It’s hard for me to believe that five years have passed since my father’s death. So much has happened in those five years that I feel almost like a different person, or that I experienced December 20, 2011 in a different lifetime.
Little did I know at the moment I learned of my father’s death, in the newsroom of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, on a cold and rainy Tuesday, that six months later, I would become caregiver for my mother. Even at that moment, the colon cancer was likely growing inside of her, waiting to make its ugly appearance in our lives. I thought I would spend 2012 grieving for my father, but instead, I had to shelve my grief in order to care for my mother.
I never expected to be virtually unemployed for well over a year after my mother fell ill. It was my father’s death that allowed me to pursue new career opportunities, as I had not wanted to take a new job when I knew he may pass at any moment. It turned out to be a bad move, and when Mom required emergency surgery, I was forced to quit after just two months, to go tend to her in New Mexico.
If I had guessed what my life would be like five years from that dreaded day in December 2011, I would not have imagined my mother being dead for a year and a half. She was 74 at the time of my father’s death, and appeared to be in good physical shape. I was most concerned about her loneliness and depression after Dad’s death.
Sometimes it all seems like a bad dream, but of course, I know all too well that it was real life. Good things have happened over these five years: my writing won an award, I secured full-time employment again, I’m slowly but surely crawling my way out of debt. I’m using my experiences, both positive and negative, in the caregiver advocacy role that I now cherish. The past five years have been turned into essays that have touched people and generated conversation around the topic of caregiving.
I certainly would never want to live the past five years of my life over again, but I am a better person for surviving them, and for taking the lessons my parents taught me to help others in a similar situation.
Here is a realist take on grief. Time does help. Time is like a new layer of skin that develops over a gaping wound. It takes awhile before the wound is covered, and even then, that new protective layer is quite fragile. But if tended to properly, that new layer of skin will completely cover the wound and most people will never know you had an injury. Even if no physical signs remain, you will remember the wound.
That’s how I feel this year, as I approach the third year anniversary of my father’s death. As I’ve mentioned, I’m back working in the same building as I was on the day he died. All of the same Christmas decorations are back up. I’ve been struck with bouts of wistfulness and flashbacks to that day when I got the call that my father had died. But the black cloud isn’t quite as dark as it was the last couple of years. Of course, nowadays concern for Mom takes up a lot of my thinking time. But still, I know part of this is the natural grieving process.
There is no timetable. For some people, it may take a year, for others several years, and frankly, some people may never escape those black clouds. None of us should be judged by how we grieve. Of course, if we think loved ones are in danger of hurting themselves or others because of the weight of their grief, then action should be taken to intervene and get them help. But the grieving process is very personal. While it may help to read books to know the stages of grief, etc., it truly is one of those things you don’t fully understand until you experience it.
How have you handled your grief over the loss of a loved one? Has the passage of time helped?
After spending time with Mom for her birthday I ventured north to Albuquerque. I haven’t been back to Albuquerque since the last time I saw my dad alive. I held his hand for as long as I could before having to catch a plane back to Atlanta. Dad was moved to a skilled nursing facility shortly after that. He died a month later, also in Albuquerque.
Presbyterian Hospital, the last place I saw Dad alive.
So I had mixed emotions about returning to the city. Of course it was blazing hot but I felt welcomed by all of the people I came in contact with, from the hotel staff to cab drivers to restaurant servers. I also finally had the opportunity to see the place where Dad passed away. Fortunately, the place seems to be well-run, clean and has plenty of natural light. It has a nice activity room with birds and plants and an impressive rehabilitation center. Of course, a visit to a nursing home is always depressing to a certain extent and there was a lady with her head resting on her chin, completely oblivious to the puzzle in front of her in the activity room. There was such hope on some of the rehab patients’ faces. I hope they are able to become independent again, to walk again, to return home, whatever their goals may be.
The view from the nursing home.
I liked how the facility allows residents to eat whatever they want for meals, so if they want a grilled cheese for breakfast they can have it. With adequate nutrition being such a struggle for nursing home residents, this is a positive approach to take. Also, I was greeted by a visiting therapy dog as I entered the facility. Dolly the greyhound was so sweet and gentle, I’m sure she brightened the residents’ day. The area around the facility is mainly suburban and residential, so it seemed very quiet and peaceful, with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background. Butterflies and birds greeted me on my way out. Not such a bad place to die, I suppose.
The Crossroads Motel sign.
