What's Been Going On

Fuck it. I’m just going to write about it.

I alluded to it in passing when I said I was taking a break from the blog, but I wasn’t ready to write about it in any detail then. I am now. Here’s what’s been going on, and why I’ve been taking a break.

Regular long-time readers of this blog may remember that my father has been in poor health for some time. Many years, actually. A little over five years ago, he had a pretty big stroke, and he never really recovered from it. His language was permanently damaged, as was some other brain function. His health has been in gradual decline ever since, and we’ve had a number of crises and sharp declines, where it seemed possible — likely, even — that he would die soon. But he always stabilized. I was going to say “recovered,” but that’s the wrong word: after each crisis, he would stabilize at a lower level of health and functioning, with less ability to communicate and get around and take care of himself. We’ve been in a state where my father could very likely die any day… or not die for weeks… or months… or years. Every time he had another sharp decline, we went into crisis mode, thinking the end was now finally close. And then he would stabilize, and settle into the new low.

We’ve been in this state for years.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother called to tell me that our dad had another decline, and has now been put into home hospice care. He’s stable, but his functioning is very low indeed. He has a hospital bed set up in his living room, and he hasn’t left it for any significant amount of time for over two weeks. His language abilities, seriously impaired ever since his first stroke, are now almost gone.

When your brother calls you tell you that your dad is in home hospice care, you brace yourself, and get into “impending death” mode. Except the reality is that we are now, once again, in a state where my father could very likely die any day now… or not die for weeks… or months… or years. Closer to the end then he was, probably. And with significantly worse quality of life. But we still don’t know.

This, as you may have gathered, is unbelievably hard to deal with.

The best phrase I can come up with to describe it is “proto-grief.” I feel like my dad has been dying by degrees, for years. I feel like grief has been dripping into my life, one little drip at a time. And since this latest news about him being in home hospice care, the drip has turned up to a trickle.

I can’t even really grieve properly, since he’s not actually dead. What I want to do is stop my life for a few weeks and just fucking scream and howl and let myself fall apart… and then pick up the pieces and start to move on. But he’s not actually dead. So I can’t do that. “My dad is sick: still sick, sick again, more or less as sick he’s been for over five years now, probably somewhat closer to death now but who the fuck knows”… that seems like a pathetic excuse to cancel appointments and blow off deadlines. And I really can’t just stop my life just because my dad has taken yet another turn for the worse. If I’d done that every time this happened in the past, if I’d done that every time we thought he was at death’s door, my life would have stopped completely, for years.

So I just have to function. Somehow. I have to make plans… knowing that I might have to break them, at any time, days or weeks or months from now, with no notice. I have to meet deadlines, show up at speaking gigs, see friends and buy groceries and go to the gym…with this constant drip, drip, drip of proto-grief filtering into my brain, all the time. Sometimes just a little, and I feel more or less like myself, more or less able to work, more or less able to experience pleasure and joy. Sometimes a little more, and I feel like I’m buried in a vat of cotton: scrambling to climb out, struggling even just to keep my head out and get a breath of clean air. Wishing desperately for some rest… and knowing that “rest” right now just means “sinking back even deeper into the vat.”

One of the hardest things about depression is the vicious circles. Being buried in a vat of cotton is itself exhausting, debilitating, makes it harder to find the energy and indeed the will to try to climb out. The cotton seeps into your nose and your mouth, gets into your lungs and your bloodstream, wears you down. I know there are things I need to do to take care of my mental health — exercise, time outside, socializing — but I’m often finding it hard to muster the energy to do them. If I felt good enough to do them, they’d make me feel better… but I often don’t. I can’t even really get much rest or escape or distraction: the things I normally find comforting and soothing aren’t working like they usually do. And mental and emotional rest are being very hard to come by: the moment I sit still and let my brain stop with the distractions and the noise, everything starts piling in. Sleep doesn’t make me feel rested, even though all I want to do is sleep.

All of this is complicated, by the way, by the fact that my dad and I didn’t have a great relationship. I don’t want to get into that right now in a huge amount of detail, although I may at some point. No, he wasn’t abusive, nothing like that — but it’s been a difficult relationship, with a lot of anger and sadness and increasing distance. So I don’t even have the comfort of “yes, he’s dying, but he had a good life, and I have all those good memories and all those good years together.” He didn’t, and I don’t.

Then add to all that the background radiation of my life in the last year. Add to all that the reality that, when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more. I’ve been wanting to blog about this thing with my dad for a little while now (since I first found out about it, actually): writing is often how I process the traumas of my life and deal with them. But the thought of what the people who hate me and have been targeting me will do with this information has been making me hold back. “Hey, her dad’s dying, and she’s really depressed about it! WEAKNESS! How can we use that to fuck with her?”

None of that is connected to my dad’s health. But it adds significantly to my stress levels. Normally I can cope with that stuff reasonably well: shrug it off, laugh it off, use it to fuel my rage and passion for the fight. But my usual reserves of inner resources are pretty well drained right now. The situation with my dad is making it harder for me to find the energy to combat misogynist assholes in the atheist community… and the misogynist assholes in the atheist community are making it harder for me to find the energy to deal with my dad’s illness.

And add to all of this the fact that, when my father does die, he will be the first person I’ve been close to who’s died since I became a full-fledged atheist and let go of my belief in any sort of afterlife. This will be the first person I’ve been close to whose death will mean saying goodbye, forever.

So there’s that.

I know that when I put this piece into my blogging software and hit Publish, lots of people will be asking what they can do to help. Thanks for that. I wish I had a good answer; I wish I knew what to ask for. Patience, mostly. The understanding that my blogging may be sporadic for a while, and that when I do blog I may not want to wrestle with heavy topics and controversies for a while. Support and positive feedback, obviously. Input and counsel on managing depression, for people who have experienced it or otherwise know what they’re talking about. Reminders that it gets better. Reminders of why I thought it would be a good idea to be a professional freelance writer and political activist, instead of doing something easy like firefighting or nuclear physics. And if other people feel like yelling at the Flying Monkeys of Misogyny for a while, that would be awesome. I don’t have it in me right now, but I feel like I’m letting down the side. Thanks. And thanks for listening. Mostly I’m writing this just to write it and get it out into the world. Thanks for being on the other end of that line.

What's Been Going On

116 thoughts on “What's Been Going On

  1. sam

    I appreciate your blog, and while I will miss its posting frequency, I understand depression.

    I’m not great at being super positive or encouraging, so let me just say thank you. Thank you for everything you write.

  2. 3

    I’m sorry about your dad, Greta. I went through this with mine a couple of years ago. I have no useful advice, really. Life is weird, wonderful, and painful.

  3. 4

    You’re not letting anybody down, Greta. Do what you need to do, surround yourself with the best people in your life to help you through it, and be content knowing that you’ve left us with 99+1 things for us atheists to be pissed off about. That’s plenty to keep us enraged until you’re ready to wade back into the fray 🙂

  4. 5

    Greta, you are not letting anybody down. You’re facing a difficult situation and you need to focus on yourself and not deal with constant trolling, etc. online. We’ll still be here waiting when you come back. You rock!

  5. 6

    On managing situational depression: When people near you physically ask how they can help, let them feed you. It won’t always be the best food for you, but you can take care of your diet again when you’re feeling better. Eating is a social event, which you can use some of. It removes one set of decisions. It either gets you out of the house or has people liven up your space. Both are good.

    Make them talk about themselves when they are with you. They’ll want to focus on you, but you don’t need to let them unless you’re in a mood where you want or need to talk. Let them bring their lives into yours to give you a break from your own concerns. You won’t be able to pay attention to all of it, but what you can is good.

    Forgive yourself for lots of things right now. Trust Ingrid to tell you when you need help. Don’t let the cats rule your life just because your will is depleted.

    Know we care and are listening.

  6. 8

    Take care of yourself first. We’ll get by, and we’ll read your blog and be ready to support you whenever you need it. A lot of us have gone through the slowly dying routine (it isn’t a routine thing at all) with our own families or friends, so we’ve got your back.

    When you are ready, we’ll still be here! And we’ll still be ready to help you with the assholes.

  7. 9

    Hi Greta,
    My Mom is on the same sort of path your Dad is. I deal with depression daily, and have for too many years. I don’t deal with the crap that comes your way when you blog about something controversial, but we’ve been dealing with it in our local groups. So, I understand a little about where you are. Oh yeah, we’re the same age, too. I KNOW that you and Ingrid can get through this. I hope that you know that there are those of us out here that care about you, and appreciate that you do the blog, are the activist, and generally speak up as needed. Take care of yourselves (you and Ingrid), and that is plenty for me. I’d hug you, if you wanted, but it’s a long way from here to there…nevertheless the offer stands. All the best!

