The UnChristmas

For the first time since December 15, I felt like myself. I’m still grieving. I’m still hurting, but by the time end of today (12/26/2021), the overwhelming hurricane of different emotions had pushed me into its eye. And I felt like me.

Yesterday was a hard one. My mother called early in the morning, wishing me a Merry Christmas. Really, my brain couldn’t even fathom why she would wish me a Merry Christmas when I was home alone and my dad is newly dead.

The holidays are always hard on me. They start with hope and usually end with disappointment. I had often said I wish I could ignore them all together. Just skip. And go to Paris.

There were no presents to open Christmas morning. I let the teenager open hers early when we needed some joy in the midst of funeral stuff. No decorations. I never got the Christmas tree up. I never listened to Christmas music this year— and I love Christmas music.

The world stopped when my father died.

The teenager has multiple pet sitting responsibilities. Something like eight visits a day. And her father just got his new car on the 23rd, so I had expected to have a car to visit family without her.

My nephew came down with Covid so there would be no gathering with that side of the family.

So my little funeral tantrum that led me to spend most of the service in my car apparently prevented my exposure to Covid.

I did have a bit of a something— a cold? A sinus issue? Backlash from not taking my allergy medicine for a week?

And I had hoped maybe I could go have some of Mom’s lasagne.

But by the end of her phone call, I think she hung up on me. I don’t know if she realizes it, but her last words were, “well, excuse me for being alive.”

That stung.

I thought she would understand how much I was hurting. She lost her dad when she was 21.

I spent the day alphabetizing and organizing some cards I’ve been saving. It tools about six hours, while watching reruns of ER and drinking coconut rum and pina colada lemonade.

The teenager brought home sandwiches from Sheetz. Other than that my meals were Christmas cookies and potato chips.

I went to bed around 8:30 pm and woke at 4:15 a.m. I did my physical therapy cobra poses and went downstairs to have my coffee.

When I arrived at work, my body struggled with anxious feelings, trouble breathing, difficulty regulating body temperature. I was no longer sick, though the post nasal drip is still very real.

When we got to Freestyle— our assignment for the day— there was no work for us. So a bunch of us had to transfer to Freestyle Pick and go out into the warehouse to pick our own work. And although the Freestyle carts are 80 items instead of 40 like ordinary fixes, I had a great time. I always liked picking. I arrived back in Freestyle not first but not last.

And I got to see the warming sunrise through the warehouse windows.

My guess is that I performed at about 90% in Freestyle QC/ship.

And then, at the end of the day they asked me to go pick again! And despite my back hurting a bit on the right side, once again I had a great time. The Freestyle/Direct Buy cart took me 45 minutes. I imagine the goal is 40 minutes.

That motion drove the feeling of panic away.

And before I left, I grabbed some hard-boiled eggs to share with the dog. I had asked the teenager to grab some jarred vodka sauce at the grocery store when she was between clients and she one-upped me.

She went to George’s Pizzeria and bought their homemade vodka sauce. My favorite.

And our cat foster godmother, now the teenager’s client and the teenager’s boss at Apricity Pet Care, left her a bottle of wine to bring home to me.

While the teenager finished her afternoon shifts, I made spaghetti. I sautéed a chicken breast and heaps of fresh broccoli, kale and spinach. I mixed it all up with George’s vodka sauce.

We ate like queens.

And then as I cleaned up the leftovers and packed my remaining work lunches for this week (Mr. Accordion stopped by and brought me his scrumptious halupkis that I finished today), the dog grabbed my favorite cat by the scruff of his neck and starting running around the kitchen with him in her mouth.

The cat was fine. The dog just wanted to carry him.

I poured some wine and grabbed some cookies.

And that is my unChristmas update.

I lost more than I thought

I try so very hard to find something beautiful to say even in the midst of pain.

I try to be grateful.

I try to be humble.

I failed today.

And that’s okay, but it’s also not, but you can’t flog yourself over the past.

So you get stuck.

In the hurt.

We buried my father today. My rock. My daddy. I feel like he tried to temper my flaws, gave me confidence when I had none, and made me laugh when I thought the world was crumbling.

