The Thing

“When you’ve lived through the unexpected or out of order death of someone you love, your heart has, by definition, already been pushed too far.”  Megan Devine, Refugeingrief.com

Until about a week ago, I had never clicked on a cute puppy video.

The last time I wrote, I wasn’t in a good place. I was doing too much remembering and feeling overwhelming sadness. I know you all want to read my blog in the hopes that I’ve found humor in doing something stupid (like The Cleanse), or that I’ve realized how strong I am and how far I’ve come.  I want to write those things too. My head and my heart are not in the same place they were last time I wrote. They are different-but unfortunately not in a good way.

It hasn’t been often in the past 3+ years that I’ve felt true anger towards Jake. Anger at Jake is not an emotion that has been a typical part of my experience. Others have shared that they are mad at Jake for what he did and I’ve been ready to jump out of my skin to come to his defense. Because I know this wasn’t about the rest of us. This was about his unbearable pain.

[Quick aside…I have had a hard time with my memory for the past 3+ years. It has gotten better–or rather, I’ve worked a lot on strategies to help me remember–like every day stuff. I rarely know if I am telling someone the same story or fact I just told them 5 minutes ago (and they are just being too polite to tell me) or if I swear I actually remember sending that email, but searching my mailbox, I see that never did (it’s not even in my drafts!). So, if I repeat myself in my blog posts, it’s because I really don’t remember all that I’ve shared throughout the past 3 years or so. Yes-it’s in black and white and I can go back and re-read. But, I can’t actually bring myself to go back and read any of them. (Occasionally, I go back and read about my cleanse–just to remind myself why I shouldn’t be considering doing another one….)]

When Jake was still on life support at the hospital, I don’t remember how it was decided or who I was with (although I remember all the chairs were taken by ‘us’-Jake’s family and friends). I do remember exactly where I was (the neuro ICU waiting room at a circular table) when ‘we’ decided that I didn’t have to tell my kids exactly what happened. It was decided that I would tell them that “daddy hurt his head and the doctors couldn’t fix it. So, he died at the hospital”. This was not a lie. It just wasn’t every detail. My kids were 9, 7, 4 and 2 at the time. Judge all you want because I don’t now and I have never cared what anybody else’s thoughts/feelings were about that decision. My kids. Not yours. My husband. Not yours. THE FATHER OF MY BABIES. (Should I say it again? Not yours.)

Starting earlier this year, my older boys’ (now ages 12 and 9) counselor and I went through meetings, emails, and phone calls trying to decide if it was a smart idea to tell the kids, and if so, when and how to do it. We consulted for months and when we had decided that at least the older two should be told, we spent more months planning out the best time, place, and way to do so. I told very few people and they were the ones I knew would support my decision (even if I changed my mind) rather than judge it or give me their unsolicited opinion. This ultimately was a decision I made for my kids. The date/time was planned out about 6-8 weeks in advance. So, I had plenty of time to go over it again and again and again in my mind. The nauseous feeling and dread became too familiar. This would be the second worst thing they had ever been told in their lives.

In July, in their counselor’s office with the counselor present, I told my oldest boys how their dad hurt his head.  They were both completely shocked. My oldest son flat-out told me that he didn’t believe it. My nine-year old though–his response, to this day, has me questioning if telling them was the right thing to do. Words will never convey what I saw in his body, his face, and his eyes. I hurt that little boy in a way that he’s never been hurt before. He couldn’t get mad at Jake. Jake isn’t here anymore. But I am here and I’m the one who told him. He screamed at me that I should never have told him. He asked me why I would ever tell him such a horrible thing. He cried hard and questioned why I couldn’t let him be not knowing. He ran out of the office.

At some point the counselor returned with my son. He moved his body as far away from me as he could possibly get. I was distraught. Clearly I had made the wrong choice and I just wanted to go back to 20 minutes earlier-immediately before the session started–and make a different decision about telling them. But as I tell my kids almost daily–once the words come out of your mouth, you can never put them back. The session only lasted long enough for the boys to decide that we shouldn’t tell the younger two siblings (now age 7 and 5). My oldest son believed that waiting until they were much older was the best possible option. My younger son stated that if I really loved them, I wouldn’t ever tell them the truth. He looked me right in the eye for the first time in the previous 25 minutes and said, “No parent should ever tell a kid anything like that…ever”.

