So I Keep Living

“So I Kept Living”

I was walking down an unfamiliar street and saw the sign with the above words in a window of a juice place (ha! ironically-see previous post). I stopped in my tracks and stood there staring at it. Didn’t move for at least a minute. Four words that when put together that way were so powerful that I stood on the street for a full minute and processed them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have taken some time to go back and re-read my old posts about how I navigate my world without Jake. There are numerous trends throughout my story, but one emotion stuck out for me. Whoa. I’ve been ANGRY. Like really, really angry. Not angry at Jake so much (although there was some of that), but just at people, places, things, ideas, dreams, rocks….. Somehow, in the past few years I arrived at a place where I was pissed at a rock.

It’s been almost three years. I have felt so incredibly low many times. I have spent days in bed (and sometimes still do, although those days are fewer now), had to make to do lists that included “take a shower” and “eat some food”, hated Wednesdays, then the 27th of each month, then holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. I’ve gone out of my way to avoid places that I had been to with Jake. I couldn’t even drive by them. I’ve gone through phases where I drank too much and didn’t eat enough. Even had times when I was tempted to shake the person in front of me in line at the grocery store because I was irritated that they were being too chatty with the cashier and scream “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT MY HUSBAND DIED AND I AM VERY SAD AND ANGRY AND THIS IS NOT HOW I PICTURED MY LIFE SO CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT UP BECAUSE I WANT TO BUY THESE MICROWAVEABLE PANCAKES FOR MY KIDS AND GET MY DIRTY ASS BACK TO BED!”

It became very routine for me to wake up in the morning full of purpose and expectations.  But, it usually took less than 20 minutes before I was back into “survival mode” and just looking forward to going to bed again that night.  I blame a little of this on the weather since last September.  In Seattle, the weather from September until this past week (late June!) has been miserable, nasty, rainy and gray all day everyday.  Experiencing this weather for so many months has been rough on most people who live here.  Like many others, my mental health depends on exercise, specifically, trail running.  I used to run in downpours and freezing cold.  But it has been so bad that all my trails became running water creeks and pretty much impossible to run without wearing giant fly fishing boots (which I haven’t actually tried to run in but I imagine it’s pretty tricky).  The combination of sadness, anger at everything, grief, longing, depressing weather, and not being able to take care of myself physically was debilitating.  In reality, although I thought I was angry at everything and everyone else, I was really most angry at myself.  Angry at myself for not having more strength, patience, and energy.  Angry at myself for not being the mom/daughter/sister/friend that I really wanted to be.  Angry that I had to rely on help from others (every day) that I knew I would never be able to repay/reciprocate.  REALLY angry at myself for not attempting my trail runs through raging rivers wearing fly fishing boots and a full on snow suit (because obviously I am such a wuss).

A shift in thinking crept up on me when I was so busy being angry.  My cousin was having a fancy destination wedding in Turks & Caicos.  When I first received the invitation, my immediate reaction was “No.  Of course I can’t go”.  As the weeks went by, I started wondering if I could actually do it.  Little by little I realized there were ways I could overcome the “obstacles” to taking this trip of a lifetime.  Rather than being bitter and resentful because life put me in this “position” where I obviously could not take trips or do anything fun–ever, I started planning.  I started out by asking for help.  (Unheard of–right?) HUGE pleas for help and months of planning/organizing/reorganizing led me to an incredible, stunning, beautiful, relaxing and SUPER FUN vacation-it was better than I had even imagined!  One day during that vacation, I received some really upsetting news about an old friend who recently found out that he was very sick and undergoing treatment.  Even though I was in the midst of all the beauty and fun, I plunged once again.  A lot of crying and a lot of anger (including the urges to punch anybody who walked by me that I thought looked ‘douche-y’) led me to what I now refer to as “poor choice Monday”.  (I won’t go into exact detail about the ultimate poor choice I made that day, but I will give you a hint.  It involved rum drinks and did not end well.)  The next morning though, I woke up with these thoughts:  I don’t want to ever say “someday maybe“.  I don’t want to keep waiting for “things” to fall into place so I can climb out of the darkness.  I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I hadn’t danced around the kitchen with my kids before they became too cool to do that with me because it was vital that I got the laundry done.  Most of all, I don’t ever want to say “It’s too late” ever again.

I started running again and going to my favorite gym ever in the history of gyms.  After I was leaving my first class back, I was stopped short by that sign at the juice store.  As I stood and stared (and to be honest I was probably talking out loud to myself), it struck me how profound those words were.  I kept living, and because of that, I can keep living!By no means do I expect to find myself skipping happily through meadows and mountains whistling along with the birds or conversing with squirrels (although you never know…).  I don’t expect that my feelings of being overwhelmed will completely go away (after all, we ALL get overwhelmed).  I don’t foresee any time in my future when I won’t need help from others.  But I’m really hopeful that I can be kinder to myself.

I have a lot to say–too much for one post!  Stay tuned for future posts about:

  • My feelings about “13 Reasons Why” and the Michelle Carter case
  • Three Years
  • Trying to stay “rooted in gratitude”
  • How I am really doing with this developing hopeful attitude
  • Future “poor choices” like trying a juice cleanse again

 

The Cleansing

I know that blogs are “supposed to be” centered around a specific theme. However, I’m trying to get rid of the “should haves” and “supposed tos” in my life so things are about to get crazy up in here!

