This is a blog. About grief. A glog.

This is a blog. About grief. A glog.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Rambling about Change, Young Adults, and Communication

On a slightly lighter note...

I've noticed recently several of my friends independently confessing a desire to go somewhere new, somewhere fresh, where there were no friends and family to have any understanding or preconceived notions of who they were.

And today, I realized that I wanted to do a very similar thing: I stayed in Lamoni last spring, after leaving school, despite my mom desperately wanting me to come back home. (Eventually I ended up calling her, sobbing, telling her exactly why I wanted to stay in Lamoni, and that what I needed from her was unwavering support. I'm pretty sure that's the last time since I was like 16, that I either cried that much in front of her, sort of, or tried to communicate that level of emotion to her.) I wanted to stay in Lamoni, I said, because I wanted to stay committed to returning to school, and because I had a wide support system here. And, it turns out, I wanted to stay away from people who knew my life story exceedingly well. I didn't tell her, that I also didn't want to be around this pressure to get better, to fix myself, or to have to explain what depression was, while I was dealing with it. Ick.

She sent me a letter yesterday that contained a small comment wedged between information about new shoes on sale and advice that I shouldn't use too much acne medication for fear of developing an allergy, saying she was going to give me advice, despite fears I would reject it. What? When did I do that? Is she talking about me not moving home? Or some other moment of obstinacy? Because I have no idea what she's talking about. I feel terribly disconnected, but I like receiving letters from her, besides that I feel it gives me (even more) breathing room, because it's bringing up comments like this. Damn, I do not communicate well with my Mom. At all.

Not that that's a surprise. I refused to friend her on facebook for about three and a half years, and have never been good about remaining in contact with anyone per cell phone.

But I also recognize now, that my attitudes fit into a pattern in young adults around me. Besides holdovers from being a rebellious teenager who wants to do everything on their own, and thinks they're really different from everyone else. But back to the pattern: many of my friends are graduating college or have recently graduated, and are facing a lot of change and increasing responsibility in their lives. And they realize that they are growing up and changing as people. (I'd really like to know more about the stages of developing as humans, because there has got to be something about this in there!) So because it's really difficult to become someone a little different, when everyone around you expects you to behave a certain way, it's easier to just go where no one has expectations, and meet people who see you for who you are right now, an accomplished and impressive person, not as who you were that time you were a dick to your friend because she disagreed with you or expressed nervousness or whatever.

I did that in my favorite example of how I was different in high school. Back then, I was intensely shy (but outgoing--this is an important distinction, and I'm gonna pause this sentence to explain, briefly. Shy: fear of social hubbub because of your actions, particularly when they are known to be unusual either for you or for your social group. Outgoing: perfectly comfortable interacting with humans and speaking up. So you can be outgoing, but shy about doing stuff other than talking)...about going to social events and dancing, in particular. But, as I started to enjoy listening to music a bit near the end of high school, I got tired of not getting to do stuff like dancing with friends. But hell if I was going to dance in from of my high school friends. They would have known it was extremely out of the ordinary (from middle school to high school, the only dance-like event I went to was the 6th Grade Mixer, and my Mom had a girl in my carpool buy a ticket for me and forced me to go.) My friends would have said something! How mortifying! Besides, they were now all comfortable with dances, and I had no idea what the hell happens at dances. So I went to college where no one knew me (entirely good reasons for this besides the dancing thing) and went to every dance they had, had a great time, and definitely was often one of the first people on the floor.
tl;dr I danced in college after being afraid to in high school.

So my point is, I still don't communicate well with my Mom, and part of that is probably because I'm still changing as a person. And I don't like feeling the need to figure out that change at the same time that I'd need to try to explain it to someone else. Although, from my glogging point of view, that's probably crap. Explaining it to the people you care about, should you so choose, probably helps you figure out what you want, and do it. After all, that's why I glog. So I can better understand myself. That's why active listening is helpful.

