Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘parent’

Meeting Her Parents

After going out for a year and a half and living together for four months, it was time to meet my wife’s parents. Her parents lived in Chicago and we lived in California. The day of reckoning had arrived.

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One day, as Audrey was talking on the phone with her mother (which she does every week for hours on end), her Mom told her that they were coming out to a convention in San Francisco and wondered if they could meet us for dinner. Audrey had replied, “Yes, we would love to.” and then informed me of it afterwords. I was reasonably shocked, but as ready as I’d ever be. She had told me a little about her parents and I’d talked to them on the phone, but had never met them in person.

I was nine years older than their daughter and already had three children from a previous marriage! Audrey had never been married, was only twenty-four and had grown up as an only child. And even though I had a Masters degree, at the time of our meeting I was working as a nursing assistant, which was as far away from their daughter’s previous boyfriend, who was going to medical school, as possible.

The meeting took place at what is now the Sheraton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We met them in the lobby. I had on the one good suit I owned, that looked like something from the seventies and just as tacky. Audrey looked beautiful, as always. Her parents looked just like I had imagined, though her father wasn’t as tall as I’d expected. We exchanged formalities and went outside to get on the cable car and go down to Ghirardelli Square, where we went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant.

After being seated and making sure to follow everything they did, such as eating with the proper utensil and delicately sipping the wine, her father asked about the work I did and what I had done in the past. I tried to make health care, counseling and massage sound important and exciting, but I could tell it wasn’t going over real well. Then her mother asked about my kids. I gave her a glowing report and tried to convey how different that relationship had been, from the one her daughter and I had now embarked upon. Her anxiety and fears seemed to increase, despite my good intentions.

I must admit, if my only daughter was involved, at age twenty-four, with a man in his thirties who already had three children and worked as a nursing assistant, I would have had my doubts, concerns and clanging sirens of apprehension!

As we all stood on the trolley car, on the way back to the hotel, her father unexpectedly asked me where I lived. The one thing we hadn’t told them yet was that we were living together. Not sure what to say, I finally said, “I live real close.” Luckily, he didn’t ask where or how close. I’m not sure I could have pulled off another stretch of the truth.

As we were driving home that night Audrey said, “It will take time, but I think they like you. They’re just scared about my future, that’s all.”

“That’s all!” I exclaimed. “That’s quite a bit, your future.”

I admitted that in spite of all my preconceptions and notions about her parents, that I liked them as well.

Audrey and I have been married twenty-six years now and her mother and father (who has since passed away) are both close to our hearts and lives. They have loved all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the ones that didn’t come through their daughter and even accepted their American son-in-law, who never became a lawyer or physician and still only has one good suit.

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It’s No Big Deal

GoodGrief_180WFrom Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

“What are you so upset about? It was only your ex-husband.”

“Come on, get over it. You can always get another cat.”

“Hey, you hadn’t seen your friend in years anyway.”

“They were drunk half the time. Who cares?”

“It’s not the same as being married. You just lived together.”

“You only knew them for two months!”

“Weren’t they old? They lived a long life.”

“No, you can’t come to the funeral. You aren’t part of the family.”

These are just some of the comments that people hear, and a small sampling of how their grief is disregarded, after they’ve had a friend, acquaintance or family member die. The losses they have experienced don’t match the images of who and what is acceptable to grieve in our society. And it’s not just others that cause such pain. We are often our harshest critics. We internalize the conscious and unconscious messages we are fed daily and are often confused with the intensity of our emotions and reactions after a death, when our head is telling us we should not be feeling much at all.

Our response to any kind of loss, especially from death, is our bodies natural reaction to the human condition, even though we analyze it, distrust it and, at times, find it hard to believe.

“Why am I getting so upset over my ex-husband’s death? We never got along and I’ve been better off without him.”

No matter what the relationship was like, it was a relationship. There were attachments, habits and shared time that will always effect one’s life. For some, the never-ending hope of reconciliation will have died as well.

“It was only a cat. I know it’s not the same as a person.”

Your cat or pet was a living creature. We can grow just as accustomed and fond of an animal as we can with a human. The same kind of attachments and memories occur.

“We were best friends during high school, but that was ages ago.”

Some friends stay with us forever, whether we see them often or rarely at all. The time we spend together can leave us with lasting imprints, influences and memories, as well as regrets, bitterness or pain.

“This is crazy. His drinking ruined our family and our lives. He was mean and abusive. Why is his death so hard? I thought I’d be relieved.”

