Waiting so see what after-care is available.

Then yesterday, I got word that the Doctors and specialists agreed that my brother is terminal. They are stopping his cancer treatment and proceeding with “comfort care”. They give him 2 weeks to a month.

It’s been a cycle of feeling too much and shutting down. I know a lot of me is in denial. I keep saying to myself, “Really? Am I sure I heard right? These are the facts right? Can’t be. It’s all so final.”

Death is inevitable. No one escapes it. AND, this is my brother. Youngest of all the boys. I will never again see him as I knew him. I will never again have a conversation with him like before. That person is already gone. But he is still here and, although I’m going to see him this weekend, I hope I can be there when he transitions.

Emotional Hoarding

I was reminded that in order for me to allow any new things to come into my life I really have to let go of and get rid of some things. Not just clearing out space by getting rid of material things, I also need let go of old stories, resentments, and false self/limiting beliefs.

Up to this point, my energy has been very scattered. I feel like my basic needs are unstable (work, money, housing) and I don’t have a plan for my future. I worry a lot about where I’m going to live, where I’m going to work, will I have enough money by the end of the month?

If it isn’t those basic needs I’m preoccupied with, I’m worried about my family. It hurts to see how we interact and how guilt and rage is used to control each other.

Additionally, I harbor some deep resentments that flare up when I’m stressed. These resentments are against old friends, co-workers, roommates, partners, and, of course, family members. During this time I feel so overwhelmed with sadness and anger and it’s hard to stop and calm down.

This week, I was talking with a  friend of mine who is an ayurvedic practitioner. She was telling me how unreleased emotional energy produces illness in the body. It was then that I realized that when I hold onto resentments and worry, I’m doing the equivalent of emotional hoarding.

I absolutely cannot stand hoarding. It makes me physically uncomfortable, so when I realized this, I felt a greater pull to do more conscious work around acknowledging and releasing resentments and worry.

Not only do I want to do this for my own health, I want to do this to make room for new feelings, perceptions, and opportunities.

Uprooting

Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve posted here.

Lots of uprooting going on.

I have a brother, older to me, and the youngest of the boys. He’s been fighting the good fight for a long time now. In and out of rehab. Lapses and relapses. In and out the hospital. Lots of body damage.  Nonetheless, he’s been sober for about five years.

Like I said, his body’s taken quite a beating and two weeks ago he was in the hospital because his liver was not functioning properly. A few days later the doctor diagnosed him with liver cancer. Almost a week later he’s back home with my dad and so I went to visit him this weekend.

Besides the worry about my brother, it was really painful to see how my family interacts with each other (present company included). My brother has a rage that causes everyone around him to scurry away. My father can cut you with his words. And me, I can dish it out just as good as I get it. I hate that it’s so easy for me to attack my family. It seems I haven’t quite learned how to have my emotions and not hurt anyone in the process.

Things are going to be tense for a bit. My brother has quite the journey ahead of him and I don’t know if his body or family can keep it together enough to help him through it.

The S/Heros Journey (Stages of Monomyth)

In drafting a post on the S/Heros Journey, I searched previous posts to find where I had already written about it. To my surprise, there weren’t any. I could have sworn I had written a whole post dedicated to it, but all I found was a post back in April 2011 what mentioned it briefly.

Strange. It’s been my running theme for this year and a theme that I’ve referenced back to repeatedly.

So, before I finish my original post on the topic, I’d like to dedicate this post to The S/Heros Journey.

It is a journey that has been made throughout indigenous cultures and heard in fairy tales and on the big screen. The basic concept is that of needing to leave your “tribe” to find yourself, slay that which gets in your way, and return home a more integrated person.  The journey continues upon return as the S/Hero grows into walking in both the inner and  outer worlds in balance and peace.

I’ve outlined “The Wizard of Oz” to this journey, and my own life. Take a look at the steps here, and see how you’ve been on the journey yourself.

The stages of the S/Heros Journey are as follows:

    1. The Call to Adventure
    1. Refusal of the Call
    2. Supernatural Aid
    3. The Crossing of the First Threshold
    4. The Belly of the Whale
    5. The Road of Trials
    6. The Meeting with the Goddess
    7. Woman as the Temptress
    8. Atonement with the Father
    9. Apotheosis
    10. The Ultimate Boon
    11. Refusal of the Return
    12. The Magic Flight
    13. Rescue from Without
    14. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    15. Master of the Two Worlds
    16. Freedom to Live

For more details on the individual stages, please visit: “Heros Journey: Summary of Steps”

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