Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Outsiders


the outsider
Originally uploaded by
brookeshaden



I'm sitting here in the lobby of this hotel, feeling frustrated, and wishing I was back at home in the comfort of my bedroom. Not to say that I am not having a good time with my kids. It's just that I usually end each day with some time alone with Michael. Yes, that sounds strange. My routine is that I light some tea candles that sit next to his urn, which gives me a sense of calm. Sometimes it allows me time to cry, and to unleash the day's pain.

Being away from my home, from the space that we occupied together, makes for a difficult time. I don't know how to feel comforted.

I didn't want to spend time this week writing about feeling sad, or of the agony involved in each day, but I now feel that it would be dishonest to pretend that I don't feel that way. I can't help but look around me, at all the happy, and carefree couples, and feel like an outsider.

I have mentioned this to my therapist in the past. I feel like I am an outsider. I don't feel like the joys of life are meant for me. There have been too many losses. Not necessarily losses with death, but losses of ideals. I look to those around me, and can't help but feel that others have had an easier, more fulfilling ride. As for me, especially in the love department, I feel betrayed.

For far too long I felt like love, and life, had passed me by. Some how I wasn't going to get what other did. Some how I was being denied the happiness that a fulfilling relationship offers. I sometimes wondered if I was being punished, but knew I had done nothing wrong. Maybe I had chosen the wrong path in life. At one time I was studying to be a Catholic priest, and chose to walk away. Was it the wrong choice? Was God angry at me, or disappointed with me? Was I meant to have a life of servitude? I know. This is crazy thought. But what am I supposed to think.

It is one thing to live a life alone. Prior to meeting Michael, I had come to accept that I was maybe not meant to be part of a loving relationship. I was content with my life. I had learned to find happiness with what I had. Then I met Michael.

Our relationship was not perfect. But I was perfectly happy. Even with the challenges of cancer, I was able to find happiness in our love. But to have that love, or that life in a relationship taken away. Well, I feel betrayed. Now I know what I lost. Now I know the difference from my life without him. Everywhere I go I am forced to feel like an outsider. The joys of life are not meant for me. But why?

Do all widows and widowers feel this way? Or, is it just us that have lost our loved ones too soon.? Sometimes I tell myself, that none of us are immune from loss. All of us will die at some point. But why did Michael have to die so soon? He was such a good person. He was needed by so many people. He had so much more to do. And, most of all, we had just started.

I'm so angry. I'm angry at God for doing this to him, and to me. Some may say that I shouldn't question God. They are likely people that haven't experienced this kind of loss. I look to my family and friends, and wonder how can they understand what I feel? They haven't lost the love of their life, have they? Then I have to say, then again, why me?

I am convinced that I am an outsider. I know that I am not alone. I know that there are many others who are outsiders. Maybe they have also lost their loves. Maybe they have never had a love.

This makes me think of the saying, better to have lost in love, than to have never loved at all. Oh, really? How easy it is for those that haven't walked in my shoes. How easy for those that have no clue what this pain is like. I wish I wasn't so angry. Bitterness is not pretty. But what do I care? Unless you are in my shoes, then you don't know what it is like. You are reading this while lying in bed next to your lover, your husband, your wife.

It is not my intention to make others feel guilty. It really isn't. I just want to know why I couldn't have had the same thing. Not more, just the same.

I need a new tattoo. Something that brands me as an outsider. My other tattoos speak of my love, hope and loss. Now I want something that clearly marks me as an outsider. I want others who have also felt betrayed by life to recognize me. I want to look in the mirror and recognize myself. I want to say to myself, "your an outsider. Stop expecting what others have. It is not for you."

Table for One


table for one
Originally uploaded by
Wim Jansen





Today the kids have all been off in different directions. Each has their own idea of what a fun day in the sun should be. Each is operating on their own time table, so we have been on our own for our meals as well.

For lunch I decided to go into the hotel restaurant and sit at a table, rather than grab something by the pool. "Table for one, please."

Now the majority of the restaurant is empty at this point, so I could have been seated pretty much anywhere. The young hostess led me across the large room, over near the windows where there is a beautiful view of the various sailboats. She pulled out a chair at a small table with service set up for two, and asked if this will do. "Fine, thank you."

Before taking in the scenery around me, I reached into my backpack to take out my book, a requisite for sitting alone during the day in such a restaurant. I wouldn't be conversing with anyone, so I needed to do something as I awaited the arrival of the waiter. Once again, before I could even look around me, there he was. "A diet coke and turkey burger please."

The young waiter drifted away, and I was finally able to take in the lovely view from the large window. Yet what struck me was not so much the ocean front scenery, but the table directly across from me. It was a table for four, occupied by two happy and healthy couples enjoying their lunch. As I looked at them I saw that all four were seniors, meaning about 15 to 20 years my senior. They all appeared to be having a nice time, enjoying each other's company, on this beautiful day. I thought, how blessed there were.

As my mind, and eyes drifted away from this table I began looking out the window, where there was a row of outdoor seating. At the table just to my right, there was an older lesbian couple, sitting, eating, smiling, with their tennis rackets leaning against the side of the table. Again I thought, what a lovely couple. They are obviously both athletic, and in really good shape. Once again, I thought, how blessed they were.

These thoughts we then disrupted when the young waiter came back to my table and asked if I would like another diet coke, "yes, please."

Now I looked back at this whole scene, and thought to myself that this could be the perfect photo-opt for an AARP advertisement. All appearing to have reached retirement age. All sitting with their spouses, loving the lives that they have. From my point of view, they were living the good life.


Remember the children's magazine, Highlights? It was filled with fun games. One of them was "what doesn't belong here?"

Suddenly I wasn't feeling so comfortable in my table for one. Suddenly I felt like I didn't belong there. I looked down at my hands, and took notice of the wedding ring on my left hand. From the vantage point of these other restaurant guests, I looked like someone waiting for his spouse to join him for lunch. Yet, my spouse would not be joining me.

Alone.

Now I began to feel like life was playing a cruel practical joke on me. Why did I have to sit here observing a scene that I had envisioned for Michael and I? Why did I have to be the odd man out?

Needless to say, I didn't enjoy my lunch. It tasted bland. No matter what I tried to add to it, it didn't taste any better. Metaphor anyone?

It doesn't take much to knock us back into reality. From there I returned to the pool to do some reading. But this time I was feeling so alone. This time everyone was having a wonderfully romantic afternoon. This time I as the odd tattooed man, sitting alone on a chaise lounge. This time the clouds began to shade what was a sunny afternoon. This time my perspective was tainted. Tainted by my reality.

Wow, how does that happen so easily?

I remember during my lunch thinking, maybe someone will come into the dining room, and notice me sitting alone at the table. Maybe they will invite me to join them for lunch. Maybe I will be rescued from being this sole man at the table. Maybe we will cross paths in the next couple of days, and they will say, "hi Dan, how's your day going? Would you like to join us?"

Or, maybe I'll just look for another table for one.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dirty Old Man


dirty_old_man
Originally uploaded by
skmull



The kids and I arrived this afternoon at a resort in Coronado, San Diego. We will be here for three days, having our mini vacation. I found a good deal on Expedia, and also decided that the kids deserved a bit of luxury after a very difficult year. All of their eyes were wide open as we arrived, taking in the beautiful surroundings.

I'm having to remind myself to let go of my worries about money. I have some money put aside for long term goals, such as the kids education, which I don't usually touch. If money runs out during our week, then I just stop spending. I make it a point to not touch the funds. Yet, I realized that we really needed a break from the harsh reality that is our day to day life. We have only been here a few hours, and it is already paying off.

The boys are in heaven. They have already played basketball, tennis, swam in the pools, played playstation in the teen room, and charged beverages to the room several times. I'm sure I will regret this later, but for now they are feeling great. I'm not going to rain on their parade.

Earlier my oldest two kids were swimming in the pool, and I didn't see my youngest, Remy. I walked around the pool area, and eventually found him sitting at the bar, enjoying a virgin pina colada. I had to laugh. Just now we came down for dinner, and he was walking around with a dress shirt, jeans and dark aviator glasses. He is really living the high life.

This is priceless. Well, maybe not priceless, but memorable.

My daughter has been with me most of the day, being very adult. She also brought her dog, so she is running to the room often to play with him, and take him out now and then. As for me, I spent most of the afternoon sitting on a lounge chair by the pool, just taking it all in.

