Thursday, December 17, 2015

Just Getting It All Out

I'm sitting here with my fingers on the keyboard trying to wrap my head around the last 3 months.  September 1st, 2015, my dad died.  There are nicer, gentler ways to say it, but I'm not in a nice gentle mood.  He died.  He's gone and all I have left are my memories which seem so faded.  We knew he didn't have a lot longer with us, but we thought we had at least a year.  What we got was 2 weeks. I know we were lucky.  Those 2 weeks were a gift for us.  How many people get a warning wake up call that shit's getting real?  I'm so thankful for those 2 weeks, and particularly, those 3 days I spent in the hospital talking with my dad.  We did a lot of important work in those 3 days.  I thank God for those 3 days.

He collapsed when the cancer literally broke his back and he lay there waiting for his friend to come walk his dog.  Thank God for that dog.  I don't know if I'm ever going to stop crying when I think of him waiting for several hours on the bathroom floor. He said he wasn't scared, but it doesn't matter.  I have so much guilt that I wasn't there, that I didn't do more to improve our relationship faster, that I was a selfish little brat.  We'd gone through some bad times, there were hurt feelings and broken relationships and things needed to be repaired, but I was reluctant to accept he had changed.  The fact is, he did change .  He grew.  He was becoming the father I'd missed for 10 years.  He had to go through some stuff himself and recover from his own pain and he did.  I learned that.  I forgave him. In the end, instead of being angry at him, I get to mourn him.  That's infinitely better, though it doesn't really sound like it.

I didn't know what to do when I got the news.  I did strange things.  I didn't think of calling my friend for help to pick up the kids.  I acted like a complete weirdo at school pickup because I just didn't know what to do, how to tell people, how to not lose it in public with kids around, I didn't know what the hell I was doing.  I was outside of my mind.  It bothers me that I acted like that.  It bothers me that my friends didn't know that I didn't know how to act and maybe think I was a freak.  Did they  know how devastated I was even though I was trying to keep it together?  I don't know.  It shouldn't bother me that I didn't know what to do or how to behave or how to tell people, but it does.  Pain that new and raw is scary and I seriously didn't know what the hell I was doing.

I've learned a lot in the past 3 months.  Here's one of the most important things: Ask your friends who are grieving how they are.  I know people don't like to ask because they are afraid of the tears.  They don't want to upset their friend. But I'd rather be asked because then I know who cares about me.  We aren't mind readers.  If we don't tell people we care, show them with our actions, then it goes unknown and unfelt.  Be brave enough to ask the question. Even if it leads to tears, it's better than the alternative.

Death sucks.  It just SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKS!!!  Here's something else from Captain Obvious that kinda hit my idiotic brain like a ton of bricks: Everyone I love is going to die.  Of course I knew that.  But when you feel the pain of loss, you don't just get to say, "Well, I had that experience."  It's not a one and done kinda thing.  Shocking, I know.  But my dad died.  And I still have 3 more parents to lose, I have my husband, I have a lot left to lose.  A lot.  And though I knew intellectually that we all die, when someone you love dies and you're left to grieve and pick up the pieces of your life, you realize that this is not what you thought it would be.  It's so much worse.  All of your important relationships come into sharp relief, especially with parents.

Yesterday, Anne-Marie asked me what my dad's favorite color was.  I don't know.  And that upsets me.  Maybe my sisters or brother know, but I can't just call him up and ask anymore.  This kind of thing is going to keep happening, I know.  The sorrow is going to keep catching me unaware like it did when she asked an innocent question, or when I'm in the middle of something fun.  Some unknown trigger will remind me of my dad and I'll be swimming in sorrow again. We were at the Zac Brown Band concert the other day when out of nowhere, I just felt crushed by grief.  I don't even really know what it was.  I was feeling happy and having a good time, then some random memory popped into my head and there I was fighting back tears.  It sucks.

I know that I'm not the first one in the world to grieve. I'm not the only one in the world right now grieving.  Sometimes I'll think of those who have lost their loved ones and their stories are more painful than mine and I'll feel I should just suck it up, that I don't have any business grieving.  It's been 3 months, I should get over it. But that is bullshit . I don't know where that thought even comes from. That is makes me feel terrible tells me it's probably a trick of the devil.  He says, "you don't deserve to mourn.  You haven't earned it.  Other people's losses are more important than your father."  Well, I know not all grief is the same, but it's still grief and I still have to experience it and go through it.  I should grieve and I need to own that I'm grieving and not believe the lie that I should just pick up and move on.  To do that would be damaging to my heart and soul.  One day, I'll find the new normal and I'll stop fighting it.  I'll just come to acceptance, so they say. But truthfully, I'm afraid to find the new normal. I don't want to be sad, but I don't want to NOT be sad.  What if I stop missing my dad?  I don't want to carry on business as usual.  I think that's why I've been resisting getting back into my fitness routine.  It was one part of my  life that I feel like, when I get back to it, I'll be over it.  Hey, brain? Stop being crazy!  I just need to get the courage to resume my real life again and just let time and God heal my sorrow.   My friends who've been there for a long time tell me that this is true, so I believe them. But HOW LONG IS THIS GOING TO TAKE????  The answer: it takes how long it takes.  That's a crappy answer.