I didn’t attend the services. I arrived eight minutes late for the family viewing time and by the time I made it into the chapel…

I left and sat in my car.

A lot of people loved my dad. He made everyone feel like he was their best friend. He made everyone feel like part of the group.

And he wasn’t there to make me feel like I belonged.

I’m disappointed in myself because I can hear his voice in my head trying to smooth things over, and he hated when I get emotional.

I resurfaced at the diner, with “Smiley” (one of our favorite waitresses) bringing us pancakes and fried food.

My sister Dawn, the back of my brother’s head, and the teenager

The first day of adieu

I spent most of my morning trying to be practical and do what needs to be done. And maybe get some breakfast before heading to my father’s viewing.

My morning coffee companion

The teenager went to her morning job— a cat sitting visit— and then had breakfast with her father and my college roommate.

I finally forced myself to eat an egg with some kale.

And I found myself sitting quietly.

Struggling to find shoes that fit.

We drove up to the funeral home and met my aunt and my uncle’s widow and her family. My older sister and her husband came next. And then my stepmom and her sister (and her extended family).

My uncle’s widow thanked me for my recent writings as they helped her adjust to the reality that my father has left his earthly life.

(Later, my stepmom’s nephew hugged me and his wife told me how beautiful some of my recent writings and reflections have been.)

Together, we entered the funeral home. And the funeral director apologized for being in her slippers, but honestly it brought me a sense of home.

We walked into the chapel, and my dad was surrounded with red and white roses and celebrated with so many flowers from friends, relatives and colleagues (some of whom even signed his nicknames for them instead of their given names).

Photos everywhere.

  • Photo 1: On the top, that’s a photo of my dad and his older brother, Earl Ivan Jr. or “Skippy.” The photo on the bottom right is my dad on microstock race night with my nephew holding the now teenager as a baby.
  • Photo 2: My dad holding the now teenager at the West End Fair, at the tractor pull. It was my first outing with the baby on my own. She was about 8 weeks old.
  • Photo 3: I had to take a photo to remind me of how peaceful Dad looked, with a slight smirk like he got the last joke. He just needed a remote and some pretzels. The teenager said before he passed on Wednesday morning, she could feel his reluctance to leave us, but the calm when he did.
  • Photo 4: My stepmom and my aunt, the last remaining sibling
  • Photo 5: the teenager and her dad
My brother and his dog

My mother came and said some nice things to my stepmom, thanking her for always being nice to myself and the now teenager, and my stepmom said we are easy to love.

My friends and Parisian Phoenix staff — Gayle and Joan— came. (And the whole day was a theatrical farce of people coming and going and not seeing each other.)

My college roommate slipped out with the teenager’s dad to grab sandwiches.

And my in-laws not only came but my mother-in-law, at my request, made chicken and potato salad and brought many other goodies. Including Memmy’s fruitcake and Uncle Lee’s baked beans.

It was a long afternoon — and people kept leaving things in Dad’s casket: cigarettes, a Harley Davidson hat, flowers, a racing patch.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Nobody gives a sh*t, in a good way

I intended today’s post to be about my medical appointments, but grief and death have a way of sneaking into everything.

So, let me start this post by saying I’ve been released from physical therapy and let’s hope I do yoga and more weight training to improve more and free myself or even more pain.

I haven’t been to the gym in two weeks because first came the schedule change, then my trainer got sick and then my dad died.

My dad, visiting the teenager at her waitressing job

Today, my college roommate reached out to say she would drive up from Baltimore if I needed her. And I started to weep in the parking lot of physical therapy, because she and I have been extremely sporadic in our contact since we graduated. I never even told her when the teenager’s father and I split up.

I did finally tell her, but only after she sent a Christmas card.

So many people have been kind in the wake of my father’s death, but to have such an act of kindness offered just hit me hard.

And then, as I have often since we met with the funeral home, I checked for his obituary. This time, I found it.

Daddy’s Obituary

Now it could just be I’m grieving and therefore have a lower IQ than usual— I somehow got the dog’s bowls stuck together— but it is a little tricky to navigate the options on my phone to see the obituary.