  8. 10

    Greta, I am coming up on the first anniversary of the death of my dad. We had been watching him slowly decline for three years before he moved in with us. That turned out to be seven months before he died. My wife and I were on call 24/7. And although he was able to take care of basics like getting in and out of bed, he did need help putting on shoes and socks. But he was never out of thought, and that is a constant drain. He was only seriously incapacitated for about six weeks before his death, but that was serious. That turned us into nurses 24/7, with occasional crises in the emergency room. Fortunately, my two sisters and I, along with the rest of our families, had discussed exactly how far we would go. And when the time came, we allowed him to die.

    My sincere sympathies for your tribulations. Kind wishes to Ingrid. It is not easy. But you will feel good about taking care of things properly.

  9. 11

    I said it about Jen taking a break, and it’s just as applicable here.

    You’ve done so much for atheism and skepticism and feminism and every other form of rational thought that a bit of time off isn’t even the merest fraction of what you deserve.

    As you might say, even from a purely pragmatic, Machiavellian standpoint, having you at your very best, mentally and emotionally, is one of the most effective tools I know of in all of atheist activism, period.

    I’ll just have to occupy myself passing out your blog address and copies of your book.

  10. 12

    *offers hugs for Greta*

    I think it’s been said that just living one’s life can be a feminist act? I think choosing to take time for yourself, recognizing that you’re not SuperFeminist of Infinite Spoons and shouldn’t be expected to be, can also be a publicly feminist act. Take care.

  11. 13

    Oh, dear Greta. Virtual hugging the crap out of you. I have a very similar situation going on with a close family member, and I can relate. I also have dealt with/battled/hated/succumbed to/accepted/treated depression for years. Your vat of cotton analogy is all too familiar. I’m here if you need a chat or a shoulder.

    As far as not being able to do the things that make you feel better – I’ve reminded myself, and been reminded by lovely friends who watch my back – if you can’t get out of bed, then it’s time for a trip to the doctor. I’ve had to have antidepressants adjusted when I’m going through difficult times, from the low levels I take regularly, to a temporarily higher level. Also, talk therapy.

    Misogynistic assholes are a dime a dozen, and will always be there. Thank you for giving yourself permission to put them by the wayside for as long as you need. Someone else can, and will, pick up the sword.

    xoxo Melody

  12. 14

    Absolutely take care of yourself first. Which, if the depression is getting in the way of doing things that would make you less depressed, it might be worth talking to a therapist about. As someone with dysthymia, just checking in with a professional once every few weeks or once a month does wonders for making sure I don’t start to seriously spiral.

    Also, your fans and followers will still be here when you have the strength and energy to blog more. Putting you and your family before us makes perfect sense. We love your writing, and we care about you (to the extent that a fan can care about an internet celebrity), so take care of yourself.

  13. 16

    So sorry to hear that! I went through much the same with my dad over the last year: multiple strokes, infections, pneumonia, etc, each one leaving him in a weaker “new normal.” He finally passed away just three weeks ago, and I’m still processing that. It’s a tough road and I can’t imagine there’s anything I can say that will make it easier for you, other than to assume you that others have passed this way before; we survived, and so will you.

    Best wishes to you and all your family!

  14. 17

    I watched my dad go through this same thing with his mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s, and I experienced it to a lesser degree as well. I feel that watching someone lose themselves in this way is probably the worst way to watch death.

    I truly wish you and your family the best in coping with this grief. I hope your father either reaches a better place in his health or goes quickly and peacefully. Sometimes death is a relief when there has been so much suffering along the way.

    I’ll be here with many hugs when you get back. As will many others. It’s okay to take a break and be where you’re needed. Take your time, and don’t forget to find a little space to let yourself relax.

    Much love, Ellen

  15. 18

    I may not agree with most of what you have to say but I can say I do know what it’s like to have to deal with a dieing parent. I had to deal with it for a number of years – in the same house, taking care of a man who was deteriorating before my very eyes.

    And I know what it’s like to have to deal with this knowing it’s someone you haven’t gotten along with (mine was an abusive relationship when I was a child). It’s never easy, even under the best of circumstances. I had an exceedingly religious father who felt that not only was I a failure as a child but also as an atheist adult.

    Don’t assume those who may not agree with you will automatically wish hatred upon you or try to make fun of some presumed weakness. I *don’t* agree with your stances on many things but I commiserate and only wish that you find the fortitude and ability to keep on keepin’ on.

  16. 19

    All I can say Greta is that you are not alone. I moved back in with my parents a number of years ago as my mother could n9o longer for my father alone. He is now in a full care facility and hasn’t been out of bed for about 2 years. When we visit he could be returning from the fields (he was a farmer), or visiting someone long dead, or he could be talking about what was just on the news. My p-doc recommends I not visit too often for my own mental health.

    It sucks, it really does.

  17. 20


    I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a loved one slowly die that way, so I won’t pretend that I can. I can, however, imagine what it’s like to have depression, since I’ve had it for nearly ten years, since I was 12. Your health–and that obviously includes mental health–always comes first, no matter what it takes to maintain it. For me, personally, blogging was the fire that lit up that dark night. For you, it sounds like it’s something else, especially given the hate that is continually heaped on you when you do it.

    I’ll miss your writing, but I can deal. Thank you and best wishes.

  18. 21

    So sorry to hear about your father, Greta. Mine passed away 2 weeks ago, and we did not have the best relationship either. I think sometimes that makes it more difficult to grapple with. Take care of yourself, I can only imagine how difficult this must be right now.

  19. 23

    Once again, Ms. Christina, you’ve summed up and articulated my thoughts and feelings far better than I ever could. I would begin to suspect you of reading my diary, if I kept a diary.
    I, too, have spent years with a parent in slow decline. (My mother has Huntington’s, and is in a nursing home.) It is terribly hard to watch and deal with, and let’s face it, on some level we resent all this work and worry. How not? Our parents are supposed to take care of us; we’ve known this since we were infants. That sort of conditioning is as hard to get over as religion, at least.
    Worst of all are those moments when you find yourself just wishing it was over, and then you think about what that really means, and Jiminy-fucking-Cricket starts shrieking in your ear, “Do you actually want Mom to DIE? What is WRONG with you, you sick bastard?!”
    Moments like that, the Lexapro doesn’t help much.
    BUT… we’re more then our worst thoughts and feelings. We’re all only human, and need to cut everyone a little slack, ourselves included. Little kids scream “I HATE YOU!” at their parents when they’re angry. They don’t. The best parents in the world have moments when they want to take their kids deep into the forest and leave them there, double-checking their pockets for bread crumbs first. They don’t. And we, who have to deal with this drawn-out nightmare, may feel like terrible people because we yearn to wake up from it the only way we ever can.
    We’re not.
    Hang in there, Ms. Christina. Don’t let the depression drag at you more than it has to. Do what you need to to feel better, even (oh Dog, I can’t believe I’m saying this) post more cat pictures. If you really, really have to.

  20. 27

    *HUGS* and support from Oregon.

    You might be interested to know that I am currently at BOTH ends of the spectrum you are noticing.

    My wife’s dad is in his sixties, and has been strong and healthy all his life — until 2-3 years ago, when a massive blood disease followed by a stroke left him weakened, both physically and mentally, and slowly growing weaker on both fronts.

    My dad, on the other hand, is 99 years old (my folks married and had children VERY late), and has been on his “last year to live” for at least fifteen years. He fell ALL the time, but fought off all attempts to place him in any sort of assisted living or nursing home… until 4 months ago, when he finally broke (shattered) his leg. Now he will be in one hospital or another, for the rest of his life.

    My wife’s dad may (or may not) last a long time. My dad certainly won’t (although doctors have been saying that for a long time).

    My wife had a wonderful relationship with her dad (far closer to him than any of her siblings). My dad was more of the stay-at-a-distance, don’t-show-your-feelings, awkward sort.

    Now, both dads sleep almost all the time, and neither is “all there” even when awake. It is both too early and unnecessary to make any peace with her dad. It is both too late (and was never emotionally possible) to make any peace with mine.

    So we sit and we watch, depressed and impotent.

    Death sucks. Sudden death sucks, infinitely-prolonged death sucks. Waiting for death sucks. Getting old sucks…

    I think death is the hardest part of atheism. It’s the one topic, where I can at least SEE the appeal of religion (in an ignorance-is-bliss kind of way).

    Suddenly, I don’t think I’m being very helpful. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “I think I know what you’re feeling”.

    [Except for the hateful-blog-commenters-looking-for-ways-to-inflict-emotional-pain part. I’m both male and non-famous, and thus lucky enough not to have THAT to contend with.]

    Just keep in mind how very many of us there are who think you are awesome, and who wish you well in your current difficulties. Give yourself the time you need to find your balance. [And I will try to do the same.]