I do have very strong beliefs that nobody knows my children and our family as well as I do.  Ultimately, I will make the big, hard, horrible decisions.  However, this also means that I had to come home that day, and every day since then, and try to manage this THING by myself.  It’s so much more than holding them and reassuring them how much their daddy loved them.  I wish it were that easy.

In the past few weeks, anger has been coursing through my body.  In my entire life, I haven’t had nearly enough experience with anger to comprehend and manage what I’ve been feeling lately.  Maybe it falls just short of uncontrollable?  I’m a little scared that it might end up there.  The urges I have had to break things, tear Jake’s pictures down, slam glass photo frames against the wall and just let out raw, primal screams and cries..are like none I’ve ever felt before.  Every day, I try to manage how I feel, how my kids feel and how I feel about what my kids are feeling.  None of it is good.  With each passing day, as I observe each child’s behaviors, reactions, play, language, drawings…everything–a tiny piece of my hope that’s not very big to begin with, but still there for now–the hope that my kids will be okay and that I will be okay–seems to get chipped away.  Because no matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how much I keep trying–I will never make things okay for them.  Their innocent little brains were altered the day they lost their daddy.  It gets worse daily.  I feel like a helpless bystander.  Their poor little brains and hearts were changed again on the day I chose to sit down and tell my boys that yes…their daddy hurt his head and the doctors couldn’t help him so he died at the hospital.  He hurt his head, because he shot himself.  In the head.

My 9-year-old son screamed at me: “WHAT?  WHAT?  He shot himself?  Like with a gun? WHERE?  Why did he have a gun? WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP HIM?!?!”

So, yeah, I’m fucking angry.  Yes.  I’m angry at Jake.

The THING is-my anger isn’t about “the day I told my poor children that their daddy shot himself in the head”.  I’m angry because it’s every fucking day.

This has nothing to do with how difficult it is to somehow figure out everyday life logistics as the only parent of 4 young kiddos.  I’m not angry about that.  I’ve learned to plow ahead and do what I can to figure that shit out.  I have help.  I ask for help.  People are kind.

This anger has everything to do with the fact that my kids live every moment with loss and confusion and unfairness.  These are well-worn ruts in their brains.  These have become entwined and entangled throughout their beings so that this THING is a significant part of who they are and who they are going to become.

When I get an email from a teacher about behavior/emotional outbursts in class, or a “character counts” slip from the after school care (which means a kid did something to show poor character), or a parent lets me know about my son’s behavior at soccer practice, or a very young sports coach (super young–super awesome kid) gets up the courage to talk to me about my kid being a little jerk at practice and coach would love to hear some of my thoughts about how to manage said son’s jerkiness (he put it way nicer than that-that was just the automatic translation going on in my head while he was telling me)–I keep myself up at night trying to figure out how I’m going to help them.  All kids have stuff going on.  But it’s very hard NOT to compare when my kids have this THING and I have nobody to share this with.  The one person that I could share this THING with, who would feel it the way I do, is the one who is gone.  If he weren’t gone, I wouldn’t have this THING stuck in my brain and my body every minute of the day.

The shit that goes on at home–sometimes it seems like the kinds of shit that all kids do.  I read blogs and see videos and read posts on social media about other kids doing the same exact stupid shit as mine.  It’s annoying and it’s frustrating and it drives me crazy.  But that stuff–doesn’t worry me.  I don’t lie awake at night thinking about that stuff. It’s other stuff.  Deeper stuffReally painful stuff that humans aren’t meant to feel, live with, or manage. That’s the stuff I see in my children every day that chips away at what’s left of my hope.

In my line of work, we ‘encourage’ the people we work with to be specific with their language.  I actually have the rule that my students can’t use the words “stuff” or “thing”.  But I can’t find a word to convey the THING–the super big THING-that my family lives with every day.  There is no word.  So, it’s the THING.

