Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Blue Thanksgiving?

This week I was cleaning out my closet to continue my efforts to purge and minimize where possible. It brought me to my two memory boxes of Tim. Every once in a while as I go through them, time passes and I notice that some things that seemed important to keep at first, don’t seem that important later. I think that is a natural part of the passing of time.

This time, I found myself looking with the perspective of having tried to become as paper-free as possible over the last year. This led to a boatload of scanning. I had over 80 scans by the time I was done, the largest one being 25 pages. (Thanks Stef for showing me how to top-load documents!)

Overall, as the days passed, I knew I was melancholy and sober. It wasn’t just reliving my husband’s death, it was reliving the loss of my church family as well. But the deepest wound by far, was finding one of Tim’s treasures he had saved. He had a couple of Christmas tags in Mom’s handwriting that said, “To Tim, From Mom and Dad.” A wave came over me as I said in a whisper, “My God, all three of them are gone, completely gone.”

Today I had to go to the Hospice campus for something. They have done lots of remodeling. Their already nice facility is even more beautiful and more convenience-friendly. But I didn’t even make it back to my car without calling Michelle back and dumping a whole bunch of tears on her.

She asked how I am overall. Lost. I feel lost and orphaned. Both parents gone, a spouse gone. Geeze, I know lots of people are in the same boat, but I’m super in touch with my own grief right now. It’s mine, and it’s intense. Why does this stuff always happen around the holidays? That familiar stomach ache. That familiar hollow feeling I know so well. Only it is carved even deeper now. That feeling like this death aged me another ten years ahead of my time. 

I laugh when I job hunt and I hear dumb things like I don’t have experience with some of this stuff. The hell I don’t. I have gobs of it. Not as much as some, but more than a lot of people. I’m not feeling a pity-party at the moment. Just letting folks out there know that if you are in grief, don’t let anyone tell you there is a time limit to it. You’re allowed the rest of your life. It’s okay if the holidays are bittersweet at best. That about sums up life in general anyhow. Let yourself show the courage to taste both ends of the spectrum.

It can still be a Happy Thanksgiving, even when you’re shedding some tears.


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He WAS there!

It’s funny how sometimes the “facts” of your life can change as your perspective and experience grows. Maybe a little growing up too. I remember when I was initially immersed in therapy in my 20’s and I was doing the whole evaluating my family of origin thing. Mom and I were in a lot of conflict at the time. I had this “aha” moment when I realized that I disagreed with her a lot, but it was because she was “there.” Dad just wasn’t. At least that is how it felt at the time.

I’ve mentioned before that Dad was a good, stoic German. He was not very demonstrative with his emotions or affection. It made him uncomfortable. That’s why there are lots of pictures of me sitting on his lap or my sister and I kissing him when we were older because we just kind of forced it on him (lovingly). You see his smile though, he liked it!

Progressive-Lisa, Dad, Darcy

But I was laying in bed the other night and one memory after another popped into my mind. I am rewriting my story. Dad WAS there.

The first time that comes to mind, I’m not really sure how old I was. Maybe five or six? Dad played softball at the fire hall. I think he was the pitcher. I was sitting on a blanket on the sidelines. Don’t know what family I was with but it wasn’t my family. All of a sudden I got hit hard in the head with a baseball. I was dazed. My vision was blurry but I looked and saw Dad running to me. He was there. I remember being home that night with ice on my face and Mom saying, “Poor baby.” But Dad came running, literally, when I needed him.

Next, fast forward to fourth grade. My grandma died. She and I shared a bedroom so I was very close to her. We had this ugly, brown, upholstered rocking chair, but we had it for years and years. I remember being curled up in Daddy’s lap in that chair and just crying. He didn’t say anything, just held me. He was there.

Right after I graduated high school I went on a mission trip to Europe for six weeks. I was in the driveway saying goodbye to mom and dad and we were hugging. I remember looking up and being shocked to see Dad crying. I mean tears, streaming down his face. He didn’t say a word but he didn’t have to.

In 1990, we had a huge tragedy in our family. My niece was killed in a car accident at only 10 years old. Dad was directing traffic as a firefighter and had no idea who was in the car. That tore him up. I remember him talking about it. And I remember our family going to the private viewing at the funeral home before everyone else arrived from the public. I am pretty sure it was him that stood next to me with his arm around me as we all sobbed.

