Transition

Hello! I have some things to say, and I admit I’ve been reluctant to share it publicly because at the root of it, it is not my story but my child Luca’s story. So I am going to try to just write about my part of it. Someone I respect suggested I should write about it as a means of hopefully helping other people with my part of the story, and that gave me the courage to sit here and try to do just that. Luca has given me persmission to talk about this openly as well.

About a month ago, Luca came out as trans. She had told me a couple weeks prior that she was thinking of this, and was trying out she/her pronouns with her friends. Her friends were all very supportive, and I am also supportive of Luca being whoever she is. I hope in everything that I say from this point forward, that it is embedded in my words and that I am never suggesting otherwise; my support for Luca is absolute and complete. Even as I struggle to understand and integrate this into my brain and heart, I will ALWAYS support Luca 100%.

I have tried hard to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community for a long time, and over the years, I have attempted to educate myself more and more as the information became readily available to me. I am also lucky to have another trans member of my extended family, and being present for her transition has been extremely educational and beautiful for me to be a part of. But when it is your own child, it’s kind of a mindfuck. I don’t know how else to say it. My mind was blown open, and I struggled to make sense of it initially. I can be woke AF, but I still grew up where people barely spoke of being gay, and I have a bunch of internal biases and sets of standards that my brain defaults to.

People used to use the metaphors for loss with me when describing coming to terms with Pete’s autism diagnosis. I never liked that very much, as it implied I had lost something — people would say I had lost my “dream” of what Pete could be had he been neurotypical. This rubbed me the wrong way because there is no neurotypical Pete. Pete is autistic and his autism is a huge part of what makes him who he is. I find the hardest part of being a parent of an austistic young man is that the world is not set up for him. It’s outside forces that make life more difficult than had he been neurotypical. I have nothing to mourn. Pete is quite literally one of the best people I have ever known, and I can confidently say that the world is better with him in it.

I bring this up here because I found myself in a similar headspace; not idential, but similar. Luca identifying as trans does not at all change the essence of Luca. Luca is and remains the same person she has always been. As she explores her true gender identity, she can become her authentic self. There is no not trans Luca, just like there is no not autistic Pete. Pete was autistic before his diagnosis, and Luca was trans before coming out. We now have more information, that is all.

How this is very different is that I knew Pete had developmental delays as a baby, and here I have been thinking Luca was a boy for 17 1/2 years. I think that’s where the mindfuck part comes in. Luca herself was unclear on her gender identity for a long time, so I could not have really known, either, any sooner than I did. I mention this because a couple of people have implied that I should have known sooner (and that maybe they DID know, which is impossible for them to know a thing Luca didn’t even know), and this implication upset me a lot. It upsets me I think because I adore Luca and we are very close, and I try to know both of my kids very well. I think my gut reaction to this implication hurt me, too, because I am afraid that I overlooked something that should have been an indicator a long time ago, and had I known, I could have helped Luca with this earlier in her life. So the implication hit me in an already vulnerable spot.

What’s great about Luca being 17 is that she can answer all my questions and help to educate me on these matters, both the specific matters relating to Luca as an individual and the general matters on understanding the gender spectrum. Luca enthusiastically helps me to understand all I need to know, and is so open and brave. This makes me feel very lucky! My brain defaults are going to have to change, and I know this will be for the better. I am a work in progress here, and honestly, each day it gets a little bit easier. I am determined to follow Luca’s lead, and let this unfold in the way that she sees fit. I am here to love and support and learn.

Probably the best compliment I ever got on my parenting came from Luca during this time. She told me that she was not hurt or harmed by seeing photos from the past (as I know some trans people are) because I never made her be a certain way, never made her wear certain clothes or have certain haircuts, and I defended her when people took issue with any way she presented herself. This means everything to me, and helps me get grounded when I am worried that I will fall short in parenting her now. Maybe if I keep doing what I’ve been doing, it will be okay.

I want to tell you one more thing Luca said. Besides knowing that the people who live in our house and our extended family would not have a problem with her being trans, she also knew that our close friend group, my community of friends, would support her as well. Even with this knowledge, it was still hard for her to come out. Coming out is hard, it takes courage. Please always be gentle to anyone who comes out to you.

In true Luca fashion, she wants no fanfare or overt celebration. She wants people to simply know: Luca is trans, and uses she/her pronouns. She will not be changing her name.

[I doubt I even have to say this, but the protector in me feels the need to be explicit: if you have any problem or issue with the trans community, please unfriend/unfollow/go away.]

Sisters

The pandemic took so much from us. I say that as a very lucky person, a person who did not lose any close friends or family members to COVID. The past year and a half is like a blur to me, and I have a hard time remembering when events happened as they seem both close by and far away at the same time. It’s weird, and I assume it’s a thing that we will be collectively dealing with for some time now. You know, the before times vs. the pandemic and beyond.