    We’ll be here for you when you’re ready…

  21. 28

    Sounds similar to my own situation with my parents. Mom was dying for years, mostly due to complications from Alzheimer’s, along with heart trouble. Dad spent most of the last five years taking almost exclusive care of her (he wouldn’t let anyone else do it) and in the last months she was barely able to walk a few feet, unable to care for herself at all, and, worst of all, unable to recognize most of her family. By the time she died, back in January, she couldn’t even recognize her husband of 60+ years.

    I suspect that you’re reaction to your Dad’s passing will be similar to mine at hers: relief! Yes, there was sadness and tears. But after spending a week running back and forth to the hospital and watching her slowly fade away, the overwhelming emotion was relief. She was at rest, no more pain, no more fear. And my Dad could rest.

    Seven months later, in August, Dad died. He basically just gave up, refuse to do anything to help himself, refused treatment for his cancer, and he went fairly quickly. And again, while there was sadness, there was also relief. He had been ready to join Mom since the day she died. He finally got his wish.

    There are some things which I think may have helped me. First, in both cases, I made arrangements with the funeral parlor in advance. Much easier to do when you’re still more or less in control. And since none of us were interested in a funeral, we didn’t bother. Went direct to cremation for both of them, without all the hassle of wakes and funerals. Anyone who didn’t have the desire to see them while they were alive didn’t have the right to do so after they died.

    Second, start working on cleaning up his estate, now, before he goes. It will make things much easier later. And it gives you something to do. Believe me, there will be plenty of things to do afterwards. And there will be tears, and maybe some laughter, and somehow you’ll get through it. But getting a head start can ease that transition.

    Everyone grieves differently. Don’t feel like you have to conform to someone else’s ideas of how you should grieve. But do try to get the proper meds for your depression, as that will make the whole situation worse, as I’m sure you’re learning.

    So, you have my sympathies, and if it helps to know you’re not alone, you have that as well. And, of course, I can guarantee that you will get mightily tired of hearing, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It’s almost as bad as, “They’re in a better place now!”

  22. 29

    I’m very sorry about your father’s health and the toll it is taking on your mental health.
    I wish there was more to say, I just hope you continue to take care of yourself first, and that your life stabilizes and everything becomes more steady and easier to deal with.

  23. 31

    So sorry, Greta. It sucks.

    My father died 6 years ago, with us, at home, under hospice care. Hospice wasn’t on hand for long–from diagnosis to his death was about 15 days, and he failed very quickly: he literally was able to drive to PT for my mother and walk into the hospice office and sign himself up (he amazed them–they had never had a patient do that before), and had died 12 days later. Acute adult onset myeloid lukemia.

    The hospice folks were WONDERFUL. Let them help–which sometimes can be hard. They were utterly respectful of my father throughout; every service we saw them perform they did with gentleness and respect, talking to him like he was fully aware even after he was comotose, because, as they explained, often there is more awareness and brain activity that the patient is presenting.

    Hold on to those you love. Be kind to yourself and careful of yourself. We understand, and will be here when you’re back in full.


  24. 33

    I love the vat of cotton metaphor. So incredibly apt.

    I was on the sidelines as my dear husband went through this with his father. He had a complicated relationship with FIL, so when the strokes kept coming and leaving FIL weaker and sicker each time, Husband didn’t know what or how to feel.

    FIL lived just long enough to see us announce our daughter’s birth on Facebook, then turned 50 within a month. Our first out-of-town trip after babby was to the funeral.

    It sucks, and it’s shitty. But you do what you need to do to get past this. We’ll be here when you’re ready to return. 🙂

  25. 34

    I’m very sorry to hear about your dad. There are many of us out here who are going or have gone through the same situation and we all know how difficult it is. By all means take as much time as you need until your life settles down again.
    Having cats helps.

  26. 36

    Dear Greta Christina,

    You are awesome. If patience is required/helpful, then patience you have (from me). And sympathy. And support. And admiration. Whatever solace you derive from writing helps not only you, but also others, who either are facing or will face similar things in their own lives. You are much appreciated.

  27. 39

    Love you, Greta. I will be patient and understanding and all you ask. Perhaps these words might help you in some small way:

    The only cure for grief is action.
    G. H. Lewes, The Spanish Drama, Life of Lope De Vega

    He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.
    Eternity mourns that. ‘Tis an ill cure
    For life’s worst ills to have no time to feel them.
    Sir Henry Taylor, Philip Van Artevelde

    Nature’s first green is gold,
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her early leaf’s a flower;
    But only so an hour.
    Then leaf subsides to leaf.
    So Eden sank to grief,
    So dawn goes down to day.
    Nothing gold can stay.
    Robert Frost “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

  28. 40

    I watched my Mom slowly lose the battle to Alzheimer’s. I remember the cotton wool feeling. And the conflicting emotions; she was the first to die after I became an atheist, and there was this feeling of regret for unresolved issues, which would remain unresolved for me, if not for her.

    Do what you need to do. Take care of yourself first. If that means logging off and not checking comments or e-mail because the creeps won’t stop badgering you, do it. When it’s all over, we’ll still be here.

  29. 41


    Proto-grief schmoto-grief! Loss is loss in any increment or sequence. I just learned this the hardest way. I was ready to contact my ‘lost’ first love. Gave up on the struggle of finding her several times. This Sunday I found her obituray, she had died 3 weeks before.

    I have 38 years of loss crashing down on me. Every relationship, every interaction of my life was colored by what I experienced then.

    As your father goes, yer gonna feel all of it at every stage. There is nothing to hold back for any ‘final’ point. Its sort of like the illusion of ‘closure.’ People want it, but it is ashes in their mouths when they think they get it.


  30. 42

    My deepest sympathies. It’s coming up on a year that my own father died. He was 83. At least he went comparatively quickly – about three months from when it was first noticed that something was wrong to when he was gone, so I don’t know how I’d cope with your situation, where the one you love is dying in slow increments. Lean on the ones you love.

  31. 43

    Wow, I’m so sorry Greta. We’ve been through this three times in the past three years but fortunately had great relationships with my parents and my mom-in-law. We’re just coming up on a year since her death, the last of the three. All three of them had been in poor shape for some years before and we were the primary caregivers — both our siblings were useless.

    As others have said,take care of yourself! You may find this surprising, but one of the things that helped me keep my sanity through all of this was continuing to work! As one of my co-workers said, it was my opportunity to interact with normal people. My wife, meanwhile stayed home with her mother and spent a great deal of time looking after my folks. I’m so grateful for that, especially after she herself nearly died while staying with my parents.

    You’ve mentioned your brother. He’s going to need all the support you can give him if, as I assume, he’s the primary caregiver. Good luck and best wishes to both of you. Hug a cat for me, and I’ll hug one for you.

  32. 44

    I’m so sorry. We lost my father-in-law in June, and only received the death verdict this week, so it’s been similarly horrible.

    The only bit of advice I have is don’t feel ashamed or alarmed if your overriding emotion (when he dies) is relief. There isn’t a right or wrong way to deal.

    Dad’s was our first atheist death too. We had an amazing Humanist funeral full of laughter and love.

    I’m glad you have support. Take care.

    @MarisMae *hugs* Best of luck to you too.

  33. 45

    Very sorry to hear of your troubles. I wonder how your relationship is with your brother? Is there any comfort to be had there? During the months around my parents’ deaths (they died only three months apart, in the same hospital), my sibs and I were able to support each other; but we had it easy, in that we all had good relationships with them both, and with each other.

  34. 46

    Here’s another reason writing about these things matters: I’m just starting down a similar path myself. My mother, who I have had a very mixed relationship with (who I am close to in a love-hate, co-dependent way), has been diagnosed with cancer, after several months of health battles that I was, unfortunately, unable to be present for or help with. I am not alone, I do not think I will ever be alone in this battle, and I even have people in my life who have fought with cancer with their loved ones. There are people who care about me intensely, who will be by my side through all of this, who understand the process in a way I do not understand it yet – and yet, all of this has not been enough. I have been so hungry for information, understanding … my usual ways of coping, and it hasn’t helped. Social time doesn’t help. My relationships only help half the time – the other half I am a complete wreck and I take it out on the people I love, and I hate that because I want to be rational about it. I’m just barely able to handle how complex my life has become, and I definitely have had good days and bad days with the emotional battle. And I expect to have many more, especially when the time comes – sooner than I think – when I become my mom’s caretaker.

    It is so, so important for you to write about these things because there are so many of us out there struggling with illness in our loved ones, and the harsh realities of the relationships we have with them that the illness is bringing to light. It is so important to know *how* others in the Atheist, Skeptic, and Freethought communities deal with these issues because we do not have the solid knowledge that everything will be ok, even if that doesn’t happen until the afterlife. We can’t bullshit ourselves with trite kindnesses from holy books or personal beliefs because the entire point of eschewing these things is to deal with reality. And reality is a bitch, even on a good day.

    So thank you for being brave and writing about this. It has added a shred of sanity to my day, and hopefully that will help me be kinder to my people down the road. Thank you, thank you.

