Sunday, June 17, 2018

My Poppy: A Father's Day Post

I've tried many times to write about my Poppy since he passed away but nothing ever seemed quite right about the posts. It was either too emotional, not the right time or simply too difficult to finish the post. This is my 3rd Father's Day without him and I'm feeling like all the stars are aligning and an actual post might happen this time. I guess if you're reading this, it did! :)

I don't know if I could ever explain why I'm such a daddy's girl but I suspect I was from the very start because I can't remember a time when I wasn't. Even before my first memories of him, my Lovey Mom tells stories of him holding me as a toddler after he got home from work and she would admonish him not to give my fat, baby cheeks a whisker burn from kissing me and loving on me. Even after working a long shift he didn't mind giving me the attention my toddler self demanded. I know he was the first man I ever loved (and one of the only) and I know this was probably one of the reasons I announced at 4 years old that I was going to marry him. But, I don't want to get ahead of myself and the blog I want to write about him.

My Poppy was a family man to his core and his entire life was spent taking care of us and showing us how much we were loved. A dear friend of mine astutely understood my close relationship with my Poppy and would often inquire about him. Once he asked, "What kind of a guy does your dad see you with?" I quickly said, "A democrat." Thinking I was joking around he said, "I'm serious!" to which I responded, "So am I!" I was only half joking but politics was just one of the many things my Poppy and I were in almost complete agreement about. For years my Poppy would call and remind me about elections and to make sure I remembered to vote. I will be thinking of him this coming Tuesday as I make my way to exercise my right to vote in my state's primary election.

My Poppy couldn't stand to see any of us unhappy or hurt. Although he could gruffly bark orders and get our attention to get us back in line and behaving, he had NO stomach for discipline that would make us cry. That was left to my mother and when we were younger, our belief was that she was doing it to save us from his harsher punishment. As an adult, I smile to myself knowing the truth of his very tender heart.

As an infant/toddler/child, I was severely pigeon-toed and after being accepted as a patient at the Shriner's Children's Hospital, he was the parent who would make the trips with me up to St Louis to see my doctor while my mother stayed home with my siblings. For the first 5 years after I started to walk, I wore hip-to-toe leg braces all day and slept in a night splint (that's a pair of shoes with toes pointed "out" affixed to a metal bar to hold them in place). My memories of the braces and splint are vague and few considering how long I wore them but I have wonderfully vivid and fond memories of all the time spent traveling with him to my appointments.

When my sister and I were 5 and 6 years old, there was a big winter snow and we were so excited to build a snowman and we kept begging my Poppy to take us out to build one. In his wise and loving way, he knew after bundling us up and venturing out, we'd probably be cold and wet and ready to go back inside within 10 minutes so he drew open the curtains of the big, picture window in the living room and we sat in our warm pajamas with hot cocoa as we watched him build a snowman for us. He always had a way of anticipating the best way to care for us and I was never in doubt of his love.

I learned to skate when I was 4 years old and throughout my childhood, we had private access to our neighborhood rink because my father made arrangements with the owners to clean the rink on Sunday nights. No other kid I knew had a weekly, private skate session through the years of their childhood. By the time I was in junior high, my Poppy and I would still have a weekly skate outing while he was president of American Airlines employee's activity association. It wasn't a private session, but skating was something he always arranged and encouraged throughout my entire youth. My current pair of skates are the pair he had custom made for me as a Christmas gift when I was in the 7th grade.

Every summer of my elementary school years, my father would sign me up for a summer reading club where I would get monthly shipments of books in the mail. Although he wasn't an avid reader, he always wished that he had been a better student and he felt that reading was a major building block to becoming an excellent student and he always encouraged me in my education.

He always knew the prefect gift to give and I think I inherited that ability from him.