For me, the greatest sadness was what my own children missed out on. They both handled it well, I think, without a lot of complaining or trying to reneg on the protocols we decided would work for our family. I know it impacted their mental health, and when I think about the fact that Luca’s entire junior year, aside from a few hours a week for about 6 weeks, took place inside our house, I feel queasy. Luca is finally meeting up with friends again, and I am so happy about this. Everyone is vaccinated! They still meet outside or in small groups of only vaccinated individuals. Anyway, it’s a start that does my heart good.

One relationship that I believe was improved during COVID is the one with my sisters. I have always had close ties to both of them, but truthfully we are very different from one another and have not always agreed with each other on all things. Please know that despite any differences, I know for a fact either of my sisters would come running if ever I needed them at any time in my life. But sometimes my actual relationships with them were not as satsifying as I wished they could be, and I would venture they would say the same about their relationships with me. We are human after all, and we tend to get stuck in patterns or ways of thinking in interacting with one another. In truth, we are not stagnant and we have all grown and changed. I think we are now at a beautiful place where we are able to witness and celebrate each others’ growth and change and release any specific roles we thought we had to fill in our family dynamic. We are more free, and this has allowed our relationships to get stronger and more authentic.

We started weekly Zoom calls early on in the pandemic as a way to stay sane. I looked forward to this call every week, and during the extreme isolation parts of the pandemic, it was my only true contact with adult women that felt meaningful. Over time, we were disclosing more and more with one another, sometimes whispering and checking to make sure our family members were not within earshot, sometimes even typing in the chat window instead of speaking. It is HARD to not have a break from the people in your house (and again, I am SURE my own family wanted a break from me, too). These meetings became a little respite from the endless isolation and drudgery of sameness in my week. We even opened Christmas presents together over Zoom. It felt so good to have this connection to two people who have known me longer than anyone.

When our dad took a bad turn at the beginning of the year, our contact increased exponentially. Chris landed in California in early February and we were spending time together in real life again. Despite the sadness that engulfed us, we laughed and reminisced a lot, and I am so grateful we could be together during such a hard time. When Chris was getting ready to head back to Colorado, we promised each other that we would not let years go by without being together — all 3 of us. Life is too short to not be with the people you love. Our dad’s death and the pandemic taught us that lesson.

Because of the physical distance between me and most of my family, I have developed an amazing group of friends that are like family to me. Now that my sister relationships are so strong again, I feel doubly blessed. I feel some restoration of the safety net that I lost when my mom died. I know that I am supported from all sides, and I hope my sisters know that I would do anything in the world for them and their kids, too. That “big family” thing I talked about in my last blog is actually alive and well when we are all together.

We were actually all together over this past weekend! And while you might expect me to say that the best part about it was being reunited with my sisters, I have to admit that the part that brought me unexpected and deep joy was seeing my kids with their cousins, looking like no time had passed since they had last spent time together. It was like all the jumbled pieces of our lives clicked in together to make a perfect picture of what family can be. I only wish it could have lasted longer, but I had to get back to work today! Still, I am not going to lament. I will see my sisters and hopefully my nieces and nephews again soon. We also got a bonus visit from Gary and Robbie yesterday!

Thanks to Miles for this great picture!

I guess I just wanted to share my gratitude and happiness. I am working so hard at being fully present for my own life, and I really feel that I achieved that this past weekend. One of the best moments for me was when Luca turned to me and said, “Our family is so great. My friends say that they have family members they don’t like, who are mean or super conservative, but we have none of that.”

I almost forgot! Chris got us necklaces that are like those old-school friendship necklaces… when all three pieces are together, they form a heart. They read “big,” “middle,” and “little.” Here is my “middle” piece:

Forever the middle sister 🙂

Life is What You Make It

art by Luca Dito

Yesterday marks the 15 year anniversary of when I decided to leave my marriage. It seems both so far from my present self and also strangely close, as I can remember the details vividly of that day and exactly how I felt. It is not a place I allow myself to go mentally so much anymore, and I’ve decided it’s not a subconscious attempt to bury it either. It’s more that I’ve discovered that I can live too much in the past in my head, and tag my very identity on events of the past when it would be healthier for me to focus my attention on the many good things in my current life and finding ways to file away hard times in their proper place in my history.

I was sharing with a friend recently about how I still had “baby fever” when I was going through my divorce, and for a couple years after as well. I had what people refer to as a biological urge to have another child, and it bothered me quite a bit for about 3 years. I knew I would not have another child, and I was mostly okay with this considering my circumstances at the time, but this internal urge persisted until I turned 40. I realized one day it was just gone, and I was relieved to not have to grapple with that anymore. I surely had my hands full with the two children I already had, especially as a single mom. I have no regrets now about not having more children.

What I do continue to struggle with, though, are feelings of rage and perhaps self-pity regarding the fact that I had to raise these children alone, with very little financial support (he did pay child support for a while) from their father. There was ZERO emotional support for either child, EVER, even when he was seeing them. So it’s always been just me. Now that’s not to say that we as a family were not supported, because we were and we absolutely still are very much supported by my family, our close friend circle, and even at times by the greater community here in Castro Valley. But I feel pretty certain there is no replacement for having another adult in the world who truly loves your children as much as you do. If you think I’m misguided, I hope you’ll call me out. I just know that despite all this support, for which I am so grateful and speak of often, there are times when I feel utterly alone in my parenting role.