A couple of days ago, I got a wild hair up my ass. I went to a cold pressed juicing place with the intention of trying a juice and maybe choking down a wheatgrass shot. Well, I ended up spending a pretty penny on a 3-day juicing cleanse. The juice is only good for a few days, so I planned to start the very next day. The salespeople told me to drink water to stay hydrated. They told me to go for walks instead of runs because I may be lightheaded. Meanwhile, my mind was thinking “pffft. I totally got this AND I’m going to keep up my strict workout routine!”

I’d really like to share my experience!

Day One/Juice One–something green with kale and stuff in it. Doesn’t taste so bad considering it’s green and has kale and other “good for you” crap in it.
Juice Two–something citrus-y with fruit and mint. Different, but good.
Juice Three-back to the kale and spinach base. I can choke it down.

*Then I sit on the couch for a second and fall fast asleep. Almost late for work.*

Juice Four-Something red. It has beets in it. This was a juice that I could see myself drinking on a semi-regular basis. Go figure. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t green.

*At this point-I become lightheaded. Dizzy, Start of a headache. I remember I’m also supposed to be sipping green water (can’t they do something about all the green?) throughout the day. This stuff was nasty.*

Juice Five-something green based. Can barely bring it to my mouth. Trying to force down a few sips and the 5th grader I was working with asks “Well, if its making you feel so bad, why are you doing it?”. I paused and said “That’s a really good question. You’re wiser than I am kid”.

Somewhere during Juice Five (which I couldn’t finish) I get nauseous, feverish, and the worst headache I can remember having since I had migraines in grad school. My face feels like it’s on fire. I’m practically lying on the desk as I work with my student. My heart is beating really fast and I feel short of breath. I wonder how I’m going to make it through the work day. I might have the flu.

Juice Six–Really kind of yummy–almond/vanilla based. Last juice of the day. Withdrawal symptoms remain.

I throw out remainder of Juice 5, as well as green water.

By the time I get home, I think I’m hallucinating.

I crawl into bed without even brushing my teeth or washing my face! My head is pounding and I think I’m going to vomit. I can’t even function.

I am up about seven times during the night to pee. At least seven.

The morning comes and my headache has dulled. I wonder for a brief moment if I can get through another day of cleansing.
After all, I spent a pretty penny on this shit. I open Juice #1 and start to drink it.

My 9-year-old pulls out the coffee. “Mom–PLEASE drink some coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. I’ll even make it for you!”

12-year-old says “Just drink water, mom. That doesn’t make you sick.”

At this point, children have more common sense than I do.

The whole “not eating” part wasn’t bad at all, because you are sipping these juices practically every minute, (or drinking the green water in between).
But–ugh–I was so sick! I need to be able to function in my life! I have a job and kids. I drive a car (they should have laws against driving while you are on a cleanse by the way)! I’m thinking-well-this is what detox means. When people are overcoming an addiction, they go through physical withdrawal symptoms like this.

Then I decide-

Life is short. Eat the fucking cookie.

Knowing Alone

You don’t know.
I’m glad you don’t know.
There are so many things I know that I didn’t know before.
I keep learning things that I don’t want to know.

It hurts to be alone with these things I’ve never wanted to know.

Still, nobody can know them except for me.

I know sadness. I know pain. I live grief. But I don’t know what to say to you about your sadness, pain and grief. I know that words never brought me comfort.  Not much has made sense in the AFTER. I’m not saying that there aren’t words out there that can bring someone suffering a loss some comfort and peace. But I don’t know what they are.

I just know what you don’t know.

You don’t know how the most innocuous statements can trigger me so unexpectedly.  Like when my son was in his honor choir concert and the announcer man was talking about the importance of music in schools and thanking all the parents for getting their kids to the extra practices on time because that is a “part of parenting”.  Fine statement, right?  But I started crying. Because getting my kids to practices doesn’t seem like “part of parenting” to me at all.    It seems more like being “part of cruise directing”.  Because parenting for me is not about the logistics of getting 4 different kids to different places at the same times.  I have so many wonderful people helping me with that part.  Parenting for me is living, in my mind, the worst possible case scenario for anything and everything that happens with my kids. The phone rings and before I can pick it up I’m already sitting at Harborview at the bedside of someone I love waiting for the doctor to call time of death.  Reliving. Parenting for me is listening to my youngest son cry “I want to be with you” when I’m walking out the door for the fourth evening that week and leaving him with a sitter because I either have to work or attend another one of my kids’ events that will run past his bedtime.  It’s wondering what sort of damage I’m adding to what’s already been done.

You don’t know the sadness that comes with the knowledge that my support group has grown too large.  There are too many of us.  There is a waitlist to get in.  You don’t know that as much as we all need that support group, every one of us is ready to give up our place so that nobody has to be on a fucking waitlist to get some help.

You don’t know that my mind races so quickly I can’t even keep up with the thoughts.  Or maybe it races so I don’t get stuck on any of the more horrific thoughts.  Like how every time my pre-teen son gets upset and slams the door to his room, I am petrified–beyond petrified–that he’s going to hurt himself–because of something I said or didn’t say and because it “runs in the family”.

You don’t know how it actually feels like a physical punch to my gut-it practically doubles me over in pain, every time I walk into the preschool and see an announcement for an upcoming “Daddy-Daughter Dance”.  I know that sign is posted there.  But it’s like a sneaky, scary monster hiding behind the door that jumps out at me.  I am startled by it,  every single time. You don’t know this because there’s no way you would.  What you see is my Kristen suit and a smile on my face as I greet my little guy who may or may not be happy to see me (depending on whatever matters to a 5-year-old at any given moment).

