Navigating the 3rd Christmas

Yesterday, I found myself wishing I was a kid again. I remember Christmas being so magical and so exciting. Watching out the car window looking at all the Christmas lights. Decorating our live tree. Watching all the Christmas specials (including my favorite “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”). My dad’s I.B.E.W Christmas party every year. The anticipation of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning almost more than I could stand.

I had really bad nightmares this morning. Really bad and very disturbing and I can’t get them out of my head. Here’s the thing. I have been thinking that I really have my act together this year. The past two Christmases I couldn’t even really make an effort. Loved ones supported my children throughout the past two Christmases. But this one–I had it. I started at the beginning of the month. Christmas lists in hand. Grand surprises planned. A very nice person spent two days putting Christmas lights up outside my house (which we’ve never had–and my kids are always sad about that) so that when I pulled up to the house-the kids would gasp in wonder and excitement at the beautiful wonderland he had created (I even pulled over to video tape their reactions but it didn’t quite go down the way I had imagined). I bought our first live tree and colored lights that reminded me of my childhood trees. I white knuckled a weekend trip over the pass in a giant snowstorm so my kids could experience a ton of snow and play in it and go sledding. The kids and I even ran out of the house one morning at 6:30am so we could buy teacher and staff presents and they could all wear festive hats on the last day before the break. The one thing I didn’t get to was Christmas cards–and I was okay with that. I was way ahead of the game and we would be visiting Santa long before Christmas Eve morning.

It’s Christmas Eve morning. I couldn’t even bring my kids to see Santa. My parents had to do it for me. Yesterday, I crashed. My kids were staying with my parents and I was going to watch Christmas movies and wrap presents and get up early this morning to go see Santa. But, when I got back last night, I crashed hard. My brain kept going to a very bad place. This one survival mode of my brain trying to think of ways to escape the pain. The other reasonable part of my brain reminding me that I can get through this. Just get through the next minute. Then the next minute. Fortunately, a good friend showed up at my doorstep right in the middle of it all, and although her visit was short, it was all I needed to come out of that dark place. I begrudgingly wrapped the rest of the presents, ate a salad and watched “Shameless”. Not a whole lot of Christmas spirit-but I was moving along. Then this morning I woke up from the nightmares. My parents were texting me about getting the kids out early to see Santa. I tried. I told myself “Come on! This is one day-one day out of the year when you really need to fake it and get the kids to see Santa. You can do this. You NEED to do this”. But I was stuck. Stuck in my nightmares. Just stuck.

I’ve been thinking about the holiday season a lot since yesterday. There is this idea of magic, joy, singing, happiness and family. But there are so many people out there-for whom the holidays are painful, agonizing, and heartbreaking. I try really hard not to give in to those feelings. I think about others and try to keep things in perspective. I really tried this year. But I crashed. Hard. I don’t want to celebrate. I don’t feel like celebrating. I have to, because I have kids. But I would say-this is not just about my pain this year. It’s actually fully recognizing the state of the world, and all the people–so many people–who are suffering in one way or another, and feeling so sad about THEIR pain, THEIR suffering, THEIR losses, THEIR hunger and THEIR heartbreak. I think I’m so overwhelmed with how painful the holidays are for so many people and I can donate to charities until I run out of money, but that doesn’t really make a difference in this world. So, I’m sad for all of the people who are suffering. I wish I could invite them all to my house for a sleepover and feed them and clothe them and let them know–its okay. It’s okay that the holidays suck for you and you don’t have to pretend.

I’m very lucky that I have memories of magical Christmases. Even as an adult. I’ll end with a Jake story.  One Christmas, we went out to buy a tree.  I think it was the last Christmas we had a live tree (maybe 10-11 years ago).  The place where we bought the tree didn’t have any twine or anything to secure the tree to the top of the car!  They encouraged us to go into the store and buy some rope.  Jake and I were frustrated.  So, Jake threw the tree on top of the car, opened his window, and drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one arm hanging out the window, holding onto to the tree on top of the car. Simple story–one of those “you had to be there” events.  But, I’m so grateful that Jake was Jake and we were fortunate enough to call him family.  I really miss him.

 

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.

 

 

 

Barely Existing

I am barely existing.

This is how my very wise friend described me.  She is right.

It is August. I hate August. I wonder if I’ll always hate August. It has almost been a year. One year. That was supposed to be the magical number. “After a year”, “in a year”, “give it a year”, “no big decisions within a year”, etc. I wonder what is supposed to happen? All of a sudden it’s almost been a year and I feel worse than ever. I wonder if up until now I’ve just been more numb or in disbelief or distracting myself in order to not feel the pain. Because it has hit me hard recently. The pain. The true understanding that I am the only parent of four young children. The emptiness. The loneliness. The despair. How did I manage to get through the last year?

The Kristen Suit is wearing very thin. It has holes and tears-exposing what lies underneath. Someone recently spoke with me about karma. If I believe in karma than I have to believe that I deserve this pain–that deep inside of me there is something very wrong and evil and pretty soon it is going to show through the Kristen Suit. I am so scared to find out what this is.

We got a fantastic offer on our house a few weeks ago, but it fell through a few days later. No movement since then–so we are living at my parent’s house and driving back and forth. I haven’t seen my dog in over a month (he’s staying at a dog ranch and from what I hear he is very happy!). Living out of suitcases and not knowing what is going to happen –doesn’t help any of us. As my father is recovering from surgery, my mother has become very sick. I feel as though this past year has really taken a toll on both of them and on their health. I hate it. I need a different plan. But I am empty. The only thing I actually can feel, the only thing I can actually think about is this pain-the hole constantly burning in the center of my body.

Last month I talked about pursuing new interests. YAY! I was all excited about these interests. However, I didn’t think about the obstacles an only parent of four children faces when trying to pursue new interests. It is easier said than done.  I did manage to go rock-climbing this past weekend (after a ton of work trying to figure out who was going to watch my kids all day). It was absolutely amazing. I went with a group of women I had never met before. They don’t know my story. They don’t know about the Kristen Suit. When I dropped down from my first climb that day, I unexpectedly burst into tears. The women I was with assumed it was because I had been scared. But I wasn’t scared-at all. I cried because while I was climbing up that rock, all of my focus was there–on the climb, on the rock. I didn’t feel the gut-wrenching pain. When I dropped back down, the pain came back full force and that is why I lost it. I had felt what it was like to not feel the pain-and I wanted that back.

One of Jake’s buddies told me about how they used to pray to the “Hawk God” during Seahawk games (I think I’ve mentioned this before).  I keep wondering-where is the “God that makes the shitty feelings go away”?  Because I need that one.  I need that one to take this pain away.

On Jake’s birthday this year, the kids were very excited to write messages on Chinese lanterns and send them up to daddy in heaven that night at the beach.  We ate Jake’s favorite foods, talked about our favorite Jake memories, and wrote messages on the lanterns.  We went to the beach and tried to send the lanterns to heaven.  The first three we tried caught on fire instead.  We didn’t try again.  The kids were devastated.  Their tears and wails were not drowned out by the ocean or the wind at the beach.  I hugged them and made shit up about how daddy heard their messages anyway.  But, THE KIDS’ MESSAGES TO THEIR DADDY IN HEAVEN CAUGHT ON FUCKING FIRE.  Where is the “God who gives little kids their daddy back”?  I need that one, too.  I’ll even take the “God who comforts little children who have lost their daddy by helping their lanterns fly out over the ocean”.

I’m at a point where I just want to move back home.  Get all our shit out of storage, bring home the dog, and go home.  I know financially it’s not the intelligent choice–but maybe at some times in life, there are intangibles worth more than money.  My realtor convinced me to drop the price on my home because this is the hardest time of year to sell.  I let her do it because I can’t make a fucking decision on my own anymore.  But I keep wondering–why?  Just go home, Kristen, and try again in the spring if you want to.  Why take less than the house is actually worth because it’s not the best time of year?  I’m not even strong enough to stand up to my realtor. What a fucking pansy I am.

My oldest son loves rollercoasters.  I have always hated them.  Jake was the designated “roller coaster” parent and I was the designated “carousel” parent.  This year, I asked my son if he wanted the extremely fun and beautiful babysitter to take him on the coasters, or if he wanted me to take him.  I let him know I was a little scared, but I would certainly face my fears and ride rollercoasters with him.  He said he wanted me.  So I went.  Guess what?  Turns out I like rollercoasters (well except for the one I almost died on…but that’s a story for another time).  I also know I showed my son that it’s okay to be scared sometimes, but having courage can help you discover that you might have been missing out on some really great things and thank goodness you had the courage because from this point on you can enjoy all the rollercoasters you want (symbolically speaking, of course).  I also try to keep this in mind for myself–having courage can bring on very cool and fun stuff.  But lately, the pain has become my standard.  Defenses are down and all the bad stuff is making its way in (or out). Courage is gone.

So, the year mark.  What happens after it? Am I supposed to snap out of it?  Does everything that life is supposed to be like all of a sudden fall back into place?  Because I am overwhelmed just thinking about the things that happened in the aftermath last year.  For example–the first day of school.  It was a very, very sad day.  After school that day a bunch of us went to the park so the kids could play.  I remember feeling like everything was so surreal.  Was I really standing there with my friends making small talk about the first day of school?  I know I will be sad on the first day of school.  I anticipate having flashbacks.  I wonder if every first day of school from here on out will be sad for me?  I vividly recall walking into preschool to pick up the little ones and seeing that only MY name was on the parent pockets–Jake’s name wasn’t up there with mine anymore.  It was literally a crushing blow.  That’s how I feel all of the time now.  Like I’ve been sucker-punched in the gut.

The urge to flee is a very familiar feeling for me.  Whenever things got tough in my life, I would have this strong urge to flee.  I went to NJ on vacation for a month.  I thought I was fleeing.  I only realized that this pain is something I carry with me wherever I go.  It was right there with me in NJ.  I could move to the South Pole, and it would still be with me.  I just wish something could take it away.  Please just make it go away.

I’ve noticed that I have also been flooded with memories of Jake-not of the incident-but of us.  I remember he could make me laugh so hard that I had to beg him to stop because it hurt so badly.  The majority of the times that happened, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I’ve been remembering our trips to Hawaii-especially the most recent one for our 10th Anniversary.  We had so much fun.  I remember baseball games and picnics and going the movies.  I remember everything.  I miss him.  I miss his Chris Farley imitation.  I can’t stop thinking about him.  I wonder if I’m actually starting to believe that he is gone.  A year later.  Maybe that’s why the pain has gotten so much worse.

I went to a support group tonight and realized that I am not crazy.  I’m fucked up, sure-but people in my shoes are generally fucked up.  I also was reminded that grief is not a nice linear process.  It’s not a checklist you can go through–shock (check), denial (check), etc.  It is more like a spiral that winds back around and re-crosses the same places you thought you had already been through.

Another friend who always seems to know the right things to say, sent me a message to let me know the “KM (me) Fan Club” is super big.  So big, in fact, that if the “KM Fan Club” were to hold a meeting, they would have a hard time finding a venue large enough.  Her message brought lots of tears.  I know I have this enormous group of friends, family, strangers even–who love me and support me–and I am so blessed in that way.  So how is it that I feel so lonely?

Remember the stump?  On my favorite running trail?  The cosmic bus stop?  It’s empty.  Completely cleared off.  I was heartbroken during my first run back when I turned the corner and saw that it was empty.  However–when they cleared it off, they did miss one item.  A ceramic touchstone I had left for Jake.  It was all that remained.  It reminded me of my soul.  Completely empty except for this love where Jake used to be.  But now the love has turned into pain.  It feels like that’s all I have left of me.  One big, tangled knot of hurt rolling down the street.

I can’t hold together the seams of the Kristen Suit anymore.  I’m not even present.  This scares me.