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

 

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.

The Color-What Helped

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog complaining away about things people did or said that although well-intentioned, were not helpful. A friend recently sent me an article on grief and I am so glad I read it. I was surprised to notice that the author was able to come up with some positive outcomes from her very tragic loss. Given my newest attitude about seeing the world through color, I’ve been thinking a lot about possible silver linings. Although that is still too hard right now, I have been able to think about things people did or said that were and continue to be so helpful.

My parents, brother, his wife, and family from across the country.  There is no way to explain how they’ve all sacrificed to help me when I needed it most.  Help came in the form of taking care of my very basic needs, like picking my kids up from school so I wouldn’t have to see anybody to bathing my kids because the very thought of it overwhelmed me (and still does sometimes).  My parents cancelled a dream trip to Ireland so they wouldn’t leave me (the company never gave them their money back despite the fact that they had travel insurance but that’s a rant for another day). My brother left his restaurant in the care of his wife and staff who took over for him (the goodness of people extends so many degrees of separation) so that he could take care of me.  My aunts, uncle, and four cousins traveled from NJ to take care of me.  They were careful to spread out their visits because they all knew that I would have a ton of support initially–so they visited in spurts over the next few months.  One aunt was there at the very beginning of the AFTER to navigate me through my days.  Days when I couldn’t think, hold a conversation, remember small things, or even return to my home.  She was there for me step by step.  Reminding me of what I needed to get done, who I had to call, where I could stop and use a restroom (because I kind of lived out my car initially during the days while my boys were at school–not ready to go to my home yet).  My cousins separated their visits in the couple of months that followed–taking my kids to birthday parties (because I still couldn’t bring myself to do things like that), organizing my home (especially certain rooms), cooking for my kids, making sure my kids got homework done, etc.  They both literally said “I am here for you.  Tell me what to do”.  When I still couldn’t think at that point, they just took over.  I needed that.  I’m not saying this would work for everyone–but I really needed my loved ones to come in and just take over.  My uncle, aunt and other cousins came together around Christmas time.  I couldn’t even think about Christmas.  They put up my tree and decorated it while I sat in another room and sobbed.  I don’t even know if they know what a big deal that was.  It was everything at the time.

Jake’s friends.  They took over all the things that needed to get done in the immediate AFTER.  They wrote his obituary, planned the service, and set up/cleaned up after the service (because I was just a hysterical mess–there was no way I could have folded a chair).  They even paid for all of it–which was a huge deal.  In the AFTER, money and finances became a really big concern, so any help in that area was needed.  More about that in a minute.  Despite their own grief, Jake’s friends checked in on me, sent me packages, helped me figure out things that needed to get done that I never would have thought about, made sure I had Jake’s outgoing voicemail message saved to my computer so the kids and I could still hear his voice, patiently took many, many phone calls from my kids, and one of his friends even gave me a car!

My friends.  This subject could be a book all on its own.  I’m not even sure where to start or how to organize my thoughts about my friends.  While I remained at the hospital with Jake during those four days and nights when time stood still, there were several exceptional people who made sure I was never alone.  Friends who didn’t ever ask me if they should come (because I would have said no).  They just came and stayed.  They didn’t care that I wasn’t very good company.  They just stayed with me.  One friend spoke with nurses and doctors and asked all the right questions and wrote down detailed information for me because I was unable to think about anything.  Other friends brought me toiletries and changes of clothes (desperately needed and probably not so subtle hints) and spoke with whomever necessary to find me a place to shower.  Another friend went out to my parent’s house to help my mother manage my four crazy children who had no idea where either of their parents were.  Her husband took the school supply lists and went out and got all the things my boys needed to start school in a few days.  She even ran a half marathon in Jake’s honor that weekend.  Another friend did all the work with the organ transplant people in getting Jake’s handprints made so we would have those forever.  That was not an easy task–and very messy.  I really didn’t want to have anything to do with it–but my friend knew that I would appreciate and need those handprints  later.  So, she did all the dirty work.  My friends talked with hospital staff and helped me climb into bed with Jake to sleep with him one last time–something I would have never even thought to ask.  Friends who previously didn’t know each other, exchanged contact information with each other and with my parents, in order to coordinate the “care and handling of Kristen”.  They made sure I was never alone in that hospital that became my whole entire world.