You don’t know how difficult it is to watch one of my kids do something really cool (like the honor choir) and know without a doubt that my husband would be so proud of him.  But how sad it is for my husband that he doesn’t get to be here.  Even more sad for my kids who don’t have their dad in the audience to support them.  I can be present at as many events as I can physically attend, but I can never make up for daddy’s absence at these events.

You don’t know how I can’t get good mental health counseling for my children.  Good counselors do not accept Medicaid.  Counselors will accept cash.  I will give them cash to help my children.  But then I sit through session after session wondering why I’m listening to this person who is not there.  Who doesn’t know.  At the end of the day, there is just me.  I am the only person on this earth that loves and cares for my kids the way I do.  At the end of the day, I am alone in this parenting.

You don’t know how my 6-year-old daughter’s counselor has been listing off the characteristics of a child with ADHD and I’m thinking–“Holy shit.  She’s talking about me.  I have ADHD”. Then in the next moment I’m sitting on my hands to keep from tearing my hair out because what does this ADHD stuff have to do with my child’s anger and grief? I am paying CASH for fucks sake.  PLEASE stop reading this book to my child about how all dogs have ADHD.  I’m about to scream.

You don’t know how counselors that I pay CASH for come up with ever-loving complicated “systems” of reinforcement and consequences for my kids.  They don’t know how asking me to pull together and maintain this “system” is maybe the thing that will put me over the edge.  But I still try.  They tell me that I need to put together a “simple” collage book with my child-one that’s all about said child and daddy.  Put it in a plastic baggie and close it with duct tape so it can never get dirty or wet.  WHAT?  I don’t have time to check my kids’ homework, let alone spend time ALONE with one child (what are the other kids doing at this time?) to make a book that they can’t ever take out of the bag?  Maybe this is my newly, self-diagnosed ADHD kicking in-but I don’t understand the sense of that.

You don’t know how much my body shook as I held my mother-in-law last weekend because she is going in for major surgery and I know she is terrified that she won’t come out.  You don’t know how I locked myself in her bathroom and cried because–oh my gosh.  Because of so many things.  My kids cannot suffer another loss.  I cannot lose her.  I have grown to love her and appreciate her.  We have a relationship. She is Jake’s mother.  Jake would’ve been by her side every step of the way, giving her courage and making her laugh.  I have no courage to offer.  I have fear.

You don’t know how much I hate myself for wanting to do things for myself.  I’m not just talking about a “nice bath” or a girls’ weekend getaway.  I am not going to pretend to be selfless or some kind of martyr.  I want things too-things that don’t have to do with the kids at all!  But I know kicking and screaming and flailing myself around on the floor doesn’t actually work.  I don’t know how to make it work and if I figured it out-would I just hate myself for actually doing that thing for myself?  In our modern American culture, people give you lip-service about how moms need to take care of themselves in order to take care of their kids–the whole airplane/oxygen mask thing.  But then society frowns upon moms who do just that.  Because how are we supposed to squeeze in “me” time between extra honor choir practices, birthday parties, “mandatory volunteer hours” (okay what the fuck is that even supposed to mean?), work, counseling, laundry, sports practices, math team, school projects that are supposed to be completed with “limited parental involvement”, all while making sure our kids are eating organic, well-balanced meals, brushing their teeth WELL, flossing (haha), showering WITH soap, changing (and/or wearing) underwear, and taking them on field trips to homeless shelters so they can truly understand how privileged they are?   I want more than that.  I hate how selfish that sounds.  But that’s my true confession.

You don’t know these things, because how would you?  Just like I don’t know you.  I don’t know what to say to loved ones who have lost (or are losing) their loved ones.  I don’t know what to say to strangers who are suffering loss.  I don’t know what’s under your suit-the things that hurt you and scare you.  But it’s so important that I realize that I don’t know and you don’t know.  The best looking, fanciest, perfectly creased, cleanest suit could be hiding fear, pain, grief, trauma, illness, anxiety, nightmares, sadness, panic, anger, guilt, regrets and more.  I wish I had known more about what was under the Jake suit before it was too late.

 

 

 

 

Imperfect

NOTE: This entry was written on separate dates divided by illness and burnt broccoli which could likely account for the lack of cohesiveness throughout.  I’m publishing it anyway:-)

1/18/2017: Well, it happened.  For the first time since Jake died, I got sick! I haven’t been sick in about five years.  I believe because I drink a ton of water regularly and started taking EmergenC at the very first cough, I would feel better in short order.  I think I had truly convinced myself that I would never get sick again…like, ever.  My 5-year-old happened to test positive for the flu at the same time.  Thankfully, my parents were able to take flu boy for a few days which not only enabled me to go to work, but also kept him away from the other kids.  This morning I realized that while my parents should be enjoying their retirement and their grandchildren, they have inadvertently become the kids’ “second parent”.  I appreciate them more than I can even say.  For the past couple of years, I’ve been adamant that these are MY kids and I will make the decisions and nobody else has a say.  But can I even believe that?  When my parents have shouldered so much of the responsibility?  I don’t know.  I’m actually asking.

In the thick of it, when all 4 are going crazy and pictures are falling off the walls because they are like a herd of hippos stomping through my house, and my 5-year-old (who I believe has Oppositional-Defiant Disorder…but I’m also really hoping that it’s a passing phase) is refusing to wear clothes so I have to sit outside his bedroom door holding it shut until he puts some clothes on and he’s screaming and crying and yelling really awful things at me…yes..I am the only one there.  Some form of that scenario takes place on a regular basis.  But just every once in a while I find myself wishing that I had someone here to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be alright.