Even abusive, negative relationships can cause unexpected mixtures of emotion. Though we may have separated ourselves from the individual, and learned how to fend for ourselves or are still in contact, there is usually some deep feelings of loss over the years that they were not the parent or partner we had wished for. The realization that they have died can also awaken the fact that the opportunity for them to change or be different has died as well.

“We were only housemates. It wasn’t like we were married or anything.”

Whether as a friend, lover, roommate or relative, living in the same household is one of the most intense experiences in our lives. It’s where we learn how to interact with others and provides daily reminders of our differences and similarities. Whether two people living in the same household have their arrangement sanctioned or accepted by others does nothing to diminish the powerful lessons and connections that develop. We are intimately shaped, both good and bad, by those with whom we live.

“I just met them two months ago, but I can’t stop thinking about them.”

The length or duration of a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that it is of greater or lesser importance or impact. Some people we’ve known for years, yet have little connection, do not effect us deeply upon their passing, whereas others we’ve just met leave lasting footprints. The grief and mourning that result from the loss of a recent or longtime acquaintance is VERY individual and unique to that person, as are our needs in grieving their loss.

“Grandma was eighty-five years old. I knew she wouldn’t last forever, but it feels so sudden. I loved her so much.”

The longer someone you know lives, the harder it can be to accept the reality of their death. Even though you may have had time to prepare and say, and do what you needed or wanted to, it can still seem like it came too soon. There are times when no matter the person’s age, you want them to stay forever and their death is devastating.

“They never accepted me. I should have known this would happen.”

You have a right and a human need to attend the funeral and/or memorial of your partner. Your relationship with the deceased was between you and them, not their family or friends. How your relationship was seen or accepted by others is important in your adjusting to the loss, but not dependent upon it.

There are times when those you expect to be of help are not always able or willing to do so. For some, it is too painful. Others find it impossible to stop judging long enough to listen. When you can’t attend the funeral or memorial, due to the deceased’s family, distance or other circumstances, create your own ritual or ceremony of leave-taking. Invite those who will be present with you and share your loss.

Relationships with people and other living creatures are what make us human. It is normal to question, criticize and judge our selves after someone in our life has died. It is also normal to feel pain, frustration, anger, sadness, relief and confusion.

If you don’t get the kind of support and acknowledgment you need from family, friends or colleagues, then find it elsewhere. Don’t minimize, trivialize or try to forget your loss. Find ways to acknowledge, respect, honor and validate your experience and the reactions that have resulted.

Further reading and support at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

I’m Supposed To Die First

“Stop the train! I want to get off!” Jean shouted. 

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

imagesJean’s son of forty-three years had died in a restaurant. He choked to death. He had survived a life of infinite struggle as he lived with Down’s Syndrome and the isolation, stigma and cultural alienation he and his family had experienced daily.

“He was such a good soul,” Jean continued, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Of all the things to happen, why did it have to happen to him?”

Her son Daniel had become increasingly independent as he aged and was living in a group home in the Bay Area. He was working as a street cleaner during the day and enjoying a variety of social events with his living companions on his off-hours. Jean had visited him two days prior to his death, as she has done twice a week for the last fifteen years. She said she felt blessed, burdened and bonded with Daniel in a way only mothers of developmentally delayed children can know.

“Daniel was so in the moment,” she said. “His smile was infectious.” She looked down at her hands. “I know this may sound crazy, because people think folks like him aren’t as aware of others, as they are of themselves, but Daniel,” she grinned, “was always thinking about others. He could tell when someone was down. He’d give them a big bear hug and say, ‘There, there.’”

She cried bittersweet tears. “He always said, ‘I love love.’ and would wait for you to say it. He wouldn’t do anything else until you would say, ‘I love love too.’ back to him. He would just stand there waiting, no matter how long it took.”

Jean had taken care of Daniel single handedly for most of his life. Not long after Daniel was born, his father moved away saying he couldn’t live with an “abnormal” kid. In his home country, people made fun of kids like Daniel and would say they were cursed and had the evil eye. He blamed Jean and her background for the child’s difference, telling her that her family must have done something very bad in the past.

So Jean, at age twenty-four, took on the already difficult and exhausting life of single-parenthood, combined with the complication of a child that would stay a child for much of his life.

No matter how much she loved him, the reality was that caring for Daniel was overwhelming and all-consuming. She seldom had any time to herself and finding support and child-care as he aged became increasingly difficult. Yet, she loved him like a mother loves an only child. Her identity, reason for living and self-image of who she was became increasingly ingrained with her son’s life.

