Powerful Human

IMG_0952So, I don’t just have one “7 month mark”.  I have many.  There’s the 23rd, the 25th, the 26th, the 27th, the 28th and the 30th—and these dates will mark something every single month.  On the 27th of this month (which is by far the worst of all the dates), I chose to cope by having a friend over and drinking the most delicious beer I have ever tasted.  “Berserker” crafted by the Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Alaska.  I had picked this bottle up on a visit to Bend, Oregon.  I had never had it before but the kid in the store recommended it. My friend and I really liked it and spent some time fanatically trying to figure out where we could buy more. My friend even called her husband and asked him to make a run to Bend (@ 6 hours away) to buy us more.  My brother owns a restaurant.  He has connections!  I asked him.  His beer rep basically told him “Good luck with that”.  Apparently, my new favorite beer is very difficult to get your hands on.  I even wrote to the Brewing Company!  They never wrote back.  I suppose it’s a good thing.  There’s probably a very good reason for me that this beer is hard to find.  (But if anybody out there has any connections……;-)

FullSizeRender(1)I learned so much about great beer from Jake.  Really good beer was one of his passions.  He and his buddy had plans of opening their own brewery someday.  They used to go to this place where people could craft their own beer, taste the beers of others, etc.  He taught me that Porters have chocolate in them.  One of his favorites for while was Black Butte Porter crafted by the Deschutes Brewing Company in Oregon.  I have a special place in my heart for Deschutes.  Shortly “AFTER”, my brother and his wife did many things to help me and support me.  They knew financially I was in a bad place and they also wanted to honor Jake at their restaurant.  The bar there has rotating taps-but my brother ordered a whole bunch of barrels of Black Butte Porter and was going to donate a profit of each one sold to my family.  When the rep from the company found out why my brother had ordered so much, they donated even more barrels.  I sent a thankful e-mail to the man in charge at Deschutes, along with some tidbits about Jake.  Less than 12 hours later, I received a reply from the man in charge, offering not only his condolences, but anything he could do to help.  Especially if I needed beer.  I love that man.  I love Deschutes.  Go buy some.  Try the Black Butte Porter.  It has chocolate in it.  Yum.

This past week was a rough one for me.  It just so happened that my first grader had “Family PE Night” this week.  This is a night at school that is exactly what you would think it would be.  Whole families going to the gym at school and playing PE games together (in my days it was called “gym class” and not nearly as fun).  I really, really didn’t want to go.  I have had a very hard time in the “AFTER” attending events like this.  The people-the happiness-the yelling and cheering-the “fun”.  My first grader begged me to take him.  So I took him and my oldest son.  But I couldn’t participate.  I couldn’t even force myself to do it.  I sat on the sidelines as Jake and Owen joined another family.  Every once in a while I remembered to plant a fake smile on my face.  But for the most part, I didn’t feel like I was there.  I was stuck in my head–reliving.  I think I relive “it” so much so that maybe one of these times I can change the outcome.  Regardless, I found myself thinking–someday my first grader is going to remember this day and talk about how his mother was there physically, but she wasn’t really there.  I wonder if he’ll think it was even worth it to go in the first place.

Yesterday, I came very close to making an offer on a house.  I haven’t sold my house.  I keep thinking I should downsize.  It’s the practical thing to do.  I really liked the house and right now the market is so hot that homes are on the market 2-3 days before they are sold at higher than asking price.  I didn’t make an offer.  I came back to my house.  I remembered that it probably wasn’t a good idea to make such a big decision within the first year of a tragedy like this.  But the thing is–how do I ever leave this home?  This was our dream home.  Mine and Jake’s.  Yes the bathrooms are dated with scalloped sinks and lavender faux marble swirls and lots of gold.  But we bought this house for the property and the potential.  We loved this house.  But it’s also insanely hard for me to live here.  Confronted with memories in every nook and cranny.  I hope I can start appreciating the good ones someday.  But I’m still stuck at that tree.  I can’t go outside and enjoy the property because of the magnetism of that tree.  Not a good magnetic force either.  I can’t let my kids go outside and play in our beautiful yard alone because of all the recent bear and cougar sightings.  But I can’t go and play outside with them because of the tree.  I also can’t imagine leaving this house behind for good.  Because it was ours.  Jake used to talk about how we’d be old and sitting in comfy chairs on the back patio laughing about the time the kids decided it was a good idea to ride Big Wheels down the hill straight into the outside walls of the house.  It’s all fun and games until…..

