The death of my dad and processing grief

Original abstract painting by Janece Moment. Blue green colors, with five arches... a large central arch in white, two medium arches, one on each side of the center, in red green colors and two smaller arches.. one each, in front, between the center and medium arches. There ar varying circles in the upper background, reminiscent of stars or planets.
The Whole Time, 16″x20″

I’ve had a few ask how I am doing processing grief and the death of my dad. (It was three months ago today.) I thought I would take the time to write it out here and have an easy place to point to when asked.

How I am doing? I sighed deeply just writing and thinking about that question. I’m okay, good even. And I’m not, really struggling. In talking with others about grief, it appears that’s par for course. Over the past week, I’ve been struggling with heart palpitations/anxiety attacks. They get worse at night and, in those moments, I have to actively remind myself that I’m not going to die from them. It’s felt so real that I’ve teared up with gratitude in the morning when I awake… I’m alive. I’ve done what I do and researched it. The suggestions are:

  1. Reduce stress.
  2. Breathe deeply.
  3. Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga.
  4. Avoid stimulants
  5. Exercise
  6. Eat well, eat foods with good levels of magnesium/potassium, and healthy fats
  7. And so on…

I’m working on these and have felt some relief. Our bodies really do take a hit when our hearts are broken. I started a book a while back called The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk that talks about this fact. I’ve felt this before in myself. And, I am really feeling it as I process my grief of Dad’s physical death, as shown by the heart palpitations. The other place that I’ve discovered it is in my muscle groups. For a couple of years, I’ve experienced chronic pain in my muscles… every day feeling sore as though I had the hardest workout of my life the day before. It’s been debilitating and discouraging. Interestingly, after Dad died, the pain significantly subsided. I think the stress of Dad’s final years and months of life was relieved and my body felt that relief. But over the last week, it has come back. My disappointment can’t be overstated. But, it’s a sign of hope too… if it went away before, there’s the possibility it will again.

I’ll be honest, it feels a little insulting that I have to accept the death of my dad and processing grief… but that I have to navigate and manage its impact on my body as well. I’m not getting too stuck on that fact… but it is there. I’m mostly accepting of it, but I do sometimes resist and avoid doing the work. And that’s okay too. Grief isn’t handled one way… from person to person… or even by a single person from one time to the next. Lots of grace and love, relaxing into the experience of it and allowing it… and not putting unrealistic expectations on yourself… it’s all a day-by-day learning and practice.

So, that’s where I am. And again, mostly accepting of it all while my heart, mind, and body are hurting. It’s not easy and sometimes I fret because it impacts my ability to be as productive as I should be. There are big things that I need to be doing for my family and our future… and I’m finding it horribly difficult. But again, it’s a matter of taking each step forward as I can and with full compassion for myself. After all, my dad just died.

Writing it down

Writing about my portion of this stage of life’s journey, other than in my morning journal, has been met with internal hesitation and concern. Hesitation because it feels too hard to put in words what my experience of this has been. Even my personal journal is short on words. If you were to thumb through the pages, you’d see days with a sentence, two, or three that just ends without a completed thought process or entry. And I feel concerned because I don’t want to do it wrong. There’s fear that I will be inappropriate. What if I over-emphasize my feelings and experience over my Mom & Dad’s?

I mean, my legitimate feelings about this experience are mine to share. But, I’m afraid in doing so, I will disrespect or minimize the centrality of their feelings and journey. I have a hard time untangling that. Siphoning away from their experience is the last thing I want to do. Just because I’m of the temperament to write about this and share it… I don’t want to appropriate their journey. I’m having my own journey through this time and experience, but it isn’t the same as what they are living. I guess that is my caveat as I write and share with you. The love, concern, and empathy you feel for me, if you do, I want to both thank you and ask you to please send the lion’s share of that supportive, communal energy to them.

Dad moved out of his and Mom’s home on Friday, February 26th. They found a place through a senior living broker and felt it would work out. He was there three days before it was clear it wouldn’t. He moved back home with Mom for a week. The home that he moved into, had another home that they also own and run. They told Mom that they could provide for Dad’s needs there and the plan was to move him into that home the following week. He will have been there for five weeks on Friday.

