MY JOURNEY – Cupboards

Cupboards in my brain

My father died after only a few days on hospice care. He finally relented and moved into the hospital bed that hospice brought over to his home in the early morning hours of the day he died.

It took us most of the day to get him comfortable in the bed with help from pain and anxiety medications. But finally he was resting in a deep sleep while his kids sat around the bed, talking about the funny things our dad did. His grandchildren who were able to stop by said their goodbyes, while other family and friends called to pay their respects. The great-grandkids just played around his bed without any idea about what was really going on. In an odd way — once my dad got comfortable — it wasn’t so bad sitting there with him because we were all together.

There were also lots of tears during that long afternoon. But no tears from me on this last day of my father’s life. I cried once about a week before he became very weak. It was cocktail time and I asked my dad if he would listen as I read something I had written. The piece that I wanted to post on my blog was called “Sidewalks” about him and my husband Barry.

I started to read the first line and burst into tears. I had to go pour myself a glass a wine before I could start again. My dad was having his bourbon. I read the post to him, crying as I read on. After I finished, my dad looked up at me and said, “I don’t know how you became such a good writer.” Then his eyes went back to his beloved basketball game on television. It was March Madness after all, and not another word was said about the piece I had written. I was just fine with that.

Just like my dad
heven sky
I realized then that I am just like my dad. In both our brains, we have many cupboards with locks on them. My dad put his feelings about this intimate and loving post that I had written into a cupboard in his brain to be opened at a later time. Maybe he would let himself think about it late at night when he couldn’t sleep as he worried about dying. But maybe his worries about dying were locked in a cupboard, too.

Like my dad, I have many things locked away in my brain that I am not ready to let out. For instance, there is the Barry-stuck-in-a-care-center cupboard locked tight. There is the Barry-is-dying cupboard locked tight. The frontotemporal dementia (FTD) cupboard had been locked up for a long time. But once I unlocked that particular cupboard, I wasn’t as scared about FTD and let myself learn as much as I could about it. Unlocking that cupboard was a big relief, actually. Some sad times in my life I keep locked up until I feel I can handle them. It always feels better to unlock the cupboard, but sometimes it is hard to gather the courage to do so. Now I have the loss of my dad locked up in a cupboard.

My Dad and I seem stoic and I guess we are, but believe me, when the cupboards are finally unlocked, we feel as much as everyone else. I just need to unlock things as I become ready to handle them. In some cases, it could take years reach that point!  But each cupboard eventually is unlocked!

My plan is to keep the dad cupboard locked until I travel up north this spring. Then I will go for a long hike alone, most likely near Lutsen Resort, one of my dad’s favorite places. As I hike and feel I am ready, I will take the key and unlock the cupboard that holds my sadness and loneliness for my dad and let it out. Once the cupboard is unlocked, there is no locking it again. I will cry and think about all the fun times, and it will be okay. I know I will feel better letting myself remember my dad. But I am not ready to do that yet!

The Barry-dying cupboard is locked because I can’t be distracted by all that sadness while he is still alive. I have to stay the course by visiting the care center and being strong for him. I would be no use as a crying and depressed person. So that one stays locked for now. But I have to admit that I look forward to the day when I can unlock that cupboard and finally feel the sadness — along with great relief.

Then I can start remembering all the good times, as well.

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12 comments on “MY JOURNEY – Cupboards
  1. Jane says:

    I really like the imagery of the cupboard. I think that’s exactly what I’m doing about my husband with FTD. Just get through one day or one hour or one minute at a time and don’t think about what used to be or what will be. It’s too horrible to think about!
    Thanks, Nancy. You and your family are in my prayers.

  2. Jeanne Hammen says:

    Sounds like my dad and your dad would have been friends, Nancy. I miss him every day.

  3. Deb Rankin-Moore says:

    May I recommend to you the book “The Year of Magical Thinking”?

    I cannot begin to imagine what you are going through with the “loss” of your beloved Barry. But when I heard Joan Didion speaking about this book, and was compelled to read this memoir.

    To my mind’s eye, she verbalizes the wrenching loss of the absence of one who means so much.

  4. claudine coughlin says:

    Dear Nancy, Again I am amazed at how you are able to write the beautiful messages that you do.
    Your remembering your dad at his funeral was great. All three of you kids shared so many wonderful stories and painted a picture about your dad for all of us. It was a lovely service, so nice that your former minister was able to be there and share his thoughts. I am sorry that I was not able to talk to you and give you a special hug. Take care and keep me posted if there is anything I can do for your mom. Love, Claudine

  5. Christine bekiares says:

    Thank for your sharing your feelings. We all have some sort of sadness or loss. It helps me to understand how others handle such sadness. You have many readers who love your messages and support you at this difficult time.

  6. Karolyn Lee says:

    You have shown us a beautiful way to store our memories until we need them. You are truly the most creative person I have ever met! This post got me thinking about what I have locked up and maybe what I need to open and let go or keep stored.
    I am so sorry about the death of your dad. Mine has been gone a long time but I still think of him and miss him.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Nancy Paxson says:

    Thank you for the touching and deeply honest update. I love the cupboard image. I can think about my past and present that way. It took a few kleenexes to get me through the walk you will have for you and your Dad. So sweet.

  8. Pam schultz says:

    Thank you for the cupboard imagery. Helps me understand my own stoic approach to sadness. Sometimes I think if I open a certain cupboard I will cry and never stop. I open it a crack and shut it back up. Your words were helpful. Thoughts and prayers for you.

  9. Margaret Correll says:

    Another beautiful blog entry, Nancy. The cupboard imagery is very literal for me. Since 2008 when my son David died, all of his clothes have hung in his closet. I’m not ready to give them away. We even have stored all his underwear. My therapist gently suggested I pick out 1 shirt and give it to Goodwill which I did. Lately, I’ve felt the urge to organize all the photographs which I’ve barely been able to look at. So, some progress, I guess.
    On another subject, I still recall, when I was briefly Gallery Director at MCAD, and you came with your work interested in a possible exhibition. I was 26 and I’m now 65. I recall that, at some point, I kind of blew you off. For that, I apologize. At that time in my life, I was in the immensely crazy throes of alcoholism. I’ve been free of alcohol for 37 years now.
    Keep writing and posting your intensely personal blog. I love the “intensely personal” in people & life.
    You do rowing. I do the rowing machine too.

  10. JoAnn Griffin says:

    Nancy,
    I am sorry to hear of the loss of your father. Your words are so powerful and your “cupboards” are a wonderful way of coping. We humans are amazing people. Stay the course!!

  11. Judy Peterson says:

    Oh…how we all have feelings that we lock up. Or, sometimes we let those feelings out when we are not ready, maybe because others tell us “it’s the thing to do.” You have become so wise over the years. Thanks for helping us to face the difficult parts of life.

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