Perhaps the most telling sign that my trip to Albuquerque was meant to be was my hotel room. It overlooked the Crossroads Motel sign. For fans of the television show, “Breaking Bad” this will be familiar. But for me it has a deeper meaning. I was greeted by that sign each day as I looked out my dad’s hospital window back in November 2011 while he was in CCU. I remember noting how appropriate the sign was, since Dad was himself at the crossroads between life and death. And now I feel like I’m at a crossroads as well. Future career, processing grief, developing a caregiving plan for my mom, there are so many things to consider. But for now, things are looking brighter. Maybe not as bright as that Albuquerque sky, but at least Mom’s oncologist just gave her great results and she continues to improve and remain independent.
It was a good trip. I feel like now I can appreciate Albuquerque for being more than where my father died.
I’ve long been a fan of singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. I feel she is one of the best songwriters alive. Her music is emotionally moving, alternately joyful and heartbreaking. Her latest album, “American Kid” was released this month. It is a tribute to her father who died a few years ago. Many of the songs are about loss and waiting for someone who is on the brink of life and death to pass. Griffin’s father was a proud Boston Irish Catholic and I could imagine him sharing some attributes with my own father. There’s even a song called “Irish Boy” on the album.
Image courtesy of PattyGriffin.com
I was particularly struck by the particular memories that Griffin crafted into beautiful songs. “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” was a phrase her father said after visiting the state to bury his brother. “Wild Old Dog” was inspired by a lengthy road trip Griffin took, where she saw a stray dog race across the highway, leaving her to ponder how God is like a wild old dog abandoned on the side of the road. A moment that most of us would only momentarily feel sadness about became a beautiful philosophical statement. And “That Kind of Lonely” which made me visualize a family gathered around a departing loved one, struck me with the line “Everyone in this room wanted to be somewhere else.” That is so true, whether it’s a dying relative or visiting a loved one in a nursing home.
It is understandably a moving and sometimes heartbreaking album but there are also moments of joy and throughout the album, a deep and everlasting love for her father. Not all of us have the talent of Patty Griffin, but it is inspiring me to remember the small moments as well as the big moments and continue to honor my father’s memory through writing.
It’s hard for me to believe that it has been one whole year since Dad died. So much has happened, with Mom being ill for most of this year. Through it all, I’ve thought about Dad each and every day.
Today I remembered Dad by walking along his favorite walking trail and visiting the local library, his favorite place. I will be making a donation to the library in his honor. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and such a stark contrast to the hideous weather yesterday. Today, the skies were as blue as they could be, the sun was shining bright, and the winds were calm.
Dad and I at the assisted living facility, March 2011.
I started The Memories Project blog at the beginning of 2012 as my way to remember my father, to record memories and work through my grief. It has been a wonderful experience. From the NPR interview to all of the wonderful bloggers I have met that I otherwise would never have known, it has been truly rewarding and enlightening.
Today, I added an entry on Cowbird to mark this anniversary. It includes some priceless audio of my father singing to me as a baby. The recording is one of my most precious possessions.
While I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to Alzheimer’s awareness as I would have liked this year, I hope to engage in more activities in 2013.
Thanks to all of you who take the time to read about someone you’ve never met. Dad would be so proud to know that he is making a positive difference in the world.
Today is the one month anniversary of my father’s death. Frankly, with all that is happened in such a short amount of time, it’s hard to believe that only one month has passed since I received that fateful call.
The last photograph of dad and I together, July 2011.
There’s of course a lot of memories and feelings associated with that day. One thing I cannot forget, and wish I could, is what exactly I was doing when I received the call that my father had gone into cardiac arrest and died at the assisted living facility he was at in Albuquerque. His official time of death was 10:10 a.m. MST on Tuesday, December 20, 2011. Here in Atlanta, I received the frantic, sob-filled call from my mom at 12:12 p.m. I was at work.
And what was I doing at the moment my dad was passing away, halfway across the country? Well, I work in entertainment news, and was assigned to cover holiday content online, so I had just written a blog post about the Kardsashian family Christmas card. It’s the kind of fluff that is considered to be “page view gold” in this business. I was just about to post a tweet on it, when my cell phone lit up with my mom’s phone number.
And then my world shifted to a grinding halt. A death of a family member is like any other high-profile event. You always remember where you were and what you were doing when you received the news. So sadly, America’s most over-exposed family, the Kardashians, will forever be associated in my mind with my father’s death.