Failure to launch

I have been very successful in my professional life. I set a lot of long-term goals when I was pretty young and achieved them all. I am really proud of my career and teaching has been my passion for over two decades.

My personal life, however…that’s been kind of a disaster. I think most of my colleagues would be surprised at how much I struggle outside of work. My relationships, for one, have been less than successful. My marriage ended within five years. My ten year long relationship with my exboyfriend, M., was a series of disasters and heartbreak. My current relationship is BY FAR the healthiest one I have been in. However, it is currently being tested by my anxiety and agoraphobia.

My struggles with mental health are such an area of shame for me. I think because it creates such a dichotomy between my professional life and my personal life. I know I present myself as being totally in control and confident at work, and yet the opposite is true in “real life”.

I met my therapist this week and we were discussing my relationship and how I feel envious of my boyfriend’s ex wife. That sounds crazy, so let me expand on that! He and I have been together for several years and have not made a ton of progress in our relationship. We are very committed to each other and very much in love, but sometimes our lives are still disjointed. He is with me half the week and the other half of the week, he has his two teenaged sons. Luckily, they have been very accepting of me and are amazing kids. But when he’s with them…he’s with them. A lot of that is my own fault, though. He always includes me in their activities, dinners, etc. Oftentimes it is out of my comfort zone and I do not attend. I do see the boys a good amount, but it isn’t as often as it should be. His ex wife has been dating her boyfriend for only about six months, but he has become a permanent fixture at her house and with the boys. They integrated him pretty quickly into their family.

I often find myself envious of this and then immediately feel ashamed because I know it is my own fault. My boyfriend is wonderful and always assures me that everything is fine and he is happy in our relationship and with me. My therapist basically said point blank that he is trying to include me and make me feel like a part of his family and I am “failing him”.

This was like a punch to the gut for several reasons. The first being that feeling mike a failure in general just sucks. The second is that my boyfriend is honestly such an amazing person who cares so much for me and is so, so good to me. He is the last person I want to disappoint. I love him and I love his kids and I want to be with them all more than I am now. It is important to me to create more of a family structure with him and I feel like my mental illness is preventing me from being able to make that a priority.

A third reason is M. His illness and his subsequent death will always feel like a failure to me, no matter what anyone says about it not being my fault. Logic tells me that there was nothing more I could have done, that I went above and beyond to help him, and that I was powerless. But, as with most matters of the heart, logic doesn’t win. I will always feel a pang when I think about M. and his final days. I will always wonder what I could have done differently and if he would still be alive if I didn’t give up on him. I will always feel like I failed him.

I know “failing” my boyfriend now is not a literal matter of life and death. And he acts like the issues with my anxiety are no big deal. But I can already predict what will happen…each little disappointment will chip away at his love for me. Each “no”, each “I can’t”, each excuse I make will cause him to take a tiny, almost indiscernible step away from me. It won’t be noticeable at first, but one day he will suddenly be very far away. I will most likely lose him at some point. I think that is why I have never allowed myself to really, truly feel comfortable in our relationship. The pain of losing him will be too much, so I protect my heart.

It was hard to hear it, but I know my therapist is right. I am failing my boyfriend. And I probably did fail M. in some way. But, most importantly, I am failing myself every single day that I let anxiety control my life. And that is the most difficult failure of all, because I can’t blame it on anyone else. I can’t ignore it, run away from it, divorce it…I carry it with me constantly.

Heart of the matter

Dear M,

I can’t believe that today is two years that you have been gone. There hasn’t been a single day that has passed that I haven’t thought about you. So many things remind me of you- hearing Beast of Burden on the radio, an advertisement for that green Rolex, a Facebook memory of you buying your recliner from years ago…

My dad has been so sick lately. He’s been in the hospital four times in just a month and a half. Today- right now- he’s having an exploratory heart procedure to see if the doctors can pinpoint what is causing the majority of the problems he’s experiencing. It feels like a weird coincidence that my dad is having a heart procedure on the same day you died of a heart attack. I joked to my sister that maybe you would watch over him to protect him, but I know you weren’t his biggest fan. I think you will do it anyway- for my mom and my sister and for me.

The heart is such a fragile thing, in every way. It is so easy to break and so difficult to repair. My dad keeps getting these second (and third and fourth…) chances. I wonder what would have happened if you had just one more chance, too.

