The Second Summer (mishmash)

This one may be hard to follow.  It is a mishmash of what my brain has been doing so far this summer.  Get ready with your coffee, beer, wine, whiskey, weed…whatever…and have a seat.

Summers are so fucking hard. They used to be the best! I loved summers. Now summers are full of birthdays and “anniversaries” (I should come up with a new word because “anniversary” implies something good….something lasting and special. People don’t say “Sad Anniversary”. Have you ever heard that? I’ve only heard “Happy anniversary” or “Congratulations on your anniversary”. None of these really apply, do they? For the purposes of this blog–I’m going to create a new word…hmm…suckyversary? Badiversary? Sadversary? Fuckedupversary? Oh–I like that one. Fuckedupversary. New word. Created by Kristen.)

Okay-back to business. First and foremost, I want all my readers to know that I never, ever think “poor me”. Do I get sad? Yes. Do I get angry? Yes. Have I thought “Oh sweet Pete, I will never escape this for the rest of my life?” Yes. But I refuse to have a “poor me” attitude. I do not want my kids to think that either. I do think “Poor Jake” (pretty much always). But no matter what I say in my blogs, I never think “Poor me”. I try to keep in mind–number one–things could always be worse…much worse. Number two–Shit happens in life. I can choose to wallow in whatever comes my way, or I can choose to get out of bed every day and keep living–with a positive outlook. I can’t control everything the universe might throw at us. But as long as I have hope…I have enough. I do have hope. I have dreams, I have goals. I want my children to grow up and learn from watching me…..learn that bad things can happen, and some people have more than others, but this is it. We power through and remember bad things could be worse and more people have less than we do. Some people might take this the wrong way, but we are lucky. I believe that. So anyway-that’s all about a “disclaimer” I wanted to make about what I write. I might write about sadness, anger, guilt, shame, grief, etc.–but that never equates to “oh, poor me”. I’m just talking about my feelings and how we get through life without Jake.  At least that’s where I’m at today.  That’s good enough for me!

One of Jake’s best buddies, carried some of Jake’s ashes to the highest point in North America-the summit of Mt. McKinley.  I feel very fortunate that he had his fellow climber take a video as he spread Jake’s ashes.  For me, the video is intense and brings on goosebumps and tears.  But, when I watch it, I also experience a feeling of relief and maybe even happiness?  I watch it and know with everything in me that it was perfect for Jake.  At this point in time, there is no place else Jake would prefer to have his ashes spread.  If he were alive, he would want to be up there with his buddy.  That’s the kind of stuff that Jake loved and dreamed about.  It was perfect.

I have watched my 8-year-old son grow progressively more angry and destructive over the past two years.  He says things to me like “Why don’t you just run me over with the car?” and “I hate this life”.  He thinks he is angry about something so minute, like a pizza crust, but I know his anger comes from a much deeper place.  For Fathers’ Day this year, his classroom project was “Five Things My Father Taught Me”.  This is what he wrote.

Owen's 2016 Fathers DayOwen 2016 FD 1Owen 2016 FD 4Owen 2016 FD 3Owen 2016 FD 5Owen 2016 FD 6

 

To anyone outside of our family, this may seem like a perfectly lovely project and what a wonderful job completed by my son.  However, I look at these pages and it tears my heart to shreds.  It tears me up because Jake did not teach my 8-year-old these things–at least not all of them.  The very first page–the one about math-yes, Jake did teach him math at a very young age.  But, that’s all my son could remember about what daddy taught him.  Because the rest of the pages…do not apply to Jake.  By no means am I disparaging Jake.  Jake was an incredible and wonderful dad.  But, I know my son did not learn these things from him. My son struggled so hard with this project that he ended up copying a friend’s work.  There is no way his teacher or anyone else could have known this.  But I knew it as soon as I saw it.  I picture him sitting at school trying to complete this project and not being able to come up with anything besides math. No wonder he is angry. He doesn’t recognize on a conscious level what experiences like this do to him on the inside–to his heart and soul.  His entire existence was changed in the instant I told my babies that their daddy died, but he doesn’t think like that.  He just thinks he is pissed about an uneaten pizza crust–so pissed–that his body is shaking and he is ripping up grass and throwing around giant surfboards.  Well, guess what?  There are times I hurt so badly, I miss Jake so much–that I actually want to destroy things.  I want to lie on the grass and start clawing at the earth.  I want to punch walls and throw things.  So, I get it.  I just want to pluck that hurt and anger right out of him and I’ll take it all on myself.  I wish that I could do that.

