Family and Friends

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    Mel Hebert

    It's Heartbreaking to Grieve a Mom Who’s Alive and Sober

    Childhood trauma has stuck with me until today, and while my mom contributes to that trauma, in the beginning, she didn’t. In the beginning, my dad left when I was 6 and she was the mom that people looked to in awe. A single mom of four kids, two of them twin infants, with an ex-husband who abruptly decided to leave for another woman when the newest additions to the family were born. She was even named “Mom of the Year” in our local paper. No one told me where my dad went, and that was confusing, but the “trauma” of not having a dad didn’t affect me at first. My mom was enough of a parent for both of them. She was loving, caring, and affectionate. Maybe she spoke up for me too much, but I didn’t mind. To let parents do all the talking was typical for my age and that generation. But when she started drinking, I didn’t have a mom or a dad. My grandparents tried their best, but they created traumatic memories as we didn’t get along. I didn’t have words for “neglect” and “emotional abuse,” but I found myself hiding in my room, dreaming of death because I just wanted a mom again. The mom who I used to adore was now often passed out from drinking too much. She could barely walk. She was a terrible driver and I thought I might die as a kid. I worried every time she left the house alone because I didn’t know if she’d get arrested for drunk driving or kill someone — or even kill herself, although that was too unspeakable to address at the time. The mom who was always so caring became cruel with her words. She was angry all of the time. We fought more than we got along. At 16, she was embarrassing even though my friends never seemed to notice she was drunk when they raved about her being the “cool mom” for leaving us with no supervision. Meanwhile, I wanted supervision. All I wished for was to get my mom back. I missed having a parent. And eventually, I got my wish. My mom went to rehab and got sober, and it took a while, but eventually, everything was OK again. For years, I had my mom back. She was there. She was attentive and present again. She was supportive. She was my best friend. She cared about me fiercely and was my greatest ally. She stood by my side when no one else did. I finally felt at peace. I couldn’t believe my mom was finally herself again. It was a dream come true. I guess that’s why I thought when she relapsed, once she got sober again everything would go back to normal — like the last time. But it didn’t. When she relapsed, we weren’t young anymore. I had moved out and the youngest was 16. The chaos of alcoholism reigned over our family just like it did before. But through every panic attack, through everyone night I cried myself to sleep, I reassured myself that one day she would get sober and everything would be like it was before. And she did get sober. In fact, she’s been sober for two years now. But things still aren’t back to the way they were before. And after two years, I’m beginning to face the fact that they might never be. Despite being sober, she’s still more forgetful than ever. Sometimes, she can’t even remember what I said earlier in the conversation. She lost everything due to drinking and is rebuilding her life, and the first time that happened, she embraced it. Now, she’s just angry. She’s so unbelievably angry at life that it hurts to see. She’s spiteful. And when those feelings get to be too powerful and too overwhelming, she lashes out at others. I don’t know what version of her I’ll get on the phone and even mid-conversation whatever version I get may change as her emotions seem more volatile. They seep out of her, unable to be held in, coming out as snippy comments and pure unhappiness. As someone who has mental illnesses of my own, I know it’s part of the process. I know she’s not purposeful in hurting my feelings or forgetting important information I’ve told her. But it still hurts. Because in front of me is the body of the woman who was my best friend, and now I’m not sure who she is. If I’m really truthful, I’m not sure I want to. My mom is right in front of me and she’s sober. I know that should make me happy. I should be grateful. I should rejoice that she’s no longer drinking. But in so many ways, it feels like I’ve lost her anyway. When I searched the internet to see if there were similar stories to mine, articles popped up about how to grieve a dead alcoholic parent. But that’s not my story. My story is that my mom is sober and alive and standing right in front of me. I can hear her voice and see her in the flesh. Yet, it still feels like she’s gone. Like this is some other person I’m talking to. Worse, there’s no one to talk about it with other than my husband and therapist. My family has mastered the act of pretending like everything is fine until disaster strikes and forces them to realize it’s not. I can’t talk about it to coworkers. Friends don’t get it because they think I should just be happy she’s sober. Talking about it makes me appear ungrateful, so I’ve learned not to. But I am grateful. It’s nice not worrying about whether she’s drunk and knowing she’s safe. Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but cry thinking about the person she used to be. She was so full of life. So vibrant. She was the person I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, she’s the person I’m trying not to be. Above all, I miss her. I’m not angry with her and I don’t want her to die. I want the opposite. I want the forgetfulness and anger and spite to disintegrate so I can have my mom back. I want her to love life again instead of looking at every opportunity with the glass half empty. I want her to be happy, because the mom I remember was always happy. Maybe she was stressed at times, but she was certainly happy. But I’m accepting that the happy, jovial, carefree memories I have are just that: memories. Whether I like it or not, the cynical, sullen woman in my mom’s body is the new normal. At least, it is for the foreseeable future. Even though she’s still alive, the mom from my childhood is gone. It’s a hard truth to swallow and something that will take a long time to fully accept. It’s heartbreaking grieving someone who’s still alive, because even though the person is still alive, the memory of who I have of her is not. And that hard truth is nothing short of devastating.

