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

 

Two Years Later

I say a lot of shit on this blog. Occasionally, I realize that I don’t practice what I preach. I didn’t expect this second year mark to be quite so hard as the first one. In fact, in a lot of ways it has been harder. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure this summer was happier. I knew better! Yes-I make choices throughout my daily life. I choose to focus more on some things and not others. But, as much as I’ve said this since I started writing, GRIEF IS NOT LINEAR. So, why should I think that the further away we get through the event, the happier I will be?

I believe I went through all the “firsts” in a fog and a continued state of shock. That fog was like a layer of protection for me. (I was also drinking a lot more so there was that…). As the second year mark has approached, I have been choosing to get certain parts of my life back in order. I’ve let myself slide by, not really caring about anything. I don’t mean people–I mean stuff-like finances, nutrition, health, and organization. However, as a result of this less “foggy” state of being, I am also feeling things so much more acutely than I had been. In my efforts to be less overwhelmed, I am, in fact, more overwhelmed. I need to do these things. But, I’m so fucking tired. I push myself towards physical exhaustion every day, hoping that I might sleep through the night sometime soon.

I’d like to share a Jake story that someone shared with me recently. I am so grateful to this person, for telling me this story because it’s so classic “Jake”. I am going to quote her exact words, otherwise, I would not do it justice.

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“Going through old photos I found this one…my absolute favorite memory with Jake. Of course the Daryls were over and beers were definitely involved, but it ended with Jake, with no hesitation whatsoever, taking on a dare of running around the front yard in his boxers with the Christmas tree skirt as his cape. The really funny part is that across the street was the “Christmas House” where people came from all over to tour every night. Needless to say, Jake became the top entertainment that night and I don’t know if I ever laughed so hard! ❤️

I read her story and look at this picture daily-usually more than once.  Look at his socks!  He stripped down to his boxers but kept on his white socks pulled halfway up his skinny calves! Classically Jake.  I love this story-it makes me laugh.  Then, I get confused.  Because this Jake, this classic Jake, the one we all knew and loved…he is not the same person who did what he did. My brain can’t reconcile that this is the same person.  Probably because he’s not.  The Chantix altered his brain so significantly over the course of 6 weeks-that he wasn’t even Jake anymore.  Just like my life turned into “BEFORE” and “AFTER”, I can tell you the exact date that the “Pre-Chantix Jake” became the “Post-Chantix Jake”.  Fucking Pfizer.  I don’t believe in heaven and hell.  I don’t believe in fate or karma.  But I really want to when it comes to the Pfizer people who fight to keep Chantix on the market.  Greedy mother fuckers.  Not a care in the world about actual people.  Grrrr.

With the second year mark fast approaching, I realize I am trying to dig my heels in–slow things down because I’m just not ready?  I ask myself “Ready for what?” It doesn’t make sense.  I know that the dread of that day is worse than the day itself is going to be.  August 27 will never be “just another date” again. For weeks, I have been stuck in that spot. Rewinding and replaying the events. Maybe that’s why I’m digging my heels in–if I can slow it down, maybe I can prevent it from happening.  Rewrite the story.

My brother suggested I listen to a song. I have probably listened to it ten times since yesterday.  I feel like the song was written for me-but I also know that anyone who has lost someone they love, will relate to the lyrics. There are no words to describe the depth of pain and sadness that a person feels when they lose someone they love.  The lyrics in this song are gorgeous.  I’ll post them along with the video.

You’re smiling at me
From your picture frame
And I miss you
My life keeps on changing
But you stay the same
I miss you
So many moments
That we should have shared
I miss you

And the days turn to years
And it hasn’t stopped yet
The memories we shared
I will never forget
No I will never forget

There’s a hole in my heart
That will never be filled
I miss you
This all should get easier
But it never will
I miss you
I float through the days
And the long lonely nights
I miss you

And I hear your footsteps
You’re coming down the stairs
Lost in your laughter
The sun in your hair

A brief recollection
The light in your eyes
I see the reflection
But it passes by
It passes me by

You’re smiling at me
From your picture frame
And I miss you
Every morning I wake up
And I whisper your name
I miss you
You’re in faces of people
I see on the street
You’re everywhere
You’re everywhere
You’re everywhere

