I had two parents, but they are both gone now. A few days ago, we observed the first wedding anniversary for them since Paco died last September. They celebrated 65 anniversaries together and this year would have been 68.
Ugh! There is so much stuff I want/need to do and not nearly enough brainpower to do it.
Admittedly, part of the problem is that I necessarily deferred a lot of things when I was involved with multi-generational caregiving for years and now there is a huge backlog that needs attention. Some are practical things, like dealing with the rest of the belongings of Grandma, Nana, and Paco that are still stored at our house and finishing the remaining work with Paco’s estate, including the final tax filings and, oh, our tax returns, too. Some are creative things, like writing blog posts and poetry, and the administrative tasks that go along with them, like getting submissions in, which I find both tedious and nerve-wracking. Some are educational, trying to stay informed about what is happening in the world and using that knowledge to advocate for social and environmental justice. And, of course, there are the errands, appointments, and household tasks that need doing, although I appreciate that B and T continue to cover a good chunk of the housework that I abandoned in recent years.
The biggest problem for me remains, though, that it’s difficult for me to muster the energy and concentration I need to tackle tasks that need critical and/or creative thought and decision-making. I suppose this is complicated by my INFJ-ness, which means that nearly everything for me involves deep thought.
There is also the reality that I am dealing with several years’ worth of grief and loss. The difficult period leading to Grandma’s death in 2016 followed by Nana’s struggles with heart failure leading to her death in 2019 followed by Paco’s decline and his death in September last year left me with a lot of deferred grief, which I have only recently realized and begun to process. There is also the personal loss of proximity to daughter E and granddaughters ABC and JG, who live across the Atlantic from us. Overlaying these personal losses is the pandemic and the upheaval, suffering, and death it has caused. The death toll in the US alone is 955,000, which, as staggering as that figure is, is probably an underestimate. The world is also in the midst of a major ideological rift between democracy and authoritarianism which is terrifying and destabilizing. I have lost the sense that the US is on a positive trajectory toward “a more perfect Union” as our Constitution terms it, which adds to my sense of grief.
It’s a lot.
I know it’s a lot and there are valid reasons that I find my concentration and energy so scant. I know I should be patient with myself, as I would be with a friend or loved one. I know I should be practicing self-care and not admonishing myself for not having the wherewithal to power through all of this and “accomplish my goals” and “be my best self” and whatever.
“Whatever” is usually my first thought when the question is “What’s for dinner?”
Not that that is what I say…
For almost forty years, I’ve been the frontline person in the house for shopping and deciding what is for dinner.
It’s not one of my favorite tasks. I’ve tried at various points to enlist help and can sometimes get an answer if I give people a few choices of what is on hand. There have also been stretches of time when I did hand off meal planning to other household adults, especially during the illnesses of Nana and Paco when I was too overwhelmed to deal with such things – or even to care much about food.
While I have been trying to be better about menu planning and execution recently, I’m still struggling. I think part of it is that I’m still alternating between not feeling like eating or even thinking about food and just wanting to eat anything in sight but not caring much about what that is. It’s likely related to grieving and part of the more general problem of still having limited energy and decision-making capabilities. It’s still difficult to make myself do things.
Or maybe that’s just an excuse or rationalization.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my late father, known here as Paco, recently.
I wish I could say that I am browsing old photos or remembering family holidays but, instead, I am mired in dealing with trying to settle insurance claims and begin the work needed to file his final tax returns and other estate sort of things.
Unfortunately, some of the issues are medical and it is bringing me back to a place of feeling helpless to alleviate Paco’s symptoms and not being able to get timely and accurate information about his condition.
It’s difficult and energy-draining and makes me feel like crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head.
I’m not doing that.
I am trying to shepherd my energy and steel myself to chip away at all the work. It’s going to take a long time to get through it all.
I know that only a few dozen people read my blog on any kind of regular basis and fewer than that comment online, although it still takes me by surprise when I get comments in person from friends, as though I think only cyberfolks read my blog.
