Parents in Past Tense

“When you’re dreaming with a broken heart and waking up is the hardest part.” This John Mayer song plays in my head daily. I often hear the piano ballad first, then that line.

Waking up was hard. The mornings frightened me. It all felt like a bad dream. But it wasn’t a dream. It actually happened. My parents actually died. One day apart. 

So the mornings scared me. The shower was like PTSD. The thoughts that would come from the final moments, flashed in my head as I tried to rid myself of grief with scalding hot water.

The car is the loneliest. I loved talking on the phone with my mom whenever I was in the car. Loved. And if I didn’t get her, I would call my Dad and talk about Wally, updates to the cottage, and Jordan’s global work lifestyle #mrworldwide. I loved. Using past tense, also not something I am used to doing when referring to my parents. 

I had someone tell me, “The worst has happened. Each day will get better. There will never be a day as bad as when they died, and the day after.” They were right. There’s still pain, but there’s also a sense of I don’t want to say normalcy, but habits. 

I stopped eating for three days. I could not eat. I can now eat. In fact, I eat three meals a day. We make coffee. I miss them. I also remember feeling, “How does the world keep operating? How are people driving on the street, when my parents have died? My foundation is gone, and everyone is just going about their merry way?! How. How? And then I thought of the Jurassic Park line, which BTW, I am not a jurassic gal, but the quote “Life finds a way” stuck with me and plays in my head. 

I’ve felt comfort in signs that I’ve received over the past few weeks. I am greedy though, and want more. I was told “Don’t look for them, they’ll come to you.” I was also told they come to you in your dreams. I am waiting for that day to come.

What is hard with the signs, is the idea of signs. Getting signs from my parents who are not on this earth. How are they physically not in Hancock Park? How come I can’t call them, and complain about my insane dog or some minor inconvenience in my life?

It’s also so vivid. Being at Cedars holding each of their hands. Remembering how they felt. Each of their hands so different, yet, holding mine under the same circumstances.

The tears come now in what I refer to as lightning storms. At first they were like thunder, pounding, and would not let up. Relentless sobs. Now they appear within an instant and leave quickly. 

Quickly, because after someone dies, let alone when two people die, the tears get pushed aside for tactical action and logistics with burial, mass, celebration of life, and just so many other things. 

We had plans. We had things to do. They were both sick, but we had plans. One of the last things my dad and I had planned was to take him to Dog PPL. My mom and I had planned many things post transplant. They weren’t trips to France (which secretly was my ultimate goal because duh) but little things like walks on the beach. Walks in the neighborhood. Walks. Walks without being tied to what started as a portable oxygen cartridge, which transitioned to a tank. Yes, like the tanks you see in the movies. 

We were supposed to go to The Miramar. That was going to be our big reward after this mess. I dreamed of waking up in crisp linen sheets, most likely with a mild red wine hangover from talking late into the evening by a fireplace. Most likely in matching pajamas and hotel slippers. Then opening the windows to a gray beach as Santa Barbara typically is. Watching the Montecito doodles stroll by in the sand without a care. I dreamed of us sitting in our fluffy robes on the deck/patio of our room, with Nespresso in some fancy china, looking out at the ocean, thinking “we did it. We made it. We deserve this.” 

I have to believe that they are next to me. Or at least if they’re not, they are in Cabo drinking margaritas. Or having a Bloody Mary (full vodka bottle in beach bag) at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club (private beach so totally normal to see sunscreen and a fifth under an umbrella). 

Before my mom died, the nurses at Cedars had heard about what had happened with my dad. How he had died that morning. They asked if we wanted to meet with a priest. Really they asked me as I was heaving looking out the window onto Robertson, remembering that it was just a few years ago we had been at the Ivy having lunch, or celebrating a special moment. Those memories seemed like decades ago as I stood on the 6th floor. 

The priest came in, and prayed with us. He like everyone in the hospital was just so shocked at the situation. My dad, dead. My mom in the hospital with lung disease, awaiting a transplant, with pneumonia. I mean. Like.  He sat there and told us and I am not saying this correctly, but he said that when someone dies, it’s not like they’re not with you anymore. They just change forms. It gave me comfort. I cried.

After we had found out my mom’s disease had progressed in June 2022, I never cried in front of her. It wasn’t an option. I had to be strong. I had to push. I had to get us to where we needed to go. Often times when I see people now, they look at me almost flustered that they lost their composure “I didn’t want to cry in front of you. I told myself I wouldn’t.”

I want to be very clear with everyone:

I want you to cry. I want you to heave into my shoulder and get your mascara on my cashmere sweater saying you remember how great my parents were. It gives me comfort that you’re talking about them, that you remember how each were larger than life.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s hard to even chip through the mountain of responses I’ve received and comments/texts of support. Which I am so grateful for btw.

This is heartbreak. It’s hard to find joy in things that used to make me happy. What has been the best relief from my sadness is when my friends tell me positive life updates. When they win, I feel like I win. Their success is mine, and it really fills me up. Life finds a way. 

It’s hard to look at photos. To scroll through a period of time, when yes, my dad had Parkinson’s, but my mom wasn’t sick, and he was stable. The videos are the hardest. I saw one from Christmas 2018 when my mom was doing some embarrassing dance to the Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani holiday song. I worry. Will that song haunt me during the holidays? Or will it be comforting? This is what has been the hardest, anticipating the future.  What will Christmas look like, what will it feel like? What will milestones look like? It’s then that I just shake myself and say what I’ve been saying for the past nine months. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Many people have come to me and said, “you need to take a vacation after all of this.” I get angry. You think that just after I finish planning the services that I will be relieved of my grief? That sipping an aperol spritz in Capri will heal me? I actually can’t envision anything worse. Being on vacation, when you’re supposed to be happy? I mean that is hell on earth. I know that people want to help when they say this, so I let it go. Back in my former HR life, I think of what I would tell all of my colleagues specifically during a transition. “At the end of the day, only you know what’s best for you.”

Right now, what is best for me is to sit in my garden at the cottage with a crisp glass of sancerre, drive aimlessly around West LA blasting “all too well” (Taylor’s edition duh) and buying a plethora of baked goods at Joan’s on Third.