Let me tell you what I'm grateful for.  The hand of God.  Looking back, it's clearly there.  In August, we were visiting Kevin's parents and did a tour of Missouri.  We went to Silver Dollar City, Branson to see a show, Mansfield to see Laura Ingalls Wilders homestead, Lambert's restaurant, the Royals game, FC Kansas City match. I told my dad all these things and he suggested visiting Hannibal, MO, home of Mark Twain.  It was trip he took when he was 11 and he loved it.  Oddly, that summer we learned of a new route to get to Missouri and it turns out, it goes right through Hannibal.  So we were going to go on the way home.  But on the way home, we were tired and we were going to skip it.  In the middle of nowhere Missouri, my sister texted that my dad collapsed.  We decided to go to Texas right then.  The only place to get gas and turn around was Hannibal, MO.  So we decided to go to the Mark Twain museum because Daddy wanted me to go.  In the gift shop I found a book called Conversations with my Father, a question and answer book about his life.  So I bought it.  That's the book I spent 3 days filling out with him in the hospital.  Sadly, we didn't finish.  We had a car full of clean laundry, the perfect place to turn around and 3 days with my dad.  2 weeks to mend fences.  I got a priest for my dad so he could have the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and he got on the roster of Catholics in the hospital so Eucharistic ministers could bring him Holy Communion.  His final 2 weeks on earth and he died in a state of grace.  That brings me more comfort than you can imagine.

Did I get it all out?  I don't know, but I feel a little better now.  Thanks for reading this whole long rambling mess.  And so this isn't all about me, let me just tell you mend your fences while you can.  Say your sorry. Forgive.  Spend time with the ones you love and tell them you love them.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Conversations Overheard...

Renee is explaining to Anne-Marie what a vegetarian is. She says, "Vegetarians don't eat any animals".  Anne-Marie is bewildered and says to Renee "I'll give you a choice: would you rather be lost in a forest and starve to death or would you rather be lost in a forest and eat fish?

Friday, May 29, 2015

When Your Ballerina Hangs Up Her Slippers

Today marks the beginning of the end of Emma's dance career.  Though ballet has always been her first love, she had been planning to take a break to try something new in her freshman year of high school in 1 year.  She was adamant that she would dance in her 8th grade year.  But when I returned from the parent's meeting and explained the new requirements and the hours she'd need to put in to meet those requirements, her face, and I suspect her heart, dropped.  She loves ballet. She's danced since she was 4.  The transformation I've seen in her confidence and grace over these many years has been well worth the aggravation of driving her to classes and rehearsals for the past 9 years, though it didn't feel like it at the time.  I remember watching her in children's ballet, yawning and watching all the other kids' feet, questioning why we enrolled her in something we weren't sure she enjoyed. I remember seeing her face the very first time she danced on stage at her first Spring Performance in Ballet 2.  She was absolutely radiant. I remember her Nutcracker audition rejection letter, which was so kindly worded that she felt fine.  I went in my room and cried for her because no one wants their child to be rejected.  The next year, she was accepted and I called my friend Julie to come down and record me giving her the great news.  Emma was thrilled.  She was accepted 2 more times after that and it was wonderful every time. These days, she dances across the floor in the hallway gracefully. It's really a beautiful sight.

There have been many tears shed in this house since the decision was made.  There have been late night talks and early morning conversations trying to help her through this process.  There has been anger on my part at her having to make this decision at all. I have shed tears for the pain she is experiencing. Just thinking about her walking away from something that has brought her so much joy breaks my heart. To say we are grieving the loss of this special part of her life is accurate. But there is no great loss without some small gain.  Many dancers, even girls her age, are forced out by injury. Though it's not the way she'd imagined, she did get to make her own decision to retire. There is something to be said about knowing that your last classes, rehearsals and performances are the last. Her 8th grade year is going to be one she can enjoy to the fullest, exploring new interests and spending time with her friends before they scatter to different high schools.  Every September through December of the last 3 years has been booked solid with classes and multiple rehearsals on the weekends.  We've worn a rut in the road that leads to BalletMet.  We've probably driven thousands of miles between here and there over these 9 years. This fall she'll fill her time with the unknown.  What new talent, hobby or interest will she discover now that she isn't dancing what felt like every waking moment?  What might our family be able to experience in these precious few years we have left with her at home now that our weekends won't be booked with rehearsals?  Watching your children grow up and make hard decisions makes moms and dads grow up a little more, too.