But, it's hard to hold yourself back from interjecting reassurances or advice to loved ones who are turmoiling (yes, you just saw that verbed right here, right now). And that's probably equally important, because when we do that, we communicate that we are not happy with the other person's growth happening on their terms. This previous statement only applies to conversations where the other person is verbally working through thoughts with you. In other situations, be yourself. But when family/friends aren't used to you changing or are explaining things while you're figuring shit out, that is so not helpful. It makes sense to try to avoid that and just find somewhere to be your new self, sans explanation. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What I Have Left

After my father died, Dad's friend, Tim, helped put together the playlist for the service, friends and family brought us casseroles, Elena and my teachers ran the reception, I fended off offers to have other young girls read poems at the memorial service (in case I was too emotional--I was not), and later, Mom got rid of his stuff.

His boat, I don't remember what happened to. We sold it, probably.

His motorcycle jacket and SmartWool socks went to my oldest cousin, who is as tall as my dad was. I think we gave them to him at Christmas, a few weeks later.

Elena and I got his jeans, after my aunt got ahold of them and turned them into pillows. Mine lay on my bed for a few years, but I've lost it, now. It might be in Mom's basement.

And the camper we took out, every weekend in the summertime, was sold. There was a family from Michigan, also with two girls, who drove down, specifically to buy it. One Dad, one Mom, and two kids. Just like we used to be.  Someone, Mom, probably, took a picture of us standing with them, in front of what was now their van. It's in a photo album in the study.

I had one of his old pots from college when I moved into my own apartment for a while, but I had other pots that were a smaller, more convenient size, so I brought it back. It's probably in the basement--not sure. I just left it in the dining room the last time I was home. Not far from where his hospital bed was ten years ago, actually.

I have his old desk though. I wanted a really gigantic one for my craft area, because I tend to spread out and leave no room for myself to work, so Mom suggested the desk he designed and build for himself in college. It comes apart in five big pieces, so you can move with it easily, and it doesn't use screws. It fits together in pre-cut grooves, like advanced lincoln logs or something.

And I have a poster of spicy peppers that hung in our kitchen when he was alive. It's completely in German, even though he spoke it pretty poorly. I was already correcting his pronunciation when I was seven. Now the poster hangs next to my dining table.

I asked my mom's boyfriend for Dad's old drill, because I'd like to be able to make a shelf for myself, but he only found the drill and the battery charger--none of the drill bits. They're probably buried under all the tools and projects he brought with him when he moved in.

I don't even have the three-ring-binder of the letters people sent us with stories about him--Mom has it, so that she and my aunts can finish adding more stuff they apparently have been collecting, but they haven't touched the album in eight or nine years.

Grampa gave me jewelry he says my Dad told him to buy for me when I graduated high school, but I don't really know if I believe him. The handwriting on the letter looked like Grampa's, even though I think their handwriting was similar, but I don't know anymore.

But that's it. A poster, a desk, half of a drill set, and maybe a necklace is what I've got, twelve years later. And I can't help feeling, that I really, really, maybe, ought to have something, more.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Leaving School. And Going Back

So, in this post AND in this one, I referred to the fact that I "quit" school. And I've said before, when I'm feeling more flippant about the whole thing, that  I dropped out. Neither of which really hit it on the head. Really, I forced myself to quit, or take a break. And when I say forced, I don't mean I applied huge wells of raw willpower to myself and decided to leave. I mean that I was doing so badly, and my attendance and motivation to care about school were so low, that my behavior meant I could fail an entire semester...or realize I needed change.

Luckily for me, I'm too scared to fail, so I quit instead. Well, I took a medical leave of absence. After postponing in order to have a place to live until the end of the semester and take advantage of my unspent food point voucher things.

I've spent the last year living in town, working extra at the coffeeshop (woo, savings!), and occasionally thinking about grief. But I honestly think I've progressed.