Once I was back at my parents’ house and my children had been told, friends came from all over the place.  They brought kid friendly food, they brought their own kids in order to play with and distract mine, they brought me my favorite coffee, but most of all, they came and sat with me.  I couldn’t hold a conversation.  But they came anyway.  Unbeknownst to me, they worked to pull together an online sign-up sheet to bring my family meals for the next couple of months. People contacted this group of friends to find out what I needed (because I had no idea what I needed and people sensed that). A friend had her husband make Costco trips for me for months and then deliver to my house. One friend had someone from her church come to my house several times and clean my house for free!  Once I returned home, I would sit outside and people would just show up, kids in tow.  They sat with me and fed my kids and forced me to go out to lunch.  I wasn’t ready to stay in the house by myself for a very long time.  My parents often stayed with me, but it took a toll on them.  Some friends came for sleepovers so that my parents could have a break and I wouldn’t be alone.

Close friends from high school flew from around the country to visit.  I hadn’t seen these friends in ages.  I don’t think I’d seen one of my friends since my wedding in 2003!  But they left their kids, husbands, jobs..their lives to come and be with me.  They hung out with me and slept in bed with me  and ran with me.  They took my car and went food shopping and cooked for my kids and played with my kids.  They fixed their own meals.  These types of help may seem so small to someone reading this.  But they were not small.  They were so significantly huge–I can’t even find the right words.  Although I’ve been friends with these people for many years, my friendships with them have deepened and changed because of the things they did to help me.

New friendships developed as well.  People who continue to want to spend time with me (despite the fact that I am completely self-absorbed still).  Friends who keep me running–literally.  These girls have run with me through the fall, winter and now into the spring.  They have run with me in 20 degree weather.  They have run with me during downpours.  During these runs, these ladies have become my “color” (which makes sense if you read my previous post about shades of gray).  I look forward to being with them.  They are willing to try new things with me.  We laugh….a lot.  But they’ve cried with me as well.  They also never hesitate to give me a big sweaty, smelly hug at the end of a run.  They helped me develop a “life”, when I was convinced mine was pretty much over. They are the ones who stayed.

Friends from near and far called me, texted me, and emailed me.  For the most part, I never responded.  It wasn’t about them–I really appreciated the fact that they were reaching out to me.  I just couldn’t talk or write.  My brain did not work well enough for me to do these basic things.  Thankfully, those friends have persisted in their calls and texts–and only recently have I started responding.  I even have a friend who sent me letters–long letters–in the actual mail!  I don’t think I’ve received letters like that since college.  That takes a lot of time and effort in this day and age.

Then, there is social media.  Say what you will–but for me, its been an incredible way to stay in touch with people I’ve frequently wondered about, but thought I would never see/talk to/know about again.  People from my childhood, high school, and college, who continue to send me messages letting me know that they still think about me and pray for my family–they check in on me.  These check-ins mean so much.  The people who plainly state “I don’t have the right words to say-but I am thinking about you”.  That’s all it takes for me.  When I posted about a beer I had fallen in love with, friends from near and far (including friends’ husbands) researched high and low to try to locate this beer for me.  When I mentioned my love of cupcakes, an old friend from high school actually had a dozen delicious cupcakes delivered to my door.  Friends have reached out and because of that, I’ve made deeper connections with people and sometimes brand new connections.  It makes me feel like the whole world is my friend.

My job.  My boss is absolutely incredible.  I am fortunate enough that she is also my friend.  She taught me about the “Kristen Suit” and has had many wise words of wisdom that really have struck a chord with me.  She gave me space and never pressured me to return to work.  She made gentle suggestions that encouraged me to start back to work slowly when I was ready.  She assured me that going back to work would be the easiest thing I had done in months.  She was right.  She continues to work with me, to help me get everything I need out of my job.  I swear there are some months where I only work 50% of the hours I am supposed to work because of sick kids at my house, or other things that come up.  A lot of times, I still have problems with focus and attention and tend to forget basic things (like my timesheet).  She has been remarkably patient and understanding with me.  She bends over backwards for me–and I know I am so lucky to be working for her.

The community.  Particularly from the boys’ elementary school–the community supported us in ways I never would have imagined.  People I didn’t even know showed up at my house with meals and offers to help.  The school rallied around my boys.  Every single teacher they’ve had at that school, past and present, attended the memorial service.  I will never forget how I felt when I saw all of them walk in. It was a feeling I can’t describe.  The teachers, the nurse, the principal, the office staff..they all take care of my boys.  That school is like a second home to them.  The PTA sent in a cleaning crew.  They gave us gift baskets at Christmas.  We had “secret Santas”-and to this day I’m not really sure who they were, that left gifts on our doorstep. To this day, all I have to do is ask for help when I can’t be in four different places at one time and people eagerly assist me.   From the younger ones’ preschool, there was also some support.  Several parents got involved with bringing us meals, one of the dads took on a legal matter for me pro bono, and a staff member who is a tax accountant, did my taxes this year for free.  As much as I have the desire to run away a lot of the time, this community keeps me here.

