Flip-Top Head

Open Skull Vector

Open Skull Vector (Photo credit: Vectorportal)

Ever have the desire to really scrub out your brain?  I don’t mean down-time, kick-back, take-a-break.  I’m talking cut the skull in half, open it up, and take a Brillo pad to the grey matter.  Dig into those nooks and crannies.  Loosen the dirt and flush it away with a high-power hose.That’s where I am right now.  My mental shit quotient has tipped the scales into the red and I am currently functioning on autopilot, resources depleted and utterly exhausted.

Some of it has to do with my dad’s death in May.  I really thought I would handle it better than I am.  That may seem an unlikely surmise, ridiculous even, but considering I had little in the way of a positive relationship with my old man, the notion didn’t seem so far-fetched.  Boy, was I wrong.

I’m not sure what my problem is or why I’ve stalled in the grief process.  I mean, let’s face it — it’s difficult to miss someone who was basically a stranger, absent while being physically present.  When I look at his vacant chair in my mother’s living room, it’s more like he must be in the computer room playing solitaire than that’s he’s died.  Nothing feels missing.  Heck, I had a stronger reaction when Jim Henson died and I’d never even met him.

I’m beginning to think that part of my difficulty stems from that exact issue.  I think I’m grieving what might have been, the relationship we could have had if things had been different.  I’m grieving the realization that time has run out, there are no more chances to “save” our relationship, to make a foray into that shadowland that existed between us, meet on the path, and at least acknowledge each other.  In truth, I believe that time ran out a long, long while ago.  Dad wasn’t about to change or open up, and he certainly wasn’t about to take any emotional risks with me.  Maybe he didn’t know how.  I certainly didn’t.  A body can be rebuffed only so many times before the fear of enduring the pain of rejection one more time makes you unwilling to even make the attempt.

Another issue that plagues me is the constant back-and-forth to care for my aged mother.  I’m not alone in this — the burden is shared by my eldest sister and my niece.  (There are those who will bristle at my use of the word burden, but that’s what it is.  Doesn’t matter how much we love her and want to do right by her, the persistent long-distance travel, health issues, hearing issues, money issues, dementia (the list goes on) takes its toll.)  My sister put it very well this afternoon during a phone call:  Even when you aren’t there, you can’t help but think about it all the time, wondering what’s coming next.  None of us is very good at switching off; I’m not sure we know how.  I’m not sure we can.

It doesn’t help matters that Monkey Mind has taken up residence in the already cramped environs of my mind.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  The voice that says you’re useless, worthless, that your writing sucks swamp water.  I’d picked up quite a head of writing steam in May…and then Dad went into the hospital and died and everything went kaflooey.  I’ve tried to get back into it since, but it’s been an uphill battle.  I need to get tougher about it, less willing to be distracted or lured away from the words.  I need to go back to making it a priority even in the face of things others need from me.  I need this!

And how to balance the other draws on my time and attention?  Thank God my husband is patient and understanding and supportive of this entire thing (even going so far as to spontaneously drive three hours north to keep me company when it seemed I might crack).  Some of my friends have also offered help and understanding, but others clamor for my attention, wanting a shoulder, an ear, advice, a pep talk, a pint of blood and a pound of flesh.  One in particular lives a life of unceasing drama, most of it self-inflicted.  In the past, I’ve tried to be supportive, but no more.  I don’t have it in me.  My energy is focused elsewhere.  And honestly?  I no longer care.  It’s the same old story over and over and over.  Nothing changes and she refuses to get out of her own way.  My strength can be better used elsewhere.  It’s hard to say no, but I’m going to have to.  And she probably won’t understand.  But…in a way…that’s not my problem.

At least there’s one I can ignore.



