Help

“When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way.

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured, Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.”

– The Beatles, Help!

Okay, anyone who loses someone close is dealing with a lot of issues.  But this one caught me by surprise, and it’s been one of the harder issues for me to come to grips with – I can’t do this (grieving, raising two kids, working, keeping all these balls in the air) on my own.

When I was fifteen my dad died, and the only advice I got from the males left in my life was that I was now the man of the house; translation, it’s time to step up, be responsible, work hard and help out your mother and sisters.  So I did, as begrudgingly as any teen who’s told to mow the lawn – but the work got done and it did instill in me a work ethic that got me through college while working and continued into my professional career, and now carries into my latest challenges.  There are 30 years of habits here.

I also chose at 15 to keep everything inside and do everything I could on my own, because the hard working stoic Marlboro man is a lot cooler to a 15 year old than the sensitive, caring dude in touch with his feelings, despite the (now recognized) wonderful example of openness and communication and sharing that my father gave me.

(Sidebar – my parents enjoyed a wonderful relationship made stronger by a fantastic program called Marriage Encounter.  ME is run through the Catholic church, and teaches the simple lessons of better marriage through better communication.  And so they talked, and wrote to each other, and shared feelings, and expanded these lessons to us kids through Family Dialogues.  Great job, mom and dad!  Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time and grumbled through it, I’m learning it now.  Just goes to show, do the right thing, you never know when that lesson will be taken to heart.)

(Another sidebar – so how do I teach my boys its okay to ask for help, to show emotion and share feelings, when I clearly didn’t learn from my old man’s example?  Trevor still will not talk about events; it’s been two months and the concerns are mounting.)

So since my late teens I’ve done what needs done without asking for help, a stiff upper lip and poker face for the cowboy no matter how bad I might want to say “no mas.”  And I discovered that my stubbornness (or is it really a fear of failure, if I’m being honest?) allowed me to work longer than most, and that most obstacles can be overcome with just a little more elbow grease and a few extra hours.  My work habits over the years evolved into the belief that I could outwork any obstacle.

This served me well in my career, but I am now regretting the cost of this trait, time lost irrevocably to the office.  Regrets will be saved for a later post, but just as devastating as regret, I have finally met an opponent that cannot be overcome by simply working harder and longer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still trying, old habits die kicking and screaming.  Most days I can still go to bed at night with the house in reasonable order, the kids fairly clean and fed, the homework mostly done, and the work wolves kept at bay for another day.  But this requires a tremendous amount of energy, and my 17 and 18 hour days are exhausting – I know I will not be able to keep this up long term.  I need (gulp) help.

And the offers of help abound; I am just not used to taking them up.  Before I do, I want to make sure I’m asking for help in the right places doing the right things, and that is taking some time to figure out.  So have some patience, I just don’t know what I need yet, what’s most important for the boys, and what priorities I need to set.  How many extra-curricular activities should I have the kids involved in (read, how many can I get them to and still maintain gainful employment?)  Is it okay to get a babysitter for a night out, or should I save those for when I’m in a pinch with work?  When is it okay to let the laundry pile higher and the grass grow taller so we can just sit and watch tv (I completely missed the entire Olympics this summer, haven’t seen more than a few downs of any Steeler game, and I’ve thankfully not had the time to watch even an inning of the this years’ Pirates collapse.)  And when do I just finally open the door and let the help take over, at least until the sanity returns?

Nope, I’m not good at this letting go stuff, especially the help part.  I know I’ve gotta let go of the notion that accepting help is akin to weakness; it’s time to put the Marlboro man out to pasture…

And I have also learned that folks helping us also helps them, too, for grief affects more than just the immediate family.  So thanks for all the meals, the unexpected laundry being done, for picking up my kids from school and getting them to baseball games or watching them while I run errands; know that it is appreciated, and I hope it helps you, too.

Please continue to think of us and all of those who have lost loved ones as the nights get longer and we slip back into routine; remember that our routines are forever changed.  Everyone says it will get easier but I’m not seeing that light yet, it still feels like a very dark tunnel. But I’m confident I will figure out what help we need and hopefully will have the courage to ask when I do.