And finally, my daughter looked at me this morning and said, “you know how you always say that my generation has an easier time with body acceptance… for me, that wasn’t social media or TikTok or anything, it was Poppop. He never said anything when I started gaining weight, and if I said something, he’d say, ‘Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.’”

And he’d know how to get those damn bowls unstuck.

Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.

Jim Ackerman, “Poppop on the Mountain.”

Joy and Sorrow

Since my father died yesterday… yesterday… (it feels like a lifetime ago and at the same time like maybe it didn’t happen at all), I thought it might be wise to keep today quiet.

I canceled my appointment at the gym, as I feel a little drained and shaky from all the emotion yesterday and I know I didn’t eat right.

I started to get dressed and ended up merely putting on a clean t-shirt with my fuzzy cat-in-the-hat pajama pants.

I read more memories people sent me— so many people knew my father. My mother stopped by. My neighbor stopped.

I started laundry. I did dishes. I got out the broom and swept for a while.

I found the pendant my father gave me, engraved with “my little girl yesterday, my friend today, my daughter always, I love you.” It’s on a silver chain that’s tarnished with age with my Celtic knot charm and my amber.

I mopped the kitchen floor. I answered texts and talked on the phone.

I ordered a case of Parisian Phoenix’s next title— Twists: Gathered Ephemera— a poetry manuscript by Darrell Parry, father of the teenager who has been, as always, very helpful and dependable.

I invited my blind friend Nan over for dinner, as she loves to watch me cook and I figured by feeding her I would, in turn, feed the teenager and I.

She accepted.

So while I waited for the teenager to return from school, I wrapped her Christmas presents. The teenager would also swing by Nan’s apartment building.

It was a ridiculously warm, sunny December day and I opened the windows so the cats could frolick.

And when Eva and Nan arrived, we brought Nan to the kitchen and I cooked pork loin, chicken burgers and pre-seasoned pulled chicken. While I cooked, the teenager opened her Christmas presents.

With the holidays fast approaching, and Yule is one of those holidays, I thought she might need some of the items I gave her. I also thought Nan might enjoy watching her open her presents. The teenager works a lot in coming weeks as people travel to see family. Today seemed calmer.

And I thought we could superimpose some joy onto our sorrow and grief.

I packed up leftovers for Nan to take home. Nan and I had soft tacos.

And after dinner, I poured Nan a County Seat Spirits whiskey and water while I had a Yuengling. And we celebrated with a drink in my dad’s honor.

And Nan always makes the teenager and I laugh.

And the neighbor that visited earlier, little dog’s mom, returned with the fanciest chocolate covered pretzels I ever saw. She made them at work and thought we could enjoy them with family after the viewing on Sunday.

Daddy, I promise to seek laughter and joy when I miss you.

Remembering how to Breathe: Homage and Adieu to my Father

My father has been dealing with illness for the last couple weeks, since Thanksgiving.

He was in the hospital twice over the last week, because a twist of complications from COPD and Covid made it impossible for him to breathe. And he wouldn’t eat or drink.

But a week before that he was here and fine.

And yesterday he was stable.

The hospital had sent him for a brain scan because he was delusional and rather hateful. And they discovered that somewhere between seven and 30 days ago he had a stroke.

Well, despite being stable, he apparently had a bigger stroke last night— and it left his legs paralyzed. And he developed pneumonia.

So… I drove to work this morning having last heard that my father was stable and my stepmom was asking family members if we could help care for him while he recovered.

I saw two deer frolicking on the Bizzy Hizzy lawn as I drove to the Stitch Fix warehouse. They were happy and bouncing around, and I was optimistic, Wednesday, after all, is my Friday.

I clocked in and headed to my assigned table and even nailed those numbers as I QC’ed my first few fixes.

I noticed the warehouse seemed hot and sticky and I suspected I smelled funny.

Then my step mom called. She had bad news. Dad was dying.

I walked up to some random supervisor and explained what was happening. Another person who seemed to be more in charge grabbed my Bizzy box and told me he would clock me out.

I had been folding a lovely jewel tone green sweater.

I called the teenager and told her not to go to school.

I drove home racing into a beautiful sunrise.

There was a drug raid at the house two doors down.

The teenager was burning a candle.