In 2010, Tim was diagnosed with cancer. Our cat was too. Oreo was put on steroids and had another month where he functioned normally. Then the day came when he couldn’t walk and we knew what had to happen. Of course, the irony of knowing what lay ahead for Tim didn’t escape any of us. We were all in the bathroom as that was where we found Oreo unable to walk. It was Tim, David, Dad and me. All four of us cried. Dad was right there with us. No words were necessary.

I will never forget October 14, 2010 as long as I live. After his five month battle with cancer, Tim died at the Hospice facility. The room was full of loved ones, but it was Dad that stood next to me as the nurse examined him and looked up at us to tell us he was gone. Crazy thing about a terminal illness. You know the end is coming. You wait for it. You plan for it. But when it happens, you are shocked anyway. My knees literally buckled underneath me. Dad caught me. He literally held me up because my body wasn’t capable of it.

My story is rewritten. I had two amazing parents. As we all kept vigil as Dad was living out his last two weeks, my boyfriend Tim carved out some time alone with Dad. He told him that I wouldn’t be alone anymore. He promised to take care of me. He promised to take care of David. Even though he wouldn’t articulate it to me, I know that helped Dad to let go more peacefully.

As I had foot surgery this week and have had to sit still (which is almost impossible for me), Tim has kept his word. He has held me up, literally and figuratively. I remember him telling me that he knew he would never replace Dad, but he would do his best to be there for me.

Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Tim. And thank you God for all of them.

Graduation June 22, 1985 (3).jpg


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Grief Brain…Again

Once again, I find myself blaming grief brain. I know I’m a bit klutzy and spacey regardless, but when it gets ramped up, I finally remember that grief brain is a real thing. Some things will make you chuckle. If you don’t learn to laugh at yourself, you’re in real trouble. Other things make me cry, though. Perhaps people in grief should just be locked up for six months or so. For everyone’s safety…

The dreaded yearly mammogram came and went without incident this year. Well, almost. The happy part was that I didn’t have to go back several times and try not to freak out while I was waiting. I got that carnation on the first go. I took the flower, my purse, my coloring book, my pencils, and my half-drank tea and said goodbye for another year. When I came back the woman smiled and said, “I wondered where you were going.” Now I like those cute pink robes they give you, but thank God I realized I hadn’t put my clothes back on before I fully went out into the waiting room.

Disaster averted, I go to the locker room and get proper. I am again out of hands so I put the half cup of tea in my mouth. I’ve got this. Except the damn curtain wouldn’t open up. I look up to see where it is caught and that does it. Tea right down my nose. And all over my shirt. And my coloring book. I swear, it’s amazing I stay alive sometimes.

I am particularly proud of balancing two months of Dad’s checkbook. I always do it to the penny, but this time I couldn’t believe I pulled it off. I was so distraught about all the memories as I was doing it, that I kept transposing numbers and putting things in the wrong column. A few sniffles later (or a lot) I balanced it. Phew.

Yesterday I walked Taffy as usual. She’s getting old and more anxious. Right before we got back to the car she took off. She doesn’t have the energy to do it much anymore so she surprised me. When she bothered to come back, she was covered in burrs. Her tail had two massive balls the sizes of grapefruits. No, I’m not exaggerating. She just looked at me with guilty but pathetic eyes. She knew she was in pain…and in trouble.

I brushed her the best I good and a great number came off while I was in the park. Then I got home with her and sat in the driveway with the scissors. All was going painfully slowly but well until I saw the blood on the concrete. I yelled for Colin. (Sometimes I wonder what that man thinks of me. Then I realize I REALLY don’t want to know.) Best we could tell, I nicked the tip of her tail.

Now there wasn’t a LOT of blood, but it was everywhere. On the walls, the kitchen floor, the bathroom shower, wherever her tail flung around. She wasn’t crying but we were freaking out. Any mom will tell you that she would rather cut off her own hand than one of her kids. Luckily, one of my walking friends is a nurse. Thank God she answered her phone and came right over. She thought it was hilarious but she had the benefit of knowing Taffy wouldn’t bleed to death. Colin and I were not so sure.

I finally ran to the neighbors and got some cornstarch. We dipped her tail in it and the bleeding stopped. Then we just had to clean up the blood, which had dried by then. Today I finished getting the last of the burrs out with the clippers. Tomorrow she goes to the grimmer who will fix her up. I thanked Colin for not telling our Florence Nightingale about the time I cut his hair and snipped his ear. That was the last time he ever let me touch him.