  35. 47

    Oh Greta, that is hard. Please accept these *ehugs* from me, and *headbutts* from kittehs Zeppo and Archie.

    I have the experience of dealing with the death of my father with whom I had a difficult relationship about 10 years ago now – but at least for me it was sudden. So I totally get the grief for what might have been. From the experience of other friends whose parent died more slowly, you may expect to feel relief when he dies, and often guilt for feeling that relief, even though it’s perfectly understandable.

    On depression: I’ve been there too. GO FOR A WALK. And if you can’t, then sit in the sun, and if you can’t, then lie down and listen to a guided relaxation or meditation recording. You can at least always lie down. (Mindfulness meditation is not woo. Its usefulness is backed by research, even though many “skeptics” seem to want to detract it because of its Buddhist origins. Like all music is evil because hymns, you know.) And of course, see your counsellor/psychologist and do what they say!

  36. 48

    Offering many hugs. Many, many hugs. Been there. Baby brother (15 years younger) took his own life in 2008. Husband died of sudden massive cardiac arrest in 2009. Mother, at 95, had been dying slowly, just as you described, finally achieved her goal in 2010. She was bored and uncomfortable – a woman who loved to read and craft who was nearly blind with cataracts, a woman who loved music who was almost totally deaf.
    None of those events were anything but utterly awful. I truly cannot say which was worse. At lease I could anticipate Mother’s death, I did my grieving before she died – 5 years living with us, and every week when I visited her for the last five years in a facility. (And lied to her about my brother and had to listen to her tell me to get a better husband, this time)
    Thank you for writing about this. There aren’t a lot of people left in my generation to talk about it with.
    And thank you for the concept of “stabilizing”, but at a level closer to death.
    Please take care of yourself. MAKE time for something that will rejuvenate – Music, art, travel, whatever. You really do deserve it.

  37. 50

    If you are suffering from depression, and from your description it seems highly likely you are suffering from more than just situational depression, I strongly suggest you seek therapy. You should absolutely talk to a therapist about whether or not he/she thinks you need it.

    The preferred theraputic treatment today is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy DBT by Marsha Linehan. That is what I would recommend mainly because it is a treatment modality that insurance companies will pay for because it actually works.

    You won’t like it though.

    “when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more.”

    DBT would teach you how to relate to other people so that is less likely to happen and how to deal with those you cannot change. You can actually reduces such negatives. It is absolutely possible. What I’m unsure of is whether or not you really want to. From past experience I kind of doubt it.

    Good luck.

  38. 51

    One thing I forgot to mention: Hospice was WONDERFUL! Not just in providing care before death, but in support when it actually happens. The agency we dealt with for my folks was massively disorganized but the people were awesome. My only regret was not getting my Dad on it a little sooner.

  39. 53

    I’m sorry to hear about your dad, Greta. I went through a similar thing with my grandfather and it is awful to see that slow decline. Take whatever time you need to deal with it.

  40. 54

    I wish I could do more than to offer my condolences and support. The only thing I can do is wish you well in this hard time. Thanks for the posting. Hell, thanks for blogging. It is blogs like this that has helped me find my own atheism, and even helped show me a little bit about our culture that I just didn’t see before. I don’t know if that helps, but your work here has made a difference in my life, and I’m sure others as well. And when you are ready, I’m sure you’ll continue to make a difference.

    In the meantime, do what you have to do to deal with your impending loss. Good luck.

  41. 55

    Sorry to hear about what you’re going through. I too have no qualifications in therapy and can only recommend what has worked for me in the past. As mention before, do think about mindfulness meditation and other stress reduction techniques. Get a good workbook or manual and try some of the exercises. Keep up with physical exercise and eating well, both are critical to maintain mental balance. Concentrate on the present moment and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the past or speculating about the future. Sorry I can’t do more than give a few recommendations.

  42. 56

    Sorry about your troubles, Greta. Hang in there, take care of yourself, and let those who love you take care of you. Don’t discount your feelings. Grief before death is just as legitimate as grief after death–especially in a situation like yours.

  43. 57

    Greta, I am sorry. I know, more or less how you feel, at least about the mental issues. My Dad, who I adore, has been draining away for several years now. His body is, for an 82-year-old man who abused it with excessive alcohol for many years (he came back from Viet Nam an alcoholic), is in pretty good shape. His mind is, at this point, pretty much gone. The brain that created who he was has been so badly damaged that it can no longer be my Dad.

    I’ve decided that grieving for the loss of my father is something that I was already doing and that is understandable because though his body is there, and there is a little bit of him still in there, my Dad is gone. When he dies I think I will be more relieved than anything else, if only because it will take a huge weight off my mother.

    But I have the advantage of having had a great relationship with my Dad. I have seen many times that for many people the death of a parent they didn’t get along with is more difficult to deal with than the death of a parent they did get along with.

    Anyway, I am sorry you have to deal with this. If you need to ignore us for a while, we will understand. You guys take care of each other.

  44. 58

    oh, and brenda

    DBT would teach you how to relate to other people so that is less likely to happen and how to deal with those you cannot change. You can actually reduces such negatives. It is absolutely possible

    Why would you comment on this thread with such an insult? Talk about blaming the victim.

  45. 59

    This reminds me of what happened with my mother and her father. His health deteriorated over the years too, with my mother having to be ready to have to jump to his aid on short notice (the effect on my aunt was even worse though). My mother also had a problematic relationship with my grandfather, and eventually she did not even go to the funeral (my grandfather actually requested that she *not* go to the funeral). Instead, she submitted a speech they could read at the funeral. I was surprised at how positive her speech was, and she replied ‘I didn’t say I loved him. But he could have been a monster, and he was not’.

    Now my mother gets to repeat the whole process with my grandmother. Right now my grandmother still has decent health and a pretty good quality of life, but that could change with little warning.

    Actually, I think I’ll show my mom this post. Maybe she will have some advice, or maybe she’ll only be able to offer sympathy.

  46. 60

    Reminders of why I thought it would be a good idea to be a professional freelance writer and political activist, instead of doing something easy like firefighting or nuclear physics.

    Meh, anyone can do nuclear physics. Only you can write like you do. Please take care, we’ll be here when you’re ready.

  47. 62

    My father died unexpectedly in a car accident when I was 26. No other event has so profoundly affected my life. These are some of the things I’ve learned:

    1.) Complicated, ambivalent relationships are the most difficult to grieve.
    2.) Antidepressants have their place; if you don’t have the energy to do the things that would ordinarily make you feel better, please consider at least some short-term pharmaceutical assistance.
    3.) No one dies wishing she’d spent more time at the office.
    4.) None of us gets out of here alive.
    5.) People who haven’t lost a loved one will expect you to grieve for about two weeks and then have your life return to normal. Seek out people who have been through this because they’ll get it when others don’t.

  48. 63

    First, you are a wonderful writer; thank you so much for that.

    I also have some practical tips for day to day survival during a depression:

    A couple of people have already mentioned getting outside, and I agree wholeheartedly, even if it’s just to take a phone call on the front step instead of inside the house.

    If you find it hard to eat, it may help to keep a list of foods that tend to go down easier, and refer to it when you see that it’s time for a meal.

    When you have a little mental space, make a playlist of songs that you find calming, and remind yourself to listen.

    It’s easy to feel like you’re leaning too much on others. Even though that’s not rational, it can be insidious and make you withdraw. If there’s a crisis-line you can call, it can be a pressure release to rant and rave to a stranger who’s paid to listen to you – you don’t have to worry about what anyone else needs or thinks for that short time.

    It really, honestly does get better. Even though my heart is breaking for you right now, things are so much better for me that I honestly can’t even quite remember the feeling of the cotton vat. When you’re in it, it seems like the whole of reality, but when you emerge, the world will be here for you again.

  49. 64

    Thank you so much, everybody. This means so much. It’s impossible to say how much. This was a hard piece to write, and harder to post… but I’m really glad I did. I feel much stronger, and at the same time like it’s okay for me to not always be at my best. And many of the suggestions and insights people made have been very useful, and I think are going to make a real difference.

    Oh, quick note: brenda from #50 has been banned. I see no reason to permit someone to comment in my blog who sees a post about a terminal illness in my family triggering an episode of depression, and uses it to insult me, victim-blame me, and issue sarcastic little jabs at me. Not to mention the complete and utter fail of the “there is one right way and only one right way to deal with this” approach to dealing with people suffering from mental illness. (If anyone was in doubt about people using this post as an opportunity to exploit my weakness and fuck with me… Exhibit A.) Bye.

    But I don’t want to focus on the one douchebag in the sea of awesome. And the sea is truly awesome. Being in this community means more to me than I will ever be able to say. Thanks.