In case anyone was wondering…YES..it is definitely possible to burn steamed broccoli.  Also, YES..it is possible to make this mistake more than once. So, I completely lost my train of thought.

Some weird coincidences have been happening lately.  I went to a New Years Eve party and didn’t know many people.  I was chatting with the woman hosting the party and as we were talking, we realized that she had gone to high school with Jake.  She knew Jake and all of his friends.  She pulled out her yearbook.  I looked at his yearbook picture and couldn’t tear myself away from it.  Here was this..kid.  In high school, on the football team, tons of friends..with a big smile on his face and that kid had no clue of his fate.  This thinking led me down the rabbit hole of “what if he had never met me? Would he still be alive?” and then that illogical desperation of wishful thinking that we could turn back time to when that picture was taken and alter the course of…everything.

The following weekend I was conversing with a teacher from my kids’ school and it turned out that he went to the same college as Jake AND was there at the same time.

The weekend after that I went trail running with a group of people.  I knew some, but not everybody.  (They were very fast…I had a hard time keeping up with their pace).  I’d like to say I was having a conversation, but really I was just listening to someone talk to me because no way could I talk! She brought up the Innocence Project (not many people know about it, but it was one of Jake’s “things”.  He strongly supported that organization.  I’ve never heard anybody talk about it before) at the exact moment that we came to “the” rock.  I’ve posted about the rock in a previous blog. Before and after.  img_0068-1 img_3646

I had to separate from the group and go up there to remember. It was/is ridiculously hard for me to look at this same rock—-empty. The rock is still present.  Jake is not.  I bawled.  I haven’t cried like that in a long time.  Jake had been there, at that rock, with his kids and I, once again–having no idea what was in store for him.  Someday I will find better words to explain this really indescribable feeling.

When I finally re-joined the pack, my dear friend told me she had had a dream about Jake.  She never really knew Jake-I barely knew her before Jake died.  We became close friends in the AFTER.  She told me how she dreamt that she was at some kind of wedding or big event and Jake walked in, wearing a suit and sat down at a table with a big smile on his face.

Could it be possible?  I want to believe that in these different experiences, Jake is there with me.  However, being the data-driven, scientific evidence, reproducible results girl that I am, always returns to “These are merely coincidences that you are assigning meaning to”.  But lately I have been wondering-what if?  What if I had some faith..in something?  Is it possible to “give faith a chance” and see how it works out for me?  Just believe….without proof.  I don’t know.  Again-I’m actually asking.

CONTINUED 1/22/2017:  So, I started this post earlier in the week while I was in denial.  I had the flu.  I didn’t admit it to myself until 3-4 days in.  Haha! I started taking Tamiflu and do believe it shortened the length and severity of the virus.  But man alive, that medicine is disgusting.  No wonder my kids balk about taking it.  At least I have experience with doing shots (which helped! Positive side of doing shots a long, long time ago…).

My two oldest (ages 9 and 12) boys see a counselor.  During a recent session, my oldest was saying a lot about treasuring the people we love and how much he treasures his family and friends.  He used those words.  Soon afterwards, I overheard my 12-year-old saying mean things to his brother.  I reminded him about what he said to the counselor.  He looked at me and said “Well, of course I still treasure him.  I love him.  He’s my brother.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t annoy me!”  I didn’t respond.  I was in awe that my 12-year-old boy was able to articulate in such simple terms, such a profound thought.  Because, I’ve been throwing this idea around in my head for some time.

I know sometimes when I’m with my girlfriends, they are worried about complaining about their husbands around me.  They might be thinking “At least I still have my husband” or anything along those lines.  One friend was surprised that I could empathize with her frustrations.  Here is a true fact-being dead, does not make you perfect.  I have beaten myself up to the point where my bruises on the inside will never go away-because I keep on beating myself up over not doing ‘whatever’ enough when Jake was alive.  But when you take two human beings and put them together to interact, there are bound to be ideas, hopefully many, that are diverse and even conflicting between those two people.  I grew up believing that princes saved princesses and that “they lived happily ever after”.  Nobody ever told me that could never happen.  I know I’m not the only one.  When we registered for our wedding, I registered for more glassware/barware than the dive bar in town even owns.  We had never been big on entertaining before we got married.  But I had this idea in my head that “happily ever after” meant hosting fiestas with a variety of cocktails in their appropriate glassware, and having dinner parties where I would definitely need twelve water goblets.  This was my mindset when I was planning to be married. It didn’t really occur to me that he was not perfect.  I am not perfect.  Our relationship wasn’t perfect.  We loved each other and treasured each other, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t irritate, anger, and have moments of genuine “non-appreciation” for each other. So, yes, I can empathize with relationship struggles and challenges.  (I haven’t found the compassion within myself to feel very sorry for those people whose lives’ biggest problems include having non-matching embroidery on their Christmas stockings because Pottery Barn discontinued that font, however.  I can’t shed tears with you over that one.  Working on it though.)

I know that these things are true:

  • human beings are not perfect,
  • human beings are very complicated,
  • relationships between human beings are complicated,
  • human beings can love someone and not really like that same person at times.

Here is what I am trying to tell myself is true:

  • all of the above are okay.

I do wish that as a society we were all more open about this.  Perfection is an idea.  It cannot be proven.  This is a fact. I absolutely can prove that I am human.  But I cannot prove perfection, because this is an abstract concept and everybody’s ideas about this concept are different.  Every person on this planet has their own idea of perfection.  Most of us strive to achieve it.  But why?  And more importantly-why the hell do we try to put on this face of perfection for the world?  It’s insanity!

