Archetypes

There are two modern-day archetypes for a 
woman (at least this one)

The one who loves and understands, 
makes concessions

Then there's the one that says 
no 
to all of that 

I strive for the first and then feel 
robbed
I move to the second and feel 
mean and cold, you know not very "lady-like" 

When I was taking care of my dad, 
insulin shots, glucose checks and constant meal prep
I also had to work. 
I'm a therapist and a school social worker. 
I love my work 
But this was hard: managing dad and maintaining the life I had built
Where all day long I hold space and no space is held for me

I resented him
How he'd come up the stairs, sit at the kitchen counter and smile
He loves watching the women work 

One morning as I struggled to get myself out of bed for another round 
Him, at the counter, me forlorn scrambling his eggs
He said, you would feel better if you helped people and smiled. 

There's a saying, often on mugs, pillows and inside pretty frames:
A wise woman once said, "Fuck this shit" and she lived happily ever after.

~

I did say “fuck this shit,” once I found a nurse to come in every weekday morning so I could move him back to his house.

I go to his house on weekends, give the insulin, drop off the groceries and prep the food. This morning, I stayed, ate breakfast with him and had one of our old father/daughter talks I once enjoyed. Sometimes his mind is so clear he becomes the dad I’ve always known.

What I learned from this time of taking care of my dad, and as I still learn because this isn’t over, is although this has been really difficult, I see where I was causing my own suffering. I see how I kept bouncing back from one archetype to the other. As a woman, in the patriarchy, with a dad who is accustomed to the “women’s work,” I felt pressured to do my work with a smile—you know so I could be loved and approved of. But I felt burdened and pissed and abandoned my own needs. And then really pissed being judged by those who have not helped in the ways that I have. My dad didn’t have to take care of his parents, except for one summer taking care of his mom who had Alzheimers. My dad is not a therapist or a social worker. My dad is also not a woman.

So I’d swing to the other archetype and say, “fuck this shit.” It brought relief. It feels good not to give a shit for a bit.

It took my own mental health crisis about a month ago to realize I matter, and I don’t have to be a victim or a martyr to matter. I experienced the weight of caring for others. I began to understand how I was not shielding my emotional, physical, and mental boundaries and no one was going to save me from doing this to myself. Only I was. So I got help.

The days now seem to move a bit more fluidly, sometimes even joyfully. Mentally, I protect my boundaries by doing what is needed without the incessant inner dialogue about what I am missing out on in my own life. Emotionally, I protect my boundaries by creating my own support structures and physically, I protect my boundaries by giving my home and work back to myself. I notice when I am with my dad, like this morning, I do not feel burdened. I am with him. I do not know how much longer I will be able to.

Thanks for listening,

Nikki, The Soul Reporter

Today is the Special Occassion

What do you do when the world, at least as you knew it, is ending? How do you grieve that?

For me, a white cisgender woman, it started to end globally on November 9, 2016. I went on a bike ride the day after election night to my usual spot— an “island” on the Mississippi River. Before this day, I’d go there to reflect on my personal trials or to escape them. However, there was a new kind of angst— not only the weight of my personal life on my shoulders, but the collective life. It is not that I did not care before, this just felt different.

I wish I could find the words to express where I find myself now, 6 1/2 years later. I’d like a story or fable that would help me frame it, or to write my own if I could focus long enough and stay motivated. What I do know, what I am beginning to feel is there has been, and is, a lot of loss personally and collectively, a collective reckoning and grief process.

Our primitive brain likes to make it one thing because then that one thing can be fixed, managed or contemplated easily. But we are not in primitive times. These are complex times. We are complex and to think in this way is difficult, but necessary. These days, the loss isn’t just A, B or C, it is the whole damn alphabet and then some.

Just in my own life, I am started to comprehend the losses and how each one intermingles and connects to the others, and as they do their capability of fully sinking me is real.

The sinking has been happening. As I reflect I see I’ve sunk many times. As a teenager I wondered how could one person, still so young, cry so much. As a 50-year-old it is starting to make sense as I am sinking like that again and again.

Yesterday I could not find one think to pull me out. Then my husband asked if I wanted ice cream. In the ice cream line I found myself smiling, then I asked him if he tried the frozen peanut butter cups. Later a stranger approached us, happy and friendly as can be, and asked how we made our “love it” treat. Before this, I watched a small child look up at her older brother, saying “again” over and over to pick her up as she squealed. Once we got our dark chocolate with extra peanut butter ice cream, we sat on a bench outside and I saw the sliver of moon. I didn’t really eat my ice cream because the point was not the ice cream.

On the way home, Neil Diamond’s Hello Again came on shuffle. I cried again, a deep, hurting cry as if I was in physical pain. I said to myself: it’s my mom. She was and always will be my first experience here on Earth as me, Nikki DiVirgilio. Nothing will ever change this. And she, my first experience, has dementia and I miss her. There is a hole in me. There are several now, but she is at the center of them all.

It is weird for me to state this and experience it to be true. My relationship with her has always felt like a loss, but what it is now feels like that sliver moon, it is all that is left and what I had with her was more than I realized. She was a best friend, someone I called to vent to, someone I hung out with. Someone who created a million and one beautiful experiences and distractions for me, for us— vacations, cabin getaways, shopping, lunches, going to the “new” place and buying the “new” thing. Over time all of this became hollow for me, but now, sinking into nothingness, they were the things that kept me afloat. These were the days. That was my mom.

When I woke up the next morning, after several days of sinking, I didn’t care much about anything (balance, right?). I wondered what was the point, especially after reading a Twitter thread stating a very real possibility for the 2024 election. It’s not good. It’s bleak, and it seems the world, including my own, is over in the way I knew it. I don’t really know 1) how to navigate these times or 2) how to grieve or if I even can fully. But the sweater I bought was on my front step. I opened it, tried in on to make sure I loved it, and instead of folding it, tags on, saving it for a special occasion, I took it off, cut the tags, put it back on and decided today is the special occasion.*** 🌙🍦

Be well during this time,

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

***snippets from a memoir I’m writing…well, several actually.

In this moment…

I don’t understand why any of us are cruel 

It’s super bowl Sunday 

I drive to the store. Not for snacks, but for donuts and coffee. 

I think of my mom. Likely not an actual lover of football, although she claimed to love the Vikings. But more like just wants to be a part of life, of whatever is going on. 

Today she may or may not have the super bowl on. And if it is, she won’t watch. 

My mom has dementia. She sits alone—except on the days some of us in the family get to visit her. 

I reminisce about past super bowls. It was all a party to her. I cry for the woman she was. The woman I lost. 

I get my coffee. My donuts. I find when I get home, I don’t want them as much as I did before the tears fell. 

Walking through the front door of my home, I understand I feel, something I have noticed lately. I feel. Tears fall, and not from a place of pity for myself or cyclical suffering, but from somewhere real. 

Driving home from the store, I understand I can feel something other than what has come from a 33-year relationship (perhaps, we will get into that another time).

The year 2021— it said to me: I will be bittersweet. 

Already, it most certainly is 🌸