You can’t ask people that. You just can’t. It’s way overstepping personal boundaries. You’re trying to take a peek into their emotional vault. If people really wanted to talk about what it feels like to lose a loved one, they’d already be doing it, right?
This is what ran through my head when I first thought about putting the loss of a loved one on my “Living With” list. It took me awhile, but I asked someone if they wanted to write about their experience anyway. They seemed interested, wanted to think about it, then never got back with me. I figured I should let this one go.
But. I kept seeing personal social media posts of people dealing with a loss, recent or long ago. Maybe others do want to talk about it. So I put it out there. Does anyone want to talk about losing a loved one? Becky answered “I’ll do it.”. I already knew what she would send me. That I would cry through the whole damn thing. She was going to write about her mom, and her dad. My uncle that I loved so much. I told myself she may get some peace from writing it all out. That it would be some sort of therapy for me. Provide a sense of belonging to an unwilling community of people who mourn. Maybe this will be a good thing after all.
As always, this story is not meant to impose feelings on anyone. Read to gain understanding, feel understanding, gain compassion, feel that you’re not alone. Here are Becky’s words on the loss of a parent, or in her case, both:
So it’ll be interesting to see what this evolves into…Living with the loss of a loved one…Therein lies the problem. I’m living with the loss of a beloved two. My parents. To put it into perspective, (even for myself) I can’t help but include what it was like when they were here and how they left. I’m sure different people have different stories on living without their parents but I think the “different” has more to do with what they are to you, while they’re here and what (if anything) you can do before they go. I can’t imagine if either of my parents had died suddenly, that I would feel the sense of peace I hold onto (even if for dear life and a shredded string sometimes).
In some ways, there were many similarities in my experience of their loss. I loved them both very much and was fortunate enough to know their love. They both died of cancer and both times, everyone (to include myself) were overly concerned with how my brother (on the spectrum) would handle it. We had a chance to say everything we needed to say. There was no missed opportunity: “Thank you for the time we’ve had and all you’ve done to make me happy, I’m proud of you, I love you, I don’t want you to leave but I’ll be okay, Richard will be okay, I don’t want to know what the world is like without you in it, I have your little book with the numbers, I know who to call, why didn’t you ever tell me that, What do you mean – I’m not entitled to know every little thing about your life and who you were or what you did before I was born, you’re gonna burn the house down if you keep smoking without supervision, Remember that time…you’ve always made me laugh, I’m sorry I was such a bitch as a teenager, I’m sorry we didn’t spend more time together, I’m sorry I moved and started my family so far away from you, I’m sorry I didn’t call you more, I’m sorry it hurts when I do that but we have to get the fluid off your lungs, Please just eat something, Your oxygen doesn’t work when you flip it up like a headband, Let’s get you up in a chair for a while, Isn’t that better, Can you breathe like that, Let’s get more pillows, Let’s check the last time you pooped, Time for your cocktail, Let’s get you a bath, Can I trim your beard for you, She’s not coming, I’ll get Uncle Steve, If I told you I loved you a million times every day of my life, it wouldn’t be enough. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? I need to know you’ll be there”…
On the other hand, I had very different, loving relationships with each parent. My mom raised me, she knew the whole, REAL, ugly, sometimes very disrespectful and selfish-me! I’m certain that the love my mom had for me was the most love anyone has ever had for me, in my life. No one can, ever could, or ever will, love me as much as she did. I’ve always known that, so the devastation isn’t even something I can explain. I still miss that love (even though she told me she could love me more from heaven) because it only existed with her. I understood that more, once I had my first child. It’s not that I felt less love from my dad, I just felt like he loved me as much as he was capable of considering he never knew the “whole, REAL, ugly sometimes very disrespectful and selfish-me”. It was easy to be a smart, funny, well-behaved, respectful, helpful, caring and loving, perfect, sweet baby girl a few times a year, on the phone and at a distance. What’s not to love? He was none the wiser and my mom never ratted me out.
The other thing that was very different was my perception of what the impact would be. Losing my mom was the most traumatic, devastating loss I had ever suffered and I was 31 years old. She was actually first diagnosed and in remission by 1997, we got another chance and a little more time until it came back with a vengeance 7 or so years later. I thought since I actually had 2 opportunities to prepare myself for losing mom and because she was very open about her peace with Gods’ plan, that I could let her go in peace and rejoice as much as she did when she would no longer be suffering. What a bunch a shit, that was! All of a sudden, I felt like an orphan. It’s not like I didn’t still have my dad but I felt like I wasn’t Sheila’s daughter anymore. That part of my identity went with her. It wasn’t a conscious thought, then. It was just a sinking feeling. It defined me. Peace with Gods’ plan, my big white ass! What the hell? There are plenty of horrible people in this world! Horrible parents with horrible kids, who all hate each other anyway! Why was my mom on the chopping block? What did I do so wrong in my life that deserved such punishment? Thankfully though, I had 2 young children, bills to pay, and a divorce on the way. Wallowing in self-pity was not an option and as my mom was gone, my dad and I naturally became closer.