Nothing terrible came of it, but I was still sick all night. My head just isn’t in the game. It hurts to miss Dad so much. It might sound weird, but I am taken aback by how much I miss him. I felt closer to Mom over the years, but Dad has become part of my tapestry in a way that I can’t describe. I’m closing with one of my favorite pictures of us. What you have to see is the smirk in his face. That nails the dynamics between us right there.

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Now I’m going to try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the day. Wish me luck.

Got any stories to share?


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When end-of-life care magnifies the pain

I’m cheating this week. I am going to post an article in the Buffalo News that I wrote and was published yesterday. I love the title the paper came up with. Care is supposed to diminish the pain, such irony. The response to the article has been amazing. I have gotten emails from people telling their own stories, asking for assistance in guiding their journeys with their loved ones. I am especially excited about one from a geriatric doctor who I will be meeting with to discuss how to attempt to make positive changes in the system. I think it’s worth posting it here for those who aren’t local or don’t read the paper. Please feel free to share your own stories and experiences!

“After losing Mom and my husband, writing books about it, and becoming credentialed as an Aging Life Care Manager, I assumed approaching Dad’s death was going to be the best death I had the privilege to be part of. I know that sounds strange, but I had become educated and knew when Dad switched to palliative care, when his time came, he would not suffer. I promised him that.

I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

Over the last decade, I became increasingly involved in his care. He had Parkinson’s and we began the journey of educating ourselves the hard way. After treating swallowing issues and bladder disorders for years, we were finally informed they were symptoms of Parkinson’s. Itchy skin. Blood pressure. Is there anything this thing doesn’t touch? It’s a slow progressing disease that makes life miserable but doesn’t have the courtesy of actually killing you. At least not for years and years.

My family and I helped him “get his affairs in order” over time. He slowly made changes financially and legally to put him in a good position. He sold his house and eventually landed in Assisted Living, just down the street. While it seemed crazy expensive, finding out about a VA benefit made it almost affordable. He would have three meals a day, have his apartment cleaned, and his laundry washed.

We made sure his medical papers were ready. We had lots of discussions about his wishes so I could be a good Health Care Proxy if need be. By the time he turned 85, he had lived a good life and was ready for the next and a reunion with his wife.

In July, Dad starting experiencing pain. Spoiler alert: Two of the last three weeks of his life he lived with increasing pain. I knew our medical system was broken, I just didn’t realize how badly. Medicine has become a for-profit business, which usually means money is more important than patient care. No matter how much I advocated, I couldn’t beat the facility or the medical persons they contracted with. It became crystal clear they didn’t understand palliative care or that palliative and hospice were no longer interchangeable. More importantly, they didn’t want to. Professionals should inform patients of treatment options and expected outcomes. The decision to treat (or not) should be the patient’s, not the doctor’s.

I could not get the administrators to see what was happening. The staff would often shudder at what they witnessed but were powerless. His primary would not prescribe enough pain medication and refused to order a catheter in spite of his fall risks. There was blatant refusal to accept his MOLST (Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment). It finally culminated in them blocking Hospice from treating him. Yes, you read that right. Eventually they were cited by the Department of Health for failure to comply or I can’t imagine how bad Dad’s suffering would have gotten.

I later discovered that about four years ago, regulations were drastically changed. Dying is not enough to gain Hospice care. You have to have a terminal illness to qualify. How do I keep heralding the advantages of palliative care if there is no one to help folks when they get to that point? Hospice can’t be happy about this either.

I will never, ever forget the look in Dad’s eyes when he was hurting and I could do nothing for him. The several individuals who refused to do proper research and care for him appropriately should not be practicing. You only get to die once. Why should a decorated Korean War veteran, after working his entire life in an American factory, and was a volunteer firefighter for 60 years, have to suffer at the end of his life? If you can answer that, please tell me. I would do anything to make sense of it.”


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Car Shopping with a Counselor

I’ve heard it more than once or twice that people tend to spill their guts around counselors. Kinda like hairdressers, bartenders, massage therapists. It’s just what happens. I think with me, it’s more because I’m so damn intense emotionally, that it draws it out of other people too. Now, I didn’t say I’m emotional, but intense with emotions. Who knows, maybe there is only a difference in my imagination.

Almost everyone I know hates car shopping. You would think it would be fun and exciting, but it is usually stressful. Spending that amount of money, combined with making a decision that will affect the next eight to ten years of your life, it’s no wonder it feels like too big of a decision. Now add to it that most of us expect to be ripped off. We know they aren’t really going to give us their bottom life offer, even though they say they are.

