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.

 

 

 

 

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.

*Healthy* Coping Strategies for the Grief-Stricken (*sarcasm)

I had a dream about Jake this morning.  In my dream, I was looking all over for him.  It seems as though I was stuck somewhere and when I finally got out, I ran to his sister to find out if she had heard from Jake yet.  She said she had and she thought he had gotten in touch with me.  Then his buddies started calling me–they were looking for him too.  I feel like I was on the verge of speaking with him on the phone, when I woke up.  I wanted to go back to sleep.  I wanted to talk to him.

Yesterday, March 23rd, marked seven months since the first time Jake and I went to the emergency room looking for help for him.  The doctor sent us away with pretty little pamphlets that said “Take a walk” and “Treat yourself to a nice bath”.  Five days later, Jake was dead.  Anyway, I was really very sad all day yesterday-that sobbing, sick to my stomach kind of sad.  It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized the significance of the date.  It could have been coincidence.  But, sometimes I wonder if at some deep, cellular level, our bodies and brains just know the time frame, even when we don’t recognize it on a conscious level.

I still run past the stump.  Recently, another item that I had assigned meaning to (an angel) was missing.  It had been there for a long time.  I searched all around the tree and on the ground.  It was gone.  I’m not sure why I let this crush me the way it does.  Like I’ve mentioned before, these are just things that my brain assigns meaning to.  But it has such an impact on me.  I try to blow it off-but it keeps coming back.  So to the person who keeps taking the stuff off the stump where I run–STOP TAKING THINGS THAT ARE MEANINGFUL TO PEOPLE-YOU STUPID LITTLE JERK WHO STEALS STUFF!  (I think I might leave that on a note next time I’m there.)

Time for another confession-this is a tough one to admit.  It’s about a very sensitive subject—F-O-O-D.  I could write an entirely separate blog on food and how I use it to cope.  With eating, there is no moderation for me.  Since Jake passed away, I have been one of the following:

  • Too sick to eat anything
  • Taking complete control by restricting my calories severely (usually 700-1000 calories per day) and spending my thinking time obsessing over calorie intake
  • Stuffing my face with anything I can find–resembling the Tasmanian Devil–whipping through my pantry and fridge–until I feel so sick that I can’t think about anything except how sick I feel.  It’s easy–1. Have a bad feeling 2. Don’t let it surface–STUFF it back down with food 3. Feel sick until you don’t feel sick anymore and the whole cycle starts again.

Anyone else do this?  I’d bet money I’m not alone.  If anyone else has conquered this–and actually eats food for nutrition and sustenance–I welcome your advice.  Let me rephrase–don’t tell me to take a walk or treat myself to a pedicure.  I work out most days of the week and can’t sit still long enough for a pedicure.  I would guess I would need a total brain reset.  Imagine–being my age–and not even knowing how to eat.  I’m sure this subject will come up again down the line.

Last night, I felt closer to a nervous breakdown (whatever that is) than I have in a long time.  I walked into my closet and everything that caught my eye had a memory, a story about Jake associated with it.  Every article of his clothing brought back memories.  His shoes–my gosh–you wouldn’t believe his collection of running shoes (I think he had a running shoe addiction).  I felt like curling up in his stinky shoes and non-stinky clothes and covering myself with them.  I actually considered it.  But then I thought about how someone would end up calling my parents for help and I didn’t want them to get all upset and come all the way out to my house.  So I walked out of the closet and didn’t go back in.

Given these stories, what do I say when someone asks “How are you doing?”.  I can formulate at least a dozen responses (most of them sarcastic) in my head, but most of the time do not say them out loud.  I either respond with “I don’t know how to answer that question” or “Hanging in”.  I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again now-it irks me (oooo–“irks”–that’s one of my mom’s words and rarely do I have the opportunity to use it), when people say things along the lines of “Wow–you’ve really got your act together”, “You’ve pulled yourself together”, “You look like you’re doing great” (most recently said to me this weekend).  When someone says these things–I literally want to punch them in the face (I haven’t yet, though).  PLEASE don’t say that shit to me.  Read my blog.  I am MESSED UP.  I have no other choice than to function.  I have no other choice than to put one foot in front of the other (one of Jake’s top songs, by the way).

I have a very close friend who is very protective of me.  Fiercely protective.  I love her for that.  She packs bear spray and mace and is super strong.  She has said on more than one occasion “I will beat the living shit out of anyone who hurts you”.  I’ve decided everyone needs a friend like her.  She will never let me NOT put one foot in front of the other.  I actually have incredible friends (far and near).  I am so grateful because every friend has purpose and reason.  While I am flailing about trying to stumble through each day, my friends are there making sure I don’t fall down for good.

You are all my favorites.

 

 

 

 

Respect the Mullet

6 months.

6 months since

  • I last heard Jake’s voice
  • I got my last text from Jake
  • I brought Jake coffee for the last time
  • My kids hugged their dad for the last time and said “bye dad” without even a thought in their heads about what was going to happen that day
  • My cell phone last rang with a call from Jake
  • My world stopped turning
  • I’ve been able to focus or pay attention
  • “AFTER” began
  • I put on my Kristen Suit

Why this arbitrary number? 6 months?  It’s so stupid.  But it has been a really hard day.

Everyday throughout the last 6 months, my brain is constantly re-playing the events of that day.  Then I hit rewind and watch it all over again.  Rewind. Replay. Rewind. Replay.  WISH. WISH. WISH. Rewind. Replay.

I try to distract myself.  I try to distract myself with BIG things.  Should I sell my house? Should I not sell my house?  Should I buy a car?  Should I buy an RV? Should I go on a trip?  Where should I go on a trip?  Should I buy a vacation house on a lake?  Should I move across the country?  Should I move out of the country?  Big decisions.  Most of them are things I’d never even thought of in the “BEFORE”.  But thinking about these things and researching them are temporary distractions for me.

I was telling my very wise friend about these thoughts and she basically advised me not to make any major decisions about what I don’t have right now–but to evaluate what I want moving forward.  As always, this friend makes so much sense, but reflecting on this has completely thrown me off-balance. Moving forward?  I am so stuck in that one day in my past, that moving forward hasn’t really even occurred to me.  So, what direction am I heading?  What in the world do I want moving forward?  My brain hasn’t even accepted the fact that Jake is not coming back.  It hurts to think of moving forward without him.  Maybe that’s why my brain is stuck on that day.  6 months ago.  He was still here.

I have a dear friend and she had been friends with Jake from long before I ever met him.  She married his best friend.  Anyway, she recently had a dream about Jake where she looked out the window and was startled to see Jake’s face.  She said, “He was just standing there, but he had a mullet. So I started laughing at him and he said, in his Jake way that ‘well, everyone needs to show respect for the mullet'”.  I LOVE this dream.  This dream sounds so much like Jake.  He would be the one to get a mullet just because it was so uncool and just because it would make people laugh.  Just because he could tell people to “respect the mullet”.

When we first started dating, I showed up at one of Jake’s punk shows and was horrified to see that he and his buddy had given each other mohawks.  I was still getting to know Jake at that time and could not yet appreciate his sense of humor about such things.  It’s just hair!  But I almost turned around and walked out the door.  I didn’t though, because just like the black socks and sandals, I didn’t even notice the mohawk after a while.  I just saw Jake.  (Although-I will admit that I was very happy when his hair grew back in!)

I realize that my “story” leaves a lot of unanswered questions.  I need to keep it that way for a while to protect the “innocents” in my life.  Be assured, that I will end up telling the whole story, the whole truth.  I do want the world to know what happened to my Jake.  Maybe that’s part of my moving forward.