Turns out, Dad is a unicorn in the world of assisted living. His care needs are a hybrid of two different care models. Over the past 2 months, Mom & I have discovered that they rarely intersect. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, find a 4-leaf clover, and every other wish for luck, serendipity, and rightness you can think of — we think we have found a place that can meet Dad’s unicorn status. There are logistics yet to be fully worked out, but I’m hoping this will be the beginning of a peaceful and content care solution that will allow for a new workable normal for Mom & Dad.

Within every day and every week, this journey has felt like a series of, sometimes concurrent, little and big emotional rollercoaster rides. I imagine living with a sensation of zen and just enough distance that it wouldn’t rock me side to side and make my stomach leap to my throat every time. But, I haven’t found that for myself yet. I understand the possibility of it, just not the implementation and reality of it. I want to wrap my mom up in the softest cotton cocoon and let her rest from all of this. I want to fly my dad away to a 360-degree horizon filled with billowy clouds, blue skies, and soft light. But, we aren’t there yet. And in reality, I know we won’t be able to achieve that in its entirety, but hopefully, we can find something closer to it.

Making our way for the holidays: January 16, 2015

Reading and remembering this feels longer than 6 years ago.

My side of the family, each Christmas, converges at one of our homes to celebrate the holiday. This past season, after too many years away, we met in Monterey, CA. Monterey is where my Uncle Daryl and Aunt Carol have lived for a few years shy of forever. We left home Saturday evening and made it through LA by the cover of night. We missed all the traffic and buzzed right on through. (So nice!) We spent the night in Thousand Oaks. We slept in, ate a leisurely complimentary breakfast (that was surprisingly decent for hotel breakfast), and hit the road. The skies were rich blue and the air clear and clean. Even though we were in Southern California, there was just enough crisp in the morning air to make me feel like we were, really truly, on a holiday adventure.

The only downside was that Amira was sick. She had come home from school on Friday with a fever. We were so disappointed because it meant missing her choir performance that evening. For the trip though, if she was going to be sick, it sort of turned out to be good. She was able to create a nest for herself in the backseat and just rest, read, and sleep.

We opted to go up US101. I’ve traveled that way so many times over the years. Because of rains in the prior weeks, this trip was something special. The hills, which are normally a dry golden brown, were covered with fresh green growth. You could see still the spent summer grasses below the verdant new growth. It made for a spectacular, beautiful display. I thought about stopping a few times to take a photo. I’m wishing I did as I type this now. The landscape is so sharp in my mind’s eye. I desperately want to download it from my noggin and share it with you.

Paul and Amira had never been through Big Sur and I hadn’t for years. Because of this, even though it made the trip longer, we opted to drive Big Sur into Monterey. Like the entire trip so far, the colors of Big Sur’s landscape and sea were hyper vivid, intense, and beautiful. We could see evidence of mudslides and road outages from the recent rains. Except for one small 15-minute delay, we were lucky that they had all been cleared and repaired before our passage through. We stopped at a vista and were dazzled by it. Amira was likely less dazzled. She did her best and took it in through her sick-bleary eyes. I do believe the fresh air did her good though.

And this is where I confess. It wasn’t too long after that stop that I suddenly felt done! I wanted out of the twisting roads that followed the Big Sur shoreline. It was majestic, beautiful, moving, and about 20% too long! It felt ungrateful to want out. But, wanting out is exactly what I wanted! Maybe if we had come just for Big Sur, I wouldn’t have felt that way. My relationship with it would have been different, as I think about it now if we had stopped at multiple vantage points and spent time. Instead, we were on our way to somewhere… to Monterey. I was ready to no longer be journeying and to simply ARRIVE at my intended destination. That’s the way it can be with a lot of journeys, right? I have a tendency to be impatient with the journey when I have my desired destination in mind. This can be true of road trips and in things I want to accomplish in me personally. I want better health. Do I really have to invest in consistent and ongoing weeks of regular activity? I want enhanced peace of mind. Do I really have to take the time daily to quiet myself, meditate and listen? The examples go on.

