Archive for the ‘ Losing a Parent ’ Category

An Unfortunate Mother’s Day Truth

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is currently writing a parenting humor book. He lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

As a child growing up in a house with two parents who barely spoke a word to one another, much less showed affection, there was always a part of me that dreaded holidays. Because they included an outing, whether it was a dinner, a show, or even a simple 15-minute car ride to grandma’s house. And an outing meant almost assuredly that I’d be without one of my parents. They “stayed together for the kids,” but we were still left scratching our heads when Mother’s Day arrived and we went our separate ways to two different gatherings.

Looking back, I get it. Neither of them wanted to be apart from their children permanently, but holidays (and vacations) were sort of a reprieve from the day-to-day awkwardness. For them, and truthfully, for my sister and me.

But I resented it as a kid. I knew my parents didn’t have the kind of relationship most did, so I would sit restrainedly glum at the dinner table, feeling like we were a broken family. Frankly, because we were. And even as a child, I would try to give mom gifts as a way of distracting her from the failing marriage we all silently knew was eating at her. I just never felt like it was enough. So I told myself I’d eventually show her my appreciation for all she’d done for me.

As a teenager, not much changed. However, I began to establish more of an understanding about my parents’ marriage, and particularly, the sacrifices they were both making for the sake of seeing their children grow. Once I comprehended that, I was able to make peace with it. But that didn’t change the fact that every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or anniversary I’d look at other married couples giving each other flowers and singing each other’s praises, and I’d be angry that my own parents weren’t showing the same kind of gratitude for each other.

As a young adult, the separation wasn’t as outwardly apparent. I’d gotten married, moved in with my wife, and by that time, my parents had officially divorced. We still got together for Mother’s Day, of course. But because we no longer lived together, I enjoyed that time with her even more. We took her to dinner, gave her gifts we thought were meaningful, but I still didn’t feel like it was enough. I told myself I’d eventually show her my appreciation for all she’d done for me.

Then, I became a parent myself. And my life was turned upside down. I was fortunate enough to watch my wife blossom into the mother I always knew she’d be. But it wasn’t all play dates and bedtime stories. It was hard. Sometimes, it felt nearly impossible to keep our cool as we navigated the treacherous, uncertain road of raising a child, then later, a second child. I began to develop a deep, thorough understanding of how having children can test the strength of not only your character, but your marriage. I looked back on my childhood and imagined how difficult it must have been to deal with a faltering marriage while also trying to manage a career and, oh yeah, two growing children. Despite the realization, I told myself yet again that I’d eventually show her my appreciation for all she’d done for me.

A couple of short years later, a week before my oldest son’s third birthday, mom suddenly passed away. She was 59. I was blindsided, irrevocably damaged. And if it isn’t obvious, I never did tell her how much I appreciated her. Maybe I grazed past it once or twice in a greeting card. But the thoughts I tucked into a dark corner of my brain, the raw kind of emotion that you’d normally hear bellowed in a Janis Joplin song? She sadly never got to hear that.

This weekend, I will celebrate my third Mother’s Day since her passing. Naturally, I’ve been receiving an enormous amount of marketing communications (spam) from major retailers urging me to “Make mom happy!” and “Save 25% just in time for Mother’s Day!” And trust me, nothing would please me more than to do exactly those things. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve simply got to suffer through this. And unfortunately, my wife does, too. I’m trying, but my instinct is to reject that this Sunday is even happening, to remain restrainedly glum at the dinner table while others clink glasses around me. Because even more than I regret my own lack of verbal appreciation, I regret that my children won’t get to know their grandmother like I did. Put simply, I can’t stand Mother’s Day because it reminds me of what could’ve been. For the sake of my wife, though, I have no plans to crawl into a corner and cover my ears.

So, do yourself a favor this Sunday and skip the vague platitudes we typically scribble into an overpriced card and opt instead to be real…so very real that it makes you uncomfortable even. I can guarantee it will feel better than holding it inside until you’re giving a eulogy.

