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 “Blurter”

I miss Jake.  I don’t just miss him.  There isn’t an actual word for what this is.  This is deep in your soul, gut wrenching, agonizing pain.  This has taken everything inside of me and crumbled it up into tiny pieces and moved it all around and I’m working hard at making everything fit together again–but its like a puzzle that I have all wrong.  It’s just not working.

Although I’m getting better at this, for a while, I became a “blurter”.  I thought every stranger I came across NEEDED to know what happened to my husband.  Someone looking at me with a slight smile and a nod of the head would find themselves caught in the middle of my terrible story.  (Makes things very awkward for most strangers…).


Setting: coffee stand drive-thru.

Characters: Kristen and barista.

Barista: “Good morning, how’s your day going?”

Kristen: “Well, my husband just passed away very unexpectedly and we have four young children ages 9,6,4 and 2 and I can’t quite acclimate to life outside of a hospital unit even though I’ve lived outside of one most of my life.”  (Sobbing starts)  “Can I please have a 16 oz. non-fat latte with 3 pumps of organic vanilla?”

Barista: (awkward silence)

I guess maybe this blog is my way of blurting without having to look into someone else’s eyes and feel their discomfort.

My oldest son and my husband loved to go on roller coasters together.  The faster, the better.  Their favorite roller coaster was “California Screamin'” at California Adventure.  They waited years until my son was finally tall enough to go on the ride, and then they rode it over and over and over again.  Tonight, as I was putting my kids to bed, my oldest son was talking about how great those times were–going on California Screamin’ with daddy.  He remembered that the last time we were there (last summer), they went on it once and had to stop and eat some dinner.  They were so eager to get on it a few more times.  By the time they had scarfed down some hotdogs, the ride was shut down for technical difficulties.  We waited a long time for them to fix it, but it never did come back up that night.  My oldest son looked at his dad and said “That’s okay dad.  There’s always next year”.  While retelling this story, my son started to cry (he cries for his dad most nights).

I feel like there’s a lesson to be learned from that.  Something about something.  I can’t think about the lesson now, though.  I will–I’ll get there.  Right now all I can do is remember that night and wish they had gone on that roller coaster one more time.

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.

The “Before” Part 1

darylsJake and I had known each other for 14 years.  We were introduced by his sister, who was a friend of mine.  She frequently said things to me like, “You have to meet my brother, Jake”, “I really think you and Jake would get along”, and finally (the clincher) “He kind of looks like Matt Damon”.  COUNT ME IN!  But alas, I was living with my boyfriend at the time.  Oh well.  Matt Damon (I mean, Jake), was clearly meant for another lifetime…until “The Daryls” came to town. (“The Daryls” pictured).

Jake played the bass in a punk band called “The Daryls”.  They were coming to play a show at a dive bar called “The Rat Haus” in Moscow, Idaho (which was near where I was living at the time).  His sister invited me to the show.  My boyfriend at the time bailed at the last minute, so I went solo.  I entered the establishment hesitantly-unable to locate my friend (which would have been easy because there were about 7 people there).  Ultimately, I asked a young, good looking man (who turned out to be one of Jake’s best friends from childhood and a fellow member of the band) if he was my friend’s brother.  As he looked around to try to find Jake, my friend (Jake’s sister) walked in.  Phew.  Now I could cling to her side (which I literally did sometimes when we drank together–I’d hook my elbow through her arm and we’d walk around like we were on a mission).

Brief introductions were made prior to the show.  My initial thought was “Hmm–he really does kind of resemble Matt Damon”.  We didn’t have much time to chat before the show started.  I didn’t really “get” the music, but I drank a lot of bad beer and watched Jake.  He was wearing cargo shorts and sandals….WITH SOCKS!  Who does that?

After the show, I drank some more with Jake and his buddies.  We ended up back at his sister’s house (I couldn’t drive home) and he graciously offered me the bed as he lied on the floor.  We stayed up talking all night long and I knew from that point on that Jake was something special and I intended to make him an important part of my life.

Not long after I met Jake, I broke up with my boyfriend, packed up my stuff, and moved to Seattle (where Jake lived).  We began seeing each other immediately and I rarely missed a “Daryls” show.  I even grew to like the music!  I didn’t even notice his cargo shorts with socks and sandals issue anymore.