See what I mean? It can be hard to be in, stay with, and enjoy the journey. (I have a friend, Shelli, who is an exception to this rule when it comes to road trips. Maybe you are too.) But for me and maybe others of you too… the key might lie in consciously embracing the journey. Obviously on a road trip that’s not always possible… but for the sake of analogy… what if we had planned to enjoy, meander, breathe and really take in all of Big Sur? We could have planned our travels so that we started fresh in the morning. Bolstered, strengthened, and refreshed by needed rest the night before, we could take our time. We wouldn’t feel the press of having to “get there” and could celebrate the beauty of Big Sur. Something for me to think about for the future, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Despite my impatience, we did make it to Monterey in good time… perfect really… dinner time! 

Do you share too much or not at all?

So, on my TikTok feed, I saw a man calling into an imaginary customer service line:

Hi! I would like to cancel 2021, please.

(pause and then…)

Yes, I want to cancel. I tried the 7-day trial and I don’t like it.
I don’t want it. I just want to cancel.

It was funny because, well, it’s relatable. Life throws what it is going to regardless of whether there is, say, a worldwide pandemic or an ongoing threat to our country’s democracy happening. What do I share? Which part? And how much? I want to document, share, and process. At the same time, I don’t want to complain or bring you, my dear reader, down. How do you navigate the tightrope of being a light for hope and encouragement while still allowing room for discouragement, overwhelm, and grief?

Do you share enough? Do you share too much or not at all? Last night and this morning, I helped edit my mom’s Christmas letter. It’s the first one she’s been able to get out since 2017. The Parkinson’s that has been fraying away at my Dad’s physical and mental well-being has been doing the same to my mom. She’s Dad’s full-time caregiver and the demands are complicated, relentless, and increasing. As I was editing her letter, I saw how she shared the fact her life has been difficult but in a way that isn’t exhausting for the reader. Part of me was impressed, and part of me questioned it.

I mean, her sharing is authentic and in keeping with who she is. And yet, I wonder, shouldn’t she be sharing with family and friends just how intense things have been and are for her? I realize how much I was admonished to, for the most part, handle my challenges on my own. Being a burden on others is discouraged.

This year has been a real test on the limits of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, stiff-upper-lip, and all the other appropriate colloquialisms. One of the things that I *have* liked about 2020 is that it has brought a lot of cultural assumptions out into the open for analysis. It has given us the opportunity to determine whether these assumptions that we’ve long lived with, both consciously and unconsciously, are valuable and service to humanity. Or, are they actively working against it. It’s an excellent opportunity for self and communal reflection. It’s an opportunity to culturally evolve as humans in community together on this shared, singular, beautiful miracle of a planet.

I’ve had things happen or that I’m experiencing that I’ve wanted to share. But, I hesitate, pull-back, and opt on the side of not sharing. What if they (the person I’m thinking of sharing with…) are already having a hard day? Won’t my sharing make it worse for them? Am I just complaining, being selfish, and self-absorbed to share especially given that everyone is going through so much? Heavy sigh. It’s exhausting just thinking these thoughts. So much going on and so much to process, it’s difficult to find focus in the midst of it all. Heavy sigh.

All that said, I know getting to be there for someone else, to listen to their stories, worries, and emotions, can be surprisingly re-energizing for me. When I know my presence has been supportive and helpful, there is a kind of level-up bestowed onto my own resiliency. I know I don’t have an eternal capacity to do this and boundaries must be maintained. Self-nourishment and care must be maintained.

But, maybe some of this conversation would be moot if we were well-trained in boundary setting. If I knew I could reach out to share, but also be confident that they would tell me (if need be)… “I love you, but I don’t have the emotional bandwidth today to listen… or to do x.y,z. Let’s talk tomorrow.” That would be such a relief. I wouldn’t have to second-guess if I am overwhelming them or causing them emotional harm. And, if we were good at doing that with each other… that confidence could flow both ways.

I’ve been thinking out loud this entire post. I hope my rambling thoughts might resonate or spark with some of your own. I am a big believer in the power of self-reflection, intention, and committed action. The more aware of these things we are, the more opportunity there is for us to make intentional, conscious choices that will allow us to live lives of meaning and increased joy.

