Generally, when you have to clear your parents’ house out, it’s after they’ve both passed. But I found myself on Saturday (with the help of family and my boyfriend) cleaning out my Dad’s house while he sits in a hospital that we don’t know if he will ever come home from.
I thought a lot about that on the drive over, and I started to tear up thinking about the task that lay ahead.
On top of my dad’s things, everything of my stepmom’s was still there, pretty much just as it was left when she passed away in June.
And somehow, in 8 hours, we were done. Two entire lives cleared out of the house in a day.
We found old black and white photos of our grandparents, photos of us kids when we were little, pictures from family reunions. Tara and I paused here and there to share a family joke or tell a story. We laughed. But it was the oddest of days.
I held it together like a champ while we were there, even after we left. It wasn’t until the evening when I finally sat down to rest, that it all hit me. I immediately called my mom crying.
“No more family dinners at Dad’s house. No more holidays. No more memories to make there,” I told her through the tears.
And after we hung up, I thought about my dad for a few minutes and whether he understands what’s happening. How does it feel that the last day he spent in his house with his wife was on March 31st and as I write this now on September 7th, his wife has passed and his home is completely empty? There’s no opportunity for him to grieve in their home, to process what happened, to find closure.
I know we are making the right move with the house, but my heart aches so much for him. I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his shoes, and it completely brings tears to my eyes.
I pray that he will understand that the difficult decisions we are making now are with his best interest in mind. 🙌
On the days I have Mia, I am up at 6:15 and out the door by 6:50 for the hour and 10 minute drive to and from her school.
Work starts at 8:00 and has been remote since late March, but working from home isn’t the at-my-pace-lounge-on-the-couch-while-working experience I had previously conjured up in my head.
Work has changed. I am the Executive Assistant to our CEO. But, I also: answer phones. I sell carts. I sell parts. I sell service. I handle all chargeback requests, update our inventory on our website, handle any marketing requests that come in, various AR/AP issues and many ad hoc tasks that pop up.
Because I am helping to answer the calls that come in to our main line, I have to be glued to my laptop all day. I am more sedentary than ever because of this.
(Please don’t get me wrong. I am SO GRATEFUL to even have my position, and I love what I do. I am simply pointing out how things have changed.)
Any spare minute I get from my work load throughout the day goes towards handling Dad’s affairs. Calls with the probate lawyer and social security and mortgage company and bank and hospital. Email follow ups, trying to get online access to his accounts, paying his bills, planning his longterm care.
Lunches everyday are spent cleaning the house. While this may be a self-imposed chore, having a tidy house while working from home is very important to me for my mental health and overall productivity.
When work ends at 5:00, it’s picking Mia up from school or ballet, dinner prep, bedtime routine with Mia, pack lunch for the next day, and then crash. Rinse and repeat.
Sure, some days are more relaxed than others, but overall, I have a pretty busy schedule right now. I am the kind of tired that sleep doesn’t fix.
And I’ve recently noticed something peculiar. Amidst all of the chaos and hecticness, I find myself craving a break, craving alone time, craving quiet.
And do you know what happens when I finally get that opportunity?
“Hmm, what do I want to do? What will make me happy right now?”
Do you know what a difficult question that is to answer?
The truth is, while I have been dutifully working for my job and for my family and worrying about the pandemic and the uncertainty of the future in almost every facet of my life, I have completely lost sight of myself.
Free time makes me anxious because I don’t know what to do with it.
Who am I if not the caretaker, the ambitious employee, the guilty mom?
Who am I when I’m not putting other people first?
Honestly, I don’t know. I am not even sure how to go about figuring it out. Is it dumping money into various hobbies I may or may not like? Is it starting a business that excites me? Is it running a half marathon?
Or is it smaller than that? Is it learning to trust my decision making? Learning not to carry the weight of other peoples’ opinions?