When I was growing up, I was around family a lot. We don’t have much of an extended family since my parents were both only children, but we always had what you’d consider traditional holiday dinners and festivities with both sets of our parents. You’d put on an outfit because Gary’s mom and brother were coming over, or we’d go to my grandparent’s house for photos in front of the Christmas tree. It was a thing, you know? Because my mom died before I had kids, this looked a lot different for me and for us. After the divorce, it got even smaller, and for a while I’d drive out to Gilroy to my dad’s for some holidays. Eventually when Miles came into our lives, we opted out of Gilroy generally because Calen has a mom nearby and he’d be splitting holidays between her and us. Over time, holidays turned into just us, and nobody even puts on an outifit anymore.

This is not how I imagined my life. I sometimes muse on this other life I’d have had if my mom had lived. That event changed everything, I think. I also think everyone in my mom’s part of the family has done the best they could, and did what they had to do to survive the aftermath of losing the most important and central person in all of our lives. She was the CENTER of everything. Being a mom is like that, and for me, since my dad was not good at fulfulling the needs I had as a daughter, losing her made me feel like the big family life I had enjoyed was over.

I think it’s good to assess your life and to think about your past hopes. Sometimes dreams are worth revisiting, and I think that people should carve out a life that works for them and makes them happy to the best of their ability. I think that sometimes we are too preoccupied with societal expectations of how life should look, and in doing that, we forget to be grateful for what our actual lives are like. I am working on this! I am unsure now if my past dreams were just part of what I was used to and thus wanted to replicate with my own kids. I always wonder if my kids will look back at their childhood with fondness. Will they feel sad when they think about events of the past? I hope not, but I mostly hope that if they are sad, they also know that on most days, I was really doing the best I could and always put their needs first (and I don’t mean that in a martyrish way. I mean that in that I was trying to give them a good life).

This has been a crazy year, pandemic aside. My dad is gone and I don’t think I’ve even begun to fully grieve. I lost my job and then got a new one in 7 weeks’ time, for which I am very grateful. My children are growning and changing and becoming who they are meant to be right before my eyes. It can be scary, but I am committed to standing beside them and celebrating their growth. I feel huge changes within myself, deep down in the very core of my soul. It is really overwhelming! I do a lot of crying. But I am not going to let the past get in the way of my future anymore.

Life doesn’t often turn out the way you think it should, or even the way you wanted it to, in my experience. But it can still be amazing. I am officially opening myself up to life as it is unfolding in the present, and am going to try to live in it, right here.

Nothing Stays

I’ve written before, in other places, about how in parenting I mostly have looked forward instead of backwards. I was never super into the tiny baby period, and having a child with developmental delays really helped me to have a deep appreciation for moving on and reaching milestones. Advances mostly felt more sweet than bittersweet. I thought I had it all figured out and that I was somehow a little more evolved than others. Ha. As usual, when I think a thing and feel super smug or confident in in, the universe snaps back to teach me a well-deserved lesson.

My children are no longer children. They are now 20 and 17 and very much their own people. Staying at home with them for the past 15 months was hard but also wonderful, and I feel that I got to know them even better and love them even more. Yes, we all got sick of one another from time to time. Pandemic life wasn’t super fun a lot of the time and we all kind of rotated in and out of having dips in our mental health. But I still appreciate the time and am grateful that as we come out of isolation, we all still like each other.

This extreme togetherness has had some negative effects for me as well. I find myself unhealthily obssessed with my offspring now, and have a hard time being away from them. I realized today on my drive in to work that part of this might be some PTSD from the pandemic itself, in addition to some helicopter-leaning parenting that I do want to nip in the bud. A lot has happened, just over the past few months for me, and I am in a constant state of processing it and trying to make sense of my life now.

A big theme that has come out of my thinking is that embracing change is essential to my happiness. I am generally not afraid of change — you hear of people who never change anything and get panicky when inevitable changes in life occur. I don’t think that describes me exactly, but I do have this other thought pattern I’ve had since childhood where I want the people in my life to all be Forever People. I have a really hard time with relationships changing, even when they are not working for me or in need of an overhaul. I don’t like thinking about the lack of continuity (that’s how my brain sees it) of having person in your life and then they are not, and along with their exit goes all the memories you shared. I know this is not rational. I can keep whatever memories I want to, but sometimes all they do is make me sad – when that relationship is done. This is why I had such a giant meltdown at some point (time means nothing to me now) about Paul and all my Paul memories. Like, I can hardly entertain them because it reminds me of the fact that my relationship with him was not a forever one. I think as I observe my kids growing and evolving, I somehow mentally fall into a thinking pattern that’s alerting me that I might lose them, too. That they also might not be my Forever People.