My brother gave me a sweatshirt for Christmas.  It was an old sweatshirt that he loved.  He washed it, wrapped it, and gave it to me for Christmas.  I cried.  If you look at the hood, it says”Powerful Human”.  I love it.  I wear it all the time.  I want to be a powerful human.  Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.  Socially.  Powerful.   I want my kids to be powerful humans.    IMG_0947But how do I get there?  How do I become a powerful human when I barely feel like a person most of the time?  I don’t know how.  But when I ask myself “What am I moving towards?”, now I have an answer. I’m going to be a powerful human.


Wishful Thinking

So, everyday this week, I have been continuously reflecting on everything I did on that date 7 months ago.  Today is the 26th.  August 26th, 2014 was a fantastic day.  I hiked Rattlesnake Ridge with my BFF.  I practically ran up that thing–passing people (which doesn’t happen often for me)–all the way to the top and the beautiful views all around us.  On the way down, my friend and I had frivolous discussion about all the reality tv shows she had been watching recently.  So much adrenaline, so much beauty–I felt wonderful…and so blissfully unaware of how that was the last time I would feel that way–possibly forever.  Unaware that my “AFTER” was going to begin less than 24 hours later.

A close friend of mine recently gave me a book entitled “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. (I’m sorry–I haven’t figured out how to add a link yet!)  I didn’t even read the blurb on the back to find out what the book was about.  I just jumped right in.  I’m still at the beginning of the book, but basically it is a memoir written by a woman who lost her husband very unexpectedly and suddenly.  As I read this book, I have started noticing that at times I am holding my breath.  I have to remind myself to breathe.  I think it is because her feelings so far–are so close to my own that I feel as if she has written my story.  She has done quite a bit of research on the subject of grief and mourning, and as interesting as her tidbits are, I’m not sure I currently have the attention span to do the same.  But so far, this book has been comforting to me.  I’m not alone and I’m not crazy.  Other people experience these same feelings of “magical thinking”–like keeping Jake’s toothbrush because he’s going to need it when he comes back.  This feeling that somehow this is all reversible if I wish hard enough.  I can’t remember if I have mentioned this before, but I have detailed fantasies that this all really didn’t happen and Jake is off hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.  He’ll come back very stinky and hairy and so very happy because he’d achieved that goal.

A lot of people say to me “I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through”.  Very accurate.  Just like I can’t imagine what anyone else is going through.  Well, maybe I can imagine, but I can never know truly know.  I’ve known this for a long time.  It started when I was pregnant with my first baby.  People told me all about how hard it was, the sleepless nights, the colic, etc. and I actually thought I understood.  I remember thinking, “I pulled a lot of all-nighters in college and besides, my baby is going to be perfectly happy”.  I imagined myself sitting in the glider and rocking the baby while the baby peacefully looked into my eyes and cooed at me.  I imagined dressing up my baby and waltzing around the mall to shop with all my “free” maternity leave time while everyone stopped to admire my beautiful, perfect baby.  I would be super skinny of course–as soon as that baby came out–I’d be prancing out of that hospital in skinny jeans and a tight t-shirt.  I know anyone who has ever had a baby is laughing right now.  Because we all know that having a baby is nothing like we ever could have imagined.  No matter how much people try to warn you.  We cannot know.  I remember trying to tell people who couldn’t wait for their own baby to come–“Trust me–that baby is way easier to take care of inside your uterus than outside of it”.  But I always knew there was no way they could even imagine.  With babies #2, #3 and #4-I had planned C-Sections (because the first one was an emergency c-section).  With each one after the first one, I asked the doctors to please leave the baby inside of me as long as possible until the point it became dangerous.  Then they could take it out.  “How far after the due date can we push this event out?”–I remember asking.

One night, Jake announced to me “I’m going to get up early and go run around Mt. St. Helens tomorrow.  Is that okay?”.  Of course it was okay.  I also had a million questions like “How many miles will it be? Don’t people usually train for runs like that?  What time are you leaving?  How long will it take you to get there?  How long will it take you to run it?  When can I expect you home?”  I never thought to ask him what particular trail he was taking or any of the really important stuff.  This was the first time he had done anything like this, so I was unschooled in the appropriate questions and proper warnings to him.  I did ask him to call me when his cell phone came back in range and he was on his way home.  Well, the time he told me that he expected to be finished came and went.  I didn’t hear from him.  It started to get dark.  I started to panic.  I began calling his friends to ask if they had heard from him. I researched “search and rescue at Mt. St. Helens” on the internet.   I called his buddy who was experienced in doing this kind of thing.  His buddy told me not to worry.  It probably took him longer than he expected and the worst possible scenario is that he would have to hunker down out there for the night.  But he would be fine.  Jeez Louise!  My imagination went absolutely crazy.  I was in full panic mode–pacing my house–crying–IMAGINING that I had lost my husband to a bear or cougar on Mt. St. Helens. I imagined what was going to happen the next few days.  I imagined the newspaper headlines.  I imagined what my life was going to be like without Jake.  When he finally called me, I screamed and cried and yelled.  He apologized profusely–he felt terrible because he knew I’d be worried but it took him longer than expected and he couldn’t get a cell signal to let me know.  I think about that day sometimes.  I imagined really awful, horrible things.  But the worst of my imaginings didn’t even come close to what it was really like to lose him.