Again, it’s not like we weren’t close before, it’s just our relationship changed. In my moms’ illness and time of need, I saw the part of my dad that loved her. He had her living in his home with hospice care, organizing care plans and going through all Richards’ info with her so she would know he could pick up where she left off. He traveled back and forth from his other home in Texas to the one in Ohio, several times while she was dying. I actually got to see both of them love and respect each other before she left and that was a strange but welcome gift that I didn’t even know I wanted until it happened and made me happy. My dad picked up right where my mom left off with managing Richards finances, SSDI, Food stamps, Insurance, not to mention his first time really living on his own. Dad and I talked a lot where Rich was concerned. They drove each other nuts, called me, told me to call the other…ha! It’s funny now when I think about it. My dads’ side of the family got to really know Richard a lot better when he moved to the little house in Bethel and dad was the one he was telling on, all the time. Richards’ most excellent survival or “sur-thrival” skill was always to manipulate my family into thinking he has no money because he pays all the bills and he can’t afford shirts without stretched out necks and stains all over the belly. They used to secretly write him checks, shake his hand with a 20$ bill in it, feed him like he was never gonna eat again, and in many cases assume my mom was just using all his money and didn’t care if he went out with a dirty, ratty shirt. Never realizing, my mom has thrown that shirt in the trash 5 times, only for him to either sneak it out or “flip shit”, take it out and insist he’ll only wear it when he cuts the grass (except for when he wears it to a Wilson party so he can do the ole “Oliver Twist bit” and hit the game swap place on the way home). See why I call it “Sur-thrival”? Anyhoo, when mom died and dad was running the show, the jig was up. My dad also realized for whatever he didn’t think my mom had done to prepare Richard for independence, she tackled the big stuff: preparing simple meals, bathing, laundry, deodorant is not just a good idea saved for work days (every day and only works on clean pits)…Even those were always things he’d simply skip if you weren’t there to hound him about it. So yeah, dad I talked a lot! We started taking family trips to meet half way at my Aunt Jewel and Uncle Archie’s house, in Mississippi. My kids really got to know their “Papa” better and I got to see my dad be their “Papa”. They don’t really remember my mom and she didn’t have enough time to be the awesome “Nana”, we had planned.
When my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, the expert medical attention and services he received through the VA in Lancaster Texas, nearly killed him. There are so many things wrong about that and his wife’s involvement/lack of and interference, that made his death harder than it had to be but in the end, I’ve described that time with my dad as the most “beautiful disaster of my life”. The diagnosis went from COPD to 2 months later, an emergency room visit to determine Pneumonia and finally (after 3 months of labored breathing, giving him a CT scan to find a small spot). A biopsy was scheduled for a week later. It was cancer. Originally, he was going to treat with radiation for a while and looking forward to getting well enough to visit with his family, spend time with the kids, do a little more fishing, get his affairs in order and let it happen. I was resigning myself to this. It wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew he saw what chemo does and as compromised as he was, he would just stay sick until he died. It kinda’ happened that way, anyway but he had a solid plan and I respected that. As it happened, my Aunt Jewel was able to get there before me (Thank God) but I did end up heading there in an emergency a couple of days later when he almost died suddenly, one morning. We all filed in from different parts of the country. My brother, his sisters, his brothers, my step-mom and step brother, we were all there. He miraculously hung in there to get about of month of love from the people he loved most. On my 40th birthday, I, my aunts and my uncle Steve took him to his first radiation appointment and that’s when he whispered “I can’t do it, Becky”. I told him, it was okay and when the tech came to take him back, I told him he changed his mind and we needed to see the doctor. The doctor gave us a referral for Hospice and I was able to schedule it for the next day. I had to explain all of this to his wife because she worked everyday, on weekends had hair appointments, nail appointments, errands etc. and Sundays with her mom. It was just as well because we didn’t have to share him. Hospice said he didn’t have long which was weird because just the week before VA sent him home with a prescription for in-home “Nursing” services, to help get him well enough for radiation. They arrived 3 days late to do an “intake” for a scripted WEEK of visits on Mon, Wed, and Friday. So really 2 visits (because the intake counted as 1) and we would have to go back to the hospital to get another prescribed week. The CNA could not help with anything more than I was already doing and by the time the CNA arrived for his second day of “service”, we had already set up hospice.
Following the intake with his Hospice team, dad sent my aunt out for beer and cigarettes (he could barely smoke and drink) and we planned his “going away” party. Even under the circumstances, he seemed to enjoy himself. He tapped his foot to the music and kinda’ smoked some cigarettes, sipped and spilled a few beers and picked at his perfectly prepared Ribeye. But within a week of his “comfort care” and only a couple of days after his last “hoo-rah”, he was gone. The wee hours of that morning were very scary. Between the suction machine not working, the emergency nurse on call being an hour away and me realizing that this “comfort care kit” is basically just a way for me to overdose my dad, I was a mess. The nurse arrived and dad was unconscious but breathing. There’s a lot of “beautiful disaster” I left out of the story (if you can believe that) but it’s too much, too hard and just ours. I was defined once again by the death of a parent (my last parent) as I watched him take his very last breath.
When my dad died, I realized for whatever little time we had together (in the grand scheme of our lives) and however cheated I felt, he knew I was there to love him when it mattered most. He was surrounded by his family and we weren’t leaving. We loved him right out of this world.
So living without my parents has defined me and redefined me over and over again, ever since. I realized I’m a scared little girl when things don’t go as planned, a raging bitch if I think someone’s not getting the care and love they deserve, a story-teller because they are my dads’ stories and his songs, a gardener because dirt in my fingernails and flowers growing are my moms’ hands and her flowers, I’m a super sensitive but strong when it counts kinda’ person (because I’ve had to be) and a better sister to my brother because we are “our family” and with no one left, he lets me love him. I’m not sad every day and of course at this point, I can tell stories or laugh about memories that for a long time, ended in tears. The hardest times are those they should be here for. Those moments just keep happening so I just keep moving and stop to cry by myself, when I need to. Thank God for funny cat memes and cold beer. Therapy is overrated. However weird that ended, you have no idea how “honest” I got that shit (from both of ‘em)!
Here I usually give my close, but today I want to be able to leave any of you who needed this alone with their thoughts. Thank you, Becky, for your strength. I love you.
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