Mourning a Mother

Me & My Mother

How do you grieve a relationship that wasn’t?

For those who may not know, my biological mother passed away on October 1st. I was sitting on my laptop, preparing to run a support group for my work when I received a call from her caretaker, who found her in her apartment.

This is something I’ve been bracing myself for for a while now, but ultimately you can’t brace yourself for death. My mother had a life-long struggle with mental illness and treated her body poorly, so the last few years have been me partially waiting for the call.

We had a rocky relationship– her mental illness overtook her life when I was a child and she acted out in ways that no child should have to go through. Our relationship suffered, and I struggled as a young adult to empathize with her.

Yet, now that she is gone I suddenly feel remorse for not being able to understand her struggles. If I couldn’t do it then, why now?

Part of my newly added grief has been feeling as if I can’t grieve her since it was a complicated relationship. The true loving mother/daughter bond wasn’t there, so I don’t get to sit here and be sad. I’ve been distracting myself with work, school, and trying to navigate clearing out her life.

I was talking to a friend the other night who encouraged me to slow down and take the time to be sad. Even if it wasn’t the ideal relationship, she was still my mother, and she was a fantastic one at that when I was a baby.

I guess I feel like what I can mourn is all the things that didn’t get to happen because of how sick she was physically and mentally, as well as all the possibilities that will never happen. Maybe as I got older we would have reconnected on some level.

Maybe she would have gotten better. Maybe she would have treated her body better.

Simultaneously these are all things I feel angry about. If she treated herself better, if she got helped, if she tried—we would have had a relationship. She would see my graduations, my wedding, my future children. She would see me change the world like I so want to do.

It’s complicated. Our relationship, my grief, and my relationship with my grief and mourning for her.

I guess I still am allowed to grieve, no matter how that looks. Who is to dismiss grief and love just because it wasn’t ideal or perfect?

When Objects Become Personal

 

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When you lose someone, objects become way more personal.

I have loved photography for as long as I can remember. My father, who I will admit was vaguley into himself more than most, loved having his photo taken. Loved it so much to the point that anywhere mildly cool we went, it was constant “take a picture of me!”.  As I got older I kind of hated it, but secretly loved it at the same time. I mean, who has that much self-love and appreciation for themselves and memories?

Anyway, my father always asking for photos of himself sparked my interest in photography when I was 12. I started playing around with angles, contrast, and different subjects. My father noticed, and got me a little fujifilm point and shoot camera.

I adored it. Before we knew it I was taking photos of everything. What I will always rememeber most is the first photo he ever framed of mine. We had a beautiful pontoon boat out on the local lake for a few years, and I snapped a photo of a sailboat going over a wave. As someone who loved boats, lakes, water, and anything nautical–he thought it was the best thing ever. He blew it up as big as he could and framed it. He even made me sign it! It sat above my bed for all of high school, and now resides in my familys home, waiting for me when I visit.

As I got older (and better at it) I was soon showing my still-life shots in galleries and participating in art walks. He never missed a single one. He poured money and time into all the materials I needed— frames, mats, a lens I was eyeing all year long. I was so passionate about it that I applied to art school my senior year of college and didn’t tell anyone about it. But not just any art school—Pratt in New York. When I got in, we both almost cried. We ended up road-tripping to New York and attending accepted students day. The entire day, all I heard was “take a photo of me!”.

One particular day, when I was 15, I decided I wanted a polaroid camera. It was trendy, cool, and a fun way to dive into film photography without really knowing anyway and getting an instant result. My father loved the idea, and we set out to buy me what became my purple polaroid pic 300.

I loved it. It has traveled with me through high school football games, proms, late night study sessions in undergrad, vacations, and even into my first year of graduate school 8 years later. Just last week, I set out on a sunday afternoon picnic with it. When I went to take a photo, I realized it would not turn on. After getting home and tearing it apart, I came to the conclusion it had reached its time. This little polaroid that I carried with me for 8 years isn’t even in production anymore.