I do realize that this is most likely all tied to my own mortality. I want to allow change to happen and to roll with it. I want to KNOW that change is natural and normal. I want to enjoy it better. This all comes back to what I started saying about my kids. They are not kids anymore, and they are changing in lots of ways that are exciting and difficult for me. I have always wanted to be a parent who supports my children unconditionally, and I think I am still succeeding at that, but I am absolutely shocked at how much I am longing for a simpler time when I was making all the decisions for them. I never thought I’d say that or feel this way. Any feeling of “control” that I’ve ever had with regards to them is vanishing quickly, and it’s now time for me to step back and allow them to become the people they are meant to be. I am surprised that this is much harder than it seems. Intellectually, I know this is right and just, and it’s what I have always known I would do as a parent. In practice, it’s a challenge.

Part of the closeness during the pandemic is that I lost myself a little, I think. Working from home, cooking all our meals, trapped in the house for so many months, I fell into my “mom” role fiercly. Dealing with their school stuff and mental health issues, I reverted back to how things were when they were little and they needed me for everything. I am not blaming them; they were for the most part really easy in terms of being decent people and not trying to do anything that would endanger our family with regards to COVID. They suffered, too, though, by being isolated from their peers for months on end. I am sure if they had it in them to write a blog post about their experience, they might also share that they felt a little lost.

When I’m in a quiet place, the smart voice that does sometimes emerge from my manic thoughts is telling me that the answer to my angst is to become more of myself, and to let my kids become more of themselves. I need more space for me, for the me that is also a mom but not soley a mom. I’m having such a hard time being away from them, though, but I think the answer to that is to continue to build up my strength in being away from them. I need to build on the knowledge that they are not static, and neither am I. When you really love someone, you give them the space to change and grow over and over again. You cannot expect your relationship to be any one thing because we are not any one thing. Sometimes I go back and read what I have written a few months ago or a couple years ago, and I swear I don’t even recognize myself. I am always changing. So are you. So are the people we brought into the world.

I don’t mean to get super cheesy or philosophical on you, but this reminds me of a quote that I have been thinking of and I will close in sharing it with you:

Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And thought they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which

you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.

  • Kahlil Gabrin

I have lost my job.

During this whole pandemic, everytime someone would ask me how I’m doing, I’d usually reply with some variation of “I hate it but I’m so grateful to be gainfully employed still, and to be able to work safely from home.” It is hard to feel justified complaining when so may people around me (and all around the world) were suffering so much. At least I was not suffering financially. Well, I found out on Wednesday that due to a reorg at my company, my job role was being elimintated. This came as a huge shock to me — not because I think I’m special — but because I know that my role is essential in our two-person HR team in the US. Also, I was the top performer on my team when we did performance reviews in January (this includes the rest of our global team in India). I even got a bonus. So yes, I was shocked to learn I’d been eliminated. My boss fought for me and lost, and I bear her no ill whatsoever. We were a great team, and this is the saddest part for me — that I no longer get to work for her.

About a year and a half ago I had written here about how I was looking for a new job. I even had a couple offers and was a “finalist” in a job I really wanted but did not get. Job searching is exhausting and demoralizing, so at that time, I decided to quit looking for a few months and regroup. Then the pandemic hit and as I said above, I was just happy to have a job. A few months into the pandemic my boss was hired, and then everything changed for me. I was still not super excited about the company as a whole, but my day-to-day improved dramatically and I was able to learn from and work with a really amazing woman. I am so grateful for this experience.

When the shock gave way to fear, all I could think about is insurance. Being unemployed is temporary, I know this, but the worry of being uninsured (or having my kids be uninsured) is terrifying. I am grateful that President Biden is mandating for companies to pay COBRA in full for employees who have been laid off, so we are covered for the next several months. My wonderful friends are already sending me leads, helping me spruce up my resume, and providing emotional support. My logical mind knows I will be okay. I’m trying to squelch the panic that keeps igniting within me in these horrible waves every hour or so. I know I can handle this. Everything is going to be okay. I keep saying that, over and over.

I know reframing this as an opportunity is the best approach to have, and in moments of great clarity and confidence (which are rare), I feel strongly that there are better choices in my future and I will find them. Like the title of my favorite self-help book, I am going to Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway. I mean, honestly, what choice to I have?

I also feel kind of angry, but I don’t want to write about it here right now. My smart friend, Carrie, has always told me that I have to look out for myself professionally because no one else will. Companies are going to do what’s best for their bottom line. I should not be surprised that my loyalty and hard work were not part of the consideration when deciding whom to let go.

I want to be a person who believes that things happen for a reason. I am not that person. I think that sometimes life is hard and scary and disappointing and that we have to rise to whatever is thrown at us as best we can. That is my plan. Please feel free to comment if you know any great companies, especially ones headed by women, that are hiring for HR or admin type work. Or if you want to give me a pep talk or any job hunting tips as I am open to advice and words of wisdom.

Remembering

It’s been a while. I am still in kind of a funk, and the funk is not helped by the fact that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death. 21 years. It feels crazy to think that both of my parents are gone. The sadness will never go away. I know this. I am lucky I usually have things to focus on that distract me from this hard truth.

