New Role: Caregiver of Memories

For a few years after my parents died and my caregiving role ended, I was at loose ends. I felt like I had washed ashore on a deserted island and did not know what to do with myself. I tussled not only with feelings of abandonment, guilt, regret, and sorrow but also with questions of self-worth. Caring for my parents had been exhausting, both emotionally and physically, but I realized that I liked being needed.

Mom died in 2011, and Dad passed away three years later. By then, my oldest daughter was a cool college co-ed, my son was a junior in high school, and my youngest child was in middle school. Seven years had passed since Mom and Dad moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, to live near me. After they were gone, my children and my husband needed me, but not to the same extent my parents had.

I grappled with each emotion, one by one. I realized that even though it did not make sense to feel like an abandoned orphan, emotions and logic don’t always coincide. I talked to other late-in-life orphans and found that their emotions mirrored mine. Turned out, I wasn’t crazy when I longed to give my mother one more hug. I just missed the woman who had chatted with me after school and who had enjoyed baking and eating Mrs. Goodcookie treats with me. I was normal!

I also experienced guilt and regret for what I didn’t do. Several months before she died, Mom had wanted to visit a grocery store. Not to shop necessarily, but to look at what she could buy. Soup, meats, ice cream–Mom was like a kid in a candy store. So many options, impossible to try everything. I never honored Mom’s request, and I regretted it. I tried to absolve my guilt by recalling the times I had taken her to grocery stores. On multiple occasions, we spent so much time in stores–Mom in a wheelchair and Dad with the grocery cart–that I had to leave them shopping while I rushed to pick up one or more children from school before returning for my parents and their haul. Recalling those times assuaged my guilt a little bit, but even today, twinges of regret periodically prick my conscience.

I eventually adjusted to a new normal, just like I had somewhat adjusted to Mom and Dad’s living in town when they used to live 600 miles away. I realized that I had not been the perfect caregiver, but it was okay. I had struggled to keep track of Mom’s and Dad’s medical needs, check my children’s homework, create special dinners for my family and parents, hold a job, spend time with my husband, fill pillboxes every week, and volunteer at my children’s schools all without screaming every five minutes or running away. I like to think I was perfectly imperfect.

I slowly found myself slipping into a new role: caregiver of memories. I recall stories in my blog and for my children. I relive events in my mind and during conversations with my siblings. I display family pictures. I wear one or more of my mother’s bracelets every few days. And my dad’s old flannel robe? Gotta wear that, of course. Nothing is more comfy!

I wear the red, plaid robe similarly to how Dad wore it: loosely belted over a T-shirt and pajama bottoms. When I put it on, I remember Dad’s wearing it while drinking a cup of instant coffee, eating yet another slice of toast with jelly, and sitting at the long wooden table my parents bought second-hand for their kitchen in Pittsburgh.

I recall snippets of conversations from my visits. “Good morning, Lisa,” he might say as I entered the kitchen. “Help yourself to whatever you want. Have some orange juice. Would you like some scrambled eggs?”

“I’d love some eggs, Dad,” I envision myself saying. “Thanks.”

 

Resolved: Shop ‘Til I Drop

Surrounded by men’s slacks, a Mizzou sweatshirt and a black and white poncho, I debated whether to buy short black Naturalizer boots with a side zipper and a wooden heel, almost two inches high. Would my feet hurt? Enough traction? Too high of a heel? 

I looked up as two shoppers approached. “Hi, girls!” My daughters Liz and Suzie knew where to find me at the Dillard’s New Year’s Day sale.

My older daughter Suzie couldn’t pass up these comfy Naturalizer shoes.

With so many items deeply discounted, it’s hard to make snap decisions. I find it easier to grab as I go and find a semi-quiet area to make decisions. That’s what we used to do when I was a child shopping for after-Christmas bargains at Peddler’s Village in Pittsburgh. Mom could stand for only short periods of time, so after quickly perusing the store for ornaments and other items, she established headquarters.  

Now, I’m the mom, who needs to bunker down. This year, I set up headquarters in front of a display of full-price designer purses. It came with a perfect ledge for sorting items and trying on boots. If only I didn’t have people wondering whether the purses were on sale. Dillard’s really should have paid me for answering so many questions about the purses near my headquarters.

My daughters had other concerns. “What is all this?” Liz asked about my stash, which threatened to trip passersby.

“A lot of it is for Daddy and Tim.” I urged her to call them at home and tell them to come. I knew they wouldn’t want to tear themselves away from bowl games, but I also knew they could use nice khakis and Nike windbreakers. They could miss a few quarters of football. 