My daughter loves to draw and write.  One morning she drew a picture.  When she showed it to me, my heart broke and I asked “Is that you?” as I pointed to the girl in the picture.  She replied, “No, that’s you mommy.  You’re very sad”.  UGH.  This is an example of the THING.  Because my kids rarely see me sad.  I try my damnedest to keep that smile on my face, make silly jokes, use weird voices when reading stories, and dance around the family room with them every day.  But my daughter must see through me somehow.  I wonder if her next picture will be a portrait of her mom punching a wall or breaking some glassware (not by accident).  I hope not.  I’m hoping that in writing this post, I will feel some sort of relief from this terrible, angry feeling that I’ve been living with lately.

So, I don’t excuse my kids’ stupid, jerky behavior.  Well-meaning people have said to me, “You can’t blame everything on Jake dying” (which, by the way, makes me angry because I don’t).  Anyway, I can’t live in parallel universes to compare if they would do the same stuff if Jake was alive.   But I know, without a doubt, that the THING has become a part of them and that most definitely would not have happened if their daddy was still here and I hate that.

I definitely need more cute puppy videos in my life.  I just wish puppies could fix everything.

(Too much pressure to put on puppies. I know. No need to contact animal rights groups.)

 

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Hell Week

I wasn’t going to post again during this week-hell week. The last week in August every year.

Three years ago today, August 30, they took my Jake off life support. I lied on his chest and listened to his heartbeat. It continued beating for a good minute after they turned off the machine. I was hopeful. I heard his heart beating. I listened and begged him and begged his heart to keep beating. It beat more slowly. I strained to hear more. Then, it completely stopped. I listened to my husband’s heart stop beating.

It’s a down day. I’m trying hard to stay busy. I tell my brain to “stop” when it starts drifting back there.

Pulling together school schedules, sports practices, child care, work schedule, skill clinics, games, end of summer playdates, backpacks, school supplies, etc…I feel like I am just being pulled under more and more with each minute. I’m wondering how am I supposed to keep doing this-how am I supposed to be everything to these 4 kids when I feel frozen like this? Because all of the above are just a fraction of their physical needs. They have mental, social and emotional needs…I don’t know how to do this.

The news is very sad. There are terrible things happening everywhere-locally, nationally, and worldwide. I worry and my anxiety grows because I know there is so much suffering outside of my house and outside of my family.

I do have a tiny bit of hope today….because I remember. I remember that I’ve been through days when I felt like this.  A lot of them. That knowledge, that remembering, is what keeps me from feeling hopeless. I have to hold on to that.

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.

Fathers’ Day

These weeks leading up to Father’s Day have been really hard. I am bombarded with emails about what “dad” needs for Father’s Day. My first instinct is to cringe-then I immediately delete. The younger kiddos have Fathers’ Day events and crafts and presents at school. Everytime I walk in the door to the preschool the notice about the “Father’s Day Picnic” stares me right in the face. Right at eye level. The kindergarten teacher changed the event name from “Doughnuts for Dads” to “Doughnuts for Dudes” and I have been incredibly grateful for that. Two years ago on Fathers’ Day–I don’t think I even noticed how much Fathers Day was in my face everywhere. Now I notice every little thing. Except they are not little things anymore.

I work at reminding myself about my strength. I work at being mindful. But I sometimes wonder at what expense? Everytime a sad memory or image pops into my mind I STUFF IT DOWN. That is exactly what it feels like. Stuffing it way back down to the boxes in the basement. But, the boxes don’t go away.

