One Year in the AFTER

On August 27, 2015, I got up and ran Jake’s favorite trail.  I pushed myself brutally hard.  I ran and ran and ran and when my legs were tired and shaky and my feet were barely coming off the ground, I pushed myself harder and ran some more.  I tripped a lot over rocks, roots and sometimes my own bear bell.  Most of the time I “gracefully” caught myself and kept going.  One time, I full on took a header on a downhill and ate dirt.  I have some very pretty cuts and bruises from that fall. But I kept going.  I ran the trail 2+ times.  I didn’t want to stop running because I knew that once I stopped, the nausea and pain would be back.  The only reason I did stop was because I had to be at my daughter’s kindergarten orientation.  I was right.  I reached the parking lot and the nausea and pain immediately hit me.

Fortunately, on August 27, 2015, at the time of the day when it all happened last year, I wasn’t alone.  Jake’s best friend and wife made a special trip to be with me.  It was short, just a few hours.  But it meant the world to me.  I couldn’t keep myself from the tree.  I stood there and wanted to absorb all the pain and anguish Jake felt a year before at that minute.  I wanted to go back and take it all away.  Then I went out, ordered a Jake burger, and got drunk.  Jake’s closest friends took care of me.  It was comforting to be surrounded by them.

Tomorrow, August 30, marks a year from the day I last saw my husband.  A year has passed since I walked out of the ICU at Harborview-shaking like a leaf, barely breathing, about to vomit after I listened to Jake’s heart stop beating.  It has been a year since I told my children that their daddy had died.

It’s a strange feeling to not want time to pass.  Time does not heal all wounds.  The further away I get from that awful nightmare, the more I wish time would slow down.  I think it’s because I don’t want it to be so much time since I last was with him.  I want to go backwards and be with him again–not keep moving further away.  I realized something else about not wanting the time to pass.  The more time that passes, the further away I get from being able to save him.

Yes.  I’ve made it through the year.  So what?  I survived.  What other options were there?  I realized that a lot of the “year” mark pressure was coming from me.  I kept thinking–“After a year, I will pull my shit together” and get back to real life.  What a joke! What a terrible thing to do to myself.   This whole past year has already been “real life”.  This is it.  It’s just different from I ever imagined my life being.  I had this vision of what my life was going to be like.  I did everything “right”.  College, grad school, travel, career, handsome and smart boyfriend turned husband, kids, beautiful neighborhood with a nice yard in a good school district.  Then, BAM!.  This wasn’t supposed to be a part of it.  This wasn’t part of my vision.  But this is my reality now.  It is never going to go away.  The pain will always be there.  So, now I have to figure out how I am going to start living in this new reality.  Nothing in my life prepared me for this.  Not high school, college, grad school, travel, career, etc.  This is brand new territory and how could I ever have expected myself to figure it out in a year?

So I mentioned in my last post about the Kristen Suit wearing thin.  Exposing what’s inside.  I was barely holding it together.  During my long run on August 27, 2015, I imagined myself shedding the Kristen Suit and running away from it. I let my wounds show and I faced what was inside.   When I got back to the car, there was a new Kristen Suit waiting for me.  A little bit different from the old one, but in ways only I can notice.  The seams are sewn shut, there are no holes.  Under the suit, the gaping wounds remain.  But for the rest of the world to see, I look, act, and talk like Kristen.  I am tougher though.  You might notice or you might not.  But I know it.

When everything first happened, I went to a few support groups.  But it was too soon for me. It was too hard so I stopped. I recently started going regularly–a group for survivors.  When I went this week, I didn’t want to leave.  I wanted them to let me curl up on the couch and sleep there.  That room–the place where people “get it”.  The place where nobody gives advice and people nod their heads when they hear what I have to say because they have felt those awful, crazy, sick feelings, too.  Going to that group has become non-optional for me–it gives me hope.  This elusive emotion that I had felt slipping from my grasp over this summer–I have it back now.  It’s small, but it’s there.