When I booked us at this resort I knew what I would be exposing myself to, happy vacationing families. For the most part, that is what I see. I have made a conscious decision to wish each couple well as I come across them. I don't want to go to that dark place, or to spend the next three days feeling envious. I want to enjoy my kids, and be happy for all the families around me. Earlier one of the pool guys gave me some props for the tattoos on my back. He had some questions, such as the usual, how painful were they? Very painful. At the end of the afternoon he saw me walking across the pool area with my daughter. My daughter said he probably thinks I'm a dirty old man, vacationing with this young woman. So I looked back at him and explained this is my daughter. He laughed, and shouted at her, hey you gold digger! Very funny.

Once we were upstairs in the room my daughter started surveying the place. Right away she said, "I'm going to take the note cards for Mike." I laughed. Then I reminded her, "Now don't forget to little bottles of shampoo." More laughter. This was because where ever Michael and I vacationed, he was always coming back with everything he considered complimentary. To Michael, complimentary meant anything not nailed to the floor. I would tell him, "now Michael, we don't need all those small bottles of toiletries." But to Michael, this was the perks of staying at a hotel. He would respond with, "we might need them. Next time we travel you will be happy that I brought these home." I would roll my eyes, take a breath, and say, "okay, but not everything."

Michael grew up in less fortunate circumstances than I, which probably contributed to this behavior. Even now, I still stumble upon some of his treasures when I am going through our things at home. All those little bottles now feel like they are made of pure gold. I treasure them so much.

As the kids were reminding me, the last time we stayed at a nice hotel, or resort, as a family, was when we went to Hawaii about 2 1/2 years ago. I have a picture of Michael and I sitting by the pool, with my arm around him, smiling. I often now look at the picture, and think of how innocent we were at the time. Little did we know that within a few months he would be diagnosed with a brain tumor, and would be on the operating table. Now I look at the photo of us, and look deep into Michael's eyes. Now I see that he had to have been sick already, yet we had no idea.

Fast forward to today, and I am sitting alone by the pool as the kids laugh, and play, in the water. I look around the pool area, and watch all the loving couples interact. Many of them are young, and maybe on their honeymoon. Others are near my age, and enjoying a vacation with their kids. Yet, my eyes also fixate on a few young guys, either there by themselves, or with a friend. I realize that not so long ago I would have thought of myself as just like them. I took very good care of myself, and although I am 50, I was able to turn a few heads as well. In other words, I was still in the game.

These days I no longer feel like a young 50. I feel like an old 50. Make sense? I have been through too much to be naive about life. I have been through too much to entertain the idea of cruising, or flirting. I am merely a spectator at this point. I feel like I have aged, and that my heart and soul have aged. Perhaps one day I will find myself in these same circumstances, and feel differently. Losing your spouse is like losing your fountain of youth. No, having Michael in my life didn't stop the aging process, but it certainly made me feel young, and alive. When he died, part of me died. Now that he is gone, I am missing that which allowed me to feel youthful.

I don't mean this to be a downer, or to say that I will always feel this way. But at this time in my life, this time in my grieving process, I am content with where I find myself. I can sit back, watch the rest of the world enjoy their youthfulness and vitality. I am happy to just sit, enjoy the view, and feel like a dirty old man.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Achoo!


Stargazer Lily
Originally uploaded by
monika & manfred



Tough time getting my mind around being clever, or insightful, when feeling on the defensive.

It's not what you think. I'm not being verbally, or physically, attacked by a person. I am being attacked by the pollens that have invaded the air, and I feel completely vulnerable.

The kids and Michael know/knew, when Dad is having problems with his allergies, stay away. I am one of those people that somehow inherited an immune system that cowers in the face of anything that grows, especially grasses and pollen. When my system is being attacked, I am completely miserable. During my misery I cannot tolerate anyone talking to me, sitting near me, or touching me. It just makes me want to scream.

As usual, my allergies are worst when visiting southern California. It must a combination of the heat, and the trees and flowers that are blooming. Unfortunately, I missed my scheduled allergy shots last week, as I was far too busy at work trying to prepare for a week away. And, as usual, I come last in the weekly pecking order. But I do pop my usual 24 hour pill in the morning, then follow that with a candy dish amount on Benedryl throughout the day. By nights end, I am a complete foggy mess.

So, what does this have to do with my grieving process today? Isn't that the point of this blog? Well, there are so many correlations that could be made. Yet, the main thought that comes to mind is that I am so distracted while in this miserable state, that going to a deeper level does not happen naturally. In fact, I'm feeling somewhat detached from my emotions today, and I don't seem have a good sense of how I even present.

Earlier I took the kids to the store to pick up some items needed for our trip to San Diego tomorrow. While at the store we got caught up in the moment, and had a good time picking out cheap sunglasses for our mini vacation. When we returned to the house, my playful mood kind of evaporated with the heat. My daughter asked if I was okay. I responded that I was fine, just miserable from my allergies. She returned with, "are you sure that is it?"

You know, of course Michael has been on my mind all day, he always is. But I think we sometimes take a bit of an emotional break. Some of the breaks are consciously taken, and others, like today, are imposed upon us. Either way, allergies, or no allergies, it has been a good day. I'm enjoying being here with my parents. I love that they feel so comfortable bringing Michael up, like my father saying he kept over counting how many of us were visiting. My mother says that my father kept telling a friend that there were five of us. Tonight he realized he still counts Michael among us. He was telling me during dinner that each night he says his prayers. During his prayers he names each of his sons, their spouses and children. Michael continues to be on his list, whether here in person, or up in heaven.

All I can do is smile, and say Achoo!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Morning After


Hello, sun!
Originally uploaded by
Mean and Pinchy



There is nothing like the morning after...


In all things in life, our perspective is often caught up in the moment, and especially as the night comes to an end, our worries can get the best of us. This is certainly true in the way of parenting frustrations. I went to bed last night, trying to let go of the problems that ensued with the boys, but worried about what kind of a day lay ahead for us. This morning I awoke to what I should have known would occur.


When visiting my folks, and on Sunday mornings at home, I have the rare opportunity to sleep in. Yet, while this is something that is available to me in theory, it doesn't usually happen as I would like. There are usually multiple knocks on my bedroom door by the boys, with various requests that do not rise to the level of needing immediate resolution. My response is always the same, "Is this something that needs to be dealt with right now?" "Can't you just let me sleep in for once?" Somehow, this never really registers with the boys, as they don't seem to have the ability to delay whatever they are needing confirmation of.


Today was no different. I think each of my son's came in to wake me up about 5 times each. Not the kind of morning I was hoping for. But I have to say, the messages they were delivering were worth the disturbance. "Dad, I'm really sorry about last night." "Dad, I love you very much." "Dad, I will try to make things different today."


Of course I know that it will not be as simple as that, yet it is always nice to see that they in fact do have a somewhat developed super ego.


This scenario is very similar to the grieving process that I go through. Although the pain of living day to day without Michael is becoming more familiar to me, my nights alone, without him, are still quite difficult. One would think that I could will myself to be rational, or remember that things always look, and feel, better the next day. Yet, as those that are in similar circumstances as me know, we cannot escape the pain of the moment, and sometimes it compromises our ability to trust that the next day will be better.


Today is an excellent example of how this plays out. While I didn't get the extra peaceful sleep I had hoped for, my morning is going quite well. As I write this post, I am enjoying the tranquil surroundings that my parent's home provide me. I am sitting in their back patio, which is surrounded by a beautiful garden. The fragrance of the flowers is quite nice. In the distance I can hear the sounds of various birds singing their morning songs. There are many interesting insects flying by, like a beautiful large bumble bee. Except for the occasional sound of the kids in the house, there are no other sounds to compete with this wonderful moment. My parents live in a retirement community, so life here is peaceful and calm. This is the perfect reminder of what the morning after can bring. Peace, and beauty.


When I arrived yesterday I noticed that one of the homes down the lane was surrounded by cars, and there were children playing near the home. My parents explained that one of their neighbors has terminal cancer, and she is expected to die in the next week. Talk about a sobering moment. Rather than let that information pull me down into despair, I told myself to focus on feeling empathy for those that sit with their mother as she prepares to die. I don't know the family, but I certainly understand what they are going through. I know that the days ahead are very important, and that they will forever feel grateful that they were able to sit with their mother during this time. I also know that in the months ahead they will experience life in a very different, and difficult way.


