The Grief Thief

IMG_6101This past week has thrown a massive monkey wrench into my grief journey.  I am once again putting cold spoons under my eyes to reduce the swelling and feeling sick to my stomach.  My grief diet hit me full force taking 5 pounds with her.  Unfortunately despite the fact that I’m mourning my Dad, life marches on. And as life marches on we must ride the highs and the lows of life despite how much those lows hurt.

I am beginning to realize that despite all my writing and thinking I’m ok, I’m not. Sure, I’m a grown up.  I have my health, a fabulous career, an amazing significant other and a loving family.   I know I’m blessed, but I really miss my Dad.  It was my Dad I went to for everything.  He was my trusted advisor on life.  And now that my first real life issue has fallen into my lap, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of an abyss, the same abyss I was looking into the night he died.

My father was my hero, my rock, my best friend and life without him is extremely difficult and challenging.  How do you learn how to walk again when the ground beneath you is crumbling? How do you speak when unshed tears claw at your throat?  The seven month anniversary of his death is a few days away and I can still feel my heart shattering into a million pieces.

A few days before my Dad passed we had one of our last heart to heart conversations.  It was at that moment I cried to him asking, “WHO will I go to when life takes a chaotic turn?”  He patted me on the head, smiled and said, “Me.”  I will never forget that response, he was so sure of himself, like he knew something I didn’t.  Despite all his pain and suffering  I saw peace in his eyes.  It was at that moment, I knew my Dad knew something I didn’t, and it was beautiful.  In the middle of muffled sobs I paused, studied his face, and whispered,”Seriously Dad, WHO am I going to go to because I really need you.”  With tears in both of our eyes, my Dad smiled and replied, “I will always be with you, and you will always be my baby. Have faith in God and I promise I will always be with you.”

So here I am, six very long months have passed and I’m fatherless.  I miss him more and more each day.  Life is marching on, and the glue that held our family together is gone.  Many times the waves of grief are so engulfing I have no choice but to ride them.

I’m not sure what it is with death, but people are totally clueless.  People not qualified to offer advice on broiling water are attempting to fill my father’s shoes, giving unsolicitated opinions on private family matters and it’s horrifying.  And while I understand they truly believe their intentions are good, what they are incapable of realizing is that they are outsiders looking in.  I’m certain many of you are reading this thinking, “OMG me too, thank goodness I’m not the only one with crazy relatives!”

So, what’s the solution?  

How do you survive your own grief journey when you’re encountering meddlers with bad intentions who are gossiping during one of the most difficult times of your life? In the movies families rally together, hold hands and sing by the fire.  But this is real life not the movies, so now what?   Unfortunately I don’t have a magic pill, gosh I wish I did.

As I sat on my patio struggling to make the right the decision, the decision my father would have made, I decided to ask for his guidance.  My Dad had a gift with people, he always seemed to know what to do, he had a dymanic larger than life personality.   So, I looked up and said, “Dad, give me the strength to survive this journey.”  

Moments later I found perhaps one of the fluffiest feathers yet, instantly feeling surrounded by love.  I knew then nothing else matters.  The gossip, the meddling it’s truly for the small minded, and isn othing more than a distraction as I grieve.

As you walk your grief journey focus on learning how to live again without your person of monumental significance.  Take some time out.  Grief makes us all do crazy things we may regret.  It is important to cut anyone who is toxic during this time.  People do all sorts of appalling stuff when they grieve, so try to look at these things as poor choices due to a hopeless time in life.  Their heinous choices are a reflection of them, not you. 

Our relationship with loved ones does not end with death.  If you find someone is stealing your grief, its okay to take a break from them and shout, “Don’t steal my grief, thief!”

This article originally appeared on:  The Grief Toolbox

 

 

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Why I Cannot Diet

 

Dear Friend:

I’m sorry but I will never buy the latest fad diet that you are selling.  It’s not that I don’t want to.  I want to support you and be a good friend.  I want to be your cheerleader.  I really, really want to.  But I cannot buy into the latest trendy diet.  I hope when you read my story you will understand why.

My father recently passed after a horrific battle with Stage IV tongue cancer.  My father died unable to eat or drink orally.  He lived on a peg tube.  A peg tube is a tube that sticks out of someone’s belly and they receive all their nutrition through this tube.  My father lived on a peg tube for 4 of the 7 years he fought his battle.  He had a diet of medically prescribed shakes, Gatorade and water for 4 years, nothing else.  Unless you count the numerous medications he consumed, also through the peg tube.

Cancer forces you to open your eyes and appreciate life. After you view life through the eyes of a cancer patient you will have no choice but to fall to your knees and thank God for all the little things you have taken for granted.

The last time I sat in a restaurant with my father was well over 3 years ago and it was a pizza place because after his radiation treatments he had difficulty eating most foods.  He had to put a powder called “Thick It” in all his drinks giving them a thick nectar like consistency so his liquids would not aspirate into his lungs.  He lived like this for 4 long years, then one day he was rushed to the Emergency Room with a very high fever. We were informed he had aspiration pneumonia due to damage to his epiglottis from the radiation treatments.  Everything that he consumed orally; food, beverages, medications, even his saliva was entering his lungs causing aspiration pneumonia.   A peg tube was inserted into his belly and he never ate or drank again.

From that point on my father spent the rest of his life yearning to eat again. Holidays, birthdays, special events were never the same.  I would walk into the room to find him watching “The Food Channel.” My heart would sink each time he would discuss a new dish Giada prepared.  We would sing Happy Birthday to him only to take the cake away.  Not because he was on some fad diet, because cancer stole his ability to eat.