Signs of Progression

  • wanted to read books last summer about people grieving. (did like Wild.)
  • spent a lot of time crying over dishes. (after closing, particularly fall and summer)
  • felt desire to do more and try to follow through on things like getting involved--ish (did community volleyball and started swimming fairly regularly in pursuit of triathlon goal)
  • started this blog!
  • cried in front of friends about Dad (late last fall)
  • cried in front of coworker (last month)
  • rediscovered town library!! (2 months ago or so)
So that's good. And now that it's mid-March, everyone's been asking about everyone's school plans...including mine. Which terrify me. Originally I was supposed to (according to me) take one full year off, and then go back and finish.

This scares me. Am I ready? Eh. Maybe.

Signs/Thoughts: I am ready

  • see "Signs of Progression" Understand this means I've increased my emotional vulnerability and honesty.
  • I'm never really going to feel ready. I'll always feel scared. I'll never feel "fixed." So, waiting is just giving into fear, whereas going is a bit of a matter of determination, once I'm at stage where I can handle it.
Signs/Fears: I am not ready

  •  I've repeated a pattern of "break (summer break, that is), school, depression, staving off failure," so many times. I really don't want to do that again.
  • I don't think I've really replaced my habits. I think I often use the internet to avoid thinking or feeling anything difficult, so it's possible that this year has only been a vacation and that when I go back, I will revert back to old coping mechanisms and habits.
I guess the only step left is to just go and see what I need to do when I get back and start thinking about it, because I'll need to find that info out eventually anyway.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ugh, Headache

Ok, so the previous two posts were mostly written three days ago, when I started the blog. I just spent the last two nights trying to find a quote in a book I'd just finished, without success, and couldn't post until I found it. So I just put in the quote I think  it must have been. But all this to say, it looks like I need a new "rule:" always post immediately. Don't get off the glog until you've posted what you've written. What I write is supposed to help connect me to my emotions that I don't like connecting to, so it's better to just post what I have because it's emotionally true at that moment, than to wait until the right wording comes along.

So far, that's the first rule of the glog. I've been hesitant to give myself a daily posting schedule or something, because I worry that I'll disappoint myself. But I'm even questioning that. I've a headache and I'm pretty sure it's because I've stayed up until or past 4am for the last, like, three days. And I don't intend to, really. I thought to myself earlier, I should really get to bed by 10, or at the very least midnight, just earlier today! But I've sucked at going to bed reasonably all year.

I think it's because I'm scared to sleep. I don't have nightmares or anything, don't worry. I'm pretty sure I don't even dream about my dad. But there's something there. Maybe, like I told Becca at work today, I just don't like relaxing enough to let go and allow myself to sleep. And I keep pushing myself until sleep overwhelms me.

Honestly this new attitude to sleep is a bit odd. It's been very severe this last year. And as far as I recall, last year, I slept as much as I possibly could. Especially during that one period where I tried to sleep through my entire life, resulting in me quitting school for a while. It's shit like this that makes me frustrated and also vindicated--see? This is why I had to leave school! I can barely focus on cooking myself good meals, let alone, revolve my entire day around getting school crap done! And that is incredibly frustrating to admit...especially publicly.

I was so proud of myself on Friday--I cooked myself and Alice Indian food, (only my second time making Indian something from scratch!) and I created deliciousness! And I made chocolate chip cookies (Saturday?) And last week, I kinda lost myself in making some pretty great cupcakes. I almost wanted to start making stuff a bit more regularly. And by that I mean baking stuff, because I can barely eat food that I make because I'm at the coffeehouse during food hours so much. But yeah, then I start sucking at sleeping, and eating, too.  And I was late for the second day this week. (fuuuuuck.) So yeah. Maybe I ought to start doing this a bit earlier. And watching less tv online. (Yeah, like that's going to happen without some major change in my life.) Sigh. Frustration!

Antonia's Patented Guaranteed-To-Result-in-Emotional-Faltering Guide to Grieving Part 1

Well, I guess I'm feeling tired. This commitment to write about my feelings seems to be a step in the right direction, so my first impulse is to celebrate with finally getting to bed. But that's really not all that helpful.