Whoever you are, whether you read regularly, occasionally, or just this one post, I’m grateful for your visit and invite you to return whenever you can. This is my 1,561st post, so, whether your interest is poetry, politics, the environment, spirituality, family life, health, or generalized musings, you can probably find something of interest in my archives.
This year, I’m hoping to pay more attention to my “JC’s Confessions” and “How does JC’s Mind Work?” series.
Admittedly, that involves my mind actually working. These last few years have been such a struggle as our family has dealt with the loss of the last three members of the elder generation, B’s mom, known here as Grandma, and my parents, known here – and in real life – as Nana and Paco. Grief still has me feeling scattered, but I’m trying to regain some focus. Maybe, eventually, I’ll even return to having some kind of a predictable rhythm to my days, including writing time. It’s been ages since I’ve had that.
Although you can’t tell from the count of my recent blog posts, I have been carving out some writing time.
Unfortunately, you can’t tell that from my poetry output either, although I do have one recently written and accepted piece that I will share when it is published. I have had to compose a fair number of cover letters as I have done quite a few chapbook and full-length submissions, as well as some individual poems. I’ve gotten a number of rejections, but currently have the chapbook manuscript under consideration in four places and the collection in nine. I can hear my fellow poets saying that’s not enough, but I’m hoping to get a few more in later this week.
I spent a major amount of time thinking about, writing, and editing comments for a listening session with our bishop in preparation for a diocesan synod and the World Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to discern the future path of the church. The official title in English is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. In keeping with this, individuals were asked to share our hopes, dreams, and experiences with the church and our visions for the future. I chose to focus on the voices that have been marginalized in the church, concentrating on the voices of women. I prepared written remarks and then a shorter version that I could read aloud at the session within our three minute time limit. I do not like speaking in public but, inspired by others, especially some teens and young adults, I managed to do it. There was a lot of “speaking truth to power” at our session, one of at least twenty planned for our diocese, which is doing a credible job in reaching out to the people. Some diocese around the world are not doing much outreach, which could limit the effectiveness of the process when the bishops convene in 2023.
I have also been doing some holiday-related writing. My first priority was to write a letter to people on my parents’ Christmas card list who may not have heard about Paco’s death in September or even Nana’s in May 2019. It was difficult to write but I’m glad that I made myself do it because I heard back from several people who expressed their sympathies and shared memories with me. I also had the opportunity to do some reflective writing about this in conjunction with a support group I have been attending on preparing for the holidays after the loss of loved ones.
After sending out the letter to my parents’ friends, I tackled my own list, which was a bit more complicated. I did a family newsletter, still a difficult thing when having to report a death, that went in some cards, while others got a handwritten note or just a signed brief greeting, depending on how regularly I have been in contact with the recipient. All the addressing, stuffing, and stamping of envelopes adds to the time involved but most of them are in the mail now. A few are set aside for other members of the family to complete.
Now, there is, finally, this blog post. I’d like to say that I will post regularly from now on but I know that would be more wishful thinking than promise. B, T, and I are preparing for an extended holiday trip, which could create more leisure time for writing or be a total whirlwind with too little sleep to be cogent.
One of my most important priorities for the year-end holiday season has been sending greetings to a wide range of people from all the different eras of my life. For some of the people on my list, it was the only time of year we would be in touch. The task of preparing the cards was quite elaborate, choosing the right card for the each recipient, deciding on a brief handwritten note or a longer printed letter, even matching the postage stamp and Christmas seal to align with the religious beliefs of the person.
My accustomed process has been abandoned over these last few stressful years, with other family members helping and sometimes with me abandoning cards altogether and just sending letters, no longer personalized as I had been wont to do back in the day.
This year is one of the difficult ones.