Now, for a lot of people this would just be a crappy little old camera that finally gave out. But for me, it’s a reminder of my dad and just how much he believed in me and my art. I sat there, the old broken purple polaroid in my hand, sobbing.

Fast forward to today, August 27th. I have some upcoming plans and was looking forward to taking polaroids during them. So, I mustered up the courage to go buy a new one from Target, in purple to match. It’s not the one my father got me, but it will do.

This new camera symbolizes a part of my journey without him here– one that feels so scary and hard to navigate most of the time.

I can’t get myself to toss my broken camera just yet, but I don’t think I need to. This is the time to grieve, feel my grief in all it’s uncomfortableness, and process. So for now, my broken camera will sit where it has always sat, serving as a reminder of the love and trust my father had for me.

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Pictured: My father & I at one of my gallery openings.

ADA Turns 30: The Legacy and Where We Need To Go

Our generation has privilege because the ones before us did not.

Let us take a step back here.

My father, Mark E. Smith, was born in 1971 with severe Cerebral Palsy and grew up extremely poor in a turbulent and unhealthy family surrounded by Alcoholism and Addiction. He grew up having to learn how to advocate for himself because no one else would. From learning how to bathe to fighting his way into the public education system and mainstream classes, advocacy was key to his life. Luckily, on July 26 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed. Now as a 19 year old going off to community college and later a state school, this was just in time for him. Public Transportation had to be accommodating, employers could not discriminate against him based on his disability, and telecommunication devices and companies had to adapt equipment for those with disabilities. This sounds amazing, right?

While this is ultimately the biggest win for disability rights yet, it was and still is just the beginning. Basic human rights, whoa!

As the years went on from 1990 to now 2020, you have ramps into buildings and on curbs, buses have lifts for wheelchair users, brail on many signs, closed captions for videos are a thing..,the list goes on. So many wins, yet still so many issues that no one recognizes because the community has the ADA so they are protected, right? Wrong.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues in our society now is the accessibility of medical equipment and assistive technology for those in the disability community. Nearly one-fifth of all Americans—more than 54 million men, women and children— have a physical, sensory or intellectual disability.  In fact, In examining the healthcare system in the United States, it can be seen that 19.4% of Americans are enrolled in Medicaid, 16.7% are enrolled in Medicare, and 15% of the population between both of these groups rely on assistive technology. Assistive Technology is the term used to encompass all systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services. This includes devices such as hearing aids, communication devices, wheelchairs, and even pill organizers. Globally, more than 1 billion people need 1 or more assistive products, but only 1 in 10 people in need today have access to assistive products.  Even though 15% of the population relies on these assistive devices, there is a large gap between the availability of these devices and the access to assistive technology for those who need it.

Not only does this issue affect the individual with a disability, but their family as well. For children with disabilities, parents spend an average of $326 per month, or just under $4000 per year, on out-of-pocket medical expenses on their special needs child. 69% of families say they are very concerned about being able to provide lifetime care for their loved ones with a disability.  Families often spend incredible amounts of financial means on out-of-pocket medical expenses, as well as support for everyone involved with outside resources such as caregivers and adequate transportation such as wheelchair vans. Outside of supporting them financially, families often put in more time to ensure the well-being of their loved one. 32% of parents spend more than 40 hours per week with their special needs child, which is equal to a second full-time job! 

Statistics aside, by denying these community systems the medical care they need, society is stigmatizing those with disabilities, thus lacking equality and care. Currently, access to this assistive technology is in limbo within medicare and medicaid due to competitive bidding and insurance moving into private plans.

Our society and government is causing a huge strain on the disability community because we believe that we did enough for them, when in reality we gave the bare minimum.

I will never know exactly what it is like to be a person with a disability, but I had such a privilege to be brought up in the community because of my father, who so effortlessly advocated for more. From advocating on Capitol Hill twice a year to supplying wheelchairs and parts to those in need, my father was the true definition of an advocate for himself and for others. Perhaps his greatest strength was the ability to bring people together. He ran the infamous “Wheelchair Junkie” Website, message forum, and blog, which brought together thousands from all over the world to connect, seek advice about life and disability, as well as band together to fight for what is right.