So I'll start with Antonia's Patented Guaranteed-To-Result-in-Emotional-Faltering Guide to Grieving:

1. Start with a lovely childhood. Perhaps an idyllic moment or two of emotional connection.

Ex: When I was 8 (wild guess), I was reading a favorite book of mine at my grandparents. (About kid detectives with a treehouse or something, if I recall.) The cover illustration on the paperback was separating from the paper and flaking off as I read, and after a while it really started to bug me. (Besides, I seem to have an intense pack-ratting tendency and can't help wanting to preserve things. Do try not to let me get carried away if you set me free in your pantry. You'll have canned goods to bequeath to your children.) Anyway, I found some clear tape and proceeded to laminate the peeling section, strip by strip. My Dad walked into the kitchen and after watching me for a few moments, said, "Antonia, someday, you're going to be a great dad." Proudest moment of my life. Well one of the proudest.

*bling* *shing* *phlew* REFLECTION FROM THE PRESENT *sing* *splay *schink*
(Yeah, this section definitely needs sound effects.)
This is one of my strongest memories of my father. His total approval of what I was doing and my life-long tendency to gerry-rig (sorry, can't think of better word) together diy solutions out of tape and cardboard made me feel so secure, so proud, so accepted. When I think of the fathering that I missed, this is the ideal. I guess I'm imbuing it with an implication that he would have taught me to make anything I wanted out of wood and more buildery materials, too, because I always wanted a father figure to teach me to make that kinda stuff. Then I could gerry-rig stuff from tape, carboard and plywood! But yeah. I can't help but think, "what would I have learned from him?" "What skills would he have taught me" (Definitely how to sail 16-ft Hobie Cat sailboats.) I feel selfish for thinking about what I would have gotten or learned, but I also can't help but think, "well. I would have!" Sometimes a lot of the pain I feel now is kind of centered on knowing that life could have been different, but isn't.

Don't get me wrong. This whole glog. The fact that I quit school. It's all so I can learn to accept and practice peacefulness. I'm not trying to recreate anything here. I'm just saying, that's what I'm sad about. And. Well. I'm trying to own up to my right to have that feeling. Whew. Ok.

2. Have object of emotional connection die. (By the way, I can't stand saying my Dad passed on. Or is no longer with us. What a load of crap. I think I 'll write about this in a later post.)

To Be Continued....

Euphemisms are Stupid, but Not Pointless

I don't like to say my father passed away. Or on. Or that he's not with us.

(Although, by mere omission, I did accidentally imply to my Senate advisor for a full year that my parents had divorced and my dad wasn't around or that he was for some other reason, just never in my life to begin with!)

But anyway, back to euphemisms. I'm sure you've heard just as many as I have, although sometimes it feels like I've heard them all! Especially for dogs. I don't know what it is, but us humans cannot deal with the fact that our dogs don't live as long as we do. Dogs have always gone to doggy heaven, or to the great park in the sky. What the hell?

It makes sense, though. Death is hard to talk about, even for those of us who pretended for nine years that it has no emotional kickback for those of us still kicking. Not only are we saying someone who has been here is never going to be here again,* but we also are often introducing the idea to someone else. I know it feels easier to tell someone else that my Dad has passed, than to stare them in the face and say, "My Dad's been dead and cremated for twelve years, and his ashes sat on our tv cabinet for a long time. For all we know, you may have been walking past the remains of my dead Dad for years, without knowing it!" That just seems seems a mite heavy-handed.

Even if you're not biting back deadpan black humor about dead people, there's a definite sense of not wanting to upset other people, when I mention my dad. I know that's often part of the reason I don't say anything, or I used to, at least. (And that's how my advisor had no idea after seeing my more than twice a week for a full year!) I know whoever I'm talking to will feel uncomfortable. And probably not know what to say. And then definitely say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Guaranteed. And then I say, "Oh, it's ok." Every time. So, I just didn't tell people.

