The Sticky, Thorny, Tangled Mess

This past year has been unparalleled in my memory as far as natural disasters and unnatural tragedies.  I’ve wondered a lot if the universe is trying to “punish” the human race (ha-can you guess my religious upbringing?).

I feel like I’ve spent the past year in heartbroken sympathy for others.  Too many people experienced the loss of loved ones (including pets) and most of these losses have been sudden and unexpected.  I can’t say that I know their pain.  Without a doubt though, I know that the pain they are experiencing is so deep that they can’t put it into words (which is very frustrating).  I also know that these losses have already changed them and will continue to transform and shape them from the moment of their losses forward.  I can’t do or say anything that will help them or heal them.  Just recently, someone who had experienced such a loss over the Thanksgiving holiday asked me, “This will get better, right?  Things will go back to normal?”

I don’t know.  I am only an expert in my own grief. But I’m fairly certain that things never go  back to “normal”.  We never “bounce back” or “get over it” or even “get past it”.  But we can and we do move through.  We are not the same people.  But we are still people and the people we’ve become don’t have to necessarily be broken forever.

Recently, Jake’s sister sent me some older photos she had found of the three of us. We were having fun, smiling, and being goofy. The unexpected pictures took my breath away. My memories of Jake are so shrouded, so ingrained in those last days and moments. The pictures she sent me reminded me of all the goodness, happiness, fun and love that was Jake. It wasn’t like I forgot that. Just that the memories of the end have been blocking all those years before it. Now I picture those bad memories as a tangled, sticky, thorny mess with all of Jake’s greatness waiting on the other side. Sometimes I can take a flying leap over that mess. Sometimes I have to force myself to walk through it slowly, maybe even crawl. It hurts, but I know I need to get to the other side. It still hurts over there, but its a very different kind of pain. The important thing is that on the other side, I smile and laugh at the memories, rather than curl up in the fetal position , immobilized by sadness.

My life has been filled with loss.  I lost a good friend at the age of twelve.  Since then, I’ve attended more wakes and funerals than I try to count.  However, it wasn’t until several years ago that it actually hit me that death means gone.  Gone.  My mother’s best friend, who has been a big part of my life ever since I can remember, passed away.  I flew across the country to visit her one last time.  I remember where I was when I got the message that she had passed.  All of a sudden, death didn’t make any sense to me.  I had just been with her.  Where did she go?  How does that even happen?  How is someone here one minute and actually not here the next.  Forever.  It may sound silly, but it wasn’t until we lost her that I actually, truly started to think about death and how final it is.

I live with the loss of Jake.  Every single minute.  Frequently, I feel a jolt of “Wait a minute.  He was just here.  How?  What?  I don’t get it.  Where did he go?”  My home is filled with pictures of Jake, but sometimes one catches my eye and I can’t stop staring at it.  My brain starts spinning, trying to grasp the reality that he was actually here.  Then all of a sudden he wasn’t.  It doesn’t make sense to me.

I think that everybody has read some sort of analogous comparison of grief with waves in the ocean.  Some are small and you can float over them. Some are huge and they come at you, unprepared, and knock you down for a bit.  I’m a terrible swimmer and those giant waves that knocked me down scared the crap out of me.  They still do.

Recently, I gathered up the courage to bring my kids to an “open play” at the gymnastics place where everything happened.  From the phone call in the parking lot to hiding in a closet waiting for the police to call me back to my beautiful stranger who drove me into Seattle and dropped me at the doors of the emergency room.  My whole body shook as I parked the car.  Once inside, I noticed the closet door was open and I could see inside, almost like I was watching myself in there, pacing the floor and checking my phone as it slipped from my hands repeatedly because it was hot and I was sweating.  My beautiful stranger was behind the desk, checking people in.  It was stinking hard.  My body’s visceral response was something I had no control over.  I sat beside a group of parents who also had kids playing in the gym.  I had this urge to scream out “DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW THAT THE LAST TIME I WAS HERE MY HUSBAND KILLED HIMSELF!” I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  But, I surprised myself that day.  I didn’t scream out.  I didn’t run out of the building like a bat out of hell.  I shed a few tears, but didn’t curl up into a ball on the floor, heaving and sobbing.  When I got the kids back in the car, I took a deep breath and thought to myself “Wow.  I just did that.  That was courageous and strong! Good job Kristen.”

For so long, I’ve been lost and kind of…missing(?)…from my life.   While I’ve been wondering “How am I going to do this?”, I didn’t even realize that I have been doing this.  While I’ve been stuck in my head feeling sorry and angry for my kids, I’ve also been parenting children with special needs.  I recognize that some things that used to be a big deal in the BEFORE, no longer seem important to me.  I try to problem solve, rather than being caught up inside the problem itself.

