What Grieving has Taught us…Help!

It has been two years since I last touched his face, two years since I held his hand, two years since I hugged him, told him I loved him, watched him walk out the front door, begged him to come home, and then sat in a hospital room trying to understand how this ended with him gone, how would I ever explain his fate to our children?  How could I leave this cold hospital room with him?  What was I supposed to do when I got home?  I went over a million questions, a million different ways for almost a year and half before my brain exhausted every possibility that could change our fate and then, I gave up trying.  That is the trauma that stems from sudden death, unintentionally and completely preventable death.  What started as a cry for help ended with a choice taken away from us both.

Nine days ago it was impossible to even wrap my mind around these circumstances.  In fact, it still is impossible as I often wait for him to come through the front door. My mind will still often wonder if he will walk in and say this was all part of some C.I.A scheme he was a part of and we have to leave the country and run away together and tell no one – and I wouldn’t think twice about it.  I even fantasize about this. What country would we flee to? I can imagine myself packing up our kids as quickly as I could and letting him whisk us away, if it meant that our family could be whole again, that we could somehow piece together what normal life I thought we had.  But the truth is, war tarnished him, and no matter how many times he told me how awful it was, how ashamed he was of this disease, how much hate he couldn’t alleviate from his heart, I continued to live in an ignorantly blissful life where I thought, “That could never be us”.  It could never be us who would face tragedy, it would never be my son who would suffer from traumatic grief, life-altering depression, and his own battle with his purpose in this life; nope, not him. Not our daughter, not our spunky, spice of life who would one day ask every male she knew if they were here daddy.  Who would try and make sense of this missing person in her life by saying, “My daddy is coming to pick me up, he’s at the store” – her excuse to her school-mates as she tries to fit in with their seemingly “normal” family with a mom and dad.  Yet, here we are. I never envisioned myself as a single-mom. Not like this. Yet we have no choice but to make awkward conversations and this new life as unapologetically and tragic as it is, possible.

I often run into old friends around town who politely ask how I am doing, how the kids are? It’s comforting and it’s always welcome, but I can see the pain in their eyes, too.  I can feel the awkward energy, I will embrace the eye-avoiding side hugs and the urge to resist saying his name until they can’t any longer and then apologize for making me sad or reminding me about this tragedy – as if I don’t think about it 24/7 already.  What I try to let everyone know is that I am never not thinking about my dead husband or how he died, every second of every day it’s on my mind.  Maybe not the forefront, because I have to work, I love to work and when I’m at work I’m fully focused; but he’s there, in the back of my mind. I sometimes glance at the small picture on my work desk of him, I look down at the dark blue gemstone on my wrist that’s a reminder to me of him (his birthstone). He’s there, his memory is everywhere and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life – so do not worry about reminding me of him, do not worry about making me sad because these are the two most important parts of my being, now. I enjoy hearing random old stories, especially at the most unexpected times; even in the cereal aisle at the supermarket.  So, thank you for coming up to me and ‘reminding’ me of my husband, saying his name, sharing a story, and asking how his family is doing – that means he will stay alive in some way. It means that I am not carrying this burden alone, that even for a brief moment by mentioning his name and memory you are taking a little piece of this grief off my shoulders and carrying it for me.

