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.


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