I wanted to share the story of my journey from atheist to believer. My mind changed based because of several experiences I had with my father the last week of his life...
My father found out her had terminal Lung Cancer (extensive stage small cell with mets in both lungs, neck lymph nodes, and later found out several in his brain) in late April. In mid May we tried Chemotherapy. Our intentions were not to cure, but to shrink the cancer a bit to allow easier breathing and possibly give him some more time with us. We also could have went with hospice then and there. (The choice to not do hospice then still bothers me. But I had to let him do what he felt was best for him.)
At first things seemed well. He handled the chemo like a boss. Didn't feel too tired.. things seemed great. He was happy and confident he made the right choice. Around day 5, something drastically changed. He got huge blisters all over his legs and feet. It was a rare reaction to the chemo...
As the days passed his blisters were just getting worse and worse which made walking very difficult for him. He got transferred to a rehab center to help him learn to use his walker. Before the Chemo he was able to walk around... but after that first week, he would never be able to walk on his own again.
He was in the rehab center only about a week before we got the terrible news that he had contracted pneumonia. At this point my father had been in the hospital and rehab a combined total of 27 days. He was tired. He refused antibiotics and had me call the hospice.
We called hospice on a Tuesday am. They had everything set up in my home by Wednesday and he came home that evening.
It was really weird because at first, he was almost himself. Granted he needed help walking around, using the bathroom etc..but he had this HUGE burst of life and energy. And all he wanted to do was talk to me. About life, his childhood... my childhood. The circumstances were not the greatest... but I never felt so close to him.
I asked my father several times over this whole thing if he thought we would see each other again and each time he would say no. He told me that if it made me feel better to pray, I should do it... but it meant nothing. Sigh... I still asked. It was like in my mind, even as a non believer, if he could believe, then I knew I could... but it didn't happen.
That Saturday my dad's best friend came in from NYC. They got to spend time together and say some goodbyes. It was almost like my father was waiting for him because that is where things got bad. After my dad's friend left, my dad was in a lot of pain. He just could not get comfortable... and he hardly slept.
The following morning, Sunday he started to not know where he was. He was able to recognize the kids and I, but he thought we were on a boat and heading to an island. He kept telling us we had to be careful because the crew couldn't be trusted. Both my dad and I were on less than 1 hour sleep. It was pretty brutal.
Throughout all this he was still letting me help him walk, eat his meals, and use the bathroom. The hospice suggested a sleeping pill. He took it no problem. My bedroom was next to his... and when he finally went to sleep, so did I...
I remember it was around 12am when I felt really warm. I can not explain it... almost like someone put blankets from the dryer on me. So I sat up, and standing in the hall without his walker or help was my dad. I sprang up, yelled for my husband and literally caught my father before he could fall. My husband helped my dad to the chair and I laid on the floor bawling my eyes out. I felt so guilty for failing because I didn't hear him get up.
At this point my father no longer remembered that he had lung cancer. He didn't understand why he was so weak he could not walk. I asked the hospice nurse and the doctor on call if they thought he would come back to us and that he would remember where he was. They told me with the size of the mets on his brain and the infection, I am lucky he still knows who I am.
The hospice brought me a baby monitor. And my husband, oldest son, and I all took turns sleeping in shifts. At around 7 pm my dad was very upset. (This was Monday night). He told me he would be to the island soon, but he had to figure out the numbers first so we could be safe. I had no idea what any of this meant, but he asked for pen and paper. I gave it to him and he did what looked like some math and wrote out some numbers.
We gave him another sleeping pill, and my son fell asleep in the chair next to him. My husband and I were awake in the room next to him. We had the baby moniter, and were going to try and do sleeping in shifts.. but he (my husband) had what we believed to be a minor case of food poisoning. So I was between helping my dad and helping him as well.
I don't remember the exact time, I want to say it was roughly 2am but I head a strange sound on the moniter. Like someone going through a drawer. I called out to my son, he didnt answer. So I walked to the bedroom and as soon as I got to the doorway, I see my dad take a lighter to his oxygen tube. HUGE rush of flames as I instinctually pulled the plug to his oxygen machine. My husband ran to our son as I went to aide my dad.