I truly feel for the family across the lane. It is a reminder that this cycle of life, and death, is not unique to me. It happens everyday, and it happens to all of us. Some experience it early in life, some later, but we cannot escape it. By tonight my own words will not be of much comfort, as I have learned that as the day comes to an end my grief gets the better of me. But I can return here, read my own words, and remind myself that life will feel different the morning after.
(I will resist the urge to play the theme song from the Poseidon Adventure.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Good Cop-Bad Cop


good cop, bad cop
Originally uploaded by
tharrin



This was a very long day. A long day of driving. I'm no longer used to doing all the driving on road trips. There were many years that I was the only adult, which meant I drove everywhere. In the last few years I was able to share this tiring responsibility with my daughter and Michael. In the last year Michael had to stop driving due to seizure activity, which dropped the drivers down to two. In the last year couple of years my daughter went through two cars, and my insurance has asked that she not drive my car, as it would raise the premium significantly. Which leaves me.

Today was a real struggle to stay awake on the road. But I was happy to do it. That's a lie. I'm so tired of being tired. And, I'm so tired of always needing to be the responsible one. That's kind of a strange thing to say, as a parent. Responsibility is my middle name. Which is also funny to say, as I don't have a middle name. I don't think I have ever met anyone else without a middle name. Talk about always feeling that something is missing from your life. Yeah, how about a middle name?

I'm so frustrated. We were not at my parents home for one hour, and the boys are in the study physically fighting. "Okay you, sit there for a time out, and you, sit over there!" If that was the end of that, it could have still been a nice evening. There is a reason my oldest son has not lived at home for many years. He is not able to always calm down, step back, and listen to the adults around him. Instead of taking space he chose to defy me, over and over again, then push me out of anger. I felt like we were back to where we have been many times before. Over the years, life at home was tough enough, but it was somewhat manageable with support available when we needed it. The serious problems always occurred when we went out of town. My son always had a difficult time maintaining appropriately safe behavior away from home. I thought those days were behind us, as he has been doing so well during this past month. But I suppose the dynamics are too much when away from the safe confines of home.


When the kids are at home they each have their own bedroom to retreat to when temperaments are raised. No such luck when we are away from home. For this reason we don't travel together much as a family. There are just too many negative possibilities, and I am always left without other adult support. My daughter tried to intervene, but when the boys get too far gone, they are usually not open to her intervention. This type of situation makes me want to turn around tomorrow and drive back home.


I can't properly vent about this situation without commenting about how much better this would have gone if Michael was around. He had a very calming effect on the boys, as he could play the good cop. At the time I would get quite frustrated with Michael, as I got tired of always being the bad guy, but I suppose it comes with the territory.


Today, having a good cop around would be nice.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Two, Becomes One


down this lonely road
Originally uploaded by
Rodrigo Adonis


Tomorrow I will be driving down to southern California with my kids. It is their spring break, and we have decided to visit my folks. I haven't been down to see them since last October, when I went for a weekend visit alone. My parents had been ill around the time of Michael's passing, so they were not able to be with me. In their place my three brothers came to offer their support.

I will be taking my trustworthy laptop with me, and hope to continue blogging through the week. We will stay with my parents for a few days, then go off by ourselves for a couple of days in the sun, and have some rest and relaxation.

I hope.

When you are traveling with kids, my kids especially, they want to be entertained. I will be trying to find that balance between the kids having a fun time, and Dad getting some rest.

To be honest, I'm a little apprehensive about the visit. Since Michael's death I have had a difficult time being around couples. They make me face the fact that I am alone. Namely, alone without Michael. To keep from feeling the intensity of this, I have managed to spend most of my time without socializing. When I am with my family, this won't be possible.

My parents have been married for 54 years. My three brothers have been married anywhere from 10 to 25 years, maybe more. These past few years felt wonderful to share with my family. Even though Michael was sick for a good portion of it, we were able to spend lots of time with my family, as a couple, which I loved. My brothers, and their wives, all took to Michael right away. They, and my parents, were finally able to see me quite happy in a relationship. I was finally able to not always be the single person in the room. Somehow I felt like my family was able to see me in a new light, as being part of a loving and committed gay couple.


Growing up as gay Latino Catholic young man, I never imagined that I would one day have the opportunity to legally marry the man that I loved, and who loved me. I also never imagined that I would have the love and support of each member of my family, including my folks, present at my wedding. It was likely, the most wonderful day of my life. And, just like the day Michael died, it was one that I will never forget.


It's funny, when you get married, it is often said that "the two shall be as one." What God has joined, no man can separate. Yet in death, what was joined, is now separated.


Two, becomes one. A whole new meaning.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Life in the Fast Lane


Living life on the fast lane
Originally uploaded by Geeno



A new day.


It's always a bit surprising when I experience a bounce back of sorts. After yesterday's storm of emotions, I am feeling much better. Although I know that I look completely wiped out. It's this type of episode that makes me feel that I am now aging at a much faster pace. And what's odd is that I don't really seem to mind.


I have always thought of myself as youthful. I try to keep up with the latest music trends, like to look my best when out, and still have an eye for young cute guys that cross my path. Yet in the past I took the perspective as someone still in the game. These days I see it all as just a spectator sport.


I'm no longer looking for excitement. I would be happy to reach the level of contentment. It's almost as if I have experienced life in fast forward. In the past four years I met a man, fell in love, did some traveling, combined our lives, helped him battle cancer, got married, watched my husband die, and became a widower. Throughout these years I helped my daughter get through high school, battle addiction issues and start college. I moved my 16 year old son to a residential program closer to home, saw him graduate from middle school, start high school, and move home. I drove my 11 year old son to therapy and electric guitar lessons, complete elementary school, start middle school, and treat an emerging mood disorder. I attended brain tumor conferences, participated in support groups and fundraisers, joined several bereavement groups, participated in family therapy and wrote various blogs. I went from overachieving gym rat, health food nut, top shape of my life, to sluggish, graying, out of shape 50 year old. I've gone from active Catholic, to lapsed Catholic, Buddhist in training, angry at God, confused spiritual being. I went from sex crazed lover, to understanding partner, to resentful caregiver, to intimacy loving spouse. I ended a decade long dry spell of never finishing a book, to a speed reading novel devouring book junkie.


All of this in four short years. In the past I thought of myself as chronically single. Never would I believe that four years later I would be writing a blog about being a widower. How does that happen? As I sit here in my bedroom, I look at the photos all around the room. The images that I see are of a happy couple living through good and bad times. I say happy, but of course I know that there were some unhappy moments as well. I'm not really one to suddenly look back and think it was all a bed of roses. No, it was real. How I like to think of that time is that it was filled with passion. Passion heats up all the emotions. It makes life, and love, quite raw. It is what I loved about being in love. I love a good fight, then love a good make up session. Okay, maybe not a fight, but some passionate discord now and then is healthy. I liked that my life felt very real. It was fulfilling.


Now life moves in slow motion. Slow motion feels right. At times I say I would like to fast forward to a time where my pain is lessened. But if I am honest, I know that would not be good for me. I have been through a vacuum of sorts, and I need to recover. I need to take the time to sort out all that I have experienced in these short four years. I'm in no rush. I have no interest of a life in the fast lane. I prefer the life of a Sunday driver.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Being Real


Sorrow
Originally uploaded by
nikki_morris


I'm really hesitant to write tonight. I am feeling far too vulnerable. The last thing I really want to create here is a pity party. But if I am to be creating a honest day to day chronicle of my grieving process, then there is really no choice to make.

The days events were not bad, but definitely charged, and quite draining. Even those segments of the day that I felt quite good about, still required an enormous amount of energy. By early evening I was in the car, heading home with the boys, realizing once again, that it was far too late to make dinner. Between my schedule, and the after school activities of the boys, my days have become longer and longer. I realize that a big addition to my daily must do's has been having my 16 year old son living back at home. His daily jiu jitsu lessons have become a significant factor in a very successful transition home, yet it has meant getting home 2 hours later than usual. I'm pleased with the return on this additionally two hour investment, but am definitely seeing a coexistent cost of less healthy meals, and big financial expenditures. I am also finding that my income is not getting me through to my next pay check. I keep having to dip into the savings I have, which is something I said I wouldn't do.

