What the Fuck, Man?

Okay, dramatic title, but it has been one hell of a week. I’m late coming to this post, and honestly, I’m not really mad about it. Here’s what’s up.

First, my three aunts on my mom’s side all came to my Dad’s on Saturday to help clean out my mom’s closet. They wanted to go through old clothes to see if there was anything they wanted. That’s all cool, and I planned to drop in to just make sure things went okay.

The Thursday before, we scheduled a realtor to come to my Dad’s house to check it out and let us know what things needed to be done to sell it, and how much it might actually be worth. I had to leave work early to make it over in time, which was super stressful because my work bill’s by hour – which means every minute of my day is accounted for. So I actually had to make up the time for that day if I didn’t want to spend my very precious PTO on it. Also, it was the first time I’d asked to leave early and it was fairly last minute, which is frowned upon because in a project-oriented software company, your week is planned out to the literal hour and sudden changes like that can screw over some other people.

Anyway, I get a text from my dad at like 11 on Thursday. My grandparents have sold their house to the neighbors out of the blue and told them to just take whatever they wanted out of the house.

Now, to review – my grandparents were both in the hospital the week my mom was. They both only fairly recently have made it into assisted living (or a nursing home in my grandpa’s case) and are being pretty damn erratic through all the changes (obviously). But my dad and his brother, my uncle Steve, who lives down there, have both been talking to them for months about getting an independent realtor out to assess and sell the house for what it’s actually worth.

Obviously that plan has gone to shit.

So.

After the realtor visit on Thursday, my dad has a panic attack because it’s been a little over two months and good god, he’s not even close to ready to get rid of the house that he shared with my mother for almost two decades and watched my brother and I grow up in.

On Saturday, he’s just blithely labeling jewelry to give away to friends and family and I can’t believe it. Decades worth of nice jewelry he gave to my mother. Like he can’t be thinking this through because I don’t know if it was me if I could do it. I know it’s meaningful to him to be able to do that, and it’s wonderfully nice that he wants to gift something so precious to the people he cares about. But it just killed me to see him give it so soon, because I can’t imagine how hard it must be. And he keeps pointing out that it’s all created this or that and it’s not worth that much, but that’s just bullshit. It is. First of all, it’s still jewels. Second – it was my mom’s. And he gave it to her. And that means a hell of a lot. And you know how I know? Because my mom cried every time she got jewelry from my dad. Every time. Bar none.

What I didn’t expect to happen was that my aunt’s put everything they found in that closet away in bags and started the process of giving it all away. Let’s be clear here for a second and say there’s an amazing amount of stuff. I counted at least six bags worth of clothing and purses and shoes, and that’s after they took at least two of them away. But guys – my brother is halfway around the world, doing his best to enjoy a rather bizarre experience in South Korea, and he hasn’t had a chance to go through hardly anything since my mother died. He left about a week after she passed away – just like I started my job. It’s all so fast and no one is thinking this through. I stopped it and stowed the bags in my childhood closet for now, but it’s so much. It’s so hard.

Like clothes are one of the few things I have from my mother to begin with that she really put time and effort into buying me. In recent years I have started to ask her specifically for clothing because her taste was so on point. And I just loved it. I actually sent her and Hannah to re-do my wardrobe back in mid-college before Hannah and I had even started dating. Clothes were just my mom’s thing. They’re so strangely meaningful. I know just about every sweater in my closet now that she got me. Sometimes it’s hard to wear them because I’m terrified I’m just going to wear them out and won’t have them anymore. But I try to wear them too so they don’t just go unused. I don’t really know what I’m going to tell my children about them. They won’t hold anywhere near the meaning. They represent so much of my transformation into who I am today, and how behind me my mother was through that process. It’s just incredible really.

Anyway, on Sunday I went with my dad to his parent’s house and just about every man on that side of the family was there, plus my aunt Teri. That was weird. It was already just about bare because my grandparents took quite a bit with them to their new living places (which I’m actually quite glad of). But there was so much left. I can’t believe what that must have been like for my dad. I know it was really hard on my uncle Steve, who’s your classic stoic man but just about cried when I talked to him. My grandparents have been in that house for more than four decades.

What was cool for me was that I found a bunch of old family photos of my extended family. Like I have one from 1918 of my great grandfather at 16 years old, having just returned from World War I (which he enlisted in when he was 14).

