“When you’ve lived through the unexpected or out of order death of someone you love, your heart has, by definition, already been pushed too far.” Megan Devine, Refugeingrief.com
Until about a week ago, I had never clicked on a cute puppy video.
The last time I wrote, I wasn’t in a good place. I was doing too much remembering and feeling overwhelming sadness. I know you all want to read my blog in the hopes that I’ve found humor in doing something stupid (like The Cleanse), or that I’ve realized how strong I am and how far I’ve come. I want to write those things too. My head and my heart are not in the same place they were last time I wrote. They are different-but unfortunately not in a good way.
It hasn’t been often in the past 3+ years that I’ve felt true anger towards Jake. Anger at Jake is not an emotion that has been a typical part of my experience. Others have shared that they are mad at Jake for what he did and I’ve been ready to jump out of my skin to come to his defense. Because I know this wasn’t about the rest of us. This was about his unbearable pain.
[Quick aside…I have had a hard time with my memory for the past 3+ years. It has gotten better–or rather, I’ve worked a lot on strategies to help me remember–like every day stuff. I rarely know if I am telling someone the same story or fact I just told them 5 minutes ago (and they are just being too polite to tell me) or if I swear I actually remember sending that email, but searching my mailbox, I see that never did (it’s not even in my drafts!). So, if I repeat myself in my blog posts, it’s because I really don’t remember all that I’ve shared throughout the past 3 years or so. Yes-it’s in black and white and I can go back and re-read. But, I can’t actually bring myself to go back and read any of them. (Occasionally, I go back and read about my cleanse–just to remind myself why I shouldn’t be considering doing another one….)]
When Jake was still on life support at the hospital, I don’t remember how it was decided or who I was with (although I remember all the chairs were taken by ‘us’-Jake’s family and friends). I do remember exactly where I was (the neuro ICU waiting room at a circular table) when ‘we’ decided that I didn’t have to tell my kids exactly what happened. It was decided that I would tell them that “daddy hurt his head and the doctors couldn’t fix it. So, he died at the hospital”. This was not a lie. It just wasn’t every detail. My kids were 9, 7, 4 and 2 at the time. Judge all you want because I don’t now and I have never cared what anybody else’s thoughts/feelings were about that decision. My kids. Not yours. My husband. Not yours. THE FATHER OF MY BABIES. (Should I say it again? Not yours.)
Starting earlier this year, my older boys’ (now ages 12 and 9) counselor and I went through meetings, emails, and phone calls trying to decide if it was a smart idea to tell the kids, and if so, when and how to do it. We consulted for months and when we had decided that at least the older two should be told, we spent more months planning out the best time, place, and way to do so. I told very few people and they were the ones I knew would support my decision (even if I changed my mind) rather than judge it or give me their unsolicited opinion. This ultimately was a decision I made for my kids. The date/time was planned out about 6-8 weeks in advance. So, I had plenty of time to go over it again and again and again in my mind. The nauseous feeling and dread became too familiar. This would be the second worst thing they had ever been told in their lives.
In July, in their counselor’s office with the counselor present, I told my oldest boys how their dad hurt his head. They were both completely shocked. My oldest son flat-out told me that he didn’t believe it. My nine-year old though–his response, to this day, has me questioning if telling them was the right thing to do. Words will never convey what I saw in his body, his face, and his eyes. I hurt that little boy in a way that he’s never been hurt before. He couldn’t get mad at Jake. Jake isn’t here anymore. But I am here and I’m the one who told him. He screamed at me that I should never have told him. He asked me why I would ever tell him such a horrible thing. He cried hard and questioned why I couldn’t let him be not knowing. He ran out of the office.
At some point the counselor returned with my son. He moved his body as far away from me as he could possibly get. I was distraught. Clearly I had made the wrong choice and I just wanted to go back to 20 minutes earlier-immediately before the session started–and make a different decision about telling them. But as I tell my kids almost daily–once the words come out of your mouth, you can never put them back. The session only lasted long enough for the boys to decide that we shouldn’t tell the younger two siblings (now age 7 and 5). My oldest son believed that waiting until they were much older was the best possible option. My younger son stated that if I really loved them, I wouldn’t ever tell them the truth. He looked me right in the eye for the first time in the previous 25 minutes and said, “No parent should ever tell a kid anything like that…ever”.
I do have very strong beliefs that nobody knows my children and our family as well as I do. Ultimately, I will make the big, hard, horrible decisions. However, this also means that I had to come home that day, and every day since then, and try to manage this THING by myself. It’s so much more than holding them and reassuring them how much their daddy loved them. I wish it were that easy.