Or, is it to stop trying altogether? Stop putting so much pressure on myself to constantly be doing something? Maybe it’s learning how to sit still, sit in silence. Maybe it’s to stop obsessing over the past or worrying about the future and learning how to live in the moment.
I truly don’t know yet, but I am on a quest to figure it out. I am so tired of feeling lost, purposeless, and insecure.
I have to work on MY happiness, so that I can continue to show up for my family, friends, and work.
My older brother fought a tough battle with it which led to being on the TV show Intervention in February 2008. Even after the show, it took him a few years to get sober. But he did. And I am happy to report that he has been sober for over 7 years now. I am so proud if him.
What most people don’t know is that while we were filming the show, we discussed doing a double intervention on my stepmom too.
At that time, she characterized herself as a “functioning alcoholic.” She always said that because she had a job and went to work everyday, she didn’t have a problem.
But she did. Years later, when my dad ended up in the hospital, she lost her job. And that was the beginning of the end.
In June of this year, she passed away due to complications from alcoholism.
After all of the shit I went through surrounding alcoholism – brushing it under the rug, getting angry, obligated to enable, cleaning up literal and figurative messes, swooping in to save the day over and over again – I really thought once the alcoholism was out of my life, all of the other issues surrounding it would be too.
That is, until the other night when I was scrolling through Pinterest and saw a quote that stopped me dead in my tracks.
When I read this, it was like all of the pieces finally connected and I had an “oh shit” moment.
Here it is:
People pleasing? Making other people’s problems my own? Self-esteem being dictated by other people?
I. Am. Codependent.
Anyone who has known me for five minutes knows that I live and die by what other people think of me. Happiness has ALWAYS been circumstantial and external.
I felt like I had been SEEN!
Immediately, I began to research further:
Difficulty making decisions
Taking on others’ interests as my own
Not knowing what I want
Not know how to communicate what I do want
Struggling to set boundaries
Using relationships to fill a bottomless void
This is me to a T. I started to cry. First, in relief. There was finally something that explained why I feel and act the way I do. Then, in anger. And the anger sat for a while.
“Here I am being punished yet again by the actions of someone else. Here I am again having to clean up the mess long after the person is gone.”
Then, I cried out of overwhelm. What started as a way to cope, a way to survive, is now a deeply ingrained, complicated problem that will take years and a shit ton of work to undo.
I feel…defective. I feel overwhelmed.
The challenging thing with this kind of problem and what drives me crazy about personal development, is that there’s no rule book. There’s no quick fix. I can’t binge read a self help book over the weekend and be “cured.”
This is going to be hard. But it’s worth it.
Because I want to know who I am without being defined by my relationship to someone else.
I want to learn how to say no to things that don’t serve me.
I want to know and pursue things that truly interest me.
I want to learn how to take care of myself first.
So, I will do the work. Because I deserve to be happy.
He hasn’t been able to speak on the phone much the last four months that he’s been in the hospital, so I damn near dropped my phone scrambling to answer it.
For the first time in weeks, his voice was clear as day and he sounded wide awake and lucid. I was so excited!
That’s when he said he needed help. He needed me to “give him the number of his main squeeze Sharon”….
Mind you, my dad has been married for some 25 years and his wife just passed in June.
Dad went on to say that he met her at work. He said he worked downstairs and she worked upstairs…
But Dad hasn’t worked in over three years.
A few days ago, he said he went outside to start his car, but it wouldn’t move and we need to call the finance company ASAP. But Dad hasn’t driven nor seen his car since March.
This is what his recovery looks like right now. A specific diagnosis? We don’t know. One doctor called it “anesthesia fog.” After being on a ventilator for so long and on a cocktail of drugs, apparently this can be pretty common. But how long it will last is a question that the doctors can’t even answer.
But this call came after another devastating blow earlier in the day that Dad’s insurance is dropping his coverage for rehabilitation benefits. He’s not “progressing quickly enough.” Dad has only been in that facility for a month and two of those weeks were spent in forced quarantine. So, two weeks of rehab? Two weeks is all he gets to recover after being hospitalized since April 1st? That’s the best we can do for our senior citizens?