I have a picture now of my grandmother when she was a baby in 1932. And I have a bunch of amazing cross stitches that she did too. Just so many precious things. What I have to return for is their grandfather clock. It’s another item I’m not sure what the hell I’m going to do with, but of all the things on all sides of my family, the grandfather clock from the Kiefers is one of the few items I really have always loved and associated with family. I’m not sure why, but I have.

It’s so odd that we’re going through their stuff and they’re still here, but my mom isn’t. It feels like we should’ve been doing it in worse circumstances like we have been and will continue to have to do for my mom. Obviously, that’s not how it works. But it’s odd. Everything nowadays seems to be, really. I have so much furniture I shouldn’t have. I have so many items I didn’t know existed and I have nowhere to put any of it because I thought I’d have at least another five years to inherit any of it.

That’s all I was really asking for I guess. Five, maybe ten years. A decent long time, but not too crazy really. It seems really reasonable that family at our age would stay stable at least that long, or somewhat close too. But that’s not what happened. Like my dad said, the most stable thing in our entire family right now is Hannah and I. And damn that’s a sore foundation for anything. We’re hardly making it along as it is. Although, we do make it through.

It’s strange. It’s all so overwhelming but I find that every day I can make myself put one foot in front of the other okay. A lot of it is just I keep pushing forward because I have an intense, insatiable need for things to be okay. But I don’t know, I’m proud of myself for it.

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Busy, Busy, Busy

 

It is really hard to take care of myself these days. I think it’s one of the hardest things about my mothers death is that, it means there is so much more to do and the rest of everything doesn’t stop either. Like a started a new job in a completely new industry a week after she died, and started my last semester of school to complete a certificate for that industry on the same day. That alone is a little insane, but on top of everything else. Sometimes it’s hard enough to come home make or eat dinner, do the dishes and wake up the next morning. And for the first time in my life since I was a camp counselor, I actually love my job. I want to go to work. But there’s so much.

Here’s a picture of what all is going on.

First, while my mom left my dad with a very healthy retirement account that he is luckily just old enough to be able to draw from, he is also a freelance writer and can not afford to stay in their current house forever. They were planning to move before my mom died, but got caught in the winter months and didn’t want to post it till spring. So luckily we knew it was coming and some things had been done to prep, but not nearly enough.

I joke that my parents are hoarders, which is not entirely true, but isn’t entirely untrue either. My whole family has a hard time letting go of things that have memory attached to them, and because they live in a house that’s too big for them, they’ve never really had to. To give you a picture of what this looks like – my parents have a three car garage. However, my brother’s car is still parked in the driveway because you can only get one car into the garage. The rest once was moving boxes from almost a decade ago. Now it’s mostly Adam’s in-between stuff while he figures out his post-college life/housing, and decades old odds, ends and power tools. The important part is – two cars worth of the garage is inaccessible. In the basement, there is several hundred square feet of office space buried in art projects, old files, toys and I shudder to think what else. I found cell phone chargers from the early 2000’s in there recently and I’m still not sure why we have them.

So that brings us to the very interesting dynamic of having a shit ton of stuff loaded with emotional baggage taking up near rooms at a time that we get to go through over the next few months to clean it all out so dad can sell the house and move. Let me restate that we have to go through literal piles of things, many of them covered in my dead mothers handwriting, or collected by her, or given by her to us, and try to get rid of as much of that as we can.

So that’s one thing.

Another is just our own house. It’s interesting – especially when someone close to you dies, you just want everything to be put in order. Last year we spent about $9,000 in repairs, maintenance and improvements to our house. Which is a little insane. This year, we’re working to get everything else fixed up. I’m very happy to have our house. And I love everything we’ve done. But it’s also hard to just do that stuff. It’s freeing and terrifying to blow money in hundreds of dollars at a time. We’re fortunate enough to have it accessible to us, but it’s a lot.

The day after Valentine’s day I took off from work because things just keep welling up and I wanted to try and rest and be for one day. I wanted to just sit in silence the whole day, take a bath and read a book, and try to cry here and there, because I find it hard to feel safe enough to (which is a whole thing in and of itself). I couldn’t sleep, I was so nervous about taking the day off. My boss hadn’t texted me back that it was okay and I’d never requested off before. My alarm goes off at 6:15 and when I did check it he had texted at 6:14 to say it was fine. I tried to sleep in, let Hannah get ready and leave, and just sleep, but I didn’t. I ended up just doing that thing where your eyes close and you drift in and out, but never really seem to sleep. I gave in around 8:15 and just scrolled through FaceBook and Pinterest. And then at 8:30 Hannah called me in a panic. She was in heavy traffic downtown, her car was smoking and she couldn’t get over.