When she realized that his independence and happiness would be greatly enhanced if he learned to live on his own and separate from her, she was heartbroken.

Having him move to a group home for independent living, which was a forty-five minute drive away, felt like having your ten-year-old go away for a weekend sleep-over and never coming home. She was petrified, anxious and relieved when he actually moved. She said she grieved a thousand deaths day after day and rarely allowed herself to enjoy the “freedom” of her drastically changed less-encumbered life.

“It took me years to grieve the loss of him as a boy, acknowledge him as a man, and let go of my primary identify in the world as ‘Daniel’s Mom,’” Jean said, shifting her legs in the chair. “The last four years were wonderful. I had let go of so much, was doing things I’d always wanted to try, and trusting that he was safe and happy. Then,” she closed her eyes, as her held fell back, “then I get this call and he’s gone. Just like that . . . no warning . . . no good-byes . . . no more ‘I love love.’” She put her head in her hands and sobbed.

Later, after blowing her nose and wiping her eyes, she said, “Now I have to start all over again and I don’t want to. It isn’t supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to die first, not him.” Her eyes met mine. “I want to get off. I want to just disappear.”

She took a few moments of silence, then started telling me about her and Daniel — about all the funny, crazy, confusing, exciting, scary and unbelievable things he and they had done together. She told me about his temper, his sweetness and his frustrations with the world. She brought him to life again and again with her stories.

After another half-hour of hearing about Daniel, Jean placed her hand over her heart, closed her eyes and said, “He’s not gone. I can feel him right here. I can hear him telling me to ‘love love’.”

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Papa Times Five

Papa Times Five

I’m 59 years old and for 37 of those years I’ve been caring for children.

That is the realization that struck me like a high school football team a few months ago when our youngest son left home and transferred to a four year college in Southern California. “How can this be?” if anyone is reading this or should ask. None of the children stayed beyond the age of 20 (though a few returned every now and then for short or prolonged stays). I didn’t have my first child as a teenager, and I didn’t marry into a family that already had children. Everyone came by choice, when and how we wanted.

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At the age of 23 I married a kind woman who wanted to have children as much as I did. She also worked in the health care field and cared for others. Shortly after we married, our daughter Darcy was born and two years later she birthed our son Brendan. About four years after that we adopted Jason (who was 4 at the time), but it turns out that that is not something she wished to do. We separated and I became a single parent of Jason, with Darcy and Brendon staying with us half of the week.

About a year later, I met Audrey, who tentatively became a step-mother when we married the following year. After getting my vasectomy reversed, we had a child named Shona (who was the last to recently leave home). Shortly after Shona was born, we had our 14-year-old foster daughter Leti move in with us.

If you’ve kept track so far, that makes five children. Darcy and Leti both married and each now have two children, so we don’t have any lack of children around, but it’s quite different. The wonderful grandchildren are Jupiter, Ilee, Lola and Neiva. Audrey and are are respectively known as Oma and Opa.

When I mention that our last adult child has left home, friends say things like, “Oh, you have an empty nest.” Or, “That must be hard.” Or,”It must be nice having the house to yourself.” It’s difficult to give a definitive reply, as it feels like a combination of all the above. At times I miss the kids. At others, it is wonderful to have time alone. And at other moments I’m not sure what I’m feeling. Knowing all the children and grandchildren are fundamentally healthy and happy, alleviates a lot of anxiety and worry. Of course, there are always a mixture of feelings when there are issues of concern or difficult transitions.

So, out of choice (Was it really choice or conditioning or karma?), I’ve been partially creating, raising and nurturing children for well beyond half of my life. I have no regrets.

I wonder if we should perhaps adopt another child who needs a home? Why not 4 or 5 more? Oh yeah, there is the reality that they are with you the rest of your life, whether they leave home or not and unlike radishes or broccoli, you can’t just plant them in the soil and water them once a week for them to grow into adults. It takes a little more attention and love that that, as I’ve discovered five times (so far).

Call Today

Dear Gabriel,

DAP-one-million-sig-enoughMy son Blair was murdered with a gun on his way home from school. He was riding a Chicago city bus, and he was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting just a few days before Mother’s Day.

Newtown, Connecticut doesn’t look a lot like the South Side of Chicago. But when I hear the stories of Newtown families, I am familiar with their pain.

