Things not to say to someone grieving…

In my life I have lost two of the most important people that anyone can lose, my mother and my father. My mom passed on 03/17/2011 at 54 and my dad on 11/29/2017 at 61. There have been other people who I have lost and who I’ve grieved for, but losing a parent is different than an aunt, uncle, grandparent. Of course you have a relationship with them, but the people who raised you leave such an impact on your life. In the last 6 years, 10 months, I’ve heard many different things that people have said to me or others grieving.

When I lost my mom people told me she was in a better place, some told me I needed to get over it, others said she wouldn’t want me to be sad. At the time I had others who called and asked me if Facebook posts they were seeing on her page were true. Some people may joke around about death or losing their parents, but I was not that way. Everyone grieves in their own way and while she is in a better place, telling someone that right after someone passes may not be the best thing to say, neither is telling someone to get over the death of a loved one because we will never be over no matter how much time passes.

Recently at some doctor’s appointments and other appointments, people told me my dad was in a better place, no longer in pain, etc. And I know him being in pain no longer is a huge relief for me because of his numerous health issues, and while his death came quick, I had a chance for closure with him that I didn’t get with my mom, but again with his passing I have heard comments from people again telling me he wouldn’t want me to be sad or cry, that he would want me to move on with my life. The most recent comment which hurt more than the others was when I recently went to a walk-in clinic for this upper respiratory stuff that’s been going around this winter. A doctor was getting a little bit of history on me, if I had siblings, my parents, what I do for work. When I told the I lost both of my parents and was an only child this doctor said, “So that makes you an orphan now”. And by the true definition of an orphan that statement is true, why would you say that to someone who had only lost their father five weeks previously?!

Some of the best things you can do for someone grieving is offer to go to the funeral home with them to make arrangements, take them out to lunch or dinner, spend a weekend day with them, bring over a home cooked meal so they don’t have to worry about cooking for a night, let them call you and listen to them cry if they need to, or just to vent. There are so many productive ways to help someone who is grieving rather than saying they are in a better place or they wouldn’t want you to be sad, because while that may be true, words can hurt even if they are meant in the best possible way. We learn to live without them in our lives, but there will always be things that trigger us and make us relive the day we lost them.

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The toll being a caregiver takes

When you are thrown into the world of being a caregiver, you never imagine the toll it can take on your own body. It’s like all of your senses are heightened and you are always ready to jump up incase the person you are taking care of needs something. This is how my life was over the last six and a half years.

When I really started to have to put my dad and his needs above mine happened around the same time that I was in a bad work situation. The department I had been working in and loved most of the time, started to take a toll on me. I was being talked to about things that weren’t at all related to me doing my job and hitting all of my job related performance stats. It was during this time that I visited my family doctor and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder from work related stress. I know this evolved into my anxiety being just as bad because of everything my dad was going through as well. I was out on medication that at first I thought was working, but when I realized it wasn’t, I went back to my doctor and I was put on something different that has helped. In total I’m on two anxiety medications, one daily and one as needed.

When I first started this journey as a caregiver I was pretty healthy. I was slightly overweight for my height around 160. There were times this would be higher and lower depending on how active I was while also trying to take care of all of my dad’s needs. Over the course of time that I was his caregiver, I began to let myself go even more. I really put myself at the bottom of the list and made sure he was always taken care of. By the time my dad passed on 11/29/17 I had hit a number on the scale I never wanted to see. I was, and still am currently over 200 pounds. Over the course of the last almost year I had put on almost 35 pounds.

It isn’t just about the physical weight I put on, but also the emotional weight too. Being a caregiver feels like you are carrying around an incredibly heavy backpack all of the time. Your body is always in this alert mode and your stress levels are so high. When I wasn’t home with my dad to know he was okay it was even worse. I was always so drained, but still managed to keep going at the same time. Even when my dad was in the hospital, depending on the situation and knowing he was in the best possible place he could be if something happened, I was still so stressed.