  50. 65

    but I’m often finding it hard to muster the energy to do them. If I felt good enough to do them, they’d make me feel better… but I often don’t. I can’t even really get much rest or escape or distraction: the things I normally find comforting and soothing aren’t working like they usually do. And mental and emotional rest are being very hard to come by: the moment I sit still and let my brain stop with the distractions and the noise, everything starts piling in. Sleep doesn’t make me feel rested, even though all I want to do is sleep.

    Hi Greta,

    A few years ago, I went through a period where my life seemed to collapse around me and I could not make heads or tails of why. Many of the things you are describing are markedly similar to what I was experiencing.

    It took me a long time to finally figure out what was going on with me, and now that I finally have a clear understanding of it, I’ve decided to be quite open about it all because I know now that lack of knowledge in this area prolonged this unstable period in my life, and indeed contributed to creating it in the first place. I obviously don’t know enough about your own situation to give advice, but I do know my situation, and perhaps by describing it, you might be able to find something in it that might spark some ideas for you. Hope so, anyway. Here goes.

    Unfortunately, the culture we live in today still has quite a stigma attached to the topic of mental health. Part of the reason I’m open about my own mental health situation is to break down that stigma, because it is really a pointless and harmful taboo, of the same/similar kind that has kept gays, lesbians, and other folks of various sexualities in the closet. And also quite similar to the stigma that keeps many atheists in the closet.

    Consider this analogy: If I had a broken arm, or heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes, or liver disease, etc., I would just go to the doctor, find out how to deal with whatever the issue is, and I’d easily have the support and understanding of just about everyone around me. Bodily illness is ho-hum. Completely ‘normal’ and not in any way shameful or anything (at least, as far as I know, and it shouldn’t be if it happens to be in some cases or for some people).

    But it took me the longest time to finally go to a psychiatrist and get checked out because of the chaos my life was in. I certainly didn’t *feel* ‘crazy’ in the way I thought someone with a ‘real’ mental illness would. But I simply had run out of other possibilities, and the crisis in my life had built to such a point that I just plain *needed help*. Looking back on it now, I know that I had a completely unrealistic conception of mental health and mental illness, even though I was no stranger to psychology and other social sciences connected to mental health.

    But, going back to the analogy of bodily illness: of course(!) our bodies sometimes become ill; and of course we sometimes need help to heal our bodies. Our bodies are complex systems, and ‘designed’ by imperfect evolution, not by some perfect designer (ha! a connection to atheism! 🙂 ).

    Well, our brains are literally *the* most complex organs in our bodies, and of course(!) they are allowed to become ill just like any other organ — and in correspondingly complex ways, too. And these illnesses don’t even need to be ‘hard-wired’ from birth, but — like carpal tunnel syndrome or a ‘bum knee’ — our habits and patterns of behaviour (and in the case of the brain, our patterns of thinking) in life can wear and tear at our brains/minds and lead to chronic pathologies.

    But in our culture, we rarely think this way. We mostly think, “Oh, mental illness. Poor folks. I feel bad for them, but thank goodness I don’t have any mental illness.”

    I contend that, like bodily illness, mental illness comes and goes. Some is more severe than others. Some is more chronic, and some is more acute. Some we can just let ourselves heal on our own, and some we need to seek out the experts in mental health. Some we can handle, and some we can’t. I contend that most people have experienced varying degrees of mental illness at some point during their life, though most of those people do not recognize those periods as ‘mental illness’, because our culture has such a fucked up understanding of *actual* mental illness. People are so afraid and/or ashamed of mental illness that it amounts to a form of denialism in many cases.

    The stigma is undeserved, pointless, and positively harmful, since it prevents people from even thinking of the *possibility* that they could seek out help for their suffering.

    That’s where I had been most of my life.

    It turns out, I was eventually diagnosed with both depression (a form of chronic depression called dysthymia; not the more commonly known major depression), *and* anxiety (again, a less commonly acknowledged form called generalized anxiety disorder; not a phobia or OCD or something more obvious).

    To top that off (I had pretty much expected either depression or anxiety, and was a bit surprised that I had both), I also learned I had been living with undiagnosed ADHD for my entire life without having a clue that I could possibly have it. ADHD?! Aren’t those the kids that are bouncing off the walls? That’s not me! Well, it turns out (again) that I had absorbed the popular layperson’s idea of ADHD, without really having any understanding of what it really involves. Turns out that there are different kinds of ADHD and (confusingly) there’s the ‘inattentive type’ which is what I have, which doesn’t involve symptoms of hyperactivity, but only/mostly involves difficulty with focus, distraction, executive function, et al. I’m the daydreamer type. Just never had a clue that being this way *also* explained numerous other facets of my life that had perplexed me from a young age.

    Anyhow, I am no expert, just a curiosity-driven self-learner, so I am only speaking here about my own experiences and understanding of my own situation. I have no pretensions that I know what might be going on in your situation. But when you mentioned mental health, and worry, and depression, and distraction, I hope you can see why little alarm bells were ringing in my head.

    For most of my life, I’ve been living with depression and ADHD. The anxiety was the thing that threw my life into chaos, but even the anxiety was/is ultimately connected to the deeper root-cause of ADHD (when one condition is commonly associated with another, as anxiety is with ADHD, it is said to be a ‘comorbid’ condition). If I had been diagnosed much earlier in life, I would probably have had a much easier time of it, and would probably not have had to go through such a chaotic crisis period. I remember thinking, “How come nobody told me about this?!” Answer: Because very few people are open about mental health and mental illness, that’s why. And even when they talk about it, they are usually woefully misinformed about it, to boot. And that’s why I’m open about it myself, and why I’m relating this experience to you now. Even if you don’t find anything useful in it yourself, I hope some others reading this might find something in it for themselves.

    My ‘advice’ to them would simply to be to seek out a qualified mental health professional (psychiatric doctor, psychologist, or even a qualified social worker can often provide ‘first aid’ help and/or advice or referrals) and get an appointment to get assessed. Worst that can happen is to find out you’re ‘normal’ and just going through a rough patch in life. But if, like me, there’s some underlying condition that can explain the patterns in your life, merely knowing *that* will instantly improve your mental health and well-being (it was a huge *relief* to me to *finally* understand what had been messing with me since childhood). In a nutshell, my ‘advice’ would be to find and get some *expert* advice. Don’t let any stigma or taboo hold you back. Don’t let ‘Big Pharma’ conspiracy theories lead you on wild goose chases. As always, follow the evidence; the science behind mental health, mental illness, and their treatments, while not perfect (nothing is perfect, by the way 😉 ), is solid, and *today* there are dramatic improvements in treating all sorts of mental health conditions compared to just a few years ago. Letting a mental illness fester is like letting a bodily illness fester; if it doesn’t get better, it just gets worse. If it’s not healing on its own, there’s absolutely no shame in seeking help for it.

    Take care, and best wishes. You’ll get through this, Greta, whatever the case may be. Courage! 🙂



  51. 66

    Greta – I’m sorry to hear about this news. Please take time to take care of yourself and let others take care of you during this time.

    I’m glad that the compassion to noise ratio has been mostly favorable so far on this thread.

  52. 68

    Ordinarily if all I can do is offer internet hugs and best wishes, I don’t bother to comment, but I’m doing it now to make sure the ratio of signal to noise doesn’t drop.

    You’re terrific, Greta, and you deserve so much more than this.





  53. 69


    First time visitor to your page, but I have long followed your work on Alternet.

    Sorry to read about what you are going through. Never forget that family always comes first – all this will still be here when you are in a better mind for it. I know it is good to vent from personal experience – and it looks like you have a good set of ears/shoulders in your followers here. FWIW:

    We lost my wife’s grandmother some years ago and when she bacame ill and had deteriorated to a certain point, we called in hospice services to help in her care. It was the best thing we could of done. She was kept comfortable in her own home, was surrounded by family and the nurses removed just enough of the actual hard work of caring for her that everyone was able to maintain a largely positive emotional state throughout the long weeks of her gradual decline. When she finally passed, she was surrounded by her close family and she was clearly happy.

    It’s never easy, but family and friends can go a long way to easing the emotional burden. Take care of yourself and yours.

  54. 70

    I don’t have any particular wisdom or insight to offer; it’s been nearly thirty years since I lost my own father to cancer, which was fairly slow and painful and awful, but nowhere like the drawn-out ordeal you and your family have endured. But support and positive feedback I can do…

    I love you, Greta Christina. At least, I love you as much as it is possible to love someone you’ve never met or even had much direct interaction with. I’m convinced we would be fast friends, if I lived on the SF Bay area rather than the Atlantic coast. I admire your ideals, your passion, your dedication — and yes, your talent. You write brilliantly, clearly, and passionately about things I care about, often saying what I would want to say if I were a better and more dedicated writer. And it’s not just your personality and brains that shine through your writing, but your character; and from everything I’ve seen of your character in reading what you’ve written for many years now, I am absolutely convinced that you have the reserves of courage and strength necessary to sustain yourself through this long and difficult crisis, especially with the support of all the people who love you. And nowhere has that strength and courage been demonstrated better than here, in your willing and open statement of weakness: If you can be honest with not just yourself but the whole world about your pain and vulnerability, you absolutely do have the strength of character to work through that pain and come out the other side not just intact, but whole and strong.