And that’s pretty much how the last four months have gone. Just when there’s a sliver of hope, a setback follows. Just when we get good news, bad news is not far behind.
Now there’s talk of a suspected stroke that he needs testing for. How will that change the recovery plan?
Our conversations with the doctors these days are less about when he will come home and more about if he will come home.
Needless to say, it’s been a roller coaster of emotions the last few months. I can barely keep up with my ever-fluctuating highs and lows. I can only imagine how my boyfriend feels watching it all happen.
It seems my days are filled with constant calls with doctors (a whole gamut of doctors), conversations about insurance, lawyers, red tape, long term care plans.
To say that it’s exhausting would be an understatement. Thank God I have my older sister to help navigate this process. I try not to let it consume me now. It did for a while and I have crawled out of a deep, dark hole of depression.
I am in uncharted territory here. I am being forced to learn the very difficult lesson of relinquishing control. Let go and let God. SO much easier said than done.
I try to remind myself to take it one day at a time, one problem at a time. Don’t worry too much about what happens down the line. Just focus on putting out the fires in front of me. And, loads and loads of self care. Sometimes that means taking out my frustration on cleaning the house. Sometimes it means crying in the bathroom when no one is paying attention. Sometimes it’s sitting under the tiki hut with a glass (or three) of prosecco. Sometimes it’s taking a nap, or going for a walk.
I just have to remember, all storms run out of rain. This situation SUCKS. But, it is temporary. Eventually, everything will be okay.
My happiness has always been circumstantial. It has always been external. It has always been something that happened to me, instead of something I created.
Most notably, happiness has always equaled accomplishments.
And for reasons that aren’t important in this post, I learned at a very young age that accomplishing things is what made people like or love you.
So now I’ve got two things going against me: 1. Happiness is out of my control. 2. Happiness depends on what other people think about me.
Talk about some heavy shit for a kid.
And I’ve carried this philosophy (for better or for worse) through my entire life.
To this day, I struggle with making decisions because I need the input or permission of at least two people before doing so. To this day, I struggle with making decisions because unfailingly, those two peoples’ opinions will differ, forcing me to upset someone.
Usually I go with what’s expected of me. What will make the most people happy. What will make the least amount of waves. What will make me less of a burden on other people.
I have to tell you. This shit is exhausting.
So, growing up, I pushed myself to be the best. Be the best student, make a name for myself. Straight A’s, student body president, debate team, basketball, Spanish National Honor Society..the list goes on. Then, as I got older, those accomplishments changed, of course taking into account what was expected of me:
Graduate high school.
Go to college.
Get a job.
Meet a nice boy.
Marry said boy.
The philosophy of “I’ll be happy when…”
And then these things came and went and I still wasn’t happy, not at my core. It was all external. All circumstantial. And here’s the problem with, “I’ll be happy when..” The truth is, it never comes. It’s a moving target. It’s always just out of reach. “I’ll be happy when” is a life sentence of unhappiness and unfulfillment.
My entire life, I’ve felt a void. A void I can’t name. A void I can’t fill. A problem I can’t solve.
And for the last year, I’ve become increasingly interested in the concept and pursuit of happiness.
If happiness isn’t the things that happen to me, then what is it?
I haven’t figured it out yet. I can tell you all the things it’s NOT.
It’s not getting approval. It’s not being liked. It’s not finding a man. It’s not making X amount of money. It’s not finally losing the weight. It’s not having stuff. It’s not the perfect marriage, 2.3 kids, and a house with a white picket fence.
If it’s not these things, then what is it?
Is it fleeting moments of joy that add up to a happy life? Is that the best we can hope for?
Is it a mindset? That you’ll be happy no matter what’s going on in your life? Then isn’t that a method of avoiding problems?
I am really curious to know your feedback.
The best I can figure it so far is that finding happiness might be finding purpose in my life, learning to love myself, and perhaps most importantly, forgiving myself and letting go.