My dad almost always had trucks, pretty much his whole life. They were his babies. He took meticulous care of them. We had talked about my possibly trading in his truck for a new car and I was worried I would break his heart. He was ok with it, thankfully. But now consider this intensely emotionally person taking her very recently deceased father’s pride and joy to be traded in. Even my boyfriend was like, “Yea, I have to say, this was the most stressful and emotional car shopping experience I’ve ever had.” At our age, that’s saying something.

Let’s just say that after the first three-hour visit with a sales girl, she looked at me and said, “Remember, it’s just a car.” Then I informed her that wasn’t the case for my dad. It was his baby. I started crying with frustration because we couldn’t come to an agreement for a price. Next thing I knew, she was crying too. Oh man!

Two days later, I am on speaker phone with the sales guy I have worked with for decades. He starts to have a mini meltdown with me due to the inability to come to a purchase agreement with me. I talk him down from the cliff and then he ends up disclosing some very stressful personal stuff. Love that guy, but only shopping with me would there be this much emotion spilling over everywhere.

After way too many hours and days, I did finally get a vehicle. I ended up back at the place where I had the woman crying. She was off the day I actually purchased but I got to see her a couple of days later. The employees there have each other’s backs so they made sure she got her part of the commission. She certainly earned that one.

 

IMG_20180912_082546330_HDRIt’s cute, isn’t it? Safe, good mileage, got a decent deal. Honda HR-V Sport. My insurance agent asked if I was having a mid-life crisis. I told her I was just sick of the color black and feeling like I live in the world of death and dying. Besides, Dad’s truck was red. Doesn’t that count for something?

Anyhow, perhaps you can relate to the car buying stress. I wouldn’t recommend taking me with you, though. Just saying.


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Here Again

For a supposed grief expert, I sure forget the basics sometimes. I find myself crying at odd times over odd things and get surprised by it. Then it finally occurred to me that it has only been two and a half weeks since Dad died. I preach to everyone that grief takes a long, long time. I’m not even close to being finished!

Continuing to cooperate with investigations about the fiasco that surrounded his death certainly keeps everything fresh. And it ignites the anger all over again too. I don’t mind spending the literal hours upon hours to do this. But am I going to feel that way if at the end of it all nothing happens?  What if nothing changes?

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I keep learning new things and witnessing situations where I realize that the level of dysfunction in our medical system goes deeper and deeper. Will it ever get better? Is it even moving in the right direction? And will someone like me even able to make the tiniest difference?

I love the picture I posted last week. Dad looks genuinely happy to have his daughters with him. It is freaky weird to think that was only two months prior to losing him. He looks healthy and full of life.

The first thing that set me off was a form letter I received. I talk about this event ad nauseam every day. Seeing “we have been informed of the death of David Thiel” is pretty straight forward but it knocked me off my feet. I just started crying. Colin made me feel better. He saw it and said that it is indeed difficult to see it in print.

Thanks to the countless  number of you that have sent cards, donations, food, flowers, and just plain old check in calls. So many people knew him and think he was a stand-up guy, just like we do. There is a big empty hole in my gut that is going to be there for some time. Not sure what will start to heal it, but I know time is a factor.

An eerie number of my friends have lost a parent this year. If you are one of them, give yourself a moment to be gentle with your memories. If you know someone who is going through this, take a moment to reach out or say a prayer. It means more than you know.

Yep, that’s me and my daddy.  Darcy, Dad- camping


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Eulogy

I’ve been asked to remember to post the eulogy so here it is. I hope that it does my father justice.  Just a couple of pictures to show the bookends of his life.

Dad

David August Thiel was born on April 7, 1932. But that is how these eulogy things always start. Yet for me and my family, it feels like he deserves something special. Something that captures the essence of who he was to us.

I find myself struggling because in truth, it was dad’s ordinariness that actually made him extraordinary. He was a gentleman. A gentle man. Soft spoken. Predictable and dependable. In other words, you could count on him. He was a man who took responsibility seriously.

Dad was a man of honor. He didn’t talk about his time in the military much, but he served during the Korean War. He has a devastatingly handsome picture from that time. His eyes were like a movie star’s. In a confusing time in our country, we are so proud of his service.

He and Mom met at a dance. They got married December 4, 1954. On their 50th anniversary, Mom wrote this: “They say a good man is hard to find—I found one! You are a good husband, great provider, the best dad and we are fortunate to have four wonderful kids and eight delightful grandkids. It makes for a wonderful family. I’ll follow you down that ‘forever path’ …like it or not.  Three years later, Dad lost the love of his life. He lived on the best he could, but some losses in our lives have such a profound impact on us, we are never quite the same again. One of the greatest comforts for us is knowing he is reunited with her.