Thanks for reading, and a genuine, uncomfortably long hug to all you moms out there making life worth living for your children. Especially to my wife, whose natural abilities make me look like a rookie on a daily basis.

Cheers, ladies.

Tell Mom she’s the best this Mother’s Day with this Most Valuable Mommy coloring card!

* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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A Warning to Those Who Disrespect Their Parents

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

 

 

Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that not all parents are worthy of respect. The father who walks out on his wife and kids, only to show up on their doorstep 11 years later doesn’t instantly become an admirable man. And surely, there are too many mothers and fathers out there who abuse their children, either verbally or physically. But if your parents put a roof over your head, clothed and fed you, sacrificed their time and energy for your benefit, are generally good people and you still find yourself treating them like second-class citizens? Then this blog is for you.

Soon after my mother died in 2012, I developed a hypersensitivity about people not respecting their parents. I wanted to shake them and scream, “You’re luckier than you’ll ever realize!” But the sad fact is, it won’t hit most people until it’s too late. And these are the people bawling uncontrollably in the front row of the funeral parlor. These are the people soaking in all the sympathy because, even though most of those tears are products of guilt, onlookers will perceive them as pure grief and nothing less.  I wish I could say I haven’t seen this myself.

Look, I’m well aware that arguments are going to happen. Dreadful ones, in fact. And an unblemished relationship where both parent and child get along swimmingly into adulthood is practically impossible. But there’s a difference between being occasionally at odds with your mother and refusing to call her for a year because she crossed a line that you didn’t appreciate being crossed. Put another way, it’s one thing to unfriend an old high school buddy on Facebook because the constant pictures of his cat annoy you. It’s yet another to shout at, run from, or worse yet, ignore a parent because they’re in your face too much or aren’t filling the exact role you envisioned. I promise there will come a day when you wish they were in your face again.

I wasn’t always so sensitive to this. But two major changes in my life altered my perception of the parent-child relationship. One, obviously, was losing my mother before I ever expected I would. Those “everyday, nothing special” conversations became what I longed for, and despite having a good relationship with mom, I started beating myself up about how I didn’t do more for her and with her. Another, frankly, was becoming a parent myself. Because now I see the heart and soul that goes into it. I see the multitude of personal sacrifices it takes, and I see the undying, relentless love I have for my own children. If either of them grew up to treat me with indignant disrespect, I would feel like I’d done something terribly wrong in raising them.

Maybe I’m able to say these things because I always had a good relationship with my parents. But were there times when I felt they intruded on my privacy? Yes. Were there times when I felt that they truly didn’t “get me” and disagreed with my life decisions without sound judgment? Absolutely. But I was raised with a firm understanding that your parents demand respect. Period. Thankfully, I listened.

It’s a cliché, but I’m going to say it anyway. If I reach even one person with this blog, it was worth writing. If I convince just one person to give their parents the type of attention and love they deserve, then I’ve been successful. And to be clear, I’m not suggesting reverting back to the 1950s where calling your father “sir” and mother “ma’am” was the norm. But your parents are indispensable pieces of your very being. Give them the honor they deserve, or be the guilty one weeping at their funeral, as you sadly think of how you could’ve done things differently.

I was somewhat reluctant to touch on such a somber subject this week. But I see far too many people complaining about having to call their mother once a week, or rolling their eyes through the transport of their dependent father to his doctor’s appointment. There was a time when you couldn’t so much as breathe without their help. These aren’t strangers on the street, folks. And if anyone is worthy of dignity, don’t you think it’s them?

Thanks for reading, even if this didn’t pertain to you personally. For my more comedic side, check out my brand new Facebook page! Or follow me on Twitter.