I’ve never really wondered “what is my purpose in life?”  Of course, because I already knew.  My “purpose” was to grow up, be an upstanding citizen with a good job, live happily ever after with my husband and kids, and during retirement sit on a porch swing with my husband, sip iced tea and hold hands while watching the sunset.  Obviously, that was not a “purpose”.  That was my fairy tale ending.  I’ve started thinking about it though.  I’ve decided for myself (not for everybody else), that I am always going to have multiple “purposes”.  In the BEFORE, it was about raising my kids to be happy and kind people.  In the AFTER, it’s about doing my best to raise my kids to hopefully be happy and kind people while managing their feelings and beings about the overlooming fact that they lost a parent tragically, and suddenly, and way too young.  It’s about doing my imperfect best when my heart is broken because my 5-year-old doesn’t recognize his daddy in the pictures all over the house.  It’s about doing my imperfect best when my 6-year-old says she is going to ask Santa to bring daddy back to life because Santa is magic and he can do anything.  It’s about doing my imperfect best when my 9-year-old starts crying because he is “the only kid in class” who doesn’t have a dad.  It’s about doing my imperfect best when my 12-year-old takes on the un-asked-for burden of being the “man” of the house before he even hits puberty. All of this while trying to raise my kids to hopefully be happy and kind people (even when I’m down and out with the stupid flu). A lot of days, my imperfect best, is not even very good.   But, I need to be okay with that.  Not just okay with the suit I wear for the world, but really okay with that for me.  The real, raw, selfish, generous, loving, hating, compassionate, not-so-compassionate, thoughtful, thoughtless, imperfect Kristen that only I know about.  I need to be okay with her.

When we lose somebody suddenly, some of the first words out of anybody’s mouth are “treasure every moment with your loved ones because you never know….”.  This is a fantastic sentiment.  But because we are imperfect and complicated human beings that interact with other imperfect and complicated human beings, there are going to be times when we don’t necessarily show our appreciation to our loved ones.  We feel angry.  We feel annoyed.  We are not very nice.  But we still treasure.  There are no similes I can come up with for comparison.  This just is.  We can only try our imperfect best and aim to keep our inner bruising at a minimum.

Jake always encouraged me to write.  It turns out, Jake had a story.  He still does.  But he’s not here to tell it.  I will tell Jake’s story.  I will tell it the way he told it to me, the way he didn’t tell it to me, and the way I found out about it going through his belongings after he died.  Jake was my beautifully imperfect best friend and love.  And I have his perfectly tragic story to tell.

 

Navigating the 3rd Christmas

Yesterday, I found myself wishing I was a kid again. I remember Christmas being so magical and so exciting. Watching out the car window looking at all the Christmas lights. Decorating our live tree. Watching all the Christmas specials (including my favorite “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”). My dad’s I.B.E.W Christmas party every year. The anticipation of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning almost more than I could stand.

I had really bad nightmares this morning. Really bad and very disturbing and I can’t get them out of my head. Here’s the thing. I have been thinking that I really have my act together this year. The past two Christmases I couldn’t even really make an effort. Loved ones supported my children throughout the past two Christmases. But this one–I had it. I started at the beginning of the month. Christmas lists in hand. Grand surprises planned. A very nice person spent two days putting Christmas lights up outside my house (which we’ve never had–and my kids are always sad about that) so that when I pulled up to the house-the kids would gasp in wonder and excitement at the beautiful wonderland he had created (I even pulled over to video tape their reactions but it didn’t quite go down the way I had imagined). I bought our first live tree and colored lights that reminded me of my childhood trees. I white knuckled a weekend trip over the pass in a giant snowstorm so my kids could experience a ton of snow and play in it and go sledding. The kids and I even ran out of the house one morning at 6:30am so we could buy teacher and staff presents and they could all wear festive hats on the last day before the break. The one thing I didn’t get to was Christmas cards–and I was okay with that. I was way ahead of the game and we would be visiting Santa long before Christmas Eve morning.

It’s Christmas Eve morning. I couldn’t even bring my kids to see Santa. My parents had to do it for me. Yesterday, I crashed. My kids were staying with my parents and I was going to watch Christmas movies and wrap presents and get up early this morning to go see Santa. But, when I got back last night, I crashed hard. My brain kept going to a very bad place. This one survival mode of my brain trying to think of ways to escape the pain. The other reasonable part of my brain reminding me that I can get through this. Just get through the next minute. Then the next minute. Fortunately, a good friend showed up at my doorstep right in the middle of it all, and although her visit was short, it was all I needed to come out of that dark place. I begrudgingly wrapped the rest of the presents, ate a salad and watched “Shameless”. Not a whole lot of Christmas spirit-but I was moving along. Then this morning I woke up from the nightmares. My parents were texting me about getting the kids out early to see Santa. I tried. I told myself “Come on! This is one day-one day out of the year when you really need to fake it and get the kids to see Santa. You can do this. You NEED to do this”. But I was stuck. Stuck in my nightmares. Just stuck.

I’ve been thinking about the holiday season a lot since yesterday. There is this idea of magic, joy, singing, happiness and family. But there are so many people out there-for whom the holidays are painful, agonizing, and heartbreaking. I try really hard not to give in to those feelings. I think about others and try to keep things in perspective. I really tried this year. But I crashed. Hard. I don’t want to celebrate. I don’t feel like celebrating. I have to, because I have kids. But I would say-this is not just about my pain this year. It’s actually fully recognizing the state of the world, and all the people–so many people–who are suffering in one way or another, and feeling so sad about THEIR pain, THEIR suffering, THEIR losses, THEIR hunger and THEIR heartbreak. I think I’m so overwhelmed with how painful the holidays are for so many people and I can donate to charities until I run out of money, but that doesn’t really make a difference in this world. So, I’m sad for all of the people who are suffering. I wish I could invite them all to my house for a sleepover and feed them and clothe them and let them know–its okay. It’s okay that the holidays suck for you and you don’t have to pretend.