Of course pre cancer our big fat Italian family would diet. Because that’s what we do. We indulge, then punish ourselves for being “bad.” But cancer knocked on our door in 2009 and had other plans. Cancer left our family begging for just one more bite of anything, even that dreaded fattening chocolate cake or that big greasy hamburger smothered in cheese or a big dish of carb filled pasta! Oh how my dad dreamed of having just one more plate of Sunday macaroni!  But cancer said, “No, not today, not tomorrow, no more eating in this life.”

The week before my father died I had to suction his spit from his mouth because he was too weak to do it himself. I bet you never knew they had a machine called a suction machine. I didn’t.  It’s basically a long tube you stick down someone’s throat and it pulls out all the gunk they can’t cough up.  I’m not sure what’s worse the deafening noise of a machine sucking the gunk out of someone’s mouth or the sounds of your larger than life father choking from a tube being stuck down his throat.  And when I was done with this medieval contraption I couldn’t even offer him water or a sponge soaked in water to relieve his VERY dry mouth.  All I could do was put some lip balm on his lips and pray that it would offer him some relief to the dryness on his lips and he would forget about his dry mouth.

The night before he died he asked me for a glass of water and I had to tell him no because everything he ate and drank aspirated into his lungs. I hugged him and we both cried. I denied my dying father a lousy glass of water. I’m haunted by the sounds of my sweet father’s voice asking me for a glass of water on his death bed.  Maybe someday I can forgive myself for saying no. Despite my rational mind knowing if I gave him that glass of water I would have caused great distress, my heart hurts knowing I denied my dying father something so simple as water.

So I will not be dieting and depriving myself of foods I enjoy.  Not today, not tomorrow, not in this life.  I would much rather workout and indulge in the foods that I enjoy.

Cancer gave me a front row seat to witnesses her destruction. Cancer forced me to witness my larger than life father die starving to death. Cancer is a real bitch.

 

The Grief Diet with a side of Anxiety

 

After watching my father suffer endlessly, I thought I was prepared for his death.  I loved my father so much that I bravely told him he could go, we would take care of mom and carry him in our hearts.  Well I mumbled this between enough tears to fill the ocean, but I did my best to comfort the man who comforted me my entire life.  Cancer robbed my Dad of eating, playing golf, enjoying his golden years and now he was unable to get out of bed, use the bathroom and shower himself. Cancer was now taking his dignity and it was terrifying.  The little every day tasks that we all take for granted were now just a faded memory for my father.  I watched my real life super hero fight with everything he had and I knew he was tired.  I tried to prepare myself mentally for my Dad’s passing.  I thought I was ready.

As I watched my father take his last breath I could feel my heart breaking in a million pieces.  As I watched my sister run her fingers over my father’s eyes and close them I could feel a piece of my heart leaving with my father. As I watched my sister remove his IV and other gadgets the nurses put on him I began to realize my not so baby sister was brave beyond her years.  I watched my sister the RN turn into Florence Nightingale as both of my feet were firmly cemented in the ground.  I could not move or speak, I just watched completely frozen.

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Throughout the past few years I made so many bargains with God.  Bargains like, God if you let my Dad have one more meal I will do X.  Or hello God if you let my Dad have one more drink I will do Y.  I became so desperate that I was willing to shave time off from my life or auction off my organs just to watch my father enjoy a lousy glass of water.  Did God forget?  Was he listening?  My Dad died unable to eat or drink.  It was a cruel death and now food became the symbol of my father’s struggle.

The first few days after my Dad passed everything was a complete blur.  Everyone wants to feed you, which is nice but I was unable to even look at food. I was losing weight faster than any of those crazy trendy diets that hijack your news feed on Facebook, the pounds were falling off.  Clothes that were snug were now falling off.  Food that I once loved tasted like battery acid.  I ordered my all time favorite dish at my father’s repass luncheon at our all time favorite restaurant and each bite tasted like I was eating hot garbage.  My wine tasted like a big glass of vomit.  I tried talking to our guests and everyone sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher, the room became hot and I was positive I was going to pass out.  At one point I remember looking for my mother and feeling very panicked.  WHERE was she?  I scanned the room 3 times and my mom was nowhere to be found.  I started running, yes running to the ladies room.  What if she fell and hit her head on the toilet?  She was upset and had some nerve going to the ladies room alone.  I ripped the door to the ladies room wide opened and exclaimed, “Oh good I found you!” Realizing I was acting completely crazy I fake peed and left the restroom with my mom. My new little friend anxiety was slowly making her appearance.  Since my father’s passing I find myself creating the craziest scenarios regarding my mom.  I’m constantly worried that I will lose her or something will happen to her.  I’ve tried telling her she needs a life alert bracelet just in case or maybe I could I could microchip her, but she explained to me she’s too young for that sort of stuff.  I haven’t told her microchips are just for family pets so there’s still hope on that one.

Anxiety has become a frequent visitor.  I’ve learned that tears are never-ending.  You can cry so much that your eyes are literally on fire and your brain feels like it’s going to pop.  And those little suckers can come at the darndest times.  You can be doing something totally normal like grocery shopping , a song will come on and bam you’re crying.  Your heart aches so much you can feel it in your bones.

Grieving sucks the life out of you.  Surround yourself with love and support.  My memories have become my life line often rescuing me from slipping into a black hole of grief.  And sometimes, if I’m really lucky a beautiful fluffy white feather will be thrown into my path and I smile because I know it’s a gift from heaven.