As always, feel free to join the conversation by adding a comment below! Would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: “Respect” photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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A New Workout That Fits

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

I failed in my initial New Year’s resolution to get in shape. My reasons were legit. But even when I tried to get back in the saddle, it was disastrous. A friend suggested Pop Physique. I was too lazy to look it up online. So I didn’t. Clearly my motivation was hitting a low. Then she sent me an email with a Groupon for the one in my neighborhood. You know how those Groupons are: HURRY OR YOU WILL MISS OUT FOR THE REST.OF.YOUR.LIFE. As Groupons usually do, the “sale” only lasted 24 hours. I nearly got divorced when I bought meat from a door-to-door salesman. I jump when under pressure. So of course the urgency of the Groupon made me bite. Luckily in this instance, the stars were aligned.

Before I wrote this blog I figured I should make sure Pop Physique is all over the country so if you feel inspired, you’ll check it out. However, it’s not. Only in Los Angeles. But don’t go WTF yet. I have another option for anyone who is interested. The Bar Method is apparently really similar, and that’s everywhere.

Pop Physique uses a small ball and light weights combined with repetition and small movements to basically kick your ass. Or abs. Or thighs. It’s hard, but there is no impact so I’m not worrying about injury while flailing myself around. There were times my limbs were shaking to the point that I wondered if my body was self-inducing a seizure. I was assured it was not and that this is normal.

The overall “technique” as they call it basically combines aspects of crossfit, yoga, boot camp, weight lifting and aerobics all in one. I think it’s nearly the perfect mom workout. The studio I went to was clearly founded and run by women. It was so organized and clean. They even offer childcare for some of the classes. The Bar Method might too. I was sweating but not dripping like I do in my loathed Bikram class. The stretching part at the ballet bar was great. It made me want a small ballet bar in my house. I’m already thinking it could be another solution to my evening mom blahs. I could stretch, and my monkey kids could hang. I am going to present it to Phil after a night where he has at least 2 glasses of wine…though I’m fairly certain he will say that me on a ballet bar without professional supervision will prove cataclysmic.

In the meantime I am committed to getting my pre-baby stomach back. Not to mention everything else. Hopefully it will help my slouchy posture too, which in turn helps my stomach. Too bad there’s no solution for shrunken post-baby boobs. Or at least no natural solution. Remember, I live in LA–land of the fake. But everything I’m doing is real. And that’s exciting–even if it’s well past the New Year.

 

Cartoon characters exercising via Shutterstock

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A Message to Everyone Missing a Parent During the Holidays

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at jdeprospero@gmail.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

 

This needs to be written about. Not because it’s a topic I enjoy bringing up, but because this is a time of year when, despite the inherent joy of the holiday season, people are hurting more than we think. The reason I know this is because I am hurting more than you think. And I know I’m not alone. For reference, here’s my back story.

If you’re going through your first holiday season after the loss of a parent (or anyone you were especially close with), I don’t need to tell you that it’s practically unbearable. And for me, it was after seeing the Christmas lights strung up on banisters around town that it hit me—whether I liked it or not, life was going on without my mother. And I had absolutely no choice but to deal with it. In the grand scheme of things, the conveyor belt of life continued to operate, and I felt like I had two choices: Stay on and force a smile, or jump off and pout.  You’ll probably find yourself doing a little bit of both. Especially during the month of December.

I’ve also learned that, despite the support we get from our close friends and families, how we cope with these losses is something we must decide completely on our own. In other words, it’s our cross to bear. So I’ve assembled a list, a defense strategy against the inevitable sadness that can and will overtake you over the holidays. I’m certainly no doctor, but I hope it helps. It has for me.

  • Take care of you

This is absolutely crucial. Don’t over-work yourself. As parents, we have a tendency to forget about our own well-being completely, but in grief you’ll realize that this tactic will backfire.  So, take days off. Surround yourself with only people who bring you up, not down. Get a massage. Go to the movies. Don’t be afraid to pamper yourself. After what you’ve gone through, you wholeheartedly deserve it. And if anyone dares question your new-found affinity for taking care of yourself, feel free to be blunt with them.