  55. 71

    I’m glad you wrote this, Greta. When we’re dealing with such a huge burden, one that defines our lives for a while, it seems almost impossible to deal with people who don’t know what we’re going through. So I hope having made your situation with your dad public will help.

    I can’t imagine that there’s much to say at this point that hasn’t already been said. I can only second Stephanie’s wise advice and echo especially point 5 of erinaceous’s (@62). Let others feed you and make sure you have support from others who have gone through a major loss. It helps so much to have people to remind you that this is hard, especially on the days when it seems most overwhelming.

    Take good care.

  56. 72

    Thank you for sharing, Greta. I know you needed to get that off your chest, and we understand.

    You’re a terrific lady and a terrific writer. We love you just as you are, and you were well within your rights and justified in dealing with #50 as you did. I read that comment and thought “what?”.

    I’ve lost both of my parents, and their last days weren’t pretty either. Their care fell mainly on my sister. It was hard on her, but she’s pretty well recovered now. I handled both their memorials, first as an agnostic when my mother went at 98 and as an atheist when dad died at 95.

    Writing helps me also. It’s a great way to get things off one’s chest and feel relief. When I need to, I just write another blog.

  57. 73

    I too had a complicated relationship with my father. In short, I loved him but I also disliked him. When I was in my early 20s I decided it was better that we live with the continent separating us. I’m pretty sure it helped save what we had of a relationship.

    When he was in his mid-90s I spent a week with him to give my younger sister a break from being his seven-day-a-week visiting nurse. I had entertained the hope that we’d talk things out and come to an understanding between us as grown men. Unfortunately, he was fast in the grip of senile dementia and we could not communicate. His moments of lucidity were few and far between; he just wasn’t “in there” any more. But enough about me.

    You are an enormously talented writer; you can crystallize complicated situations like no one else I’ve read of late. You write with fierceness, passion, awesome logic and delightful humor. Meeting you and Ingrid in person was a huge thrill to me. Ask my wife; I was fairly babbling for several days thereafter.

    Thank you for helping me today to understand better what was going on between my ears from the time I had to give up the fantasy of getting closure on the years of conflict between me and Dad until I truly accepted that nothing from the outside was going to change our history.

    I sympathize, empathize and send my love to you and Ingrid. And the kitties. I’d send strength if I knew how.

  58. 74

    Oh, Greta. As many hugs as you need and want, freshly delivered, and wrapped with a kitty kiss (yes, I’ll ask the homicidal felid to play nice just this once).

    Haven’t time to read all the comments, so some of what I say may have been said better by others. Then again, it may be utterly useless and not said at all by the better variety o’ commenter. But here goes:

    1. Taking time away to deal with family crises, even the ones that don’t end spectacularly (or at all), does not reduce your awesome quotient by one fraction. Not a single, solitary nanometer. You can tell us to bugger off, you’re done, and you would still be one of the best bloggers on the ‘net. That’s just fact. So do, please, take all of the time you need. We will have no problem waiting.

    2. The chaos in my own life should simmer down soon, so I will put the boot in, never fear: for every one of us who needs to rotate out for a bit of R&R, there’s always dozens who are ready to take over. Poor MRAs & assoc. They haven’t a chance, really. (Also, I have quit smoking, and now have nothing to take the edge off my temper. Fair warning to any lurking assclowns reading these comments.)

    3. Depression advice from them who’s been there: all I’ve got is, do anything. Anything at all to get through it, and fuck everyone’s opinions. If you feel you need to hide away quietly until the pain eases enough for other, happier methods to work, then hide. If running is required, run. If you need help, acquire it: if you feel you need to ride it out on your own, ride. Oh, and don’t forget to give yourself permission to be rather selfish about it, because damn it, you can’t be selfless when your self is drowning. This is what I have done, and it has worked well enough – if my methods help you, yay! If not, ignore me roundly. We are all of us different, and we all need to deal with it in very different ways.

    4. Please, please, never forget: you are loved, so very, very loved. I bloody adore you, and always will. I know for a fact I am far from alone in this sentiment.

    5. Freelancing was a fantastic idea, even when it isn’t. Why do easy shit like, what was it, fighting fires? Pfft. All you need for that is water (or flame-retardant foam) and a bit of physical courage – freelancers have to wrangle words, battle deadlines, do end runs around editors, force themselves to carry on when all they really want to do is play with the kitteh – but hey, if you play with the kitteh and write about it, it’s work! Woo-hoo! Best damned job in the world, even when it feels like it’s sucking your soul. (So says the person too damned afraid to become a freelancer just yet, but is really, really close to saying, “Oh, fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen? Starvation? Ha!” I admire your courage and wish to be like you when I grow a spine.)

    6. Difficult parent, long time suffering, drains the life out of you but you can’t just abandon them – closet full of the t-shirts. You ever wish to compare fashion collections, you know where to find me. I will be here if and when you need me. Always.

    7. It definitely will get better. There’s still a hell of a lot of beauty out there waiting for you. Lots of good days and great days to come.

    8. Finally: you’re magnificent. Do not forget that. Take care of yourself, because we’ve only got one you, and we want the best for you. No matter what it takes. No matter how long.


  59. 75

    Greta, I am so sorry to hear you’re having to deal with this. I understand some of what you’re dealing with and hope you find the support and help you need to get through to the other side. I hope you feel able to take all the time you need, and know we’ll be here when you feel able to pop in, or when you return.

    Hugs to you and Ingrid.

  60. 76

    I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals or nursing care facilities seeing family members that are dying but not dead yet. It hurts. It keeps hurting. But there are people who do care for you, among them people who (like me) have never met you and may never meet you. You’ve touched a lot of lives, far more than ever speak up – you’ve helped so many people come to understand how to be an atheist, or queer, or an activist, while still retaining a sense of humor and hope. To be fierce and still compassionate and to love without being weak.

    Because you aren’t weak. The people trying to drag you down are; they are too weak to cope with your strength and so they mob you and other strong women because they fear you and they hate what they fear. You are representing change – change for the better, change for equality, change for a future that is godless and compassionate and beautiful – and they can’t stand that.

    It’s fine for you to not feel or project strength. Take refuge among the people who love you the best. Ask them to talk – about themselves, about what they’ve been doing or watching, about anything that isn’t what’s dragging you down. It helps. It helps more than you’d think. We – those who follow your writing because it is beautiful and honest – always want to read what you’re writing, whatever it’s about. Nothing will fall apart if you take time for yourself and you aren’t letting anyone down. But we will support you however we can, however you want us to. Because we value you and your contributions – your thoughts, your passion, your energy. Your joy. And when you publish a blog post, we’ll happily read it. Whatever it’s about and however infrequently it comes.

    Your writing helped me come to terms with being an atheist. You put words to many of the things I had been thinking and feeling. I respect and admire you. And I want to say, at the end of writing a too-damn-long comment, Thank you.

  61. 77

    Dear Greta

    I’m so sorry. My father had a stroke a few years ago, and lived, diminished, for nearly two years afterwards, during which time he sat in front of daytime TV, lost his ability to concentrate or read a book – he had been an avid historian and scholar – and converted to Roman Catholicism. It was a long, slow goodbye, and the few moments when ‘my dad’ re-emerged almost made it more painful. The strain of it can only be measured when it is, finally, over. (Accompanied, of course, by guilt for those insidious feelings of relief.)

    Everything bit of your writing I’ve ever read tells me you have the strength you need to get through this. I’m just one of the many, many people out here in internetland who care about you, and I am sure that if you need something from us, we’ll be here for you. Take care of yourself.

  62. 78

    I’m really sorry to hear that. I know what depression is and how hard it is to break the damned circle.

    Writing a few words expressing sympathy is nothing and I’m doing this with a feeling of futility. Anyway … well, just think sometimes that apart from the followers and haters, there are also people who respect and admire you even though they do not share many of your views. Although it doesn’t make any real difference, I hope at least that you don’t mind hearing from one of them: take care of yourself and come back as soon as you can!

    All the best to you.

  63. 79

    Just as a general note to you, Greta, and anyone else who is dealing with stress or anxiety, here is the workbook that I’ve used in the past, though it was a few editions back for me. Some people seem to think it’s grown to an overwhelming size, but it’s really a compendium of just about every stress reduction technique known, so the great thing is you can pick and choose the ones that work for you.
    I remember one blurb saying that after using it for a while, just picking it up and opening the pages serves as an instant stress reduction, and I found that this was actually true!

    Perhaps this will help.

  64. 80

    I don’t comment often, but I’ve been reading your blog regularly for at least a year now, and before that I’d often find your blog through links and think, “I really should add this blog to my RSS feed.”