She got safetly pulled to the side after she hung up. I got ready and was out the door by 8:35. By the time I arrived, she was fine and her boss was waiting with her since she had been just a short ways behind her, also on the way in. As perhaps a funny aside, she asked me how I was and I responded, “I’m okay, my mom is just dead.” I think I horrified her a little.

Hannah apologized for taking up my day off, and I told her it was fine. And honestly it was, but it just feeds back into the whole thing. Nothing will stop it seems. It just keeps going and going and all I want to do is sit in a quite room and read, or maybe even do nothing. I don’t even want to write this blog post, but I know I need to.

Hell, I almost gave up on my homework today. I was just re-purposing old code in a new language and couldn’t figure it out. I was so close too – just a couple clicks away. But none of it feels worth it. I had a goal when I started to get a 4.0, and because it’s me, I still want it. But I don’t know if I can do it. I can barely put in the 2 hours of effort a week required to get the tasks done. I used to spend 6 hours plus a week on school.

I don’t know, this period is so odd. some days I feel like I’m hardly effected at all, and then I take a bathroom break and find myself in a quiet place and it just slips back in. And I can’t tell if I want it here or gone. I want to feel it, I want to feel broken about it and breakdown crying somewhere. But I’m afraid of that pain, and I’m so driven to keep things as put together as they can be, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. I’m a fixer. And this isn’t a situation I can fix, so I’ve just grabbed onto anything I can find.

Married Grief

Hannah and I were watching “The Wedding Singer” tonight (which is a great film, actually – really fun) and one of the things that was really poignant for me was the end where Adam Sandler sings to Drew Berrymore about how he’ll do all these nice little things for her and grow old with her and all that. And it’s funny because when Hannah and I got married, I thought about the classic “little” gestures and how I would do them for her. And thank god she made me knock her off a pedestal because I had some idea of what that actually means.

But the death of my mother has brought a whole new kind of dimension to that. Like doing the little things for one another isn’t just nice anymore, but profoundly difficult and profoundly important. A lot of days it’s about the only thing that keeps our little world running. And honestly, it’s very hard. One of the benefits to being alone when really bad things happen is that you don’t have to think about how you want to deal with it will affect other people. If you want to just not do the dishes for a week – it’s just you and your poor dish ware that suffers the consequences – and honestly there’s relatively little harm in it.

But together with another person who is also grieving? Man, life just doesn’t stop. As much as you want a pause button. As much as you want to check out for however long it takes – life continues on. Of course that’s a good thing, and one of the things I continue to hold on to with great joy. But it means things continue to come up.

There’s a kind of fragile little world that we’ve set up here. It comes from many different needs. For me, the one that keeps calling me (the one I can never seem to say no to) is the deep need to care for those closest to me. When my mom died, from that night to now, and for god alone knows how long, I have been preoccupied by it. It makes it hard to grieve and process and let emotions flow when you’re constantly worried about other people. Giving them space to be upset, thinking about how to help them. It’s something I work at just about every day, but it’s hard. I need them to be okay.

My dad said to me once that love means you suffer with the person you love. While dramatic and a bit pessimistic, it’s true. It means it hurts – not double, but a little bit more than maybe it would alone. And that’s why those small things – those small stupid things people don’t think about when they get married, are so goddamn critical. Because doing the dishes, runnnig the laundry, wiping down the counters – all those things mean so much. Because when you hurt you want it not to hurt anymore. You want to fix it, and there’s nothing that can fix this pain. It doesn’t have a remedy. But those everyday things, those are tangible fixes. Those are messages of support and recognition and most importantly of all – they are sacrifices that you can afford to make for one another.

I can’t imagine going through this period without Hannah. To have someone to share the burden with, even if it means a bit more pain here and there to share hers, is a strange blessing. Her support has been incredible. Not perfect by any means, just as mine has not. But together we’re learning how to build our life back up and put things back on the walls, so to speak. To have someone willing to empty the dishwasher – without request or prompt – while you lay staring at the white tiles in the bathtub, because they know you need it. That is a precious and special thing.

It’s interesting. When I thought about love and marriage – i always thought about that old phrase “I would do anything for you.” For me growing up, that was the bar against which I measured love. Would I do any thing for you?