This summer, I had the chance to visit with people I haven’t seen since last summer, which happened to be” The first summer” in the AFTER.  This year, (the second summer in the AFTER), I heard from quite a few people who mentioned that I seem so different from last year.  They were happy to see me smile, interact, and engage.  These people love me and they also recognize that this doesn’t mean I’ve “graduated” from my grief.  It just means that when they last saw me, I was withdrawn, sullen, and had a very flat affect.  I know that last summer I was still stuck–stuck in a fog filled with disbelief and wishes that I could go back in time.  I honestly couldn’t relate to anybody.  Couldn’t focus.  Couldn’t attend or engage.  I will never stop grieving for Jake.  But, people noticed a difference.  I’m still ditzy and forgetful.  What was important is that the changes people noticed were positive! They saw positive changes…in me.  Smiling=positive. Interacting=positive.  Engaging=positive.  I will gladly embrace the differences that people observed.  That is the direction I am working towards.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my mother and her circle of friends.  Her best friend (let’s call her “Elle”) passed away several years ago.  During “Elle’s” long illness, my mother was frequently flying back and forth from Seattle to New Jersey to take of her dear friend.  When I was growing up, “Elle” was like family to me.  I remember my mother in the kitchen, chatting away on a phone that still had a cord(!), to “Elle” for hours on end.  They showed up at each other’s homes without calling first.  They had a very special friendship. I found myself feeling down when I was thinking about my mother and “Elle”, because I don’t have an “Elle”.  I have so many friends and I love them and they love me.  But it’s not the same as it was with my mother and her friend.  Then I realized–Jake was my “Elle”.  He was that comfort and closeness and special person.  When he was sick, I took care of him.  When I was sick, he took care of me.  Sad, happy, silly, angry, funny or otherwise–Jake was the very first person I called.  (There are actually still times when things happen and my immediate thought is to call Jake and tell him.)  I had my “Elle”.  I lost him.  I just want everybody to appreciate your “Elle”s.

The dreams.  Lately, I’ve had an abundance of dreams about people who have passed away.  In my dreams they are very much alive but there is also some pervasive thought throughout the dream that says “Wait a minute–this can’t be. You’re not alive anymore.”  When Jake and I first started dating, he had a motorcycle.  It was yellow.  He sold it not long after I met him.  That motorcycle has been in the background of my dreams.  Every night my two littlest ones sneak into bed with me at some point.  Last night I dreamed that Jake was standing at the foot of the bed-watching over my little girl.  For almost two years now, I have believed in nothing. Death is the end.  There is no “heaven” or “other plane of existence”.  I have wanted to believe in something else.  I have wanted to believe so, so badly.  But the more I learned, the less I believed.  I recently had a conversation with a childhood friend (she happens to be “Elle’s” daughter), and she believes.  She has faith.  She told me about her thoughts and beliefs in a way that wasn’t preachy or condescending, and so I listened respectfully, but skeptically.  This amazing girl (well, she is a woman now–but she’ll always be the girl around the corner to me!)–without even trying–has me wanting to believe in something again.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of people.  Most people I know have been through some really rough times.  Some people are still going through them.  The people who inspire me, the people I admire, the people I enjoy being with are the people who are going through shit I can’t begin to relate to, but remain positive, even while they are hurting, grieving, suffering, etc.  Everyday, I work hard to “be like them”.  I don’t know if you folks all know who you are (there are a lot of you!), but you guys are my personal heroes.

Fathers’ Day

These weeks leading up to Father’s Day have been really hard. I am bombarded with emails about what “dad” needs for Father’s Day. My first instinct is to cringe-then I immediately delete. The younger kiddos have Fathers’ Day events and crafts and presents at school. Everytime I walk in the door to the preschool the notice about the “Father’s Day Picnic” stares me right in the face. Right at eye level. The kindergarten teacher changed the event name from “Doughnuts for Dads” to “Doughnuts for Dudes” and I have been incredibly grateful for that. Two years ago on Fathers’ Day–I don’t think I even noticed how much Fathers Day was in my face everywhere. Now I notice every little thing. Except they are not little things anymore.

I work at reminding myself about my strength. I work at being mindful. But I sometimes wonder at what expense? Everytime a sad memory or image pops into my mind I STUFF IT DOWN. That is exactly what it feels like. Stuffing it way back down to the boxes in the basement. But, the boxes don’t go away.