    Micaela El Fattal

    Tips for Moving Houses With Your Loved One With Traumatic Brain Injury

    Moving houses can be extremely challenging for anyone, but how can you have a successful move while also accounting for a loved one’s traumatic brain injury (TBI)? The first place to start is by analyzing the safety of the person with TBI. When you look at available housing options, you may need to consider how wide the doorway frames are. It is essential that a person with TBI have wiggle room if they regularly use a wheelchair. When looking at houses, you also may need to consider if there are any stairs in the house. This may eliminate some housing options, but many people with TBI are not stable enough to walk up and down full stairways. If a house has steps, you might question whether you need to buy a ramp or whether you can make serious changes to a house. Ramps can range between $100-500 dollars, so planning accordingly is best. Then, account for your loved one’s personal challenges. For some, this may mean uncontrollable outbursts or a lack of impulse control. Is this new house in close quarters with other neighbors? Would there be a noise complaint? Are there any shared walls that may make noise travel even further? Is there any way to change your loved one’s routine so that they will still get their daily needs met in a new home setting? For example, if someone with TBI is used to having physical or occupational therapy outside, would it be possible to move your loved one’s workout inside the house? If the person with TBI is used to having physical activity outside, is there a way to time their new outside routine to avoid interfering with their new neighbors’ routines? Another thing to consider is that when there are massive changes for any individual, there may be periods when people with traumatic brain injury need to adjust to their new environment. This may cause someone with TBI to regress in their healing journey, and they may have more incontinence, less balance when walking, or more physical or vocal outbursts. It may be wise to plan for this and to also be aware that this time period may last a few days to a few months — depending on how much your loved one can adapt. If your loved one with traumatic brain injury is known to puncture walls or accidentally damage cabinets, it would be best to be proactive in your new home setting by setting up new standards and solutions before moving your loved one in. That may mean having an overlap between one house to the next. For example, when moving from a bedroom with carpet to a bedroom with linoleum, it may be easier for someone with TBI to scoot their bed away from the wall and unintentionally get hurt. To prevent an accident from occurring you may need to find a simple fix — like putting furniture sliders under an item or even removing a doorway to make a room more accessible. Do not forget that individuals with traumatic brain injury are extremely resilient. Make sure you tell them how much you notice them adapting to their new home. These tips can make their healing journey easier when they move houses.

