The “Blurter”

I miss Jake.  I don’t just miss him.  There isn’t an actual word for what this is.  This is deep in your soul, gut wrenching, agonizing pain.  This has taken everything inside of me and crumbled it up into tiny pieces and moved it all around and I’m working hard at making everything fit together again–but its like a puzzle that I have all wrong.  It’s just not working.

Although I’m getting better at this, for a while, I became a “blurter”.  I thought every stranger I came across NEEDED to know what happened to my husband.  Someone looking at me with a slight smile and a nod of the head would find themselves caught in the middle of my terrible story.  (Makes things very awkward for most strangers…).

Example:

Setting: coffee stand drive-thru.

Characters: Kristen and barista.

Barista: “Good morning, how’s your day going?”

Kristen: “Well, my husband just passed away very unexpectedly and we have four young children ages 9,6,4 and 2 and I can’t quite acclimate to life outside of a hospital unit even though I’ve lived outside of one most of my life.”  (Sobbing starts)  “Can I please have a 16 oz. non-fat latte with 3 pumps of organic vanilla?”

Barista: (awkward silence)

I guess maybe this blog is my way of blurting without having to look into someone else’s eyes and feel their discomfort.

My oldest son and my husband loved to go on roller coasters together.  The faster, the better.  Their favorite roller coaster was “California Screamin'” at California Adventure.  They waited years until my son was finally tall enough to go on the ride, and then they rode it over and over and over again.  Tonight, as I was putting my kids to bed, my oldest son was talking about how great those times were–going on California Screamin’ with daddy.  He remembered that the last time we were there (last summer), they went on it once and had to stop and eat some dinner.  They were so eager to get on it a few more times.  By the time they had scarfed down some hotdogs, the ride was shut down for technical difficulties.  We waited a long time for them to fix it, but it never did come back up that night.  My oldest son looked at his dad and said “That’s okay dad.  There’s always next year”.  While retelling this story, my son started to cry (he cries for his dad most nights).

I feel like there’s a lesson to be learned from that.  Something about something.  I can’t think about the lesson now, though.  I will–I’ll get there.  Right now all I can do is remember that night and wish they had gone on that roller coaster one more time.

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Jake’s Toothbrush

IMG_0658This is Jake’s toothbrush.  4 months and 21 days after.  I have not moved his toothbrush.  I am very much an “anti-clutter” kind of girl.  I get rid of everything I possibly can.  Sometimes I sell my kids’ toys right out from under their noses (or pried from their hands)-because I don’t like clutter.  I cannot do anything with Jake’s toothbrush but look at it every single time I walk in the bathroom.  In a way, I’m still waiting for him to come home.  I can sit at the window for hours and search the yard for him.  Longing for him to come walking out of the bushes or something.  Every day, I check all the rooms in the house–looking for Jake.

Yesterday I saw someone I hadn’t seen in awhile.  She mentioned that I looked “good”–like I was getting “over” stuff.  I almost vomited.  I wanted to scream at her about my “Kristen Suit”.  Instead I just shook my head and said “No”.  I will never, ever be okay.  I will never “get over” this.  I don’t care what you think you see on the outside.  On the inside, I am a completely devastated, messed up, different person.  Don’t let the Kristen Suit fool you.

My youngest cousin was killed in a car accident a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday in 2010.  I remember talking to my uncle (her father) and something he told me then struck me.  It struck me then and it continues to haunt me to this day.  He said, “I’ve been sentenced to a lifetime in hell”.  Although you cannot compare the grief and loss between two people, I get that now.  For me, the hell isn’t just about the loss.  It’s about what I could have done differently so that this didn’t happen.  I torture myself with the thought- “If I had only turned right instead of left”.

In the months since I lost him, (which is a stupid thing to say actually–if something is “lost”, there is the implication that it might be “found” again).  Stupid phrase.  I just decided I’m not using that expression anymore.  In the months “after”, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about death, probate, attorneys, medical records, etc.  Although I am his wife, I didn’t have access to anything that his name on it.  For example, did you know that medical records can only be requested by the patient himself?  Well, if that patient is deceased, you’re SOL.  You need court paperwork–piles of paperwork to have access to anything with your spouse’s name on it.  Did you know it costs money just to DIE in King County?  Because Jake died in King County, I actually had to PAY a fee to the county!  Every account with his name on it, required a death certificate–which also cost money.  I believe it cost me $200 to get enough death certificates to cancel Jake’s various accounts. The best thing (and this is sarcastic) is how you can call the same company 20 times and explain the horrid circumstances to 20 different people, and those 20 different people will all tell you something completely different and when you call the 21st time–there are no notes or records that you have ever called before.  This is a true story and it happened with multiple companies-not just one.   I told Jake’s best friend that I never wanted to talk on the phone or be put on hold again.  Ever.  Entire days were spent on the phone.

