Monday, January 4, 2016

EVERYthing is Mama's Business

When I rifled through the pockets of a jacket forgotten by Oz, it caused quite a debate with the Goofballs and raised some interesting questions!  In my defense I did not intentionally pick through his pockets.  I was cleaning and found a small, thin puffy jacket on my couch. I assumed it belonged to a child or a woman.  As I was guessing who it's owner could be it never occurred to me that it was Oz.  I held it up and felt something in one of the pockets and at the same time the children, aka The Goofballs, noticed what I was doing. They started saying, "that's Daddy's jacket."  When I proceeded to pull small items from the pockets it raised their attention and they came storming over. Immediately they repeated that it belonged to their father. Still disbelieving that such a tiny, thin jacket could belong to a man, I continued to look at the pocket items.  At that point, Isabella could not stand it any longer and said, "Stop going through the pockets! That jacket is Daddy's and it is his business!"

Excuse me small child that I gave life to???

I took that moment to gently remind The Goofballs that anything that was in my house is MY business including the humans I made and anyone or anything connected to them in any way.

They disagreed very much.  But, I reminded them that I had spent a decade of my life with Oz and created an entire family for him so his abandoned pockets and anything in them are also MY business.

I could not help laughing at their protection of Oz and his "business!"  FYI- the only things I found were a Dunkin Donuts gift card and chapstick. Not exactly state secrets. But, I appreciated their thoughtfulness in protecting his privacy. I only hope they will extend me the same curtesy if ever needed. Especially since they live with me and spend almost all of their time with me and therefore know much more of my "business" than their fathers.

The jacket search however, did raise some interesting questions. Cenzo immediately seized the opportunity to remind me that I had been married to Oz for quite some time and then he asked the dreaded question…."Why did you get divorced?"

We haven't really had that question in a long, long time.  They kids were little when we split up. The boys were 5 at the time and barely remember that fate changing day 3 years ago when Oz moved out and Bella was 2 and barely remembers him ever even living with us.

So it was interesting, in a gut wrenching and devastating way, to hear that question from my sweetest little guy.  Especially since it was the week of Christmas. The most dreaded of all holidays for their single Mama.

Since I was blindsided and ill prepared, I bravely faced the 3 children and told them "Life happened to us and we didn't make it through the difficult times together."

Then I waited for about 3 breathes until I could speak again and asked if anyone had any other questions. THANK GOD they all said no!!

If they had said yes, I was prepared to offer them Oz's chapstick and gift card as a bribe to get them to stop asking me heartbreaking questions!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


So last night I arrive home to find Oz and the kids in distress. Oz had misplaced his ring from Dorothy and everyone was in a tizzy. The next thing I know, I'm elbow deep in a garbage pail praying to Saint Anthony as I sift through yesterday's mac and cheese and other grossness in search of Oz's ring.  Now, is it normal for me to assist in looking for a ring that had been exchanged between my ex-husband and his girlfriend on Valentine's Day probably as an undying symbol of their love? Not really.   Do I love the idea that he dates a girl 15 years younger than he is? Not really.  (Her age may explain why he is 42 years old and wears a promise ring, but I digress.)  Was it a jarring experience the first time I caught a glimpse of that silver ring that looks exactly like a wedding band on his finger? Yes.

However, once I had the chance to get to know Dorothy a little bit, I realized she is very sweet.  So nice in fact and so far good to my children that she is nearly impossible to dislike.  Also, she proved her intelligence to me one day when she stood witness to an argument between Oz and I and she knew enough to keep her mouth shut and not make eye contact with me.  That brave girl stood there and endured the situation knowing enough to not engage an angry Mama Bear.  She earned my respect that day.

Despite any misgivings or protests I may have had (there were a "few"), it is nice that my children see a couple that seem to truly have a connection and care for each other.  They enjoyed helping Oz set up an anniversary dinner and flowers one time and a birthday surprise for Dorothy another day. They are always telling me how much Oz and Dorothy love each other. (At first that made me fluctuate between wanting to puke and wanting to punch someone - now I'm like whatever. Light and Love Bitches! I have my own shit to deal with.)

