Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

The Handoff

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My father died last week . . . at 94. His left behind 3 living children, 10 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren — and a boatload of complicated emotions.

To be honest, this a tough post to write. It’s so much easier to be funny than painfully authentic but writers need to say the hard stuff, too. And what’s harder, more precious, more frustrating and intrinsic to us as humans than family?

Since the night my dad died, people have expressed heartfelt sympathies I felt unworthy to receive. I’ve struggled to reach inside to the depth of grief that losing a parent brings. Maybe losing my still vital husband so suddenly anesthetized me to old age’s inevitable end, even in a parent. Or, just maybe, the empty, numb feeling is self-protection from a hurricane of emotions just waiting to be unleashed when I’m least expecting it.

If that tv sitcom. Leave it to Beaver, (does that make me old?) was truly an icon of a normal family, we’re all screwed. Life out of central casting is not real life, but I suspect we all secretly want a teeny bit of that warm, fuzzy family picture. Instead, we peel through layers of frustration, hurt, love, and longing that surface with a vengeance when the main players of family of origin are gone. We may not recognize those layers as grief, but they can define it just the same.

When my mom was alive, my dad hated talking on the phone but he certainly made up for it, in spades, the last 13 years. Though conversations were rarely about how I or my family was, he was at long last verbal. He now depended on family for needs my mother hovered over and finally seemed to enjoy (tolerate may be a better word) the ‘kids’, including the oldsters who lived 2 hours away. (If there was any doubt that my husband loved me, I have just to remember our bi-monthly parkway pilgrimages. Muttering through road rage, a body protesting often from cancer side effects, he still took on legendary shore traffic – for me. That’s love) After he died, I continued the trip until a police call reporting my dad seeing 9 people dressed in khakis and red shirts (think Jake from Allstate) made it necessary to move him someplace both nearer and safer.

Welcome to assisted living.  Just picturing how I’d feel when it came time to trade my own house and car for a 2-room studio far away from where I called home for the last 20 years, twisted my heart. But having your parent’s care solely on your shoulders is layered with many emotions, even in the happiest, Hallmark families. Out of three kids, I was now the only game in town so, along with being critical dad’s go-to, choosing the right senior living facility was the could best I could do. We were suddenly both stuck and we both struggled to make the best of it.  Like I said, it’s ‘complicated’. Continue reading “The Handoff”

Copy that., View from the Shoe

Baggage Claim

Everyone has baggage. Everyone. Some carry bags as small as coin purses; others the size of a dumpster. While I’d like to say mine is wallet size, given a long, complicated life, it’s probably more of a satchel. Of course, I’d have to count make-up, keys with fuzzy pom poms, and all the just-in-case stuff in there, too, but still.

Each piece that piles into our bags, each painful, awkward piece, built our lives one way or the other. Stuff you did – or stuff that was done to you. Unresolved emotional issues, traumas, hurts and habits from growing up or adult years, all shape and mold us. They also add up, if not tended to, and morph into pretty hefty knapsacks we lug around with straps cutting into our shoulders. The weight alone, let alone the memories, trip us into withdrawing, or holding back in relationships that just might expose what the heck we’re carrying. Sometimes, we can’t even remember what is stuffed in that bag — but it remembers us.

When you bring past baggage into the present, it might be a short trip.

If we choose our friends, based on how much baggage they bring to the table, there might be a short list on the invite list. Choosing our partners, based on the skeletons in their backpacks, can be a smart as well as sketchy since it allows us to either dodge a bullet or — a potentially wonderful relationship. Life has a habit of piling a lot of stuff into our humanoid valises and it’s up to us to know the amount of weight we can carry without breaking – as well as if we can help carry another’s.

When cancer decided to drop in before our marriage vows, it grew my husband’s baggage to industrial size proportions. That kind of load can break all the snaps and zippers of budding married life. Luckily, we both just grabbed an end — and kept moving forward. But, that doesn’t work in every situation – nor should it. Just like group travel tours, we’re each in charge of our own suitcase and we’re the ones who have to carry and unpack it. That’s why your tour guide cautions you to travel light.

Everyone has baggage, maybe we should help each other carry it.”  Rob Liano

How much does your life weigh? Now there’s a heavy question. Depending on all the ‘stuff’ we jam into it, our bag can be one damn heavy load, certainly too much for puny shoulders to carry for a lifetime. (and this is coming from a chick whose purse alone could use a rollaway wheels.) Unexpressed feelings, long held hurts and bad habits pile one on another. Past baggage weighs down our present.

Relationships can be the city dump of baggage. Sometimes you’ll get a widescreen, technicolor view of a potential partner’s heavy duty baggage; sometimes it’s the unsuspecting moving van of tattered boxes and bins that blindside you. But, then someone offers you an honest inventory of even the most difficult, messy baggage they’ve painfully carried, and it gets your attention — even your heart. When someone is able to identify, unpack, deal with and grow from all the ponderous stuff they’ve been lugging around, ah, that’s a person you can trust and open your heart to. When we’re able to introspectively shake out our own backpack of weighty history and evolve in the process, that’s a trifecta of happy. Continue reading “Baggage Claim”