This week, I am going to do the things that Jake loved to do. I am going to hike, run, climb, swim and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in the pacific northwest.  Maybe I’ll even run around in boxer shorts, white socks, and a Christmas tree skirt as my cape:-)

Hill from Hell

Before I get started-I have an update. The Midnight Sun Brewing Company did get back to me and shared that “Berserker” will be landing in 22 ounce bottles in Seattle soon.  I don’t know what “soon” means, but she didn’t have an exact date.  Yay!  Be on the lookout.  In the meantime, my brother gave me a lovely present to tide me over:  IMG_0954Woo hoo!  I have become a huge fan of the porters and stouts that have been aged in bourbon/whiskey/scotch barrels.  Very excited to share some of these with my friends.  One thing about the Pacific Northwest–you cannot beat the beer!

Another thing I love about where I live-are the many trails I can choose to run on. I love prancing through nature!  I tend to stick to my favorite (with the stump–more on that later) but know that running different places for different purposes is what is going to help my running overall.  There is a trail that is commonly referred to as “the hill from hell”.  Jake used to use this hill as part of his training.  He would go there and run up (and down and back up) 5-6 times in a row.  His particular goal was to elevate his heart rate to a certain number (yeah–that’s what kind of shape he was in–he had a hard time even getting his heart rate up into his target zone). My goal is to actually make it up that hill-once per run-without having to stop or walk.  Hills are not my friends.  I don’t like discomfort.  Today, I ran up the hill from hell.  The trick for me is to NOT look up at the top of the hill.  Today as I was trudging, dragging, crawling up that hill, I reflected on the metaphorical nature of running up that hill from hell, and what’s going on in my life right now.  As I ran, I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter how slow you go, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you, just keep moving and you will get there.  It hit me–these are DEEP THOUGHTS! Stop looking up at the top of the mountain thinking that you’ll never get there.  Instead, focus on one step at a time and don’t stop moving. When I reached the top of the “hill from hell”, I thought to myself “powerful human”.  You did it.

Earlier this week, I ran my favorite trail–you know the one with the stump with all the stuff on it.  Someone left me a gift on the stump.  IMG_0956 I loved my gift–thank you–you know who you are.  However–the STUPID JERKS WHO STEAL THINGS OFF THE STUMP THAT MEAN THINGS TO OTHER PEOPLE–have returned.  This time they stole the Jesus figurine that actually turned out to be Luke Skywalker.  We thought he was Jesus for a while–until we realized he wasn’t.  Anyway, Jesus/Luke Skywalker is gone and I would like him to be returned to the stump please.  You are more than welcome to take the creepy ceramic cat head that is sitting on top of a stick in exchange.

Also earlier this week, I connected with someone who had lost his wife in a very tragic and unexpected way.  Unfortunately, we have something in common that we both wish we didn’t. He had just passed the three-year mark.  We have mutual friends, so this boy called and talked to me for a long time.  I’ll admit, for the first part of our conversation I was more in tune with the sexy New England accent (which made me homesick) than what he was saying.  But, he had a lot to say-a lot to share about his own experience and how he’s doing now.  He stated a lot of insightful and thought-provoking tidbits drawn from the wisdom that comes with experience.  He was also very straightfoward, honest, and no-nonsense (which also made me homesick). I have thought about that conversation for days.  This boy, although he misses his wife and loves her, is actually happy.  According to him, happiness doesn’t just come to a person.  One has to choose to be happy.  (I am simplifying the conversation down to some of the points I’ve had running around in my brain).  He spoke of his current girlfriend and his experiences with dating after he lost his wife. I got off the phone feeling very optimistic and hopeful.  Yes–I was going to forge ahead.  Yes-I was going to choose to be happy.  It was going to be that simple.  However, I spent the next couple of days in agony because I was doing to myself the exact thing that I despise–comparing myself and my grief to someone else’s.  Duh.  Although we have this horrific event in common-we are two different people in two very different places.  I took what he had said so personally–that I thought I should be happy because I could just choose to be.  Move on with my life.  However, I realized that by “pretending” to be happy-I was doing the same “door slamming on the memories” that I had done before.  That didn’t work out so great.  In the past week a few things have become very clear to me:

1.  I am sad.  I miss Jake–more than miss him. I spent 14 years with this man, I grew up with him.  We bought homes together, got a dog together, moved around the country together, traveled together, had four kids together, and parented together.  But our lives weren’t all about those bigger moments.  When we were dating, we used to go on “dates” every Sunday to the Home Depot. Yes–the Home Depot.  We did whatever we had to do at the Home Depot and then there was a shed outside the store that sold “food”.  I always had a warm pretzel and Jake always had a hot dog.   Our closeness came from the little, everyday experiences –quick phone calls and texts, short conversations (because who can have a conversation once they have kids?), big hugs, and “how was your day”s.  We did somehow manage to have one 30-minute phone conversations which included every little detail about the septic tank inspection.  The little things that add up to a giant thing–one that is bigger than the sum of its parts.  I am still in a place where I freak out when I realize that there will never be another picture taken of Jake.  I am still wishing for him to come back–and I think if I wish hard enough, it will happen.  Memories catch me off guard at the strangest times and places. I still can’t even believe he is gone.  I did not choose this.  I do hope that someday I will be happy again.  It’s just not that easy.  I need to stop comparing myself to the experience of another person-regardless of the commonalities.  I am sad-very sad.  And that’s okay–I’m not going to beat myself up over it.  I’m going to let it ride-let myself feel whatever it is I feel at the moment-even if it sucks.

2.  I am in no way, shape or form, ready to begin dating again.  I believe this boy told me he started thinking about dating again after about 6-7 months.  So, I put myself through even more agony wondering what was wrong with me–maybe it was time for me to start dating?  But the very idea of it, made me sick to my stomach.  I do not need to be dating.  I do not want to be in a relationship. Not now–maybe not ever-who knows?  But that doesn’t preclude me from someday being happy again.  I can be alone and still be happy.  What was I thinking in those few crazy moments this week?  Once again–comparing.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

3.  I have the most incredible support system–one that spans the country.  This boy I spoke with–we don’t even know each other.  But he took precious time out of his day to reach out to me and let me know that I wasn’t alone–that someone else out there can empathize with me.  I realized that I came away from that conversation with the completely wrong message. He wasn’t trying to tell me to “be like him”.  I put that on myself.  He was extending a hand to hold onto–something to ground me and keep me from floating away with my sadness and longing.  He was trying to send the message that “someday”, I will feel better.  But it doesn’t have to be by anyone’s timeline but my own.

My brother and sister-in-law have a sign in their bathroom that says “Do more of what makes you happy”.  So, I’ve been thinking about what makes me happy now.  Really good beer=happy.  My new favorite bar=happy.  My supportive, loving family=happy.  Pinkabella coconut cupcakes=happy.  My incredible and hilarious friends=happy.  My running=happy.  My kids=…..depends on the moment 😉 When my three-year old tells me he loves me without me saying it first=happy. When my kids sing and when they belly laugh (even if it’s just because somebody said poop or fart)=happy.  I have happy moments now-I need to recognize them more when they happen.  I need to be aware and present in those happy moments.  I don’t think it’s about making a choice.  I don’t think it’s that simple.  But I am going to try.  One step at a time and don’t stop moving (even if the tears are flowing at the same time).

Wishful Thinking

So, everyday this week, I have been continuously reflecting on everything I did on that date 7 months ago.  Today is the 26th.  August 26th, 2014 was a fantastic day.  I hiked Rattlesnake Ridge with my BFF.  I practically ran up that thing–passing people (which doesn’t happen often for me)–all the way to the top and the beautiful views all around us.  On the way down, my friend and I had frivolous discussion about all the reality tv shows she had been watching recently.  So much adrenaline, so much beauty–I felt wonderful…and so blissfully unaware of how that was the last time I would feel that way–possibly forever.  Unaware that my “AFTER” was going to begin less than 24 hours later.

A close friend of mine recently gave me a book entitled “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. (I’m sorry–I haven’t figured out how to add a link yet!)  I didn’t even read the blurb on the back to find out what the book was about.  I just jumped right in.  I’m still at the beginning of the book, but basically it is a memoir written by a woman who lost her husband very unexpectedly and suddenly.  As I read this book, I have started noticing that at times I am holding my breath.  I have to remind myself to breathe.  I think it is because her feelings so far–are so close to my own that I feel as if she has written my story.  She has done quite a bit of research on the subject of grief and mourning, and as interesting as her tidbits are, I’m not sure I currently have the attention span to do the same.  But so far, this book has been comforting to me.  I’m not alone and I’m not crazy.  Other people experience these same feelings of “magical thinking”–like keeping Jake’s toothbrush because he’s going to need it when he comes back.  This feeling that somehow this is all reversible if I wish hard enough.  I can’t remember if I have mentioned this before, but I have detailed fantasies that this all really didn’t happen and Jake is off hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.  He’ll come back very stinky and hairy and so very happy because he’d achieved that goal.

