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.