We never truly know until we experience it–until we we live it.  Hopefully, very few of us ever have to live through something like this in their lifetime.  But I know people do.  I know people I love dearly that have been through worse (what I would consider worse).  I have no words for these people-I have no idea what it’s like to live in their shoes everyday.  I wouldn’t even dare to try and compare.

In writing this blog, my goal is to tell my story (like Mary Meatballs said).  My intention is not to spew anger and disgust at well-intentioned people who say things that aren’t particularly helpful for me.  I know that sometimes–okay, a lot of times–I might come off that way.  I realize that my grief is oftentimes directed in the form of anger at really good, caring people.  I’m not saying that’s okay.  I’m just saying that’s how it is for me.  I’m sad and I’m angry and I’m wishful beyond reason.

But most importantly, as lonely as I feel, I know I’m not alone.

*Healthy* Coping Strategies for the Grief-Stricken (*sarcasm)

I had a dream about Jake this morning.  In my dream, I was looking all over for him.  It seems as though I was stuck somewhere and when I finally got out, I ran to his sister to find out if she had heard from Jake yet.  She said she had and she thought he had gotten in touch with me.  Then his buddies started calling me–they were looking for him too.  I feel like I was on the verge of speaking with him on the phone, when I woke up.  I wanted to go back to sleep.  I wanted to talk to him.

Yesterday, March 23rd, marked seven months since the first time Jake and I went to the emergency room looking for help for him.  The doctor sent us away with pretty little pamphlets that said “Take a walk” and “Treat yourself to a nice bath”.  Five days later, Jake was dead.  Anyway, I was really very sad all day yesterday-that sobbing, sick to my stomach kind of sad.  It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized the significance of the date.  It could have been coincidence.  But, sometimes I wonder if at some deep, cellular level, our bodies and brains just know the time frame, even when we don’t recognize it on a conscious level.

I still run past the stump.  Recently, another item that I had assigned meaning to (an angel) was missing.  It had been there for a long time.  I searched all around the tree and on the ground.  It was gone.  I’m not sure why I let this crush me the way it does.  Like I’ve mentioned before, these are just things that my brain assigns meaning to.  But it has such an impact on me.  I try to blow it off-but it keeps coming back.  So to the person who keeps taking the stuff off the stump where I run–STOP TAKING THINGS THAT ARE MEANINGFUL TO PEOPLE-YOU STUPID LITTLE JERK WHO STEALS STUFF!  (I think I might leave that on a note next time I’m there.)

Time for another confession-this is a tough one to admit.  It’s about a very sensitive subject—F-O-O-D.  I could write an entirely separate blog on food and how I use it to cope.  With eating, there is no moderation for me.  Since Jake passed away, I have been one of the following:

  • Too sick to eat anything
  • Taking complete control by restricting my calories severely (usually 700-1000 calories per day) and spending my thinking time obsessing over calorie intake
  • Stuffing my face with anything I can find–resembling the Tasmanian Devil–whipping through my pantry and fridge–until I feel so sick that I can’t think about anything except how sick I feel.  It’s easy–1. Have a bad feeling 2. Don’t let it surface–STUFF it back down with food 3. Feel sick until you don’t feel sick anymore and the whole cycle starts again.

Anyone else do this?  I’d bet money I’m not alone.  If anyone else has conquered this–and actually eats food for nutrition and sustenance–I welcome your advice.  Let me rephrase–don’t tell me to take a walk or treat myself to a pedicure.  I work out most days of the week and can’t sit still long enough for a pedicure.  I would guess I would need a total brain reset.  Imagine–being my age–and not even knowing how to eat.  I’m sure this subject will come up again down the line.