    Anyway, no idea if it helps coming from a stranger, but my grandfather was dying of cancer for a few years when I was in high school. It became the new normal and in my senior year when the call came that he had passed away it was still kind of a shock. It sounds odd, but it was. I had a good relationship with my grandfather and yet there was relief that the ordeal was finally over. So relief mixed with grief.

    I guess I’m putting this out there so you have an idea that possibly you’ll feel these things. Everyone’s different of course, but grief can bring some strange and mixed feelings with it.

    *hugs* I’m all in favor of people taking the time and space they need. If you blog less, it’s our loss, but your well being has to come first. And I for one fully support you doing whatever you need for your well-being.

  65. 81

    Greta, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. I know I don’t comment here much, but I want you to know that you have been an inspiration to me, and to many other people, for quite a while now. You’ve helped to make this movement a place that I actually want to be, and I cannot thank you enough for that. Please don’t feel guilty if you have to take some time off or if you don’t post as frequently. We care about you, and that means that we care about your health and well-being, not just your blog posts. You’re the only Greta we’ve got, after all. After everything you’ve done to help and support the movement, you deserve a little love and support for yourself.
    Take care of yourself. We’ll be here to love and support you no matter what.

  66. 82

    Good luck and think of yourself first not us fans of your blog. Will be interested to read how you deal with it all when you are able to put more into words as this was a great post. Like many here I’ve got an elderly parent who unfortunately looks to be in a slow decline and it is not easy to make sense of.

  67. 83

    Hello, Greta;

    Just downloaded your book the other day on my Kindle (how clever to have links embedded in the text! I haven’t seen that from anyone else). I haven’t finished it yet, but so far I have to say it’s brilliant (well, naturally it is, since I agree with everything you’ve said so far!). I don’t know how you and this blog have managed to stay under my radar all this time, but I’m very happy to have found you!

    Of course, having just registered here like 5 seconds ago I feel goofy going into anything personal, but my happiness at finding you and everyone here was tempered when I read about what you are going through. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, but I definitely have “faith” that you’ll pull through it – maybe with a little help from your friends.

    My own father died just last year from cancer. From diagnosis to death was less than two months. The funny thing about it was (odd / ironic funny) everyone kept going on about how horrible the whole thing was – and it was – but still I couldn’t help feeling that we lucked out in a way: his death was slow enough to allow all his friends and family from around the country a chance to come and say goodbye, yet quick enough that it didn’t completely drain everyone financially and mentally. I couldn’t say that out loud until now. Please take care of yourself!


  68. 84

    Greta, taking time away from your job makes you human, not weak. Anyone with a modicum of empathy understands that losing a father is incredibly difficult and sad. I’m so sorry about your dad.

    A slow or staggered decline towards death is a draining thing for all involved. The grief is daily, because the loss is constant. There is also the fear of more grief when death actually occurs, and the guilt of sometimes wishing it would come sooner, and the guilt of a million what-might-have-beens.
    This is a huge emotional drain that leaves little energy for other daily activities or thoughts. When your overwhelming emotion is grief, it is difficult to feel happiness. It is often easier to shut down all feelings rather than put energy towards happiness, however small.

    I’m glad you have a supportive wife and friends in real life. I’m glad you have an excellent brain and critical thinking skills, because you have identified in the past some things that help you revitalise and stop a downward spiral. I remember a post you did a long time ago (maybe pre-FTB?) about how you make sure to go outside for a walk most days, and eat foods that make you feel energised.
    I would recommend a weekly or fortnightly session with a therapist. It is good to talk through things with an impartial person who can also help you see if you need any extra help.

    You are an inspirational woman who has personally helped me become a better human being.
    I hope you take some strength from all your supporters and friends here. Hugs.

  69. 85

    I just wanted to add my words of support.
    We all understand what you are going through. My husband put it very well – “We used to be the sandwich generation, but we have very quickly become the crust”.
    It was the stress of my mother-in-law’s illness and passing that caused my autoimmune symptoms to surface.
    Take time to take care of yourself, whatever that means having to do. All of your readers here at FTB will be here to eagerly read your blog when you are ready to post, and we’ll have your back when you need it.

  70. 86


    I don’t know what else I can add. All of the above, with the obvious exception of fuckwit Brenda, I suppose. Something I’ve always said about sharing your troubles: any burden is lighter when it’s carried by many hands. We’ll all help you carry this. Take all the time you need.


  71. 87

    I just want to add another batch of {{{hugs}}} to the pile. I’m so sorry you have to deal with something so unbearably hard, and I just hope you and your family have a lot of support together and friends all around you.

  72. 88

    Take all the time you need. Let the kitties do the cuddles that can’t get through the electronics from the rest of us. Be kind to yourself.

    And there’s one thing I’ve learned (I’m a fair bit older than you) from several deaths in my family, even if it’s not a surprise after a long illness it will still be a shock when the end comes. You won’t feel prepared for the jolt even though you might think you should be.

    Just feel what you feel. Move through at the pace that’s best for you. We’ll all be here.

  73. 89


    First, many hugs. I’m sorry mine are a bit late.

    Second, if you haven’t already, do contact Josh. I only “know” him from online contacts, but even so, I’m utterly convinced he can help.

    Finally (and I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if someone has already made this point), speaking from my own experience, when your father does pass away, one part of what you feel may be relief that the ordeal is over, both for you and for others who love him. Please forgive yourself in advance for this: It is natural and rational, and in no way will it diminish your father’s memory.

    Peace, and be well.

  74. 90

    Dear Greta: *hugs* and *purrs* for you. What d-dave said, what Stephanie said, and erinaceous and Thorne. Getting outside, walking, nusic and food and trusting Ingrid and doing what you need to do. And talk to Josh–he is solid.

    I second the recommendation to relax and meditate, even if that’s only watching your breathing or breathing in light and breathing out the stains of the day.

    I went through it with my parents, as most people have to sooner or later, and to some extent with uncles and cousins. One thing that helped me to be patient and do what I could was remembering that for me it was an interval but for them it was the rest of their life. After my mother had a stroke, communication was reduced to charades and we didn’t always understand each other. I couldn’t do everything she wanted, but I was there as much as I could be. I didn’t like my father much but I did everything I could or should do, so I could let him go without feeling guilty.

    This is time you need to take for yourself. We’ll be here when you get around to us.

  75. 92

    I’ve seen this with my grandmother and mother-in-law, so yeah, I have some idea of just how tough it is. I can only agree with Bill#89- remember to take care of yourself and how you feel too.

    One thing I wanted to mention- love is a lot harder than hate. The flying monkeys have their own stupid reasons and they’re not really worth worrying about. But the people who love you – both in your personal life and your online life – they love you because you earned it and you deserve it, so please remember that.

  76. 93

    Take care of yourself first. Filter your inbox heavily.
    Better yet, get a new email address and share it privately with a few friends, if you don’t already.
    There’s no value in reading the dreadful attacks your haters will send.

  77. mrp

    Random stranger who loves your blog here. Your blog has opened my eyes in many ways on issues of gender equality and LGBT issues. So thank you for that, and all the best wishes not just now but for your future as well.

  78. 96

    Hello Greta,

    Delivering such a clearcut description of a highly complex situation – thereby helping others who go through the same thing but have trouble putting words to it – while at the same time doing something for yourself by getting it off your chest is rather awsome. I thank you for it. Can´t really do anything else for you so I´ll just wish: I wish you love, sleep, strength, placidity, joy, and anything else you need to take care of yourself.

  79. 97

    I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, Greta. My best wishes for dealing with everything, and i hope you have a strong local support network.

  80. 98

    I also just want to add my best wishes to you and your family.

    Also, I really hope that you consider being extra selective about reading your emails, or maybe even find a trusted friend to screen them for you. You don’t need it, neither does Ingrid.

    It fills me with sorrow and anger to imagine you (or anyone) having to read those anytime, but especially now. Maybe cutting out a large portion of that awfulness will let you focus on more important things. You can always put the armor back on later, it will be there waiting for you just like the assholes 😉

    And Stephanie’s food suggestion was pure awesome. I’ve done this for friends and it feels really good to do something small to help, so even if you are reluctant to accept help for your own sake, you can accept it for theirs guilt-free. And I’ve received it and that’s pretty awesome too!

    Take care, I’m sending you virtual asiago sage au gratin potatoes because they are so delicious that not even depression and misogynist assholes can overcome them 🙂 They are indeed even better than hugs!

  81. 101

    Oh, Greta — I am soooo sorry for the pain and suffering you are going through. I have not been reading your wonderful blogs for all that long, but I love what I have read. Please know that we all love you (trolls don’t count!) and I hope you can take whatever time off that you need. Please don’t think that you are letting us down by stopping blogging for a while. Please take care of yourself. We readers can wait as long as need be for you to feel up to blogging again. You are wonderful! You are loved

    I don’t know you, but I send virtual hugs to you when you feel ready for them. {{{{{{Greta}}}}}

  82. 103

    Hugs. Sorry you have to go through this.