 Isabella was 2 when we split up, she doesn't even remember us being married and living in the same house. The boys only remember a little.  Now that they all live with a single, dating mom it does concern me that they won't have couples to look up to as examples of what love looks like.  My parents had a great relationship but my dad passed away last year and the kids might be too young to remember how romantic my dad was with surprising my mom and making things special.  So it's good for them to see that type of relationship.

They know that ring means a lot to Oz, we all do.  Dorothy has been away and will be returning this week so Luccio was concerned that she would arrive and discover the ring missing.

So the search was on. After we all thoroughly checked the garbage bins, laundry baskets, and under every piece of furniture Oz finally gave up and went to wash his hands in the bathroom.  And... there was the ring on the edge of the tub.

We all thanked St. Anthony.  Peace was restored.

This reminded me of when one of my students asked me, "Are you a character on a TV show?"
Nope. This is my real life.
Seriously?! WTF has happened here?!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On This Day

Twelve years ago on this day I walked down the aisle, escorted by my father to meet Oz. To swear before God and family and friends that we would bet our lives on forever.  This morning, 12 years later, we met at a commuter lot to exchange our children.  It amazes me how life can change in what feels like a minute.  Forever seemed like such a great idea. When you know, you know and all that.  I was 28 years old and knew exactly what I wanted, marriage, children…a family.  Here I am today at 40 years old and I'm still trying to piece together what exactly all of that means.  Oz and I are not the same people we were that day.  I don't even recognize myself sometimes.  And very often I don't recognize him anymore.  I thought for a long time we are so aligned in our goals and dreams and vision of what was important. But, over the years since our divorce I realize we are sometimes on different pages for so many reasons.  People change. I hear that all the time in different contexts.  It's true. To some degree.  People do change.  We grow up. We grow old.  The world knocks us down.  Each time you get back up, you are changed just a little.  Each person that comes into our lives now steers our paths in different directions.  Divorce has opened our family up to new people. More people. Since I went back into the work force, my community has widened and expanded.  My children now have "school moms" that look out for and love them.  I have "work sisters" that are my support system and my team!  And my lifelong, close circle of friends all rallied around me over the years, they are my village, my family!  As my babies are growing up they have friends that they are getting to know and making their own attachments now. Each person Oz and I bring into our personal lives now become part of our children's lives.  In marriage, you trust your partner and believe and hope that they will have your best interest at heart because they love you. Divorce is different.  Its the biggest leap of faith there is. After a divorce you have to blindly trust that a person you could not keep a forever promise to will effectively co-parent the most important people you will ever know.  In the beginning I would watch my children leave with their father and think "My God my entire life is driving away right now."  After a few years this life has become our "normal."  We have found new patterns that work for us. New schedules, new routines, new rituals, new rules, and new lives. Oz and I still have our disagreements and there is no one that has ever made me feel angrier on this entire planet. But, we have also reached a place where we can talk about things that are important to us again, including the relationships we have with other people. (Nothing weird or awkward about that, right?!) At the end of the day, forever may not have been what I thought it would be or last nearly as long, but I have faith that I did bet on the right person for my children. When push comes to shove, he does have my back and I have his (even when he really pisses me off!)

*In the picture I chose, one of our sons is hiding in the background refusing to take part because he is too cool.  We don't have many post-divorce family pics. SO this one is it, LOL!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Organizing chaos

What started as a few house projects turned into a transformation of our family life.  In June, I was at the beginning of my first summer off in 3 years.  The Wild One visited for dinner one night.  I asked for his help moving an old tv and entertainment center out of the house.  He agreed, but as he searched for tools he ran into one mess after another. First, the back porch was pretty much a fire hazard of art supplies and garden supplies piled up so high I couldn't reach things any longer.  Then he went into the basement playroom and that was a heaping mass of toys and books.  Finally, he headed to the garage to try to find a screwdriver and only found more mess and piles.  That was when he started to think perhaps I was a hoarder. He may have been joking a little, but deep down I think he was worried. It was the first time since I had met him that I felt truly vulnerable.  Prior to that I usually saw him at his house or out.  He had been to my house, but we didn't really hang out there.  It is easy to seem a little bit more like you have your shit together when you are not in your own mess. To get dressed up to go out for a few hours can be fun and I can leave the chaos and stress behind.  But, having someone in my home it was more obvious that I didn't have a handle on things.  I was struggling with working 50 hours a week, taking care of 3 kids primarily on my own and trying to keep up a house that I had put little or no effort into since being on my own of the past 3 years.