I very much sense people–people I love, kind-hearted people, well-intentioned people–feeling that I really need to “get past this”. If I smile or laugh, people think I’m “fine”. If someone asks me how I’m doing and I say “good”–they breathe a sigh of relief because I’m finally moving past “this”. If I go out on a date, people think I must be doing fantastic. In the BEFORE, I would have probably thought these very same things about someone else. And really-I believe it is comforting for people who love me to think these things and if it is important enough, I will let the “people” know otherwise. But what I despise–what makes me angry to my core–is the judgement. I was not perfect BEFORE and from August 27, 2014 forward-I fall at the opposite end of that continuum. I am often flustered, overwhelmed, and forgetful. I don’t tend to care about things that really don’t matter (like when my daughter cut her own hair a few weeks ago-it doesn’t look so great, but it’s only hair). I alternately feel disconnected and so connected to my kids. I love them to pieces and can’t wait to see them–until five minutes (or less) after I pick them up and they are driving me crazy. There are still days that I just crawl into my bed and sleep because it’s easier than staying awake and feeling the bad feelings. I don’t do this everyday. I’m not apologizing for these imperfections. I’m done trying to explain to people who will never understand why I’m not getting past this. The only person I really need to answer to is myself. It’s my brain that bears the beating. I can choose to beat myself up like some other people do, or I can reconcile the facts that my family has suffered a senseless tragedy and it’s okay that I climb into bed every so often during the day. It’s okay that my four kids drive me crazy sometimes because I am the only parent. There is no shared custody here. I am it. I’m totally giving myself permission to get angry and yell and scream sometimes because I am an imperfect person, in pain, raising children who are in pain, and I’m doing it alone.  Yes– I have a lot of help and support.  Thank goodness.  But ultimately-it’s on me.

I’ve mentioned my support group-for survivors like me-before.  I have not missed one meeting since last August.  Sometimes I don’t want to leave.  I want to go home with these other people who totally get it. We are all in different stages of “new-ness” to the events that changed our lives forever-but there is absolutely no judgement and when we are there–nobody interrupts anybody else.  We all say what we have to say and sometimes we cry for each other and sometimes we laugh with each other-but there is never judgement and there is always, always space.  We give each other space to be.  At my last group, one person made a fantastic analogy that I need to share.  It’s like the person we lost had this huge box of shit and they couldn’t deal with it anymore.  When they died, they passed that huge box of shit to us and a TON more shit was added.  Now we are all holding these overflowing boxes of shit and there’s so much of it that the box can’t hold it so we are all getting covered in shit.  Because of this–no one wants to be around us because they don’t want to get any shit on them.  Nobody wants to share the shit (who can blame them?).  We can’t clean the shit off without putting down the box of shit and even if we put down the box and clean up a little–we always have to pick that box up again at some point and get dirty.  It reminds me of something I’ve said before–the person we love, took their temporary pain away and spread it out on those who loved him/her permanently. Forever.

Every year on Father’s Day weekend, there is a huge Washington Brewers Festival.  I remember Jake and I (and the kids) going to it a few years ago and having such a great time.  Jake loved good beer.  He loved craft beer.  It was like his Disneyland.  We had so much fun.  For the first time, I am going back.  Not as a party-goer-but as a volunteer.  I don’t know why.  It just seemed like something different to do that might be fun.  (I’m kind of dreading the commitment right now because its cold and rainy outside…but oh well).  I’m going into this with one expectation–that I will be filled with happy memories of Jake everywhere I look.  I also think, Jake would have been there, bragging about his wife who was pouring beer for X brewery.  I know he’d come over to my spot every so often, say “Hey hun” and give me a kiss or a slap on the ass, and then go off to try another beer.

There is one other thought I had recently that I want to share.  A few months ago I pulled my hamstring–a common injury for trail runners because we trip a lot (and sometimes fall) and have to catch our balance.  I refused to rest-knowing that my running is my best therapy.  I just couldn’t really run uphill anywhere.  So, I ran and did a lot of stretching etc.  Recently on a run, I started thinking about how good my hamstring felt, and how I could probably get back into my routine of running hills, etc.  Not five minutes later–I kid you not–not only did I trip-but I fell HARD to the ground and just felt the pain in my hamstring as I practically heard it shred.  Once I checked to make sure I wasn’t broken or unconscious-I got up and limp-ran the rest of the way.  I even laughed at myself out loud because I thought it must have looked really funny when I fell (even though no one saw me).  But I also started thinking about how analogous to my life and my journey that whole situation was.  I wrote a post talking about how great I was doing and strong I was and hear me roar etc.  Then I started to get inundated with Fathers’ Day events and emails.  Then I sensed judgement from people who love me the most.  Then I fell.  I didn’t, however, just lie there and wait for the bears and cougars and snakes to come eat me.  The super important thing I did, the most important thing that I did even though I was hurting more, is that I got back up, picked up my box of shit, and kept going.

 

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.