    How Mental Health Plays a Role in the Teacher Staffing Crisis

    Raise your hand if you have an educator in your life. Do you know if they’re doing OK? This week, our school district’s superintendent resigned. In June, it was our beloved elementary school principal and four other educators from the same school. While I am grateful they stuck it out and waited to retire after shepherding our children through the chaotic first two years of the pandemic, I am so sad to see them leave. They have provided a sense of leadership and stability during trying times. Still, I don’t blame them. The last few years have been particularly stressful for teachers. They have dealt with learning to teach online and holding classes on Zoom, all of the extra COVID precautions once students returned in person, and were stuck in the middle of the political battles between parents and school boards over mask mandates. Not to mention further threats to their safety with the number of school shootings at an all-time high. It’s no wonder that outlets across the country are reporting record numbers of teacher vacancies. The National Education Association (NEA) raised the alarm back in February with a survey of its members that found that over half are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned. K-12 education is experiencing a teacher staffing crisis, and it’s only going to get worse. According to the Washington Post, “Rural school districts in Texas are switching to four-day weeks this fall due to lack of staff. Florida is asking veterans with no teaching background to enter classrooms. Arizona is allowing college students to step in and instruct children.” With enrollment declining in college teacher preparation programs, there won’t be enough staff to take the place of those retiring or leaving the profession. There is also a shortage of special education teachers, who are crucial to the families of children with disabilities. Teachers’ Mental Health In June, a survey explored how educators and working adults are experiencing indicators of well-being. Seventy-three percent of teachers reported feeling frequent job-related stress (compared to 35% of other working adults), 59% reported burnout, and 28% have symptoms of depression. EdSurge recently did a deep dive into this issue with their piece on how “The Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit.” The teacher shortage impacts so many of us – our children, us as parents, those with friends and family members who are educators, and really everyone in our communities who depend on teachers to help raise our children to be well-informed citizens. We Need More Financial and Mental Health Support for Teachers Teachers should be paid like professional athletes. They have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. They are doing some of the hardest work in this country, with pay that does not reflect the many hours and arduous effort they put in. How would you like to try to corral a bunch of first graders, let alone get them to learn how to read and write, math concepts, and social-emotional skills? Me neither. I am incredibly grateful to all of the teachers in my family’s life and we continue to try to show our appreciation. As a parent, I help out in the classroom when volunteer opportunities arise; donate to holidays, teacher appreciation week, and end-of-the-year gifts; purchase small gifts, and write notes of thanks. During parent-teacher conferences I ask what I can do to help make their school year easier. And whenever the subject of our elementary school comes up with anyone, I let them know how amazing the teachers are here. But we need to do more on a legislative and collective level. We need to provide more financial and mental health support for teachers to help them stay in the workforce and for others to join the profession, in order for our economy to run smoothly. And the next time school is closed for a teacher work day, I hope you’ll remember all that our teachers do. I hope you’ll wholeheartedly support this small chance for them to take a breath before they dive right back into their classes full of our children. For more: Mighty contributor and teacher Tammy Oz’s “4 Coping Skills That Can Help Teachers With Their Mental Health“ “How Schools and Districts Can Support Educator Mental Health” from Education Week

    Community Voices

    Hope for eternity.