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Sleep

Sleep. To lie down and shut out the noise, the fear, the unceasing misery. – Tad Williams

Oh to be able to drown out the terror, the anxieties, that grip me at night!  Alone, in the darkness, with only a racing mind for company, things seem so much worse than they really are – and I recognize that in the morning.  But by then it is too late, and another sleepless night puts the day into a fog.

Falling asleep is usually not a problem, I’m always exhausted, though there have been numerous nights without even a wink of sleep.  But after falling asleep initially, maybe it’s a noise from the kids room, or the cat is in the kitchen playing with his food, or maybe my to-do list just punches through the unconsciousness with something urgent that I forgot to take care of – doesn’t matter the reason, once I’m jolted awake, that’s usually it for the night.

The snowball starts rolling, gathering a worry about forgetting something necessary at the store here, a fear about not paying a bill there.  It starts slowly, but it’s going downhill and quickly gains momentum.  OMG I didn’t put more minutes on Jake’s phone, what if he has an emergency and can’t call anyone?  Shit, I forgot about that second shut-off notice from the water department; I’ll do it first thing in the morning, right after I get a load of laundry going and the dishes done and fix that error in the spreadsheet that I forgot to fix last night.

The little worries then morph into the big things, and my snowball is now picking up boulders – how am I going to be at T’s baseball game and Jake’s football game and still get this presentation to the executive committee ready for that 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday?  How will I possibly be able to do my job now, now that I can’t put in the requisite OT, late nights and trips to Akron that require being on the road by 5:30?  What happens to us financially when I’m fired or demoted?  What will I do for health insurance without a job?  What if I get sick, who will take care of the kids?  What if they get sick, how will I take care of them when I’m working?  What if they get a long term illness like diabetes that requires constant attention, or worse, a childhood cancer???  At this point the snowball is a monster, it is out of control, an avalanche careening down the mountain at 100 mph, flattening all sense and logic in its way; my heart is pounding and forehead dripping.  The night sweats force me out of bed, there will be no more sleep tonight, might as well get up and get some things done…

Doing helps.  Everything little step towards finding a “normal” again chips away at the massive snowball.  I know I just need time, I just wish I could magically extend the day to 30 hours.  Or take another month off work.

But I have made real progress.  The days and nights spent in the hospital, taking 1-1/2 hours shifts with Deb’s sister to get her through the nights, “sleeping” in chairs and on hospital couches listening to the wails of other cancer patients struggling with there own demons; the oppressive blur of funeral and burial arrangements; the crush of navigating the murky financial waters of beneficiaries and wills and outrageous hospital bills.  These have all mostly passed, and the boulders I am picking up at night seem to be getting smaller.  But it has still been over two months without a decent nights’ sleep…

Yep, tried sleeping pills – didn’t work and made me a zombie until lunchtime, not good when trying to balance multi-million dollar budgets.  Would love to zen out with calming meditation and deep breathing exercises, but the mind just cannot be calmed.  And an hour spent doing yoga or listening to an ocean waves CD before bed would be great, but how would the homework get checked and lunches packed?

I have kept up the exercise though, running and working out, and the physical exhaustion does get me a couple of hours every night.  That has at least kept me mostly functional.

Finally, a breakthrough – Labor Day weekend, three days removed from the worries of work. The first day is spent outside, camping with friends and the boys, a day doing normal things again.  And then Sunday, after unpacking and cleaning up from the camping trip, a nap – a glorious, one hour, deep sleep even dream and wake up in a puddle of drool nap!  A good long run in the sweltering heat, to enlist the endorphins to chase away the blues of the first holiday weekend on our own, is followed by the simple joy of making a wonderful dinner.  It doesn’t even bother me that I am eating alone, either (T turned up his nose and feigned gagging at the sight of the quinoa stuffed peppers!), because for the first time in a long time, there is a subtle sense of peace.