The passing of our father has caused my sisters and me to delve deeply into our own pasts, our childhood… it brings up questions with no answers. We are surprised by our memories sometimes – one sister remembers things that the others don’t, or each sister has her own interpretation of events from the past. We feel sad about many things, like most people probably do I’d imagine. The saddest for me is that my mom never knew my kids, and vice versa. You read constantly about how positive grandparent relationships are to children, and my kids did not get a whole lot of that from either side of their family.

We, my sisters and I, did. My dad’s parents lived about 5 minutes from us for most of our lives, and they were doting and sort of obsessed with us. Well, my grandma was anyway. Grandma Marie was the ultimate grandma. She would sit for hours watching us do shows for her. She was endlessly entertained by us, and never asked for us to hurry up so she could do something else. She let us wear all her clothes, even the fancy ones (ie. fox stole!) and her high heel shoes. She was a tiny little person, so everything kinda fit us when we were little. Spending the night there (especially if you somehow scored a solo trip) was an evening of luxury. You could count on making pizza and bread for dinner, having a bath with bubbles (!), and then sleeping in the big bed next to Grandma Marie. Breakfast in bed was optional the next morning. I always remember feeling sort of like crying when it was time to go home.

Summers were the best because we could go swimming in the pool at the clubhouse. My grandparents lived in a mobile home park for senior citizens. I know sometimes mobile home parks get a bad rap, but this place was magical to us. Our grandmparents had lots of friends there, and we knew them all (and some of their grandkids). The clubhouse had a piano and an organ that we could mess around with, and the women’s restroom had one of those furry chairs with a metal back like some sort of fancy Hollywood’s starlet’s dressing room. Also, there was a soda machine where you could get Welch’s Grape. This is where we learned how to play shuffleboard! Children were allowed to swim only until 2:00 PM, at which time we’d go back to my grandparent’s house for lunch and Guiding Light. We’d change out of our wet suits and compare suntan lines in the giant, mirrored closet in Grandma’s room. We might then have a few games of Yahtzee; Grandpa Al was nearby in his chair reading and smoking, but he was ready if we needed advice on a move.

It breaks me inside that my own children had exactly none of this. I know there’s nothing I could do to make it different, and I know that they have aunties and uncles and cousins, which I did not have. They don’t know what they’re missing, but I know. My mom was not as whimsical as Grandma Marie, but she was fun and I know she would have make traditions and experiences and memories that my children would have cherished.

I feel like I have so many people to miss now. I try to feel lucky that I had them at all, that I loved them (and was loved by them) so much that their absence causes me such grief.

Stacey is scanning a bunch of family pictures for us, and they are beautiful and exciting. We love the pictures of our grandparents a lot.

While we love seeing those really old photos, this one is my favorite of the bunch:

I don’t know who took it, but it’s a gorgeous shot and captures the spirit of Grandma Marie so well. I would like to reach in and give her a hug.

The Long Haul

My dad and my grandma

My dad’s been gone for just over a week now, and I wake up every morning still sort of surprised that he’s gone. I imagine him in his spot on the couch, watching Family Feud or HGTV. It’s so weird. The feelings I have are very different from when my mom died. Back then, I’d awake literally crying every day, with the only respite from intense grief being when I was asleep. When my mom died, I was also grieving for all the things I hoped would come in the future that I knew she would have loved, most specifically the children I was yet to birth. I was actually pregnant when my mom died, and I lost that baby just a few days later by miscarriage. She was excited about my pregnancy; it was a bright spot in a dark time.

My dad got to meet all his grandkids and to do what he wanted to do for the bulk of his life. I imagine those are a couple reasons why my brain processes his death differently than my mom’s. Still, my sisters and I seem to be in this strange spot where we are grieving but also doing regular day-to-day things, because we have to but also because we are able. I had no kids when my mom died, so I had a lot of freedom to grieve in whatever ways I wanted with no negative impact on people who needed me. My grief this time around feels different. It’s catching me off guard when I’m cooking or doing other mundane tasks. I saw my dad’s name in my email address book today. Little things like that that keep reminding me we will not be talking to one another again. It makes a lump in my throat.

I think sometimes when someone you love dies, it causes you to reassess some things in your own life. That did not happen when my mom died, but it is happening now. I don’t agree with some of my dad’s choices in life, and I feel that they had a great impact on the way he lived and died. I don’t say that as a judgement on him. I think he had the right to do his life as he saw fit, but I am going to learn from his choices.

Last week, I was lucky to have the time to be with my sisters and Barbara for a couple days before Chris left to go home to Colorado. It was really needed. We went to Pacific Grove, which was a favorite place of my dad’s, and just sat on the beach for a few hours. We laughed thinking how my dad would have been too antsy to sit for that long, but we all enjoyed the time to do nothing. Here’s some views of our beach:

Chris left on Saturday morning and Stacey and I also both returned to our homes on Saturday. It was hard to leave but Barbara and Wendy have each other and are an excellent pair. I’m so glad they have one another. Barbara has remained so strong through all of this, though I know she is also dealing with a sadness that I can’t even comprehend. I know she of all people is actuely aware of my dad’s suffering, so it’s not surprising that she can appreciate fully the many ways his exit from this planet was needed.