I still remember when I took P.E. over the summer, before my freshman year of high school (because all the cool kids were doing it! Just kidding, all the academically driven kids were doing it. Also, I didn't want to get sweaty and change between classes during the school year.), we had a section on health or something. We had an assignment where we had to write down three major events in our lives, and then stick them on the wall on a giant timeline.

The teacher was reading a few out loud, and then said, "oh, this is a sad one: 'My dad died, age 10.'" The class room was quieter for a few minutes afterwards. And after that section, my group of three friends I was hanging out with throughout P.E. that summer, talked about my note.

One of them said, "Oh, I bet that was <name censored>. He's always trying to get attention talking about that."

After someone else chimed in, I said, "No, that was me." They didn't really know what to say. I think I walked away after that, but maybe we started playing 13 (the card game) again.

Haha, it felt good to own that moment, and surprise them, a bit, but most of the time, the obvious discomfort people feel almost made me feel shitty for even mentioning it, especially if no one asked about my dad. I felt like, well, I had had 10 years or whatever to deal with it, but who am I to force someone new to have to confront death in this immediate and tiny way? Additionally, it was always a hassle, a thing. Better to just avoid the subject entirely.

A lot of this reminds me of a conversation I had with Sharon, one of my coffeeshop coworkers. She was telling my roommate about her son who committed suicide at age 24, when she used the phrases, "he passed" and I think if I remember correctly, "he took his life." There may have been a "he's no longer with us" in there or not, I don't remember. She just reminded me of this (almost) lifelong struggle I've had--figuring out how to tell people that someone I loved is now dead. She's mentioned this concept before, hating to meet people because "I didn't want to tell them it was ok."When she said that, my heart stopped.

YES! Of course we hate telling people it's ok! Because it's not! And this particular part of our lives never will be. And that's just how it is, as non-melodramatically as possible, thank you very much. But honestly, just like I know there really is nothing to say, but "I'm sorry," (for what, accidentally asking about a dead person? Reminding me? Or just in general?), there is also really nothing to say after that but either "yup" "well.." or "it's ok..." (Well what did you expect?) The reality is, sometimes it's ok to say nothing, sometimes you feel too awkward to, and no matter what, verbal ticks like that are really just verbal fillers that aren't adding anything but buffer between us and the sad stuff we have hard times talking about.

I'm not here with any suggestions or anything. I've been on both sides of this exchange plenty of times. The closest thing I have to advice is that, for the non-griever, it is almost always ok to not say anything, as long as your body language is attentive, even if the silence feels awkward to you. But honestly that's all I got.

Lisa (P-D) told me once, (I think--I could have also read an article about it), that Americans don't have any ritualized way to grieve anymore after the funeral. We don't even wear black afterwards, and honestly it is a shame. Processes that are part of the culture give us permission to feel the pain that we sometimes hold in. So we grieve for ten years and then start glogs for lack of better things to do.

*Sharon (coffeeshop coworker, approx half century older than me) told me this week that people like us (who've had close loved ones die) understand the word "never" in a way that no one else does. (I take that to mean, knowing that someone is permanently separated from you--you will never see them again.) And honestly, I agree. I've been thinking over the last few weeks about how to describe my pain and my grief (in musings about potential poems I could write, but didn't.) And every time I came up short after some kind of thought about having a hole cut out of us, but the new us with the hole is now the whole us. (Wow, that's a lot more poetic than I thought it was!) There is no "filling" of the hole--that emptiness, that little bit of nothing is permanent.