Last night, I felt closer to a nervous breakdown (whatever that is) than I have in a long time.  I walked into my closet and everything that caught my eye had a memory, a story about Jake associated with it.  Every article of his clothing brought back memories.  His shoes–my gosh–you wouldn’t believe his collection of running shoes (I think he had a running shoe addiction).  I felt like curling up in his stinky shoes and non-stinky clothes and covering myself with them.  I actually considered it.  But then I thought about how someone would end up calling my parents for help and I didn’t want them to get all upset and come all the way out to my house.  So I walked out of the closet and didn’t go back in.

Given these stories, what do I say when someone asks “How are you doing?”.  I can formulate at least a dozen responses (most of them sarcastic) in my head, but most of the time do not say them out loud.  I either respond with “I don’t know how to answer that question” or “Hanging in”.  I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again now-it irks me (oooo–“irks”–that’s one of my mom’s words and rarely do I have the opportunity to use it), when people say things along the lines of “Wow–you’ve really got your act together”, “You’ve pulled yourself together”, “You look like you’re doing great” (most recently said to me this weekend).  When someone says these things–I literally want to punch them in the face (I haven’t yet, though).  PLEASE don’t say that shit to me.  Read my blog.  I am MESSED UP.  I have no other choice than to function.  I have no other choice than to put one foot in front of the other (one of Jake’s top songs, by the way).

I have a very close friend who is very protective of me.  Fiercely protective.  I love her for that.  She packs bear spray and mace and is super strong.  She has said on more than one occasion “I will beat the living shit out of anyone who hurts you”.  I’ve decided everyone needs a friend like her.  She will never let me NOT put one foot in front of the other.  I actually have incredible friends (far and near).  I am so grateful because every friend has purpose and reason.  While I am flailing about trying to stumble through each day, my friends are there making sure I don’t fall down for good.

You are all my favorites.






Confessions of the Heartless

A lifelong friend from home recently wrote to let me know he’s thinking about me.  In his very nice letter, he stated that any decisions I make, if I make them from the heart, I won’t be wrong.  I shivered when I read this.  I thought to myself “I don’t have a heart anymore. It’s gone.”  So here, clearly I am not talking about my heart, the actual organ. I’m talking about my brain heart, my inner being, my soul–whatever else you want to call it.  The things that made Kristen–Kristen (in the BEFORE).  This thought has been on my mind for a few days and I just kind of accepted it.  Okay–there’s nothing left inside of me.  I have no heart.  Now I can be a bitch whenever I feel like it.  Cool.

Then, a few days ago, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  I did some research and found these symptoms on http://www.webmd.com:

  • Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event (or a tree–not actually on webmd.com, added in by me).
  • Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.
  • Increased arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled.

Well-DUH. I guess that diagnosis was no shocker.  Now I could tell myself that I’m not actually a heartless person–its all a part of the PTSD.  Except I didn’t believe that.

My oldest son tried out for the swim team at the beginning of last August.  His dad took him for the try-out and he was offered a spot on the team.  Then, everything happened and the swim team thing just got lost in the shuffle.  Recently, I contacted the swim team coach and asked if Jake could start now.  He asked me to bring my son in to swim with the team and see if he liked it before we committed to it.  My son hadn’t been swimming since last August-but we went.  My son was the smallest and youngest kiddo there.  He didn’t understand the numbers the coaches were yelling at everybody.  He was terribly out of shape.  But, he stuck with it.  Some kid was mean to him and he wanted to cry, but he stayed in that pool and swam his little heart out.  I watched my son from the sidelines and I felt my heart break for him.  I wanted to run over, pull him out of the pool, hold him tight and kick the kid that had been mean to him in the head.  (No I didn’t do any of those things).  My heart broke as I observed his vulnerability.  My HEART broke.  In order for it to break, there had to be one there in the first place.  Phew.

I remember the first time I felt this way about my oldest son.  Jake and I were at a BBQ at a co-worker’s home.  My son was about two years old.  For the first time ever, he tried to hang with the “big kids”.  He was running around, following them, trying to play their games.  The big kids weren’t very welcome or accepting of my son.  But my son was oblivious.  Later, Jake and I talked about how we felt watching that happen.  We discussed how we wanted to take the “big kids”, shake them and scream “PAY ATTENTION TO MY AWESOME KID!”.  But most of all we agreed we had never felt anything like that before.  Like our hearts had been ripped out of our bodies and were running around trying to keep up with the “big kids”.  That’s how I felt watching my son at swim team.  That’s when it occurred to me that I do still have a heart.  It may not be completely intact, but it’s still there.  Hopefully, it’s a little piece of the BEFORE Kristen that might still be there.  Even if it’s confused, and hurting, and has no patience or energy right now to pretend to feel badly for other people’s problems.