A lot of people say to me “I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through”.  Very accurate.  Just like I can’t imagine what anyone else is going through.  Well, maybe I can imagine, but I can never know truly know.  I’ve known this for a long time.  It started when I was pregnant with my first baby.  People told me all about how hard it was, the sleepless nights, the colic, etc. and I actually thought I understood.  I remember thinking, “I pulled a lot of all-nighters in college and besides, my baby is going to be perfectly happy”.  I imagined myself sitting in the glider and rocking the baby while the baby peacefully looked into my eyes and cooed at me.  I imagined dressing up my baby and waltzing around the mall to shop with all my “free” maternity leave time while everyone stopped to admire my beautiful, perfect baby.  I would be super skinny of course–as soon as that baby came out–I’d be prancing out of that hospital in skinny jeans and a tight t-shirt.  I know anyone who has ever had a baby is laughing right now.  Because we all know that having a baby is nothing like we ever could have imagined.  No matter how much people try to warn you.  We cannot know.  I remember trying to tell people who couldn’t wait for their own baby to come–“Trust me–that baby is way easier to take care of inside your uterus than outside of it”.  But I always knew there was no way they could even imagine.  With babies #2, #3 and #4-I had planned C-Sections (because the first one was an emergency c-section).  With each one after the first one, I asked the doctors to please leave the baby inside of me as long as possible until the point it became dangerous.  Then they could take it out.  “How far after the due date can we push this event out?”–I remember asking.

One night, Jake announced to me “I’m going to get up early and go run around Mt. St. Helens tomorrow.  Is that okay?”.  Of course it was okay.  I also had a million questions like “How many miles will it be? Don’t people usually train for runs like that?  What time are you leaving?  How long will it take you to get there?  How long will it take you to run it?  When can I expect you home?”  I never thought to ask him what particular trail he was taking or any of the really important stuff.  This was the first time he had done anything like this, so I was unschooled in the appropriate questions and proper warnings to him.  I did ask him to call me when his cell phone came back in range and he was on his way home.  Well, the time he told me that he expected to be finished came and went.  I didn’t hear from him.  It started to get dark.  I started to panic.  I began calling his friends to ask if they had heard from him. I researched “search and rescue at Mt. St. Helens” on the internet.   I called his buddy who was experienced in doing this kind of thing.  His buddy told me not to worry.  It probably took him longer than he expected and the worst possible scenario is that he would have to hunker down out there for the night.  But he would be fine.  Jeez Louise!  My imagination went absolutely crazy.  I was in full panic mode–pacing my house–crying–IMAGINING that I had lost my husband to a bear or cougar on Mt. St. Helens. I imagined what was going to happen the next few days.  I imagined the newspaper headlines.  I imagined what my life was going to be like without Jake.  When he finally called me, I screamed and cried and yelled.  He apologized profusely–he felt terrible because he knew I’d be worried but it took him longer than expected and he couldn’t get a cell signal to let me know.  I think about that day sometimes.  I imagined really awful, horrible things.  But the worst of my imaginings didn’t even come close to what it was really like to lose him.

We never truly know until we experience it–until we we live it.  Hopefully, very few of us ever have to live through something like this in their lifetime.  But I know people do.  I know people I love dearly that have been through worse (what I would consider worse).  I have no words for these people-I have no idea what it’s like to live in their shoes everyday.  I wouldn’t even dare to try and compare.

In writing this blog, my goal is to tell my story (like Mary Meatballs said).  My intention is not to spew anger and disgust at well-intentioned people who say things that aren’t particularly helpful for me.  I know that sometimes–okay, a lot of times–I might come off that way.  I realize that my grief is oftentimes directed in the form of anger at really good, caring people.  I’m not saying that’s okay.  I’m just saying that’s how it is for me.  I’m sad and I’m angry and I’m wishful beyond reason.

But most importantly, as lonely as I feel, I know I’m not alone.