In the past few weeks, anger has been coursing through my body. In my entire life, I haven’t had nearly enough experience with anger to comprehend and manage what I’ve been feeling lately. Maybe it falls just short of uncontrollable? I’m a little scared that it might end up there. The urges I have had to break things, tear Jake’s pictures down, slam glass photo frames against the wall and just let out raw, primal screams and cries..are like none I’ve ever felt before. Every day, I try to manage how I feel, how my kids feel and how I feel about what my kids are feeling. None of it is good. With each passing day, as I observe each child’s behaviors, reactions, play, language, drawings…everything–a tiny piece of my hope that’s not very big to begin with, but still there for now–the hope that my kids will be okay and that I will be okay–seems to get chipped away. Because no matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how much I keep trying–I will never make things okay for them. Their innocent little brains were altered the day they lost their daddy. It gets worse daily. I feel like a helpless bystander. Their poor little brains and hearts were changed again on the day I chose to sit down and tell my boys that yes…their daddy hurt his head and the doctors couldn’t help him so he died at the hospital. He hurt his head, because he shot himself. In the head.
My 9-year-old son screamed at me: “WHAT? WHAT? He shot himself? Like with a gun? WHERE? Why did he have a gun? WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP HIM?!?!”
So, yeah, I’m fucking angry. Yes. I’m angry at Jake.
The THING is-my anger isn’t about “the day I told my poor children that their daddy shot himself in the head”. I’m angry because it’s every fucking day.
This has nothing to do with how difficult it is to somehow figure out everyday life logistics as the only parent of 4 young kiddos. I’m not angry about that. I’ve learned to plow ahead and do what I can to figure that shit out. I have help. I ask for help. People are kind.
This anger has everything to do with the fact that my kids live every moment with loss and confusion and unfairness. These are well-worn ruts in their brains. These have become entwined and entangled throughout their beings so that this THING is a significant part of who they are and who they are going to become.
When I get an email from a teacher about behavior/emotional outbursts in class, or a “character counts” slip from the after school care (which means a kid did something to show poor character), or a parent lets me know about my son’s behavior at soccer practice, or a very young sports coach (super young–super awesome kid) gets up the courage to talk to me about my kid being a little jerk at practice and coach would love to hear some of my thoughts about how to manage said son’s jerkiness (he put it way nicer than that-that was just the automatic translation going on in my head while he was telling me)–I keep myself up at night trying to figure out how I’m going to help them. All kids have stuff going on. But it’s very hard NOT to compare when my kids have this THING and I have nobody to share this with. The one person that I could share this THING with, who would feel it the way I do, is the one who is gone. If he weren’t gone, I wouldn’t have this THING stuck in my brain and my body every minute of the day.
The shit that goes on at home–sometimes it seems like the kinds of shit that all kids do. I read blogs and see videos and read posts on social media about other kids doing the same exact stupid shit as mine. It’s annoying and it’s frustrating and it drives me crazy. But that stuff–doesn’t worry me. I don’t lie awake at night thinking about that stuff. It’s other stuff. Deeper stuff. Really painful stuff that humans aren’t meant to feel, live with, or manage. That’s the stuff I see in my children every day that chips away at what’s left of my hope.
In my line of work, we ‘encourage’ the people we work with to be specific with their language. I actually have the rule that my students can’t use the words “stuff” or “thing”. But I can’t find a word to convey the THING–the super big THING-that my family lives with every day. There is no word. So, it’s the THING.
My daughter loves to draw and write. One morning she drew a picture. When she showed it to me, my heart broke and I asked “Is that you?” as I pointed to the girl in the picture. She replied, “No, that’s you mommy. You’re very sad”. UGH. This is an example of the THING. Because my kids rarely see me sad. I try my damnedest to keep that smile on my face, make silly jokes, use weird voices when reading stories, and dance around the family room with them every day. But my daughter must see through me somehow. I wonder if her next picture will be a portrait of her mom punching a wall or breaking some glassware (not by accident). I hope not. I’m hoping that in writing this post, I will feel some sort of relief from this terrible, angry feeling that I’ve been living with lately.
So, I don’t excuse my kids’ stupid, jerky behavior. Well-meaning people have said to me, “You can’t blame everything on Jake dying” (which, by the way, makes me angry because I don’t). Anyway, I can’t live in parallel universes to compare if they would do the same stuff if Jake was alive. But I know, without a doubt, that the THING has become a part of them and that most definitely would not have happened if their daddy was still here and I hate that.
I definitely need more cute puppy videos in my life. I just wish puppies could fix everything.
(Too much pressure to put on puppies. I know. No need to contact animal rights groups.)