We drove to the hospital with no issue and the guard almost stopped us until I told him my dad was dying.

And then when we arrived in the room, my dad looked tiny and frail. He’s always been tiny but never frail.

And this towel in his room was folded like a swan. It seemed out of place, but serene.

We all sat there— my brother for a while, the teenager, my stepmom, her friends, and I— watching my dad gasp to breathe. They didn’t have his teeth in. My sister arrived around 10. She went to the bathroom. The doctor came into the room.

My sister said, “hi, Pop.”

The doctor hugged my stepmom.

And the teenager and I watched him stop breathing. And his death was that quick. 10:07 a.m.

I snapped this photo because if you look near that wad of cotton on his left arm, he has a tattoo of my name. And I might not ever see it again.

My dad was 73. And smoked almost 2 packs a day for almost 60 years.

I have received hundreds of condolences on Facebook today— so many little remembrances of who he was. A message from a high school peer of mine who used to do tractor pulls with my dad. Another high school peer who bought my dad’s tractor trailer. A Target peer whose mom worked for my dad and stepmom, and my dad used to try and explain the tools to him.

Aunt Sharon’s desk

We told my Aunt Sharon. But she said she already knew in her heart.

And we took Dad’s phone charger from his hospital belongings bag so my sister could charge her phone. His teeth are in that pink case. I also took a toothbrush from the hospital. Not sure why. I just wanted it.

And then we got ready for the funeral director.

And then with the viewing and funeral set, we went for pizza.

The people in the local pizza place gave us the pizza for free. My dad made that kind of impact on people.

We asked my mother-in-law if she could make her fried chicken and potato salad for after the viewing. She volunteered to make “Lee’s Beans,” too.

My stepmom’s sister arrived at 7, so after 12 hours I headed home. The teenager looked at me as we walked to the car.

“This is the first time we ever went to the car without Poppop standing in the garage to wave at us,” she said.

October 30

My husband and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary today and, even though we have been separated for two-and-a-half years, we inadvertently spent it together.

My mother celebrated her 67th birthday today, and I postponed her birthday until next week because one of her brothers died on Thursday. The second brother to die of prostate cancer in about a month. And her ex-brother-in-law died last week, too.

The day started strong with the teenager and I killing our workout at Apex Training with Dan. I also ordered an Apex Training hoodie. The teenager and I benched 70lbs on the barbell, and the teen also did some hearty squats.

We signed five cats up for the “come adopt us” event with Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab. One of them was sweet Khloe. Khloe hid under the blanket with one eye poking out the whole time, until she heard my voice, then she came out. Not bad for a first day out.

Photo of me waking up with a Khloe scarf

So the husband came over to retrieve his car from the teen and do his laundry and assign his ISBN to his poetry manuscript.

He then rewarded us with pizza.

I did some more work for Parisian Phoenix and some more cleaning, and then the teenager asked me to come down to the diner for coffee and my favorite pie.

Photo: waiting for my daughter at Tic Toc Family Restaurant

This morning my legs felt more normal than they have in weeks and everything seemed to be working in coordination. But as the day wore on everything started stiffening up. It was the first time in about a month my right quad wasn’t burning all day.

So we shall see what tomorrow brings.

Review: With Love From Karen by Marie Killilea

Marie Killilea, mother of Karen Killilea and champion for research and improvement in medical treatment for those with cerebral palsy, wrote two memoirs and a children’s book about her daughter. She also wrote another book— though I don’t know the content of that one.

I’m puzzled by the title of this second memoir, as it refers to Karen’s correspondence with some American service men during the Korean War.

But the book focuses not on Karen, nor that correspondence, but family. The text itself is more beautiful and structured like a novel. Members of the family are cast with richness, though I think sometimes “Big Marie” (the author as her first born daughter is also Marie) gives the various pets in the household more literary attention than Karen.

Marie says she wrote the book in response to the huge volume of mail she received asking what happened next.

The second memoir focuses on all the children growing up, struggling with their futures and leaving home. Well, except for Karen, who, at least until she started showing Newfoundlands in dog shows, just exists in the background doing her physical therapy and for more than a year carries some unknown demon that she is wrestling and the family just lets her sulk. For a year.