I was so used to my Dad doing everything that I needed around the house, when he got sick I started to hire people to help with years projects etc.  But, he still did all of my laundry and my mom did the ironing and they had us at their house for dinner 3-4 times a week. SO I rarely grocery shopped or cooked.

This past year without my Dad, I struggled. I was barely making it at work, missing deadlines, having trouble managing it all.  But, with the help of an amazing friend I got organized at work.  My friend Danielle came in with a truck load of plastic bins and labels and put my classroom together and helped me tweak my schedule.  It made all the difference!! Thanks to a great snowy winter we had a ton of snow days so I got caught up on lesson planning.

But, I never quite got caught up at home. I had been paying someone for the last 2 months of the school year to clean every week.  I could just barely catch my breath and felt like I was drowning in laundry. So help cleaning was a life preserver.  But, it wasn't enough to jus upkeep. I need to make changes.

That first week home it really hit me.  I was a mess! My life felt out of control.

The Wild One realized that I was overwhelmed and that joking about it was just sending me over the edge.  Luckily, he switched tactics and instead helped me write a list of priorities.  And he brought over GIANT garbage bags.  Once I had a plan for where to start, I began taking small steps each day.  Starting with the playroom, then back porch, then the garage, the living room, the kitchen cabinets and eventually the kids' bedroom, I systematically worked my way through the entire house over the summer. Organizing and dumping or donating things we no longer needed.

I even managed to get some outdoor work started, but there is still more to do.

As I started making changes and getting chaos organized, it became VERY obvious that the kids needed to get on board or I would be back to drowning fast!  As quickly as I cleaned messes they made more.  So I started to insist they pitch in.  I was met with resistance to say the least.  SO MUCH WHINING!! It was easier to do it myself.

But, the Wild One was doing a lot of the projects with me and pointed out that we had 3 able bodied helpers sitting watching us.  At one point, Vincenzo said, "I like watching him. He knows how to do everything. He is better than TV."  Hmmmm….it made me realize that when my Dad was alive he had the boys helping him and that was how they learned.  Now that they didn't have a man around to show them how to do things, they were stuck with me and I just didn't know.  I did a lot of watching too and let my Dad do everything. I didn't bother learning.  I don't want that to happen with my kids. SO all 3 of them were encouraged to help.  Isabella ended up being the strongest helper. Lifting small tree branches didn't make her bat an eyelash! Her brothers whined and cried and acted crazy.
At one point, Vincenzo told the Wild One he should just "go die!"

Umm..yeah.  It's hard to come back from that moment.

When we were chatting that evening, the Wild One said a few things that were hard to hear, but made so much sense.  Having spent more time with the kids and seeing a bigger picture he was able to give valuable input.  He noted that Vincenzo was maybe acting out because he does the brunt of the work.  He suggested maybe it was time for my "Little Bear" to help out more.  Also, he suggested figuring out a way for each of the kids to have their alone time with me or Oz so they could feel special and then maybe that would open communication and cut down on the whining and complaining

 I knew the inmates were running my asylum.  Things had to change.  I spoke with Oz and luckily he agreed with all of the suggestions and jumped on board 100%.  We began setting times for each kid to have time alone for a few hours with me, Oz or my mom each week.  They LOVED it!! So did I.  I forgot how cute they are and how smart!

Also, I had to get control of the house back, reset the rules, give everyone chores, expect more as they are growing up.  Oz got on board with that too.  He spends time at my house each week with the kids so it was essential that he enforce the rules and chore schedule too and he did.

Weekly chores were assigned for Laundry, Garbage, and Dishes.  Each child gets one of those chores to be responsible for the week. They must do one load of laundry each day, one load of dishes each day and take out one bag of garbage each day.  At the end of the week they can pick out of the prize box. They can also earn extra prizes for volunteering to help siblings with their chores without complaining.

We just finished week 5 of this new system.  I cannot believe the difference!  The first 2 weeks were tough because Vincenzo was the only that knew how to do all 3 chores, so the others needed to be taught. Also, Luccio screamed and cried and loudly protested having to lift "heavy" bags of garbage and touch "disgusting" dishes.  Since his tiny, 5 year old sister did each chore without problems and actually enjoyed those same chores, I knew he was not only physically capable but also possibly going to be on Broadway someday! His acting skills are stellar!  Once everyone realized these are not negotiable they started to keep up with them and it is now a daily habit.

Special time with the kids did improve their moods, rewards for doing chores helped with morale.
We ended up having a great summer and the house looks so much better. I even managed to grocery shop and cook some meals and we all ate at the table on several occasions. Back talk and whining lessened, I have started to hear more I love yous again!!

It has changed my life! Now that I am back at work, I realize how important it was to assign chores.  I made it thorough my first week back and was able to enjoy the weekend without laundry, garbage and dishes piled up and suffocating me!

It's better! Although I must admit there have been some funny moments.  Like when I opened the cabinets and saw how Luccio stacked the bowls and dishes together instead of separating things. Or when I notice Isabella's system for putting away glasses and mugs on the same shelf. And someone rearranged the silverware so I now have to look before I grab a fork.  I have learned to let go of thinking there is one "right way" to do things.  Now I am just happy things are cleaned and put away.

I was able to have company this summer without stressing!
The day that stands out the most is when Oz brought his girlfriend here for the first time and the kids were so excited to show Dorothy the house that they even opened kitchen cabinets so she could see our dishes.  I was certainly glad that day that we had gotten our shit together around here!

The one last place left to organize is my bedroom.  It still looks like a disaster of laundry baskets.  I am still a work in progress...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fake Ghost Papa

On July 4th the kids made wishes as they each sent lanterns up into the sky. When it was Luccio's turn he said, "My wish is for Papa."  The next night at bedtime, he reminded me.  He said, "I wished for Stregga to have Papa by her side for all of her weeks."  He acknowledged that he understood that Papa (my father)
is no longer alive when he said, "You know I mean fake, ghost Papa.  You know the part of a person that stays when their body leaves.  Like the spirit.  That Papa. I want his Spirit to always be by her side." Oh Bear! You precious, amazing little boy.  That is a beautiful wish. I know Papa heard it and will always be by Stregga's side and in all of our hearts forever.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mama's Matchmaker

My son, Vincenzo, told me he thinks I should get an online dating profile and he will help me write it up. He is working on a list called "What My Mom is Looking for in a Guy."   Apparently, he got this idea from Despicable Me 2 and Mall Cop.  The kids in both shows try to fix their single parents up and so now he thinks this will be a great idea to try for me.  Although his advice is completely unsolicited and possibly a bit overstepping into my personal space, I have to admit it's pretty good and quite thorough!

"What My Mom is Looking for in a Guy"  by Vincenzo (8 years old)

-A guy that is nice
-Doesn't play with guns, machetes, bazookas, knives
-Doesn't rob or murder
-Shouldn't be a "Smarty Pants"- he should be smart enough, but not too smart because then he
wouldn't be fun to play with.
-Likes my mom's kids
-Is not a jerk
-A guy that would not marry you in the first 5 months     (he pointed out that did not work out too well for me with my first marriage - OMG!)
-He should only visit and/or sleepover if he is invited    (sort of like a vampire?!)
-Be nice with animals - but does not like bugs or rats or mice
-Be a Holder of all your secrets     ( I did not realize I have- secrets yikes!)
-He should have a good job.  Like maybe he should work for NASA and gets lots of money. Except then you wouldn't get to see him a lot, so maybe not.
-A guy that would build something like a dollhouse or a castle and not say "ew" about it.
-He should be a good writer and not play too many video games
-He should not waste water! You do not want that happening in your house.
-He should do laundry
-If my mom asks him to go somewhere - he should say "yes" or "no"- NOT maybe
-He should love to read
-He would mow the lawn
-He shouldn't spend all day looking at himself in the mirror checking to see if he looks good
-Be a good hugger
-He shouldn't go nuts if he sees a beehive or a clogged toilet like Daddy does.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Excuse me, your pants are on fire.

Men lie. It's a universal truth. The question is not "if," but how much?  In my extensive research (consisting of living daily life for the past 40 years on Planet Earth which is inhabited in part by human males) I have found that human males start lying at an early age and continue throughout the duration of their lives. Also, there are varying degrees of lies they tell.