I’m very lucky that I have memories of magical Christmases. Even as an adult. I’ll end with a Jake story.  One Christmas, we went out to buy a tree.  I think it was the last Christmas we had a live tree (maybe 10-11 years ago).  The place where we bought the tree didn’t have any twine or anything to secure the tree to the top of the car!  They encouraged us to go into the store and buy some rope.  Jake and I were frustrated.  So, Jake threw the tree on top of the car, opened his window, and drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one arm hanging out the window, holding onto to the tree on top of the car. Simple story–one of those “you had to be there” events.  But, I’m so grateful that Jake was Jake and we were fortunate enough to call him family.  I really miss him.

 

PTSD and the Pretending

Jake used to make me laugh so hard.  I mean, gasping in pain, clutching my stomach and pleading for him to stop, kind of laughing.  Most of those times, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I smile just thinking about it.  He would sit and look at me like I was crazy.  I am very thankful for those times.

A couple of weeks ago, something very bad and very sad happened. Some people will read what I’m about to write and roll their eyes at me. That’s okay–because all I’m saying is what happened and how I felt (and continue to feel) about it. I had two of my kids in the car. I had just picked up one from his friend’s house and tried to take my daughter to soccer practice, but there happened to be a torrential downpour at that time, so I spoke with her coach for a bit and left. I was headed out to pick up my youngest. I was on a side street. I thought I had left my phone at home so I wasn’t distracted by my phone (have to throw that in because I’m sure people will think I was texting and driving or something). All I caught was a black blur out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt it. It was big. I had just run over something big. In the seconds before I knew, I remember thinking coyote or raccoon. I stopped my car and jumped out-but couldn’t make sense of the scene around me. There was an awful, horrible wailing sound and a man lying in the street. As I ran over, I realized this awful, horrible wailing sound was coming from the man who was lying on top of his dog in the street. The dog, the black lab, that I had just run over and killed. Everything that happened after that is kind of a blur. I remember kneeling in the street beside this man and his dog. I remember sobbing and saying “I’m so sorry” over and over again. But what stands out the most in my mind was all the blood. There was so much blood. How could I have done such a thing? I killed someone’s beloved pet. He was a black lab and was wearing a collar with all his requisite tags. I’m sure he was – in case he got lost. His eyes were open-but lifeless. And he was lying in a very large pool of blood. The poor owner had presumably seen the entire thing-given that he was lying over the dog before I could even get out of my car. A few neighbors came out to help and when they helped picked up the dog to move him out of the street, I remember noticing how limp and boneless he seemed. That’s what happens when your life ends. Your eyes are open, but unseeing. Your body goes limp and grows heavy. There was so much blood. I was in and out of my car, frantic and inconsolable. I didn’t even have my phone to call someone for help. At some point, the pet owner came over and hugged me and we cried and cried. I kept saying “I’m so sorry” and he kept saying “It’s not your fault”. It was very important for him to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. I remember he had black dog hair in his mouth and on his face. He apologized to me for not being able to talk at that moment and that was the last time I saw him. I was shaking and crying. What had I done? Then the “if only”s started. I am very familiar with the “if only”s–they have formed quite a rut in my brain where the chemicals have fired over and over again throughout the past two years. If only I had chatted with my daughter’s soccer coach for 30 seconds more. Or 30 seconds less. If only I had decided to tell my friend some story I thought was funny or ask more about what was going on in her life when I picked up my son. There I was, desperately wishing for my DeLorean and flux capacitor again. There was absolutely nothing I could do. How was I going to live with myself? How could I make it up to this poor man who had just seen his dog get run over and killed by a car driven by me?

Obviously I can’t. I can’t go back in time. I will never be able to heal this pet owner, now traumatized forever, I’m sure. I’ve learned this lesson. Every weekday, at least four times a day, I have to drive past that spot, when I drop off and pick up my kids from school. That street, and that house–a house I had never even noticed before–are changed for me. Supercharged with the energy and memories of this very bad and very sad event.

I have been picturing that we are all born with a certain capacity for trauma.  I imagine it like a balloon.  Some trauma is smaller than others but it all gets stuffed into this balloon-with some taking up more space and some taking up less.  I imagine this accident like a bulge out the side of the already full balloon.  The balloon is stretching so tightly that the color is gone and you can see what’s inside.  It’s about to burst.

There are no support groups for “people who run over and kill other people’s pets with their cars”.

I realized recently that I am always pretending.  99.9% of my life is spent pretending.  Pretending to be okay.  Pretending to be strong.  Pretending I want to talk to people who I don’t want to talk to.  Pretending to be engaged.  Pretending to be interested.  One night I laid on my bed and started crying because I am so tired of pretending.  I want to be my real self.  I don’t even I think I know who that is–because I’ve been pretending for so long.  I don’t think I knew who I was before Jake died and the past two years have heaped layers and layers on top of my true self so I think I’m even pretending to myself most of the time.  I want to peel off all the layers and discover who I actually am and for those people who don’t like it, they can go away.  But what if I don’t like what I discover?  Then what’s left? I like to tell myself and others that this blog is raw and emotional and true.  But then  I wonder, is it really?  Do I really put it all out there?  Or are my words part of my pretending?