The older children get married. A seven year quest for an annulment is chronicled. And elder Marie Killilea’s long-awaited miracle baby is conceived when she is 43. And then she is confined to bed.

Karen’s triumph is learning to put her own shoes and stockings on.

And in the end of the book — Karen reveals the source of her depression and her decision on how to approach her “freedom.”

I’m so disappointed not to know what happened to Karen. Remember Karen? I thought this was a book about Karen, not her damn dogs, the 80-year-old obstetrician, or what a holy Catholic family and their brood looks like.

Happy 4th: Holidays are for family (and/or naps)

This will be another long day-in-the-life style blogs. I never seem to know what will resonate with people so have it all, right? I’ll bold key words to allow easy skimming.

Cat Stuff

Adult FURR (Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab) fosters Louise & Khloe are still competing for my attention and unsure if they like each other. Two very different cats with very different personalities. Both really cuddly and are going to be great additions to any household.

Click here to see Khloe on YouTube

Click here to see Louise on YouTube

Parker and Extra Crunchy of the ten little kittens that got sick with distemper are now neutered and ready for adoption. They are such loves, especially fond of human snuggles as they were syringe fed.

Click here to see Parker and Crunchy on YouTube

And of course Touch of Grey (another adult foster) still thinks she’s the boss. She definitely is more cat than dog and we have good reason to believe she has neurological issues which may contribute to her agressive mood swings but the teenager is working with her.

Click here to see TOG on YouTube

My original Saturday morning plan was to prepare an outline of the coffee and kittens fundraiser, but our cat foster godmother had two kittens for us. One black kitten from a very feral litter, but he was not hissy spitty and one who turned up with a litter of small kittens who obviously was older than them and had been on his own. That one looked a little like Crunchy but was feisty.

I nicknamed them Fuzznuts and Fluffballs in my head, not knowing their gender. I also considered our “cats are gods” theme, but these two were not a litter so we didn’t want to use a whole pantheon for them. I considered Elohim and Yahweh, but my daughter vetoed it. I worried someone might get offended.

But foster godmother said, “people always get offended.”

A DMX song came on the radio in the car on the way home. DMX passed away recently and rappers also have that badass cat attitude. We knew the black kitten was a girl and the grey a boy.

“What about DMX and Diam’s?” I suggest.

“Mom, no one knows who Diam’s is,” she replied.

Latifah? Salt and Pepa? Then it him me.

“Eminem and Slim Shady,” I said.

“Mom, they’re the same person.”

“It doesn’t matter. The black one can be Shady and the other can be Em.

So now we literally have a cage of two kittens, Em(inem) and (Slim) Shady in our living room.

Grocery Shopping

The teenager went to work at Tic Toc Family Restaurant at three, and I went for Nan, my blind friend. We had plans to visit Park Avenue Market for deli salads and meats and the Lidl for boring things like milk, cheese and half and half.

I casually walk through the store explaining every item I see, from snack items to spices to peanut butter in squeeze tubes and olives in plastic snack cups. I love food and I love weird so this is why Nan and I consider grocery shopping fun.

At Park Avenue, Nan indulged in some meatloaf and ham. I got the pickled Brussel sprouts, liver wurst, bacon maple potato salad, cranberry horseradish, and violet candy. And crab stuffed flounder we had for dinner tonight.

These will resurface tomorrow when Nan and I work and have lunch together.

At Lidl, Nan got yogurt, lemonade, milk, Mac and cheese and those amazing home baked cookies. I got produce, cheese, breads, chips, seltzer, butter and Brussel sprouts among others.

And when I brought Nan home I discovered someone hit and run my car. This happened in July 2019, too. But that was a full side swipe. At work. In a church parking lot.

Someone hit my car. Sigh.

Nails and fun with Beth

I came home and put the groceries away and got ready to leave for my friend Beth’s house, formerly Nails by Bethy at Hyperion Salon. She recently started a new career in commercial insurance (I think) and so won’t have time or stamina to maintain my fingers and toes.