Perhaps my favorite story of my father advocating comes when my step-mother, Holly, and step-sister, Annabelle, moved to Pennsylvania from California to be with us. When trying to enroll Annabelle in our local public school, the administration said they did not have the means to help her. My father, not taking no for an answer, decided to help them think it out. “Well, do you have a Occupational Therapist? Yes. “Do you have a Physical Therapist? Yes. “Do you have a Special Education Teacher? Yes. Do you technically have room in your class? Yes. Then you have your answer! Eventually, after more discussion and my father pressing, they accepted her.

This story not only shows the advocacy side of things, but the injustices this community is still facing as well, even when policies are in place such as the ADA.

What our society sees as good enough will never be enough for our marginalized communities. What we see as good enough is basic human rights.

As the ADA turns 30, let us recognize what more we have to do rather than being content with what we passed over 30 years ago. Those before us suffered from no privilege, which is how we succeeded to 30 years later with some type of gifted privilege. We can celebrate how far we have come, but where do we go from here?

The Tie Wreath– Father’s Day 2020

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The other morning, a friend asked me “What was your favorite father’s day gift you gave your dad?”. As I hear this question, I am instantly transported back to fathers day 2013. My father loved trying out fashion trends– he went through phases of hats, vests, fun suit jackets, etc. My father always dressed to impress, and that year, he loved ties. Now, I lack any talent to draw, paint, or do a neat DIY challenge, but I found an easy craft recipe on good old Pinterest and set my eyes on the finish line. After I raided the tie bin at the thrift store, I got to work cutting and tying these old, sad ties. I wrapped them around this Styrofoam wreath mold, and soon enough I had created this beautiful tie wreath.

I was SO excited to give my father this, maybe because for once I used some good old labor of love to create something that in retrospect was so simple. As any father would do, he loved it and hung it up in his room. After that, whether helping me with homework or snuggling up to watch our routine Saturday Night Live episodes together, the wreath was always mounted on the wall, a small symbol of my love.

As the years went on, our home changed, but the wreath on the wall remained. My father fell in love, got married, and gained a step daughter. Eventually, we sold that home and moved into a beautiful, yellow farmhouse. But in that farmhouse, the tie wreath remained. It is now mounted on the wall where his desk is, old, a little dirty, and with some ties unraveling. Despite the age and wear on it, it’s still a symbol of the wholesome, unconditional love I have for my father.

This tie wreath sits on the wall as a constant reminder and symbol that no matter what changes or how many years pass, our love for someone is unconditional.

As I approach my second father’s day without him, I can’t help but long for just one more hug and kiss on the cheek. Often times, I find myself thinking how unfair it all is, or feeling empty at the thought of his passing or upcoming milestones like this. But the reality is, you feel empty because you have so much love to give to someone who is no longer here to receive it. So, as time goes on, you make do. Now a days, fathers day is filled with some tears, some fond memories, and a way to honor him. As grief and life evolve, much like the tie wreath, my love remains. Your love remains.

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World Cancer Day: Awareness

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Age 9:

My grandmother (moms side) passes away after a battle with cancer. I’m young enough to not really know what was happening, but I remember my family being upset.

Age 10:

My aunt was diagnosed with Lymphoma shortly after she had her son. She lost her hair, went through rounds of chemo and radiation, and was consistently sick. She won her battle, and is still cancer free today. She beat it, so there’s nothing to worry about, right?

Age 14:

My grandmother (Dads side) passed away from cancer. They didn’t have a relationship, but my aunt and her did. She took care of her during her run with cancer. She was devastated when she passed. My dad kept his emotions hidden. I didn’t quite understand.

Age 17:

My dads girlfriend, who later would become my step-mom, is diagnosed with breast cancer. She lives across the country, and my dad spends countless hours on the phone with her, worrying. She has a mastectomy, and is then cleared. I’m a senior in high school, and it’s just his girlfriend, so I really don’t know much about the situation in the grand scheme of things.

Age 20: My dad, at 47, is diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2017. At first, I brush it off. He will do some chemo and be fine, just like the others.