I learned to drive in an era before cell phones and he made sure I could change a tire by myself in less than 10 minutes and taught me to drive on snow and ice in a deserted parking lot the first big snow after learning to drive. He was always there to take care of me but also wanted to make sure I could take care of myself without having to depend on someone else when he wasn't around. I can remember his advice about luggage as I prepared for a summer trip. He said, "You can't always count on someone like me being there to carry your bag, so if you can't lift it by yourself, you've packed too much."Such valuable advice that I heed to this day.

After my sister, Melissa, got married my mother told me that they were getting ready for bed after the long day of the ceremony and she heard my Poppy let out a big sigh as he was removing his shoes and socks. She turned to see him sitting on the end of their bed and she asked him what was wrong and he said, "I think if Heather ever gets married it might kill me." To this day I'm not sure if he meant the stress of another wedding or having to give away his baby girl. Turns out he needn't have worried. He never did have to give me away to anyone.

My Poppy loved music and always wished he could sing. Well, he did sing but not like he wanted. I loved how he would sing to me when it was just he and I. He would just sing non-sensical things in a sing-song voice. I do it now when I am alone with my Noel. On my 30th birthday he called me and I answered the phone to him singing "Happy Birthday" to me. After he was finished he said, "I'm way too young to have a child who is 30!" Never mind that I was his THIRD child to turn 30!

Oh, how I loved that man!

It's things like these that prompted my astute friend to say to me one time, "You don't need anyone to take care of you, do you? have your dad."

Oh, how I miss that man!

My life is filled with a million ways he cared for us and loved us but these are some of the most precious that have been on my mind so much since he left us. I will never stop missing him but I'm so very grateful for all of the wonderful memories that I have to sustain me.

Happy Father's day, Poppy Bear. I love you!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

This is Bananas; B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Next Sunday is Father's Day and I am NOT looking forward to it. I know avoiding the card and gift displays in all of the stores and cocooning myself away for that day will not make the sadness of missing my Poppy go away but it is what it is. On top of the looming holiday, the news of two prominent public figures who committed suicide have me wallowing in my own thoughts of sadness while trying to make myself talk about it.

The last thing I really want to do is talk about it........for so many reasons but mainly because I feel it makes me sound like a whiny baby that needs to shut up. So I've been struggling with my own depression and feelings and this blog is what has slowly emerged. Hopefully it won't seem as scattered as it feels in my head but if I'm going to help destroy the stigma of mental health issues, I need to rip the virtual band-aid off of my own.

Depression is no joke and it's even worse for a (formerly?) Eternal Optimist.
I seriously used to think that I wasn't capable of being depressed and for most of my life it was, by-in-large, the truth. I wrote often of my Happy List and about happiness being a choice and I really hope that one day I will wholeheartedly believe that again. [Even now I feel a bit of optimism trying to percolate from the depths and that gives credence to my hope!]

I have good days and bad days. At the moment, the bad days are winning when stacked against the good but I try to remember that there have been good days and there will be matter how much I'm hurting in this current moment. It's the current moments that are the problem. They are dark and dreary and good at convincing me of things I KNOW are not true.

Things like this:
I am alone, I am unwanted, I am unloved and the only way to make the pain stop is to cease to exist.
Like I said.....I know these things are not true but in my darkness, that is how I feel. I'm doing my best to get through this but unfortunately, I cannot take anti-depressants because they make things worse for me.

Depression plus Acute Stress Disorder is BANANAS. 
I'm still seeing my therapist and I'm making good progress, all things considered. The worst part is the uncontrollable rage that usually shows up when I'm dealing with extreme emotion. I have never been a mean person and have been a pacifist my entire life so when this has happened and I've found myself needing to apologize to a loved one, I feel like a total chump and feel like they think I'm using it as an excuse for bad behavior and that ends up just adding fuel to the fire of my depression.

There is no "cure" for PTDS, just managing it so I'm doing my best to learn as much as I can about it and to be open to the cues my therapist gives to help me manage the different situations as they have arisen.  If you want to learn more about PTSD, you can read about it here.