One month has passed since the heartbreaking mass shooting that took the lives of twenty first-graders and six adults. No community should have to go through that kind of terror, and no parent should have to feel so much loss.

Please join me and the families of other gun violence victims in saying: ENOUGH.

We recorded a new TV ad to Demand A Plan from our leaders in Congress.

Take a minute to watch the ad and call your members of Congress RIGHT NOW.

Today, more than forty mayors across the country organized events with law enforcement officials, faith leaders and survivors of gun violence to commemorate the tragedy at Newtown and demand action from our elected leaders in Washington.

More than a million people have signed the Demand A Plan petition calling on President Obama and Congress to step forward with a real plan to end gun violence.

But our leaders need to hear our voices every day. Please watch our new TV ad and make a call TODAY:

http://DemandAPlan.org/ENOUGH

I’ve met parents and loved ones of gun violence victims from all across the country. We share a connection because of the pain we’ve all been through, and we can offer each other some comfort and understanding. But there’s nothing that would make us happier than never adding a new member to our group ever again.

Thirty-three people are murdered with guns every day in America — sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. We’ve had ENOUGH and it’s time for our leaders in Congress to act.

Thank you for calling your members of Congress to Demand A Plan,

Annette Nance-Holt
Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Grief’s Wake Up Call

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.
by Gabriel Constans

Events that can and often do, devastate us emotionally, can also be used for personal transformation and growth. Some individuals find hope and opportunity in the midst of adversity. They reach out to help others find comfort and healing. Some succeed to change laws, institutions, policies and assumptions.

Meet Leah Rabin, Le Ly Hayslip, Maggie and Reg Green, Jeanne White, Hazel Johnson, Lee Mun Wah, Nane Alejandrez, Candace Lightner and others, to discover how they have found strength, courage and sheer tenacity to overcome the worst that can happen and use it as a catalyst to rediscover them selves and help others in the process.

What People have been saying about Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!:

“In Don’t Just Sit There, we have the privilege of listening to these inspiring people as they tell us what they have endured and how. These are lessons on living that come direct from experience, lessons we all need. I hope this book reaches many, touching hearts and infusing us all with its wisdom.”
Ellen Bass, co-author of The Courage to Heal

“A deeply moving work … highly recommended for hospice workers, grief counselors, and ministers and as a powerful affirmation for life.”
NAPRA ReView

“Gabriel Constans searches out the key to living after a loss by interviewing survivors who use a variety of activities to cope with a death … this book is an inspiration to both the bereaved and those who support them.”
Lynne Ann DeSpelder, author of The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying

Please consider a copy for yourself, family member or friend at Fast Pencil Publishing.

Father Doesn’t Know Best

Father Knows Best was a show from the late fifties, that portrayed the father as someone who always had the answers and wisdom for life’s lessons and problems. He freely shared his insight when asked and it was of course, always right. In later years, The Cosby Show had a similar father figure, though he could also make you laugh. In my experience, I’ve never had all the answers, known what to do (for sure) or imparted any great wisdom to our children. I’ve tried to be the best example I can, but it seems to be an ongoing education that continues regardless of their age or circumstances.

First, our oldest daughter moved out. The next to oldest daughter left soon after. Then, our first-born son went his way and his older brother followed suit. There is one remaining at home. He just graduated and starts community college this fall.

Our oldest daughter and her wife, who lives just 1/2 mile away, had a beautiful baby daughter a few months ago. Her childhood friend (who we have known for almost 2 decades) just had a little boy a week before that and we’ve gladly offered to babysit. Our daughter and her husband, who lives in Seattle, have an amazing 2 year old son. Then, there are our friends who are in the process of adopting a brother and sister (5 & 7), who they have foster cared for almost 2 years, whom I also love to support and spend time with. And two of our 3 sons plan to have children some day.

When it comes down to it, we haven’t “lost” anybody who has left home, but only gained more wonderful beings to the family and increased the amount of love and care to go around. Completing the circle, are all the wonderful children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda and those there caring for them.

I’ve known I wanted to parent children since I was sixteen. It looks like my wish has come true 10 fold and will always be a part of my life until my last breath as a human. Sure, I love my wife and our time alone and being able to do things we couldn’t always do when children were living with us 24X7, but it is also an awesome and wonderful responsibility to support, perhaps guide and nurture other precious beings and make a difference in their lives and hopefully, their hearts. I know I rarely know anything or have any answers like the Dad’s on those old TV shows, but that’s doesn’t matter. I’m OK with not knowing or being perfect and hopefully they are too.

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