Initially, people I spoke with were perfectly nice and made me promises that were never kept.  When I called one of Jake’s credit card companies, they told me that they were just going to write off the balance he owed (the card was in his name only).  Well, that didn’t happen and that credit card company is going after Jake’s “estate” (which is a funny word–makes us sound like we actually have money or something).  Jake also had a leased vehicle in his name only.  It had about a year left on it-but when I called the car company, I was told that I could just return the vehicle and they would take care of it–I wouldn’t owe anything else.  I was so relieved and in tears after phone calls like these–only to find out that none of it was actually true. Not only were the car people extremely rude upon return of the car, but they are going after the “estate” as well.  Apparently they put the car up for auction and then the estate owes the different between what they get and what the car is worth.  WHAT?!? If someone had told me that, I would have kept the car and made the payments for another year.  The car was a lease–why do I now have to pay for the car outright?  Grrrr.  That car company lost my business forever.

I know in the “About Me” section, I said I wouldn’t be giving any advice.  Well, I’m going to take that back for a minute and just offer three pieces of advice–because you never know.

1. Put together your last will and testament.  We didn’t have one.  I know the thought of it is upsetting, but it can save you and your family.

2.  If at all possible, get life insurance.

3.  Make sure you put aside money in order to pay King County a fee just in case you die here.

Grief-Stricken Babies

The most chilling, spine-tingling, horrific sounds that I have ever heard came from my two oldest boys when I told them that their daddy had died.  The sounds that came out of their poor, shaking bodies felt like they lasted for hours.  It felt like someone stuck its hand inside my body, ripped out my heart and was tearing it into pieces right in front of me.  The weird thing is that I didn’t cry at that time.  I felt like I was watching it all happen from the outside.  I needed to do something to take their pain away.  But there was nothing I could do.  The smaller two looked on curiously, but didn’t understand.  They knew something bad was happening, but how do you explain to a 4-year-old or a 2-year-old that their daddy was gone forever?  To this day, the littlest one (now 3) asks for his daddy.  When I say, “Daddy died”, he asks “When is he coming back home?”  A couple of days ago, my 4-year-old explained to me that “Daddy made himself dead.  He had a magic wand and he ‘magicked’ himself dead.  But he still has his magic wand and he is going to ‘magick’ himself back to life”.

Immediately afterwards, friends, family and strangers rallied around us.  The elementary school community did everything they could to help ease my older boys’ transition into starting off a new school year.  (I had told them about their daddy on Saturday, and their first day of school was on Tuesday).  Friends and strangers signed on to bring us meals.  There seemed to be a constant stream of visitors and playdates to help keep my kids and I distracted.  I couldn’t go home though.  The kids begged to go home-and I knew I needed to get us there.  We lived with my parents for a while and as the kids were in school, I slowly made my way back home.  First driving past the house, then walking around outside of it, and eventually going inside.  My brother had been at my house taking care of everything–everything imaginable and then some–to make sure we could come home.  While I couldn’t bear to come back, my brother couldn’t bear to be away from my house.  I received phone calls from my oldest son at school several times a day, crying.  Then he realized he could still call my husband’s cell phone and listen to his voice on his outgoing message.  So, he started doing that frequently from the nurse’s office at school.

Re-reading my last paragraph–I can see that my thoughts are all over the place.  I was going to try to organize them better, but I realized that it is exactly how I recall the aftermath.  It was all a blur–a foggy haze (and I didn’t self-medicate-with anything–so it wasn’t that)–stuff happening in between bouts of crying in between bouts of shock in between holding my kids as closely as I could and trying to will my deceased husband back to life.

At Christmas, we received several anonymous gift boxes/bags.  Not just for the kids, but for me as well.  Not only were the kids thrilled, but it gave me the opportunity to offer something concrete and meaningful to talk to them about the kindness, goodness, and generosity of people.  I talked to them about paying it forward–and that will be a dynamic, ongoing theme in our home.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart (to those that “adopted” us).  It meant so much more than the toys and gifts.  You provided us with a wonderful, lifelong lesson.

