So I Keep Living

“So I Kept Living”

I was walking down an unfamiliar street and saw the sign with the above words in a window of a juice place (ha! ironically-see previous post). I stopped in my tracks and stood there staring at it. Didn’t move for at least a minute. Four words that when put together that way were so powerful that I stood on the street for a full minute and processed them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have taken some time to go back and re-read my old posts about how I navigate my world without Jake. There are numerous trends throughout my story, but one emotion stuck out for me. Whoa. I’ve been ANGRY. Like really, really angry. Not angry at Jake so much (although there was some of that), but just at people, places, things, ideas, dreams, rocks….. Somehow, in the past few years I arrived at a place where I was pissed at a rock.

It’s been almost three years. I have felt so incredibly low many times. I have spent days in bed (and sometimes still do, although those days are fewer now), had to make to do lists that included “take a shower” and “eat some food”, hated Wednesdays, then the 27th of each month, then holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. I’ve gone out of my way to avoid places that I had been to with Jake. I couldn’t even drive by them. I’ve gone through phases where I drank too much and didn’t eat enough. Even had times when I was tempted to shake the person in front of me in line at the grocery store because I was irritated that they were being too chatty with the cashier and scream “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT MY HUSBAND DIED AND I AM VERY SAD AND ANGRY AND THIS IS NOT HOW I PICTURED MY LIFE SO CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT UP BECAUSE I WANT TO BUY THESE MICROWAVEABLE PANCAKES FOR MY KIDS AND GET MY DIRTY ASS BACK TO BED!”

It became very routine for me to wake up in the morning full of purpose and expectations.  But, it usually took less than 20 minutes before I was back into “survival mode” and just looking forward to going to bed again that night.  I blame a little of this on the weather since last September.  In Seattle, the weather from September until this past week (late June!) has been miserable, nasty, rainy and gray all day everyday.  Experiencing this weather for so many months has been rough on most people who live here.  Like many others, my mental health depends on exercise, specifically, trail running.  I used to run in downpours and freezing cold.  But it has been so bad that all my trails became running water creeks and pretty much impossible to run without wearing giant fly fishing boots (which I haven’t actually tried to run in but I imagine it’s pretty tricky).  The combination of sadness, anger at everything, grief, longing, depressing weather, and not being able to take care of myself physically was debilitating.  In reality, although I thought I was angry at everything and everyone else, I was really most angry at myself.  Angry at myself for not having more strength, patience, and energy.  Angry at myself for not being the mom/daughter/sister/friend that I really wanted to be.  Angry that I had to rely on help from others (every day) that I knew I would never be able to repay/reciprocate.  REALLY angry at myself for not attempting my trail runs through raging rivers wearing fly fishing boots and a full on snow suit (because obviously I am such a wuss).

A shift in thinking crept up on me when I was so busy being angry.  My cousin was having a fancy destination wedding in Turks & Caicos.  When I first received the invitation, my immediate reaction was “No.  Of course I can’t go”.  As the weeks went by, I started wondering if I could actually do it.  Little by little I realized there were ways I could overcome the “obstacles” to taking this trip of a lifetime.  Rather than being bitter and resentful because life put me in this “position” where I obviously could not take trips or do anything fun–ever, I started planning.  I started out by asking for help.  (Unheard of–right?) HUGE pleas for help and months of planning/organizing/reorganizing led me to an incredible, stunning, beautiful, relaxing and SUPER FUN vacation-it was better than I had even imagined!  One day during that vacation, I received some really upsetting news about an old friend who recently found out that he was very sick and undergoing treatment.  Even though I was in the midst of all the beauty and fun, I plunged once again.  A lot of crying and a lot of anger (including the urges to punch anybody who walked by me that I thought looked ‘douche-y’) led me to what I now refer to as “poor choice Monday”.  (I won’t go into exact detail about the ultimate poor choice I made that day, but I will give you a hint.  It involved rum drinks and did not end well.)  The next morning though, I woke up with these thoughts:  I don’t want to ever say “someday maybe“.  I don’t want to keep waiting for “things” to fall into place so I can climb out of the darkness.  I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I hadn’t danced around the kitchen with my kids before they became too cool to do that with me because it was vital that I got the laundry done.  Most of all, I don’t ever want to say “It’s too late” ever again.

I started running again and going to my favorite gym ever in the history of gyms.  After I was leaving my first class back, I was stopped short by that sign at the juice store.  As I stood and stared (and to be honest I was probably talking out loud to myself), it struck me how profound those words were.  I kept living, and because of that, I can keep living!By no means do I expect to find myself skipping happily through meadows and mountains whistling along with the birds or conversing with squirrels (although you never know…).  I don’t expect that my feelings of being overwhelmed will completely go away (after all, we ALL get overwhelmed).  I don’t foresee any time in my future when I won’t need help from others.  But I’m really hopeful that I can be kinder to myself.

I have a lot to say–too much for one post!  Stay tuned for future posts about:

  • My feelings about “13 Reasons Why” and the Michelle Carter case
  • Three Years
  • Trying to stay “rooted in gratitude”
  • How I am really doing with this developing hopeful attitude
  • Future “poor choices” like trying a juice cleanse again

 

Knowing Alone

You don’t know.
I’m glad you don’t know.
There are so many things I know that I didn’t know before.
I keep learning things that I don’t want to know.

It hurts to be alone with these things I’ve never wanted to know.

Still, nobody can know them except for me.

I know sadness. I know pain. I live grief. But I don’t know what to say to you about your sadness, pain and grief. I know that words never brought me comfort.  Not much has made sense in the AFTER. I’m not saying that there aren’t words out there that can bring someone suffering a loss some comfort and peace. But I don’t know what they are.

I just know what you don’t know.

You don’t know how the most innocuous statements can trigger me so unexpectedly.  Like when my son was in his honor choir concert and the announcer man was talking about the importance of music in schools and thanking all the parents for getting their kids to the extra practices on time because that is a “part of parenting”.  Fine statement, right?  But I started crying. Because getting my kids to practices doesn’t seem like “part of parenting” to me at all.    It seems more like being “part of cruise directing”.  Because parenting for me is not about the logistics of getting 4 different kids to different places at the same times.  I have so many wonderful people helping me with that part.  Parenting for me is living, in my mind, the worst possible case scenario for anything and everything that happens with my kids. The phone rings and before I can pick it up I’m already sitting at Harborview at the bedside of someone I love waiting for the doctor to call time of death.  Reliving. Parenting for me is listening to my youngest son cry “I want to be with you” when I’m walking out the door for the fourth evening that week and leaving him with a sitter because I either have to work or attend another one of my kids’ events that will run past his bedtime.  It’s wondering what sort of damage I’m adding to what’s already been done.

You don’t know the sadness that comes with the knowledge that my support group has grown too large.  There are too many of us.  There is a waitlist to get in.  You don’t know that as much as we all need that support group, every one of us is ready to give up our place so that nobody has to be on a fucking waitlist to get some help.

You don’t know that my mind races so quickly I can’t even keep up with the thoughts.  Or maybe it races so I don’t get stuck on any of the more horrific thoughts.  Like how every time my pre-teen son gets upset and slams the door to his room, I am petrified–beyond petrified–that he’s going to hurt himself–because of something I said or didn’t say and because it “runs in the family”.

You don’t know how it actually feels like a physical punch to my gut-it practically doubles me over in pain, every time I walk into the preschool and see an announcement for an upcoming “Daddy-Daughter Dance”.  I know that sign is posted there.  But it’s like a sneaky, scary monster hiding behind the door that jumps out at me.  I am startled by it,  every single time. You don’t know this because there’s no way you would.  What you see is my Kristen suit and a smile on my face as I greet my little guy who may or may not be happy to see me (depending on whatever matters to a 5-year-old at any given moment).