It's really difficult to go through the loss of Michael, deal with the emotional fallout, overcompensate for the kids' pain by taking them out to eat and do things out of the house. Each of these has increased the amount of money I am spending, while I am also being less responsible about paying the monthly bills. The only reason I have a savings to fall back on is because Michael left me some money to help me out with the kids, and to put a little away for school expenses. I hate dipping into it, as it feels like I should be using the money for something more important. Yet I am clearly finding that being back on a single income budget is not so easy.

All of these issues are valid concerns tonight, yet I am also very aware that it is easier to write about them, than about my true feelings.

On the way home tonight, I was circling the block around a taqueria, hoping to find a parking spot so I could run in to buy our dinner. Walking across the street was a good friend, so I had a very brief moment to connect with her. Yet as she walked away, and I continued on my search for a parking spot, I found that I was exerting an enormous amount of strength fighting back tears. I manage well enough until I arrived home. I quickly put out the food for the boys, then moved down to my bedroom. As soon as the door shut behind me I felt kicked in the gut. I was doubled over in pain, and tears came gushing out. Even as I sit here, I feel nauseous, and know that there is much more crying to be done.

My daughter arrived home about an hour ago. It was good to check in with her about some concerns, and to admit that I was having a very difficult evening. After she, and our dog Ranger, retreated into her bedroom, our cat, Carelli, came over and laid at my side. He is sleeping on my right arm as I struggle to type. And although it is sweet to have him so comfortable upon me, his warmth has me missing Michael's touch more than ever. It is all so painful. Earlier my two sons asked me if today was a significant anniversary of something related to Michael. I said no, not that I am aware of. I don't know why I am having such a hard time. I just am.

A couple of days ago I received a card from the staff of the hospice we used six months ago. They were just reminding me that they are there, and that they are thinking of me. They wanted to let me know that many find these second six months to be more difficult that expected, and wanted to offer their services if needed. I thought it was very nice of them to think of me. I suppose it also reminded me of a very difficult period of time. Anything these days feels like a mixed bag.

I'll end now. There is so much ahead for me. So much I would rather not feel. So much I would rather not face. I'm not so sure this life has much to offer me, other than sadness and disappointment. I'm going to resist the urge to apologize for being such a downer. I'm just being real.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monster Sized Grief


Giant Clock vs GORGO!!
Originally uploaded by
stevenguerrerobass



I'm not quite sure what is going on, but I seem to be sitting down to write later and later in the evening. It's probably that the kids are demanding, by way of their behavior, more of my attention in the days of late. It could also be that I have been completely swamped at work, and can't settle into my writing until my head has stopped spinning.


Today I was a big emotional mess. There is not a more distinguished way of putting it. Big tears. Big curse words shouted into the wind. It's a good thing that I wasn't blessed with any type of super human powers, because I would have slayed an entire city, or at least those who dared to cross my path.


I don't particularly like this aspect of my grief, as it feels very petty. But sometimes bitterness needs to raise it's ugly head. And my level of anger and bitterness with the world around me reached such monumental levels that I likend myself the size of a Macy's parade balloon. Only the image I have in mind is not in any way cute or jolly.


First off I need to figure out what color is ascribed to bitterness and anger. Certainly deep blood red figures into this equation. I'm going to take some liberties here and assign a multi-layered green for my bitterness. As it is difficult to sort out all of my feelings, and the anger and bitterness often blend into one, I am going to experience my exterior as a constant melding of these colors into one another.


My deep set eyes are pure black, with heavy tears the color of steel. They are hot liquid metal that hit the ground like large grenades, shattering the concrete of this city where ever I may roam.


My voices is a deep groaning of pain, coupled with a high pitched wailing that pierces the ears, causing extreme pain to all in a one mile radius. There is really no escaping the horrific sound.


I don't float high above the other city dwellers, but right next to them, only softly hoovering slightly off the ground. In this way I am not felt as a true presence among them, more like a menacing ghost.


As my day goes on, my anger and bitterness begin to overtake me. I am no longer able to keep it within as I have trained myself to do. My head turns ever so purposefully, focusing on those that walk beside me, happily strolling hand in hand with the one they love. They are so enamored with each other, and with the love they feel so blessed to have. Their inner thoughts become so clear to me, as if amplified beyond a comforting tolerance.


"I am so in love with you."


"You are my one true love."


"We shall spend a lifetime together."


"Bless me along my journey as we grow old together."


"God is such a loving god."


"How did I get so lucky."


"I must have done something right to deserve you."


"I must have done something right to blessed with such happiness."


Kill, Kill, Kill.


My dark eyes begin to take on a fiery red heat. A burning heat wells up within my lungs. It takes control of my once loving heart. The heat becomes unbearable. It rises, and rises, I can no longer hold it within. From the fire of my pupils comes a heat so bright it singes all in my path. I turn to the left, FIRE! I turn to the right, FIRE! No one is spared the bile that rises up in my throat. I have been holding my anger within for so long. I have suffered the excruciating pain of the blood boiling within my veins. My heart has been charred, and my lungs can no longer hold back the polluted air that I strain to keep inside.


I scream out with a loud wailing screech. All those around me have their hands holding onto their ears in a futile attempt to keep the truth of my pain from entering their peaceful existence. My breathe carries with it a fire that burns down whole blocks within seconds. No one is spared by wrath. Now they will know of my pain. Now they will question their blessings.


"Why are they being so mistreated?" "What have they done to deserve this?"


They city air becomes filled with one endless chorus of voices. "Why?" "Why?" "Why?"


I stop myself in an instant. I look all around me. I see leveled buildings, all reduced to broken pieces of concrete, metal and shards of glass. I see wandering people, their vision impaired by the dark clouds of smoke. I can slowly hear their individual voices break through the chaos.


"Where did you go?" "Where is my wife?" "Where is my husband?" "Where is my lover?"


"Why did this happen?" "What the hell did I do to deserve this?" "Where is my God now?"


A whole city is now filled with wailing survivors. Their pain is too much to bear witness to. How do I respond to each of them? How could I have done this? What have I become?


Tears fill my eyes. They begin to fall down my face. They are no longer metallic in nature. They are soft, and wet. My skin feels tender to the touch. My feet are planted firmly on the ground. I can feel the cool breeze gently drying the tears as they fall. I open my mouth, and exhale, cool and refreshing air. I walk forward, moving down the sidewalk to a store window that was left untouched. I lift my head slowly, and carefully open my eyes. I look at my reflection.


It is me.


As I focus once again on the city all around me, I hear the sound of traffic. I hear the faint sound of voices all around me. They are in pairs, one speaking, the other responding. I look into their eyes as they pass me by. They look up in unison, and smile. For one moment they take their love and happiness, and share it with a stranger, hoping their good fortune will lift his spirits. They sense his sorrow. They know not his circumstances, but give him give him a purposeful nod.


I smile back, and move forward.

Please enjoy the musical selection that accompanies today's post.
"Monster in the Mirror"

Monday, March 22, 2010

End of the Day Reflection

Today's post is being written through a different process than usual. My way of posting is always my words first, images that reflect my words second. Today my thoughts and emotions were a bit all over the map. This is probably because I tend to feel things more strongly in the days that follow an emotional event. This past weekend was a good weekend, but of course I was trying to not get lost in my feelings, as that would have been difficult for Michael's family. Today was one of those days when everything seemed to hit a nerve.

I will tell you first off, that my afternoon ended with a run, and at times forced walk, along Ocean Beach. These photos were taken with my ever present and handy Blackberry.



Last night was one of those nights when try as I might, I couldn't sleep restfully. All through the night I felt restless, and kept waking up. At one point I was aware that I was dreaming something about Michael, but when I awoke I could not remember if he was actually in the dream. I found this disappointing, and forced myself to fall back asleep.

This morning, after getting my boys off to school, I went back to sleep, as I didn't have to work today. After getting back up I decided to take my daughter out to run a couple of errands and to see a movie. At my parents suggestion we went to see A Family Wedding. This was a perfect father/daughter film, as it shows, in a very humorous way, how we navigate our differences and expectations within our families. There was a point in the film where a father is telling his son that if his fiance laughs at his jokes, then she must truly love him. He is saying this because his ex-wife never laughed at his jokes. My daughter turned to me and smiled, as the kids loved to tease Michael that his jokes were not funny. They always asked why I thought they were funny, because I aways laughed.