I’m not sure where the peace is coming from; maybe all the small victories, like getting through the first week of school intact, the first month back to work and almost getting through my inbox.  From my little guy giving me a hug and feeling his confidence in me grow.  From the kindness of friends and family, who have hoisted us upon their shoulders and prop us up, who are there with an embrace or a heartfelt comment, who have helped with laundry and cleaning and meals and have kept me in the know with this new school stuff.  Maybe it’s the grace and love and patience that I ask Deb every night to open our hearts to finally sinking in.  Or maybe it’s just the chirping cicadas and the moon and stars and the brilliant eternal light of the cosmos that flow through all things finally being felt again…

Sunday night, we’re tucked in at 9:30.  A dose of natural melatonin supplement ushers in the rest, and it’s well past 8 in the morning before I’m conscious again… Joy, relief, and restfulness, what a feeling!

Wow, the day seems so much clearer after a good nights’ sleep!  The Holiday is bearable, and I know what I have to do; a short but exhilarating mountain bike ride at Boyce, a couple of beers with a good friend at Pugs, my to do list is in check by day’s end, a great meal prepared by perfect strangers who spent their holiday cooking for us, and hope springs eternal that maybe I can return to normal sleep patterns.

Okay, but now it’s back to work and school and all the after school activities and music lessons and fundraisers and three major deliverables at work this month – can I keep it up?  Can this little bit of peace – and sleep, precious sleep! – can it last???  What happens when everything piles up and the inevitable worries of life mount? 

I think I’m learning to enjoy the peace while I have it; maybe someday I’ll even learn to enjoy the worries.

Honesty

 “I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested; I’d like to think that if I was, I would pass.” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Impression That I Get

Lots of comments on the blog and fb on recent posts, lots of kind words and platitudes, and it certainly helps me to share these things the boys and I are going thru.  I hope others can find something useful in these conversations, too, that’s the beauty and the whole point of the blog.

But please, I am nothing extraordinary, I’m not doing anything that every one of us wouldn’t do, and I’m certainly no saint!  Those who really know me know my ornery, stubborn, opinionated and wild sides, and you are familiar with the struggles and demons that are safely edited from public consumption.  That’s the beauty and the fallacy of today’s electronic social media, we can edit our personas.  Brad Paisley sums it up nicely when he sings “I’m so much cooler online.” 

When I screw up the courage I will address some of the less than pleasant issues – I have to at some point, that is the only way to work thru these things.  I’ve learned the hard way that you’ve got to be totally honest with yourself.  So many issues I have chosen not to address – regrets, anger, mistakes I am not proud of; perhaps someday these will be posted.   Or maybe they will only be shared with the closest of friends around a campfire, or during the inevitable meltdown, I don’t know.

But one thing I do know – we will all be tested at some point in our lives; that’s a given.  What is different for me this time is that I’ve finally recognized, right now in the present while I am going through it, that these tests are opportunities to grow.  This little shift has made a big difference.  I’m lucky to know a few people who already know this, and Debbie, bless her heart, certainly knew it. 

Perhaps someday I will even view these events as necessary, maybe even as gifts.  It seems an ocean between then and now, though…

The Bosstones sing apropos now…

Have you ever been close to tragedy or been close to folks who have?

Have you ever felt a pain so powerful so heavy you collapse?

 

No? Well…I never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has

Which makes me wonder if I could, it makes me wonder if

I never had to knock on wood, And I’m glad I haven’t yet

Because I’m sure it isn’t good, that’s the impression that I get.

 

Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high you need a strength most don’t possess?

Or has it ever come down to do or die you’ve got to rise above the rest?

 

I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested

I’d like to think that if I was, I would pass

Look at the tested and think there but for the grace go I

Might be a coward, I’m afraid of what I might find out.

 

I’ve never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has

Which makes me wonder if I could, it makes me wonder if

I’ve never had to knock on wood, and I’m glad I haven’t yet

Because I’m sure it isn’t good, that’s the impression that I get.