I very much sense people–people I love, kind-hearted people, well-intentioned people–feeling that I really need to “get past this”. If I smile or laugh, people think I’m “fine”. If someone asks me how I’m doing and I say “good”–they breathe a sigh of relief because I’m finally moving past “this”. If I go out on a date, people think I must be doing fantastic. In the BEFORE, I would have probably thought these very same things about someone else. And really-I believe it is comforting for people who love me to think these things and if it is important enough, I will let the “people” know otherwise. But what I despise–what makes me angry to my core–is the judgement. I was not perfect BEFORE and from August 27, 2014 forward-I fall at the opposite end of that continuum. I am often flustered, overwhelmed, and forgetful. I don’t tend to care about things that really don’t matter (like when my daughter cut her own hair a few weeks ago-it doesn’t look so great, but it’s only hair). I alternately feel disconnected and so connected to my kids. I love them to pieces and can’t wait to see them–until five minutes (or less) after I pick them up and they are driving me crazy. There are still days that I just crawl into my bed and sleep because it’s easier than staying awake and feeling the bad feelings. I don’t do this everyday. I’m not apologizing for these imperfections. I’m done trying to explain to people who will never understand why I’m not getting past this. The only person I really need to answer to is myself. It’s my brain that bears the beating. I can choose to beat myself up like some other people do, or I can reconcile the facts that my family has suffered a senseless tragedy and it’s okay that I climb into bed every so often during the day. It’s okay that my four kids drive me crazy sometimes because I am the only parent. There is no shared custody here. I am it. I’m totally giving myself permission to get angry and yell and scream sometimes because I am an imperfect person, in pain, raising children who are in pain, and I’m doing it alone.  Yes– I have a lot of help and support.  Thank goodness.  But ultimately-it’s on me.

I’ve mentioned my support group-for survivors like me-before.  I have not missed one meeting since last August.  Sometimes I don’t want to leave.  I want to go home with these other people who totally get it. We are all in different stages of “new-ness” to the events that changed our lives forever-but there is absolutely no judgement and when we are there–nobody interrupts anybody else.  We all say what we have to say and sometimes we cry for each other and sometimes we laugh with each other-but there is never judgement and there is always, always space.  We give each other space to be.  At my last group, one person made a fantastic analogy that I need to share.  It’s like the person we lost had this huge box of shit and they couldn’t deal with it anymore.  When they died, they passed that huge box of shit to us and a TON more shit was added.  Now we are all holding these overflowing boxes of shit and there’s so much of it that the box can’t hold it so we are all getting covered in shit.  Because of this–no one wants to be around us because they don’t want to get any shit on them.  Nobody wants to share the shit (who can blame them?).  We can’t clean the shit off without putting down the box of shit and even if we put down the box and clean up a little–we always have to pick that box up again at some point and get dirty.  It reminds me of something I’ve said before–the person we love, took their temporary pain away and spread it out on those who loved him/her permanently. Forever.

Every year on Father’s Day weekend, there is a huge Washington Brewers Festival.  I remember Jake and I (and the kids) going to it a few years ago and having such a great time.  Jake loved good beer.  He loved craft beer.  It was like his Disneyland.  We had so much fun.  For the first time, I am going back.  Not as a party-goer-but as a volunteer.  I don’t know why.  It just seemed like something different to do that might be fun.  (I’m kind of dreading the commitment right now because its cold and rainy outside…but oh well).  I’m going into this with one expectation–that I will be filled with happy memories of Jake everywhere I look.  I also think, Jake would have been there, bragging about his wife who was pouring beer for X brewery.  I know he’d come over to my spot every so often, say “Hey hun” and give me a kiss or a slap on the ass, and then go off to try another beer.

There is one other thought I had recently that I want to share.  A few months ago I pulled my hamstring–a common injury for trail runners because we trip a lot (and sometimes fall) and have to catch our balance.  I refused to rest-knowing that my running is my best therapy.  I just couldn’t really run uphill anywhere.  So, I ran and did a lot of stretching etc.  Recently on a run, I started thinking about how good my hamstring felt, and how I could probably get back into my routine of running hills, etc.  Not five minutes later–I kid you not–not only did I trip-but I fell HARD to the ground and just felt the pain in my hamstring as I practically heard it shred.  Once I checked to make sure I wasn’t broken or unconscious-I got up and limp-ran the rest of the way.  I even laughed at myself out loud because I thought it must have looked really funny when I fell (even though no one saw me).  But I also started thinking about how analogous to my life and my journey that whole situation was.  I wrote a post talking about how great I was doing and strong I was and hear me roar etc.  Then I started to get inundated with Fathers’ Day events and emails.  Then I sensed judgement from people who love me the most.  Then I fell.  I didn’t, however, just lie there and wait for the bears and cougars and snakes to come eat me.  The super important thing I did, the most important thing that I did even though I was hurting more, is that I got back up, picked up my box of shit, and kept going.

 

Tenacity, Fortitude, Powerhouse (way better words than strength)

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill

What an emotional rollercoaster it has been for the past 22 months. 22 months. How can that be?