At the end of the film there is of course a wedding. I couldn't help but feel my heart sink when I was viewing this. Everyone was so happy, dancing and celebrating this special occasion. My thoughts were that now they will now spend the next year as newlyweds. The second part of my year as a newlywed was being by my husband's side as he was dying. My first year anniversary was spent without him, as he died a month before this special occasion. That was the day I began writing this blog.



This afternoon as I was running along the beach with my youngest son, I noticed the beautiful scattering of stones along the shore. My son was scouting out for the perfect skimming stone, and then he would glide it across the water. I couldn't help but think about the randomness of this all. The stones looked beautiful, gleaming in the sun, almost as if there was a plan in place. Yet I know that the nature of things tells me that it is all random.

Dare I go there again? You know what I mean. They "why me's," "why him," the "why us." Why couldn't I have a long lasting love? Why couldn't I have the long lasting marriage? Why didn't we get the chance to grow old together? I don't like to admit it, but I am still so bitter and angry. I hate being that person that bad things happen to. Am I a victim? Did God take a look over at me and decide, well, Dan can take it? Did he sum me up, and say he has always pulled through, so why not this? Hey, if this has to happen to someone, why not him? I feel like that person who is hit by lightening more than once. What are the chances? Do I have to be the suffering soul for all of humankind? I can't help but think that Michael's mother is likely feeling the same way. Even though we know that life and death happens everyday, and that it is all so random, to me, it feels personal.



Looking at this photo of the various footprints along the beach made me think of those who have been here before me. By "those," I mean all of you widows and widowers who are steps ahead of me in the grueling grief marathon. I'm sorry, but I just can't seem to put a positive spin on this today. I feel like every time I think I am landing back on my feet, I just get knocked down all over again. Excuse me for using the ocean metaphor, but the waves of grief just keep coming at me, and the undertow is stronger than I am. As I write this I am thinking, "now that's not true." I can hear the collective voices in my head telling me how strong I am, and that I can get through this. What makes me angry is that my voice is right there among them. Maybe I want to be pulled under. It takes so much strength to survive, and I would love to just let go, and be taken away.



Ah, the birds. I saw these birds as I was walking back up the beach to return to my car. For a moment I got caught up in their beauty, and that is the moment that I took this picture. In that moment I knew why birds are often used to symbolize the spirit, and the how and why we set them free. Sitting here now at 11:14 pm, I could give a fuck about the beautiful symbolism. What you have not been reading here is how emotionally difficult it was to juggle the complicated emotional needs of the kids today. Well, more like the boys. Both were having an off day, and it took such great strength and patience on my part to orchestrate an evening where they were not coming completely unglued and attacking each other. On our way home from the beach we ran by Subway to pick up some sandwiches for dinner. I dropped the kids off at home, then ran to Walgreens for a prescription my youngest son desperately needed. The minute the kids were out of the car my tears started. I felt so alone and tired.

Again, why me? Why was I alone once again? Why is it that everyone one around me, from friends here in San Francisco to my family in So. California, are all happily in bed right now with their spouses? Why do they get such happiness? There is such a strong desire in me to just quit my life. Not kill myself, but somehow just say that's it, I quit! Okay, should I have deleted that last sentence? It's how I really feel. It's the kind of thoughts that we are supposed to filter. Somehow I'm supposed to feel grateful for the time I had with Michael. Well, if you could point out the person I'm supposed to thank, then I can assume that's the person responsible for all of this. If I was to meet that person right now it wouldn't be pretty.

I hate this. I'm going to stop writing now. I'm going to take my medicine, turn out the lights, walk down to my bedroom, light a tea candle, place it on the middle book shelf right next to the urn that holds the ashes of my dead husband. There is nothing like quality time at the end of a challenging day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Affinity

Mother in law.

Brother in law.

Nephew in law.

Nieces (2) in law?

Niece's boyfriend in law.

Pet dog and cats (3) in law.

Affinity (law)

In law and in cultural anthropology, affinity, as distinguished from consanguinity, is kinship by marriage. It is the relation which each party to a marriage bears to the kindred of the other. In English, affinity is usually signified by adding "-in-law" to the degree of kinship.




According to Merriam-Webster, a secondary definition of affinity is "sympathy marked by community of interest, kinship and likeness based on relationships or casual connection ." To be honest, I'm not quite sure what this secondary definition means. How I'll read it today is that this is a group of people with whom you share a common interest, thus are able to sympathize with. Is this not what we bloggers look for? I suppose in our daily lives we move in and out of various groups where we share a common interest, as we have an affinity for many things.


My thoughts tonight are that of the In Law relationship. This relationship is often the fodder of many a joke and comedic film. I suppose that as in many things in life, there is some truth to the many stereotypes. When we fall in love with a person, we spend most of our time getting to know them first before introducing, or being introduced, to the other side of the family. With our own families of origin we are told that we do not choose them. But do we choose our in laws?


I'm sure that for everyone out there who have a great relationship with their in laws, there are just as many, maybe more, that don't. It can be a charged dynamic, as what parent really wants to completely cut loose the apron strings. What parent can feel 100 % sure that the person being brought over for dinner is truly the "perfect" person for their baby. I suppose that if you meet your potential in laws, and find them to be a complete nightmare, you might want to cut your losses early. Yet, I would hope that is the rare exception.


My purpose in discussing this here is that when we fall in love, and commit to each other by way of a marriage, or other form of commitment, we don't usually think about being connected to this other family without our spouse being in the picture. It's not like we were out looking for a secondary family unit to become part of. Yet if our spouse dies, there we are. And for those of us who were not fortunate to have many years with our spouse, 3 1/2 years for me, it can be somewhat of a strange dynamic.


When Michael and I met, he had only been back in the states for about 4 years. He had been living in Marin County, which is maybe about 30-45 miles from San Francisco, depending on the actual city you live in. He told me he had been thinking that he would eventually move closer to his mother, who was raising his two young nieces, and felt that she expected it too. After all, he was instrumental in helping her find a home in northern California after she wanted to move from San Jose. But something came out of left field, something he hadn't expected, something maybe his mother didn't expect either. Michael met me. We met on April 21, 2006, and very quickly became identified as a couple. Within a month of meeting each other, Michael was meeting many of my family members at my daughters Confirmation, and I was soon after meeting his family, with my three kids in tow, at his mother's home.


That first weekend visit at his mothers home was quite a test for me. Michael had promised his mother that he would build some retaining walls in the front of her new home, which was built on a hill. She wanted the yard to be tiered off so she could plant some flowers. Michael and I toiled in the very heated 90+ degree weather. It was an enormous amount of work, and maybe too much to ask from a very recent boyfriend (me), but I was happy to help. I remember sitting on his mother's porch as the sun was setting. Michael and I sat there, filthy with red clay dirt all over us, and planned out our future. Because we were able to work so well that day, and truly enjoyed working together, we felt like we could see ourselves many years in the future, as two old men resting out on the porch. We decided that if we do make it as a couple, that we would one day sell my home, buy a new one out of the city, and spend a lot of time doing home projects just like this.


From that time forward, Michael and I tried to get up to his mother's home as often as possible. It was important to Michael that he find ways to help his mother, as she had been a single mother to he and his brother, then raised a grandson, and was now raising two granddaughters. We continued our trips up to his mother's home up until the early summer of 2009. At that point Michael's health was deteriorating, so I would have him just visit with his mother while I did the weekend's project. It gave me so much joy to not only help Michael's mother, but to give them some quality time together.


This weekend was only my second visit there since Michael died. His mother goes to San Jose fairly often, so we usually visit at my home. During this visit it felt very odd being there without Michael. Every time I would notice something different, like his young 11 year old niece having grown so much since our last visit, I kept thinking to myself that I couldn't wait to get home to tell Michael. This happened to me over and over during the weekend.


Today I was helping Michael's mother with some gardening. She knows this is something that she and I both greatly enjoy. First we worked on the back yard, which was nice because we could watch the kids playing as worked. When we finished out back, I moved to the front yard. Soon Michael's mother joined me, and we talked, and laughed about memories with the kids, and prior visits. Eventually we were finishing up, and we became somewhat quiet. His mother pointed out how fortunate she and I were that it wasn't too hot of a day. It was actually the perfect weather to be out there. She then commented about that weekend that Michael and I put up the very walls we were working around. She remembered how hot it was, and how she was sending the kids out with water bottles to keep us from passing out. I then mentioned to her what I had been experiencing this weekend, about thinking I would be going home to Michael, and sharing all about my weekend with his mother.