    I understand the concern about your “first atheist death”.
    For me, that was my grandmother’s sudden passing about a year ago. When my mom first called to tell me, I just felt numb. I worried about what follows numbness for atheists. I thought that while family would have their comforting ideas about an afterlife, I would be the only one dealing with the cold, dark realities of finality

    Personally, I found that in many ways, grieving based on reality was easier than grieving based on fairy tales. As a theist, I had to handle my feelings while dealing with other worries. I mean, if a loved one goes on a trip, you want to know what kind of place they are staying at, how their experience is going and so on. An email or phone call home to let you know they’ve arrived safely is always appreciated. As a theist, it was hard not only to deal with the loss, but that there was no “call home”. I was left to wonder did that person go to heaven or hell? I could only speculate where they were, who they were with, what they were doing.

    While my family shared their ideas on what my grandmother was doing in heaven, I realized I was glad that I didn’t need that. I felt I had closure on that, and even though the idea of ceasing to exist isn’t as warm and fuzzy as pearly gates and angels, that closure at least left me free to just be sad and remember the good times without all that extra worry nagging at me.

    I hope you have all the support you need nearby. I wish I could do more than just send hugs and support online. If there is anything I can do through the internet, you need only ask.

    Hugs again.

  83. 104

    Much empathy with you, Greta. I think dealing with family members who have strokes and lose their ability to easily communicate can be one of the hardest things in the world. It makes *everything* jus that much harder. Both my grandmothers suffered that. It makes a messy, for want of a better word, end to a life.

    and as others have said, there are plenty of people to deal with misogynists. Take a nap, cuddle a cat and enjoy a small break.

  84. 105


    So sorry to hear about your current situation. I lost my Mom only about a month ago (first significant death in family of my adult life) and I can relate to much of what you write. One of the most difficult aspects of grieving is the feeling of detachment that it makes you feel towards everyone else. We can talk to our spouse/lover/best friend or whoever, but it still doesn’t change the fact that much of what we’re going through is beyond their ability to truly relate to. You can feel like you have 100% love and support from the people who matter and yet at the same time feel incredibly alone. To make matters worse, if you are like me, you don’t want to be an undue burden on them which may make you hesitant to lean on them in the way that you need to in order to let your healing progress. Anyways, a couple things that I think are worth keeping in mind. None of them will magically get you back to normal, but they may help in some way.

    1.) Fuck pride! Your friends and loved ones are there for you. Some may be better suited or more willing to lend the support you need, and I’m sure you can figure out which ones those are, but remember that moments like these are what friends and family are for. Don’t be ashamed of asking for help even if it’s only for them to sit there while you talk about whatever is on your mind. It’s such a crucial element of the healing process imo. Don’t let pride get in the way of your recovery. That would be just silly, no?

    2.) There’s no short-cut through grieving. It takes time. And everybody does it at their own pace and in their own way. But nobody ends up healthy without it. Don’t feel like you have to be ready to be social, blog more, or whatever before YOU are ready.

    3.) Professional counseling is invaluable. Our friends may offer great support and insight but nothing beats a professional for helping you heal. I know for me, I felt much better speaking with a counselor precisely because I knew it was his job to sit there and listen. I didn’t feel like a burden the way I may have with friends. And the pros really do know how to guide the discussion and do all sorts of other things that lay-people do not.

    4.) It gets better. There will be ups and downs but remember that it does get better in time. Your outlook will change. And you will heal. You can’t skip right to the bright-sunny future, but it is out there and you will get there eventually. Life goes on. There’s really no other option.

    5.) You’re not alone. Every human being goes through something similar (often multiple times) in their lives. I am often surprised when I mention my recent loss how even strangers will open up and share their own tales which are often far worse than mine. We are all in this together. No one here gets out alive. Something about the universal nature of these things gave me an odd sense of comfort.

    6.) Depression is a common and natural result of trauma. There really is no stigma involved. Being depressed is not a sign of weakness or anything negative. Anyone who thinks that is an asshole. Fuck ’em. They’re wrong.

    Anyways, I hope these help in some way. I only recently discovered your blog and have become a big fan of what you’re doing here. Angry Atheism, emphasis on social justice, body-image/sex issues, Project Runway recaps…all great things. Can’t wait to read your book. Hang in there.

  85. 106

    Sorry to hear about you’re situation. My mum died when I was 15 I’m 51 now and still remember the good times. My dad died recently after a week in hospital. Very quick and sudden. I’m still a bit shocked about it. It’s true what they say that time is he healer. Just want you to know that you’re in my thoughts. I know I’m a total stranger to you but you’re story reminds me that real people exist behind all the blogs. Thanks for sharing.

  86. 107

    Having someone else filter your emails is a good idea; you’ve got enough to deal with right now. People want to help; let them; you’ll both feel better. Don’t get trapped in “if only” scenarios; your relationship with your father is what it is (this is how I dealt with my mother’s last years).

    Stand up, hold your arms out to your side, tilt your head back, and breathe.

    Best of everything to you.

  87. 108

    My dad died of cancer in June. Just adding another voice to the people who appreciate your writing and empathize with you. Thanks for being instrumental in educating me about LGBT issues and for helping crystallize my views on life, the universe & everything.

    Best wishes

  88. 109

    I really like you Greta. Your writing is mix of empathy and compassion and logic and clarity. I hope you feel better soon.

    I don’t have it in me right now, but I feel like I’m letting down the side

    No one should or will think that. You have to prioritise, and if “the side” comes anywhere near the top right now, you’re doing it wrong.

  89. 110

    You have tremendous courage to write about all sorts of subjects you regularly tackle publicly, but especially something so personal and unresolved while the pain is still fresh. I’m just a stranger on the internet but I want to chime in and say that I appreciate your writing and I hope you find strength and healing during such a painful and stressful situation. I can identify with the experience of losing someone slowly; I caught myself a while back telling a story about my grandfather, starting to say “when Grandpa was alive,” but he’s not dead, just the part of him that I used to be able to communicate with. Take as much time as you need for a break and rest assured that in spite of all the vitriol around here lately, there are so many of us who are grateful for your voice.

  90. 116


    First time I’ve ever seen someone in the atheist community discuss what it is like to go through a prolonged illness of a loved one, and what you’ve said about the proto-grief, the new normal, the “it could be today, or years from now” mentality is spot on.

    My father died last year, due to complications from a rare, degenerative form of Arthritis called Ankylosingspondylitis. He was 59. Since my father was sick for such a long time, I had basically been grieving for him for 10+ years when he passed away. My sister and I were in our preteens when he started to decline, and I think that his illness was the single most formative/damaging event of my young life. We have both talked about how we experienced profound alienation from our peers, few of whom had any inkling of what it was like to live with a parent with a serious and very prolonged illness.

    Last year when he died, all of this was further complicated by the fact that while not an atheist in name, my father was about as far from the Catholic religious mold he was raised with as it is possible to be without calling yourself one. He said that he thought there might be some sort of higher order out there (of what nature he didn’t specify), but that it was arrogant for people to assume that they could have direct communication with it. Having had these sorts of conversations with my father often, I think that the principle he was operating ion was the same one as arguing that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth. He was a very broad-minded and free-thinking individual, and raised his children to be the same, which I think might be why, of all our cousins, my sister and I are the only ones who identify as atheist.

    Naturally, this became an issue during his final days and later, the funeral. My father’s sisters invented a deathbed conversion, claiming that my father had “seen God” at the last minute. This “conversion” was parsed out of thin air through liberally interpreted comments my father made while under the influence of a lot of morphine. But once it had been invented, my father decided to let his sisters believe what they wanted to believe because he thought it would make his passing easier for them. This supposed conversion became a topic of discussion at the funeral, and is still frequently brought up by my aunts.

    The erasure of my father’s skeptical identity is something that my sister and I continue to find very hurtful. Losing him at such a young age was compounded by the fact that his prolonged illness was difficult to explain, and the nature of his disability rare and unusual. There have been times when I think it would have even been easier if I could have encapsulated my father’s illness with a single word, like cancer – as opposed to “he has a rare degenerative form of arthritis, no, not like how your grandmother’s hands are stiff when she gardens, it affects his entire body, he has joint fusion and his rib cage is tightening around his chest, so now he has heart problems.”

    This escalating series of problems that became “the new normal” became, over time, part of how I knew him as my dad. It was all I knew, and yet, as I was growing up I was never free of this pressing feeling of grief in my chest. In the year since his death, I’ve continually dealt with the realization that what I dreaded and anticipated for so long has come to pass.

    My condolences (and apologies, I did not mean to post such a long comment). I have been through what you are going through, and it is not an easy place, by any stretch of the imagination.

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