We all enjoyed looking through some really old photo albums that we hadn’t seen before — the picture of my dad and grandma above are one such example. This reminiscing, too, also makes a person do sort of an assessment on their life, you know? Here are a couple other pictures I pulled that made me happy:

I’m sure I’ll share more pictures once we get them scanned (Stacey is going to work on it during her spring break!), but this last one I love SO MUCH. The cute people on the left are my GRANDPARENTS! How cute are they?

I love looking at these old pictures and thinking about the lives people had before I knew them. It makes me wish we could all be together, too, but this bittersweetness is what life is.

The Mysteries of Grief

We lost my mom exactly 6 weeks after she entered the hospital with the diagnosis of leukemia. My sisters and I often spoke of the gift of those last 6 weeks, though difficult they were. It gave us a slight opening to get ready for the inevitable, but we did have hope up until the last day. After she passed, we talked about what was better: quick and sudden death or having a period of getting ready. These are the kinds of things people discuss when they are in the depths of grief, trying to make sense of something that almost everyone will experience yet is still so hard to fathom and so difficult to trudge through. My mom’s last day was ugly. She was scared and very, very much not ready to die at age 53. The fear that she experienced still haunts me. I think we like to imagine our loved ones having a good death — a death where they have accepted what is happening, made peace with it somehow, and are “ready.” I remember when my Grandpa Al was in the hospital on his last days, he told my dad that he was ready, that it was okay. I know this gave my dad a lot of comfort. I suppose it gave me comfort, too, and still does because I recall the conversation I had with my dad on the matter 30+ years later with the idea that Grandpa Al’s was a good death.

My own dad was not one to acquiesce to anything in life. He was unlike his own father in the acceptance department. My dad lived every minute of his life as he saw fit, and it seems he left this world with that same attitude. I would imagine that my dad could have lived to 100 and still not been ready to die, not ready to leave his family. In large part unable to accept the Parkinson’s diagnosis itself, my dad butted heads with the reality of his situation up until the end. I think sometimes we hope to have end-of-life discussions with loved ones wherein they share wisdom or some other sentiment to help the living continue on without them. My dad could not speak in the end, but it seemed he could listen until very close to his death. So he may not have given us nuggets of widsom to carry with us, it was evident that he was sad and scared and not ready to go. My brave sisters (all three of them: Chris, Stacey, and Wendy) and my stepmom all told him things and talked to him and told him it was okay to let go.

I was somehow unable to do this. In my heart, I wanted him to be free and I wanted his suffering (and ours, at least that part of it) to end. But I found it really hard to speak when near him, so I hoped that he could feel my feelings like I could feel his. One day after a visit there, I felt psychically connected to him. Is that real? I feel like it is, and I felt the same with my mom when she was dying. I felt I could feel my dad’s pain. And in that moment, I told him psychically that he should let go. I hope he heard me.

My dad’s passing took much longer than we all thought it would, and this was excruciating to watch as his state was for the most part the opposite of peaceful. I have to say that I am amazed by the strength of my stepmom and also Wendy; they have been watching him suffer for YEARS on a daily basis, and the grace and compassion they showed until his last breath is something I will always be grateful for. It’s amazing what people are capable of when they approach difficult or even impossible situations with love.

I think there is no easy road for the living. A quick death without warning is a shock and filled with what-ifs. A long, drawn-out illness tricks us into thinking we have prepared, but the ending of a person you love still feels like a shock and the pain is still just as acute. While the death of an “older” person (though I would say 75 isn’t THAT old these days) is not necessarily tragic, the void they leave in the world is still a huge one. I can’t imagine a world without my dad in it. I am unsure of my place in a world without my dad in it. Our relationship was complicated and unsatisfying at times, but I know the world was better with him than without him. And I know he loved me the best he could. I will not stop missing him, and I will not stop grieving for him, just like I’ve done for my mom for the past 21 years.

I may not have gleaned any words of wisdom from either of my parents before they passed, but I am wiser now than I was 21 years ago simply because I have already survived my mom’s death and I am older and more experienced. So I know that the road ahead of me is a long and winding one, but I am confident that I can handle it. Many, many thanks to those that have reached out to me on Facebook and via text or phone messages. It helps.

Waiting

My sister, Chris, arrived a week ago today at the San Jose Airport. Stacey, Jeff, and I grabbed her on our way to Gilroy, all of us masked and worried about everything – the potential spread of COVID among us (though we did everything in our power to reduce the chances of spreading it if any of us is asymtomatic) and what we were to find when we arrived to see my dad.

I want to say: I am not here to tell my dad’s story, I’m here to tell mine. So I am not going to share anything that does not belong to me. I want to respect my dad and my stepmom and their privacy and feelings.