One Hundred Times More Difficult
I thought the blog about my Acute Stress Disorder was the hardest to write and post, but this one feels 100 times harder to hit the publish button. I dread the onslaught of messages it's likely to precipitate and I don't want to scare my family and friends with my honesty about these feelings but I really feel the need to post this. You know what they say, "If I can help one person by posting this it will be worth it". And, quite honestly, I'm not sure if the person it might help could possibly be me.

It's impossible to know what someone might be dealing with silently and alone so be kind to others, check on friends or reach out for help if you feel you need it.  

[Friends: PLEASE DON'T FREAK OUT.....I'm going to be fine. There's still a silver lining and I'll be optimistic, all the time, again some day.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Girl Who Lived

I've been seeing my therapist for 3 months now. Although I was reluctant to accept the initial diagnosis, I am pleased and a bit surprised at how effective it has been in helping me understand and, most times, avoid the anxiety/panic attacks I was having. As recently as 5 weeks ago, the constant pain and sadness was still making me want to just fade away so I wasn't too hopeful I would ever get beyond the feelings of sadness and panic, let alone ever feel happy again.

But something happened.

I continued to follow my therapist's recommendations, despite my gloom and doom feelings, and my panic attacks started to wane. Then I noticed my aggressive need to punch and destroy things had slowly faded as well. I woke up a few weeks ago and  realized I felt completely normal. It took awhile to comprehend what that feeling was and I really expected it to be just a small reprieve from my sadness before it would pick up where it left off. I tentatively went about my day waiting for the melancholy or anger to descend at any moment but it didn't. I've not had a full blown panic attack nor have I punched any thing since February12th. As far as my depression and sadness goes, it comes and goes but the intervals of  sadness are getting shorter and much less painful and the amount of time I feel like my old self continues to increase. I still have days where I'm overwhelmed if I encounter any unexpected emotions and it causes my behavior to be a bit erratic which stresses me out just a bit but I''m getting better at controlling those reactions.  I really can't explain the relief I feel knowing it is absolutely possible for me be completely happy again someday and that makes the bouts of sadness a bit easier to endure.

I feel like the girl who lived.

The month of March is full of dates that bring a range of emotions. Most of them are good emotion remembrances that will most likely help combat my sadness but getting past the one year mark since my nephew died I know will be difficult. I'm a little more than apprehensive about unnecessary grief that could come from unexpected media coverage and insensitive people on social media. I'm contemplating a total disconnect from all forms of media to smooth the way for that day as much as possible. I want to spend the day remembering my sweet Sugar Max with the 18 years of memories I have. There will be time enough after that day has passed to resume my forward progress with my Acute Stress Disorder and the looming unknown of April.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

February 2018: an arrow through my heart

I started writing/keeping a journal when I was 12 years old. Through my college years, I would write almost daily. I think it helped me work through things on my own without seeming like those much reviled psycho-chicks I've written about over the years. My writing started tapering off about a decade ago but dropped abruptly to almost none when I moved back to my hometown at the start of 2012. As a part of my treatment, my therapist has encouraged me to start writing again and to go back and read old writing when I feel I can.

I'm  not sure if keeping a journal is partially responsible for this, but I have an uncanny knack for remembering names and dates. This is especially helpful for things like history tests or 12 nieces and nephews' birthdays. It can be helpful for remembering significant events or it can make me seem like a fount of useless information. Currently, it's an arrow to my heart as February brings a few memories that are stirring lots of emotions. Some are good, some are sad but they all make me determined to remain on my current path.

February 4th will be 2 years since my Poppy left this world. He was my first love, my anchor, my biggest fan and the best provider for his family and the hole left by his absence is huge. I will get past this day and will likely shed a few tears but I have nothing but wonderful memories to comfort me and remind me that my life goes on.

The next thing that February brings is an avalanche of memories with Pepe. Although I have written about him before, I rarely write about any specific details or memories because I like to keep that all to myself. I'm making an exception now because of several things which have him at the forefront of my thoughts lately. Unfortunately, he was on the receiving end of some of my worst panic attacks before I knew about my ASD (acute stress disorder). We've been friends for almost 17 years and I've always been neurotic and insecure about lags in communication with him. For nearly 2 decades he has patiently and kindly reassured me and I have bridged the gaps of flakiness because that's the yin and yang of our friendship. My preoccupation with my jacked up emotions has severely disrupted the balance we've always had and I feel I haven't been there for a friend when he has needed one most.