I could really see the toll this took on me by looking at pictures before truly becoming a caregiver to after. My smile in pictures didn’t look as genuine, I looked run down and tired. And because of all of the stress I started to get gray hair in my mid twenties. It’s so crazy the way stress can affect a body in so many different ways.

This Wednesday will mark six weeks since my dad passed. There are still times that I can’t sleep at night, like tonight, or should I say this morning. I’ve been up since about 3am. My cats Socks and Shadow are still trying to adjust and Socks is having a harder time. I know I’m still adjusting too, but I feel like I’m so much better adjusted than I was after losing my mom. I credit a large part of that to the fact that my dad and I had many conversations about end of life and his wishes. I’ve gotten myself back to a normal routine for the most part and in part of trying to take better care of myself I get up in the morning to make breakfast and lunch so I’m not tempted to stop at a drive thru or order out. I’ve been cooking more dinners and I’m getting back to the gym. I still miss my dad terribly and I know that I always will, however, it’s nice to also be getting my life back.

A huge chunk of my twenties was spent with dealing with the sudden loss of my mom at 23 and then my dad’s declining health. Getting to live my life for myself again is liberating. I’m looking forward to seeing where this year takes me. It feels like I have a world of possibilities now that I didn’t have before. Don’t get me wrong, I would do everything all over again with taking care of my dad. There’s no question about that, but for the first time in my life I’m truly on my own and I’m excited for the adventures that lie ahead. The two photos below are how I’m looking at this year. A week in and I’m still excited about all of the things to come. There are new incentives at work for making extra money, I’m doing the ShapeGoal40 with Shape and Jen Widerstrom, I’m planning my friend (sister from another mister) Katie’s baby shower, I’m going roller skating with Bri Tuesday nights, I’m planning on doing the Shape Half Marathon even if I have to power walk the whole thing, I’ll be going on Jen’s 2018 retreat, and am going to try to make it to Shape’s Body Shop this summer. This is the year I regain myself and my happiness.

Looking back…

As I look back on this past year, I realize that I am a lot stronger than I ever though was possible. The year started with my dad in the hospital in January, then again in March, April, May June, July, September, and November. He went through so much this year and there was a period of three months that I had to take off from work because of running out of FMLA time and needing to be home with dad to administer antibiotics via a PICC line three times a day. In all of the hard times this year I realized that I am capable of so much more than I ever knew I was. I don’t know that a lot of people truly know all I went through this year and I will go into more detail in a later blog.

I never imagined ending 2017 without my dad. He was such a fighter this year with all of his health ailments, and while that didn’t help my generalized anxiety disorder, I still feel like I had some great moments with him. During  the three months I was off from work he and I would watch The People’s Court together during the day and a Cubs game at night. I’m thankful for all of the moments I was able to have with him over these last several years and I know how much he loved me. Maybe one day I will post the video I recorded of him telling me he loves me, but in my healing journey I’m not there yet.

While there were more tough times this year, than good times, I still managed to have some pretty good times. Some of the good times this year included me celebrating my 30th birthday with two of the best friends any girl could ask for. Justin and Katie had shirts made, we went to Sleepy Creek Winery, and did a whole lot of other fun stuff for my birthday. I’m so lucky to have these two in my life. They are more like a brother and sister to me. I’m so excited for more adventures to come with them in 2018, and of course Max and Bentley, their German Shepherds. I know this next year is going to be a lot of fun!

Also this year I got to meet Jen Widerstrom. I drove up to Naperville, IL for her book tour and after her book talk and answering some questions from attendees, she was signing her book. She is one of the most down to Earth people I’ve met. She and I talked for a few minutes, and she remembered me from winning a DietBet she hosted in 2016. I’ve been lucky enough to keep in touch with her over the last year and I can’t wait to see her at the retreat she is planning in 2018.