I discovered the New Year’s Day sale several years ago. I was driving by Capital Mall in Jefferson City, Mo., when I noticed the full parking lot. I considered it fate — my sister, Elaine, had given me a Dillard’s gift card for Christmas.  Since then, I have made an annual pilgrimage to the sale. My finds have ranged from a Vera Bradley laptop case in Java Floral to a swirly peach skirt. Super feminine.  

The New Year’s extravaganza causes me to reminisce about bargain shopping during my childhood. Hill’s Department Store closed in Pittsburgh when I was about 9 years old. My parents bought me a long, red polyester flowered dress with an elastic waist, eyelet stand-up collar, and puffy long sleeves that ended in white eyelet cuffs. Oh, how I admired my reflection. When I wore that dress, I could look past the buck teeth and the straight long hair always arranged in the two-and-tie-back style my mother favored. I was beautiful. 

The memory of that sale and many others have turned me into the bargain hunter I am today, and if the size of the crowd at Dillard’s indicates anything, many other people also grew up scavenging bargain bins.

“This sale is my second church,” a shoe shopper told a friend on her cell phone. Walking through the store, I saw six exuberant shoppers pose for a picture with Dillard’s bags crowding their feet.  The sole man in their group snapped the photo. 

After four hours of shopping, I checked out. By then, Suzie had left to eat lunch with a friend. Jim and Tim had come, moaned, tried on clothes and urged me to hurry up. Liz had threatened to walk home.

Later that afternoon, I thought of returning to look at sweaters, but the memory of my grand total stopped me. (Sorry — no full disclosure, folks! Suffice it to say that shopping for five people adds up.) So far, my favorite purchase is the memory foam pillow currently supporting my lower back. By the way, I passed on the short black Naturalizer boots. Too small. No matter how chic they looked, if my feet hurt, I wouldn’t wear them.  I tried on a 9 1/2; unfortunately, the store didn’t have them in a size 10. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, I may unearth the polyester wonder my parents bought me 40 years ago. If nothing else, I”ll get a good laugh out of it. So will my kids. “Polyester?!!” they’ll gasp. “It was the 70’s. Polyester was huge!” I’ll say.

Potato Salad: More Than Picnic Food

A memorable picnic needs homemade potato salad. Perfectly cooked potatoes. Hard-boiled eggs cut in chunks. And creamy dressing with zip. Multiple textures meld, delivering one delicious bite after another.

Mmmm, mmm, …. mmm. Just thinking about it makes my taste buds tingle.

My mother, Helen Yorkgitis, considered potato salad her signature picnic food. She cooked potatoes with the skins still on because she thought that helped them retain vitamins. After peeling hard-boiled eggs, she separated each yolk from the white, chopped them separately, and added them separately. After mixing her ingredients together with a creamy dressing, she wiped off any smears from the side of the bowl, and before serving, she dusted the top layer with paprika.

Mom’s meticulous approach produced a salad with distinct notes. I could taste each piece of potato, each chunk of egg. It wasn’t mushy like some potato salads. It wasn’t overly spicy. It was smooth but crisp. No wonder, Mom’s potato salad was in high demand.

2003-01-01 00.26.43
Mom was very particular about many things as a cook and hostess — from making potato salad to setting a table.  Case in point: the placement of forks on the table during this birthday celebration for my brother Chip, two years before I was born. I like how this photo revealed so many emotions among my siblings. What was upsetting my oldest sister? What made my brothers laugh so much?

“Helen, are you going to bring your potato salad?” I remember her sister, Anne, asking before multiple gatherings, including a family reunion at South Park in Pittsburgh and a trip to the vacation home of their brother, Joey. “If you want me to,” my mother usually replied.

Only my sisters and I knew how much effort the potato salad required. We cradled potatoes in paper towels while we peeled them, that’s how hot they were. If it was a humid day, beads of  perspiration dripped down Mom’s face, and her glasses slid to the tip of her nose. We did as much of the work as possible at the kitchen table, but Mom couldn’t avoid  standing for a good part of the time and taxing her arthritic knees.

For Mom, the end result overshadowed the effort. She appreciated the accolades. She liked to prepare food that others savored. I also imagine she enjoyed spending time with her daughters. Sitting around the table or standing by the sink, we exchanged stories, shared laughs, and bonded as only people with a common goal can do.