All of these things are so much easier said than done. There’s no roadmap for this. I love a good game plan. I love steps to follow. But this journey, is anything BUT. I am in uncharted territory. I don’t know how to figure it out. I am putting in work – researching, working through past traumas with my therapist, working to shift my perspective. But it still feels so out of reach right now.
I will keep trying. I will die trying before I die with my emotions being slave to the things that happen around me.
I have to be honest, I think I used to be a lot better at this.
After experiencing extreme stress for an extended period of time, on top of debilitating depression, I lost this ability for a little while. I felt helpless and hopeless.
Luckily, I’ve crawled out of my depression in the last 6 weeks and I’m feeling much better, but I’m still working on shifting my mindset.
My older sister has a magnetic personality. The kind of person you just gravitate toward because of her humor, her upbeat demeanor, and her ability to stay positive even during the worst of times.
Yesterday I asked her, “How do you stay so positive and always look on the bright side?”
Her response? One, was that it’s a choice. We can’t always control things that happen to us. The only thing we can control is how we respond to them.
She also said that she chooses to believe that for the most part, good things happen and that everything will work out. Even when things go wrong, it will all work out.
Tara even shared with me this meme that she and her son joke about. “It’s fine. Everything is fine!”
And, I know she’s right. What you focus on persists. When you’re looking for bad things to happen, they do. If you’re looking for good, you find more good. And I am going to focus on shifting my perspective and putting this into practice.
Ya know, I’ve always looked up to my sister. I’ve always wanted to be around her, hang out with her, and have fun with her. I value and respect her opinion and appreciate her support.
I’m actually tearing up as I write this, but with Dad being so sick, I’m actually really thankful to get life advice from her and that she’s been so supportive these last few months. She’s a great big sister.
On June 23, 2017, my dad went to the hospital for an elective surgery. A double bypass. A necessary surgery to get him healthy enough to have his knees replaced and allow him to be more active.
I never could have known that my life would be forever changed after that.
Dad’s surgery went flawlessly. It was a success and he was in recovery. He even took a walk down the hallway of the ICU a few days after the surgery. I didn’t know that would be the last time I’d ever see him walk. Things suddenly took a turn for the worse.
His breathing failed and after a day or two of a breathing mask, he had to be intubated.
Because of the intubation, he had to be sedated.
Not long after, his kidneys started to fail.
He was on the ventilator for months.
Dad’s heart stopped…twice.
The palliative care team started asking us questions like, “Is this really the life he would want for himself?”
Eventually Dad was put on dialysis.
Months went by this way. Dad was essentially in a medically induced coma from the sedation. Hadn’t walked, talked, or eaten in months.
To understand the gravity of this situation, there’s two things you need to know:
My dad and I are very close. Aside from my twin sister, I’d say he’s my best friend. I am so much like him that it’s uncanny. The jokes I make, the way I wear my heart of my sleeve, my outlook on life. We talk about anything and everything and I love our relationship.
The same week my dad went into the hospital, my husband (who I had been with for the last ten years of my life) and I separated. For the first time in my life, I was living on my own. Now navigating a move, a divorce, being a single parent, a new lifestyle.
It was like losing the two people closest to me in my life at the same time.
Months went on like this, visiting the hospital, at least once, if not twice a day.
I can’t describe the loneliness I felt during that time. At that point, it wasn’t public knowledge that my dad was still in the hospital, and only a handful of people knew about my impending divorce.
I felt…alone, in every sense of the word. I felt like I was bursting at the seams. I remember sitting in Dad’s ICU room by myself on the 4th of July. He was asleep. And I just sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. This was my existence, and his, for months.
And the complications didn’t stop there.
Eventually, Dad had to get a trache and was taken off sedation, but it took a while for him to come around.
Dialysis continued, twice a day.
There was a suspected stroke.
Suddenly, he was paralyzed on the entire right side of his body.