Tonight she begins the final series of performances of her career.  Tomorrow night our family, her dad and I, her brother and sisters, her grandparents from out-of-state and her grandmother whose legs are troublesome, will be in attendance for her swan song.  How much of her performance I'll be able to see through my tears, I don't know.  Even thinking of her final curtain call is almost more than I can bear.  All I know for certain is that Emma is becoming a disciplined and confident young lady, thanks in no small part to BalletMet. And I am grateful.

Such little dancing beauties.  Emma is probably 8-years-old in this picture.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The First Year with Molly: How a Non-Animal Lover Adjusted to Dog Ownership

It's been a year since we adopted our beautiful Golden Retriever, Molly.  If you recall, I felt very strongly that Molly was meant for our family.  I prayed about adopting a dog for at least a year.  For months up till we got the call that she was available, I could think of nothing but what joy adding a dog to our family would bring my children and even me and Kevin.  I really and truly believed that this dog was in God's will for our family.

Then it might surprise you, as it did me, that the first several weeks of dog ownership I cried daily.  I could not stop feeling overwhelmed with the new added responsibility of dog ownership.  I felt that I had made a huge mistake.  I can only liken it to postpartum depression.  I may know a little (a lot) about that.  I was constantly exhausted.  I couldn't eat. I was stressed, worried, fearful of the dog around the kids, felt certain that this dog was going to ruin everything I had worked hard to achieve and very confused.  You can see why I might be confused, one day feeling absolutely certain and the next like I've made a huge mistake.

If you're feeling that way too about your new dog, let me tell you what I did to ease my frayed nerves. First, I talked about it with dog owners and people who I knew would not tell me "I told you so".   I discovered that I was not the only person to ever feel overwhelmed with a new pet. I learned that even people who had always had dogs and always loved dogs felt that way when they brought home a new pet.  I cannot tell you how comforting that was to me.  I stopped feeling like a failure and started feeling like maybe I could figure this out.

Secondly, I stopped thinking of the dog as a child.  So many people talk about their dogs as their "fur babies"  and that dogs are "forever toddlers" (by the way, who in their right mind wants THAT?) that I got myself all worked up about raising this strange child who licked goose poop on our walks.  What do you even do with that?  If you are a fur baby- dog toddler person, great.  No condemnation from me at all. But it's not for me.  I started thinking of her as what she is: a dog; a pet.  Once I realized she is an animal and not a child I have to raise to adulthood and send to college, I was able to calm down a little bit more.

Thirdly, I hired a fan-frickin-tastic dog trainer.  Andrea formerly trained service dogs, so...there you have it.  What else is there to say?  She was the absolute key to me not losing it and Molly staying as a member of our family.   She came to our home and gave us private "How to own a dog" lessons. More than training Molly, she trained us.  She advised me against dog food snobbery, which turned out to be very important for Molly as her system cannot handle the current "best diet for dogs": grain free.  She told me things the vet didn't bother to mention.  She took my calls at 7am.  She completely understood how I could be so overwhelmed, even though she's trained dogs since she was a child. Andrea taught us how to teach Molly to be the dog we hoped to have.  Molly doesn't know this, but she owes Andrea a huge debt of gratitude.

She now has a full name so I can yell at her properly.  It's Molly Aggie Muster Smith because she was born on April 21, Aggie Muster, one of the greatest traditions at Texas A&M. Molly has made some great progress over the last year. She has learned how to be a family dog and get along with rambunctious little  people.  She still eats socks, but I'm told dogs grow out of that.  She has been known to bring us stuff she once would gobble down without a hesitation so we can tell her she's a good dog for not eating it.  She tests her boundaries, but she always obeys when corrected.   Just today, I accidentally let her out off her lead. She ran into the neighbors yard and looked at me like she was going to run, but she came back when I told her to come!  She still digs holes and sits on the plants.  I choose to look at it as an excuse not to garden anymore.  The kids ran through the plants and broke stems with soccer ball already. I was only half-assing it anyway.   I was afraid of all the extra dirt, but my home is actually cleaner, at least in the areas Molly is allowed, because the kids don't leave their junk all over the place for Molly to eat/chew.  I hate dog hair, so the house gets vacuumed frequently.

In just one year with us, she's taught the kids responsibility of caring for an animal. She's definitely part of our family. We all love her.  Molly's place in our home is secure.