♥️

Be Better

My teenaged students often ask me (innocently) why I don’t have kids. I talk about my life and my nieces all the time, so it makes sense that they are curious. They are also at a point in their own lives where they are thinking about their futures and whether marriage and a family is something they eventually want.

When I was a teenager and just becoming sexually active, I was terrified of getting pregnant. At age 16, I had an older friend drive me to Planned Parenthood to get prescribed birth control pills. I always assumed that at some point when I was older, I would just know that I wanted children. Spoiler alert: that time never came. The idea of pregnancy and childbirth terrified me and when I got married at age 27, I kept waiting for my biological clock to start ticking. Then my marriage went to complete shit. My ex husband gave me an ultimatum about having a baby and I knew better than to bring a child into a bad relationship. I chose divorce.

In my 30s, more and more of my friends announced their pregnancies and I was delighted to buy strollers and onesies and pack-n-plays, but still never felt envious. If anything, experiencing pregnancy through the eyes of my friends made it even more unappealing to me. I excitedly met and cuddled their babies and still never felt the pull to be a mother. The only feeling I remember having is waves of guilt that my mother was not becoming a grandmother like her contemporaries were. To her credit, she never pressured me in any way about whether or not I wanted a baby.

When I was with my exboyfriend, there was a period of time when we discussed marriage and whether or not we really wanted to both close the door for good on parenthood. I was in my late 30s and he was five years younger, so the decision mostly fell in my lap. He, like most men, had more time. My time was running out. I went to my gynecologist for my annual exam and for the first time ever, she mentioned that I should really start seriously considering whether or not I wanted to have a baby. I told her my concerns and she offered to do a blood test that would determine my fertility.

I went into the test pretty nonchalantly, having the confidence of always having good health. My results were unexpected. She essentially said that I would not be able to get pregnant on my own and if I wanted to have a baby, I would need to see a specialist and most likely begin IVF immediately. Although it was surprisingly disappointing to have the choice of motherhood taken from me, I wasn’t devastated and felt as if that was the last real sign I needed that it just wasn’t in the cards for me.

As a teacher, I felt as if I had an opportunity to have a positive influence on children, just in a different capacity and it was fulfilling in a lot of ways. However, when my sister had her first daughter, I understood for the first time what parents always said about their children. My first niece made my heart explode with pure, unconditional, overwhelming love. My second niece made my heart expand in ways I didn’t think were even possible. I don’t know if I could love my own children as much as I love my two nieces. I would literally give my life for either of them and I desperately want them to have the happy childhood my sister and I did not have. I am so lucky to be a very active auntie. My sister lives in the same town as me and I see them almost every day. They are truly the loves of my life.

My mother jokes that my sister’s children are miniature versions of us. My older niece, who is five, is very much like me- in looks and temperament. She is fair skinned with blue eyes, and is so smart and sensitive. People often mistakenly assume she is my daughter when we are all out in public. My little niece, the two year old, is a clone of my sister. She has darker hair and brown eyes and is impish, funny, and stubborn like my sister.

My older niece (I will refer to her as Five) is very sensitive. She gets easily upset and her feelings are quick to be hurt. She is so sweet and cares about other people. Five also seems to be a little predisposed to anxiety- she is scared of thunder and afraid to fall of her bike. Her younger sister is fearless, like my sister was. I was terrified of rollercoasters growing up and my sister would be pulling my mom’s arm to get in line. Even when I was a teenager, I was still scared of storms and would climb in my sister’s bed at the first sight of lightening. I was the older sister, but was always more cautious, a natural worrier, and overly sensitive.

At first, the comparisons between Five and me would make me so happy. I loved her so much and I felt like there was such a connection between us that went beyond the normal auntie/niece bond. I glowed with pride when strangers would comment how much she looked like me (my sister would jokingly call me Aunt Mommy) But, as Five got older, I started worrying about the ways I DIDN’T want her to be like me. I don’t want either of my nieces to have their lives dictated by fears or anxiety or mental illness.

When Five would overreact and exhibit signs of any kind of anxiety, my sister would make comments like “she’s just like you.” This hurt me so much. I know my sister never said it to hurt me, but it did. Because of all the fears I have (and there are a lot), the biggest one I have is that Five will end up like me. It makes me sad to write that because I know I have a lot of amazing traits that I would be proud to pass on to her and her sister, but I do not want her to experience mental illness the way I have. I think deep down that was a big part of why I did not want my own children- that wanted to avoid having a child be genetically predisposed to the mental health issues I have.