Then I realize that I have made it through the past 642 days. 642 days since the loss of the best thing that has ever happened to me and my children. I’m doing this. I’m not curled up in my bed. I haven’t been committed to an insane asylum (quite frankly, most days I think I already live in one!). I haven’t turned to illegal drugs (yet 😉 ). I even had to do the calculation to figure out the 642 days part! For so long, I felt the sadness and despair–every Wednesday, then without even noticing it, every 27th of the month. I don’t know how long its been since I even realized it was the 27th of the month.

Not a day (or probably even an hour) goes by when I don’t think about Jake. How could I not? He’s a part of me and holy shit–he’s literally a part of my kids. Nearly every day I stop because of a joke, a facial expression, or catch of a profile of one of my kids and it floors me how much that kiddo IS Jake at that time.

It is so incredibly sad.

Since that very first Wednesday when our lives were changed forever, people have told me I am strong. I have always brushed those comments off. But in the last few weeks, something changed. It was like someone slapped me and a light bulb appeared above my head. I am strong. If I could get through the past 642 days, I can get through pretty much anything. Are there worse things than what happened on August 27, 2014? Absolutely. Good grief–I hope to never, ever have to experience anything worse and I wish the same for my family and for Jake’s family. I know bad shit happens. I know now that it can happen to me and people I love. I know there are no guarantees in life-ever and all of our futures are completely uncertain. I’m not going to obsess over that. Not anymore, Whether I obsess or not, shit may or may not happen. What I am going to focus on is the here and now. Today, I am strong. I have been strong. I’ve had moments where I didn’t feel strong or didn’t want to be strong. I still do. But the overriding thoughts in my head lately are of strength, courage, tenacity, and fortitude (aren’t those awesome words?!).

So, I’ve been focusing on the here and now and what I want and what I don’t want. I’ve thought about the “questionables” (yes–they are always there) in my life and wondered why I keep them around if they are “questionables”. Buh-bye questionables. I think for a long time, I thought I had to settle.  Settle into this role of “poor widow with four kids”–what quality person would want to be with a 28-year old 😉 widow with 4 young children? But I’ve realized-ONLY a quality person would show up for this. I do not have to settle for anything. I’m fucking strong and fun and independent and sometimes I even think smart thoughts. (I know my Boston/Stuart Smalley dude has been trying to drill this into my head since last summer–but it took awhile for me to actually believe it.) Like lately with my brilliant insight–If I could make it through the past 642 days, I could make it through pretty much anything.

For awhile, I felt like only when I accomplished something major–climbing rocks, running up mountains, lifting more weights than I ever could before, buying a house, helping my dad put in wood floors(!), mowing my own lawn, hiking up a mountain in the pitch dark to see the sunrise….that I was strong. But I’ve realized–the strength has been there every single day–even when I wasn’t accomplishing those things–I was still really accomplishing something. I was surviving. It took a lot of strength to wear that Kristen Suit. It was very heavy and exhausting and still is sometimes. But lately, it is lighter and I’m starting to realize it’s not so much a suit anymore because it’s not temporary. I can’t take it off because it is who I’ve become. I’ve changed–I really am the Kristen Suit.

I finally opened Jake’s ashes. Man-that box was heavy and it took forever to figure out how to even open it. I didn’t know how I’d feel. I just knew I wanted to be alone. I have never actually seen anybody’s ashes before. I didn’t know what to expect. But I sat outside and put my hands in the bag and felt the ashes and wondered, “How is this Jake? How did this used to be the person I love? How could this tall, super strong, athletic guy be reduced to this? In this small box?” I still don’t believe it. When my emotional brain conflicts with my logical brain–my emotional brain wins almost every time. I can think about it and think about it–but I doubt it will ever make sense to me. So I just try to accept.

Same with Jake and Wednesday August 27, 2014. I’ve obsessed over the events of that day and the days prior for 632 days. (Yes I said 32–10 days less). The “what ifs” and “had I only”s…these questions are just my brain’s way of trying to force some sense into a senseless act. There will never be any sense to this-no matter how often I fruitlessly replay and re-ask those questions. I am working on being in the moment. I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. I can’t change the past. I need to accept that and just focus on–now. As I’ve said many, many times, grief is not a linear process. It is not a series of steps and then yay(!) graduation. I fully realize that I could fall back down the spiral at any time. But I’m not falling at this moment.

So now, in this moment–my focus is on my strength.  I can do what I can do and that’s about all. But I’m going to stand up tall and embody that strength because it is me–it is who I am. I am strong. I’m doing this. I refuse to be stuck in hell.  Winston Churchill was a brilliant man.  I keep on going.  (I wish there was a brain muscle emoji to insert here…)

The Stuff That Happens to Other People

On a rare occasion when we were able to have a conversation, my 8-year-old son asked “Mommy?  How come you never smile or laugh?”