It’s hard for me to send cards with a note telling about a death, which I need to do again this year because of Paco. We are being advised to mail extra early this year because the US mail is slower than it used to be. Also, we hope to travel over the holidays and I need to get everything done before we leave.
Despite all that, I haven’t started on my list yet.
Part of it is that it is difficult to muster energy to do things, especially emotional things like writing. It’s a common aspect with grief but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.
The other block I was having was knowing that I needed to write to some of the people on my parents’ Christmas card list to let them know what has happened. I knew there were some people who probably didn’t even know about Nana’s death, let alone Paco’s, as the last time some on the list would have heard from them was four years ago when I helped put together a letter to send out.
I had promised myself not to start on my own cards until I had taken care of Nana and Paco’s friends but it was difficult to get going on that. I wound up drafting the letter in the middle of the night-before-last when I couldn’t sleep. Today, I printed and addressed envelopes and brought them to the mailbox. I’m hoping that all of them will get delivered, as I don’t know if any of the recipients may have moved.
Theoretically, I could be working on my own cards and letters right now, but, instead, I’m writing this post. I’m not sure if it is procrastination or if I have used up my energy for the day.
The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.
This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.
We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.
Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.
Over the past few days, I have started to work on my Christmas card list.
Well, Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, or whatever anyone is celebrating list…
Sending greetings this time of year is one of my highest priorities of the season, so I am determined to get things in the mail to my list. There are a number of people that I am only in touch with at this time of year – and a number that I haven’t seen in person in decades – and some that I haven’t heard from in decades, but it is important to me to send something to them.
These past few years haven’t been exemplary for me, though. There were years that I sent letters only instead of cards because I couldn’t bring myself to the extra work of choosing and signing cards. I’ve accepted help from family members with addressing and sending. Last year was probably the most difficult. I couldn’t bear the thought of following up “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!” with “Not sure if you heard the news that my mother died.” I wrote a letter to my friends in November and left B and T with the task of sending cards to the rest of our list.
But this year, I’m trying to get back to something closer to what I used to do, choosing cards, signing and hand addressing envelopes, adding Christmas seals, stamps, and return address labels, enclosing a letter and photo when appropriate.
So far, I have about half the cards written and envelopes prepared, but none of the enclosures yet.
I did do a step that I have skipped for several years, going through last year’s cards received and marking them in the appropriate box on my list, which is written in a special holiday card list booklet. (Actually, this list has also become my de facto address book. I used to keep a separate address book but haven’t updated it in years.) This has been poignant because many of the notes on the cards include condolences for my mom and often reminiscences on the loss of people’s own mothers.
I haven’t quite figured out what to write about 2020. How to sum up a year that has been marked by such universal fear, loss, grief, and sadness, but that has also seen such blessings in our lives, such as the fact that B’s job is able to carry on from home and the safe arrival and thriving of granddaughter JG, even though we can’t travel to London to meet her.
I’ll work on it.
After I’ve gotten the rest of the list finished with cards chosen, signed, addressed, with envelopes open and waiting.
Sleep has not been one of my better skills for, um, more years than I care to count. There have been lots of reasons for this, some of which I can identify and some of which I can’t.
The last few weeks, though, I’ve slept better than I have for quite a while. I think a large part of it is having gotten through several months’ worth of firsts since Nana’s death last year, including the first anniversary of her death.
I’m sure that some of it is also that the COVID infection rate in my state (New York) and especially my region (Southern Tier) is under control and we are able to carefully progress with opening more stores and services. The vast majority of people realize that we have to continue to wear masks and maintain physical distancing and not have large gatherings, so there is hope that we can keep our case number very low, using extensive testing and contact tracing to keep any cases from becoming outbreaks.
I will admit that, although I’m sleeping better than I have been, I’m still not up to seven hours a night, which is – or, at least, was long ago – the amount of sleep that seemed to work best for me. Will I get there eventually or revert to more severe insomnia? I don’t know.
For now, I’m just grateful to be catching some more zzzz’s. *****