Of course when the conversation went in this direction we stood there facing each other, and once again recognized that the person of interest that brought us together, was no longer with us. We both started to cry, and held each other for some time.


I had to stop and think. How did I end up here? I'm standing in front of a home, 2 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, holding a 68 year old woman, as she and I both cry. Four years ago this scenario wouldn't have made any sense. I was there celebrating the 11th birthday of a young girl. I was there, meeting for the second time, the boyfriend of a 14 year old girl. I had earlier had a heart to heart with a man my age, but who couldn't be more different than I. Who were these people? Why was I there? My two boys were there too, interacting and playing. My daughter couldn't make it, but sent a note card to this woman I was visiting. What will happen in the future? What will we be to each other then?


What is a strange thing to realize, is that I have now known these people longer than I knew my husband Michael. I had never thought of this until this very minute. They must be equally as puzzled, thinking who was that man visiting us this weekend? Up until 6 months ago this woman had a second son that would have stood before her. That man had a brother that he would have had the heart to heart with. Those girls had an uncle that used to visit. Now there is just me.


What is funny to think of, is that I had brought up most of Michael's shoes with me. Michael's feet were much larger than mine, so I can never fit his shoes. His mother told me that his brother and nephew wear the same size as Michael, so they can use the shoes. But I have to stop and think, can they fill his shoes. I mean really fill his shoes? In all honesty, no. Neither of them are the same type of person Michael was. While Michael was self sufficient, and was a lot of help to his mother, his brother and nephew are not self sufficient, and rely on his mother.


That is what places me at that house, with that family. Affinity. They are my only living connection to Michael. I am there connection to him as well. His shoes are too big to fill, but I am willing to put them on and do the best I can.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Away for the Weekend



Today, Saturday, my boys and I will be visiting my mother in law and neices up in Clearlake. With the beautiful weather we are currently enjoying we hope to spend some time outdoors with the kids. I will be back in San Francisco on Sunday, and will provide my next post.




Enjoy your weekend.




Friday, March 19, 2010

Mania


ma·nia

Function: noun



1 : excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood; specifically : the manic phase of bipolar disorder

2 a : excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm —often used in combination b : the object of such enthusiasm





The mind is such a fragile thing. It can be influenced by many factors. For my children there are biological predispositions, environmental factors, developmental complications, prenatal substance exposure and trauma. When a parent brings a baby, or child, into their home, they bring with them many hopes and dreams. We dream about what our child will accomplish. We dream about what part of us they will inherit or take from us. We always think of this in terms of positive influences, and rarely do we try to anticipate the negative factors.


I suppose some would say that I knew what I was getting myself into when I adopted my children. After all, when you go through a public adoption the children are more likely to have been taken from their biological parents rather than relinquished. As a social worker I have often been in the position to offer a child for placement to an individual, or couple. I have sat with them and discussed all the possibilities, and what this particular child might have difficulty with. At that point the prospective parent must make an informed decision about placement. Of course what really is an informed decision? For myself it was a decision to accept and love my children with whatever they bring with them. It was with the hope, and desire, to give them many positive experiences and opportunities. This is no different than any parent, irregardless of how they came to be parents.


When I adopted my daughter there appeared to be little risk. She was a healthy baby girl. I knew that she came from a parent with some very significant problems, but that was not a factor for me. I trusted fate, and welcomed her into my life. When my first son arrived things were quite different. He was 18 months, as opposed to my daughters arrival at 6 months. He was very ill looking, jaundice and anemic. He had been severely neglected, both prenatally and through infancy. He possessed no stranger anxiety, and he quickly exhibited the signs of an attachment disorder. From the first time I brought him home I knew something was wrong, but he was family. He was my daughter's biological sibling, and we wanted to love him whole heartily. When I say we, I mean myself, my 5 year old daughter, and my cousin who was living with me at the time. With my oldest son I thought I was making an informed decision, but looking back I really didn't know what I was taking on. His behavioral problems began day one.


Throughout the years I have often times been told by others that nobody could have done for my son what I was attempting to do. People would often say he was lucky to have me. In my modest way, I would say I was lucky to have him. Life at home quickly became very complicated. By age 5 he began needing psychiatric hospitalization for his extreme episodes of rage and cycling moods. He was what people would call a difficult child, but he was also a very loving child.


By the time my youngest child arrived on the scene our family's day to day life was already very complicated. I initially said that I was not in the position to raise a third child, but would be interested in our being a part of his life. As the weeks went by I decided I needed to let my two children know of the birth of this other sibling. I spoke to them about his birth. I let them know that he was born with some significant substances in his system, which could affect his behavior as well. We spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons, and what we as a family would gain by welcoming him into our family, and what we would need to sacrifice.


In the end I decided that I would adopt him. He joined our family at 3 months of age. He was a adorable baby, and my daughter was a wonderful big sister. Although he had his complications at birth, I chose to be optimistic. As he grew it was quite clear that he was a very bright child, yet he was also a very hyperactive child. By the time kindergarten came he was far too much for the teacher, and school, to handle. I had him assessed for ADHD, and made the choice to try medication after much therapy. At that time I had taken a leave of absence to be with him full time in the classroom. I did this for a couple of months. That first day on the medication we walked into the classroom, he sat down on the rug with his classmates, and listened intently. When questions were asked he raised his hand. When called upon, he knew the answers. He smiled. I smiled. The teacher smiled.


It would be a nice story if I ended it at that, but that wouldn't be the real deal. From that year to the present, he has remained in therapy. He has been on several different types of medication, as he doesn't seem to last too long on any given one. After a few years his doctor and I realized that he had significant emotional challenges every winter. It was like clockwork. Soon it began to be a more serious problem. In time he asked his doctor if he could try the same medication as his older brother. He wasn't liking how he felt about himself, or how his days at school were going. This was last year, when he was 10 years old. We agreed to try the new medication, and once again the change was like night and day. He was suddenly improving his relationships at school, excelling in his studies and was very well liked by all. It was also around this time that we began to see some serious mood shifts. This cycling moods were much more pronounced before he began to new medication, and decreased dramatically afterward.


At the beginning of this school year my son was dealing with his step father dying, his father being quite preoccupied with his terminally ill spouse, his sister and brother's own challenges, and yet was getting all A's and B's in his first quarter in middle school. I was frankly in shock. Who knew that he would manage all of this so well. Two months ago as winter descended upon us, so did his mood shift. Last weekend I recognized a look in his eyes that I had not seen in quite some time. Although this look was familiar, I told myself not to worry, and just be patient with him. On Monday he was having a difficult morning, so I kept him home a little later than usual, then carefully transitioned him to school. It was that afternoon that he became aggressive with his teacher, and was given a 3 day suspension. That same afternoon in therapy I was made to see that which I didn't want to admit. He was in the beginning of a manic episode. This past week has been extremely challenging. He has been rapidly cycling from one moment to the next. Yet through it all he has completed all of the classwork and homework sent home with him. Today when he asked what he could do, meaning he wanted to play with his Playstation, I said why don't you work on your science project. All I was looking for was a small amount of progress, yet he sat there at the computer for a full hour, and completed his whole research paper. He will now return to school ahead of the class.


Earlier in the week my son's mood was more on the angry and agitated side. Today he was in the more typical manic mode, with being very hyper and quite overly animated. For the rest of us, it has taken a different way of coping throughout the evening. He told me earlier that he thinks that we should maybe go back to a prior medication because he doesn't like how he is feeling. As I sat here writing this post he came knocking at my bedroom door. To be honest, the last person I wanted to see on the other side of the door was him. I opened the door, and he looked exhausted. He asked if he could sleep in my bed. He said that he was very tired, and knew that in his own room he would never feel calm. He laid down right here beside me, and has been asleep the entire time I have been typing.


I remember yesterday afternoon when he was going from anger to euphoria in very rapid cycles. He stopped at one moment and looked up at me and said, "I miss Mike." Then he was off again. Hearing him say that yesterday, and having him come to my room knowing what he needed were both signs that he is on the mend. I can see that this manic episode will likely begin to give way to his more typical behavior. And believe me, his typical is not necessarily a walk in the park, but it is what we know.