I woke up one early morning after a nightmare, that I don’t even remember now, but I remember that I no longer had the instinct to look to him for comfort after I woke. I had to rely on myself to either get out of bed and get a drink of water or try and forget the awful feeling the nightmare left me with. I chose to roll over and try to forget.  The sadness of not having him around for comfort lingered a little while and then I realized that maybe I was in a new ‘stage’ of grief. Nothing pulled me out of bed to look for him, I woke up and ‘knew’ he was no longer here – as if my brain had accepted it. A year ago, I would have woken up from a bad dream and reached over to his side of the bed, maybe even got up to go look around the house for him before my brain processed that he is dead. Not this night, this night I came to realize for the first time that my initial instinct wasn’t to find him, but to rely on my own strength to get through this. I know it might seem like a small feat (putting myself back to bed after a bad dream), but there have been others; such as: balancing my time between two kids and a full-time job, tending to two sick children at once, scheduling doctor’s appointments, making major decisions like: should I sell my car? opening a new line of credit, moving forward with our plans to build a new home, finding someone to change the light bulbs in our house, I could go on. But from little to big feats, discovering life without my partner of 10 years continues to be a struggle and but now I feel like I have a little more confidence that I can do this alone and by alone I mean, knowing when to call and ask a friend or family member for help. I’ve learned what the saying, “It takes a village” really means – I have needed to ask for help so many times but I stubbornly avoided doing so with the mind set that I could do it all, with our without my husband, all I needed was hope. But eventually, hope failed me, I couldn’t hope to make it in time to pick up my son after school when a work crisis happened. I couldn’t hope that dinner would make itself. I also couldn’t hope that I would get a break from the daily grind. I needed more, I needed help. I realized this one day when I saw that four lightbulbs had burnt out in my house and I couldn’t reach half of them and if I didn’t ask for help, soon we’d be living a much darker life (pun intended). So, I called my brother-in-law, it was that easy.  Soon I got a little braver and my stubborn need for independence declined and I began to ask for more help. I needed someone to pick up my son from school a couple days a week so, my mother-in-law helped; I needed someone to watch my kids overnight while I was out of town for work every month so, my parents helped; I needed a night a out with adult friends – my sister and my nieces, they helped; I needed help figuring out my sons math homework – my brother helped.  Asking for help started out as foreign to me, something I would never do, because I was determined to do it alone. It turns out that asking for help is what eases the pain of grief – too. Asking for help doesn’t mean I am helpless or that I’m not a good single mom, it means I’m human and it takes a village to raise a family! From a bad dream to light bulbs I have figured out that there are some things I am really good at doing alone and there are others that I need to find reinforcements for. The goal isn’t to be a superhero, because even superheroes have side-kicks, but grief has really knocked me down and humbled me – a lot these past two years. I have had to pick myself up from deep depressing waves of grief and keep going for our children, to make sure that their childhood is still a memorable one. To be able to hold them when grief overwhelms them and to know when I need to call in my side-kicks.  I have also learned to appreciate the little and big moments in life that I often took for granted – when I was still blissfully ignorant. I have learned to appreciate the perfect New Mexico sunsets, the rare rainy days in the desert, the panting of an excited dog when I get home, the uncontrollable laughter of my children, the perfectly blended and lightly sweetened iced tea in the summer, and the perfect picture that hangs on the wall in my living room – of Josh rubbing his forehead on Sawyer, his service dog. With the depth of such a tragedy comes a new depth of love and appreciation for the first water droplet of a desert monsoon season to the hug of a child telling me “I love you, mom”.

 

 

38.

It’s been two weeks since your 38th birthday now.  I’ve been needing to write since then but haven’t given myself the time – maybe subconsciously because I know how hard this has been.  I have honestly been starting and stopping this process since before your birthday even happened.  I have been busy writing though, but a lot of it hasn’t been focused on the present.

I dreamt about you last night – it’s been a while.  In fact when I do dream of you, my awareness now is that you’re no longer here. I do dream about the loss, I dream of intense sadness, but I’m no longer searching for you in dreams or nightmares, but rather sitting in silence wondering what to do now. Last night though, I dreamt of you alive again. I dreamt that I was out of town for work, but when I would be coming home, you would be leaving.  So we decided to meet in a town that was between us – passing each other by. My alarm woke me up – I hit snooze wanting to go back to sleep to finish this dream and for a short moment forgot you were dead. I sat up back into this reality – angry again. I sat up and just stayed up angry.  I knew that even if I wanted to go back to sleep and finish that dream, it was only a dream.

I wrote down a dream I had four months ago and found that note last week in a notebook. I don’t remember this dream – but I wrote down that I dreamt I was living in an apartment and looking out into a street where I felt intense sorrow and grief.  In this dream I told myself – “I have never felt this sad in my life and I want it to go away.” I stood out on the balcony of this apartment and watched the sunset trying to remember a time in my life when I felt anything like I was feeling then. I guess I woke up after this. The next thing I wrote was, “Turned around in bed and tried to let it sink in that he will never lie there again.”  I don’t know why I don’t remember this happening four months ago – but it must have. But I guess since then I have noticed that in day-to-day moments I have sporadic scenes of sadness that I try to sit with and just feel what is happening.

We are getting close to closing two years without you and I’m still wondering what the hell just happened? I don’t know if that will ever go away.  But I find myself in really intense conversations with someone or a thought on my own trying to piece together what happened and get my brain to catch up and realize that I really am living a life without you now.  Sometimes I feel like I’m a bystander watching my life happen and play out and I struggle to accept that I really am living without you – that our family really went through something so traumatic and damaging that after two years we still cannot accept that you are gone. I still feel anxious around 6 o’clock on a weekday because my mind and my body are still waiting for you to walk through the door. I will say that I have more of a grip on reality than I did a year ago – so that has to count for something, right?