Anyway, when we first arrived, I felt pretty overwhelmed with sadness to see him so small and frail, although I was expecting that. Parkinson’s does a number on people, let me tell you. I keep thinking of my dad in the 80’s at his house on Colville Dr. in San Jose, in the backyard, fit and tanned and diving into the swimming pool. It is hard to even know what do to with oneself…I mean, I could sit near him and talk to him and hold his hand, which I did. But sitting alongside him and weeping felt like a bad idea, too. So I came and went and tried to maintain myself in what my sisters and I have named a “solid” mental place, meaning when we are fully acknowledging what is happening but can somehow take it in and remain in a logical place with it. It was an emotionally exhausting day for me, and just a week later I think I’ve blocked parts of it out because I can’t see it all that clearly in my (usually very sound) memory.

I returned on Saturday, this time with Pete. Pete is really good at facing hard things directly, and wanted to come to see his grandpa one last time. It makes me cry even writing that down, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think Pete will be seeing my dad again in this world. Another reason Pete wanted to join me is because his cousin, Kevin, was also visiting along with Stacey. Pete and Kevin are very close and have not seen one another in over a year due to the pandemic. Pete has actually had very little contact with any peers during the pandemic aside from Zoom. Seeing Kevin and actually seeing the boys so happy together was a great tonic for my broken heart.

But let me back track a little. I learned early Saturday morning, before heading out to Gilroy, that a dear friend’s husband had passed away in the night. He’d been ill for a long time and this was not unexpected. The man was 50 years old and had fought a hard battle against cancer. His daughter is a close friend of Pete. Despite knowing this was coming, it still felt like a blow to learn of his passing and to imagine this family in grief. I had texted with the daughter and she wanted to make sure Pete knew of her father’s passing, so I told him as soon as he woke up. For this reason, and for the fact that we were headed to see my dad, the topic of death was very much on our minds as we pulled away from our home.

Pete had a lot of good questions for me in the car. I was crying my eyes out by the time we got on the freeway, but I wanted Pete to know that his questions were valid and it was okay that I was crying. I was crying because I’m sad, not because I can’t handle this. I want him to know that crying does not equal weakness and it’s okay to get your sadness out through tears. This conversation included a recap of my mom’s last hours and my realization that while I was not emotionally mature enough to sit with my mom in her final moments, I am now able to face that with my dad if I can. We also talked about Paul’s death. Hard but necessary conversations. I guess we all experience sort of a reliving of past deaths when someone you love is very sick. It’s crazy to me that after all these years (21) I can still feel exactly what it felt like to lose my mom.

Saturday was different from Thursday. We kind of naturally shifted in and out of my dad’s room and took breaks outside or in other rooms as we needed. Barbara went and took a well-deserved nap at one point, and my dad was clearly feeling anxious or agitated. My sisters and I did not know what he needed, so we called Wendy. She is so much more experienced in understanding his non-verbal cues than we are, and we felt really grateful for her knowledge as she helped to make him comfortable again. I can only imagine the emotional toll my dad’s illness has taken on both Wendy and Barbara, being there for him 24/7 for so many months. He is lucky to have such attentive and loving care.

Long lost cousins reunited!

Probably the moment of the day that we will all remember for years to come was when Pete went to greet my dad. He stood over him and took his hand, at which time my dad looked up and it registered — PETE. His whole face lit up, his eyes smiled (if that makes sense). It took our breath away, it was all at once amazing, beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It reminded me of the depths of my dad’s love for his family and how special Pete has always been to him. It also made me feel proud of my son for being brave and compassionate. Pete said on the drive home that grandpa always called him his “best friend.”

Pete and I listened to Duran Duran radio on the way home and talked about everyday things. I was so happy that I had his companionship on this difficult day. What a joy to have a son who is a young adult who still enjoys hanging with his mom. I had a big cry when I got home as I recounted the day to Luca, who hugged me and listened and comforted me. Again, how lucky am I with these boys?

The next day, we had the honor to be invited to the home of the friend who lost her husband. We have not seen these friends for a long time due to COVID, but we really wanted to show our love and support to them. Pete and I met in their backyard and we had a nice visit, amazed at their strength and resiliency, even as they processed this terrible loss. I was worried I’d be a mess because of my dad, but once I got past the first 10 minutes or so, I felt solid and it was fine. I did not want my emotions to overtake our purpose there, which was to show support. Whew. Sometimes a lot happens in life all at once.

On our way home from our friend visit, I sighed and said, “what a weekend.” Pete said he thought it was a good weekend because we helped our family and our friends when they were sad, and we got to be together and talk and listen to good music in the car. I tried to absorb this wisdom.

How Do You Say Goodbye?

My dad has been in the hospital for the past 10 days or so with a serious health crisis related to his Parkinson’s. Barbara, my step mom, was alarmed enough that she got him to the ER almost 2 weeks ago. There was a bed shortage at the local hospital, so he spent about 3 days in a room in the ER and was then transferred to a hospital in Oakland, which is about 20 minutes from me. Unfotunately, due to COVID, I was not allowed to visit him and he remained without family support for all these days. Barbara says the hospital staff is wonderful and loving, and I believer her. So that is a small consolation.