I’m in college in a different state. I never witness his chemo rounds, but I call with him and hear it in his voice how sick he is.

In February 2018, after many rounds of chemo, they decide they need to take out half his esophagus in order to take out the tumors. He has the surgery, and ends up with a tracheotomy due to complications. We almost lose him.

He recovers, and spends the next few months in a lot of pain and adjusting to a new way of life. The summer is good, and I let my guard back down. He’s in the clear.

September 2018, we found out the cancer has spread to his stomach and kidneys. We start traveling to a hospital 2 hours away in hopes for better care. I start to become more active. I drive home a few times to attend doctor appointments and to help out.

By October, he can barely move. They attempt countless MRI’s and biopsy’s, and can’t quite get it based on where the tumors are. In my gut, I knew.

By November, he enters hospice. For almost a month he lays in bed deteriorating. I’m home, helping my mom care for him. I play his favorite music, feed him water and blue slushies, and sit there reading books.

November 25, he passes away holding my step-mothers hand.

I finally felt the effect of cancer.

I grew up being surrounded by people who knew the effects of cancer. Because I didn’t experience them firsthand, it was always an after thought. I will admit, I was naive and ignorant. I knew plenty of people beat it, and those who did pass I wasn’t close with, or they were older.

But the reality is, cancer doesn’t affect the older population. It effects you when you’re 26. It effects you when you’re 36. It effects you when you’re 5. And more so, it effects those close to you. You suddenly need more support, more guidance, more love. Sometimes you need your spouse to take on a care-giver role. You lose the autonomy you worked all your life to gain.

In October 2018, I published a piece titled “Cancer-Sick” which is what we dubbed the cancer process in our family. In this moment is when I knew what the true beast of cancer could be.

We are complex humans, who merely focus on the immediate in our lives. If it doesn’t affect us, we tend to ignore it. I will admit, I am sometimes guilty of that.

Yet, we also go through challenges and situations that remind us there is more to this life. The person next to you on the train could be going through the challenge you just did a few months ago. Your friends dad could be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. And when you go through these situations, you are suddenly aware of that. You see, these challenges are what help us be empathetic and helpful.

I could beat myself up for not realizing the effects when I was 10, 17, or even 20. But, I do know the effects now. I have the tools in my back pocket to realize those around me can be suffering too. I am aware.

If we really want to start a movement towards a cure, it starts with simple awareness of our world around us.

This world cancer day,  I hope you can stop, whether you have been affected or not, and have a moment for your grandmother you weren’t close to. For that girl in 4th grade whose dad died from cancer. For the co-worker who is driving her mom to various appointments, and spending hours after work siting during chemo treatments. I hope you can pause for a second in your hectic day, and be aware.

To those who have won the fight, to those who have unfortunately passed away, to those who are currently fighting, and to those who will fight: We see you.

 

 

// This post is dedicated to my father, who fought cancer in a gracious way when there was no way to make it gracious. From his awful jokes to tormenting doctors, his spirit never diminished during his battle. We miss you.

 

Do You Forgive Me, Dad?

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After a year, it is true that grief is apart of you. Looking back at last year to this year, I have evolved so much with grief.

What I find interesting is how different feelings have evolved. In the direct aftermath of my fathers passing, I only thought about how hard life would be without him. But now a year and two months later, I find myself at this stage of questioning if he knew just how much I loved him.

Losing a parent in late adolescence and early adulthood has it’s own set of challenges, including coming to terms with that fact that you just have to believe they knew.

I have spent countless nights wondering and recounting every moment I may have been a less than great daughter, and I mean every moment. Did he forgive me for that time where he caught me on club penguin with parental controls off at age 8? What about the time I made a Myspace behind his back after telling me I couldn’t?(oh wait, he never found out about that one…sorry dad). What about that time I was 16 and stayed out past curfew? Or the time in college I spent the holidays with my boyfriends family?

The list could go on, but the reality is, the last 2 years of my fathers life holds a lot of moments that I regret because I was too busy being an dumb kid trying to figure it all out.