I’m going to let that sink in a moment, the way I have most moments since he asked that question.

My second grade son who appears to be completely self-absorbed in his own little world of wrestling, video games, sports, and friends (as he should be)–has observed that I don’t smile or laugh, at least when I’m around him.  Does this break anybody else’s heart the way it does mine?

I do not want my children to think that I am never happy.  There are times when I’m very happy.  I think I’ve been happiest at times in the AFTER when I’m doing or have done something that I was afraid to do.  The times when I’ve done something that in the BEFORE would have been Jake’s job.  These times I am positively giddy.

But, my kids don’t see me at these times.  My kids typically have me spinning in circles like the Tasmanian devil himself.  I’m working really hard at trying to figure out balance, as most people are.  The scales are just a little lopsided right now.

It’s the little things I miss the most. Of course I miss the big things too–our 10th anniversary trip to the Big Island, our honeymoon in New Zealand.  But, it’s the little, everyday things I hardly even noticed before that I miss the most.  Walking in the door to a big Jake hug.  The “Oh-the funniest thing happened today…” moments that aren’t really that funny at all and definitely not funny enough to share with others the way they were with him.  I even miss how much nicer his mother’s lawn looked when he was around to take care of it.  I was at her house recently and was so distracted by the condition of her lawn and how horrified Jake would have been.  I couldn’t help myself–I searched her shed for some tools and started weeding.  Then I remembered how Jake himself taught me how to weed in the first place.  He really took good care of his mother and I miss that.  It’s not all about the responsibility, chaos, and super short fuse now, even though I talk about those things a lot.  It’s about more.  Something that can’t be defined or explained.  Stating “a big piece of me is gone forever” just doesn’t encompass all that the loss actually is- the loss is so much larger than the sum of the feelings I can put into words.

Okay–time to talk about the “L” word.  Very taboo and very sensitive and a whole bunch of stigma attached to it.  Yup.  Loneliness.  This isn’t the same thing as being alone.  As a matter of fact, I can feel lonely even when I’m actively engaged with other people.  Does that even make sense?  It doesn’t even make sense to me and I’m the one feeling it.  I have the most incredible family and amazing friends.  I live in a community that continues to support me in ways that surprise me all the time.  How could I be feeling this lonely?  This loneliness scares me because it is clearly coming from inside of me (I am rarely alone)-and I’m really afraid of feeling this way for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong- I long for and embrace the time I do get to spend alone.  But I could really stand to lose the loneliness part.

I have Jake’s ashes in our safe.  He would HATE that.  He couldn’t even stand to wear a watch most of the time because it made him feel claustrophobic.  But, I need to keep them safe.  I need to make sure they go where they need to go-where Jake wanted to be and the places he dreamed about going. His buddy has been planning  a climbing trip to Denali for a while now.  A few weeks ago, the thought popped into my head.  That is perfect!  Jake would love that. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.  Fortunately, his buddy agreed with me and is planning on taking some of his ashes to the summit if he can.  I think that’s the way it’s going to be. Things will just click with me at different times and I will know that is a perfect place to spread his ashes. (I feel very strongly that he would also love a little part of himself to be spread in CenturyLink field or the Virginia Mason Complex where the Seahawks practice so if anybody has connections–it would be a dream to hook Jake up with that!)  Back to the point(I think?)-I am really nervous about opening his ashes.  They have been sealed and I’ve never once opened the box.  I’m not really sure how I’m going to feel.  I know it’s not going to be easy.  There will probably be a blog post after that one.

Anyway, how to explain these big feelings to an 8-year-old who just notices that his mom never smiles or laughs?  I can’t even put them into words to explain to grown people.

There have been quite a few celebrity deaths recently.  I found myself getting irritated when someone said to me something like “It’s been a rough week for celebrities”.  I snapped back “It’s been a rough day for what–the millions of loved ones who lost people who aren’t celebrities, too.  We just don’t hear about those.”  The world loses great, talented, beautiful, kind people every minute.  Some are tragic and some are not.  But all are gone.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that death is not something that happens to “other people”.  It’s going to happen to every one of us and we never know when or how.  I’m on this planet once-in the blink of an eye, I won’t be.  I do not want to be remembered by my kids as a sad person who never smiled or laughed.   I don’t want to live my life that way either.  As much as I call bullshit to the Stuart Smalley school of thinking–“Look in the mirror and choose to be happy. Because you’re good enough…” blah blah blah.  I can make a promise to myself to be more mindful about it.  Pay attention to what makes me happy and do it more.  I’d like to set that example for my kids, too.