Check me out people!  I am in a continuous and dynamic state of moving through. It’s okay if I become exhausted in the sticky, thorny, tangled mess and have to stop and hang out for a bit.  I have this new and constantly developing sense of my courage and persistence, so I’m pretty sure I eventually will continue forging through.



Two Years Later

I say a lot of shit on this blog. Occasionally, I realize that I don’t practice what I preach. I didn’t expect this second year mark to be quite so hard as the first one. In fact, in a lot of ways it has been harder. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure this summer was happier. I knew better! Yes-I make choices throughout my daily life. I choose to focus more on some things and not others. But, as much as I’ve said this since I started writing, GRIEF IS NOT LINEAR. So, why should I think that the further away we get through the event, the happier I will be?

I believe I went through all the “firsts” in a fog and a continued state of shock. That fog was like a layer of protection for me. (I was also drinking a lot more so there was that…). As the second year mark has approached, I have been choosing to get certain parts of my life back in order. I’ve let myself slide by, not really caring about anything. I don’t mean people–I mean stuff-like finances, nutrition, health, and organization. However, as a result of this less “foggy” state of being, I am also feeling things so much more acutely than I had been. In my efforts to be less overwhelmed, I am, in fact, more overwhelmed. I need to do these things. But, I’m so fucking tired. I push myself towards physical exhaustion every day, hoping that I might sleep through the night sometime soon.

I’d like to share a Jake story that someone shared with me recently. I am so grateful to this person, for telling me this story because it’s so classic “Jake”. I am going to quote her exact words, otherwise, I would not do it justice.


“Going through old photos I found this one…my absolute favorite memory with Jake. Of course the Daryls were over and beers were definitely involved, but it ended with Jake, with no hesitation whatsoever, taking on a dare of running around the front yard in his boxers with the Christmas tree skirt as his cape. The really funny part is that across the street was the “Christmas House” where people came from all over to tour every night. Needless to say, Jake became the top entertainment that night and I don’t know if I ever laughed so hard! ❤️

I read her story and look at this picture daily-usually more than once.  Look at his socks!  He stripped down to his boxers but kept on his white socks pulled halfway up his skinny calves! Classically Jake.  I love this story-it makes me laugh.  Then, I get confused.  Because this Jake, this classic Jake, the one we all knew and loved…he is not the same person who did what he did. My brain can’t reconcile that this is the same person.  Probably because he’s not.  The Chantix altered his brain so significantly over the course of 6 weeks-that he wasn’t even Jake anymore.  Just like my life turned into “BEFORE” and “AFTER”, I can tell you the exact date that the “Pre-Chantix Jake” became the “Post-Chantix Jake”.  Fucking Pfizer.  I don’t believe in heaven and hell.  I don’t believe in fate or karma.  But I really want to when it comes to the Pfizer people who fight to keep Chantix on the market.  Greedy mother fuckers.  Not a care in the world about actual people.  Grrrr.

With the second year mark fast approaching, I realize I am trying to dig my heels in–slow things down because I’m just not ready?  I ask myself “Ready for what?” It doesn’t make sense.  I know that the dread of that day is worse than the day itself is going to be.  August 27 will never be “just another date” again. For weeks, I have been stuck in that spot. Rewinding and replaying the events. Maybe that’s why I’m digging my heels in–if I can slow it down, maybe I can prevent it from happening.  Rewrite the story.

My brother suggested I listen to a song. I have probably listened to it ten times since yesterday.  I feel like the song was written for me-but I also know that anyone who has lost someone they love, will relate to the lyrics. There are no words to describe the depth of pain and sadness that a person feels when they lose someone they love.  The lyrics in this song are gorgeous.  I’ll post them along with the video.

You’re smiling at me
From your picture frame
And I miss you
My life keeps on changing
But you stay the same
I miss you
So many moments
That we should have shared
I miss you

And the days turn to years
And it hasn’t stopped yet
The memories we shared
I will never forget
No I will never forget

There’s a hole in my heart
That will never be filled
I miss you
This all should get easier
But it never will
I miss you
I float through the days
And the long lonely nights
I miss you

And I hear your footsteps
You’re coming down the stairs
Lost in your laughter
The sun in your hair

A brief recollection
The light in your eyes
I see the reflection
But it passes by
It passes me by

You’re smiling at me
From your picture frame
And I miss you
Every morning I wake up
And I whisper your name
I miss you
You’re in faces of people
I see on the street
You’re everywhere
You’re everywhere
You’re everywhere

This week, I am going to do the things that Jake loved to do. I am going to hike, run, climb, swim and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in the pacific northwest.  Maybe I’ll even run around in boxer shorts, white socks, and a Christmas tree skirt as my cape:-)