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

 

PTSD and the Pretending

Jake used to make me laugh so hard.  I mean, gasping in pain, clutching my stomach and pleading for him to stop, kind of laughing.  Most of those times, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I smile just thinking about it.  He would sit and look at me like I was crazy.  I am very thankful for those times.

A couple of weeks ago, something very bad and very sad happened. Some people will read what I’m about to write and roll their eyes at me. That’s okay–because all I’m saying is what happened and how I felt (and continue to feel) about it. I had two of my kids in the car. I had just picked up one from his friend’s house and tried to take my daughter to soccer practice, but there happened to be a torrential downpour at that time, so I spoke with her coach for a bit and left. I was headed out to pick up my youngest. I was on a side street. I thought I had left my phone at home so I wasn’t distracted by my phone (have to throw that in because I’m sure people will think I was texting and driving or something). All I caught was a black blur out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt it. It was big. I had just run over something big. In the seconds before I knew, I remember thinking coyote or raccoon. I stopped my car and jumped out-but couldn’t make sense of the scene around me. There was an awful, horrible wailing sound and a man lying in the street. As I ran over, I realized this awful, horrible wailing sound was coming from the man who was lying on top of his dog in the street. The dog, the black lab, that I had just run over and killed. Everything that happened after that is kind of a blur. I remember kneeling in the street beside this man and his dog. I remember sobbing and saying “I’m so sorry” over and over again. But what stands out the most in my mind was all the blood. There was so much blood. How could I have done such a thing? I killed someone’s beloved pet. He was a black lab and was wearing a collar with all his requisite tags. I’m sure he was – in case he got lost. His eyes were open-but lifeless. And he was lying in a very large pool of blood. The poor owner had presumably seen the entire thing-given that he was lying over the dog before I could even get out of my car. A few neighbors came out to help and when they helped picked up the dog to move him out of the street, I remember noticing how limp and boneless he seemed. That’s what happens when your life ends. Your eyes are open, but unseeing. Your body goes limp and grows heavy. There was so much blood. I was in and out of my car, frantic and inconsolable. I didn’t even have my phone to call someone for help. At some point, the pet owner came over and hugged me and we cried and cried. I kept saying “I’m so sorry” and he kept saying “It’s not your fault”. It was very important for him to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. I remember he had black dog hair in his mouth and on his face. He apologized to me for not being able to talk at that moment and that was the last time I saw him. I was shaking and crying. What had I done? Then the “if only”s started. I am very familiar with the “if only”s–they have formed quite a rut in my brain where the chemicals have fired over and over again throughout the past two years. If only I had chatted with my daughter’s soccer coach for 30 seconds more. Or 30 seconds less. If only I had decided to tell my friend some story I thought was funny or ask more about what was going on in her life when I picked up my son. There I was, desperately wishing for my DeLorean and flux capacitor again. There was absolutely nothing I could do. How was I going to live with myself? How could I make it up to this poor man who had just seen his dog get run over and killed by a car driven by me?

Obviously I can’t. I can’t go back in time. I will never be able to heal this pet owner, now traumatized forever, I’m sure. I’ve learned this lesson. Every weekday, at least four times a day, I have to drive past that spot, when I drop off and pick up my kids from school. That street, and that house–a house I had never even noticed before–are changed for me. Supercharged with the energy and memories of this very bad and very sad event.

I have been picturing that we are all born with a certain capacity for trauma.  I imagine it like a balloon.  Some trauma is smaller than others but it all gets stuffed into this balloon-with some taking up more space and some taking up less.  I imagine this accident like a bulge out the side of the already full balloon.  The balloon is stretching so tightly that the color is gone and you can see what’s inside.  It’s about to burst.

There are no support groups for “people who run over and kill other people’s pets with their cars”.

I realized recently that I am always pretending.  99.9% of my life is spent pretending.  Pretending to be okay.  Pretending to be strong.  Pretending I want to talk to people who I don’t want to talk to.  Pretending to be engaged.  Pretending to be interested.  One night I laid on my bed and started crying because I am so tired of pretending.  I want to be my real self.  I don’t even I think I know who that is–because I’ve been pretending for so long.  I don’t think I knew who I was before Jake died and the past two years have heaped layers and layers on top of my true self so I think I’m even pretending to myself most of the time.  I want to peel off all the layers and discover who I actually am and for those people who don’t like it, they can go away.  But what if I don’t like what I discover?  Then what’s left? I like to tell myself and others that this blog is raw and emotional and true.  But then  I wonder, is it really?  Do I really put it all out there?  Or are my words part of my pretending?

