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.





Setbacks and Moving Forward

I guess there are bound to be setbacks. This one caught me very much off-guard. I’ve been feeling different for the past two months. I realized I was spending a lot more time just really missing Jake and a lot less time obsessing over every last minute of that tragic day and the days that surrounded it. I noticed I was focusing better and more often. I even found myself singing in the car with the kids!

Then the other morning I got a phone call that my dad had been admitted to the hospital and it felt like I was reliving August 27, 2014. My mother was saying a lot of words to me and I couldn’t even put them together to have them make sense.  Anyone who knows me, probably knows my dad and knows what an incredible person he is. I can’t even think of an adjective superlative enough to describe my dad. For the past few weeks he has been in horrendous pain and unable to leave his bed. My mother has been taking care of him and watching him continue in such pain has really taken its toll on her. He had been to the ER once already, but this time they admitted him because he had pain with breathing.

I now can truly tell you what a flashback is and how it is different from a terrible memory.  A flashback is the feeling of being in the moment of a tragic event. My heart racing, my body shaking, visions of everything I saw and did that day in the immediate AFTER. I had to pass by Harborview on the way to the hospital and that is an area I have avoided. I vividly saw myself jumping out of the car of the wonderful stranger who drove me there that day and running into the ER. As I walked through the hospital to my dad’s room, I felt myself walking through the halls of Harborview, not knowing much (because the police were assholes…have I ever mentioned that?)–not understanding that when you are taken to a private room for your family by a social worker–that means something very, very bad has happened. It seems like all hospitals have that same smell. I lived with that smell when I stayed with Jake and I didn’t even really smell it. But, it hit me like a brick wall when I went to visit my dad and I saw and felt everything-Jake in the bed hooked up to many machines and not even looking like my husband, all the blood, the crushing feeling that dropped me to the floor in the worst emotional pain I have ever felt. It was all happening again. Except that it wasn’t.

I was able to speak with my dad’s doctor, who explained what is going on and the plan of action.  My parents were happy that it turned out to be something less serious than they had originally thought.  But, sitting in that hospital room was torturous for me.  I was back living in the Neurology ICU at Harborview, numb, shocked, traumatized.  Cleaning the blood off of Jake’s face, holding his hand, making crazy promises to the universe, and wondering how I was ever going to leave that place–how I was ever going to leave Jake and walk out of that hospital without him.  I texted people from my dad’s hospital room, trying to bring myself back to the present moment.  It helped, temporarily.  But I had also spent a lot of time texting, and making phone calls (or having other people make phone calls for me) from Harborview.  I was there again.  My phone never stopped ringing, the texts never stopped coming.  As much as I adore my dad, I couldn’t wait to leave that hospital.  How awful is that?  My dad–who made sure I was never alone when I was living at Harborview with Jake for four days–and I couldn’t wait to leave.  I’m wondering what kind of person I really am.

I nearly fell asleep driving on the way home from the hospital.  I was so completely drained.  I was back in those first days and weeks in the AFTER where all I could do was climb into bed.  I couldn’t even pick up my boys from school.  I had made fun plans for the Memorial Day weekend.  I had to cancel the first days’ plans.  I couldn’t leave my bed.  I almost cancelled my evening plans, but told myself I had to play grown-up.  I needed to pick up my own little ones from school and proceed with my plans.  So, I did.  I’m glad I did.  It helped me to return to the present and get “un-stuck”.

I’m not completely back to where my mind was the morning before that phone call-but I know I will get there again.  Although doctors, nurses, and my mother insist that this surgery my dad will have is very common and he is going to be so much better afterwards–I am very skeptical of doctors and health care in general these days.  I don’t have faith that everything will be okay.  I don’t believe in happily ever after or that life only throws at us what we can handle.  I’m jaded and probably will be for the rest of my life.  I know bad shit happens and I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  However, I do truly understand that life is most definitely short and people should take advantage of every exciting opportunity that comes their way.  Sometimes, I dwell on all the stuff Jake really wanted to do, and will never get to.  But, more often now, I am so grateful for all the stuff that Jake did get to do. The list is too long.

After Jake died, my parents stepped in and took over for almost everything that Jake had taken care of.  I learned about things like probate, our monthly finances, budgeting, etc.  Both of my parents took care of the kids.  But my dad took over pretty much everything else–taking out the garbage, fixing stuff around the house, mowing the lawn, dump runs, etc.  All of a sudden, my dad couldn’t help me anymore.  He was too sick.  I called my brother and asked him if he had a handyman to recommend.  He looked at me blankly and said “Dad”.  I decided I would need to find and hire a handyman for such things and started looking into it.  But yesterday morning-something happened which required immediate action.  In the early morning hours, my two youngest (ages 5 & 3) disappeared from the house.  My oldest found them down the street, in pajamas and bare feet–looking for slugs.  It was early-the time of day when there are a lot of bear and coyote sightings.  They could have been hit by a car.  The worst possible scenarios ran through my head and I did my best to make it clear to them that they could never do that again (e.g. punishments, long talks, explanations, etc.).  But, they are only 5 & 3 years old.  I know they didn’t really get it.  How to handle this?  First–I freaked out.  Second–Contacted my friends and asked their husbands to come and install something on my doors (e.g. locks way up high) so my children could no longer escape unnoticed.  Third–Calmed down and decided I had to learn to do these things on my own.  My girlfriend was on call–ready and waiting to send her husband over to help me.  But I was determined.  I was going to be brave and figure this out all on my own.

Guess what?  I did it.  I went to Home Depot and spent way too much time (without asking for help) determining the best option.  Scoured my garage for tools and drill bits (didn’t really know what they were–but I figured it out!) Finally, I installed those locks on every door leading to the outside (4 in total).  Using power tools and non-power tools and 3/32″ drill bits.  I did it.  So, although I spent a few days feeling low and drained because of the flashbacks and worries about my dad–I also was able to pull myself out of it, put on my tool belt and move a step (or maybe more) forward.

That started me thinking of all the other things I have started doing on my own.  Like killing spiders.  Putting out the garbage.  Paying bills.  Budgeting.  Going to Costco (ugh….possibly the absolute worst thing I have had to do on my own…).  I may get stuck in the past sometimes, but I am also moving ahead.  Most of the time without even realizing it.

My dad’s surgery is tomorrow.  Send good thoughts to him–for a successful surgery and speedy recovery.