And in between thinking this and hearing Sharon say that about "never," I read a lovely little book by Kate DiCamillo that also hit on that. And I can't find the quote. I remember that I tensed up as I read this, hoping that whatever Rob Horton said about missing his mother rang true, and when he said it, I relaxed, because he had hit it right on. But alas, I'm not sure what it was. But it could have been this, which I think is a very accurate description of the numbness, and inability to strain to do anything but feed myself I've felt often: "He wanted to tell her that she was wrong. He wanted to tell her that he did not feel whole. But he did not have the energy or the heart to say anything; all he could manage was putting one foot in front of the other" (Dicamillo 106)

Also, I highly recommend this tiny 116-page book--it's really just wonderful. Even just the way the hotel maid says, "All an angry liar, then" is just so fantastic (80). She just sees how Sistine deals with pain in that moment and affirms it without dressing it up.

Works Cited
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tiger Rising. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2002. Print.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Memory Musings

I think a big use for this blog will be for me to just write out my memories of my father--tidbits, whatever's still stuck with me. Lately, I've been wanting to just tell people, anyone, everyone, anything I can remember about my dad. I want to take my college friends home to Wichita and show them where my Dad struck up a conversation with Leticia's Mom. (Honestly, that could have been my Mom, for all I remember of the story--I was still a baby!) But I have this intense urging to take people on a tour of my memories. I want to show you all of my family photos, all of my memories.

And I'm not sure why. Maybe as a way to express one of the only things I do have of my father?

And maybe as a way to preserve him? The sooner that memories like this are recorded the better (even 12 years later!) I've read over and over again, that each time you remember an event,  you are not remembering the original moment, but merely remembering the last time you remembered. And when you remember something often, it's all too easy to misremember and mentally "save" an incorrect memory. I read once that there was a study done on memory focusing around people recalling where they were when they found out about 9/11. And from what I recall (haha, ironic), when the researchers compared people's recollections to journals and written evidence recorded right after the fact, people had often completely falsified memories--new locations, new people etc. Which, honestly, is a bit scary to me. I like to think that what happened in the past is immovable (until we unearth new archeological evidence countering all previous claims.) But memory is mutable. What does that mean? That all I have left of my father (I do have a bit more than memories--I'm writing for effect here!) is worthless?

Perhaps. Luckily I'm also writing about my memories because I like revisiting them. It's soothing, actually. And me and my faulty memories is what I've got.

I do have a binder of letters of stories and friends and family members sent to my mom and my aunts that I deeply treasure--those stories show a side of my father that I will never know any other way--my dad at work, as a colleague, as a fellow adult, as a former nephew, a childhood best friend. But even though I love rereading those (and hearing tidbits that someone mentions at family events, when they manage to do it without god damn tearing up!), it feels important to revisit and acknowledge my own experiences, from my own unadulterated lens of memory and childhood.

The First One

On Others Like Me

Before starting this glog, I performed a half-hearted google search to find similar things...nuthin. I mean, I wasn't looking that hard, but still. It feels like it would be nice to have a community of other 20-somethings, with deceased parents, who've never emotionally dealt with the pain until almost a decade later and are struggling to figure it all out now. I mean, come on. It's not like we're unicorns.

Nonetheless, I know that there are plenty of other young foolish people who are emotionally disengaged and struggling to find themselves, which is really all I'm attempting to do. It's actually rather dull to be conscious of the fact that my unique-and-individual-feeling experience is actually a completely normal life stage. I mean, for once, I'd like to get some attention for being different from normal, but then I'm pretty sure I (and all of the rest of preteens since the dawn of preteen-hood) felt that way about puberty.

On Writing

I'd like to think I'm funny. I do enjoy laughing, myself, after all. However, I feel depressingly aware of the fact that my stories tend to be hard to follow and sometimes so arcane as to be unrelatable, but by all means, enjoy if you must! I certainly would get a kick out of it. But I also know thus far, I feel like I'm introducing myself instead of getting to the meat of it all, so be forewarned, I'm gonna talk about, you know, feelings. And I'll try to just be honest and write them out without too much beating around the bush. I'm not even sure why I'm introducing this all so much, except for the fact that I know that I love an audience. I'm really writing a journal here, and it's not integral to my success that anyone read this or not. But feel welcome anyway.