A few months ago I googled, “Can grief make you crazy?”  I only found one article that made me feel better and it was titled, “Most widows see or hear their dead loved ones….for years”. I shut my laptop and quietly whispered, “Thank God!” I felt so much validation from this title I didn’t even need to read the article. I have come to find out though that this phenomenon is known as “Post Bereavement Hallucinatory Experiences” and 6 out of 10 widows experience it…apparently for years. There is very little research on this so I’m just going to say that it’s phantom loss (like losing a limb) and I don’t need antipsychotics. I remember writing shortly after you died that I could hear the alarm for the door ring around the time you would get home from work.  I would see your face in Johnathan’s G.I. Joe’s and would stop to take second glances. In strangers faces. I would wake up looking for you because I thought I heard your voice across the house. I would smell your cologne. Jump up feeling your touch. It’s less now. It’s more quiet, less intense. I feel your presence vs. I feel your touch; I think of your voice vs. I hear it out loud; I admire familiar faces of you vs. I see you everywhere. But just having that little bit of validation that I’m not really crazy made me feel relieved.  That’s when all this phantom-like symptoms started to diminish – I think anyway.

I will never accept that you didn’t make it to 38 and that you only got 36. I will never accept that our daughter will never remember you and that she will only learn about you. I will never accept that our son is forever changed by your loss and that he will have to learn how to heal. He is an old soul now, considerate, caring, wise beyond any other kid I know his age. He is most patient with me. He is proud of you. He is determined. But he is also sad, so sad all the damn time. Today he described himself as a sad boy. He talked about being able to feel happy many times throughout the day and most days, but that he is forever sad. He said is also afraid, he is always afraid. No matter how much we have all reassured his safety out loud, he still feels very afraid.  We talked about imagining a safe place today – he came up with a basement.  An impenetrable basement with diamonds and crystals with lots of light and doors that had padlocks to keep all the people he loved safe – including you.  Just when I thought he had accomplished creating this safe little place he could imagine in his mind, it was tarnished.  He said, “But someone could find us…they would hear us laughing and playing. They would want to take my dad anyway.”  I tried again tonight at home in our bed to guide him to imagine another safe place.  “Pick another one” I said. He closed his eyes and said, “There is no place in the world I could ever be safe, mom.  I could never keep us safe”.  I felt my heart break into a million pieces, I silently let tears out and whispered to him to pick something magical then, something that doesn’t exist on this earth. He described a new planet, way up near heaven. The colors are purple, pink, and blue. Only happiness exists, there are no evil people who wanted to kill dad in war. There is no need for officers.  Every one is kind to one another. And no one would stop visiting us because they don’t know what to say. I held his hand and told him that sounded beautiful. He looked at me and said, “I feel like we are aliens in this world. None of our friends talk to us anymore” – not true of course, but he has come to realize that grief and death is awkward for a lot of people. Some feel guilty for not keeping in touch and so they just stop. He knows it and feels it. Johnathan just wants those people to know that he still loves them too, misses them and doesn’t want to be an alien in their life. Sometimes it’s ok to let people go when the hardest things in life happen. We have had so many family and friends come closer into our circle.  I’m so thankful for those people who aren’t afraid to jump into the fire with us.  Who still text me and ask how we are doing – randomly. Who call on a Tuesday on the way home for work just to say, “Hi”.  Who get on Johnathan’s eye level and say, “I bet your dad is proud”.  Thank you to those who have stuck by us, I know Josh has kept you close for the most important reasons. Even though we sometimes feel like aliens, those who have kept us close have also made us feel human again. If we ever find this new planet, we are taking you all with us!

 

Josh, I love you, I miss you, I want you home.

I Think You Would Be Proud.

I can’t believe we have a 3rd grader, yet here we are. The first day of school he was ready, excited, and motivated. I on the other hand was nervous and on the verge of tears; also slightly angry and annoyed that you weren’t around for support for my irrational thinking of the expectations for third graders. We are almost at the end of the first week of school and I’m thinking I have a better grip at this single mom life than I did last year – in fact I know that’s true. I have less foggy-ness in my brain, I can remember important things without having to write them all down, I feel more calm and “kept together”.  All-in-all I don’t feel like I’m losing my mind and I’m not always fatigued. Grief really takes a toll on you when you don’t really notice or expect it. I’m glad I’m crawling out of this.  But don’t get me wrong, grief will sneak up and swallow you back in at any given chance.