We have known that we might not have our dad around much longer for a while. “We” = me and my two sisters. We talk about it weekly on our Zoom call on Sunday — sometimes we are angry (he has not done a really great job of following doctor’s recommendations on slowing down the progression of his disease), sometimes we are so sad we’re crying. Sometimes we laugh at the absurdity of the person we call dad. He is a character, that’s for sure. And he seems to be staying in character til the end — always headstrong and stubborn. He has pulled his feeding tube out since he’s been hospitalized at least 4 times; he is in restraints to prevent this. And mittens! But he still manages to exert his will. We wonder: is he trying to stop the feedings? Is he just uncomfortable? Is he just ornery? He can’t really speak due to the Parkinson’s, so it’s hard to know beyond the fact that we know he is a person who does what he wants.

I would assert that there is nothing more painful than watching someone you love suffer, and the person whose suffering I feel right now is Barbara’s. She has been an amazing example of selflessness during the long ordeal of my dad’s decline, and this past year with having to deal with that AND the pandemic is honestly more than most people could endure. To say we are grateful for her love and care to our dad is a gross understatement. I’m pretty sure I haven’t hugged her since December 21, 2019 and I haven’t seen her since late July (masked, in her backyard).

This is going to change because Barbara has decided (with the complete support of me and my sisters) that it’s time for my dad to come home with hospice care. He can’t go on like this, and his quality of life has taken a steep decline that he seems unable to bounce back from this time. So my sisters and I are quietly planning a visit back to their home, so we can support Barbara and say goodbye to our dad.

How can something you saw coming for at least a year still feel so startling? The impending death of a loved one is a surreal feeling, and brings to the forefront of one’s mind all the sadness and suffering in the world. It’s mind-boggling to think of the millions of people who are slogging through this kind of grief on a daily basis, and it’s not lost on me the uncountable people who have been where I am this past year with a loved one in the hospital, unable to visit.

I spent the day yesterday thinking and crocheting and crying mostly. I have not had an easy realtionship with my dad, and that makes this situation complicated for me. I am trying to come to terms with some of this, I have come to terms with many things around my relationship with him over the years, and I am trying to be gentle with myself over what my failures might be. Over what will never be that I had wished.

I thought yesterday of the details of my dad’s mother’s death, because it was the first (and I’d say only) time he every truly showed his vulnerability to me. Grandma Marie had been in and out of the hospital and then in an assisted care place for a bit. I had seen her in one such place several weeks before as she was recovering. But then her health had taken a very serious turn, and my dad called me at work to tell me. I was the only sister geographically close enough to come at short notice. He wanted to come pick me up and drive me from San Francisco to San Jose, and I let him — I somehow knew he NEEDED to do that. I took BART home from downtown and he retrieved me. I recall exactly where we were on the freeway when he began to cry about the fact that it was unlikely we’d have Grandma around for much longer. We cried together. I lost my own mother only 5 years later, and I do remember the comfort I felt at his presence then. Barbara’s too — that was a time when I felt like I would not survive without someone being the grown-ups, you know?

The thing is, although my dad my have fallen short in the parenting department, you would never, ever question if he loved you. Never. His love is overbearing and obsessive and selfish. But he is loyal in that Sicilian way that is both infuriating and comforting. I don’t know how life will feel without it.

When my mom died, the first thing I did was call him from a pay phone from the ICU. It was the middle of the night. I remember my words: “We had to let her go.” I don’t remember what happened next, but I do know that he and Barbara came to my mom’s house the next morning. I can picture them sitting in my mom’s living room, and I remember the incongruity of that, but also that I felt relieved that they came over. My dad cried and he told me he kept thinking about when they were young and everything was still in front of them.

Yesterday I worked up the courage to tell Pete what’s going on. The uncertainty of the timeline for my dad moving forward is a stressor to Pete, and I know this so I wanted to tread lightly and tell him the facts so he can digest it in and be ready. I tried not to cry but I failed at that. I heard the words, so similar to 20 years ago, coming out of my mouth: “It’s time to let him go.” Pete just wanted to make sure Grandpa knows we love him, and I told him that he does. Luca found me crying earlier in the day and hugged me a long time, asked me how he could help. They are not close to him like I was to my grandparents, but having lost their own dad, they are familiar with the pain I’m experiencing.

My family is small, with no aunts, uncles, or cousins. I can feel pretty untethered a lot of the time, and the thought of this loss makes those feelings increase. Some of that was dispelled as soon as I got my step dad on the phone though, as he listened to my update and cried with me. And again when my best friend forced me out of the house for a walk yesterday. Family doesn’t have to be bloodlines. I hope Barbara knows that, too. That me and my sisters are not going anywhere, we still belong together with her.

I’ve been up since 4:00 AM and just thought maybe writing some of this down would help me, and maybe help somebody else out there who is grieving.