I was also blessed enough this year to spend Christmas with several of my cousins in Indiana. And while I wish my dad could have been here to celebrate as well, I am glad I was able to go up for a few days. This was the first time I had really experienced a big family Christmas. Getting to help make treats, and meeting other family that I haven’t met was a lot of fun. The best part of the trip was when my cousin Shanna surprised my Aunt Joyce with a trip to Hawaii. It was a three part gift with the last being a shirt that said, “I can’t keep calm, I’m going to Hawaii”. She didn’t have the shirt completely open and at first thought it said, “I can’t keep calm, I’m going to y’all.” It was such a great experience to see her face when she realized it said Hawaii on the shirt. This has been her dream vacation, so I’m happy for her that she gets to go.

As 2018 approaches, I’m looking back at this last year with a lot of emotions. I never imagined I lose my dad so soon, but he and I had talked about his end of life wishes a lot over the years. At the end of 2016 he told me there was a good likelihood with his heart failure that he wouldn’t be here this time this year. He was right, but it wasn’t due to his heart failure. Signing a DNR for him was literally the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m grateful for the nurse who took care of him in his final hours and let us use her phone so he could listen to Elvis.

In the new year, I’m going to be focused on living life again. I put myself last in order to make sure my dad was taken care of. I’m ready to rediscover who I am and what I am capable of being completely independent now. I’m excited to do things out of my comfort zone, actually go on a vacation this year (Jen’s 2018 retreat), spend more time with family and friends, and focus on getting my health back in check. I’m looking into the new year with optimism and excitement. Let’s do this 2018.

Life after losing my mom

I figured with today’s post I would get back on track a little with being a caregiver and life after losing my mom. My mom passed on 03/17/2011 and just two days later on the 19th it was my dad’s birthday. Losing my mom was such a shock to me that I barely ate for about three days. I even went out to get my dad a birthday cake and didn’t eat any of it, which is not like me because I love cake.

Losing my mom was a hard transition for me because I didn’t get a change to say goodbye to her. At the time that I lost my mom, my dad worked overnight and even though I was in my early 20’s when I lost her, I went to the local community college and so living at home was easier, but I have never spent a night alone in my house. When my dad would leave for work I would start to hear noises and things that really made me paranoid. I was lucky that my dad worked at a hotel and so for a couple of months he let me go into work with him and use a room to sleep in. There were railroad crews that would come in and would request a room with two beds, but there would only be one person in the room, so I would sleep in the bed that hadn’t been used. Eventually I got used to being home alone overnight and it helped that I had my cat Footer at the time to help with the transition.

Later in the year my dad started experiencing some chest pain, so we took him into the emergency room. They did testing and thankfully he wasn’t having a heart attack, but was having angina. I was relieved that it wasn’t a heart attack because when I was in high school he had one and when he went to the ER for that, the next morning they did open heart surgery. What was originally supposed to be a triple bypass ended up being a quadruple bypass. So while this time around it wasn’t a heart attack, they did an echocardiogram, which is essentially an ultrasound of your heart. It allows the cardiologists to see how the heart is pumping and to see if there is a good ejection fraction (ejection fraction measures the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts). the echocardiogram also takes a look at the heart valves to make sure they are working as they should  and that there is no regurgitation, or blood backing up into the heart. Once the results of dad’s echocardiogram came back it showed that his mitral heart valve was leaking pretty bad and that he would need to have open heart surgery to replace the valve.

Upon hearing this news I was such a mess. This would be the first major surgery that my dad would have without my mom being with us. And I know there are risks with any surgery, but open heart surgery is a whole other ballpark. surgery was scheduled for January of 2012. I was worried that I would lose him, but at the same time, I had confidence that he would pull through. The same surgeon that did his quadruple bypass was the one that did the mitral valve replacement. He was great at keeping me informed during the entire surgery. I owe so much to the surgeon for all he did for my dad and for allowing me to not lose both parents not even a year apart.

While I wish this was where the journey of being a caregiver ended, this was only the beginning of my almost seven year journey as his caretaker.