You don’t know how difficult it is to watch one of my kids do something really cool (like the honor choir) and know without a doubt that my husband would be so proud of him.  But how sad it is for my husband that he doesn’t get to be here.  Even more sad for my kids who don’t have their dad in the audience to support them.  I can be present at as many events as I can physically attend, but I can never make up for daddy’s absence at these events.

You don’t know how I can’t get good mental health counseling for my children.  Good counselors do not accept Medicaid.  Counselors will accept cash.  I will give them cash to help my children.  But then I sit through session after session wondering why I’m listening to this person who is not there.  Who doesn’t know.  At the end of the day, there is just me.  I am the only person on this earth that loves and cares for my kids the way I do.  At the end of the day, I am alone in this parenting.

You don’t know how my 6-year-old daughter’s counselor has been listing off the characteristics of a child with ADHD and I’m thinking–“Holy shit.  She’s talking about me.  I have ADHD”. Then in the next moment I’m sitting on my hands to keep from tearing my hair out because what does this ADHD stuff have to do with my child’s anger and grief? I am paying CASH for fucks sake.  PLEASE stop reading this book to my child about how all dogs have ADHD.  I’m about to scream.

You don’t know how counselors that I pay CASH for come up with ever-loving complicated “systems” of reinforcement and consequences for my kids.  They don’t know how asking me to pull together and maintain this “system” is maybe the thing that will put me over the edge.  But I still try.  They tell me that I need to put together a “simple” collage book with my child-one that’s all about said child and daddy.  Put it in a plastic baggie and close it with duct tape so it can never get dirty or wet.  WHAT?  I don’t have time to check my kids’ homework, let alone spend time ALONE with one child (what are the other kids doing at this time?) to make a book that they can’t ever take out of the bag?  Maybe this is my newly, self-diagnosed ADHD kicking in-but I don’t understand the sense of that.

You don’t know how much my body shook as I held my mother-in-law last weekend because she is going in for major surgery and I know she is terrified that she won’t come out.  You don’t know how I locked myself in her bathroom and cried because–oh my gosh.  Because of so many things.  My kids cannot suffer another loss.  I cannot lose her.  I have grown to love her and appreciate her.  We have a relationship. She is Jake’s mother.  Jake would’ve been by her side every step of the way, giving her courage and making her laugh.  I have no courage to offer.  I have fear.

You don’t know how much I hate myself for wanting to do things for myself.  I’m not just talking about a “nice bath” or a girls’ weekend getaway.  I am not going to pretend to be selfless or some kind of martyr.  I want things too-things that don’t have to do with the kids at all!  But I know kicking and screaming and flailing myself around on the floor doesn’t actually work.  I don’t know how to make it work and if I figured it out-would I just hate myself for actually doing that thing for myself?  In our modern American culture, people give you lip-service about how moms need to take care of themselves in order to take care of their kids–the whole airplane/oxygen mask thing.  But then society frowns upon moms who do just that.  Because how are we supposed to squeeze in “me” time between extra honor choir practices, birthday parties, “mandatory volunteer hours” (okay what the fuck is that even supposed to mean?), work, counseling, laundry, sports practices, math team, school projects that are supposed to be completed with “limited parental involvement”, all while making sure our kids are eating organic, well-balanced meals, brushing their teeth WELL, flossing (haha), showering WITH soap, changing (and/or wearing) underwear, and taking them on field trips to homeless shelters so they can truly understand how privileged they are?   I want more than that.  I hate how selfish that sounds.  But that’s my true confession.

You don’t know these things, because how would you?  Just like I don’t know you.  I don’t know what to say to loved ones who have lost (or are losing) their loved ones.  I don’t know what to say to strangers who are suffering loss.  I don’t know what’s under your suit-the things that hurt you and scare you.  But it’s so important that I realize that I don’t know and you don’t know.  The best looking, fanciest, perfectly creased, cleanest suit could be hiding fear, pain, grief, trauma, illness, anxiety, nightmares, sadness, panic, anger, guilt, regrets and more.  I wish I had known more about what was under the Jake suit before it was too late.