It starts simple, early on in life. Usually to avoid getting into trouble.
I remember a time when my brother was 4 years old. I was 7. We were playing in the backyard and my mother had specifically told us not to turn on the garden hose. At one point she came to the yard to check on us and said to my brother, "I told you not to touch the hose."  He turned to her and replied, "I'm not touching it."  As he stood there holding the garden hose with the water turned on at full blast.

I notice it with my own children too. Nothing sets a male child up to lie more than a mother walking into a room and asking a question like "What are you doing?"  "Who is yelling?" "Who broke the …?"
Immediately they start to deflect blame.  "It wasn't me" is not just a phrase that Shaggy made up for his song.  It is a staple of the male vocabulary.

It is almost as if it is instinct.  A female asks a question- a male will say something, anything. Even if it's a lie. Sometimes they don't even mean to lie.  They just do it and once the story starts spinning it just goes in circles.

Nothing illustrates it more than putting a few males in a room and asking what they did that day.  On Saturdays when Oz returns with my children (2 boys and 1 girl) I always ask, "How was your day? What did you do?"  It's really just conversation. But, my goodness to see Oz and the children try to piece together a story is quite a shit show.  One will start and then the next one corrects him and then they argue and Oz will jump in and offer his version of their day and before you know it…no one can remember.  Except my daughter.  I can always count on her.  She recalls the important facts and tells them straight without editing.

Because really that's the thing.  No one is lying to be devious in this scenario. It's just that they can't remember so instead of just saying that they put together a great story.  OR sometimes they do remember but they aren't sure how much they should say because they don't know what the reaction will be.  SO they "edit."

Now, I know a few people might say this sounds biased and that not just men lie. And that is true. However, I have found that males tend to lie more and with less discernment.

That is why I always go with my daughter's version of any story.  Because females tend to have minds like a steel trap and we store every bit of information away in there.  We know how to decipher the important parts and we tell it like it is more often than not because we know by instinct that nothing good ever comes from lying.

I always tell my children, don't bother lying because I always find out everything anyway. It will have just wasted everyone's time and accomplished nothing productive.

As boys grow up and become men their degrees of lying seem to vary greatly.  So do their reasons.

Maybe you have met a man that lies about where they went for lunch. He might be lying because he had been trying to not eat junk food but stopped off at McDonalds and doesn't want to disappoint you.  Or maybe he stopped at McDonalds because he was hungry, but when he arrived at your house he realized you had cooked a gourmet meal and so he lies and says he is starving so you won't feel bad.

Or maybe your man hands you his paycheck and forgets to mention the amount he put in his pocket (that you will of course find later when you do the laundry.) He will say he didn't remember this (lie of omission.) Since it is a grey area you may let it slide.  But, you may be checking pockets more often.

Maybe he lies and tells you he had sex with 25 people and you learn later it was more like 2.   Maybe he will tell you it was 2 people and you find out it was closer to 50.  Or maybe he will tell you he is a virgin, but you find out later he was married for 4 years. Or maybe you think you are the only woman he is talking to, sleeping with, etc.  Then you realize you are one of the women in what seems like a village.

My favorite is when a man tells you something and then forgets he told it to you.  Later, he will lie about the story or change a few details.  You will ask him about it and he will say, "Shit! I forgot I told you that."

Seriously in the dating world the endlessness of lies is vast. Some are so completely outrageous they are downright hilarious!

Others are so freaking close to the truth, yet not the exact truth.  They are about 3/4 of the story, but omit the most significant part. Those are the lies that hurt the most.  Because that is a person you probably have gotten close enough to that they confide in you, they tell you enough that there is some trust built up.  You feel a sense of security because you think you know enough.  Then BAM!  that one teeny, tiny, GIANT, explosive detail surfaces ~ because the truth always does.  And you realize - there are no exceptions to the rule.  Men lie.  You just have to hope you have found one decent enough to only lie about the small stuff!

Or maybe somewhere out there is the Unicorn of all Men ~ the man that tells the truth.   If you find him, let me know.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Wild One

 I always wonder ~ for what reasons do we meet the people we do? When a friend showed me a picture of the Wild One I was definitely interested. The first time I saw him in person he was sitting on my friend's front porch and I felt an instant attraction. After chatting with him, I thought he felt a connection too. But, I wasn't sure until he walked me to my car and asked if I wanted to go out some time. Over the next few months I had a lot of fun getting to know him better.