I can tell myself I’m okay.  I can tell myself I’m strong.  I can convince myself that I’ve come to terms with one thing or another.  Then, out of the blue, two months later, 4 days later, an hour later…whatever…WHAM–something hits me so hard that I’m shaken to the core.  Wait!  I thought I had that one covered!  I was done with that!

November 8th was my 13th year wedding anniversary.  After we were married, every year on our anniversary, I would make Jake sit and watch our wedding video with me.  The video is cringeworthy. The editing, the music, the special effects….so hard to watch.  It is a very cheesy video.  I know Jake hated watching it–sometimes he would even leave the room at the really, really cheesy parts.  But he always came back.  He swallowed his pride and manhood and everything he believed in 😉 once a year to watch this video with me.  I also thought the video was awful.  But as I was watching the edited version, in my head–I was back there on November 8, 2003.  Replaying memories of that day that you can’t see on the video.  Like how I was feeling at any given time during the day.  I am smiling throughout the video, but I can see through that smile and remember my feelings. I know that in that one day I probably felt a mixture of 372 emotions, not all of them “happiness”, yet I smiled through them all.  I was even pretending then.  I guess to some extent maybe we all pretend at different times.

So, in the process of trying to “not pretend”, I’m going to say some things that may not be popular.  People may not like these words.  They might stop reading.  But I can promise you-there is no pretense in the words I am about to write.  This is me-feeling what I feel and actually telling you.

Probably before Jake died, I might have been the person to recite the mantras “Create your own happiness!”, “Choose happy!”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “What goes around, comes around”.  The last two phrases make me want to throw up.  If anybody ever says any of those things to my face, I may just land in jail for assault.  But the stuff about “creating our own happiness” and “the happiness principle”–I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this concept.  I’ve decided that these platitudes are not only stupid, but harmful as well.  The stupidity lies in the notion that we actually control our emotions.  Happiness is a fucking emotion, just like sadness, anger, irritation, fear.  Nobody chooses to feel any of those feelings.  They just happen.  YOU FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL.  No emotion is wrong.  No feeling is wrong.  Because they are just there.  They make us human.  We have zero control over our emotions so why would the assumption be made that we can choose to be happy?  (Sidenote: I do believe that there are many times we can control our own behavior/reactions to the emotion.  But I also believe that there are times in everybody’s life when we just aren’t strong enough-for whatever reason-to respond to our feelings in the manner that we’d like to.)

Recently, I had parent-teacher conferences.  Not a single one went the way I expected it to.  I try to schedule them one after another.  That way I have fewer appointments to forget. As I proceeded from one to the next and the next, I went from pleasantly surprised to numb.   The numbness wore off within a day and very unpleasant feelings hit me really hard.  It turns out one of my kids is having a particularly difficult time-socially and emotionally.  I had no clue.  Apparently, he’s been leaving class in tears and spending time with the principal, but not because he’s in trouble.  He was with me during the conferences (which is a concept I totally don’t get-the teachers see the kids everyday.  Why do they need to talk to them some more?) and he cried during the conferences.  It was then that I understood that I have no grasp on the depth and intensity of this child’s pain.  My emotions were a tangled knot of sadness, guilt, compassion, self-loathing, and anger.  Asking myself–“what have I done to this poor kid?”, then “what can I do to fix it?”, then “this is too hard–I can’t figure this out all on my own”, then….fury at my husband “How the fuck did you choose to do this to your kids? How did you do this?  How could you do this to them?” I was actually in the car alone, screaming at Jake, pounding the steering wheel, heart racing, gasping for breath…like you see an actor do on television or in the movies.

It took a few days before I came back to compassion.  Although it seems to the rest of us that Jake made a choice–he didn’t.  That’s the whole point.  He didn’t see any other option.  In his brain, this was the only way.  I need to remind myself of this often and really try to process it.  If his brain thought there were other options, he wouldn’t have done what he did.  So hard to imagine.  But, we can’t choose our feelings.  We don’t choose to be happy or sad–because why would anyone choose this?  If he thought he had a choice, he would still be here.  He would have known he had a choice if the Chantix hadn’t made his brain so sick.  There are actually people behind this drug.  People who have no clue or just don’t care what they did to my 4 young children, and to the thousands of others whose loved ones’ sick brains told them “You have no other choice”.  Chantix is just a thing.  It doesn’t think or choose or love.  The people behind Chantix, the people who create it, market it, and approve it with the knowledge of what it does to people’s brains, those people killed my husband.

Grief Fatigue and The Thirds

So, we’ve started on the “Thirds”. The third “first day of school” without Jake. Coming up-the third Halloween, our kids’ birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. I realized that these are actually “firsts” as well. They are our “First thirds”. They will always be “first” somethings because I haven’t experienced them before. No matter what I think or expect, I really don’t know anything about what to think or expect. The second year mark was much harder than the first for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel like I’m coming out of this fog-this fog that has been protecting me. I have improved clarity and connectedness, but as a result, the anguish, pain and sadness are felt much more keenly. I really want to go back into the fog. I didn’t realize it was actually going to get worse. I didn’t think it could. I cry more these days than I have in a long time. But people closest to me would never know. Because I don’t want to wear them down with the grief fatigue.