Most of the February memories with Pepe are from 16 years ago.....still within the first year of our association. After 10 months of unemployment and countless resumes having been sent, he had a series of interviews that finally resulted in a job offer on Feb 7th or 8th of 2002. We were supposed to go to dinner to celebrate but we ended up staying in and watching the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The night was significant in many ways and I remember it each February without any fanfare but this year, as he is so heavily on my mind and it is also a winter Olympic year, it seems those memories from 16 years ago are on repeat in my mind. I doubt he remembers the date specifics, but I know he remembers the events. I hope the memories are as good for him as they are for me.

The last Pepe memory that February brings is from 2009. The 13th was on a Friday and everyone knows how much I love Friday the 13th. I was sitting at the Red Rooster with my friend, Amy, and it was just before midnight and he sent me a text that just said, "Happy Valentine's Day". This isn't significant because of the message, but just the sentiment. In all the years I've known him, he has never said (either verbally or written) so much as a happy birthday, a merry Christmas, happy St Pat's, me. Nothing. Except that one Friday the 13th in 2009. It wasn't meant as a gesture of love because that's not how he and I are, but it is a memory that I love all the same.

February will be bittersweet but I'm so very thankful it is full of memories of 2 men (My Poppy and Pepe) who are so similar in their demeanor and  personality and not memories of silly, insignificant people who have made guest appearances throughout the Februarys of my life.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A New Perspective: In Memorium Through a Different Lens

I've written about my friend Becky many times over the years and about the lasting impact her life and death have had on me. Today marks 30 years since she died and although much of how I feel about Becky and honoring her friendship and memory remains the same, some of my perspective has changed as a result of losing my nephew because he was nearly the same age as Becky when she died.

The original post that I'll be pulling excerpts from can be read HERE.

On January 18, 1988, Becky was killed in an accident on her way back to school from having gone to retrieve a yearbook layout she had forgotten at home. I had seen her in the hall that morning as I was rushing to my first class and we exchanged a few words about the exciting things happening in our boy-crazy, high school lives and promised to find time later in the day to really discuss all our news.......but that was the last time I ever spoke to Becky.
I was 16 when this happened and mortality rarely enters one's mind at that age. It felt so open-ended without any chance for closure. In the days following Max's death, I remember reading the things his friends were posting and I knew exactly how they felt. Many of his friends connected with me on social media and I think it helps all of us in different ways to ease the pain of a sudden loss.

Because of Becky's kindness to everyone, I try to be the kind of friend to my friends and those I meet that she was to me. I feel this is the best way to honor her memory and keep part of her alive.

As an auntie, it's so important for me to keep Max's memory alive. I think of he children his siblings will have and I want to help them know their Uncle Max. I want people to hear my nephew's beautiful singing voice and know what a talented guitarist he was. I don't know if any of his friends feel this way, but if my own experience has taught me anything, there are friends who's lives he touched who will always keep his memory alive.

Becky is still very much a part of [our] lives and friendship. We try to make fairly regular trips to her final resting place in Missouri and hope her family finds comfort in knowing how much we loved her, too.

For years I wondered if any of Becky's family would see the remembrances we would leave on her grave and find comfort that friends from Oklahoma not only thought of her but would make the trip to remember her more than 20 years after her passing. When I visit Max's resting place and see little things his friends leave, I feel so much comfort and now understand that Becky's family certainly found comfort in the things we would leave.

It's hard to believe it has been 30 years and given the struggles I have had regarding loss, remembering Becky and drawing some parallels has been good for me. I hope in 30 years one of Max's friends will be thinking of him and the impact he had on their life. I'm so thankful for everything Becky brought to my life and continues to bring.