As I mentioned, my husband was a loyal Seattle Seahawks fan.  The Seattle Seahawks organization heard about my husband and my kids.  They sent my kids a handwritten note, along with some swag and my kids thought that was super cool.   Thanks Seahawks-for bringing some joy and happiness to 4 sad children.  IMG_0653

AFTER (Part Forever)

I lived in the Neuro ICU for almost 4 days.  The time of death was called less than 24 hours after he arrived at the hospital, but they were working on keeping his organs going because he was an organ donor.  I wasn’t going to leave. I never left the unit. I sat with him, I held his hand, I cried a lot…some of my friends even helped me climb into the hospital bed with him so I could sleep with him one last time.  I understood that many of his organs were going to be donated and there were recipients all lined up.  That gave me some comfort.  However, at the last-minute I was informed that there were some complications and they would be unable to donate any of his organs.  Complications?  Jake had run 14 MILES for fun the day before this all happened.  His organs were perfect.  All of his beautiful, healthy organs.  But, Jake wasn’t going to save the lives of others.  All of the disappointed families.  Shattered me into even more pieces.

From the time I received the first phone call, everything seemed to happen in a fog.  I remember telling myself “No, no, no, no, no–this is not really happening.  This is not your life”.  My brother was the first to arrive at the hospital.  I had a very hard time getting there.  It’s not like we see on TV–where the police officers are all compassionate and offer you a ride.  As I rolled around on the floor of the police station, wailing and screaming, the police officer basically shrugged his shoulders.  He said “If I were you, I’d hop in the car and head down there”.  WHAT?!? You are advising me–in this state–to get in my car and drive into downtown Seattle, during rush hour?  It didn’t make any sense.  There was no “I’m very sorry ma’am”–no explanation of what had happened.  Just a shrug of the shoulders.  I will never, ever forget that.  I will also never forget the kindness of a stranger standing nearby who offered, and then drove me to the hospital.  I hopped out of her car at the ER doors and never saw her again.  But I think about her all the time.

As I mentioned, my brother was at the hospital in a private room with a social worker.  I thank God he was there.  I vaguely remember surgeons coming into the room and apologetically telling me that surgery wasn’t an option.  I still didn’t understand.  I remember asking “So that means he could make it?  He might live?”  Their small sighs and sad faces were all I needed to see to know I was clearly mistaken.  Again, I ended up curled in the fetal position on the floor, wailing.  My brother was there.  He was always there.  From that point on, he took care of everything.  All of the gruesome, scary, terrible tasks that needed to be taken care of–my brother did it all.  I love my brother, but his strength and character has astounded me since then.

From that point on, things are very hazy for me.  I remember A LOT of people coming and going throughout the next few days.  Loved ones who brought me water and changes of clothes and soap so I could take a shower in the physician locker room.  People holding my hand, rubbing my back, crying with me,  I remember that first night there was so much blood.  Way too much blood.  Giant puddles of it under his bed.  His face was also covered in blood–he didn’t even look like my Jake.  Thankfully, the next day someone cleaned him up a little bit, and from that point on, I was there to wipe off every trickle of blood that showed up on his face.

I know for all those days, I begged and pleaded for him to come back.  I didn’t understand how there could be a world without Jake in it.  I still don’t.  When the organ donation people sat me down and shared that Jake’s organs were not going to be donated, they cried with me.  After awhile, they explained to me what was going to happen next.  They would turn off the machines that were keeping his organs alive, but his heart may still beat for a little while.  Still–in my head–I had some hope.  Maybe this is it.  Maybe he will start breathing on his own and we’ll have our own little miracle.  I laid on the bed with him.  I put my head on his chest.  The nurses looked at me before they turned off the machines.  Then they respectfully left the room.  My mother and aunt were there with me-but I asked them to leave as well.  I needed to listen–I needed to hear his heartbeat.  I cried quietly as I did just that.  I listened to his heartbeat for a while before it slowed down–and eventually stopped.  I stayed there for a long time.

I don’t think it actually ever occurred to me that I would have to leave the hospital.  It felt like that was the world I had always lived in–how was I going to function outside the Neuro ICU? I didn’t want to go.  It was a strange feeling–one I still don’t fully understand.  The darkest hours of my life so far were spent there–yet I didn’t want to leave.  I remember shaking like a leaf and nearly vomiting with every step I took closer and closer to the elevators.

BEFORE Part 2

So, Jake and I got married and had 4 children.  The plan was to only have two kids-but it happened two more times.  Our marriage had its ups and downs for sure.  But one thing remained true–we deeply loved each other.  It sounds so cliché, but we were best friends.  We enjoyed spending time together.  We were a compatible parenting team.  Whenever something good or bad or neutral happened, the first person I called was always Jake.