Below is some information for those who may find themselves challenged by a loved one who suffers from a mood disorder. You might just read it, and put it in your back pocket for later use.

I no longer have my husband Michael here to support and encourage me during these difficult times, but I have all of you.




What are the signs of a manic episode?

-Abnormal happiness (euphoria).
-Extreme irritability or silliness.
-Long-lasting or intense outbursts or tantrums.
-Unrealistic feelings of self-importance (delusions of grandeur).
-Intense energy levels maintained for a long period of time.
-A decreased need for sleep.
-Increased talkativeness that is difficult to interrupt.
-Racing thoughts and distractibility—attention constantly moving from one thing to the next.
-An intense focus on sexual thoughts, feelings, or behaviors (hypersexuality); use of explicit sexual language.
-An intense focus on reaching a goal.
-Dangerous or reckless behavior. For example, a young child may think he or she can fly and jump off a roof. A teen may drive too fast, spend money unwisely, or have unprotected sex.
-Extreme behavior that causes problems on the job, at school, in social situations, or at home.
-Symptoms of psychosis (detachment from reality), such as hearing voices or being paranoid.




How do I help my child manage a manic episode?

Maintain a stable sleep pattern.
Maintain a regular daily routine.
Set realistic goals.
Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.
Get help from family and friends.
Reduce stress at home and at school or work.
Learn to recognize the early warning signs of a new manic episode
Continue treatment.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Achilles Heel


Achilles Heel
Originally uploaded by
School Rocks 101


My brain is totally fried today. It has been an exhaustive week, as my son's moods continue to rapidly cycle. His doctor increased his dosage of medication, but it will take some days to take effect. Yet, in spite of all his inner chaos, he has accomplished quite a bit of school work. Of course there are always casualties in a week such as this, and that casualty would be me.


I'm sitting here thinking of the choice of words I just wrote to describe what my son is experiencing, "inner chaos." It is the ultimate challenge to be the caretaker of someone who is experiencing mental health problems. You never quite know where the line is drawn between the person's choice of behavior, versus their lack of control. Which ever way you lean in your observation, it doesn't really take away from the frustrations of trying to cope with the gamut of extremes. His inner chaos is my Achilles heel.


The challenges of parenthood are immense. The challenges of living through grief is immense. There is nothing like a double dose of reality to really set you up for a downfall.


Most of the time I would see myself as quite capable in these types of stressful situations. After all, I have had many years of dealing with the significant emotional concerns of my children. Yet with time I find that I begin to feel my inner strength give way, and I find that I am on the verge of snapping. This is when the calm and understanding dad becomes the screaming tyrant.


There were many times during these past couple of years as a caretaker to everyone in the household, that I found myself not only snapping, but breaking. I often wondered how others did it. I also wondered how many others had to do it. I don't like when my emotions get the best of me, but then I have to be realistic with myself, and recognize that I am carrying an enormous amount of weight.


It is times like this that I must remind myself that just because I can do it, doesn't mean that I have to do it, or that I can always do it well. If I try to do too much, whether I have a choice or not, I do run the risk of breaking. When you already feel like a broken man, you start to wonder where next breaking point is going to lead you.


I've watched my son's behavior all week, and have thought to myself, why can't I have a break down? Why do I have to work so hard to keep it together during all of this? It reminds me of something a grief counselor said to me one day at a support group I attended early on after Michael's death. I was talking about how difficult it was to meet the needs of my children during those awful early days after Michael's death. When someone asked how I was able to do it, I said that I had no other choice. That's when the counselor said to me, "Dan, you always have a choice. You could let everything fall apart. Others have." She said it was a testament to my inner strength. She was right. I wasn't going to allow myself to completely fall apart. I wasn't going to allow myself to neglect my children's needs. Yet, maybe I needed to give myself a break.


This is my Achilles heel. My own strength can be my own demise. If I don't find a way to give myself a break, then I will be broken. While I often say I feel like a broken man, I know that I am not. I am hurt. I am disillusioned to a point. But I am not broken. My heart is broken, but it will heal. I am sure of that.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day of Reconing


Death & Taxes
Originally uploaded by
Henk van het Nederend



Today was the day of reckoning. In spite of the chaos at home, It did follow through with my appointment with H & R Block. They have been doing my taxes for so many years, and I love my tax person, Gay. Yes, her name is Gay. Wouldn't it be so nice if we could still have lovely names like Gay without them being so loaded with political connotations? Anyway, I love my one time a year check in with Gay. She always wants to know how the kids are doing. Did that school program work out for Dante? Is your daughter still drawing? And how did Remy do at summer camp this year? A few years ago Gay was introduced to Michael. She was so happy to meet him, know how long I had been filing as a single head of household for so many years. She was there to hear that Michael had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she was there when we decided to start filing a joint state income tax account due to our marriage. She was so happy for us, and mostly, she was happy for me.

Today when I arrived with Remy in tow, she was excited, and reintroduced herself to Remy. She asked him how school was, "Oh, a suspension. Well, I guess you will have to just try harder." "The electric guitar? Oh that sounds wonderful. How does you Dad enjoy that?" Gay then went down the line, asking about Arianne, whether or not she was in college. Then to Dante, is he at home or still at the residential program. As she was speaking I got a bit nervous, she was looking over her shoulder, and then looked at Remy and I, saying "And Mike?" At the same time I felt like I was jumping up over the question. Well, Gay, Michael died. Her hands went up to her face, and she took in a very quick breath. "Oh Dan, I'm shocked. I'm so sorry." I then quickly walked her through his final days, and brought her up to date with all of us.

I had to take a deep breath with all this as well. My next question was how do we approach our taxes this year. She said I would have to file my federal tax individually as usual. The feds refuse to acknowledge my marriage. Even for Gay to file our joint state return she has to compute the form with both of income, then remove it from the computer program prior to processing it, as the program is not written for gay couples. Gay apologizes, saying this is ridiculous. She needed to know how much we ended up paying the state last year, which was an enormous amount, but she remembered that the computer would not have us in the system for that reason. No problem, I told Gay, I will look it up at home and call you.

I ended up filing a tax return for me, a separate return for Michael,and a third for the Trust he set up for his nieces and nephew's education. I will end up have to pay for Michael's state taxes, as he mostly received Social Security Disability last year, as well as his long term disability insurance. Neither of which was charged any pre-tax. Fun for me.

In some way today's appointment felt like the final frontier. This will likely be the last time my marriage with Michael will come up. In all future matters I am back to being single. I do have one more outstanding matter, Michael's retirement funds. His retirement system doesn't know what to do about his funds. Years ago he has set up his mother as the benefactor, but when we later received our Domestic Partnership, and our later marriage, Michael had sent in the change of beneficiary forms to inform them of our marriage. Twice. And, twice they failed to change this. Now the attorneys are having to decided if the funds still come to me. The guidelines clearly say that a marriage supersedes any person previously named as a beneficiary, but they want to look over all the documents. What? Excuse me? Here is the marriage license. Where is the problem?

I bet if Michael ends up owing funds back to the federal reserve they will be more than happy to recognize me as the lawfully married spouse, as long as I am the one writing the check.


All of this was quite stressful. Michael had his MBA, but we had later turned to Gay when Michael could no longer take care of his own taxes. But Michael always took the reins at home in all things business. In our final six months together he was constantly going over how he handled our accounts. Pulling up various Excel programs, and walking me through his Microsoft Outlook folders. I would just smile, and say now honey, you know I will never be able to handle all this like you do. It's true. I still have no clue what to do, or how to do it. Someday it will all catch up with me, and force me to figure it all out.


I recon that this will all catch up to me at some point. I recon that when it does I will need to be channeling Michael's know how and patience. I recon I'm not going to like all of this, as much as I already don't like being single again.


'Single Head of Household', what a depressing demise.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Topsy Turvy


Topsy Turvy
Originally uploaded by
Rusty Productions


top·sy-tur·vy
adv.
1. With the top downward and the bottom up; upside-down.
2. In or into a state of utter disorder or confusion.




Sometimes we wish for the life we once had.


Sometimes we wish for the life we never had.


Sometimes we long for something different.


Sometimes we long to be someone different.




What do you do when your reality is so complicated?