People send me quotes and stories about grief frequently.  Most of them are comforting and thoughtful.  People always want to help and I can never express my appreciation for the support of my family, friends, and community.  But the best “quote” of the past two weeks, and I believe it was an original from an old friend went something like this: “…grief is one big MIND FUCK”.  This quote–these few words–made so much sense. I don’t believe it was meant to comfort, but it did.   It helped me feel not so crazy.  I find myself saying this in my head all the time now.  She knows who she is–she is across the country, she has been an incredible source of support for me, I think she should write Sympathy Hallmark cards, and she doesn’t know this yet, but I think I’m going to pack up and move in with her 🙂 I mention her quote because it helped me so much-maybe it will make sense to someone else.  Fuck the books, timelines, cycles of grief (unless they help you–then by all means embrace them).  I’m choosing to live in the moment, good or bad, let the good and bad feelings come and go as they will, and try my best to slog my way through this.  Sometimes I’m going to kick the shit out of it and sometimes my feet will barely leave the ground and I’ll trip over rocks, roots and myself.  Sometimes I’ll catch myself and sometimes I’ll eat dirt and end up broken and bruised.  But this is my life now.  I’m going to live it.

There’s a children’s song I love called “The Princess Who Saved Herself”.  I used to think that was the kind of fairy tale I wanted for my daughter.  I still want it for my daughter…and now I’m going to make it happen for myself, too.


Barely Existing

I am barely existing.

This is how my very wise friend described me.  She is right.

It is August. I hate August. I wonder if I’ll always hate August. It has almost been a year. One year. That was supposed to be the magical number. “After a year”, “in a year”, “give it a year”, “no big decisions within a year”, etc. I wonder what is supposed to happen? All of a sudden it’s almost been a year and I feel worse than ever. I wonder if up until now I’ve just been more numb or in disbelief or distracting myself in order to not feel the pain. Because it has hit me hard recently. The pain. The true understanding that I am the only parent of four young children. The emptiness. The loneliness. The despair. How did I manage to get through the last year?

The Kristen Suit is wearing very thin. It has holes and tears-exposing what lies underneath. Someone recently spoke with me about karma. If I believe in karma than I have to believe that I deserve this pain–that deep inside of me there is something very wrong and evil and pretty soon it is going to show through the Kristen Suit. I am so scared to find out what this is.

We got a fantastic offer on our house a few weeks ago, but it fell through a few days later. No movement since then–so we are living at my parent’s house and driving back and forth. I haven’t seen my dog in over a month (he’s staying at a dog ranch and from what I hear he is very happy!). Living out of suitcases and not knowing what is going to happen –doesn’t help any of us. As my father is recovering from surgery, my mother has become very sick. I feel as though this past year has really taken a toll on both of them and on their health. I hate it. I need a different plan. But I am empty. The only thing I actually can feel, the only thing I can actually think about is this pain-the hole constantly burning in the center of my body.

Last month I talked about pursuing new interests. YAY! I was all excited about these interests. However, I didn’t think about the obstacles an only parent of four children faces when trying to pursue new interests. It is easier said than done.  I did manage to go rock-climbing this past weekend (after a ton of work trying to figure out who was going to watch my kids all day). It was absolutely amazing. I went with a group of women I had never met before. They don’t know my story. They don’t know about the Kristen Suit. When I dropped down from my first climb that day, I unexpectedly burst into tears. The women I was with assumed it was because I had been scared. But I wasn’t scared-at all. I cried because while I was climbing up that rock, all of my focus was there–on the climb, on the rock. I didn’t feel the gut-wrenching pain. When I dropped back down, the pain came back full force and that is why I lost it. I had felt what it was like to not feel the pain-and I wanted that back.

One of Jake’s buddies told me about how they used to pray to the “Hawk God” during Seahawk games (I think I’ve mentioned this before).  I keep wondering-where is the “God that makes the shitty feelings go away”?  Because I need that one.  I need that one to take this pain away.

On Jake’s birthday this year, the kids were very excited to write messages on Chinese lanterns and send them up to daddy in heaven that night at the beach.  We ate Jake’s favorite foods, talked about our favorite Jake memories, and wrote messages on the lanterns.  We went to the beach and tried to send the lanterns to heaven.  The first three we tried caught on fire instead.  We didn’t try again.  The kids were devastated.  Their tears and wails were not drowned out by the ocean or the wind at the beach.  I hugged them and made shit up about how daddy heard their messages anyway.  But, THE KIDS’ MESSAGES TO THEIR DADDY IN HEAVEN CAUGHT ON FUCKING FIRE.  Where is the “God who gives little kids their daddy back”?  I need that one, too.  I’ll even take the “God who comforts little children who have lost their daddy by helping their lanterns fly out over the ocean”.