 

 

 

Boiling Point

The Change

I saw this quote on another widow’s blog that I follow.  She is on another continent but I share a very unfortunate connection with her.  This quote resonated with me and I had to borrow it. I’ve been trying to find the BEFORE Kristen for the last 18 months.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this much rage. I hit my boiling point last night and it was so apparent that the cashier at Safeway advised me to go home and have a glass of wine. I fake laughed a little because otherwise I would have started throwing groceries at him.

I had a fantastic weekend. On Saturday I did a charity run. Not only did I get to catch up with an old friend, but I made new friends as well. To top it all off–it ended at a brewery! Running for charity and beer with old and new friends? What could be better?

On Sunday, my kids had friends over. Seven kiddos running around my house at one time. I didn’t even need a drink! It actually wasn’t terrible. I went to bed feeling really good!

I start almost every day off with an early morning workout. It is vitally important for my mental health. Yesterday, the nanny texted that she couldn’t come that morning. Believe this or not–a missed workout can make all the difference.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but what is wrong with “kids” these days? These 20-somethings that are lazy, entitled, and have no work ethic! I don’t even know where to start! All I know is that I am paying someone good money and rather than reducing my stress, she makes it worse. The most frustrating part about it–is that I am desperate. At this point in time, I have no other options. I refuse to take a leave of absence at work. My boss has been too wonderful to me and I have made a commitment to the families I work with. I will not disappoint any of them as long as I can help it. In my BEFORE, Jake and I would always figure out a way to work it all out. Now it’s just me. I hate being in this position.

I realize as I read back, that it sounds like I am so pissed at the nanny because she called in sick for a shift. That is definitely not the case. I could tell you 117 stories that would make you go “WHAT?!?! WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIRED HER YET?”. Well, it’s because I have no other option right now. It fucking sucks! So, I hit my boiling point last night. I know a part of it is the frustration-and the fatigue-and the feeling of being overwhelmed-because I am the only parent and it ultimately all ends up on my shoulders.

Promises. So many promises were made to the kids and I after Jake died. I will share this. There were very few promises kept. The people who have been there for me, have been there all along. They know it. They know how much I appreciate them and love them–I wouldn’t have made it this far without them. The people who didn’t keep their promises, especially to my kids..I’m done with them. I’ve learned a lot through this horrible grief journey. I can offer this piece of advice–don’t say it if you don’t mean it. If you do think you mean it at the time–make sure and follow through.

I know there are a lot of people out there who expect that I should be “over it” by now. I should “move past this” and make a “fresh start”. “Think positive”. These all are so well-intentioned. But grief doesn’t work that way. It feels like I am in survival mode most days. If anything happens–just ONE MORE THING–I can’t handle it. Not one more thing. Even if it’s something simple like there is no more milk left or my son’s shoes fell apart.

One of my “best running friends” pointed this out to me years ago on my favorite trail. It’s the “heart rock”. I never noticed it before she pointed it out and now I never miss it. Today I stopped at the heart rock and for that moment in time, I felt peaceful and calm. My anger wasn’t boiling over like it has been since yesterday.

heart rock

I have an urge to pack up my kids and get out.  Maybe it’s the dreary weather.  Maybe it’s the stupid babysitter.  Maybe I’m still trying to escape real life.  But I know no matter how far I run or where I go, Jake will still be gone.  I’ll still be the only parent.  Nothing will change except for the scenery.  I know people may read this and think “what a bitch” or “poor Kristen”.  I don’t care if you think I’m a bitch and I’m not looking for pity.  I’m just trying to tell my story of how I “navigate the world without Jake”.  I’m just saying-sometimes I’m angry and sometimes I’m calm and sometimes I’m happy or even excited.  No different from anybody else, I guess.

My son will be going away to 5th grade camp this year.  I am trying to fill out the paperwork and I need to list emergency contacts-people they can call to pick him up at camp if they can’t reach me.  I was only able to fill in one emergency contact.  I sit here, quietly crying, because I don’t want my kids to hear me.  I don’t have more than one emergency contact.  I have asked several people, but they have not returned my request.  I know someone will say “Yes-of course!” It’s just sad to me that I have to think so hard to list more than one emergency contact–and his paperwork will not be submitted on time.

I started writing this post earlier in the week.  I have since hit my breaking point with the nanny and fired her.  Now I’m stuck.  But as stressful as it is–I feel so relieved.  This has prompted me to start “cleaning house”.  I need to let go of all the “questionables” in my life and hold on to the ones who matter the most.  A very hard step.  As a dear friend told me–I am dying to be comfortable.  I am searching for every possible way to feel comfortable, and that includes maintaining relationships with the questionables.  She is so wise–she told me I am like a moth to a flame.  I’m going to quote her.  “Hello flame.  Pretty, pretty flame. I love you, flame. Ouch flame!” I love her.  Her words keep me going when I feel I’m at my lowest.  She helps me make sense of the choices I’ve made in the AFTER.  “Dying to be comfortable”–she is so right.