Awkward, big-ass chair

Nearly every inch of Amira’s walls is covered in Behr’s P290-5 Squash Blossom. Finally. I bought guaranteed-one-coat paint. Three to four coats deep, I’m disillusioned. But, I’m getting closer.

A part of this project has included clearing out outgrown, outdated, and unused items from the room. This has included decor, clothing, furniture, and a variety of tchotchkes. That has meant that an awkward, big-ass chair that has lived in her room for 3 years is now in mine. Ultimately, it will be leaving this house never to return. But, until then, it lives in my room.

After having groused in my mind about all this, I curled up into that awkward, big-ass chair yesterday afternoon. I needed a break after painting and sat down. And this was my view…

Holy moly.

I’m so lucky to live where I do.

Grateful for the view, and the awkward, big-ass chair to view it from.

It’s good to be reminded: Jan. 7th, 2007

I don’t remember this at all. It feels familiar like a relatable story, but not necessarily my story. I know it is necessary for our brains to constantly be clipping information away that it deems non-critical. Even so, I feel a little sad that I can’t remember *all * the moments like these. I’m glad I wrote it down. It’s a snapshot of the average every day of life. Even if I don’t remember it, it’s still precious. So, the original post title “It’s good to be reminded.” and is equally appropriate for what I feel rereading this post.

Amira & Max 01/07/2007

JANUARY 7th, 2007

The two wind storms that we had have taught me more thankfulness. We’ve lost power during both storms. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to live without it for more than 24 hours. In the first storm, some people went weeks without.


Night-before-last our power went off just before 1 AM. Amira woke up about 5:30 am the power was still off. We started a fire for warmth and lit the candles for light. Pulling her toys and books in close to us, we spent the morning playing in front of the fireplace. Once Mom & Dad got up, we decided to head out to get some breakfast. As we tried to pull out of our driveway, we discovered 5 tree branches had fallen and blocked our exit. Dad took a saw to the branches, while Mom & I hauled them out of the way. A little pre-breakfast exercise.

We spent the morning at the mall eating tasty spinach and artichoke egg souffle, hanging out with Amira while she climbed, hopped, slid, and generally romped in the kids’ play area. When we discovered there was still no power, we went grocery shopping and had a delicious lunch (I had a tasty hummus and veggie sandwich on Etruscan whole-grain bread – yum!). We came home to the cold house, bundled Amira up in her bed for her nap. She was cozy under a blanket and down comforter. Around 2:15 pm, the power returned. Obviously, losing our power couldn’t be called a hardship.

Even so, being without power makes me really grateful that we have it 99.9% of the time. I don’t know the statistics for how much of the world lives without reliable power or running water – but that this is something that I can take for granted… it’s a wealth and a blessing.

The night before Gigi’s moving day: Jan 3rd, 2012

Due to my own neglect, I lost my old blog URL and the blog content that it held. I was able to salvage some of the content using archive.org. As I was writing for my Patreon last night, I had the idea to post some of those nearly lost moments here. My tentative plan is to keep an eye on my archive and post them around the same date/time in the year. So, here we go. I present to you, the night before Gigi’s moving day, a look back to 9 years ago. We were still living in Portland, but our time of caregiving Paul’s grandmother was coming to an end. We called her GG (which later morphed into Gigi).

JANUARY 3RD, 2012

I’m really tired. It’s only 10:20 pm but my vision already has that blurry, out-of-focus thing going on. Tomorrow is Grandma’s move day. I’ve got some low-level nervous energy, despite the deep desire to curl up and sleep, about the remaining ‘day of packing’ to-do list I have. We are going to have a small army of people and cars showing up tomorrow, and so I know everything will be covered. And still… niggles wriggle in my mind.

The walls are completely bare in most rooms and boxes are stacked neatly waiting for the moving crew. For those who have known Grandma’s house, it’s a profoundly strange sight. We shared our last dinner and evening with Grandma in her house.  We took a short moment to say thanks for the grace, love, and support given over the last (almost) year and a half to each other.  We enjoyed dinner as usual and with happy banter played a few hands of UNO together. There will be more dinners and more rounds of UNO… just not here and like this.