I googled “grief fatigue” and most of what popped up involved information on grieving and the overwhelming fatigue a person may experience “while grieving”. (Insert sarcastic snort here). When a person loses someone they love (or a beloved pet–because I believe people love their pets just as deeply and sometimes more than they love people), the grieving never ends. It lasts a lifetime. It may or may not change shape or look “different” to others, but I don’t believe we ever stop grieving for our lost loved ones. So, I want to say fuck those websites (as well-intentioned as they may be). Who the hell wants to feel overwhelming fatigue for their entire lives? So, maybe the websites go into feeling fatigue during certain “stages” of the grieving “process”. (Insert another sarcastic snort). Everybody who reads my posts knows how I feel about the so-called stages. The implications that grief is something to get through and graduate from. I wish I could educate people about grief. My teachings would be so simple. Grief is whatever it is for the person experiencing loss. It “looks like” whatever the griever looks like. It feels like whatever the griever feels. A person grieving shouldn’t put any expectations on themselves to “move forward” or “move on to the next stage”. Blech. Makes me want to hurl. Poor people are going through enough shit physically and emotionally that they don’t need to plop somebody else’s expectations on themselves on top of everything else. But, I digress.

When I think of “grief fatigue”, I think about the people who have been there, who have been our supports and our rocks-the people we hold onto for dear life because they love us and save us from ourselves. In the beginning, they make sure we get out of bed and at least try to eat something. They do our laundry and stock our pantries in case we forget to feed our kids. They visit frequently and make sure we get out of the house. They call/email/text to let us know they are thinking about us. They politely suggest that we shower because we may have forgotten about all aspects of self-care. As time goes on, the number of people who offer the constant support starts to dwindle. There are fewer check-ins and visits. There are the people who are still there, doing these things, but they are fewer. People have their own lives and their own problems. I have no doubt that the people who start to go away still wish us nothing but healing and comfort and love us and think of us often. However, there is definitely an expectation that we will put on our grown up clothes and “move forward” and need less support.  That’s fine.  It’s the people who stay-the people we rely on and confide in and cry to-those are the people I worry about.  I worry about giving them “grief fatigue” (as I see it).  I know these people love me, support me, and want to do everything in their power to be there for me and to help me.  But I realize that it must be very tiring to be around someone who is actively needing you, relying on you and confiding in you.  Someone whose life pretty much revolves around the loss(es) they’ve experienced.

*To my non-running friends who roll their eyes and sigh when I talk about running–I love you–but you might want to skip this paragraph!* If you have read my other posts, you likely know I love trail running.  I have a growing group of friends that I go running with-and when we run, I think I feel closer to these people than at any other times.  I’m not sure why because it’s not like we have deep conversations or anything while we run.  Some of the time, we are so focused on continuing to breathe and not tripping over rocks or sliding in the mud-that we may not talk at all.  But there is still a closeness there.  Anyway, a friend took us on a new trail run this past week.  It is very exciting to try a new trail, see new surroundings, etc.  During the run, we came to a place that immediately gave me the chills and I had to stop.  I had been there before-with Jake and the kids.  I knew that straight up over a hill in front of me there was a giant rock.  I knew the rock was so big that my whole family could fit on it.  I knew this, because I have pictures of Jake and I and the kids on that rock.  I have video of Jake and my kids running down the hill from that rock.  Jake took us there on a hike once, in the winter before the spring before the summer that he died.  I had the weirdest urge to actually go up and hug that rock and lay on that rock and not leave it for a very long time.  Fucked up-I know.  Which is why I didn’t do it and I didn’t say anything.  I was trying to protect my friends from grief fatigue.

So, it has become a conscious decision to try to not give my people the “grief fatigue”.  For the past two years, friends/strangers, etc. ask the very common question, “how are you?” (in its various forms).  At the beginning, I looked at these people blankly because I had no idea what to say.  Sometimes I blurted out the truth about how I was feeling to complete strangers.  My responses morphed into things like “I don’t really know how to answer that”, “So-so”, “Overwhelmed”, etc.  These days, I consciously fake a smile and say “Good! How are you?”.  This response makes the person asking feel better.  That’s actually important to me.  I want people to feel comfortable, happy, energized, and have fun when they are around me.  I do not want the people I love to feel fatigued from my grief.  I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this way and worries about this-and that’s why I bring it up.  I want other people to know they are not alone.  For those of us who are suffering through profound loss (and the person who has lost is the only one who knows and feels how profound it is-nobody else can decide that for you)-whether it be a child, spouse, parent, sibling, friend, acquaintance, neighbor, pet, historic tragedy, sudden or anticipated-responding to “how are you?” with a fake smile (that will hopefully be genuine at some points) and a “Good! How are you?”, the “good” may be relative to how we felt two years ago, two weeks ago, or two minutes ago.  Or maybe we aren’t feeling “good” at all and just don’t want to give our loved ones the “grief fatigue”.  In my mind (fucked up as it may be), that’s okay.  It’s okay to not want to wear people down because it means we love them and care about them right back.  It’s actually good to be in a place where I can actively consider how my words/actions make other people feel.

But this is my blog, and I began writing it for me.  Because it helps me.  Then I started to understand that it sometimes helps other people as well.  Speaking my raw, unfiltered feelings-and exposing these vulnerabilities helps others know that they are not alone.  That has become really important to me.  Speaking for myself, I am a sad, sad girl.  What has happened to my family is just so very sad.  You feel what you feel.  Not what people expect you should be feeling.  Changed for life, changed at a cellular level.  A different Kristen than the one I was in the “before”, and I wish that I could go back and shake that “before” Kristen.  Of course if I could go back, I would re-write the story as well.  I will never make “peace” with this-this event-this loss.  But if letting people know what I’m going through helps someone else know that they are not alone-that’s something.  That’s worth it.