I think there is a saying that goes something like-“Nothing good ever comes from staying in your comfort zone”.  I have different feelings about this.  I desperately want to return to my life in the BEFORE.  It wasn’t perfect–not even close–but I want that comfort back.  But now, I need to stop moving towards the flames.  Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That mantra goes through my mind when I run, work out, and try something new.  I need to apply it to my life in general.  I’ve been avoiding and trying to escape my “real life” now for the past 18 months. I stick with “work Kristen” and “party girl Kristen” because those personas were there before I ever met Jake.  The parenting, grown up, and mature Kristen–I’m having a really hard time with her.  But I am really working on it.

For 18 months now, I’ve been very unfocused, inattentive, and forgetful.  I asked my doctor if it is possible to develop ADD as an adult, because I don’t know what’s happened to me.  She explained it away with PTSD.  I was at some classes this week for work.  Something the instructor said hit home so hard.  He explained that anxiety and emotional distress mess up the central executive system’s (of the brain) ability to do its job.  Apparently, when we are anxious or distressed (hello my new life) the body releases cortisol which actually eats away at the hippocampus in the brain! Therefore, anxiety impacts cognition by way of working memory.  Bingo.  I’m guessing my hippocampus is pretty much gone by now.  I probably pee cortisol.  But at least it makes sense.  I’m sure the doctor was right about the PTSD–but an explanation of what is actually happening in my brain was very helpful.  The presenter was referring to our inability to be in an optimal learning state when we are anxious and distressed.  His solution?  Make your student feel as relaxed as possible.  Help him/her feel comfortable.  Comfortable….I am dying to be comfortable….and ultimately I’m stuck in this loop.  I need to break this cycle.

So long, questionables.  Welcome…..discomfort?

charlie brown and snoopy

 

 

Proof

Jake Valentine 1 insideJake Valentine 1

I came across this yesterday and can’t let go.  This. This is my proof that the Jake that I knew and loved existed.  Very accurate picture portrayal of the two of us–I have to say!

Some days I walk around in a fog wondering “How did I get here?”, “How could Jake be gone?”, and most disturbingly “Was he ever here in the first place?”.  This is my proof.  This was my Jake.  He was here.  And now he is gone.

I’m still extremely angry.  But, my anger is directed at Pfizer (maker of Chantix) and the Federal Drug Administration.  The number of suicides directly linked to the drug, Chantix, is staggering.  We’re talking thousands of people who have taken this drug, reported suicidal thoughts, and/or committed suicide.  These “adverse effects” have been reported in patients who have taken the drug for as little as two weeks.  I believe Jake was on it for 4-6 weeks.  In that last month, he wasn’t my Jake anymore.  He was a walking depiction of every “adverse effect” listed in the “black box”.

I copied the following directly out of the medication guide I found in Jake’s office after his death:

“Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix.  Some people had these symptoms when they began taking Chantix, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping Chantix”.

What the FUCK?? SOME people?

“If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression or changes in behavior or thinking that are not typical for you, or you develop any of the following symptoms, stop taking Chantix and call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Thoughts about suicide or dying, or attempts to commit suicide
  • new or worse depression, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • feeling very agitated or restless
  • acting aggressive, being angry, or violent
  • acting on dangerous impulses
  • an extreme increase in activity and talking (mania)
  • abnormal thoughts or sensations
  • seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • feeling people are against you (paranoia)
  • feeling confused
  • other unusual changes in behavior or mood”
Jake experienced every last one of these adverse effects.  He did as directed.  He went to the Emergency Room on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August (4 days BEFORE it happened).  I was with him.  I heard everything he told the doctor and the social worker.  He told them he had been taking Chantix but had stopped.  (Please refer back to above warning listed above that some people have developed these effects “or after stopping Chantix”.  Jake told me, the doctors and the social worker that he never, ever in his life had a thought about killing himself until he went on that drug.  Jake was not seen by a psychiatrist that day.  The social worker gave him a pamphlet telling him to take a walk or a “nice bath” when he was feeling sad.  She also told him to start calling psychiatrists on Monday to get an appointment. Wait. What?
I could dissect everything I’ve mentioned so far into all of the things that are so very wrong about this story. But that will take a hundred more blog posts.  On that Tuesday, the 26th, Jake went to another doctor.  He went to see the doctor who had prescribed him the Chantix.  The primary reason listed for the visit was “Major depression”.  I don’t know exactly what transpired, I only have medical records to rely on.  But this doctor also let him go.  That day he ran 14 miles.  He was able to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for Thursday August 28.  But on the day in between–Wednesday, August 27th, 2014, those “adverse effects” got the best of him.
Why the fuck is this drug still on the market?  Pfizer holds no liability in Jake’s death, because he was “warned” that he might kill himself while taking it.  This is okay with the FDA? Several years ago children’s cough medicine was pulled from the shelves because a small group of parents weren’t following the dosing instructions accurately.  A few years ago, my favorite weight loss pill ever was pulled from the shelves because one person in Hawaii didn’t follow the dosing instructions and developed kidney failure (I miss you my magic purple pills…).  How does the FDA justify keeping a drug that actually causes people to kill themselves on the market?  Thousands of people (even more if you count loved ones) have been affected by this drug in the worst ways possible.  Oh, I remember now.  It’s because they put the warning about these “adverse effects” into a black box so physicians who prescribe or treat people using the drug will know what to look out for.  Yeah.  That worked wonderfully for Jake. Two doctors with their little black box warnings and they just said “take a relaxing bath”.  Another major issue with this drug is the insurance companies.  Most insurance will cover the cost of Chantix itself, but will not actually cover the cost of the doctor’s visits in order to monitor the patients taking the drug.  Everything.  Every little thing about this drug, is so wrong.
I might be biased because it is ultimately what took my husband’s life.
My brain gets stuck often on what happened to Jake.  The details of the time immediately before, during and after what happened run through my mind day after day.  That’s why I need to keep finding cards like the one I posted.  Because that was my Jake.  That’s my proof and a reminder to try hard to remember more of that Jake.
This is not over people.  I may not have cause to sue Pfizer or the doctors who “treated” him.  But I have a really big mouth (I’m a Jersey girl after all) and I am going to be talking.  A lot.