Money.  This became very complicated and I hesitate to even write about it because it’s such a sensitive topic.  Jake and I have always had separate bank accounts.  Jake was very much the breadwinner of the family as I only worked part-time.  Jake paid all of the bills.  To be honest, I didn’t know a thing about our finances.  When he passed away, I was not allowed access to any of his accounts because his name was the only one on them.  Money was a significant cause of concern.  Almost immediately, one of his friends gave me a check to cover a few months worth of expenses.  More of his friends, sent me checks saying they “owed” Jake that money.  One of my friends also gave me money (instead of donating to one of the charities in Jake’s name).  I likely wouldn’t still be in my home if it weren’t for their generosity.  We were awarded scholarships for different activities that the boys wanted to get involved in that I couldn’t have afforded at the time.

I noticed a lot of my posts up until today have had an underlying (or outright) negativity.  For today at least, I believe I’ve turned a corner in also thinking about the positive–the color.  People always want to help–and reviewing the length of this post, it looks like they have. In so many ways-it’s all big.  It’s all significant.  It has all made a difference in how my family has dealt with this tragedy.  So…thank you.  Sincerely.

Jake’s Toothbrush

IMG_0658This is Jake’s toothbrush.  4 months and 21 days after.  I have not moved his toothbrush.  I am very much an “anti-clutter” kind of girl.  I get rid of everything I possibly can.  Sometimes I sell my kids’ toys right out from under their noses (or pried from their hands)-because I don’t like clutter.  I cannot do anything with Jake’s toothbrush but look at it every single time I walk in the bathroom.  In a way, I’m still waiting for him to come home.  I can sit at the window for hours and search the yard for him.  Longing for him to come walking out of the bushes or something.  Every day, I check all the rooms in the house–looking for Jake.

Yesterday I saw someone I hadn’t seen in awhile.  She mentioned that I looked “good”–like I was getting “over” stuff.  I almost vomited.  I wanted to scream at her about my “Kristen Suit”.  Instead I just shook my head and said “No”.  I will never, ever be okay.  I will never “get over” this.  I don’t care what you think you see on the outside.  On the inside, I am a completely devastated, messed up, different person.  Don’t let the Kristen Suit fool you.

My youngest cousin was killed in a car accident a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday in 2010.  I remember talking to my uncle (her father) and something he told me then struck me.  It struck me then and it continues to haunt me to this day.  He said, “I’ve been sentenced to a lifetime in hell”.  Although you cannot compare the grief and loss between two people, I get that now.  For me, the hell isn’t just about the loss.  It’s about what I could have done differently so that this didn’t happen.  I torture myself with the thought- “If I had only turned right instead of left”.

In the months since I lost him, (which is a stupid thing to say actually–if something is “lost”, there is the implication that it might be “found” again).  Stupid phrase.  I just decided I’m not using that expression anymore.  In the months “after”, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about death, probate, attorneys, medical records, etc.  Although I am his wife, I didn’t have access to anything that his name on it.  For example, did you know that medical records can only be requested by the patient himself?  Well, if that patient is deceased, you’re SOL.  You need court paperwork–piles of paperwork to have access to anything with your spouse’s name on it.  Did you know it costs money just to DIE in King County?  Because Jake died in King County, I actually had to PAY a fee to the county!  Every account with his name on it, required a death certificate–which also cost money.  I believe it cost me $200 to get enough death certificates to cancel Jake’s various accounts. The best thing (and this is sarcastic) is how you can call the same company 20 times and explain the horrid circumstances to 20 different people, and those 20 different people will all tell you something completely different and when you call the 21st time–there are no notes or records that you have ever called before.  This is a true story and it happened with multiple companies-not just one.   I told Jake’s best friend that I never wanted to talk on the phone or be put on hold again.  Ever.  Entire days were spent on the phone.

Initially, people I spoke with were perfectly nice and made me promises that were never kept.  When I called one of Jake’s credit card companies, they told me that they were just going to write off the balance he owed (the card was in his name only).  Well, that didn’t happen and that credit card company is going after Jake’s “estate” (which is a funny word–makes us sound like we actually have money or something).  Jake also had a leased vehicle in his name only.  It had about a year left on it-but when I called the car company, I was told that I could just return the vehicle and they would take care of it–I wouldn’t owe anything else.  I was so relieved and in tears after phone calls like these–only to find out that none of it was actually true. Not only were the car people extremely rude upon return of the car, but they are going after the “estate” as well.  Apparently they put the car up for auction and then the estate owes the different between what they get and what the car is worth.  WHAT?!? If someone had told me that, I would have kept the car and made the payments for another year.  The car was a lease–why do I now have to pay for the car outright?  Grrrr.  That car company lost my business forever.