I can tell myself I’m okay.  I can tell myself I’m strong.  I can convince myself that I’ve come to terms with one thing or another.  Then, out of the blue, two months later, 4 days later, an hour later…whatever…WHAM–something hits me so hard that I’m shaken to the core.  Wait!  I thought I had that one covered!  I was done with that!

November 8th was my 13th year wedding anniversary.  After we were married, every year on our anniversary, I would make Jake sit and watch our wedding video with me.  The video is cringeworthy. The editing, the music, the special effects….so hard to watch.  It is a very cheesy video.  I know Jake hated watching it–sometimes he would even leave the room at the really, really cheesy parts.  But he always came back.  He swallowed his pride and manhood and everything he believed in 😉 once a year to watch this video with me.  I also thought the video was awful.  But as I was watching the edited version, in my head–I was back there on November 8, 2003.  Replaying memories of that day that you can’t see on the video.  Like how I was feeling at any given time during the day.  I am smiling throughout the video, but I can see through that smile and remember my feelings. I know that in that one day I probably felt a mixture of 372 emotions, not all of them “happiness”, yet I smiled through them all.  I was even pretending then.  I guess to some extent maybe we all pretend at different times.

So, in the process of trying to “not pretend”, I’m going to say some things that may not be popular.  People may not like these words.  They might stop reading.  But I can promise you-there is no pretense in the words I am about to write.  This is me-feeling what I feel and actually telling you.

Probably before Jake died, I might have been the person to recite the mantras “Create your own happiness!”, “Choose happy!”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “What goes around, comes around”.  The last two phrases make me want to throw up.  If anybody ever says any of those things to my face, I may just land in jail for assault.  But the stuff about “creating our own happiness” and “the happiness principle”–I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this concept.  I’ve decided that these platitudes are not only stupid, but harmful as well.  The stupidity lies in the notion that we actually control our emotions.  Happiness is a fucking emotion, just like sadness, anger, irritation, fear.  Nobody chooses to feel any of those feelings.  They just happen.  YOU FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL.  No emotion is wrong.  No feeling is wrong.  Because they are just there.  They make us human.  We have zero control over our emotions so why would the assumption be made that we can choose to be happy?  (Sidenote: I do believe that there are many times we can control our own behavior/reactions to the emotion.  But I also believe that there are times in everybody’s life when we just aren’t strong enough-for whatever reason-to respond to our feelings in the manner that we’d like to.)

Recently, I had parent-teacher conferences.  Not a single one went the way I expected it to.  I try to schedule them one after another.  That way I have fewer appointments to forget. As I proceeded from one to the next and the next, I went from pleasantly surprised to numb.   The numbness wore off within a day and very unpleasant feelings hit me really hard.  It turns out one of my kids is having a particularly difficult time-socially and emotionally.  I had no clue.  Apparently, he’s been leaving class in tears and spending time with the principal, but not because he’s in trouble.  He was with me during the conferences (which is a concept I totally don’t get-the teachers see the kids everyday.  Why do they need to talk to them some more?) and he cried during the conferences.  It was then that I understood that I have no grasp on the depth and intensity of this child’s pain.  My emotions were a tangled knot of sadness, guilt, compassion, self-loathing, and anger.  Asking myself–“what have I done to this poor kid?”, then “what can I do to fix it?”, then “this is too hard–I can’t figure this out all on my own”, then….fury at my husband “How the fuck did you choose to do this to your kids? How did you do this?  How could you do this to them?” I was actually in the car alone, screaming at Jake, pounding the steering wheel, heart racing, gasping for breath…like you see an actor do on television or in the movies.

It took a few days before I came back to compassion.  Although it seems to the rest of us that Jake made a choice–he didn’t.  That’s the whole point.  He didn’t see any other option.  In his brain, this was the only way.  I need to remind myself of this often and really try to process it.  If his brain thought there were other options, he wouldn’t have done what he did.  So hard to imagine.  But, we can’t choose our feelings.  We don’t choose to be happy or sad–because why would anyone choose this?  If he thought he had a choice, he would still be here.  He would have known he had a choice if the Chantix hadn’t made his brain so sick.  There are actually people behind this drug.  People who have no clue or just don’t care what they did to my 4 young children, and to the thousands of others whose loved ones’ sick brains told them “You have no other choice”.  Chantix is just a thing.  It doesn’t think or choose or love.  The people behind Chantix, the people who create it, market it, and approve it with the knowledge of what it does to people’s brains, those people killed my husband.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

It is so incredibly sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stuff That Happens to Other People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Proof

Jake Valentine 1 insideJake Valentine 1

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

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

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

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

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

What the FUCK?? SOME people?

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

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

Sorry :(

IMG_1694

Dear Jake,

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

Fuck your “sorry :(”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOXO K