“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” C.S. Lewis

So, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and as much as Terri and I are missing ma and trying to figure out how to navigate the holidays without her for the first time, I also know how many blessings I have in my life too. My son, my family, my friends, my career, my home, my comfort, and the list goes on. I don’t ever want to lose sight of these things regardless of how much I’m grieving. 🙂

One of my colleagues and I were talking yesterday and she shared that she lost her dad 3 years ago. She asked how I was doing and I said my pat response: “Ok.” She said that she completely understood and even after the years that have passed since her loss, she’s often just ‘ok’ too. We talked about the pain losing a parent triggers and she said that she still cries over her dad…misses him daily…and feels the pain of his loss as something that she just carries inside of her now. I feel so bad for her since she and her dad were so close and thank her for being so open with me. To know that the struggle is real…and is going to be inside of me since ma will always be a missed part of my world…validates what both Terri and I are going through.

I think that all women feel what I know I do: that we ought to be the self-less ones…the ones who don’t take the last piece of cake, or demand what restaurant we eat at, or let our own desires come before those of our families. Maybe it’s in our DNA…maybe it’s the way ma raised T and I…or maybe it’s what we’ve chosen to spend our lives doing.

I’ve been teaching since I was 19 years old…preschool, jr. high teaching assistant, elementary, high school and college…basically the entire gamut of ages and grades and no matter what the level, students need so much from you. And, since I teach psych and socio and talk about some pretty difficult issues and struggles, so many students come to me for advice…comfort…direction. And honestly, it helps me as much as them. I want to the be the one to be leaned on. To be needed. To give to others because it makes me feel so good. T is the exact same way…her work as a private nurse and then the kind of grandma she is to my amazing nieces and nephews shows the size of her heart and her willingness to give all she has of herself.

I think all of this is why I’m finding it so hard to reach out to people who have offered support. When friends or family inquire about how I’m coping and handling things, more often than not I say “I’m fine!” to them. I want to recognize their pain first…their issues first…their needs first. I don’t want to burden them with mine…put anymore on their own shoulders…admit I need help.

I guess I don’t ever want to be seen as selfish and for me, asking for help puts me in that position. I jump on my own roof to clean out my gutters…move tons of rock by myself…teeter on ladders to paint my ceilings…put drops in Edward’s ears alone since it can be messy, and honestly, just doing this one task truly does show my inner strength. I think O and my next door neighbor would agree. 🙄

I’m also self-conscious about always being down. As I think all of us who experience depression can attest too, we soon learn that there’s often not a lot of compassion for us; or if there is, it dwindles as we continue to be down. If I asked how many of you have heard “Just cheer up!” “You’re so lucky for what you’ve got!” “Don’t you realize how bad off others are?” all of your hands would probably go up. We often feel guilty for suffering from something that’s inside of us…not something we’ve created. Likewise, those of us with bipolar who cycle through manic states hear similar sentiments: “Slow down!” “Just stop!” And my personal favorite: “Just calm down!” GRRRRRR!

So, we learn to mask our emotions the best we can so we don’t hear the frustration, weariness, and even at times contempt, in other’s voices. Maybe I’ve been doing this so long I simply can’t stop. I don’t want to seem needy or weak or lost. But just between you and me my sweetie peeps, I feel needy and weak and lost. And what is so so hard to realize as well is that ma is the one who made me feel needed…and strong…and anchored. She was the one I could be all these things too and have total, always unconditional, acceptance. Isn’t it ironic that the one I need most in my world is the one who’s no longer in it?

I know that I need to open myself up to the support being offered but genuinely don’t know how. “Can you come over and keep me company?” How can I ask that when they have their own lives to live? “Will you sit down with me and look at a photo album I made while I talk about all the memories that are between the covers?” How can I take up their time hearing my stories and seeing me cry? “Would you mind running some errands with me because being alone 90% of my time just gets to be too much and having company would feel so fucking (sorry, ma) good?” How can I force someone to spend time with me when I can always handle things myself? “Can I call and chat for a while?” How can I make myself be a pest to someone who’s so busy themselves?

I understand that this is a ‘me’ problem. An “I don’t know how to do this” problem. And I also know it’s keeping me from starting the work I know I need to be doing…not just getting through each day so busy that I don’t have time to think. That’s beginning to not work for me now and with Thanksgiving, my birthday and Christmas all within the next month, those triggers are going to be mighty hard to ignore.

Terri and I both need to cut ourselves some slack…be kinder to ourselves. We need to stop feeling guilty for asking for help and for feeling selfish when we do. We also need to be able to start saying ‘no’ to things that will take away from what we are personally able to handle right now. Reversing decades of feeling bad about ourselves when we were depressed or struggling has made it’s imprint…it may be a while before we can let some of that go.

Every night I thank God that he gave me a ma that I miss so fucking much. She was such an amazing mother and the love I have for her is undefinable. It’s a blessing to have experienced what a lot of others haven’t been able too. And I’ll be thankful for that forever.

Happy Thanksgiving, peeps…thank you for your kind messages and sweet words. They are truly appreciated more than you’ll ever know. 💘💘💘

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

I will keep the tie that binds us ~ Johnny and June Carter Cash (‘Cause I Love You)

So, I’ve struggled with losing ma and am beginning to cognitively realize the finality of her being gone…but it’s something that I simply can’t emotionally accept yet. It’s been a bit over 3 months and I know I should be facing things better yet I feel like I haven’t really even started the actual grieving process yet.

As always I decided to research all of this and after digging through mountains of material have come to understand that navigating grief when you have bipolar is a bit more difficult and can often lead to complicated grief…something I didn’t know anything about.

Honestly, I really hadn’t thought about bipolar affecting how one grieves and once I came across some articles I saw myself in them more and more…it actually makes me feel better just in the sense that what I’m going through is normal for my abnormal brain (hmmmm…confusing statement, huh?😳).

A wonderful article helped me understand that those with mental illness (or anyone!) often experience delayed grief which is basically when people postpone coping with the loss and not being able to grieve or actively suppress any emotion that begins to rise. (Repression and suppression are often used synonymously but repression is unconscious and suppression is conscious). Bipolar itself can force this delay simply because there is little space in our emotional world – it’s already filled. I never thought about this but I relate.

Depression is a huge part of complicated grieving anyway but exacerbated in those of us who deal with it regularly. Verywellmind.com lists signs that indicate complicated grief and although I have these now, actually diagnosing this states that the loss has to have been at least 6 months ago…so maybe I won’t experience this seriously since it’s only been 3:

  • Excessively avoiding reminders of the loss – definitely…although I have a lot of pics of ma around, it’s hard for me to actually look at them. O gave me a digital frame for Christmas last year and it’s on my kitchen table. I always used to have it on all day to see my fam, but now I just leave it off since ma is in so many of the stored images.
  • Obsessively thinking about the person – Hmmm…I don’t have this since I’m repressing every attempt to think about it…
  • Intense longing for the person – yep.
  • Feeling a loss of purpose in life – you know, this is a toughie. School has been amazing this semester and has given me a routine and a reason to get up everyday. But honestly, I’ve been teaching for a total of 32 years (including elementary) and had been thinking seriously about retiring. Now I’m not so sure…teaching is so much of my purpose and even though I love it so so so so much, I’m getting tired of the bureaucracy that’s inherent in any public institution. Decisions are made and edicts fall from the top when us faculty actually know how to do our jobs pretty durn well. I don’t need yet another meeting talking about syllabi or calendars…after 3 decades, I think I have it down pat. When ma was here, retiring was more enticing since I had her as a social support/best friend/travel buddy, etc. Now I feel like I’m just floating and if I don’t continue to teach, I don’t know what my life would look like.
  • Seeing proximity and reminders of things from the person – ma’s living room furniture fills my house now and it really does make me feel closer to her.
  • Suicidal thoughts – no.
  • Unable to accept the loss – yep.
  • Experiencing instrusive/persistent thoughts about the person – yep…when I’m least expecting to, I often find myself just thunderstruck by her…I never know when it’s going to happen.

The causes resound with me (and Terri as well) –

  • Unexpected death – ma was fine in June, hospitalized in July, and gone Aug. 2nd
  • History of mental disorders 🙄
  • Experience of more than 1 death within a short period – in fact, Terri lost the boy she was a private nurse for and who she considered a son while our aunt died 18 days before ma. Then, Terri’s mother in law died just a few weeks ago and is grieving that loss as well. She’s been through so much.
  • Not being present when the death occurred or being a witness to it – Terri was there when ma died and even though she’s a nurse, it was so traumatic for her. I wasn’t at the hospital that early morning (we took shifts) and although I didn’t want to see her actually pass, it’s almost unreal that she did. Yes, I saw her in the funeral home, but that was more surreal…doesn’t really make sense, does it?
  • Older females – well hell, that’s us. 🙄

Anyhoot, reading about all of this actually helped me a lot since it gave me some answers regarding this process and helped me understand how my mind is processing all of this. I totally understand that there is no ‘normal’ way to grieve and I also understand that everyone grieves at times in their lives. Terri and I talked about that the other day and said that we wouldn’t be able to stand this if it were one of our sons. And although we know we’re lucky that ma was very happy her last 12 years and didn’t suffer for an extended time, it doesn’t take the pain away from our own hearts. Yes, it could be worse. Yes, we were lucky to have her 76 years. But in the end, she was still our ma.

I’ve been wanting to post for a while but it’s so hard to motivate myself to just do it. It’s the same with running or getting some painting done around the house. Four months ago I was zipping around…so excited about all there was to do…and now I just dread having yet another task to complete.

I know this won’t last forever. I know that I’ll eventually work through this. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty when talking about this to others simply because I assume people are getting tired of my sadness. That’s actually a tough one for me. I have a couple of people I chat with outside of Terri and O, but I always feel like I’m burdening them if I’m down and need to talk…I hate feeling like that…I want to be the one to relieve others of their burdens.

And Terri and I also know this: we were so fucking (sorry, ma 🌞) lucky to have the mom we did. She was so so good to us and her love, support, care, kindness, unconditional acceptance, and the list could go on and on, is something we know not everyone has. We truly were blessed.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“…or I might find out what it’s like to ride a drop of rain…” ~ Brad Paisley

Dear Ma,

So, where do I start? The hole that’s in my heart grows more and more as I come to understand that you are truly gone. Honestly, it takes my breath away and as much as I try to push down those feelings, I’m finding I simply can’t do that much longer. Ulcers, stomach pains, and headaches are telling me that I need to start what others call the ‘healing’ process. But to me, it’s not healing at all – it’s actually scarring which will be with me always and will still cause me pain when I bump against it. And you know, the funny thing about all of this is that the one person in the world who could comfort me best is you. You.

I feel so selfish though because I’m crying so much for me…for losing my support, my rock, my best friend, the person who loved me more than anyone else in the world ever has. Ma, I’m scared to be without you…so scared of what my life will be without you. I miss our Sunday lunches…our card playing…our trips…our eating Mexican and then getting too stuffed…our jokes…our conversations…our laughs. You always made me happy. Always.

Something else I’m struggling with is guilt. So much fucking guilt, ma…and it’s eating me up. What you went through with Richard is making me vomit whenever I think about it. I should have helped you more. Tried harder to get you away from him. Drug you to the police. Forced you to go to the DV shelter for help. There are so many ‘shoulds’ that I have running through my brain and they torment me. You always protected me and did everything you could for me and in turn, I feel like I failed you. Remember when I apologized to you in the hospital for this? I’ll never ever forget what you said to me: “Kristi, you did all you could.” I heard that ma…but just can’t believe it yet.

I also didn’t know how much you were drinking because you hid it so well. Sometimes I’d call you at night and knew you were drunk just because of your slurred words. But I truly thought those were one-offs…not a nightly thing. I’ve been going through tons of old photos and can now see the signs in your face during that time. And you know, I also see the difference in your eyes over time: I have a pic of you when you were with Richard (don’t worry, ma…he’s going to a very different place than where you are) and drinking, and your eyes are empty. Glazed. Vacant. After you left and settled in to what you call the best years of your life, they brightened and sparkled. What an awesome transition that is to see!

You know, I think a lot about your strength and class. I know you and pop divorcing was devastating for you. I saw your pain…your tears…and then your strength when you pulled yourself out and started to live again. Fighting back against Richard was horrifying; I remember you at the shelter as we were getting your OP and then going in front of the judge. You were shaking so hard beside me and grasping my hand to where I had indentations from your nails. But you persevered even with the fear of retaliation from him. And then you grew. And grew. And grew.

Your quilting business blew me away. Who knew you had such a keen business sense? What you built in the span of just a couple of years, and then worked at for over 15, was amazing. So many of your customers came to pay their respects to you, and Terri and I were so proud to hear them talk about your kindness…sweetness…talent…helpfulness. We were gobsmacked. You made such an impression on everyone you met and everything they said was true. Completely true.

So Terri told me what you said to her before you lost your ability to talk – “I want Kristi to be OK and I don’t want you to worry in your life.” Terri has been wonderful with me and has taken over the role of older sister seriously. We talk multiple times a day and are always checking up on one another. We’ve worked together on your house and haven’t had any sort of disagreement at all. We know you’d be proud. And when she came over the other day, she said “I’m going to hug you now!” Then we looked at each other and laughed. We both know Terri isn’t a hugger…but she knows how much I need that and is comforting me so much…I hope I’m doing the same for her. Little does she know she’ll be a champion hugger in a few months.

And ma, I know you wanted me to have your house but honestly, I just can’t do that. You are too much there and I don’t think I’d ever be able to move on to the degree I should in those surroundings. I would also feel like I was taking your place in a way…something no one could ever ever do. I do have your living room furniture though, and when I look at the chair you always sat in to read and sew and watch TV, I see you. In your jammies from Kohl’s with a scrubbed face and damp hair. I love that picture of you so much.

I talk to you everyday, ma and I hope you can hear my words…I know I can hear you. Understand that I’m never going to stop having you in my whole heart…never let go of your hand…never ever say goodbye. And when I see you again, I’d better get a damn big hug.

Thanks, ma. You were truly the best mom I could ever have. There are a lot of things that haven’t gone right in my life, but you were always there. Always. And having had that for all of these years makes up for anything else.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“Like a heart-broke Desperado, headin’ right back to my roots…” ~ Morgan Wallen

So, I’m having a crummy day. Actually, I’m having a very shitty day and I’m hoping it won’t go anymore downhill from here. I cried about ma in my office before class and then during an exercise in my Intro to Socio course, a student started to cry herself because the exercise hit home for her. THEN, a student of mine gave me a wonderful t-shirt she bought from a college student who is working hard for suicide prevention: It’s pink and says “Stay Another Day”…that made me cry too! Sheesh.

Anyhoot, I’m finding out that death is handled a lot like cancer by many people: apparently talking about it makes it catching. When some colleagues pass me in the hall and ask how I am, I say “I’m ok.” Then they walk away…uncomfortable with that honest response. Actually, a truly honest response would be: “I’m fucking horrible. My ma died and she was my foundation…half of my entire world…and loved me more than anyone on the face of this earth ever has.” And obviously, if ma has computer access in heaven, I need to apologize for saying ‘fuck’ – sorry I said fuck, ma. I know you hate the word fuck. 🙄

When ma was diagnosed with breast cancer, many of her ‘friends’ and even some family alienated themselves from her…at a time when she needed them most! I know some of that is fear…feeling uncomfortable…being faced with the understanding that anyone can get cancer. I also think we shy away from cancer, and death, because it’s hard to know what to say. I get that…it’s so difficult to know what words to use. What will comfort or what will hurt. It’s a balancing act and I know I haven’t walked it well in the past.

It’s been 6 weeks since ma died and the tidal wave of grief has started to wash over me…it’s almost like I actually felt the water hit. It’s getting much more difficult to deny that she died and is truly gone…but I’m trying. I talk to her all the time (not out loud in public!) and Terri actually texts her old phone. I think it’s our way of still feeling that connection as we muddle through this time.

Being at school has been a mixed blessing. My students motivate me to be ‘on’ everyday and knowing I have to get up and get going is something I need right now. Rolling out of bed on the weekends is a process.

But the flip side is this: putting on my “Professor K” mask gives me something to hide behind. You know when you were little…and you thought that if you covered your eyes everything…including you…would ‘go away?’ That’s my mask right now. Plus, school started days after ma died and I had to work on my classes fervently since I didn’t while ma was in the hospital, so I’ve had that mask on for this entire time. Then, I’ve been keeping it on at home too. I know Edward and Mally understand I’m sad but I don’t want to burden others, i.e. humans, with it. My neighbors are totally wonderful and I have gotten in the habit of using their yard swing to meditate on, but I don’t want to vent to Terri or O. Terri is in the same boat I am…she’s mourning and sad and confused and still denying that this could have happened. She’s burdened enough with her own feelings. And O lost his grandma; plus, he has 2 businesses he runs and a girlfriend. He’s busy and I only see him about once a week. All of this means that I’m pretty much by myself unless I’m at school. For someone who craves hugs and affection and cuddles, this is so so hard! I’d give about anything for someone I could do this with. Confide in. Vent too. Keeping this in and being so fucking (sorry again, ma) lonely is horrid.

Hmmmm…

It’s funny because I thought I knew what lonely was. As usual, I was mistaken (big shocker, huh?). Even when I was lonely because of not having a partner (hopefully ma is working on that now – a cowboy with Levi’s and a great singing voice like Morgan Wallens, tall, weathered, and funny…not a lot of expectations there 😐) I still had ma. We talked every morning and every night and texted throughout the day. When anything would happen, I’d call and share it with her…she was just always there. Terri said this yesterday and it’s so so true: “I just want to talk to mom about my mom dying.”

Anyways, I have some answers to this: first, I’m starting to allow myself to be sad…to not feel like I always have to be my usual effervescent self 😳. I also know I have to start reaching out more; I’m getting involved in a really great church that’s small, friendly, and so relatable; Terri has gone with me a couple of times and it’s nice to share that together. I’m also trying to eat better since it’s always hard for me to eat when I’m upset and am proud to say I’ve been snitching Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from our secretaries desk. Finally, O has encouraged me to see a grief counselor and I’m going to call for an appointment this week.

I know reading this is probably depressing but honestly, I need the outlet. Writing has always been therapeutic for me and I truly appreciate you all listening and many of you have reached out to me…thank you so so much! I’m actually going to do my best to get Terri to guest blog later this week. I think it would be good for her, and would also let her express things she might need to face which could be cathartic for her as well.

Thanks for listening, peeps…you’re all the best.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“You’re missing, but you’re always a heartbeat from me.” ~ Enya

So, it’s been a month now and I’ve been in denial about the permanence of ma being gone. Unfortunately my head…and heart…must think it’s time for me to break through this and it’s like a storm has suddenly washed over me.

It’s funny that what you wish for isn’t always what you can handle. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to get past this wall I had up and start ‘really’ feeling the grief I know is in me. And bam. It’s a’happening.

T and I were at ma’s yesterday helping someone pick up a quilt ma was making for them. After T left to go to the dentist, I walked through the house ma and pop built and that I lived in from the age of 6. I could see ma in every room, remember her laughter, and hear her voice. I could even smell her in that ‘house scent’ we all have in our homes.

You know, whenever I used to go over to the house, I’d walk in and yell: “Ma?! Are you there ma?!” And she’d say: “Kristi?! Is that you?!” Then I’d hug her hard…always always always hug her first thing. I yelled that yesterday. Again and again. And I was wanting so fucking bad for her to yell back; when she didn’t, I think I finally realized that my ma died. And honestly, I feel a sense of loneliness I’ve never…ever…felt before.

Me, ma and O in Texas!

Of course I’ve been lonely at times in my life…sometimes it’s hard being single and living by myself. But no matter how down I got, ma was there. Always there. I could call her…go to her…and just always know that despite anything else in my life, she was within reach. Always my constant. Always my anchor.

Knowing that’s no longer so makes me feel like I’m adrift in the sea…no focus…no path…no direction. I’ve never felt this emptiness and it’s one tough son of a bitch to handle. Today I was just needing a hug. A simple hug. But my hugger’s gone and as someone who craves affection, it’s hard to not have that physical comfort. My neighbors across the street are getting used to me popping over in my boxers and t-shirt so they can give me a squeeze. It helps.

It also helps to keep busy so I’ve got a huge coloring poster hanging up and I work on that. I’ve done some jigsaw puzzles…just finished a 1000 piecer…and have been getting some more African violets to fuss with. There’s around 16,000 different varieties and even though my collection is growing, I do know my limits with these.

Anyhoot, I’m going to take this grief thing one day at a time…I guess that’s all you can do. I’m going to let myself cry. Vent. Yell. Whatever I need to do to start working through this heartache. I know I’ll never…ever…get ‘over’ ma. I know I’ll grieve her until I see her again. But I also hope it will become if not easier…then ‘less’. My pain will turn to an ache that will always be with me. And that’s OK. Because I know ma is with me…in my head and my heart. And I’m going to keep her there. Forever.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“But there never seems to be enough time…” ~ Jim Croce

So, one day O’s dad came home from work when I was 8 months preggy and found me sitting on the living room floor shoveling Oreo’s down my gullet, watching All My Children, and bawling with umpteen parenting books spread all around and all open to different chapters. He sighed, stomped into my pity bubble, scooped up all of these tomes and proceeded to chuck them in our dumpster. And yes son, this is before us old folks regularly recycled.

Trust me, this was an act of mercy. I don’t know about you all but when anything happens to me, I turn to books to try to figure things out. The only problem with this is that every book has conflicting advice, ideas, and tips to use for such a task. For example, EVERY parenting book I was reading on that day of infamy said something different about ‘how’ to raise my baby. Every one. I was so befuddled I thought about calling my OB/GYN (who had the bedside manner of a turnip 😳) and telling him I was calling off this ‘birth thing’ that was ultimately B’s fault. But know what I figured out after being a new ma for a few months? That they were all right. And all wrong. And my job was to do the best I could with the personality of the little guy I had and hope for the best. Luckily, it worked. Very well.

And now? I find myself doing the exact same thing with books on grief. I’ve read tons of info on ‘how to grieve in the right way’ and if I put into practice all of these, I’d be once again bawling, watching soaps throughout my day (which I actually wish I could🤔 ) and gaining 10 pounds a week. Hmmm.

However, I have come across advice that does help me and while searching I found this from Everyday Health (paraphrased):

“Saying goodbye to a parent is a life-changing experience, marking the end of a bond we’ve known for our entire lives (Heidi Horsley, PsyD). Until it happens, we don’t know what our lives are like without our parents and to have them gone can be traumatic, whether it’s sudden or expected.”

“Our biological parents give us life, and the parents who raise us (whether biological or not) shape our lives in really big ways. They’re with us from day one, forming the foundation of our identity.” (Alexandra Kennedy).

Research show that people continue to report trouble sleeping, concentrating at work, getting along with people, and a strong emotional response one to five years after losing a parent. Other research suggests losing a parent puts someone at a higher risk of numerous negative mental and physical health outcomes, including higher likelihood of binge drinking, self-esteem issues, and overall decline in happiness. This evidence also reinforces that parents often play critical roles in our self-confidence and sense of purpose throughout our lives.

Carmen Chai

Honestly, reading this comforted me in a way nothing else has because it helps me to understand the gut-punchy feeling I’m walking around with and why I have such a hard time accepting ma’s death itself.

Ma really did play such a role in my self-confidence…no matter what else might be happening around me, ma ALWAYS supported me and believed in my abilities to handle whatever it might be. I did feel a sense of purpose being ma’s daughter…that was (and I guess still is) a HUGE status for me and at night, when I’m used to talking to her and reviewing our days together, brings that home to me. I know how much I needed her attention and love and how ‘less than’ I feel by not having it now. She made me feel like I was so important in her life too, and never passed up an opportunity to show her appreciation for me.

Crystal Raypole wrote a great article in Healthline and gave 10 ideas for how to navigate through grief which is a great compilation of advice I’ve read elsewhere. Some of these are easier than others…and some are going to take me a lloonngg time to either begin or traverse through.

The first couple are to both validate your feelings and then allow yourself to fully experience the grief. OK. These are the toughies. I keep apologizing to people for being in such a ‘sleep walky’ type of existence right now and when others ask me how I’m doing, I always say OK which is actually not the truth. I know saying fine isn’t true at all and saying horrible probably is a bit harsh to put on someone else, so OK is my go-to right now. However, a friend of ma’s, T’s and mine said this yesterday: “Fine simply means fucked, insecure, neurotic and emotional.” I guess with this definition, fine really does sum up my day to day right now. (Love you, Teeeny 💘)

And fully experience the grief? I think this is different for everyone and right now, I can only take it in dribs and drabs. I find myself vacuuming yet again when I feel these waves come upon me and I know that if I open that door, I’ll drown right now. I eventually will…but right that that tsunami would be way too much.

At a walk for cancer research.

Caring for myself is one I’m working on and I definitely have support from the fam but what’s ironic is this: I get to crying over ma and start to call her so I can talk to her about it…after all, that’s what I always did when I was upset. What a tough habit to break.

Sharing and honoring memories is another idea and T and I are doing just that in a lot of ways. Ma made so many beautiful quilts and we have given a quilt to all of our family, ma’s friends and neighbors, and are going to have the rest professionally cleaned and then donated to the local Cancer Care center for them to give to those getting treatment. This is the same place where we asked for memorials and it honors ma’s 25 years of having been a cancer survivor. We know she’d love knowing others getting comfort from what she made. Every time we talk, T and I (and O and I too) share memories and some make us cry…some make us laugh. And you know, having T is a gift. Only she knows what I’m feeling since she’s struggling with it too…we are truly a team in this loss.

Finally, a suggestion I’ve seen in various places as well says to forgive the person for past wrongs, unresolved issues, etc. Here’s a true testament to ma: I don’t have any. I know people make the dead into saints when in fact, no one deserves that title. However, ma was an amazingly, perfectly imperfect parent and she was there for T and I no matter what. We were lucky that we got to talk to her so much up until a couple of days before she died, and at one point she tried to apologize to me for having married her ex husband (yes, he’s a fucking bastard and had he shown up at her funeral, my nephews and O were going to ‘escort’ him out 😠) and putting T and I through these horrible years of domestic violence and the abuse he heaped on us as well. I stopped her. I told her she didn’t need to apologize…she needed to absolve herself of any guilt she had towards us because he was the abuser…not her. And I know that she was the one that had to ultimately understand when she could get away from him with her life. How can we blame her for going through hell? I blame him.

Maybe I’m reading too much about this grief thing and maybe I think that by doing so, I’ll glean quick fixes to this shattered life. The best thing I’ve learned is this: it’s going to take a LONG time to grieve ma…I’m going to feel things in my own time and way…I’m going to have to re-learn life with having a ma in it…and I have to make sure that the life I have is lived to it’s fullest and the people who are in it simply know how much I love them. If T and I can both do this, I think ma would be proud.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”  ~ Winnie the Pooh

So, I’ve been reading through the 2 years of blog posts I’ve written and it’s funny to see how much my life has changed. What was such a big deal at one time is nothing now and I know that in terms of relationships and break-ups, time truly does heal all wounds. How weird to see people I thought were so important to me be nothing more than a blip now. It’s nice to know the heart really does have the power to mend in these cases.

Almost every one of my posts has ma in it somewhere…even if it’s just apologizing for saying fuck. But wanna be in on a secret? Ma used to say it too every once in a while…probably 3 times in her life in front of me and always laughed and turned red when she did. So many of my posts talk about the fun we had together, conversations we trudged through, trips we took, and the list goes on.

Even though I am still in shock and a bit of denial (T and I both share these feelings), I am starting to see her everywhere…metaphorically. I did dishes today and she was there…standing over my shoulder at holidays with pursed lips telling me I didn’t rinse a cup well enough. On my way to school I realized that EVERY single place I pass is somewhere ma and I went: restaurants, stores, thrift shops, etc. I ordered a couple of African Violets just now (my new obsession…gramma and ma both loved them and I’m feeling it too 🙂) and it made me think of when I was a little girl and she had yellow shelving pop put together for her with violets covering them. I know I got my green thumb from her. I put a book on reserve at our library and thought about how ma went there every single week for all of her adult life. Every week. She was a voracious reader and T and I share that trait. Her favorite thing was to soak in a warm bubble bath with a little bowl of chocolate covered anything and read and snack. When T and I are doing things in her house I see her at her quilting machine…cross stitching on the couch…making the best chili in the world.

I think about our inside jokes…how we used to sign greeting cards with funny names or things we’d say while playing cards. She had such a great sense of humor and ‘got’ me more than anyone else ever has.

How can you describe someone who was your world? What words can possibly illustrate the scope of her in my life? The place in my heart? The memories in my head? It’s such an indescribable feeling to not only lose someone you loved more than life itself but to have your world so shaken up. Turned around. Changed forever.

Being Prof K helps a lot during the day…it gives me purpose and direction during this time of numbness. My students are absolutely freaking amazing and are so sweet in how they’ll ask how I am. But when I’m at home? It’s like I’m sleepwalking through life outside of campus. I can’t sew. I don’t know if I ever will again…T can’t either and ma’s bestie said the same thing to me yesterday. I’ve been doing huge jigsaw puzzles while listening to audiobooks for something to focus on but I hear her voice in my head telling me to work on the border first. Even writing this is hard…not because of the content and the fact I’m crying, but because ma always read my posts. Always praised them. Always told me how proud she was of me.

T and I are taking things one day at a time and I’m focusing on being there for O…he loved his gramma so much. Even Edward and Mally run to the door when someone pops over and I can see sadness in Ed’s eyes when it’s not ma. There was nothing he liked better than trying to lick her ears when she was on the couch.

So many people at school who have lost a parent have sought me out and talking to them helps. One friend said that I’ll never ever get over the grief completely…never have my world the same way again…but that you learn to live with it. That it’s going to take me a while. I know that my heart won’t mend this time…it will scab over but the hurt will be there. Always.

Today, a friend told me a quote by Winnie the Pooh:  “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I was gobsmacked by this because it made me realize that ma was such an amazing person who I got to have for 55 years. But unlike Pooh, I’m never going to say goodbye. I’ll always talk to her. Always love her. Always miss her. And always work to make her proud.

I keep greeting cards I get and ma used to give me a lot of them. One of them I found said this: “You are loved and adored and I’m proud to be your ma.” What a great feeling to know she felt this way. What a gift. What a wonderful message that I can hold onto for the rest of my life.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“When you Love Someone” ~ Bryan Adams

So, it’s been 2 weeks since ma died and the emotions I’m feeling are all over the place. I grieved my grandparents and was devastated by their deaths but ma’s has hit me like a truck. It’s almost like my brain doesn’t know how to process all of this yet.

Elisabeth Kubler- Ross wrote about 5 stages of death in her 1969 book called “On Death and Dying”. I’ve never read this entire book but am aware of the stages from psychology – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Obviously these stages are going to be traversed through differently by everyone and they aren’t necessarily linear. However, I know that I’m in the denial stage which is common after a quick death.

An article in Washington.edu talks about the stress and trauma that grief entails and how it can overwhelm the person grieving. The stress hormones released affect sleep, appetite, ability to focus, feeling detached from self and others, and an overall feeling of constantly being in a nervous state physically and emotionally. I know my heart rate is higher (an effect of the sympathetic nervous system being the cause of the release of the stress hormones) and eating is difficult. I’m ‘forcing’ myself to eat meals but honestly, snacking and eating comfort food is a norm for me right now. Thank the Lord for peanut butter and jelly.

Me, ma and T!

In the same article it talks about what these stages of grief look like and denial includes: avoidance, procrastination, forgetting, easily distracted, mindless behaviors, keeping busy all of the time and saying “I’m fine” when asked.

If this were a checklist, I’d have a red mark by all of them. I know I’m avoiding the permanence of ma being gone. When I allow myself to think about it, I become so overwhelmed at the thought of my life without her that I can’t handle that flood of emotions yet. I find myself shutting it down. Keeping busy helps me postpone this grief I need to process: my house has never been cleaner and I’ve read more books these past 2 weeks than in the previous 2 months. I may not be absorbing what I’m reading but it’s an escape.

Experts say this denial can feel like shock, numbness, confusion and just shutting down…all things I relate too.