As much as I would love to share with you the old cliche of “love and appreciate those around you while you still have them”, the reality is that you won’t. We are complex beings living very complex lives. You will fight with your significant other, you will fight your parents authority, and you will at times put your wants first, even if it’s for a not so great decision. That is okay! These moments help shape and evolve us, along with our relationships. How would we learn if we didn’t make mistakes?

One poignant moment, when my dad was on hospice but still pretty conscious, he turns to me and says “Emily, remember that time….” and then apologizes to me about it. On his death bed, he apologized to me for a moment I didn’t even remember.

Our loved ones don’t remember the times we weren’t kind, but rather they reflect on the times they weren’t. In those finals moments, we often want to reconcile the bad moments in our life.

At now 23, I’m sure I will always have regret for how I was near the end of my father’s life, but that shouldn’t stop me from making mistakes with others or evolving into who I am meant to be.

I like to think he see’s how much I love him after the fact. I never go a moment without wearing his ashes in a necklace around my neck. I constantly write and talk about him. I’m always saving photos of him. Most of all, I’m always inspired by him. Everything I do, I do with the same purpose and love he had.

I’m sorry I wasn’t the greatest dad, but I sure am going to be the best I can be to carry on your legacy.

One Year: Save Me a Parking Spot

This time, on November 25th, at 5:00am, I was sitting on our handmade leather couch when I heard the thumps of 2 men carrying a gurney down our rickety wooden stairs. “Don’t look, just stay there” our dear family friend Heather says to us. I sit there, with a tear rolling down my face, rubbing my mothers back as she weeps.

I don’t think I have ever felt as numb as I did in that moment.

I can close my eyes and vividly recall the moment Holly woke me up to tell me he’s gone– I can vividly recall the lifeless body in the memory foam bed, the open yet sunk eyes, the blue skin, how cold he was. This memory often sends me into panic attacks.

The days that followed have blurred together at this point, filled with food, condolences, and stress of planning a memorial service and cremation.

But perhaps what has really blurred together has been this past year. It oddly feels like his passing was yesterday, and also 7 years ago, all at the same time.

What I can recall most are all the moments where I learned what grief and living after really means.

You see, about a month after my father passed away, I was pulling into my apartment complex late at night, hoping there was an open spot in the lot in front of my apartment, so I didn’t have to walk across the complex in the cold. Snagging a spot past 9PM is impossible, so I held my breath as I pulled into the lot. As I near the end, I see a open spot in between two small cars, hiding away, and waiting for me. Without hesitation, I yell “thanks Mark!” into the universe and pull on in. From that moment forward, I allowed myself to live his truth.

Living a deceased loved ones truth is embodying all they are, while allowing yourself to grieve. It’s in this time I started to allow myself to learn from my grief.

Thus, here are 5 lessons Mark Smith has taught me in my journey with living and grieving long after he was gone.

1.) Most forget. I don’t mean to put that so harshly, but it’s true. After the noise settles down and the first month or two passes, everyone who came out of the woods to send their condolences disappears, and you’re  left with your family to grieve.

2.) Grief is forever. They often say it gets easier with time, but the truth is— it doesn’t. You will always long for their voice, their hugs, whatever it may be. You will always see things that remind you of them. You will always have days where it creeps up on you. Grief is not something you move past– it becomes apart of you. Grief is just apart of your story now, and you move forward with it.

3.) Honestly, you become a little more quirky. You develop things that are only relative to your deceased loved one and your grief. For example, we always have to point out a red cardinal, or every time I find a parking spot by my apartment late at night, I have to shout “thanks Mark!”. I now only get blue slushies (sorry cherry flavor), and I check my social media memories everyday like clockwork hoping memories of him pop up.

4.) You often battle with yourself. You feel silly or insane for getting overwhelmed at the grocery store, for crying on holidays, for needing to breathe more than you did before the passing. But the truth is, by putting all our energy into pretending we are unaffected by the worst, we block ourselves from the best. As traumatic and heart wrenching as grief is, if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it, we will never grow from it.