Working at the water treatment plant at Harrison’s for well over thirty years also earned our respect. He went to work every day and I don’t remember him ever complaining. Very rarely did he take a day off work. Until he retired of course. Then they traveled all over the place, seeing the things they always talked about seeing.  They had camped lots of times in their lives, but it started with new fervor when they purchased a motor home. They deserved that time together.

After working all day, Dad came home to the farm. He and mom sold asparagus for years and raised our own beef. The first cow we had I named Billy. After Billy ended up on our kitchen table, I never named a cow again. My old siblings, I mean my older siblings tell me they remember Dad hunting. I don’t ever remember that, but after the Billy fiasco, I’m not surprised. What I do remember, is snowmobiling. We belonged to a club and of course, Dad was president.

You can’t know Dad without knowing how committed he was to the passion in his life- volunteering at Terry’s Corners firehall. He was honored last year for sixty years of service. Sixty years! His nickname there was “Moses.” There are lots of opinions as to why he was called that, but I assume it is because he was a formidable leader.  He was a firefighter, fire police, fire chief at least three times that we know of. Bingo, drills, installation dinners, gun raffles, chicken barbecues. I haven’t even been alive that long and he has been working hard all that time. Wow.

We’ve learned so many things about him, right up until the fat lady sang. I had no idea my dad was such a charmer. I mean, who would have thought that someone whose high school nickname was “Squeal” was going to be a lady killer. Every doc, every nurse… heck, they would come see him even if he wasn’t their patient. He would get this big smile and be teased about being such a flirt. Nurse Amy didn’t even call him by his name. “Handsome Pants” would get called right across the room whenever he walked into the office. That trend didn’t stop in the end. The last few weeks he was surrounded by his family 24/7.  Sometimes he wouldn’t be able to respond to us and then the cute young thing called an aide would walk in and he would suddenly be responsive. I considered renting a uniform and pretending to be a nurse.  And then there was the scandalous relationship he had with the married woman next door to his apartment. He claims she had dementia and wandered in accidentally but I’m no fool.

Truth be told, Dad was a hot commodity at Elderwood where he spent the last year of his life. Men were outnumbered about 4 to 1. And most of the men there were cranky. Dad’s good nature and good looks caught everyone’s eye. Some would show no embarrassment when they would tell us how the “other” women there were chasing my dad. Every once in a while I would toss out something like, “You know, he IS a stubborn German,” hoping to comfort them but they didn’t buy it.

Also like a good German, Dad could be pretty stoic. He was NOT a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. We never doubted that he loved us. Not because he showered us with hugs and kisses and repeated I love you’s, but by his provision and unwavering presence. His humor would make it impossible to be frustrated for long. We’ve had a running joke with him most of our lives. 99% of the time, saying I love you Dad would be answered by “yeah.” If we challenged him with a louder I SAID I LOVE YOU DAD, we would be answered by a louder YEAH.

The last week of his life, Dad couldn’t leave his bed. He could barely communicate and could only sporadically do so. One of those days, Lisa and I had him trapped. It wasn’t very difficult in his condition of course, but we found ourselves sitting on either side of him in the bed. We both told him we loved him. I held my breath, as I realized that I would have done anything to hear one of those “yeahs” that really meant I love you too, but he seemed too weak to answer. I said, “Dad, aren’t you going to say it at least once to us before you go?” He surprised us when he was able to say, clear as a bell, I MIGHT.

My father was ready. We think it is incredibly brave and courageous to be able to evaluate your life and recognize that you feel finished. That takes humility, which seemed to come naturally with his personality. To grow older gracefully and look forward to what is next to come takes a human of great character. And Dad was certainly a character. Oops, Freudian slip.

The things he stood for in his quiet way are simple. Honest. Hardworking. Faithful. There, year after year after year. The truth is, they just don’t make em like that anymore. In a world where most of us shake our heads in sadness or confusion several times a day, my dad represents a better time, a better person. Our love and connection to him runs deep. He never faltered so the steady confidence we felt with him in our lives was a true treasure and gift. The cavern that is left behind for us is indeed a ginormous one. Please, lets us make a pact to honor his memory by filling that cavern by following his example. Be someone that others can draw strength from. Be someone that others know they can count on.

From Sue, Randy, Lisa, and myself, thank you for being here. Be like Dad and you will do well.

Lisa, Dad, Darcy