The Wild One is very different from anyone I have dated before. I usually go for musicians or artists. Sensitive souls. Talented, but not necessarily handy around the house.  But, the Wild One is a complete Alpha Male.  He is strong and brave and does crazy stuff. He is an adrenaline junkie.  He thinks nothing of skydiving out of a perfectly good airplane or driving a race car at top speed. He planned dates that included off road exploring through the countryside and go-carting. I never knew exactly what to expect.

The Wild One is quite handy, he can fix just about anything.  If a furnace isn't working he replaces it, if a pipe is leaking he finds the source of the problem and takes care of it.  When he visited me, he wondered why the oven door was on my kitchen floor. I explained to him that it had been there for months, I had broken it off trying to clean it.  Three people had tried to fix it but insisted it was impossible and broken beyond repair. It had been suggested I replace the oven. But, it wasn't in the budget. Obviously I don't cook much anyway since it had been broken for months. Well, the Wild One took a look at it and had it fixed in less than 10 minutes. Another time, he helped me move furniture in my classroom at the beginning of the school year. He noticed that I had a lot of books and workbooks that were all different sizes and nowhere to store them. So he took some measurements and the next day he built a shelf perfectly tailored to those books. He built it with his own two hands and no directions. He didn't need google. Or Siri.  (FYI that is NOT a dig at anyone specific. So please don't send me hate emails.)

It had been a joke in my family that I tend to go for guys that have similar personalities to my mom. Funny, nurturing, a little bit of a worrier.

But, the Wild One reminds me of how my father was. Crazy, stubborn, determined, fixer of all things, generous, protective.  I knew when I was with The Wild One I didn't have to worry. He was a complete badass. A bear crossed his path and he didn't even panic.

My mom didn't know exactly what to do with the Wild One's personality. The first time she met him he was drinking at a picnic and in rare form and telling his stories! He kept refilling my red solo cup. She was horrified. One time he visited her house and he let her know that he had peed in the bushes in the front yard.  She couldn't get over it. She just kept saying, "I don't understand it. Why would he pee in the yard? We have indoor plumbing!  Who does that??"

But, despite his outrageousness, the Wild One would take care of things. He was definitely the "man" in the relationship.  Which gave me the freedom to be the woman that I felt like being. I could relax and let him handle lifting heavy objects, reaching top shelves.  I didn't have to stress when he drove. Although it felt reckless because of the speed or the condition of the roads, I knew it was safe because he had the ability to handle it.  I didn't have the constant need for an imaginary brake like I normally would.

The Wild One was not afraid of fire.  Literally. He was a volunteer firefighter.  But, also figuratively.  I didn't have to worry that the fire of my personality would overtake him.  I felt inherently that he was strong and that my temper and passionate nature wouldn't scare him.  Weaker men have tried to douse that fire by watering it down.  But, the Wild One didn't blink an eye.  He wasn't water. He was stone.

I have not laughed as much or shared more of who I am with someone in a relationship quite like that before.  We had an insane amount of chemistry.  Despite being jaded from past experiences, I felt like I could trust and explore and feel alive again.

And though I knew better, I absolutely fell 100% in love with his dog. I knew the attachment would only hurt when the relationship ended. After divorce the future is not a clearcut thing. For me, a single mother with 3 kids, the future is like looking at a black screen. I know what I feel in the moment. But, I can't see one second beyond today.  I like to be entertained. I like to have fun. I even like getting to know someone and sharing thoughts and fears and hopes and daring to dream. But, the future is not on the screen. I can't see it. Or feel it.  It is just the here and now.  So falling in love with a person's dog was not part of the plan. I honestly do not even like dogs.  But, that crazy, untrained mutt took a piece of my heart.

I believe that each person comes into our lives for a reason and sometimes it is not the reason you initially thought. Though the Wild One might not be for the long run, it's been a good experience. It was an opportunity to explore the dating after divorce world a little more. And a great distraction as I grieved the loss of my father.  Each person that enters my life is someone to learn from. The Wild One sure did have a lot to teach me. Most lessons were enlightening and very entertaining. Some were not so much fun.  New wisdom, new understandings that's what life is all about.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Time for Dying

When my Dad told me in August that he was stopping chemo treatments, what we refer to as Deathwatch 2014 began. I didn't realize that he would be dead 3 weeks later.  He had been fighting Lymphoma for 3 years with radiation and chemo treatments putting him in and out of remission over that time. This summer it was obvious that the treatments were poisoning him and taking it's toll.  Even his doctors said it was his sheer will to live that  was keeping him alive because the treatments were only doing so much.

One night I was there helping him while my Mom was at work.  He was agitated because his balance was off and the muscles in his legs had weakened because of the chemo.  He didn't want me to help him, so he insisted on dragging himself down the hallway using his walker and then pretty much flinging himself into bed without my assistance.  I walked near him anyway and he said, "So you are determined to help, right?"  Yep. I pretty much got my stubborn gene from him so he really shouldn't have been surprised.

When I left that night I knew.  He didn't seem as resolved as he had before.  He had 5 more days to go before his next treatment and it didn't feel like he was gearing up like he had been for the past few months.

He told my mother later that night and the rest of us the next day that he was not going to do any more chemo.  We all understood and agreed he had put in more than a fair share of effort to fight.  We knew that he only did it for us to begin with, the past 3 years he survived for my mom and our family.  Now we had to let him do what he needed to.

So Deathwatch 2014 began.

In my mind it was going to take months for tumors to grow and death to happen.

But, in reality…it was fast.

The kids and I spent as much time as possible with him over the next couple of weeks.  My aunts and good friends of our family stayed with us over those next few weeks helping with everything from cooking meals to supporting us emotionally to even caring for my Dad when he would allow it.

His strength deteriorated rapidly, but still I was thinking there would be more months to go.

The last week of August he told me that he was going to live to the celebrate my sons' birthdays on Labor Day and then that was it.  He said he was at peace with it and not to be upset.

I was thinking oh ok Dad. Sounds like a plan.

Well…he made it to the birthday party on September 1st. Thanks to our good friends he was able to be transported with his wheelchair to the park where we celebrated.

Then he went home and slept.  And never really woke up fully conscious again after that.

Hospice started the next morning.  He stayed mostly asleep.  When he did wake up he wasn't really talking much.  But, he was still getting his point across that he didn't want help and would try walking on his own.  The nurses had a difficult time moving him because his strength was surprising despite all the weight he had lost. They expected him to be weak and frail but he was really like the hulk with his super human strength so they couldn't lift him.  Eventually we had to request all male nurses to help with lifting. Thankfully he ended up with 3 amazing men that were able to care for him and assist him so he was able to stay home to die in peace like he wanted.

The 10 days after the birthday party are a bit of a blur.  Mostly I stayed at my parent's house with my aunts and our friends that were helping out. Our support system was amazing! My good friends took turns staying with my children and getting them to school. My boss and coworkers were absolutely fantastic about covering my class and caring for my students and children so that I could be there for my Dad's last days.

SO we sat. and sat. and waited. We ate and talked and told stories. My Dad stayed mostly unconscious.

One friend suggested that this Deathwatch process was an "Italian Family Thing."  I am not sure about that because I have talked with other friends that have big families that had similar experiences.  But, in speaking to others I have realized, it is not a common practice.  It may even be a bit crazy.

But, I don't mind being crazy.  It was worth it to pause every aspect of life. Especially because he woke up one night and everyone was there visiting and he was clear minded and when he saw me he said, "awww I love you!"

Relatives showed up to say goodbye, friends from all eras of my Dad's life came to visit. Cousins we hadn't seen in months were there with food. It was like a family reunion.  People chatted and shared stories of their time with my Dad.  Nurses and physical therapists that had worked with him over the past 3 years stopped by to say goodbye.  Everyone had their own stories.

We sat around him while he peacefully slept and shared with each other how he touched our lives in so many ways.  And we ate. And we laughed.

Through it all I couldn't help thinking what am amazing tribute it was to the life he lived that friends didn't wait until he was dead to pay respects.  They had been there throughout his life, stood by him in the 3 years he fought to survive and in his dying days did not abandon him or our family.