5.) You learn to surround yourself with those who fulfill you, as your tolerance grows smaller. More than anything, this past year has taught me what it really means to not sweat the small stuff, and to be in relationships are filled with love and nothing more. My inner circle is filled with people who will sit for hours and let me tell stories about my father, who go to a 7-11 to get blue slushies, and who do a toast to my father at our friends-giving. Of course, this took some weeding out, as I learned that I needed those who could support me, and unfortunately, not everyone can.

I could write a whole novel on what only a year has taught me about grief, but what I have learned most is that grief is lovely, dark, and deep. It’s unique, personal, traumatizing, scary, painful, beautiful, and a whole array of other words.

How we carry on after death is just as unique and confusing. Yet, somehow, they are just as alive as they were before. We carry their life with us, telling stories, listening to their favorite music, posting photos, and thanking them for parking spots. Love does not fade when someone dies, rather it blossoms and fills up more space in the memories we carry, allowing them to live on through us.

In the wise words of Mark himself, “There’s little finality to death for the living. Those passed remain with us, alive in so many ways.”

Thank you Dad, for always saving me a parking spot.

 

 

 

 

Cause of Death: Cerebral Palsy

Maybe 3 weeks after my father passed, we picked up his death certificates from the funeral home along with his ashes.

Now in case you have never seen a death certificate, it reads his name, place of death, time of death, etc etc. I’m skimming through when I suddenly pause at cause of death.

“1.) Esophageal Cancer”

“2.) Cerebral Palsy”

In this midst of my pain, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at this. They actually said his cause of death was Cerebral Palsy.

Maybe he passed away at the young age of 47 because of holding in his urine for hours upon hours, or from the acid reflex, or from the constant tense muscles and random muscle spasms, or from the possible pressure sores that come with sitting 24/7 on a cushion.

Or, maybe he passed away from his muscular arm strength, or the fact that he can “walk” 2x as fast as an able-bodied individual, or from going to the bathroom on his giant, oversized toilet seat that was ideal for transferring. Maybe he passed away from his overly long shoe laces he needed in order to tie them himself, or maybe from his infamous “cerebral palsy backstroke” where he pretty much flailed around in a life vest when in water. Maybe from the time he was 12 and threw himself in the tub and bathed himself for the first time, or from the hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts he sent out in his 20s trying to get published. Maybe he passed away from designing power chairs, or from giving away free power chairs to those that needed them.

You see, we have this societal theory that disability is bad, and will always lead to the individuals downfall.

But my father was the complete opposite of that. Actually, anyone with a disability is the opposite of that.

My father in particular adored his wheelchair. Having severe cerebral palsy, he had no real means of getting around until the age of 5. Having wheels opened doors of independence for him. Since that moment, he used his life to help others have the same independence. To him, disability was a super power.

Something he instilled in me, is that special needs and disability is the opposite of what we believe it to be. Every person has special needs, because we are all unique as individuals. I have just as many special needs as my little sister with Autism. Her “disability” allows her to have an amazing memory, an eye for organization, and a contagious joy for the little things in life. Just as my fathers disability gave him the opportunity to know struggle, and grow with it. He developed empathy, strength, and knowledge that allowed him to advocate and uplift the community.  He found a way to put things we can’t often put into words down on paper, and see past a humans race, gender, and functionality of a body.

When will we switch the narrative on disability to a positive one? Disability has it challenges, yes, but every aspect of life does. Disability is not a downfall, but rather something that makes us unique and real. It allows us to better understand each others struggles, and gives us gifts of life. A individual is not any less because of a disability or special need.

Yes, my fathers cause of death was cerebral palsy. Death caused by advocacy, strengths, and community.

 

 

Don’t Panic In The Verizon Store

Today started out like any other day. I got up, went to work, and ran some errands for school. But around 4pm, I noticed my verizon messaging app is crashing and won’t open. No big deal, i’ll try uninstalling it and then reinstalling.

Do not do.

I repeat, do not do!

I did this without hesitation, and when it still didn’t work, I switched my messaging back to the android messaging for the meantime, and realized my messages from my father were gone.