Although my sisters and I helped her, Mom usually reserved certain tasks for herself. She was the one who cut the celery. She was the one who separated yolks from whites and chopped them. If we did something she wanted done just so, she kept an eye on us. She really was particular about her potato salad.

As an adult, I appreciate homemade potato salad, but when I make it, I cut corners. I don’t have Mom’s patience. I peel potatoes before cooking them. I cut yolks and whites together. In addition, I doctor my dressing more than my mother ever did. Consequently, it never tastes the same. Mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, ranch dressing, and even sour cream might make their way into my dressing. I also may add cheese, mushrooms, chopped pickles — radical, I know.

I last made potato salad for Mom at a Labor Day picnic in 2008. By that time, she and Dad had lived for nearly a year in Jefferson City, Mo. Mom had survived a stroke and surgery, and she had spent several months in a rehabilitation center. By Labor Day, though, she had been living in her apartment again for several months. A picnic seemed like a good idea.

It was a good idea. My potato salad turned out well, but I worried that it didn’t have enough time to chill. As my mother tasted her first bite of potato salad, I held my breath.

“Lisa, your potato salad is good,” she said.

I exhaled, smiled, and thanked her. My mother rarely gave compliments, so I knew she genuinely liked the potato salad. I felt like I had arrived as a cook.

I don’t know what else we ate. Brownies? Likely. Did my husband make hotdogs? Probably. We even may have roasted marshmallows. After the picnic, we walked on the cement path around the lake. We took turns pushing my mother in her wheelchair. Dad used his cane. The kids danced around us and spent time on the swings and slide. It was a lovely way to say good-bye to summer and hello to fall.

Labor Day is tomorrow. I don’t know what we shall do. What shall we eat? Potato salad, anyone?

 

 

 

A New Option for Christmas Trees: Holiday Trees!

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

Reach me at LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com.

For me, New Year’s Day doesn’t signify the end of the season, and I have no immediate plans to take down our Christmas tree. In fact, I am gazing at the twinkling lights right now.

The tree is looking a little worse for wear, but that’s okay. Our top branch broke on the way home from the tree farm, so we need to strengthen it with packing tape before replacing the angel. Yeah, we should have done that earlier — ideally, when we realized that the angel looked like a fallen cherubim and removed her. The tree also is looking crooked, but we can fix that, too. We already have straightened it at least once. (We’re used to the tree falling down, so a slight slant doesn’t bother us much.) Finally, half of a light strand doesn’t work, but I have so many lights on the tree, a casual onlooker probably can’t see the ones that don’t work. I may try to fix them, but my efforts might backfire.

I believe that the Christmas season stretches to at least Jan., 6, the day Christians officially celebrate Epiphany — the arrival of the three kings. But do I plan to take down the tree Jan. 6 or Jan. 7? Heck, no!

My reluctance to take down our tree stems partly from my parents’ example. They often kept it up long after Christmas. One year, they and my oldest sibling Susan, a schoolteacher, turned the Christmas tree into a holiday tree by replacing the ornaments with other decorations. I thought it was magical.

Mom gathered seasonal items from the house, and Susan shared items from her classroom, such as hearts. cupids, arrows, and flowers as well as leprechauns, pots of gold, rainbows, and shamrocks. I don’t remember for sure, but I think she also supplied cardboard eggs, chicks, bunnies, and baskets for Easter. She might have decorated for Presidents’ Day, too.

Believe it or not, our tree was live that year, like it always was. Dad must have picked an especially good one. It might even have been a recycled tree from our backyard. In the early years of their marriage, my parents picked some trees from nurseries that they could plant in the yard after the holiday season. Many of them later became Christmas trees once again.

Our holiday tree was a beautiful fire hazard. I keep hoping to open an envelope of pictures and find one or two photos of it. Fortunately, I have many of Susan’s classroom decorations, so one day, I will be able to have my own holiday tree.

Susan died in 1992 from natural causes. Nine years later, when I became the decorating chairman at my daughter’s elementary school, Mom and Dad sent me several boxes of her classroom decorations. Many of them enlivened the school day of a new generation of children.

 

Christmas Traditions Stand Test of Time

My father picked trees that were very full while my mother always wanted a tall, slender tree. This one from 1993 is both very tall and very full.
My father picked trees that were very full while my mother always wanted a tall, slender tree. This one from 1993 is both very tall and very full.

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

When my family and I sat down on a hay wagon last Sunday at Timber View Tree Farm in Hartsburg, Mo., we thought we were going to take a short jaunt to a nearby field. That’s why my husband, Jim, and I didn’t stop our son Tim from picking up our 40-pound Westie mix, Martha, and settling on the outward-facing seat of the hay wagon. However, when the driver headed in an unexpected direction and picked up speed, we feared for Martha’s life.