  • Remind people you need them

It’s not easy. I’m well aware of that. We all want to be perceived as being strong, a rock. But that strategy works against you in grief. For me, picking up the phone and calling my 87-year-old grandmother or a friend to let them know I still need their support certainly didn’t feel natural. But the people in your life who truly care for you will respond in kind. As I’ve discovered,  as soon as the funeral ends, most people will go on with their lives assuming you’re fine unless you speak up. And if talking to friends and family doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to seek counseling. There’s no shame in this game.

  • Remember the parent in your own way

I’ve gone through phases of holding onto my mother’s possessions for dear life (keeping her cell phone in my sock drawer, storing her social security card in my wallet) to shutting her image completely out of my mind. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel comfortable having pictures of her up around the house, and on occasion bring her up to my older son so that she seems “present” in his life. And during Christmastime, while every other window is illuminated with a single white candle, I leave the candle in my bedroom off, in memory of her. That might seem odd to some, but it gives me a small bit of peace when I need it most. It doesn’t have to make sense.

  • Focus on your greatest blessings

If you have children, hug them tighter. If you have cats, hug them tighter. If you really love chocolate, don’t hug it tighter. That would be weird. But you see where I’m going with this. I’ve found that accentuating the strongest positives in life helps enormously. It reminds us that there’s still plenty of good left in this world to enjoy, despite what we’ve lost.

  • Don’t feel guilty “moving on”

I think there’s a tendency to stay “stuck in the moment” of losing someone, especially a parent. Your life grinds to a halt, and it almost doesn’t feel “right” to move on without them. I mean, how can we simply keep living like everything’s fine when it clearly isn’t? I’m incredibly guilty of clinging to this perspective. But what I (and anyone dealing with grief) need to know is that moving on does not mean forgetting. It does not mean we don’t care and it does not mean we’re not in pain. It simply means that we’re choosing to embrace the light rather than the dark. There will be days when the dark wins, but if we put ourselves in situations that enable happiness (for both us and our children), I think we’ll find ourselves smiling more often than not.

 

Sorry if you were expecting my “lighter side” today, but frankly, the weight we feel on our shoulders (specifically as parents) can feel unrelenting at times. People need to know they’re not alone in their most personal stresses. I hope this provided even the slightest bit of relief for them. So this is Joe DeProspero, guest blogger for Parents.com reminding you that we’re all in this together. Happy holidays, everyone.

On this topic especially, I’d love to hear from you. Simply writing about your personal experience could provide more relief than you’d think. Feel free to add a comment below.

 

* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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Explaining a Death in the Family…to a Child

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at jdeprospero@gmail.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

It’s something I never imagined I’d have to do while my children were so young. In most cases, it’s a role we’re thrust into without so much as a day or two to Google some helpful tips to prepare for it. But on April 14, 2012, my whole world changed, and I was faced with an insurmountable task: dealing with an unthinkable loss while simultaneously teaching my oldest son what death means on a level he might understand.

My 83-year-old Grandma Helen called me that Saturday afternoon at about 1:00, concerned that my mother (who lived alone) wasn’t answering her phone. This was not like my mother, who called my grandmother every single morning religiously. She wasn’t answering my calls either. About an hour later, I stopped by her place which was only 15 minutes away. And I found her on the floor. She was dead at age 59. And just like that, life as I knew it was dramatically changed forever. I was then tasked with breaking the news to my grandmother, who in turn suffered a severe stroke and also died two days later (yes, really). I was crushed. But feeling sorry for myself could only last so long; my son Antonio’s 3rd birthday party was the following weekend, and I now had two gaping holes in the family to explain to him. We would end up holding a double funeral for them the day before the party. But how was I going to explain all of this to a child whose beloved grandmother AND great grandmother suddenly vanished without saying goodbye?