So, the good news of the day is–I am not heartless.  But if I come across that way to you-I’m totally fine with that.


Birdhouse In Your Soul

The nightmares started right after the 6 month mark.  Most of them don’t include Jake, but they are all very scary and very real.  The nightmares come most nights, if not every night.  I wonder if they will ever go away now.

At the 6 month mark, I was a complete mess.  Then, one day I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to be a mess anymore.  I made the choice to “block” everything-every thought, every memory, every scene from the constant movie in my head.  Every time I started thinking about it, I imagined a gigantic door slamming shut on the memory and all I could see was the door.  As any reasonable person could imagine, the “blocking” technique couldn’t last very long.  After a few days, I found myself sobbing-all day long.  I couldn’t stop.  Hmm.  I wonder why?  Yet, I continue to use this blocking technique without even thinking about it.  I noticed myself looking the other direction when I pass by one his pictures.  If I happen to catch a glimpse of his picture or something that reminds me of him (which is pretty much everything because I still live in our home)-it literally takes my breath away and brings me to my knees.

Last weekend we had beautiful weather.  I had been avoiding the backyard since last August.  I would watch the kids and the dog from the window, but pretty much didn’t like to be out there.  If I did have to go out there, I consciously avoided looking at “the” tree.  But last weekend I went outside.  It was like the tree was a magnet pulling me to it.  I couldn’t stop even though I knew it was a bad idea.  I stood behind that tree and I’ll admit, I went a little crazy.  I examined the tree, ripped off the bark, dug up dirt and logs…and stared at it.  I knew I should move away from the tree but I felt glued to that spot.  All of a sudden I wanted to know more about that day.  What Jake saw, heard and thought.  How many emergency vehicles were here?  How many people?  Did they have their sirens and lights on?  How fast did they get Jake out of here and on his way to the hospital?  Was Jake conscious when they left?  I don’t have answers to these questions.  They are not important for me to know-I realize that.  But sometimes, I feel like if I don’t find out I am going to go insane (I’m partially there—I get that).  Eventually, something happened that got me moving away from the tree (I had to use the bathroom) 🙂 I came inside, the spell was broken and I didn’t go out in the backyard again.

This week, as we were leaving their counseling sessions, my oldest son (age 10) said to me “You know mom?  I feel really terrible saying this-but I don’t think about daddy all the time anymore.  I’m ashamed of that.”  I hugged him and told him that was fine.  However he felt was okay and he didn’t need to be ashamed or feel bad.  Inside though, I wanted to scream.  How could he not be thinking about his daddy ALL the time?  What was I doing wrong?  Jake’s pictures are everywhere, we talk about him a ton, there are memories in our face everywhere we turn….but maybe it’s because of those things that my 10-year-old son is not obsessively thinking about his daddy (the way I am)–Maybe it’s because my son is not slamming that gigantic door on the memories, that he is actually able to live his life.

I want to live my life again.  I don’t want to just exist, go through the motions and obsess about the memories.  Every day, I tell myself-this is the day I start really living again.  I even tell other people about this–so that maybe I can’t “back out” of this plan–like I would do if I were starting a diet or something.  But really, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other still.  When people tell me I’m strong, I want to ask “What do you see as strength in me?  Were there other options?”  If so, I wish someone had told me.  I probably would have chosen Door Number 2.

The “Kristen Suit” comes off when I am sleeping.  Maybe that’s why the nightmares are coming.  People might think-“Sheesh-Kristen is messed up.  I hope she’s talking to somebody.”  Yes-I am in counseling.  But I often wish it was just a matter of a drug or procedure that would make me forget-forget those few days that overshadow my life and let me remember all of the good stuff instead.

Another holiday is coming up.  Easter.  I want to skip it.  In years past, I would make the baskets and fill the eggs.  But Jake would go outside and hide all the eggs and come inside and hide the baskets.  Then on Easter morning the six of us would go outside and search for the candy-filled eggs (which I would throw away as soon as the kids weren’t looking–not because of the sugar–but because of the clutter!)  I don’t know how I’m going to do Easter–the prep, the hiding, the finding (I’m fine with the throwing away).  But shit.  Why do we have to have so many holidays?  Why did we ever start traditions?  I hate our traditions now.  But the kids still love them.  They look forward to them.  They need them.  It’s all about them now.

“Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch-who watches over you?” One of Jake’s top songs-They Might Be Giants.  Needing the birdhouse in my soul to stop the nightmares and help me start really living my life again.