 

 

 

 

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 Second Summer (mishmash)

This one may be hard to follow.  It is a mishmash of what my brain has been doing so far this summer.  Get ready with your coffee, beer, wine, whiskey, weed…whatever…and have a seat.

Summers are so fucking hard. They used to be the best! I loved summers. Now summers are full of birthdays and “anniversaries” (I should come up with a new word because “anniversary” implies something good….something lasting and special. People don’t say “Sad Anniversary”. Have you ever heard that? I’ve only heard “Happy anniversary” or “Congratulations on your anniversary”. None of these really apply, do they? For the purposes of this blog–I’m going to create a new word…hmm…suckyversary? Badiversary? Sadversary? Fuckedupversary? Oh–I like that one. Fuckedupversary. New word. Created by Kristen.)

Okay-back to business. First and foremost, I want all my readers to know that I never, ever think “poor me”. Do I get sad? Yes. Do I get angry? Yes. Have I thought “Oh sweet Pete, I will never escape this for the rest of my life?” Yes. But I refuse to have a “poor me” attitude. I do not want my kids to think that either. I do think “Poor Jake” (pretty much always). But no matter what I say in my blogs, I never think “Poor me”. I try to keep in mind–number one–things could always be worse…much worse. Number two–Shit happens in life. I can choose to wallow in whatever comes my way, or I can choose to get out of bed every day and keep living–with a positive outlook. I can’t control everything the universe might throw at us. But as long as I have hope…I have enough. I do have hope. I have dreams, I have goals. I want my children to grow up and learn from watching me…..learn that bad things can happen, and some people have more than others, but this is it. We power through and remember bad things could be worse and more people have less than we do. Some people might take this the wrong way, but we are lucky. I believe that. So anyway-that’s all about a “disclaimer” I wanted to make about what I write. I might write about sadness, anger, guilt, shame, grief, etc.–but that never equates to “oh, poor me”. I’m just talking about my feelings and how we get through life without Jake.  At least that’s where I’m at today.  That’s good enough for me!

One of Jake’s best buddies, carried some of Jake’s ashes to the highest point in North America-the summit of Mt. McKinley.  I feel very fortunate that he had his fellow climber take a video as he spread Jake’s ashes.  For me, the video is intense and brings on goosebumps and tears.  But, when I watch it, I also experience a feeling of relief and maybe even happiness?  I watch it and know with everything in me that it was perfect for Jake.  At this point in time, there is no place else Jake would prefer to have his ashes spread.  If he were alive, he would want to be up there with his buddy.  That’s the kind of stuff that Jake loved and dreamed about.  It was perfect.

I have watched my 8-year-old son grow progressively more angry and destructive over the past two years.  He says things to me like “Why don’t you just run me over with the car?” and “I hate this life”.  He thinks he is angry about something so minute, like a pizza crust, but I know his anger comes from a much deeper place.  For Fathers’ Day this year, his classroom project was “Five Things My Father Taught Me”.  This is what he wrote.

Owen's 2016 Fathers DayOwen 2016 FD 1Owen 2016 FD 4Owen 2016 FD 3Owen 2016 FD 5Owen 2016 FD 6

 