Somehow he remembered a stash of cigs and where he hid his lighter. It was his bedroom and I honestly never thought to hide things. He had quit smoking 2 months ago and had been doing great at it. To this day I still blame myself.
He had some burns and the hospice told us that we should call an ambulance despite my father's wishes. When we were in the hospital, he started to forget who I was... or anything that was going on. The ER doctor told me that I could keep him there. That dealing with a dying person with dementia is hard for professional care takers emotionally and that he could not imagine what it was doing to me and my family.. I thanked him, but said I would please like to take my dad home... and a few hours later, I did.
All afternoon I sat with him. He randomly yelled... cursed. Talked more about getting to the island...telling us we were lying, he was never sick. He did not even remember the fire.
He finally fell asleep and I just broke down. I prayed..... for the first time in roughly 15 years
I just kept asking god.. I said whoever is listening... I know his body is destroyed. I know it. And I know that he can not be healed. I know it's his time... I know you have to take him.. But PLEASE...not like this. Please god... whoever is up there. Let his soul say goodbye to us. Please. Let us have him back. Please give us our goodbyes. Please god. I never ask you anything. Please give me this. Even if just a day...
This was Tuesday night.... I fell asleep in bed next to him. First time sleeping since Saturday really... I heard a voice..
"Maggie is Robbie ok.."
(Robbie is my son)
I thought it was my husband, and I started to reply and then the voice said..
"I don't know why I tried to smoke that last cigarate, I am sorry. Please tell me I didn't hurt Robbie..."
It was my dad!!!!
I jumped up and said Robbie is fine! We are all fine. Do you know where you are? He looked at me confused and said I am at home?
He remembered everything! The cancer, the fire, being on hospice etc. He did not remember telling me he was on a boat, or that he was going to an island. And when I showed him the paper with the numbers, he had no idea what they meant.
The next day we even had a laugh over the whole thing. It was incredible. Like his mind never left us. We had an amazing day.. but that evening I started to notice he was getting weaker. He didn't want to eat, and told the nurse he did not want to wear his oxygen mask.
I told my husband... I knew... I knew it was going to be soon. Early Thursday am the hospice nurse told me she didn't think he had more than a few hours left. I put some music on for him. And he told us he loved us all. He told my husband to watch over his daughters, and protect his grandkids. He told Robbie he had many regrets, and there was still so much he wanted to tell me. We told him we loved him dearly and I know he loved me. And that we would all be ok.
Just before 11am he took his last breath in my arms. And I will never forget when they took his body from my home, soon as he was in the car it poured. Pouring rain and thunder.
Next 3 days were a blur.. I didn't leave my bedroom. The hospice came to get everything quickly. I asked not to watch. When I finally did go back down stairs, the first thing I saw was the paper with the numbers on it....and that is where it hit me...
I felt the warm again. Just like the night I woke up and stopped my dad from falling...
Then I thought about how tired I was the night of the fire. But my husband was ill... so we were both awake...
Then I remembered the prayer. My prayers were answered. NO ONE can tell me otherwise. I was told he wouldn't remember me again, but he remembered everything. All of us. He got to say goodbye... and so did we.
I still have no idea if the numbers actually meant anything, but I took pictures to remember. I also often wonder if the island was were his soul was going and the "crew" who was hostile to him were his fears of death.... I hope some day to understand.
But because of this, I try to look for signs everywhere. I have faith that there is a life after this one and that spirits are all around us. Finally working up the courage to write this whole story up is my Father's day gift to my dad. It has taken me two years to do this, but I feel much better after telling it.
I think everyone has such a mindset that death disconnects us from our loved ones. This isn't true. You can still connect with them. They are always with you. We are energy. The physical body has died but the soul is eternal. In life we interact with souls even though we see bodies. Changing the way we think about life and death is a big step towards changing grief. Yes loved ones are not physically here but energetically will always exist and be with us. We can still speak with them any time we choose. If anything I think there is more accessibility because there is no physical barrier. It's all in how you think about souls and death.