It says a lot about how he lived.  I can think of a million stories of my Dad reaching out to others.  There was one Christmas he had a coworker down on her luck.  We went with him and waited in the car as he dropped off a tree, gifts and groceries to surprise that family.

Too many stories like that to count.  But, he loved helping others and his generosity was his greatest attribute.  It was obvious in the faces of the people that loved him that he meant a lot to their lives.

Even the nurses that met him during that last week were affected by him.  He was UNCONSCIOUS when they met him, but they each said what a gentle soul he had, what a good man he was.  They worked around the clock to ensure that he had a dignified and peaceful death.

One nurse, Bob, spent a few days with us. I felt like I knew him forever.  He told us that his shortest assignment had been a few hours and longest had been 6 days.  Hmmmm….considering it was Day 4 of Bob with us,  I was wishing my Mom hadn't asked that question.  When Bob said goodbye after that shift I knew he was not expecting to see my Dad alive again.

On the morning of September 11th, Dad's nurse Godwin showed up.  That is when my mother knew.  It would be that day.  It would be Dad's last day.  She had to run an errand. We stayed out only exactly long enough to do what needed to be done and then we took shifts all day being with my Dad. She didn't want him alone for a minute.  My aunts stayed and our good friends were there too.  The house was quiet all day.  The only sound was Dad's playlist of songs coming from his iPad.  It was background music of all his favorite songs.  We would be talking or doing something and Depserado would come on and all of a sudden we would all be in tears.

Around 3:30 my mom wanted to take a shower so it was my shift to be with Dad.  I had my laptop and I was looking at Facebook and listening to his music.  When I heard In My LIfe by the Beatles play off his iPad, I just lost it. It finally it me that it wasn't going to be months. It was within hours and he was no longer going to be alive.

And then the power went out.

I freaked out a little  bit.  His oxygen tank was beeping and I thought he was dead. I walked over and touched his arm and nearly jumped out of skin when he took a breath.

We realized a fuse had just blown out when my Mom plugged in her hair dryer. We all laughed.

A few minutes later, Godwin came in and told me he was going to get my Dad bathed and dressed. So I went to talk and watch TV with my aunts.

When Godwin came out to get me, I knew.  I walked back into my Dad's room and he was lying there so peacefully.  My Mom was holding his hand.  He was gone.

Those few minutes were quiet.  It settled in a little.

Then a flurry of action happened. Family and friends and hospice nurses and a social worker arrived.
We waited for my brother to get there so he could have some time too.

At 7 pm Bob showed up.  It would have been his 7th Day.  No one had called him. When he walked through the door, the look on his face broke my heart.

He made a joke and said that when he drove up to the house and saw all the cars he thought, "Who died?"   Then he looked at me and said, "too soon?"  No. It was perfect. My Dad would have gotten a kick out of it.  It broke the tension!

Dinner was made, funeral directors were called. The house was full of people, of love.

The next few days we made memorial arrangements and picture collages and told more stories and celebrated his life through services and moments together.

Then the next day I went back to work.  And life went on. and on.

The next thing I knew it was Thanksgiving. He wasn't there to cook. To laugh. To wash all the dishes.
And it hit me.  Death is forever.

But, it was just a moment on Thanksgiving.  We had family and friends and the kids around so I was distracted.  That wasn't the hardest part.

For me the difficulty is the rest of the time, not the holiday.  My Dad was a part of my daily life. I would go there after work with my kids for dinner 2-3 times a week and Sundays.  Always Sundays.  And he did my laundry. I would drop it off on Friday nights and pick it up on Sundays washed and ironed for the week. Even when he could barely walk he had a washer and dryer put into his bedroom and would still do my laundry.  When I told him he didn't have to. He would day, "I'm not dead yet!"

I called him for everything. EVERY THING.  He fixed my cars, replaced batteries in my smoke detectors, painted my kitchen, cleaned my house, babysat the kids, cooked meals,  and as my friend Meeghan loves to remind me - I called him to unclog toilets.

Sometimes I dream about him.  He always looks healthy and his hair has grown back and he is happy.  In my dream one time, he told me to buy new cordless phones and to make sure I buy Panasonic ones.

I know that there is a purpose for everything under Heaven. And there is a time to die. And everyone loses people they love. And everything happens for a reason. Etc. Etc. Etc.   But, seriously -  it sucks!