To anyone outside of our family, this may seem like a perfectly lovely project and what a wonderful job completed by my son.  However, I look at these pages and it tears my heart to shreds.  It tears me up because Jake did not teach my 8-year-old these things–at least not all of them.  The very first page–the one about math-yes, Jake did teach him math at a very young age.  But, that’s all my son could remember about what daddy taught him.  Because the rest of the pages…do not apply to Jake.  By no means am I disparaging Jake.  Jake was an incredible and wonderful dad.  But, I know my son did not learn these things from him. My son struggled so hard with this project that he ended up copying a friend’s work.  There is no way his teacher or anyone else could have known this.  But I knew it as soon as I saw it.  I picture him sitting at school trying to complete this project and not being able to come up with anything besides math. No wonder he is angry. He doesn’t recognize on a conscious level what experiences like this do to him on the inside–to his heart and soul.  His entire existence was changed in the instant I told my babies that their daddy died, but he doesn’t think like that.  He just thinks he is pissed about an uneaten pizza crust–so pissed–that his body is shaking and he is ripping up grass and throwing around giant surfboards.  Well, guess what?  There are times I hurt so badly, I miss Jake so much–that I actually want to destroy things.  I want to lie on the grass and start clawing at the earth.  I want to punch walls and throw things.  So, I get it.  I just want to pluck that hurt and anger right out of him and I’ll take it all on myself.  I wish that I could do that.

This summer, I had the chance to visit with people I haven’t seen since last summer, which happened to be” The first summer” in the AFTER.  This year, (the second summer in the AFTER), I heard from quite a few people who mentioned that I seem so different from last year.  They were happy to see me smile, interact, and engage.  These people love me and they also recognize that this doesn’t mean I’ve “graduated” from my grief.  It just means that when they last saw me, I was withdrawn, sullen, and had a very flat affect.  I know that last summer I was still stuck–stuck in a fog filled with disbelief and wishes that I could go back in time.  I honestly couldn’t relate to anybody.  Couldn’t focus.  Couldn’t attend or engage.  I will never stop grieving for Jake.  But, people noticed a difference.  I’m still ditzy and forgetful.  What was important is that the changes people noticed were positive! They saw positive changes…in me.  Smiling=positive. Interacting=positive.  Engaging=positive.  I will gladly embrace the differences that people observed.  That is the direction I am working towards.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my mother and her circle of friends.  Her best friend (let’s call her “Elle”) passed away several years ago.  During “Elle’s” long illness, my mother was frequently flying back and forth from Seattle to New Jersey to take of her dear friend.  When I was growing up, “Elle” was like family to me.  I remember my mother in the kitchen, chatting away on a phone that still had a cord(!), to “Elle” for hours on end.  They showed up at each other’s homes without calling first.  They had a very special friendship. I found myself feeling down when I was thinking about my mother and “Elle”, because I don’t have an “Elle”.  I have so many friends and I love them and they love me.  But it’s not the same as it was with my mother and her friend.  Then I realized–Jake was my “Elle”.  He was that comfort and closeness and special person.  When he was sick, I took care of him.  When I was sick, he took care of me.  Sad, happy, silly, angry, funny or otherwise–Jake was the very first person I called.  (There are actually still times when things happen and my immediate thought is to call Jake and tell him.)  I had my “Elle”.  I lost him.  I just want everybody to appreciate your “Elle”s.

The dreams.  Lately, I’ve had an abundance of dreams about people who have passed away.  In my dreams they are very much alive but there is also some pervasive thought throughout the dream that says “Wait a minute–this can’t be. You’re not alive anymore.”  When Jake and I first started dating, he had a motorcycle.  It was yellow.  He sold it not long after I met him.  That motorcycle has been in the background of my dreams.  Every night my two littlest ones sneak into bed with me at some point.  Last night I dreamed that Jake was standing at the foot of the bed-watching over my little girl.  For almost two years now, I have believed in nothing. Death is the end.  There is no “heaven” or “other plane of existence”.  I have wanted to believe in something else.  I have wanted to believe so, so badly.  But the more I learned, the less I believed.  I recently had a conversation with a childhood friend (she happens to be “Elle’s” daughter), and she believes.  She has faith.  She told me about her thoughts and beliefs in a way that wasn’t preachy or condescending, and so I listened respectfully, but skeptically.  This amazing girl (well, she is a woman now–but she’ll always be the girl around the corner to me!)–without even trying–has me wanting to believe in something again.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of people.  Most people I know have been through some really rough times.  Some people are still going through them.  The people who inspire me, the people I admire, the people I enjoy being with are the people who are going through shit I can’t begin to relate to, but remain positive, even while they are hurting, grieving, suffering, etc.  Everyday, I work hard to “be like them”.  I don’t know if you folks all know who you are (there are a lot of you!), but you guys are my personal heroes.