My immediate reaction was to avoid any mention of “Grandma Linda” or “Nana Helen.” I had no idea how to approach their deaths with my one son who was old enough to ask about them (my younger son was 10 months old at the time). But neither my wife nor I wanted him to wonder why they hadn’t bothered to show up to his birthday party.  My wife, Sonia, did her best to convey the losses in a way his young mind could comprehend. So she pulled him aside one night that week.

“Honey, Grandma went to heaven. She’s high up in the sky now and is always watching, but you just won’t be able to see her anymore.”

I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t present for the conversation, but that’s basically how it went. A bit of a high concept for a toddler, but we were trying. And it was obvious that he didn’t understand a word of it. He simply smiled and continued mashing the buttons on his Buzz Lightyear. But while he didn’t understand, as days went by, he could clearly tell that something had gone awry. If we brought up Grandma, he ignored us. It got to the point where he wouldn’t even say her name, purposely avoiding having to bring her up, much like I did at first. Then, one day, in my car on the way to drop him off at day camp, he asked the question I’d been dreading for weeks.

“Daddy, is Grandma ever coming back?”

I froze for about eight seconds. It was like being on a job interview where you’re asked the one question you weren’t prepared for. And as the seconds ticked by, it became clearer that the truth was my only option.

“No. Honey, I’m sorry. She’s not.  But she loves you and she’ll always be watching. And hey, remember that pillow fight we had with her? Wasn’t that fun?”

I was nervous, so I reached for a distraction. He nodded solemnly. But over the following weeks and months, I realized I had two jobs when it came to the death of my mother: Don’t fall apart and don’t let mentions of her yield anything but a smile.

So far, I think my wife and I have been fairly successful. We started by showing my son video footage of the aforementioned pillow fight I’d captured on my iPhone, then with watching our wedding video and asking him to point Grandma out. Then, after attending a birthday party, my wife accidentally let Antonio’s helium balloon slip out of the car and into the sky.  Naturally, Antonio was not pleased. But he was certainly intrigued when we determined that the balloon wasn’t lost at all, but it was merely “sent up to Grandma.” To this day, he associates balloons (one of his favorite things) with my mother. And he smiles.

In recent months, instead of asking if Grandma is coming back, he instead asks questions about heaven.

How did she get all the way up there?

Where does she sleep?

Does she still have my balloon?

Frankly, the questions break my heart. But if he never asked at all, I think it’d be worse. So I answer him as cheerfully and imaginatively as possible.

She has special flying abilities that take her up, up, up into the sky, and she uses a cloud as a pillow. And of course she still has your balloons. She always will.

In a way, I feel like I’m writing a fairytale on the fly. This magical lady who flies with the birds and sleeps above the raindrops. Sometimes I even get caught up in the fantasy of it all, detaching myself from reality for a moment. I suppose I do it for me as much as I do it for him. I don’t want her to fade into a memory for either of us.

So if you’ve recently found yourself in this unenviable position, know that you’re not alone. And also, don’t be afraid to tell your children the truth. Or as much of the truth that you determine they can handle. Ignoring my mother’s memory around my son was not the solution to my grief or to his understanding of this dreadful situation. Honoring her memory and reminding my son of how wonderful his grandmother was (and magically continues to be) is a step in the right direction. Because while I will always be saddened by any mention of her, my children deserve to know how much she loved them. And she deserves it, too.

Antonio and my mother, two weeks before her death. Strangely, she already looked like an angel.

I truly hope that you either found solace in reading this or will think back on it if you ever need to explain the unimaginable to your children. In closing, here’s a picture of the inside cover of Green Eggs and Ham, as inscribed by my mother to my son. I always point it out when I read it to him.

Feel free to share your stories by adding a comment below.

* If you prefer my humor-based posts, forgive me for the seriousness of this one, as I felt it was a story that needed to be told.

Read more about how to talk to your kids about death and tragedy:

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