I am mourning summer vacation. There were a lot of memories made without you – which I still can’t wrap my mind around.  Johnathan was brave and wanted to move his birthday party back to Chuck E Cheese. The last birthday he celebrated there was with you and it was a Star Wars theme.  This year he wanted the same theme in honor of the last party we celebrated with you there. It was fun and I missed you running off to play the arcade games with this kids, which always drove me nuts because I always needed help at the table setting up and greeting guests. I did my best to balance both. We ended his birthday celebration with a concert to see Imagine Dragons. We made an entire weekend of it. It was his last birthday gift from me and it was a blast. He sang along to every song he knew and did Bella. I however was not emotionally prepared for the message in this concert. I loved every moment of it and my favorite part was turning to my sister in complete tears when Dan Reynolds talked about mental health, suicide, and counseling. A message he has been spreading at every concert event that just hit close to home and I was so proud to hear that message being sent to thousands of people from young to old. Of course this happened during a song that hits very close to home – that will always remind me of you that you loved – if there was ever one imagine dragons song you ever heard it was this:

I know that there is a long road ahead of us to recovery from this grief. But it feels like we’ve come so far already. There are moments that stop us, that we have to pull over and cry. That our days are ruined because of the inconvenience of grief. It isn’t fair and it’s so wrong in so many ways. But we continue to live the life you didn’t get to finish and that will always be our new mission in life.

I love you, I miss you, and I want you home.

The Journey Begins

 

Winnie The Pooh

I do my best to keep myself busy everyday. Never alone in my thoughts for more than a couple hours.  Tonight, I’ve been sitting here alone for the first time in maybe a year for more than 4 hours and grief has engulfed me again.  I hate it.  I would never wish this amount of loneliness and heart-break on anyone.  I tried to read, tried to study some new training material, spent way too much time than I care to admit on social media before I had to shut it off and just accept that this is how I’m feeling; for right now.

Last week was our anniversary and it was good and bad; but not easier. I was busy with the holiday and family which was good, but I could feel the irritability and sadness of grief creep up every now and then.  I did my best to keep the kids smiling and moving forward with the plans and I think I succeeded really well, better than last year anyway. I met with a new holistic helper last week who told me I need to schedule my grief because I don’t allow it to come naturally and this is so true; especially for holiday’s and anniversary’s. I will admit I haven’t kept one appointment for grief on my calendar like I had wanted. I can meet every appointment, event and practice in my calendar except grief.  “Just 10 minutes everyday” she said.  So easy, right? NO. I try and try and it won’t come. But tonight it has, it was forced upon me because I’m alone and I can’t even distract myself from it. I swear she was put in path for a reason. When I finally walked in to meet her and tell her my story, she reached over and with tears in her eyes told she suffered immense traumatic loss of her partner around my age.  The most profound thing I had to accept was her wisdom of this type of grief, that as I grieve your loss I will also have to grieve the loss of who I was then.  We had a deep conversation about this and I reflected a lot on who I was then and how I have begun to emerge as a new person; we talked about what changes in myself I have noticed:

1. I’m more sad, every day.

2. I’m kinder and in some ways more patient.

3. More emotional and tearful in any instance.

4.  When I do laugh, I notice the sadness behind it and appreciate the laughter that leads it when it comes.

5.  You are never not on my mind.

6. Trauma reminders make me angry and rarely sad anymore.

7. I am just as deeply upset as the ones around me that my personality has changed and evolved to something deeper and sadder.

8. I am more aware.

9. I am more capable.

10.  I am wiser.

I’ve dreamt of you every night this week. The dreams have been more like subtle nightmares. I’m searching for you again, you’ve gone missing, you won’t answer your phone, no one has seen you, you just disappeared from earth with no warning, I’m angry, afraid for your safety, I file missing person reports, I try to move on.  Same dream that occasionally plays on repeat. I wake up in a panic, frantic looking around for you, and struggle to fall back asleep. The hardest part is falling back asleep, I never can.  I have to sleep with a T.V. on in case I wake up from a nightmare because there is nothing worse than waking up from a nightmare in complete darkness and quiet – that amount of loneliness I could never handle.

This is more than I could handle.

I love you. I miss you. I want you home