Sorry :(

IMG_1694

Dear Jake,

I channeled a lot of anger into my trail run this morning. so I’m feeling a little better than I was yesterday.  Yesterday…when I came across this “note” that you left for….me? The kids? Your mom? Your sister? Your friends? I came across it unexpectedly as I was trying to organize the house we moved into.  Of course, I burst into tears and the flashbacks have been haunting me ever since.

Fuck your “sorry :(”

You have no idea.  You have no idea what you were even “sorry” about.

I sent this to your best friend yesterday.  He said, “A brilliant guy with a dumb moment”.

In that moment, you were in pain.  You were in so much pain.  I know that.  But, I also know-that pain was temporary.  You took your temporary pain and left it for us-the people who love you, to live with permanently.  Forever.  You’ve broken us all.  For good.

The pain you left wasn’t spread out amongst all the people who love you.  The pain that you alone felt was left for every single one of us–for some, magnified times 10, times 100, times infinity+ 1.  It’s not temporary and it’s not just me, or your friends, or your mother, sister, family.  You left that pain for your children to bear for the rest of their lives.  Granted, the two littlest ones don’t get it–they think you are just in some other “place” and you’ll be coming back.  But they still hurt.  They still cry for you.  They tell me they want me to die so you can come back in my place and take care of them.  The two oldest–well, you know they are different.  The oldest wears his pain on his sleeve.  The second oldest is exactly like you-he doesn’t even know it.  He does and says things that he couldn’t possibly know are all you.

Jake-you left your pain for each one of your children-they will carry it for the rest of their lives.  You took away their joy and happiness of being with their dad.  They didn’t deserve this–and someday I’m going to have to tell them you were “sorry :(” ??  Fuck Jake.  They idolized you.  You were their hero.  You took that act and turned it into a possibility–an option for the people who loved and idolized you.  FUCK FUCK FUCK.

Your best friend’s wife was here for me during the year mark and as her voice cracked so I could hardly hear her, she told me how the day you did that was the “worst day” of her life.  She has lost her father, her brother, her beloved dogs–but August 27, 2014 was the worst day of her life.  You see?  It wasn’t just the worst day of my life, the kids’ lives, your mom’s life, your sister’s life, or your friends’ lives.  The pain you left behind is so far-reaching-so beyond any number I could even imagine. You are at the center of these never-ending concentric circles. You took away your temporary pain-and left it for all of the people in those circles to feel forever.

I know you didn’t know this.  I know you weren’t thinking clearly. Chantix altered your brain.  You never would have done such a thing to the people you loved.  You loved and gave of yourself so fiercely, so tirelessly.  My poor Jake-I guess I’m glad you can’t feel any regret, because knowing the pain you have caused to the people you loved, would have brought you more pain than you ever could have experienced or imagined. 

So for now, my anger is directed towards you.  Yes, it is interwoven with love and sorrow–this complex, intricate weaving of emotions that cannot be explained with words.  All I know for sure is that your “sorry :(” just doesn’t fucking cut it.

But, I love you from the bottom of my heart and your toothbrush is still here waiting for you.

XOXO K