My nieces are a huge reason why I fight to stay healthy and try to manage my anxiety and panic disorders and agoraphobia. I know I am not doing a great job at it right now, but I am working through it all. I just worry as they get older, they will start to notice things more and more. I just want every aspect of their lives to be better than mine and I want them to be better than me.

Hold on…let me overthink this

So much of my anxiety is anticipatory. Like 90% of it. I know this, yet it is really hard to control. It is almost impossible to tell myself to just simply not think about something. It would be like me saying to you, “close your eyes and DON’T think about the color blue.” ALL you are going to do is think about and imagine the color blue. Since so much of my anxiety is related to travel and most travel or trips or drives are planned and not spontaneous, I suffer from anticipatory anxiety almost constantly. If I am invited to a dinner or event, I anticipate it for the days leading up to it. I overplan, checking Waze and other maps to see how long it will take to get there. I overthink all the different things that could go wrong or the elements I can’t control.

Even with horrible anxiety and panic disordered, I have always been pretty independent. I preferred (and still do prefer) to drive somewhere alone. I never want to be a burden to someone or ruin their time by having anxiety. My sister went away for a weekend over this past summer, during the same time I had a negative reaction to a new antidepressant, and I had the closest thing to a nervous breakdown I have ever experienced. It is still hard to think- or write- about. My sister has been planning a girls’ weekend trip to Florida for the first weekend in December (like fly out Friday and home Monday) and I have been soooooo anxious about it. It has literally ruined the entire month of November for me. I just think over and over, like a broken record, that I don’t want her to go. Selfishly, it isn’t that I think something will happen to HER, rather it is that I think something will happen to ME.

I have never been or felt so dependent on other people. I never had this kind of a reaction to someone else going away. I was desperately hoping for something to happen to prevent her from going, but I also knew that wasn’t fair to her. She didn’t ask to be my person like this and she is a hard-working mom who deserves a fun weekend away. It has been difficult because she is the person I am closest to and who I would confide in the most about these things, but I don’t want her to feel guilty about leaving me or me being upset.

The most confusing thing about this is that I don’t logically know WHY I need her so much or why I am so afraid for her to be away. But, like most people with anxiety, I know that logic really goes out the window. My therapist has pointed out many times that I am actually the one who does things almost daily for my sister, whether it is babysitting my nieces, running errands, picking something up for her, helping her with something at her house, etc. I do a lot for my sister and yet I feel this immense panic at the thought of her being far away.

It is frustrating because I don’t need ANOTHER thing to be anxious about. I have enough things already and now it feels like I am adding something new to the list, while still not making a lot of progress on my existing triggers.

Tears in Heaven

My best friend’s mother passed away very suddenly. Growing up, she was like a second mother to me. I always called her “Ma” and she always called me a special nickname. It happened so quickly…like after years of battling one health problem and thriving, she was diagnosed with a second, unrelated disease and within 48 hours she was gone.

Almost every single loss I have suffered in my life has been unexpected and sudden. A good friend died by suicide. He jumped off a bridge in NYC. My ex boyfriend, M., of ten years had a heart attack and was found dead in his apartment. I have lost other friends to drug overdoses, which even though you know they are struggling with addiction, you still think they will ultimately survive. The only deaths I have dealt with that were not huge shocks were the loss of my grandparents, who were in their 90s…and even with them, they were in such good health for their age and died peacefully in their sleep.

It is really hard to write this without sounding and feeling so selfish, but the loss of my Ma has made me feel so scared to lose my own parents. My father’s health has been so bad for so long that it is easy to think that he will continue to beat the odds. I literally can’t even think about something happening to my mother without feeling ill. Watching my best friend go through having to tell her children that their Nanny is in heaven and plan a funeral was heartbreaking. I honestly don’t know how she got through it and is making it through each day as a functional person.

I logically know that eventually my mom and dad will no longer be here with us. And I understand that it is the circle of life and children are supposed to outlive their parents. I just honestly don’t know how I will be able to get though it. I had a complete breakdown with my panic disorder over the summer and contemplated going to a mental institution to get help and literally nothing was even wrong in my life (I mean that’s a whole other story really…) I can’t imagine how I will survive losing my mother.