Of course that’s a pretty bullshit measure. When my mom was in the hospital, Hannah came with me every day all day, and that I would say falls under the “doing anything for you” category. And that was amazing. Truly a deep act of love.

But in the weeks and now growing months after, there isn’t an act to perform. There isn’t one thing and even if there was, it wouldn’t matter. Because what is hard is every day. It’s not something you can fix or change. My mom is dead. Our life has changed. And more than any gesture, it’s all the stupid day to day shit that matters. Because life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t just pause for you when shit gets real or beats you in the face. Life keeps going with or without you.

So when I can barely get up in the morning and Hannah opens the door for the cats, or when I come home and have to do homework and really just want to sit and stare at a wall, and Hannah makes dinner even though she’s had a ducking hard day at work too – that’s what matters.

It’s complicated being married and grieving. It’s hard. According to some authority it’s the second hardest thing a couple can go through. Honestly I really wish there’s wasn’t anything more difficult because holy shit this is hard enough as it is.

But what’s hard is the fact that life doesn’t stop. And it can be hard to handle. It reminds me of that quote from some famous book – “the good does not erase the bad, nor the bad the good”. Like my life and the normal emotions I have about it are all still there, living in tandem with the grief. And Hannah is in

I am just so goddamn lucky. I am not as much as I am right now. I struggle daily to be present in anything, and I can feel that in my relationship too. This is not what anyone signs up for when they get married. No one knew they were agreeing to half the person they married. And yet, this incredible woman has stood by not just my side, but my family’s too, every step of the way. It’s not pretty, it’s not perfect, and I hate that I am so little of the person I was with her right now. But I am unbelievably lucky to have Hannah here with me. To have found a person who understands and stays and supports. It is not always pretty. Hannah breaks down almost nightly from the pressure. And we bicker about small chores or missed items frequently. But we both sit together and know that everyone is doing their goddamn best. And we’re going to come through it together. Even if the means we come out with some deep scratches and dark bruises (metaphorically obviously).

one of Hannah’s friends was joking and said, “Nathan, you’re so amazing, you could do better.” And in my finer days I could have said something cute and pithy and true, but today I wasn’t sure how to react because even though it was a joke (and one Hannah participated in at that) all I wanted to say was “No. You don’t understand. This woman has been there for me every step of the way. She has called friends and family to cry while I take a shower so she can support me when I get out, and she holds that for some later time that I can actually hear her talk about it. There is no one better.”

The thing is – no one should ever have to assume the role either of us are in, and she’s done it without complaint.

In the End There’s Only Love

Well my time in France is done for now and I am back home. As we all know, I will never forget my time there and it is so bitter-sweet to be home. I made some pretty fantastic friends. Friends from different countries, different states and all with the most wonderful views and experiences. I think that might be the hardest part about leaving. Leaving all those wonderful, fantastic people.

What isn’t hard is leaving French University. And that’s the last time I complain about it here! Because I will also miss just how jank the Fac des Lettres was. I doubt I’ll go into a building like it again!

I’m also going to miss this. My home street. The place I walked up everyday for a year. Cobblestones, a sketchy shisha place and the strangest lingerie shop I’ve ever come across.

IMG_2269

France, I’ll miss you. My friends, I will miss you more.

p.s. culture shock is really gonna suck.

Gone Again

And home go my family once more. It was really great to have them. Tiring, yes, but well worth it.

And I’ve already played Sims Medieval that we got at the Palais des Papes. Yep. That’s what I do in France. Play video games. haha

Just kidding. I also study for my geopolitics exam on Tuesday…

 

A Quiver of the Ending

Two weeks of classes left before two weeks of break and then two weeks of finals. And then home.

But it’s interesting. “Home,” evasive as it has been for me the past four years of my life, seems never to stop shifting for me.

When my parents came to visit, I noticed that this place has become my home. I’m not a tourist here. I do touristy things sometimes, but even then I return home to Aix. And that’s the thing about study abroad I most definitely didn’t think about or anticipate.

I’m not just a student. Or a bystander. Or “an American.”

I am a resident.

Just so’s ya know

I am back in the U.S. for a while, spending my time between family and friends. And being ever thankful that I have these wonderful people in my life. Coming soon are posts about the surprisingly small amount of strange things I’ve found here in the land of the free, the Lyon trip post I’ve promised for about a month now, and maybe an excerpt from the Diary of C.M. Pine. That is, if I can find that thing…

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and to those of you who don’t celebrate either of those things, peace and love be with you.