The following post is from my personal facebook;
I deleted facebook a couple nights ago because I have been feeling very triggered as memories I had turned off keep popping to my feed and this is around the time 2 years ago were I was looking up hospice.
I have also been struggling with drastic mood changes which cause me to engage in stupid arguments that are nothing more than semantics.
It's funny how facebook has become the needed platform for a lot of our lives. I am not talking addictions, that is a whole conversation in itself. I am talking about the way companies, artists, support groups, teachers etc have based their whole entire business through facebook.
I sat down this morning, made my coffee and thought to myself... oh yeah peer grief therapy tonight. Got to make it. My therapist hosts these 3 times a week. Two of which are streamed via facebook live in a private support group.
These aren't mandatory meetings, and apparently facebook is the preferred method as others tend to be internet challenged and only use their devices to access facebook. Sigh
Then I realized with my own bussiness, deactivating my page makes it not visible. In 2018 your value as an artist or photographer... well, business owner really.. Your work, at least in part is evaluated based on the activity and popularity of your social media pages.
Not complaining in the sense of.. oh my let's all delete facebook. Merely saying that I am surprised how reliant I am on this platform for more than the basic checking up on family and friends.
I am not in the greatest place right now mentally. And I say mentally because everything else in my life is pretty... awesome.
With that said, I am in therapy. I have been seeing the same therapist since Pennsylvania through her private sessions online every two weeks and group peer meetings weekly. I attend. I don't usually want to, but I do it anyway.
Long story short.... my page is here... but my mind and heart really aren't into social media right now. I know a lot of people love and care about me... So I wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am ok and I will be back to posting normal again as we get more into summer.
This time of year will always be hard for me. Thanks for understanding.
So that is where my heart and mind are this morning. As I promised, I won't just share the good through my journey... but the bad too.
I am also not giving up on my journey to happiness through love, kindness, and compassion. I just need a little break.
I say it all the time, but self care is so important. You can not help others without taking care of yourself too.
I have a lot of topics I really want to touch on this week including my spiritual experience during my dad's hospice and why I feel openly taking my readers through this with me is very important.
I will also share some recent selfcare and meditation items I bought, as well as the current book I am reading.
Here are some things I’ve learned since you passed:
1. It helps me to talk about you. Some people want to avoid the topic for fear of making me sad, but honestly that just makes things worse. I love telling stories about you because it's my way of keeping you alive.
2. I feel okay sometimes. Sometimes I even feel strong. But if I don't allow myself time to cry each day, sadness catches up and bursts out unexpectedly - at the bus stop, out to dinner, on hikes...
3. I have a really great support system from my family and friends (mostly thanks to you).
4. I find it super weird that grief has its own hashtags (you would have a big laugh over that), but it's helped me to find a community of others going through the same thing, helping me to navigate through my own grief.
Those were the words I sent via text to my husband today when he sent me a beautiful picture of our daughter helping his father in the kitchen. 'And my dad is dead'.
I regret it and soon as I sent it, and all Tavo could do is send back a sad face. I don't even know why I said it. Why was I so triggered tonight?
I am left feeling a bit selfish. We moved to Chicago for family dinners like these. The tiny moments that make life worth living. I wanted this, but yet I am consumed in this moment with anger, jealousy, and sadness.
I am glad she gets her other grandfather.
"I may not fully understand it, but my life makes sense. I make sense. I can let go of the past and move forward. Today is the first day of the rest of my life."
Something that was shared in therapy this evening.
Time doesn't heal all wounds. Not when it comes to grief and loss of life. Time is simply the space we move through as we use our own trial and error coping systems in an effort to find ways within our lives to move forward. There is no getting over. You do not get over this kind of loss, you cope and learn how to move forward with a life without that person. Please stop trying to fix people who are grieving. Just listen. Sometimes the best way to help someone is to not say anything at all. Not every situation in life calls for advice, wisdom, and accidental opinions.
I remember reading an article from 2015 about a woman who took time away from work and friends to focus on her mental health which ended up with her quiting her job, and leaving most of her friends behind. It was one of viral stories that came across my facebook feed. I wasn't looking for it. Just happened to catch my eye.