I feel comforted by the fact that my Ma was such a religious and spiritual person. I really am not, but I do believe that she is in heaven, reunited with her husband, and is no longer in pain. But she was only 64…she was supposed to be here to watch her grandchildren grow up. Life just seems very unfair sometimes. My mother just turned 75 and although she is so youthful and energetic and healthy, I am so so scared of losing her.

My best friend confided in me that she feels so angry that her mom is gone. I remember after M. died, I read so much about the stages of grief and I was stuck in the anger phase for a really long time. It was like as long as I stayed mad- at his family, the circumstances, etc- I didn’t have to face the fact he was really, truly gone forever. I would never see him again. I would never talk to him again. That was it- the end of his life. At 37 years old, his story was over.

But I eventually started to work through it and I found an article about the Herschel Theory. It essentially explains grief like a big box with a “pain” button inside of it. There is a giant ball that is almost the size of the box and as it bounces around inside the box it always hits that button, and you always feel pain. As time goes on, the ball gets smaller and smaller. It can bounce off the walls of the box without always hitting the pain button, but occasionally it still hits it. That is when grief just hits you out of nowhere. That is how I feel now with M. I am not consumed by his death anymore- the ball is pretty small. But occasionally I just remember he is gone or a memory or something and I am flooded with grief. My best friend’s “grief ball” is humongous, but I hope that with time, she will be able to think of her mother and remember all the happy memories without the lightning bolt of pain from her loss or the deep, dull sadness of her mother’s absence.

And someday, I will be her in shoes and I dread that day so much. Today, my family went out to lunch- my dad, mom, sister, two nieces, and me. I can count on one hand how many times we have done that- certainly never when my dad was actively drinking. It just reminded me again why I made the decision I did to try to forgive my father and allow myself to make new memories with him and our family. I know one day when he is gone, I will be grateful to have them.

A picture is worth a thousand words

I needed to do an update on my MacBook and when I looked at the storage option, the majority of it was being taken up by my massive amount of photos. I transfer all my photos from my phone onto my computer and organize it all into folders based on the event, person, place, etc.

I realized that I really needed to go though them and purge to clear up some much needed space. One of the albums was all of the photos of when my exboyfriend was in the hospital. I documented everything- the tubes and machines, the ventilator, the collage of pictures and letters I hung up on the wall, the flowers my sister brought to cheer us all up, the mural painted above the bed…and many of his unconscious body. I know that probably violated some kind of law, but I needed proof to show him when he woke up. And I did show him. I showed him the photo from the day his parents arrived and his dad stood over his body, his head bowed in despair. I showed him the photo of the dozens of wires connected to his head to test his brain activity. I showed him the photo of our baby niece in the waiting room wearing her “world’s best uncle shirt”. I showed him all the photos and it did not have the impact I wanted. I expected him to be horrified, to cry, to remember anything from that month. But he didn’t. He said it felt like he was looking at photos of someone else.

My therapist asked me why I still kept the photos on my computer. I didn’t have a great answer except that they provided some kind of validation of what I (and be) went through. She gently pointed out that I did not need the photos for him anymore because he is gone. They are of no use to him or his family anymore. And I am sure that his parents can no more forget those memories when they close their eyes and think about them than I can. I realized those pictures aren’t serving any purpose anymore for me. They just bring back pain to look at them.

So, without over thinking it, I deleted them all. And I didn’t stop there. I went through all my pictures and erased all of our vacation photos (minus any of just him or the two of us) and all the photos of his family. I have no relationship with them at all and I know I never will again. His sister’s children are years older now and probably don’t even remember me. I hope that they remember him. I hope his mother still has photos of him in their house and they talk about him and reminisce about him the way my family does.

I don’t need the photos of that terrible time to remember it. I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to. And when I think about him, I want to remember happy times, not traumatic ones. I actually went even a step further and erased photos of my father after he had a stroke and some pictures from when he was actively drinking and damaged things in our house (holes in walls, broken vases, etc).

I have albums and albums full of happy things- my beautiful nieces, my cute house, my decorated classroom, my great friends. It was time to make space on my hard drive for more positive, future memories instead of letting bad, sad ones take up so much room. Now, if only it was as easy to erase them from my own memory as it was to remove them from my computer….