Cue instant panic.

I start googling and trying all my apps again, and decided to go to the Verizon store. Knowing I would probably panic, I invited my friend to come along, who said no, which she has the right to do. We had plans with friends, so I said I’d catch up.

So, my entire drive there and while patiently waiting in the store is me repeating in my head “do not panic” over and over again. When I finally am helped, they have no idea and direct me to calling a technical support line.

So I go take a seat, call this number, and they eventually can’t help me either. Once again, i’m internally screaming to myself “do not panic!”.

I have had a horrendouse increase in anxiety since my father’s passing. So taking away anything sentimental such as dear messages from him will pretty much cause instant anxiety.

In this moment, i’m upset at my friend, and the world, because I knew shit was about to hit the fan.

I instantly start having a panic attack outside this Verizon. Hypervenelating, gasping for air, tears–the whole bit. Here I am, standing outside the Verizon store, looking like a mess of a person as I break down.

Suddenly, I feel so alone. I’m by myself, in this mall, deep, deep, deep into my anxiety and thoughts. I go take a seat, and eventually I come back down. I left and went back to my car to really calm down.

In that moment, I felt an isolation that I haven’t felt this grief process. “Why can’t they just fix my app and tell me if his messages were safe?” And “Why did my friend say no?”

I had to stop myself in my tracks when I realized I was leaning on the world to keep me calm.

I have always struggled with asking for help and talking to others, but in this moment I was relying on other’s to fix my storms.

I’ve realized for a lot of us, it is so incredibly difficult to find that balance of when do we need help, when do we ask for it, and when do need to figure it out ourselves.

By trying not to panic in the Verizon store, I learned a bit about my anxiety, my grief, and myself in the process. Sometimes, you do have to face your storms alone. But also, it can be okay to reach out for help.

Your storms will happen. They will hurt, make you feel alone, isolate you, and much more. But in the midst of that storm, try to remember that at the end of it, you are stronger. With or without help.

 

Dating A Member Of The Dead Parents Club

Female, 22. Grad Student, Communications Therapist, Writer. Determined, inspired, and kind. Anxiety, a lot of student debt, and a member of the dead parent club.

This is what my Tinder Bio would probably advertise.  Swipe right?

Dating in your 20s is very interesting.. it’s a large mix of people involved in the “hook-up culture” and the elite few who want to find love.

Last fall, I began my young adult dating adventure. I definitely went on a few Tinder dates, a few second dates, lots of texting, etc. But what I found was that ultimately, the girl whose dad is starting to die and is more preoccupied with her family wasn’t exactly appealing.

Thus, my adventure quickly came to a end.

Fast forward to January 2019. There was no way in hell that anyone would understand me. But then, ahh, the classic boy meets girl story at a superbowl party, they start talking and never stop.

I introduce you to Connor.

Now, I admit I found Connors dumb dad jokes and boot obsession somewhat endearing. Yet, I was quite scared to lay it all on the table, as easy as it was to talk to him. Who want’s a sad, grief striken girlfriend at 20 something?

To my surprise, Connor sort of embraced my mess. He didn’t exactly understand what I was experiencing or going through, but he tried his best to support me. He listens to my stories, holds me when i’m a sobbing mess, and most importantly– finds ways to honor my father with me. He never met the man, but everytime he sees a blue slushy, he always gets one and goes “for Mark!”. He cheers with me everytime I get a parking spot and yell “thanks Mark!” To the sky, and always points out Red Cardinals.

 

Unfortunately, we are no longer together, but this partnership introduced me to the idea that someone can love the grief mess I am as a young adult.

 

I’ve learned that no one can ever really understand your grief, but they can learn how to support you in their own way. And that is what we need to do better. Instead of focusing on the fact that no one understands, we need to focus on those who want to support us despite this. How can we help eachother? It’s important to ask that question. Since discovering this, I have made it a point to ask those around me the simple yet complex question of “How can I be here for you?”. We tend to think we know it all, but in reality our emotions and feelings are all so different. We all have different and unique needs, so why not learn from eachother?

So, how can I be here for you?