Then, there was a brain bleed and a craniotomy followed by a few month period of Dad hallucinating and still unable to talk due to multiple trache procedures.
Once he was more stable, he was moved to an acute care facility. And then a skilled nursing facility.
Dad finally came home a year later. Not because he was healthy and ready, but because his insurance benefits ran out.
At the point, he had lost 110 pounds, was bound to a wheelchair for the first time in his life, and lost his job.
Life was changed forever. For all of us.
I don’t have the words to describe how hard that year was. The loss. The pain. The loneliness. The fear. It was always one step forward and two steps back.
I vowed that I would never take my dad for granted again. And I haven’t. I have enjoyed every minute, every opportunity I’ve had since then to share a meal, share a joke, or even just sit in silence together.
I find myself in a very familiar place now.
Dad was hospitalized on April 1st with pneumonia. Three and a half months later, he is still in the hospital.
“Fucking Groundhog’s Day,” I tell myself sometimes. I can’t actually believe we are going through this all over again.
Dad was on a ventilator for three weeks or so, which, of course, required sedation. He had edema and fluid in his lungs, so he was on medication for that. Only, that medication made his kidney function dip.
Then, he had a fever, for days. And they couldn’t figure out what it was. They tested for COVID-19 four times, each time the test coming back negative.
A CT scan showed an irregularity in his intestines and he was rushed to surgery just hours later. They ended up having to remove a 1/3 of his colon.
The doctor (God bless him) very sympathetically, but very clearly explained that Dad’s body may not be strong enough to make it out of that surgery.
I thought he was going to die that day.
And every day for the last 3 ½ months, when my phone rings, I unconsciously hold my breath, praying that I’m not about to receive bad news.
This particular stint in the hospital has been complicated by COVID. I haven’t seen my dad since March 27th. I haven’t been able to have a meaningful conversation with him, or eat dinner with him, or laugh with him. I miss him so much.
While I am thankful for the technology we have today, there is just something different about seeing your sick loved one through a computer screen rather than in person.
About a month ago, on June 11th, my stepmom, his wife of twenty-something-odd years, passed away, somewhat unexpectedly. They never got to see each other since he was admitted to the hospital. They never got to say goodbye.
The saddest part was that my 3 siblings and I had to deliver the news to my father through a fucking Zoom call. The hospital wouldn’t allow even one of us to go tell him in person.
Dad has since been moved from an acute care facility to a skilled nursing facility. He is stable as far as vitals are concerned. The trache is out. He is breathing on his own. He is able to have pureed foods and liquids with a thickening agent. He is having a lot of trouble learning how to talk again. And, due to weeks of sedation and cocktail of medication for months at a time, Dad has what one of the docs call “anesthesia fog.” His lucidity comes and goes, and he is confused often.
Now the focus is on rehab. He has to at least be able to transfer from the wheelchair to bed/toilet/recliner and back in order to go home. Oh, and if he doesn’t progress quickly enough, the insurance company will kick him out. And if he is unable to get strong enough, he won’t be coming home at all. He will have to live in a nursing home. My dad? 67 years old.. in a nursing home?
I have to be honest with you guys..I’m really concerned. We had a Zoom call with my dad today and he seems…like a shell of the person he used to be. His eyes were vacant. Unable to really communicate, he mostly just stared off into space.
It feels like he is giving up.
And so, I’m right back on that rollercoaster I was on three years ago. Just when we think he’s getting better, there’s a set back. Just when I let my guard down, the phone rings.
And I’m not ready to lose him yet. There are still so many more conversations I need to have with him. There are so many questions I need to ask him. And he deserves better than this. He deserves more than to go out like this.
I’ll be the first to admit it, relationships are hard for me. And it seems that the most challenging relationships for me are actually the healthy ones.
When people are exposed to an unhealthy relationship, whether it be a romantic relationship, familial relationship, or even just a friendship, it blurs all the lines between healthy and unhealthy and makes you question everything. And the more you’re exposed to the unhealthy ones, the harder it becomes to recognize or trust in the healthy ones.