About Jake: I need to sing his praises right now.  I need to talk about how wonderful he was and all the exciting experiences Jake Angels Staircasehe had and all of his admirable qualities.  I know that nobody is perfect, and I’m guessing that the reader of this post knows that as well.  However, all I want to talk about right now are the fantastic things about Jake.  Jake was absolutely brilliant.  He was so smart that there were many times that I had no idea what he was talking about.  Jake was a natural athlete.  Jake craved adventure.  He liked to run up mountains and volcanoes for fun.  He wore his altitude sickness like a badge of honor.  Jake loved to hike and dreamed of one day hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail. He actually did hike about 80 miles of it in one weekend in the pouring rain and cold.  I thought that would be the end of the PCT chatter, but I was wrong.  He couldn’t wait to get out there again.  Jake was a marathon runner.  He gave me excel spreadsheets of his marathon training schedules including his planned mileage, pace, terrain, and target heart rate.  Jake was a lifelong, loyal fan of the Seattle Seahawks.  Last year, when the Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl, he figured out a way to get there.  There were many flights/connections over the span of a few days, and he didn’t actually have any place to sleep-but it was okay because he was going to arrive just in time for the game and fly out afterwards.  He was more excited than a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve.  He was thrilled to be at that game-despite his lack of sleep and the very cold weather.  There is actually a picture of him at the game without a shirt on!  I’m so glad he went to that game.  He had season tickets for the Seahawks this season.  During the pre-season, he took each of our older boys (ages 9 and 6 at the time) to a couple of games.  On his excel spreadsheet for marathon training, he made sure to include the dates of every Seahawk game, who they were playing against, and if it was a home or away game for me.  Jake was special in a way that words cannot describe.  He has maintained close friendships with childhood friends (since age 4!) as a testament to that IMG_0379fact.  Jake was also the “favorite” when it came to our kids.  He was patient and laid back.  He helped them make lemonade from scratch and took time to answer all of their “why” questions in detail (in contrast to my typical retort–“because”).  My husband was exceptional and I was so fortunate to be loved by him.

On August 27, 2014, as I parked in order to pick up the kids from gymnastics camp, I received the most devastating and painful phone call of my entire life so far (and hopefully ever).  It was that phone call that changed my life forever.  The words that changed everything into “before” and “after”.

The “Before” Part 1

darylsJake and I had known each other for 14 years.  We were introduced by his sister, who was a friend of mine.  She frequently said things to me like, “You have to meet my brother, Jake”, “I really think you and Jake would get along”, and finally (the clincher) “He kind of looks like Matt Damon”.  COUNT ME IN!  But alas, I was living with my boyfriend at the time.  Oh well.  Matt Damon (I mean, Jake), was clearly meant for another lifetime…until “The Daryls” came to town. (“The Daryls” pictured).

Jake played the bass in a punk band called “The Daryls”.  They were coming to play a show at a dive bar called “The Rat Haus” in Moscow, Idaho (which was near where I was living at the time).  His sister invited me to the show.  My boyfriend at the time bailed at the last minute, so I went solo.  I entered the establishment hesitantly-unable to locate my friend (which would have been easy because there were about 7 people there).  Ultimately, I asked a young, good looking man (who turned out to be one of Jake’s best friends from childhood and a fellow member of the band) if he was my friend’s brother.  As he looked around to try to find Jake, my friend (Jake’s sister) walked in.  Phew.  Now I could cling to her side (which I literally did sometimes when we drank together–I’d hook my elbow through her arm and we’d walk around like we were on a mission).

Brief introductions were made prior to the show.  My initial thought was “Hmm–he really does kind of resemble Matt Damon”.  We didn’t have much time to chat before the show started.  I didn’t really “get” the music, but I drank a lot of bad beer and watched Jake.  He was wearing cargo shorts and sandals….WITH SOCKS!  Who does that?

After the show, I drank some more with Jake and his buddies.  We ended up back at his sister’s house (I couldn’t drive home) and he graciously offered me the bed as he lied on the floor.  We stayed up talking all night long and I knew from that point on that Jake was something special and I intended to make him an important part of my life.

Not long after I met Jake, I broke up with my boyfriend, packed up my stuff, and moved to Seattle (where Jake lived).  We began seeing each other immediately and I rarely missed a “Daryls” show.  I even grew to like the music!  I didn’t even notice his cargo shorts with socks and sandals issue anymore.

Everyone Has a Story to Tell

I had always heard her referred to as “Mary Meatballs”, so I was a little confused when she joined me at my table in the restaurant and introduced herself as “Julie”.  Although a little confused, I stood up and hugged her for a very long time.  I felt like I melted into her, as if she were taking on some of my feelings and thoughts.  I was dining with one of Jake’s closest friends from childhood, who happened to be in town.  Julie joined us for a while.  I don’t remember all of the conversation (I had been drinking a very powerful beer)–but I remember her saying “Everyone has a story to tell.  Everyone should tell their stories.”  Thanks Julie/Mary Meatballs for inspiring me to tell my stories.