What do you do when this is the reality you chose?




These past 24 hours have become so much more complicated than I expected. My youngest son is experiencing a significant manic state, that is extremely challenging. He's fine and calm one minute, then raging with anger the next, then oddly silly, then crying. I am well aware that most people who know my family are thinking, poor Dan, Remy got suspended again. Dan is having to miss work, and sit with Remy while he does his school work at home. I know that the school is thinking, we know that Dan will make sure Remy gets all of his work done. When he returns to school on Friday Remy will have had the loss of privileges, been given many a talk to, and Dan will be available to discuss a new plan of action in the classroom. I will go back to work, and my peers will joke with me about yet another obstacle the kids have put in my way, and how do I even manage.


Well, the reality is nobody really knows what goes on here but myself, and my kids. And just like my grief, many will say they understand, and will sympathize, but they only know what they think they know. Does that make sense? I have no idea how anybody else does it. How do they get up for work each day and face the fact that their husband or wife is there to nudge them out of bed? How do they manage to get through the morning with their kids who are not each on an individual medication regimen? How do they then cope with not getting calls in the middle of their work day because their kids are not suffering from the effects of, or their own, mental illness or substance abuse problems? You know, I truly am a compassionate man, and I really feel for them.


I wonder how many of the people I know are at home right now having their needs met as I write this. I wonder how many are screaming out in sexual ecstasy right this minute as I scoop up another handful of M & M's and take a big gulp from my glass of water. When they are done they will be wiping the sweat from their brow, fall asleep while feeling the warmth of the body next to them. I look across the room and see a single tea light gently warming the urn that holds my dead husband's ashes. How romantic. I suppose I could get myself off, then cuddle with Michael's favorite heating pad. Okay, I have already done just that on many occasions.


Tonight my daughter came in from spending the afternoon and evening with some friends, and going to her own therapy. She was talking with me about having very similar feelings today. She was really thrown off by her little brother's extreme behavior, and worried that as a family we would be going down the same path we did for many years with her other brother. She then shared her full range of emotions about the news we were given last night. Our family therapist, who has worked with her, and us as a family, for several years, is leaving the agency, and we will only have two more sessions with him. My daughter was saying, but of course this would happen to us. Why not? Everything that can possibly go wrong, or make our life just a little more painful or difficult has happened. She likened the situation to watching a heavy drama about a tormented and suffering family, where you sit and say "Oh my god, what a horrible life they have? Only, that is our family.


I could go into all the realities that make up my children's biological family history, but people would think I am making it up. I could bring up the surreal experience of watching their family history being broadcasted on national television, but nobody would believe that either. Yet, it did happen.


And never did I imagine that it would be my 16 year old bipolar son who would be the one who is completely stable and commenting on how difficult it is for me to parent kids with such significant issues. Never did I imagine that he would be connecting the dots as to what might be the reason for his little brother's destabilization.


It all makes me wonder, what the hell keeps me going? What the hell did I do wrong to be served this beautiful life? Why is it that my kids have to suffer the weight of such a horrible family history? How will they manage to feel happy, and successful in life, on an individual basis, while also being there for each other?


This is all getting fucking ridiculous. A couple of weeks ago I (and most other City workers) was served with a layoff notice. Everyone at work is feeling scared as hell. The plan is supposed to be that the City lays us off as full time employees, then rehires most of us back at 37 hours a week. All in an attempt to make up for the City's big deficit. To most of my peers this is the most unsettling thing they have had to deal with in a very long time. When they turn to me to get my reaction I just shrug. What do I care? Let them lay me off. Everyone else at work is coupled up, two incomes, and maybe one to three kids, or a pet here or there. What the hell will they do? I am the widowed single father of three children, suddenly relying on a single income, devastated by the loss of my husband, dealing with therapists, grief groups, prescriptions, bills, three income tax returns, a dog and a cat.


My 18 year old daughter looked at me tonight and asked, "Daddy" (yes, she still calls me daddy) "How do you do it?"


Can I tell you how many times a day, yes, a day, that I am asked just that?


I am no wise man. Nor am I any type of James Bond. I have no special tricks up my sleeve.


You just do it. Plain and simple. If life is shit, life is shit. Deal with it.


If life feels good, enjoy it.


This is what I've got. This is all I have. I can't waste time wishing I had some other life. I don't have the time to waste. And yet, sometimes I don't even care about what the next problem du jour will be.


I say, bring it on. Why not?


To answer my daughter's question: Why us? I say, why not us. We have no right to happiness. Nobody owes us security. Somebody has to be that person. Somebody has to be that family. Somebody has to lose their biological parents. Somebody has to lose their husband or step father. Somebody has to lose their job. Somebody has to lose their sanity.


Somebody has to play the martyr. Okay, I am laughing at my own comment.


When life becomes this absurd, you have to laugh until you cry. And when you are done crying, you need to get up off your ass and do something.


As for me, I'm going to do something right now.


I'm going to turn off this computer and go to bed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Love is a Battlefield


Danger Minefield
Originally uploaded by
Heaven`s Gate (John)



Any attempt on my part to indulge in my grief these past couple of days has been quickly quashed by my 11 year old son. As I may have mention previously, my 11 year old has ADHD, and also suffers from a seasonal affective mood disorder. Life with an 11 year old boy is going to have it's rough days, one way or another. Life with my 11 year old becomes a bit more complicated every year during the winter months. So why, as we are entering the season of the beautifully pollinated blossoms of spring time, is he suddenly acting so manic?


I love my son, he is very sweet, very loving, very intelligent, and very talented (that's if you can tolerate the heavy riffs of the classic rockers played on the electric guitar). The flip side of this beautiful child is that he has a temper unlike any other person under this roof. He doesn't seem to have an off switch like the rest of us. No matter how much trouble he is getting himself into, he fights and fights, meaning he digs himself deeper and deeper, irregardless of the consequences. He has always been this way. And although his temper is quite unpleasant, and he challenges every fiber within me in the patients department, this is who he is.


I'm sure that as he matures, he may learn to better express his anger, and find ways to calm himself down. At times he can surprise me with his ability to do just that. He will come to me and say sorry, and ask if we can start over. I always say yes, we can do that, but I cannot just pretend that you were extremely unpleasant for the past half hour or so. As all parents know, the person who our kids seem to turn against the most is the person that also trust the most. Oh goodie! That would be me.


In these past couple of years my 11 year old became very close to Michael, and much closer to me. He has always been the one who can be very expressive with his love, and also the one who needs the most assurance about how we will manage our emotions during these difficult times. I can't help but feel that he is sorting through his own feelings of grief, and he was also very aware of my level of grief this past week. There were many days that he came down to my bedroom to talk about something, and found me in tears. I know this troubles him. For a child, especially latency age boys, it is difficult for them to feel okay expressing their feelings. At the time of puberty, they begin wrestling with their preconceived notions about gender roles, wondering how a boy/young man is supposed to act. My 11 year old is not there yet, but he wants to be there so badly. He is a small guy, and is watching most of his friends begin puberty, and growing very quickly. It is hard being the small guy.


In the case of both of my sons, they appear to be at a crossroad, yet taking very different turns. My older son, 16 years, has a difficult time when other express their emotions, he turns away not knowing how to respond, yet at this time he is also the most stable right now of the three. He has been doing great in school during this past month. I am trying to help him learn how to be around others, and how to be a bit more comfortable with his, and other's emotions. My younger son has always been more comfortable expressing his emotions, and is usually very appropriate in his response to others' emotions. Yet, he appears to be having more and more problems at school. He is having difficulty containing his emotions, and is becoming very reactive in his responses. I think his emotions are currently feeling too big for him, and as he would say, he just freaks out.


In the past, I thought the most difficult transition from child, to adolescent, to young adult, was my daughter. Her emotional responses to life appeared dramatic to me. But then, I'm a man, who grew up with all brothers. What do I know?


In any case, raising the three of them, especially in these months of mourning, and transition, have caused me to feel like I am constantly walking through a minefield. I find that I am so carefully walking through this rough terrain, trying to keep each afloat, and stable, without setting off another. And just like a room full of babies, you get one crying and soon you will have all of them crying. Now, if my boys happen to get wind of this post, let me be clear, I am not saying that they cry. Oh no, god forbid. I am saying that when one explodes, they all do.


Love is a battlefield.