It’s my party (and I’ll cry if I want to)

I have never been a huge birthday person and this year was no exception. To say the past month has been hard is an understatement of epic proportions. The only thing I really wanted for my birthday was to start feeling better. Thanks to lots of extra therapy, time, effort, patience, and medication, I was happy that by my birthday I was starting to feel like myself again. The panic attacks I was having seem to have tapered down and my anxiety has been more manageable.

My sister always makes me feel really special on my birthday- we always go all out for each other. Because my boyfriend’s birthday is the day after mine, we celebrated together with pizza and cake at my sister’s house with her, my nieces, his two sons, and my parents. It was a laid back day and I was glad to be with everyone.

My boyfriend and his kids left to go pick up the pizza right around the time my sister got home with the ice cream cake. I was hanging out in her living room with my parents and my sister made a comment about my dad paying for the cake. I already knew this because he not only mentioned it several times throughout the day, but also commented more than once about how expensive it was. I took it with a grain of salt because I don’t think my dad always gets how much things cost now and I knew the cake was expensive because I had purchased the same one for my sister’s 40th birthday.

I jokingly said to my sister, “yeah dad mentioned it about six times”, kind of laughing and he FREAKED OUT. He sat straight up on the couch across from me, pointed his finger at me, and through gritted teeth yelled “you are a LIAR. YOU ARE A FUCKING LIAR.” In that moment, I honestly get like if he was physically able to get up and attack me he would have. He became so immediately, irrationally irate. My sister and my mom and I were all just shocked and I muttered that I was just kidding and that I appreciated the cake.

For the next few minutes, I just silently stared down at my phone because I had tears welling up in my eyes and I was so shocked and embarrassed and uncomfortable. Thank god my boyfriend and his kids and my nieces were not in the room when it happened.

So, I’m hindsight, perhaps my joke was not funny, even though I had thanked him every time he mentioned the cake and it was said in a very lightheaded manner. But, I was so taken aback by his reaction, I felt so awkward the rest of the night. I can tell he did, too, because he was really quiet.

Later that night, once everyone was home, my mom called me to talk about it. I was surprised by this because she normally kind of sweeps things under the rug. She was really upset and upset that I was upset. My family obviously knows that I have been having a really difficult time, so I think she just felt very badly about his behavior. My mom and sister and I have been having more conversations lately about the possibility of him developing the onset symptoms of dementia or something like that and I know anger and agitation are some of the first signs.

Regardless of what it was, my sister summed it up best afterwards. She texted me saying, “It shocked me too and it made me upset and instantly brought me back to childhood when he used to scream like a psychopath at the top of his lungs about us being liars.” I swear we both have some form of PTSD from how he acted during our childhood days.

The most important things are that I am feeling better and I was with all the people I love and I’m trying to focus on that, but it was a reminder how delicate the boundary is between the old way of life for my family and the currently status quo. My dad is one drink away from turning back into that monster again and I think seeing that glimpse of him reminded me that no matter how good things seem now, there is still always the threat of that looming under the surface.

Metamorphosis (part 1)

Part 1: The Caterpillar

Covid was one of the best things to happen to me as far as my agoraphobia goes. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…everyone HAD to stay home. For two years, I had the perfect excuse to not go anywhere. There were no vacations, no trips to the city, no concerts at the beach, no day trips, no overnight visits…nowhere to go, nothing to do. For two years, my comfort zone steadily shrank and my anxiety was practically nonexistent. That aspect of quarantine was wonderful. I was stuck at home, newly in love, and so content to just snuggle on the couch with him binging Netflix and Hulu. I still did weekly therapy, focusing on remote teaching, my new relationship, and the death of my exboyfriend. But, inevitably, life has started to go back to “normal” and I am left feeling very not normal. I knew Covid was a causing a huge step back when it came to my agoraphobia, but I don’t think I really grasped how much it negatively affected me. Before Covid, my “comfort zone” was an hour and a half or so. I still got anxious going somewhere new, but it was pretty manageable. I struggled with bigger trips and flying was still a huge obstacle, but I was doing ok. Over the past two years, my comfort zone significantly shrank to being about 25 minutes or so and I don’t like being in the car with other people. I especially am anxious about driving with my boyfriend and his two children. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the need to expand my horizons and widen my comfort zone, but I haven’t actually acted on it. A couple of weeks ago, my friends went on an overnight girls trip to a place about two hours away. Even before Covid this trip was not one I usually went on, but this time I didn’t say no right away. I really did think a lot about going, but the length of the drive, coupled with a night at a bar and sleeping in a hotel was just overwhelming and I did not go. I obsessed over the decision, cried a lot, and was incredibly hard on myself for not being ready to do it. I realized that I had to stop just saying I was going to take drives and push myself and I needed to start just doing it. A couple of days ago, I drove (with my boyfriend) to my parent’s house, which is about 45 minutes away. Even though it is a route I had done hundreds of times in my life, I have only been to my hometown two times in the past two years and I had not driven that distance with my boyfriend before. It was the tiniest of accomplishments, but still was a step in the right direction and it was better than nothing. I decided that I am going to try to drive to the beach tomorrow morning by myself. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I know the only way I am going to get better is to keep pushing myself to drive more often and go a little further each time. I am going to bed tonight telling myself that there is no pressure. If I start driving and can’t make it, I can go home and try another time. So…until tomorrow…

Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

RIP Tony

I babysat my little nieces the other day and I asked the four year old if she wanted to FaceTime her grandmother. She replied, “Mama’s dying”. I couldn’t help but laugh. My mother had a stomach virus, so I’m sure she FELT like she was dying, but she certainly is very alive. I had to explain “exaggeration” to my niece. We then got ready to FaceTime my mom to say hi. Before I could finish setting it up, my niece continues with this:

“My uncle is dead.” I know my sister talks about my exboyfriend/her uncle/her godfather with her a lot and has explained death in a child appropriate way to her. Her paternal grandfather died before she was born, so they talk about him often.

“I know. Unc did die,” I responded, not really thinking too much about it. But then she continued, “Do you want to know how?” That stopped me in my tracks. “How?”, I asked, having no idea what her response was going to be. She confidently replied, “he drank too much alcohol.”

Now, obviously she was repeating this from my sister. My niece is four and does not even know what alcohol is. I was very shocked at her response and didn’t know what to say, but luckily the FaceTime call connected and she started talking to my mom, the conversation already forgotten (by her).

When my sister got home from work I told her about the conversation and we talked about it. First she seemed surprised too and thought maybe my niece overheard an adult conversation, but later she said that she does try to tell her the truth about questions she asks. I wasn’t mad or anything, more just surprised I guess.

My sister and I have had discussions about eventually talking to my two nieces about alcoholism and how much to actually tell them about our father. They LOVE my dad. They only know their Papa as a sober man. And I hate to admit this, but one of the driving forces in my breakup with M. before he died was not wanting my nieces growing up with an active alcoholic in their lives. I am so close with them and spend so much time with them, I just do not want them exposed to alcoholism as children. I am relieved that they do not have anyone in their lives now that drinks.

But I also know that there is a genetic element to alcoholism and it is important for them to know the dangers of addiction. I don’t think they necessarily need to know everything from our own childhood or about my dad being abusive. I feel like that would just be so damaging to them. Growing up, my paternal grandfather was one of my very favorite people. He passed away when I was 12 years old. Many years later, my mother confessed to me that my grandpa was very much like my father- that he was an alcoholic and very, very mean. Obviously he was able to control that when I was around him because I had no idea. I felt so hurt, betrayed, and angry when I found out and I think it marred his memory some. I hated thinking about him in a negative way. I am very appreciative that my sister involves me in these decisions, although I would obviously support her and I know that as their mother she has the right to make all of her own decisions when it comes to the girls.

Last night my sister called me, whispering into the phone. “Tony’s dead! What should I do? Should I go get another fish to replace him or do I just tell her?” Tony is (was?) my niece’s blue and red betta fish. She said she was going to talk to her husband when he got home and they would decide what to do. I quickly googled an article from a psychologist about what to say to children when pets that pass away and sent it to her. It said that most children can handle the loss of their pet and it is important for them to talk about it, feel sad, etc. It is a part of the circle of life.

When asked my personal opinion, I half jokingly said, “well if you can tell her the truth about her Uncle dying, I think you can do the same about her fish.” I guess it kind of bothered me more than I thought that she knew the circumstances of M’s death. But I think more than anything, I just still feel so sad. It’s still SO hard. And I am glad that they still talk about him and loved him so much. I want his memory to stay alive and for everyone to remember him. It is coming up on the one year anniversary of his death and it still feels so raw.

❤️ This post is in memory of Tony 😆 He was a really cool little fish 🐟