My sissy and son are being awesome. T and I are both grieving and I know she’s having trouble processing our loss as well. O was very close to his gramma and misses her terribly. We check in with one another and support each other the best we can.

Ma and Mally!

I feel guilty that I’m not crying all of the time. I feel like I’m not doing this ‘grief thing’ right. I’m scared this weight will be with me always because I’ll never allow myself to work through it. But, it’s comforting to know that denial is common, but losing ma so quickly is still hard to comprehend.

All I know is this: ma was an amazing mom to me. I loved her more than words can ever say and I know she loved me more than anyone else on the earth ever has. I think that’s why this is so hard for me to face: to think this one person is now gone and I won’t feel that depth of love anymore. I have a huge depth of love for O…but he also has his own life and his own love and his expression of his love for me is very different from ma’s. My family is not touchy-feely at all…just me. Ma hugged and kissed me every time I was with her and she fulfilled that need for affection that I have. I miss that so so much.

I also miss having someone I can lean on during this (aside from my fam). Being alone is tough right now…I wish I had someone ‘there’ that I could hug and cuddle and get comfort from. Luckily, Edward and Mally are sweeties and they’ve never been hugged more in their lives…they’re loving it!

Anyhoot, I miss ma more than I can say and it’s so overwhelming that when you lose a parent, you are losing the way your world has always been.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“You gave me love and helped me find the sun…” ~ Seasons in the Sun

So it’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged…I took the summer off since working on the computer for school all year takes it’s toll.

But I wanted…or maybe needed…to tell my sweetie peeps that ma died this morning. She was such an active, vibrant, beautiful woman and only began deteriorating in July. It was a fast downhill slide and sissy and I are in shock. I’ve written so much about her over the last couple of years and I know some of you have laughed at her antics. She always got a kick out of me apologizing to her whenever I fucking cussed (sorry, ma).

I’ve contemplated the word ‘love’ lately and realized, as I was watching her fight for breath yesterday in the hospital, that the word just isn’t big enough to describe what I felt for her. She was my light. My best friend. And the most amazing mom I could have ever ever asked for.

Ma was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 2006…she was an alcoholic but didn’t drink a drop after this diagnosis. Most people live about 5-6 years with the severity of damage she had…she lived 16. My sissy and I didn’t know that these last 10 years were the miracle we had been praying for these last couple of weeks. Our extra time with her had already happened.

This last decade was the happiest of her life. She was safe and healthy and happy and had so many friends that loved her. She did so much traveling and activities and at the age of 65 started a quilting business that was incredibly successful. She got to see her great grandkids grow up to their teenage years and took so much pride in sissy earning her LPN and working with special needs kids, and me being a prof. She told us so many times these past few days how proud she was of us.

I spent these last couple of days just rubbing her arms and hair…laying beside her in her hospital bed to cuddle…and telling her over and over again how much she meant to me. I think she understood.

I can’t say goodbye to her yet…I haven’t processed everything and know it’s going to hit me hard. All I know is that the times I thought my heart was broken were nothing compared to this. Nothing. My heart isn’t broken…that can be fixed. Instead, my heart has a piece now missing that can never…ever…be replaced.

Rest in peace, ma. You deserve that more than anyone else I know.

Kristi xoxo

Me and ma on Labor Day – 2021
Ma supported me in everything I did. Everything.
Ma loved Dottie so much…I think she’s probably cuddling her right now.
Ma took care of me when I was having some surgery in 2021…she was my rock.
Going over to ma’s for lunch…something I did every Sunday. After we ate, I’d kick her butt in cards. (Actually, she beat me just as many times and bragged when she did).

“Regret is useless in life” ~ Marlon Brando

So, the worst thing about not being able to blog much this semester is that I have so many ideas that when I do get time, I don’t know which to choose. In fact, I regret I have less time for this outlet than I’d like. Ooooo…I have a regret. Hmmmm.

I’ve been thinking about a lot about regrets lately. A few weeks ago, one of my friend’s daughters called me and said her mom had died…she had simply laid down for a nap and never woke up. I was gobsmacked. Linda was a really genuine, down to earth, sweet woman and it didn’t matter how much time went between seeing each other; she was the type of friend you could pick right back up with as if a day had never passed. She’ll be missed.

You know, I think I’ve always just ‘assumed’ that I’ve got a lot more time to live. Ma and pop are both in their late 70’s and one grandma lived well into her 90’s. Ma’s parents died young…at age 63 for both of them…but they also lived a very sedentary life. Grandma was a chain-smoker and had been for decades and grandpa died of cirrhosis of the liver because of life-long alcoholism. So, their young deaths were definitely tied to these lifestyles (but, they were the BEST…most of my happiest memories are with them 🙂) and since I’m fit, eat well, don’t smoke or drink, and otherwise take pretty good care of myself, I tend to think I have years and years left. But…that’s not guaranteed, is it?

Car accidents, cancer (which there is a family history of on both sides…ma is a breast cancer survivor!🌞 ), Alzheimer’s (which my older grandma died of…it is such a horrifying disease and broke all of our hearts), falls (like from my roof when I’m dancing a jig while cleaning out my gutters just to make my bestie across the street laugh 😬), and simply being bipolar. Yep…that’s one I think about more than I probably should. The National Library of Medicine reports that studies show female bipolar ‘patients’ have about a 10.6-8.3 years lesser life-span (while men lose 12.0-8.7 years) than the general population. This is even a bit higher than the 10 year reduction in life-span for chronic smokers. Charmed.