About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
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6 Responses to Flip-Top Head

  1. MJ Allaire says:

    First of all, I love you my friend. I’m honored and so very thankful to have met you and have you STILL in my life (if I haven’t driven you crazy yet, that’s a step in the right direction!!). Know that I’m always here for you – just a phone call away. I know you have a lot going on now and I don’t want to add more to your plate, but I’m ready for a walk, or a talk, or hell, a DRINK or five, when you are ready. Just say the word…

    Secondly, I totally relate to your feelings now that your father is gone. This summer makes 14 years since my father’s death and November will be 12 since my mother’s. I wasn’t particularly close to my father.. although I do miss him, he spent most of my childhood sitting in his chair, drinking beer, watching soap operas. He was “just there.” My mother, though, was the cook, the cleaner, the disciplinarian. She was also as strict and narrow/closed minded as anyone I’ve ever known. Some days I feel as though I’d give anything for one day with her (with them, but with her in particular), to talk, to ask questions, and for her (them) to see what I’ve done with my life. But other days, I can’t help but think she would frown on the path I’ve chosen: divorce, how I’ve raised my kids, etc etc etc. That mental list of certain disapprovals goes on and on.

    They say 20/20 hindsight shows us all we did wrong. But we are all fallible; none of us are perfect. We strive to do the best we can do, today and in this moment. But sometimes, looking back, it seems our efforts, our choices, weren’t good enough (and sometimes, that demon says they never will be. Trust me, I’m with you on that one, Sister!.) We are human.

    It will take time for your heart to heal. Take a deep breath as often as you can and try to be patient while it does. Perhaps you weren’t meant to “see” things about your relationship with your father until now. Take it a day at a time.

    As for the “burden” you now carry, I can totally understand how it is stressful. The driving, the shared care, the time and effort – the combination of all you have on your plate now may seem like a lot – and I have now doubt that, right now, it is. However, I admire that you are able to do what you are doing. After my father passed away and my mother’s health declined, I was unable to do anything to help in any way other than phone calls. She was in Florida and I was in Connecticut, raising my kids while my husband was on a submarine. I couldn’t just drop my life at home and go stay with her to care for her. My hands were tied. Thankfully, my brother and his former wife were able to help Mom. Looking back today, this is one of my deepest regrets surrounding the end of my mother’s life. I wish I’d been able to take the time to do something, anything. As her only daughter, that Monkey Mind tells me it was MY place to care for her, not my brother’s former wife,,,, 20/20 hindsight. I have no doubt that you will someday look back, like I’ll never be able to do, and be proud of those things you are now able to do with/for your mother.

    It will get easier, Melissa. Relax when you can, definitely try to get away for a break with that beautiful husband of yours, and please, please remember I’m only a phone call away. When you are ready, perhaps we can flip our heads open and scrub out the gray matter together!

    I love you my beautiful, wonderful, TALENTED, friend! ❤

  2. Laurie Andrews-Lester says:

    Melissa, having endured the on-call, care giver, roll with both of Don’s parents over an eight year period of time (urgent care), it slowly crept up on us since Britt was 6 mo. old, I do understand the “burden” quite well. It doesn’t leave your mind or your daily life. Every time the phone rings, particularly in the early morning or late at night, you freeze. Quite frankly, it sucks! I would see my friends (whose parents were in their early 20’s when they were born), not having a care outside their immediate families. Their parents came over for visits, and helped with the kids. Don’s needed around the clock care. Mine are 800 miles away, and I can never do for them what they want as we can’t afford the travel. Sadly there isn’t much to do to get rid of the weight on your shoulders. We would take short vacations, praying that we didn’t get a call from Don’s brother. Only by the ocean could we really relax. Maybe that’s why the Cape is so special to us. It was our respite during those difficult years. Perhaps you and Ed could take a long weekend escape to a place of solace. It won’t fix the problem, but it might just give you a second to breathe. As for the writing, maybe writing from your pain, and frustration is where you need to be right now. A new story that talks of those feelings. Perhaps that would be a way of giving them voice and then putting them to rest. Or, perhaps not, what do I know, I’m not a writer. What I do know is, that you ARE a writer, and a good one! Hang in there, and know your friends are thinking of you, and care about you! Hugs! Laurie

  3. John says:

    Being self-aware of what’s happening is the critical first step towards shifting things more in the way you’d like them to go. I’d say you’ve already conquered that part.

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