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.

 

Proof

Jake Valentine 1 insideJake Valentine 1

I came across this yesterday and can’t let go.  This. This is my proof that the Jake that I knew and loved existed.  Very accurate picture portrayal of the two of us–I have to say!

Some days I walk around in a fog wondering “How did I get here?”, “How could Jake be gone?”, and most disturbingly “Was he ever here in the first place?”.  This is my proof.  This was my Jake.  He was here.  And now he is gone.

I’m still extremely angry.  But, my anger is directed at Pfizer (maker of Chantix) and the Federal Drug Administration.  The number of suicides directly linked to the drug, Chantix, is staggering.  We’re talking thousands of people who have taken this drug, reported suicidal thoughts, and/or committed suicide.  These “adverse effects” have been reported in patients who have taken the drug for as little as two weeks.  I believe Jake was on it for 4-6 weeks.  In that last month, he wasn’t my Jake anymore.  He was a walking depiction of every “adverse effect” listed in the “black box”.

I copied the following directly out of the medication guide I found in Jake’s office after his death:

“Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix.  Some people had these symptoms when they began taking Chantix, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping Chantix”.

What the FUCK?? SOME people?

“If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression or changes in behavior or thinking that are not typical for you, or you develop any of the following symptoms, stop taking Chantix and call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Thoughts about suicide or dying, or attempts to commit suicide
  • new or worse depression, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • feeling very agitated or restless
  • acting aggressive, being angry, or violent
  • acting on dangerous impulses
  • an extreme increase in activity and talking (mania)
  • abnormal thoughts or sensations
  • seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • feeling people are against you (paranoia)
  • feeling confused
  • other unusual changes in behavior or mood”
Jake experienced every last one of these adverse effects.  He did as directed.  He went to the Emergency Room on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August (4 days BEFORE it happened).  I was with him.  I heard everything he told the doctor and the social worker.  He told them he had been taking Chantix but had stopped.  (Please refer back to above warning listed above that some people have developed these effects “or after stopping Chantix”.  Jake told me, the doctors and the social worker that he never, ever in his life had a thought about killing himself until he went on that drug.  Jake was not seen by a psychiatrist that day.  The social worker gave him a pamphlet telling him to take a walk or a “nice bath” when he was feeling sad.  She also told him to start calling psychiatrists on Monday to get an appointment. Wait. What?
I could dissect everything I’ve mentioned so far into all of the things that are so very wrong about this story. But that will take a hundred more blog posts.  On that Tuesday, the 26th, Jake went to another doctor.  He went to see the doctor who had prescribed him the Chantix.  The primary reason listed for the visit was “Major depression”.  I don’t know exactly what transpired, I only have medical records to rely on.  But this doctor also let him go.  That day he ran 14 miles.  He was able to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for Thursday August 28.  But on the day in between–Wednesday, August 27th, 2014, those “adverse effects” got the best of him.
Why the fuck is this drug still on the market?  Pfizer holds no liability in Jake’s death, because he was “warned” that he might kill himself while taking it.  This is okay with the FDA? Several years ago children’s cough medicine was pulled from the shelves because a small group of parents weren’t following the dosing instructions accurately.  A few years ago, my favorite weight loss pill ever was pulled from the shelves because one person in Hawaii didn’t follow the dosing instructions and developed kidney failure (I miss you my magic purple pills…).  How does the FDA justify keeping a drug that actually causes people to kill themselves on the market?  Thousands of people (even more if you count loved ones) have been affected by this drug in the worst ways possible.  Oh, I remember now.  It’s because they put the warning about these “adverse effects” into a black box so physicians who prescribe or treat people using the drug will know what to look out for.  Yeah.  That worked wonderfully for Jake. Two doctors with their little black box warnings and they just said “take a relaxing bath”.  Another major issue with this drug is the insurance companies.  Most insurance will cover the cost of Chantix itself, but will not actually cover the cost of the doctor’s visits in order to monitor the patients taking the drug.  Everything.  Every little thing about this drug, is so wrong.
I might be biased because it is ultimately what took my husband’s life.
My brain gets stuck often on what happened to Jake.  The details of the time immediately before, during and after what happened run through my mind day after day.  That’s why I need to keep finding cards like the one I posted.  Because that was my Jake.  That’s my proof and a reminder to try hard to remember more of that Jake.
This is not over people.  I may not have cause to sue Pfizer or the doctors who “treated” him.  But I have a really big mouth (I’m a Jersey girl after all) and I am going to be talking.  A lot.