Some past posts with Beth nails:

1. Winter nails

2. Acrylic At Home Maintenance

3. First set of acrylics

But tonight I was headed to her house for “cocktails, dinner and board games.” She agreed to have my pineapple coconut rum drink ready when I arrived. I met some of her friends. Beth made chicken poblano with black beans, rice, coleslaw and pickles. And as I mentioned yesterday, we all played Cards Against Humanity when my family arrived. Her father brought the teenager over so she could be my designated driver.

Brunch with Mom

My mom and I have a tumultuous relationship probably due to trauma we’ve experienced in our lives. My mom has not had an easy life. Let’s face it, most typical folks don’t.

We had a talk last weekend and I agreed to visit her today. She offered to take me out to a swanky breakfast and let us stay for the parade for Independence Day that would be passing by her house. I don’t really like parades, and I’m sick of eating out.

So I requested a grilled cheese on rye instead.

She obliged.

It was delicious.

The teenager brought the Bean dog to visit Mimi and Mimi’s dog, Dog, was a gracious host. Dog is a miniature poodle.

Once we arrived home, I read a little more Karen by Marie Killilea before I opted to take a nap. I then stripped my bed, worked on the fundraising outline and went for a walk with Buddy and Sarah.

I stumbled on the sidewalk, but did not fall. Knowing I had borderline anemia made me feel better that my cerebral palsy wasn’t running amok.

For dinner, in my continued effort to eat more vitamin rich food to combat anemia, I made the crab-stuffed flounder, brown rice with pistachios, and sautéed some leftover green beans and the cabbage, kale and carrots in a Green Goddess Salad I bought on clearance at Lidl yesterday. I topped it with some rather stale sesame sticks purchased at Forks Mediterranean Deli at our last visit (which was too long ago).

My goal for the rest of the night is to work on the Wheel of Life in my July Silk & Sonder planner and finish Karen.

Happy Independence Day.

Remember that the founding of this country can be seen from many perspectives: as destroying the lives and cultures of indigenous populations, as a place to promote white Christian values, and/or as a place where people came to live according to what they felt was right.

A Friday that Feels like Monday: Returning to work for a day and new kittens

The last 48 hours since the teenager arrived home from Cape May have been a blur. The fosters Khloe and Louise from Feline Urban Rescue and Rehabilitation are very glad to have the dog out of my room so they can compete for my attention freely.

Watch Khloe and Louise

The teenager brought me some breakfast coffee from Cape May Roasters. I normally don’t like breakfast blends as they are typically light or medium roasts and I like my brews dark. Maybe it’s just because the teenager bought it for me or maybe it’s just good coffee, but I really like it!

Author’s note: I started this blog entry in the wee hours of Saturday July 3 after my Friday July 2 shift, after having three days off for teenager’s beach vacation. Someone had to watch the menagerie.

I have tried several times over the last 24 hours to finish this entry, but it is now 23:55 (or 12:55 p.m.) with cool air filling my room and idiot neighbors having fun with firecrackers.

And I’m no closer to posting.

But back to the Cape May souvenirs, which for me include a mini retro Pac-Man Arcade Game!

So we spent Thursday evening catching up and I almost finished Karen by Marie Killilea. Marie Killilea raised a daughter with cerebral palsy, took in a neighborhood teen, raised another daughter who had repeated bouts with illness including rheumatic fever, and later had a mischievous son.

I would say I’m 50 pages from the end of the book. It is Marie’s memoir about her work to champion cerebral palsy, promoting knowledge and encouraging research, while raising her sickly children. These children never seem more than cardboard cutouts.

On Friday, I returned to work at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy. I didn’t get to Style Card. I QC’d something like 36 fixes the first two hours, but by the half way point of my shift only hit 63. And continued to decline with only 123 for the night. The goal is to quality control check, fold and box 130 fixes per 8-hour shift.

Meanwhile, the cat group is discussing giving us new kittens and developing a new kitten-cuddling and coffee fundraiser that my daughter, my former employer from ProJeCt and myself are brainstorming.

So I guess I’ll have to revisit this tomorrow and introduce you to our new kittens and tell you about my evening with my friend and former nail tech Beth at her home with her friend Barb and eventually the teenager and my estranged husband. We played Cards against Humanity and I drank four very stiff pineapple juice and rum drinks.

I also won Cards against Humanity.