And suicide: again, the National Library of Medicine found that the rate of suicide among bipolar patients is approximately 10–30% higher than the corresponding rate in the general population. Research has also found that up to 20% of (mostly untreated) those with bipolar will end their life by suicide, while 20–60% of ‘us’ will attempt suicide at least one in our lifetime.  In other words, being bipolar ain’t so great. Go figure.

So, because of my friend and the suddenness of her death, I’ve been thinking about my life and ruminating over regrets that I have. Regretting something is really wishing it never happened…in fact, regret is often called a useless emotion since you can only regret what has already taken place which makes it too late to change things. All that’s left is the sorrow of that , which leads to guilt, shame, remorse, etc.

Daniel Pink (author of The Power of Regret) says there are 4 major types of regret: 

  • Foundation Regrets: these are failures to be responsible or conscientious which can center around money and health.
  • Boldness Regrets: not taking the action you wanted…being INACTIVE in terms of going after a job or reaching out to someone you want to get to know. In other words, passing up chances that could have changed your life. Pink’s study found that these inaction regrets outnumber action regrets. So, what we don’t do makes us more sorrowful than what we do do. Interesting, isn’t it?
  • Moral Regrets: pretty self explanatory but let me phrase this in my Kristi language: those times when you fucked up royally. Pink found that although these tend to be the fewest of all our regrets, they are actually the most painful ones for us.
  • Connection Regrets: neglecting the people that you should be connecting with more.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative carer and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying says that the 6 most common regrets those with serious illness have are:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish I had let myself be happier.

Hmmm…is there anyone of us that can’t relate to these? Good Lord, as I look back on my regrets, I see them in all of these categories and in this list of common ones. Before I even started reading Ware’s work, I actually had thought of these very ones. The worst for me? Not living my life authentically…and actually, still not doing so in many ways.

We’ve talked about masks and how those of us with mental illness hide behind them out of shame, embarrassment, pressure, expectation, etc. I did for most of my adult life. Who wants to admit they have a mental illness that is so stigmatized? So misunderstood? Has so many myths circling around it like vultures who want us to believe we’re ‘crazy’ and violent? How can anyone in their right mind (yes, that pun was intentional 😳) want that rosy attitude directed towards them? The solution? Hide. Pretend. Be who others want you to be. Expect you to be. Demand that you be. That’s a tough thing to do and in fact, many of us know that it’s fucking (sorry, ma) exhausting and really does nothing at all in the long run anyway. Masks fall off…they disintegrate…they shift and budge. They are simply unsustainable. And when the elastic does break on them people say things like “You used to be so ‘normal.” Or, “You never used to speak up like that.” Or, “Ummmm…no…I don’t think I can do lunch with you today…ummmm…something came up.” Or, “Of course Kristi is to blame for that, she’s bipolar…you know, they’re all nuts.” Is it any wonder we put them on in the first place?

But then I think about WHO I put them on for and realize they can all fuck off anyway (not gonna apologize for that one ma, since you say the same too 😐). Those I pretended for were really going to love me forever? Or be my best friend? The assholes (I’m on a profanity roll here…) who wouldn’t accept someone mentally ill in their midst were really worth me being someone I wasn’t? Well no…they weren’t. And believe me, the only regret I have with this one is just how recently I learned it.

Another one I’m still working a lot on is a boldness regret…one of inaction. Look, I’ve been bullied a lot in my life…as have many of my sweet peeps. My sister is a badass and this is why: she isn’t rude or mean or a fight-picker, but by golly she’ll stand up for herself with absolutely nothing held back! In fact, she still does it for me in place of the times I can’t! My inaction regarding standing up to people was more understandable when I was young and sickly and skinny, but still doing it at 55? No…it’s pretty much bullshit by now. After all, I’m in my 50’s (yeeeeesh…) and shouldn’t be so hesitant to say what I really want and need to say. Right? I can do this for my son…in fact, sticking up for him has always been easy no matter what his age. I’m quite the mama bear! But to do it for myself? Hmmm…perhaps I need to harness that bear for myself as well.

But, I don’t. I think it’s why the other people have usually blamed me for their actions: cheated on me…my fault. Yelled at me…my fault. Accused me of things…my fault. You get the point. And why do I acquiesce to this? Hmmm…maybe in some part because I had to be more timid and accommodating around ma’s bastard of an ex. If I stood up to him…didn’t agree with him…didn’t nod my head and smile no matter what he said, ma was the one in danger. Period. So, that ‘I’m sorry’ became a sort of mantra for me. And now? Bipolar is to blame. No matter what I say or do or feel, it can be easily turned around to the fact that since I have bipolar, I must be the one in the wrong. It’s a great scapegoat for anyone to use against me when they need someone outside of themselves to blame. Blech.

And of course there are all of the other regrets too: I do work too much at times…let friendships get pushed aside in all the busyness of the week…not spend the time I should with those that mean the most to me. But the good news is this: regrets are things that have their origins in the past…and don’t have to be our futures. So, my pledge to myself? Be me with no excuses. Reach out and make time for those I love and if papers don’t get graded that day, the world won’t end. Stand up for myself and say “Hey! Lay off!” Nurture the friendships I’ve built over these last couple of years. Take a bit more care with my moolah so there won’t be regret with that later in life when I’ll be looking into what old folks home I want to spend my golden years in. And not be scared to be happy…whatever that happy may look like.

But one thing I don’t regret? Starting this blog, getting to know all of you, and making some pretty awesome friends along the way. Thanks, peeps.

Kristi xoxo

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