Over bumpy, dust-covered country roads, we rode for about 15 minutes down hill and up, around curves, and even over a creek. Tim braced himself on the red wooden bench while holding onto Martha. As the wind whipped through Martha’s strawberry-blonde fur, her eyes bugged out with surprise, anxiety, and excitement. For her,  it was like a roller coaster. Jim held onto Martha’s collar, and I held onto Tim’s T-shirt. I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally stopped at a tree-covered field we never had seen.

Visiting the tree farm constitutes one of our favorite holiday traditions. Sure, I’m not fond of prickly needles that linger well into the new year, but Christmas would not be Christmas without our tree hunt, the balsam scent of a fresh tree, and memories created from trees with scoliosis. Although these trees may look okay before we cut them down, at home, they require frequent adjustments, rocks wedged in the tree stand, and concrete slabs that tilt the tree stand at a precarious, but usually effective, angle. Do they ever fall down? Of course! (This year, though,  we picked a tree that has no trouble standing straight. We finally have learned a thing or two.)

When my parents began a family, they, too, chose live trees. They picked a small fresh tree with roots and soil bound in a burlap sack. After Christmas each year, my father planted the trees in the yard.  Years later, some of those trees became Christmas trees once more, minus the roots, of course.  Eventually, my father transitioned to buying trees from a lot, but I don’t think my parents ever would have bought an artificial tree. My mother probably would have said, “That’s not early American. ”

During the years my parents lived in Missouri, my siblings and I modified family traditions to suit their changing needs.

My sister, Elaine, bought a decorated wreath that we usually hung on their door. In Pennsylvania, my parents hung two wreaths because they had a double-door entrance. My mother adorned them with large full bows she tied herself and arranged at a jaunty angle.

In Missouri, I displayed my parents’ Nativity set at my home, in their apartment, or in one of their nursing-home rooms. Made in Italy, the set features brightly colored figures. My parents bought each piece in the 1950’s for 29 cents at a Woolworth’s five-and-dime. In Pittsburgh, we arranged the figures around the Christmas tree, usually on a snow-white sheet covering a wooden board. My mother hid Baby Jesus until Christmas Day, and the three wise men and their camels traveled around the board,  arriving at the manger on Epiphany, Jan. 6. 

In Missouri, my siblings and I also provided one or both of my parents with a tree. One year, my brother, Chip, bought a small artificial tree for my mother’s nursing-home room and decorated it with off-white wooden ornaments. The next year, I also hung a few of the cinnamon-and-applesauce ornaments I created with input from my mother. Last year, my husband suggested I set up in my dad’s room the artificial tree from his office. I think Dad liked the lights that twinkled and played Christmas carols.

My family and I also tried to take my parents to Mass on Christmas Eve, but it wasn’t always possible. In 2008 and 2010, my mother was in the hospital, and we visited her after Mass. Last year, my father had many ups and downs health-wise, but we were able to take him to the 5:30 p.m. children’s Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral. Afterward, I pushed his wheelchair to the front of the church so that he could see the life-size Nativity scene, another tradition I have carried over from my childhood. We lingered for about ten minutes, soaking in the good will and tranquility.

As I write this, I am sitting in the music room at Pioneer Trails Elementary School in Jefferson City. I am a substitute teacher, and since today is the last day before winter break, I have an easy schedule. That’s good because when I go home, I have a lot to do. First on the agenda: stringing lights on our Christmas tree. Although my father always strung lights on trees of my childhood, I put on our lights, using directions from Martha Stewart Living. I wrap the lights around individual branches, which hides most of the cords and creates a tree filled with light from trunk to branch tips. It takes hours and more cords than I care to admit. It also drives my husband nuts, especially when the time comes to take down the tree.

My mother first saw one of our Christmas trees thirteen years ago, when my oldest child was just a kindergartner. After admiring the shimmering light show, she said: “Jim did a good job putting on the lights.” I set her right. After all, some traditions are better off with a twist.

Deceased Grandfather Supported Grandson’s Athletic Endeavors

A year before my parents moved to Jefferson to live near us, we visited them in Pittsburgh. Here, Dad and Tim play a tabletop hockey game.
A year before my parents moved to Jefferson City to live near us, we visited them in Pittsburgh. Here, Dad and Tim play a game at my parents’ home.