So, why are healthy relationships so hard?
Conflict = fear. I learned from a very young age that conflict is scary. And the best way to avoid that fear is to avoid conflict altogether. Avoid it like the plague! Brush problems under the rug. Minimize them. Ignore the fact that your needs aren’t being met. Better yet, have less needs. The more you need from people, the more you put yourself at risk of being a burden, or worse, being rejected. Right? Wrong! (But we’ll get to that).
Asking Permission. There is a fine line between telling your partner what you plan on doing, out of respect, and asking them for permission to do it in the first place. For someone like me who has had both a narcissistic parent and a narcissistic fiancé, I feel the need to ask permission for everything. Dumb things. I guess the blank looks from my boyfriend aren’t too surprising when I ask something silly like, “do you mind if I move this here?” It’s kind of become an inside joke now that when I ask him something, he says no and we have a good laugh about it, and then I do it anyway.
But the truth is, this is a conditioning. This is years and years of having needed permission to make decisions. This is something that has to be UN-learned. Which leads me to my next point…
Relationships bring up unhealed issues. We all have baggage, scars, hurts we’ve locked away, and nothing will force you to confront your demons faster than being in an intimate relationship with someone. And when you’re faced with something that triggers you, whatever that trigger may be, you are forced to make a decision – fight, flight, or freeze. Lash out. Walk away. Go silent. Or, you can make the healthier decision to question the trigger, evaluate it, make a decision about it, and not allow it to come between you and your partner.
Healthy relationships require vulnerability. Sheesh, just the thought of having to be vulnerable with someone makes my chest tighten. Being vulnerable means putting myself at risk of being rejected and my partner is the last person I want to reject me. Here’s the beauty in this though – when you are vulnerable, when you really expose yourself and put yourself out there to your partner, that’s where true intimacy is created.
Heathy relationships are so hard for people who have experienced trauma because we’ve become conditioned to expect the worst. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, because life has taught us that eventually the other shoealways drops. I recognize these trauma-based responses and thought patterns, and I consciously make an effort, every day, to question and debunk them.
I make mistakes in my relationship all the time, but I am learning what healthy looks like and feels like. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Even “meant to be” takes work. If your relationship is feeling a lot like work all of a sudden, that’s okay. Even great relationships take consistent work and effort.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. This is probably the hardest for me and admittedly, one of the major reasons why my marriage failed. Remember that trauma-based response I have to avoid conflict at all costs? Well, I can’t anymore. For the sake of my relationship, I force myself to have difficult conversations with my boyfriend. Even when I know it will make me uncomfortable. Even when I know it will upset me. Even when I know it will do those things to him. Some things have to be said, and I’d rather overcommunicate than undercommunicate.
Choose you partner, every day. Choose to see all of the gifts they bring into your life each day. Choose to see their charm, their thoughtfulness, their humor. Focus on the positive instead of pointing out all of the negatives. Gratitude is a powerful force.
Give each other space. I am an extroverted introvert. I enjoy being around people. I can be outgoing, but it drains me. I need time to recharge my batteries, often. I need soft blankets, quietness, an obnoxious amount of candles, space to think or write or just be me. My boyfriend likes to move. He needs to use his hands, blast some music, work on the truck or work in the yard, and relax under the tiki hut when the work is done. I love being around him, but I am learning to appreciate that we both need alone time too.
Don’t forget about yourself. Growing up, I’ve always had a tendency to lose myself in my significant other. I completely put myself on the backburner and I engulf myself in their lifestyle and hobbies. I know how easily I can fall into that pattern, so It’s something I am extremely cognizant of now. Zane and I have built interests together – we started a garden together, we’re raising chickens (and ducks to come soon!), but he also has his hobbies, and I still make time for mine.
Along the same lines, I am still making my health a priority too – eating right, getting active, working on my mental health. Afterall, if I am not healthy, how can I expect the relationship to be?