I know in the “About Me” section, I said I wouldn’t be giving any advice.  Well, I’m going to take that back for a minute and just offer three pieces of advice–because you never know.

1. Put together your last will and testament.  We didn’t have one.  I know the thought of it is upsetting, but it can save you and your family.

2.  If at all possible, get life insurance.

3.  Make sure you put aside money in order to pay King County a fee just in case you die here.

AFTER (Part Forever)

I lived in the Neuro ICU for almost 4 days.  The time of death was called less than 24 hours after he arrived at the hospital, but they were working on keeping his organs going because he was an organ donor.  I wasn’t going to leave. I never left the unit. I sat with him, I held his hand, I cried a lot…some of my friends even helped me climb into the hospital bed with him so I could sleep with him one last time.  I understood that many of his organs were going to be donated and there were recipients all lined up.  That gave me some comfort.  However, at the last-minute I was informed that there were some complications and they would be unable to donate any of his organs.  Complications?  Jake had run 14 MILES for fun the day before this all happened.  His organs were perfect.  All of his beautiful, healthy organs.  But, Jake wasn’t going to save the lives of others.  All of the disappointed families.  Shattered me into even more pieces.

From the time I received the first phone call, everything seemed to happen in a fog.  I remember telling myself “No, no, no, no, no–this is not really happening.  This is not your life”.  My brother was the first to arrive at the hospital.  I had a very hard time getting there.  It’s not like we see on TV–where the police officers are all compassionate and offer you a ride.  As I rolled around on the floor of the police station, wailing and screaming, the police officer basically shrugged his shoulders.  He said “If I were you, I’d hop in the car and head down there”.  WHAT?!? You are advising me–in this state–to get in my car and drive into downtown Seattle, during rush hour?  It didn’t make any sense.  There was no “I’m very sorry ma’am”–no explanation of what had happened.  Just a shrug of the shoulders.  I will never, ever forget that.  I will also never forget the kindness of a stranger standing nearby who offered, and then drove me to the hospital.  I hopped out of her car at the ER doors and never saw her again.  But I think about her all the time.

As I mentioned, my brother was at the hospital in a private room with a social worker.  I thank God he was there.  I vaguely remember surgeons coming into the room and apologetically telling me that surgery wasn’t an option.  I still didn’t understand.  I remember asking “So that means he could make it?  He might live?”  Their small sighs and sad faces were all I needed to see to know I was clearly mistaken.  Again, I ended up curled in the fetal position on the floor, wailing.  My brother was there.  He was always there.  From that point on, he took care of everything.  All of the gruesome, scary, terrible tasks that needed to be taken care of–my brother did it all.  I love my brother, but his strength and character has astounded me since then.

From that point on, things are very hazy for me.  I remember A LOT of people coming and going throughout the next few days.  Loved ones who brought me water and changes of clothes and soap so I could take a shower in the physician locker room.  People holding my hand, rubbing my back, crying with me,  I remember that first night there was so much blood.  Way too much blood.  Giant puddles of it under his bed.  His face was also covered in blood–he didn’t even look like my Jake.  Thankfully, the next day someone cleaned him up a little bit, and from that point on, I was there to wipe off every trickle of blood that showed up on his face.

I know for all those days, I begged and pleaded for him to come back.  I didn’t understand how there could be a world without Jake in it.  I still don’t.  When the organ donation people sat me down and shared that Jake’s organs were not going to be donated, they cried with me.  After awhile, they explained to me what was going to happen next.  They would turn off the machines that were keeping his organs alive, but his heart may still beat for a little while.  Still–in my head–I had some hope.  Maybe this is it.  Maybe he will start breathing on his own and we’ll have our own little miracle.  I laid on the bed with him.  I put my head on his chest.  The nurses looked at me before they turned off the machines.  Then they respectfully left the room.  My mother and aunt were there with me-but I asked them to leave as well.  I needed to listen–I needed to hear his heartbeat.  I cried quietly as I did just that.  I listened to his heartbeat for a while before it slowed down–and eventually stopped.  I stayed there for a long time.

I don’t think it actually ever occurred to me that I would have to leave the hospital.  It felt like that was the world I had always lived in–how was I going to function outside the Neuro ICU? I didn’t want to go.  It was a strange feeling–one I still don’t fully understand.  The darkest hours of my life so far were spent there–yet I didn’t want to leave.  I remember shaking like a leaf and nearly vomiting with every step I took closer and closer to the elevators.