Dad was a sports fan and a former athlete. He played football at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University, and he ran track.
Dad was a sports fan and a former athlete. He played football and ran track at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University.

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

You can reach me at LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

My husband, Jim, and I had anticipated this moment for years, and we were anxious. Tim was, too. While waiting for his name to be announced at the first varsity basketball game of the Jefferson City Jays, he leaned forward with his elbows resting on his thighs and his feet bouncing ever so slightly.

“And playing forward,” the announcer said. “No. 53. Six-foot-three junior Tim Nahach.”

Tim stood up, spun in a circle meant to simulate a hurricane, and jogged down a path created by athletes, dancers, and cheerleaders. At the end of the good-will gauntlet, he body-bumped one of his teammates. The crowd roared in approval.

I clapped and cheered as Tim and his teammates marked the first time he started as a varsity player, but the moment was bittersweet, at least for me.

“Oh, how I wish Dad could have been here,” I thought to myself.

My father, Ed Yorkgitis, was Timothy’s biggest supporter, apart from my husband and myself. Like us, he laughed at Tim’s propensity to pick up fouls. Like us, he wondered whether Tim would perfect his jump shot and play anywhere but inside. Even when Parkinson’s Disease robbed Dad of his ability to walk, use a urinal, and regularly feed himself, he usually could rouse himself to ask: “How’s basketball going for Tim?”

Last year, Dad could only attend a few games, but during Tim’s eighth-grade and ninth-grade seasons, he went to almost every home game as well as several away ones. When we drove up to his assisted-living center, he usually was waiting by the door, holding onto his walker. His hazel eyes gleamed with anticipation behind his wire-rim glasses.

At the game, we settled ourselves on the first or second row of bleachers. I helped Dad remove his coat and usually arranged it behind him to try to conceal any potential glimpse of plumber’s backside. Dad’s posture had changed so much with Parkinson’s Disease that even pants with elastic had trouble staying up and a belt could only do so much. (We would have tried suspenders, but he would  not have been able to figure them out in the bathroom.) When he stood up, my husband, I or one of our children usually stood behind him, ready to hike up his pants.

Ed was a lifelong sports fan and a one-time nimble athlete. He played football and ran track at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University. He walked quickly or jogged everywhere he went. When I was a little girl, he occasionally walked on his hands.  As recently as ten years ago, he climbed a ladder to a second-story window when we locked ourselves out of my childhood home in Pittsburgh, and until the last few years of his life, he enjoyed an occasional game of golf.

When my parents moved here in 2007, my father avidly followed many of his grandchildren’s athletic endeavors. Soccer, softball, baseball, basketball — you name it.  However, I will admit that he favored Timothy. My daughters accepted that fact long ago. It’s a guy thing. I think that he was reliving his glory years through my son.

One time, a few years ago I arrived at the dining room of his assisted-living center to hear him discussing with the other men a baseball game he was going to watch. Tim was pitching, and from what I could tell, he was building Timothy up as quite the pitcher.

“It’s exciting for a grandfather to have a grandson who plays well,” he told me while we walked down the hall.

Although Ed saw many good baseball and basketball games, Tim’s first basketball game in ninth grade stands out. He dominated the game, playing inside and grabbing one rebound after another and laying the ball up and in again and again. The guards also did a great job of feeding him the ball, and he consistently outmaneuvered the defensive player or players covering him. He scored 26 points.

“That was joyful!” Dad exclaimed at the end of the game.

He saw his last basketball game in late February or early March 2014. By then, Dad was confined to a wheelchair. He had been in and out of the hospital so often with infections, respiratory issues, and/or fluctuating blood pressure that he had been able to attend few games.

Tim played last season on both junior varsity and varsity, so we came early for the JV game. When Dad seemed alert at the end of the JV game, we stayed for the varsity game — a glorious affair complete with cheerleaders, the school band, and a boisterous crowd. I was glad that the nursing home had provided a ham sandwich, a piece of fruit and a few four-ounce cartons of thickened juice.

During the games, I pointed out when Tim entered the games and scored, but looking back, I don’t think Dad needed my help.

At one point in the varsity game, Tim picked up a charge — a defensive move that requires a player to plant himself in the path of an oncoming offensive player and not move, other than to fall down because of the “charge.”

“Tim. Tim. Tim,” the crowd chanted as Tim flopped down.

My heart stopped momentarily, but when I saw that my son was fine, I relaxed and relished the crowd’s approval. “Did you hear that, Dad?” I asked my father.  “The students were chanting Tim’s name when he picked up that charge.”

Dad smiled and nodded.