At Amira’s tuck-in – it was my turn to pray. I felt such deep gratitude for the lessons learned and the relationship built and I said so. Amira expressed sadness for GG (Amira’s nickname for her Great-Grandma) having to move and that she was going to miss having her here with us. She talked about moving in next door to GG at the assisted care apartment complex. We had to concede that GG’s soon to be neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate our bumping them out of their home. We had to remind Amira that we have many visits, shared dinners, playing games, and pool parties (there is a pool and families are welcome!) to look forward to.

Communal living changes you… from age 7 all the way to 92. It’s not always easy or fun, but it often is too… and it is most certainly stretching and deeply rewarding. There’s more to be said about this – but this will have to do for tonight.

This particular portion of our adventure is complete.  Tomorrow begins a new adventure for her and for us.

The value of blogging and why I have done it

This morning, I’m remembering the deeper value of blogging and why I have done it. I get Seth Godin’s blog in my email. He’s great at keeping his content pretty short and digestible. Even so, I’m sporadic about reading them. A good chunk of the time, I delete them without having read them. Even so, I haven’t unsubscribed because there is always a gem seemingly written just for me. For example last night, I was cleaning out my email and pulled up all of Seth’s emails. My inbox gets cluttered far too easily and I try to purge out the cruft regularly. I started scanning my way through Seth’s post, one at a time, when I hit Dec 29th’s blog post:

The most important blog post.

It is on the most important blog.

Yours.

Even if no one but you reads it. The blog you write each day is the blog you need the most. It’s a compass and a mirror, a chance to put a stake in the ground and refine your thoughts.

And the most important post? The one you’ll write tomorrow.

SETH Godin’s Blog

Blogging has tangible value for me. I’ve written, more than once, about it in the past. I do love the idea of blogging and having it be of a source of interest and value to any readers who might stumble into my digital space. But, at the end of the day, remembering the value of blogging and why I have done it.. *because it provides value to me* is reason enough to get back into my practice. Although the timing is coincidental, I suppose, you could call it a new year’s resolution.

Leaning into that uneasy feeling.

(Published first to my Patreon supporters.)

Recently, a good chunk of my brainstorming and working time has been on our deck. The breeze has been brisk and cool enough. I haven’t had to run back inside for relief from the heat. (I’m told that will change over the next few days… heatwave on deck for Labor Day weekend.) I did have to share my office space today. He’s not a bad office mate per se. He is a little pushy when it comes to getting what he wants (scritches on demand) but otherwise, he’s alright. 😉 I’m beyond lucky to be working in such a comfortable and luxurious space. 

My brainstorming sessions have been mulling over how I can use my skills to meet people’s needs. Art does meet a need, but not always in the direct, understandable way that, say, buying groceries does. As I brainstorm, I alternate between feeling stuck and stymied and then excited by the possibilities.

There’s a business/entrepreneur coach that I follow on Instagram named Gary Vaynerchuk. I like his no-nonsense practical thought processes. His wisdom sounds more like common sense than something enlightened and otherwise out of reach. The only catch is implementation, consistency, and patience are required.  It shouldn’t be a thing at all… except for the temptation of wanting quicker, more successful results. But, I’m taking his advice to heart. Be willing to experiment, fail, learn, and show up again. Seek what will provide value to those who cross paths with what I’m sharing, saying, and creating… and doing it consistently. It feels risky but I can see its value. 

I have an online friend who has been self-employed for the last 15+ years. She’s successful at what she does. In her office, she has a banner. It says: “Comfort is a slow death.” My instinct is to fight with that statement. But, it has a lesson it is trying to convey. The lessons I’m learning in following my calling are simultaneously lessons for day-to-day life. I see that.

Next step, feel the anxiety that is speeding up my heart as I type this. I will do it anyway. I only have this life to live, so there’s no use it waiting around for the anxiety to magically evaporate. Ha! I’ve been around long enough to know that isn’t going to happen. So, Janece, discomfort it is. This insanely blessed life that I’ve been gifted… it’s one I want to live. Here I go.