Sorry :(

IMG_1694

Dear Jake,

I channeled a lot of anger into my trail run this morning. so I’m feeling a little better than I was yesterday.  Yesterday…when I came across this “note” that you left for….me? The kids? Your mom? Your sister? Your friends? I came across it unexpectedly as I was trying to organize the house we moved into.  Of course, I burst into tears and the flashbacks have been haunting me ever since.

Fuck your “sorry :(”

You have no idea.  You have no idea what you were even “sorry” about.

I sent this to your best friend yesterday.  He said, “A brilliant guy with a dumb moment”.

In that moment, you were in pain.  You were in so much pain.  I know that.  But, I also know-that pain was temporary.  You took your temporary pain and left it for us-the people who love you, to live with permanently.  Forever.  You’ve broken us all.  For good.

The pain you left wasn’t spread out amongst all the people who love you.  The pain that you alone felt was left for every single one of us–for some, magnified times 10, times 100, times infinity+ 1.  It’s not temporary and it’s not just me, or your friends, or your mother, sister, family.  You left that pain for your children to bear for the rest of their lives.  Granted, the two littlest ones don’t get it–they think you are just in some other “place” and you’ll be coming back.  But they still hurt.  They still cry for you.  They tell me they want me to die so you can come back in my place and take care of them.  The two oldest–well, you know they are different.  The oldest wears his pain on his sleeve.  The second oldest is exactly like you-he doesn’t even know it.  He does and says things that he couldn’t possibly know are all you.

Jake-you left your pain for each one of your children-they will carry it for the rest of their lives.  You took away their joy and happiness of being with their dad.  They didn’t deserve this–and someday I’m going to have to tell them you were “sorry :(” ??  Fuck Jake.  They idolized you.  You were their hero.  You took that act and turned it into a possibility–an option for the people who loved and idolized you.  FUCK FUCK FUCK.

Your best friend’s wife was here for me during the year mark and as her voice cracked so I could hardly hear her, she told me how the day you did that was the “worst day” of her life.  She has lost her father, her brother, her beloved dogs–but August 27, 2014 was the worst day of her life.  You see?  It wasn’t just the worst day of my life, the kids’ lives, your mom’s life, your sister’s life, or your friends’ lives.  The pain you left behind is so far-reaching-so beyond any number I could even imagine. You are at the center of these never-ending concentric circles. You took away your temporary pain-and left it for all of the people in those circles to feel forever.

I know you didn’t know this.  I know you weren’t thinking clearly. Chantix altered your brain.  You never would have done such a thing to the people you loved.  You loved and gave of yourself so fiercely, so tirelessly.  My poor Jake-I guess I’m glad you can’t feel any regret, because knowing the pain you have caused to the people you loved, would have brought you more pain than you ever could have experienced or imagined. 

So for now, my anger is directed towards you.  Yes, it is interwoven with love and sorrow–this complex, intricate weaving of emotions that cannot be explained with words.  All I know for sure is that your “sorry :(” just doesn’t fucking cut it.

But, I love you from the bottom of my heart and your toothbrush is still here waiting for you.

XOXO K