The reactions were mixed. A lot of people found her actions to be selfish as she completely shutout and stopped talking to people during this break. I remember thinking to myself; "I wish I could do that." But sort of brushed it off as things that sound good in theory, but will never work.
Thinking about where I was in 2015... a year before my father passed. Well, let me say this first. I think about my life like this... it stopped in 2016 when he passed, and the time after has been a major rebuild. I am not even the same person I was then. The way I thought, or felt. Nothing was the same. So taking you back then, I was very consumed in the problems of my friends. So much that they caused problems in my marriage and family because I was always having to stop what I was doing to help someone out. Let it be emotionally or financially. I just wanted to help the people in my life.
Around this time we started family therapy because of my son's social struggles and impulsive habits. It was called family based and they were in my home 3 to 4 times a week for a year. They were intense moments that lead to big family cries. Some sessions had even involved my father. It was great for all of us. And it was the first time my father, husband, and children had an open stage to address my distractions and their opinions on the unhealthy friendships I had.
These past friendships were not faulted on one side. I had role to play. I may not have seen it then, but I do now. I could have done a lot differently... A LOT. I am by no means innocent.
Sometimes a romantic relationship ends and there are no faults. People drift and grow apart. Their lives go different directions. And you have to make a choice to move on and not stay in a place where you are unhappy. You have to. Or you end up destroying yourself, the other person, or both. And what I didn't realize is that this same idea goes to platonic friendships and relationships too.
It's ok not let friends go. It doesn't make you bad, or them bad. You're just in a different place in your life. You aren't selfish for saying goodbye.
When my dad passed, I said goodbye to all those people. Anyone who made me question my value as a person. Anyone who made me feel that I constantly had to prove my value as not only a friend, but as a person too. This expanded not only real life, but internet friendships as well.
I let everyone go and searched for my own worth. I stopped letting others define me, and started to define myself.
Over the next year I kept very busy. Working A LOT. I was shooting 5 days a week. Constantly trying not to think about my dad or the issues I had with rumors and mixed reactions to my life choices.
But then it hit me... this wasn't enough. Sure, the break from friendships had opened up some mental clarity, but I was filling the space with work. I still wasn't healing. I wasn't growing, I was not rebuilding my life.
So I took a break from working too. I just stopped taking clients. And the money I saved from all those extra shoots... well... I took a vacation. I went on a trip alone. I went in search of myself and came home with so much more.
Although our family based therapy has ended, I am still in therapy. I am very active in various grief support programs and am learning new things about myself daily.
I am so grateful that I was able to take this break and focus on myself. Working hard to fix things because without the foundation within myself.. I can't be a friend to anyone.... I couldn't be a good mom or even wife. I had to fix the problems at the core within my soul. It's a work in progress. Something I have to nurture everyday. And I do just that.
That woman in the article was right. Maybe she was selfish. But maybe we all need to be selfish sometimes.
Here is what I have learned;
1. Therapy actually is a good thing. Therapy is important. Having someone outside your friends and family to talk to is priceless. I needed someone in my life who wouldn't just agree with everything I said, or take things personally. I needed to be able to talk freely, open, and honest. It's been such an important part of my life the past year.
2. Self care is everything. Taking time for yourself doesn't make you weak. Self-care is not optional. You have to put your mental health at the top of your priority list. This is not optional. You can not take care of others if you're not taking care of yourself.
3. Don't overwhelm yourself because nothing happens over night. Making goals towards progress, not perfection. I just want to make sure I am moving forward. It doesn't need to be perfect as long as I am trying.
4. Let them go, doesn't make you a bad person. It's ok to let people go of people who no longer fit into your life. Growing apart or your life taking new direction isn't something to feel guilty for. Doesn't mean my life is better or perfect compared to the former friends. Just means we don't mesh as people. There are no faults. Sometimes friendships have to come to and end.
5. Life is so short. Enjoy the time I have with my kids whilst they are still little. Even the small things like potty training Poppy and teaching her to write her name. We only get one. These are the things that are important.