    <p>Hope for eternity.</p>
    12 people are talking about this
    Erin Paterson

    'Virgin River' Features Character With Huntington's Disease

    “Do you feel the representation of Huntington’s disease (HD) is accurate on ‘Virgin River’?” a close friend asked me today. As I sat in my living room, drinking my morning coffee and scrolling through Instagram, I thought about her question. Funnily enough, I had just finished watching the series, so the timing of her question was perfect. “Virgin River” is a show on Netflix and one of the characters was revealed to have Huntington’s disease in season four. In the show, we see him hiding his diagnosis from those around him. We also see him struggling to navigate the dating world. Is it really fair to get involved in a relationship when you know your future includes a terminal illness? Situations such as these are often the cause of a tremendous amount of emotional strife and can leave people from the HD community feeling isolated and misunderstood. Young people, especially, are faced with many moral dilemmas about how to live their lives, struggling to find acceptable solutions to questions that have no right answer. People are able to go through genetic testing to find out if they have inherited Huntington’s disease, but even that causes problems as people try to decide if they want to know what their future holds. It often consumes people’s lives. People who have decided not to go through genetic testing often live their lives in constant doubt, looking for symptoms of Huntington’s disease, wondering if every twitch of the foot or angry outburst is the start of the disease. Worried they are going to follow the same path their parent took. Caring for their loved ones who have HD, afraid that the same things are going to happen to themselves one day. People who test gene positive (meaning they inherited the gene and will get the disease one day) are suffering long before they have their first physical symptoms. It is mentally challenging living with the knowledge that you will get this terminal illness. People often experience anxiety and depression. They struggle to answer questions like, is it OK to have children knowing there is a 50% chance I could pass along the disease? Will people treat me differently if I tell them? How can I accept that I will need care from others when I get sick? People who test gene negative often feel like outsiders within their own community. They are still there to be caregivers, but somehow they are not able to grieve all they have lost because they are meant to be “the strong ones.” After testing gene negative, some people feel terrified of their futures because a life shadowed by Huntington’s disease was all they have ever known, and they can have a hard time imagining a new future for themselves. People are impacted by Huntington’s disease in so many different ways. I am certainly glad that “Virgin River” picked up on some of the sociological nuances of the disease. We are so often focused on the symptoms that you can see, such as chorea, but the fact of the matter is this disease impacts people’s lives long before that. I look forward to watching the next season of the show to see how this story develops and how the community of Virgin River embraces a young man impacted by Huntington’s disease. There are so many questions about his diagnosis that have not been answered and so many directions that story could go. No matter what happens in this particular storyline, I am incredibly grateful that the show put a spotlight on this rare disease. Not only are they raising awareness for Huntington’s disease, but they are also helping the people in the HD community feel supported and seen.

    Mark H.

    How You Can Really Help Cancer Patients' Caregivers

    “How can I help?” I lost track of how many times I was asked that question as a cancer patient’s caregiver.  About 99 percent of the time, I didn’t have a good answer either. I usually had my hands full dealing with some crisis, and my mind was often sleep-deprived — especially as my wife’s cancer progressed and my exhaustion and desperation set in. All I know is I wanted someone to just show up and do something. Looking back at my wife’s cancer ordeal, I’m so grateful for the few people who truly did show up. But I was also disappointed by the many “grief tourists” who just stopped by for a visit and left as soon as they could. Cancer caregiving is just indescribably hard at times. Cortisol never stops pulsing through your body as you try desperately to tend to your loved one — all while hoping for a miracle to rescue you and your loved one from this nightmare. If someone were to ask me today how to help a cancer patient and their caregiver, I can only say “Use your imagination.” Imagine a loved one with cancer. Then imagine the nightmare of having to care for someone you dearly love who is seriously ill — and how you might want someone to help you in that situation. And if you can’t think of any nightmare scenarios, I’ll be glad to offer a few — or maybe a dozen or so.  Ones that involve early mornings. The middle of the night. Time spent over the sink. Time spent over the toilet. The car rides home after chemotherapy. The car rides home after whole-brain radiation. The ER. The ER again — for 12 hours. The ER once again — at 2:00 in the morning. The hospital. Rehab. Hospice. And the place no one wants to be: Next to a soulmate’s deathbed. So don’t ask, “How can I help?” And don’t stop by with a potted plant or a vase of flowers with a store-bought “Thinking of you” card and leave it at the front door. Instead, figure out a good time to show up for the caregiver, and figure out what would be helpful. Then do it. Questions can only go so far, but your actions can make a caregiver’s life a little more bearable.

    Community Voices

    Kindness is a sign of strength…

    <p>Kindness is a sign of strength…</p>
    7 people are talking about this
    Community Voices

    Miss you Daddy

    <p>Miss you Daddy</p>
    4 people are talking about this
    Community Voices
    Community Voices

    Leaf pie

    <p>Leaf pie</p>
    20 people are talking about this