After the post-game powwow, Tim came out of the locker room to meet us.

“Good game, Tim,” Grandad told him.

“Thanks. Thanks for coming, Grandad,” Tim said.

When we left the gym, we found ourselves in an unexpected snowfall. I chided myself for having brought Dad, but I did not know that we were expecting snow. I bundled Ed in his grey gloves, green coat, and grey hat with ear flaps. When my husband pulled up in the car, I grabbed an umbrella to shield Ed. My husband drove home Tim and our younger daughter, Liz, in one car.

I drove home Dad, who stayed amazingly alert considering he had been up for several hours. As he cautioned me to slow down at stop signs and helped look out for cross traffic and slick patches of snow, I felt like I had my father of old back. When we arrived safely at his nursing home, I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked Dad for coming, and helped him get settled for the night.

Little did I know that the game would be one of Dad’s last outings. I’m so glad that I had not known about the potential for snow.

Recent Memorial Services Force Caregiver To Face Reality

Dad is enjoying breakfast with his grandson and my nephew Patrick Yorkgitis at Heisinger Bluffs, where my father lived from 2007 to 2013. Heisinger and its sister facility, St. Joseph,  held a memorial service  in honor of deceased residents.
Dad is enjoying breakfast with his grandson and my nephew Patrick Yorkgitis at Heisinger Bluffs. My father lived there from 2007 to 2013. Heisinger and its sister facility, St. Joseph, held a memorial service in honor of deceased residents. It was one of two memorial services I attended.

We celebrated Dad's 89th birthday in the craft kitchen at Heisinger's. A spacious kitchen with several tables, the craft kitchen provided the idea spot for preparing meals and celebrating holidays.
We celebrated Dad’s 89th birthday in the craft kitchen at Heisinger Bluffs. A spacious room with several tables, the craft kitchen provided the ideal spot for preparing meals, playing games, and celebrating holidays. Here, I am serving a homemade cake that consisted of an “8” and a “9.” I like how Dad is poised with the knife ready to cut himself a big piece. He appreciated the care he received at Heisinger Bluffs. (The hand in the bottom right of the picture belongs to my teenage son, Tim. He’s almost always hungry, and when cake is available, he’s the first to reach for a piece.)

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach…..                              LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

On a Wednesday evening in January ten years ago, my father called and told me that my sister Marianne “Mimi” Carl had died from an asthma attack. She was 47.

My left hand shook uncontrollably as Dad relayed the news. I was in shock. I remained numb as my husband, Jim, and I prepared to drive to the funeral in central Pennsylvania, about 900 miles from our home in Jefferson City, Mo. Reality did not hit until we rolled into town and passed my sister’s church. A sign announced the time and date for my sister’s funeral later that day.

“It’s really true,” I said aloud. “Mimi really did die.”

Based on my experiences, I think that the human mind allows us to suppress intense feelings until we can deal with them, usually a little at a time; however, sometimes, we receive a jolt, which forces us to face reality. These jolts often occur when we read a public notice or hear about an event in a public arena.

Earlier this month, I received two frigid blasts of reality when I attended memorial services honoring my father, Ed Yorkgitis, and others who had died within a specific span of time. Held in conjunction with All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2), the memorials occurred at the hospital where my father died and at the senior-living community where he lived for several years.

Until I heard Ed’s name read at the memorials and saw his name listed in the programs, I think I had subconsciously imagined my father on a trip – maybe to another planet — where I could not reach him. After the funeral last spring, my sense of self-preservation kicked in to allow me to continue living. Otherwise, I might have wallowed in grief over his death, sorrow over his suffering, doubt over my contributions as a caregiver, and regret about the things I did not do for him. I’m not saying I had not experienced  any of these feelings over the last several months, but I had tried to let them surface in a controlled manner. Naturally, I wasn’t always successful.

The memorials forced me to probe my feelings further than I had done in several weeks. My father really was dead, and I knew that I had to traverse considerable miles of emotional terrain. Otherwise, I would not have felt so emotionally drained on the days leading up to the memorials and for a few days afterward.

My wake-up call also made me realize that I still was trying to deal with the deaths of my mother and other family members. Some of my emotions are so murky that I can’t pinpoint them. They frequently overlap and conflict with each other. Sometimes when my feelings surface, I feel a tightening in my chest and my breathing becomes shallow. At other times, I may sob so vehemently that I scare my husband and/or children. So far, my sense of self-preservation always has kicked in. I calm down, and I set the feelings on a shelf to be examined later on.

Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.