I am trying to use this time away from work wisely and plan on making a comeback this summer. I have a lot of projects I'd like to try my hand at and I am working on writing out a new business plan. Baby steps.... baby steps towards progress..
If you're struggling to hold on to something in your life that you aren't sure is the healthiest, I hope that perhaps my words can help you find the motivation needed to make a positive change in your life.
I continue to struggle with not having you in my life anymore. We're coming up on two years since you've been gone, but lately it feels like day too...not year two. I worry that I am not getting better. Sometimes I fear that I will never get better.
I find myself angry a lot. At myself, at the world. At everyone who can get up in the morning and live their lives. I am so livid that nothing feels the same. Like the colors around me. The greens in the grass, the golden oranges in pinks in a sunset. They don't look the same to me. They look off... like when I didn't set my apature properly. Like I am looking at a world with not enough light.
I am haunted by the things that were not said. Before you died.. the morning you passed you told Robbie there was still so much you wanted to tell me and it kills me that I will never know.
I am not the most loving person in the way of hugs or physical touch. And I wish, as an adult I would have hugged you more. I wish I could have given you more actions than words. And you know what I think about? Holding your hand as you passed and the last time I did that before that day. I think I was 12 or 13... you grabbed my hand to cross the street and I remember thinking oh god what if someone from school sees me. I feel guilty now for thinking that.
I am a mess of guilt and burdens that I know are not exactly mine to bare but it doesn't stop me from feeling them all. Knowing things were not my fault doesn't help me sleep at night.
We are soon entering the 3rd month of 2018. Tavo and I are faced with a life changing decision and I have no idea what to do. We are so very lost and I desperately need your wisdom. I feel like you are the only one who could have lead us in the right direction. Honestly, dad? My life has been a string of choices that haven't always been in my best interest since you passed. I find it so hard to even think about the direction my life should go as to me... my whole entire world has stopped moving.
I guess... here is some good news. I have reached back into therapy. That is where this letter is coming from. I am trying to deal with my PTSD in a constructive way. This letter. I know you will never ever read it, but maybe some day someone will come across it. Maybe it will help them.
I love and miss you. I hope there is more for you. I hope in some way you are still you and you are happy. I love you very much and I think about you every day. I know if I could be half the person you were my kids will be ok.
I will continue to write to you. And I hope that some day these letters won't be so sad.
ॐ ⏀ ♡ ↟↟↟
I get a little tired of people who assume that just because you have kids, you are automatically completely uncool, and that all your time is spent wiping babies from head to toe, giving spit baths, criticizing their every move, volunteering for PTA, blogging in your spare time, clipping coupons before crock potting a pot roast, ironing the clothes, bleaching the whites, mopping the floors, harvesting your eggs, sewing for your etsy shop, scrapbooking the little things, taking pictures of everything they do, saving for college, reading Dr. Suess, socializing at the bus stop, sweeping the floor, laughing over coffee with your jogging stroller, wearing your birkenstocks and listening to Baby Einstein.
Just because I DO THESE THINGS OCCASIONALLY.
Does not mean for one second that sometimes I don’t just want to be a kick ass girl with streaks in her hair, a ring in her nose, a tattoo on her arm, concert tickets in her purse, vodka in her fridge, a leather mini-skirt in her closet, her best single friends and a standing reservation for Las Vegas once a year with a don’t ask don’t tell policy, and the desire to just once be seen as more than the mother of 5 kids. Sometimes I just want to be seen as a “Maggie”. A “Maggie” with an extremely adorable set of children… (I joke, but sometimes it's hard to over come labels. )
Married + 5 Children
Born in New York
Living in Chicago Land
Italian + Mexican American household
Published Photographer + Artist
Lung Cancer Activist + Advocate
Social Media Enthusiast
Openly in Grief Therapy
Believes in Freedom Of Religion
Studied Animal Science
Sand Cloud Ambassador
Backpacking + Hiking
Crystals + Meditation + Yoga
Writing + Scrapbooking + Blogging
Foodie + Cooking + Banking
Tropical Fish Keeping
Coffee + Coffee Shops
Travel + Road trips
Okkervil River + Good indie bands