I’m at a point where I just want to move back home.  Get all our shit out of storage, bring home the dog, and go home.  I know financially it’s not the intelligent choice–but maybe at some times in life, there are intangibles worth more than money.  My realtor convinced me to drop the price on my home because this is the hardest time of year to sell.  I let her do it because I can’t make a fucking decision on my own anymore.  But I keep wondering–why?  Just go home, Kristen, and try again in the spring if you want to.  Why take less than the house is actually worth because it’s not the best time of year?  I’m not even strong enough to stand up to my realtor. What a fucking pansy I am.

My oldest son loves rollercoasters.  I have always hated them.  Jake was the designated “roller coaster” parent and I was the designated “carousel” parent.  This year, I asked my son if he wanted the extremely fun and beautiful babysitter to take him on the coasters, or if he wanted me to take him.  I let him know I was a little scared, but I would certainly face my fears and ride rollercoasters with him.  He said he wanted me.  So I went.  Guess what?  Turns out I like rollercoasters (well except for the one I almost died on…but that’s a story for another time).  I also know I showed my son that it’s okay to be scared sometimes, but having courage can help you discover that you might have been missing out on some really great things and thank goodness you had the courage because from this point on you can enjoy all the rollercoasters you want (symbolically speaking, of course).  I also try to keep this in mind for myself–having courage can bring on very cool and fun stuff.  But lately, the pain has become my standard.  Defenses are down and all the bad stuff is making its way in (or out). Courage is gone.

So, the year mark.  What happens after it? Am I supposed to snap out of it?  Does everything that life is supposed to be like all of a sudden fall back into place?  Because I am overwhelmed just thinking about the things that happened in the aftermath last year.  For example–the first day of school.  It was a very, very sad day.  After school that day a bunch of us went to the park so the kids could play.  I remember feeling like everything was so surreal.  Was I really standing there with my friends making small talk about the first day of school?  I know I will be sad on the first day of school.  I anticipate having flashbacks.  I wonder if every first day of school from here on out will be sad for me?  I vividly recall walking into preschool to pick up the little ones and seeing that only MY name was on the parent pockets–Jake’s name wasn’t up there with mine anymore.  It was literally a crushing blow.  That’s how I feel all of the time now.  Like I’ve been sucker-punched in the gut.

The urge to flee is a very familiar feeling for me.  Whenever things got tough in my life, I would have this strong urge to flee.  I went to NJ on vacation for a month.  I thought I was fleeing.  I only realized that this pain is something I carry with me wherever I go.  It was right there with me in NJ.  I could move to the South Pole, and it would still be with me.  I just wish something could take it away.  Please just make it go away.

I’ve noticed that I have also been flooded with memories of Jake-not of the incident-but of us.  I remember he could make me laugh so hard that I had to beg him to stop because it hurt so badly.  The majority of the times that happened, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I’ve been remembering our trips to Hawaii-especially the most recent one for our 10th Anniversary.  We had so much fun.  I remember baseball games and picnics and going the movies.  I remember everything.  I miss him.  I miss his Chris Farley imitation.  I can’t stop thinking about him.  I wonder if I’m actually starting to believe that he is gone.  A year later.  Maybe that’s why the pain has gotten so much worse.

I went to a support group tonight and realized that I am not crazy.  I’m fucked up, sure-but people in my shoes are generally fucked up.  I also was reminded that grief is not a nice linear process.  It’s not a checklist you can go through–shock (check), denial (check), etc.  It is more like a spiral that winds back around and re-crosses the same places you thought you had already been through.

Another friend who always seems to know the right things to say, sent me a message to let me know the “KM (me) Fan Club” is super big.  So big, in fact, that if the “KM Fan Club” were to hold a meeting, they would have a hard time finding a venue large enough.  Her message brought lots of tears.  I know I have this enormous group of friends, family, strangers even–who love me and support me–and I am so blessed in that way.  So how is it that I feel so lonely?

Remember the stump?  On my favorite running trail?  The cosmic bus stop?  It’s empty.  Completely cleared off.  I was heartbroken during my first run back when I turned the corner and saw that it was empty.  However–when they cleared it off, they did miss one item.  A ceramic touchstone I had left for Jake.  It was all that remained.  It reminded me of my soul.  Completely empty except for this love where Jake used to be.  But now the love has turned into pain.  It feels like that’s all I have left of me.  One big, tangled knot of hurt rolling down the street.

I can’t hold together the seams of the Kristen Suit anymore.  I’m not even present.  This scares me.