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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Shades of Gray

Get your minds out of the gutter people–not THOSE shades of gray.

About two weeks ago, my son came home from school with a rash. It came on very suddenly and he had no other symptoms. I figured it was just an allergic reaction to something. The next morning, the rash was significantly worse. But still, no other symptoms were present. I drove myself crazy wondering if I should keep him home from school, take him to the doctor, etc.  I figured it was likely the doctor would say it was a virus and there was nothing that could be done.  But, what if?  No easy answers.  All shades of gray.  (I ended up taking him and it was a good thing because he had a bacterial infection in his skin!)  But my point–I kept wishing that were more black and white answers in life.  Parenting–no matter what anybody tells you–all shades of gray.  My career choice–nothing black and white about it.  Should I sell my house?  No right or wrong answer that I can see.  That’s when it occurred to me that the one thing–the only thing–that is black and white–is life and death.  In dying, there are no shades of gray.  You’re either dead or alive.  So, why am I having such a hard time accepting the fact that my husband is dead?  It should be very clear.  But, it’s not for me.  Most days, I still don’t believe it.  I have to keep his clothes and his toothbrush because he will need them when he gets home.  Maybe I don’t like black and white after all.  I refuse to accept it.

My birthday recently passed and the anticipation was dreadful.  I didn’t want to be home.  I didn’t want to be away.  I didn’t want it to be my birthday.  I kept thinking of all the birthdays I shared with Jake and how he always tried so hard to make them special for me.  Two years ago on my birthday, I was dieting around the time of my birthday (which I often am because  summer is around the corner).  That particular year, I was doing a “NO SUGAR APRIL (except on my birthday)”.  So, I planned it all out myself.  Exactly what I wanted for dinner and the precise ice cream cake I wanted.  Jake wanted to give me a break so badly that year, he wouldn’t let me pick up the kids, the cake, dinner–none of it.  He kept saying he had it all under control.  However, he picked up the ice cream cake first–before the dinner, before the kids–so the frozen cake was in the car for a very long time.  When he came home, I asked if the cake needed to go in the freezer, but Jake kept brushing me aside with “Don’t you worry about anything.  I got this”.  Well, as you’ve probably already guessed, the ice cream cake melted and I got to have ice cream soup on the single day that month that I was letting myself eat sugar.  I’m not going to lie here–I was PISSED off.  I had so been looking forward to that ice cream cake–dreaming about it even!  I never stopped to be grateful that Jake was bending over backwards, trying his hardest to make this day special for me.  I was so focused on the stupid ice cream cake.  It became a story we eventually laughed about.  But oh–to be able to have a do-over of that day.  That’s all I want.  A do-over.  Of that day, and so many other days.  I want to jump up and down and kick and scream for a do-over.  Please.  I’ll do anything.

When my birthday came around this year, all I could think about was “This is the first birthday of the rest of my life of birthdays without Jake”.  I tried hard to suppress that thought.  I knew it was negative and no good would come of it.  My birthday was low-key and I insisted on no cake (and not because I was dieting or avoiding sugar).  We had decided to take a trip to the southern Oregon coast and stayed in a “vintage” house right on the ocean.  The views were incredible.  I happened to look out the window and catch that split second in time when the sun was setting over the ocean.  It was stunning.  There were so many beautiful colors–not a single shade of gray.  That’s when I realized that I wanted to see the world through those colors from that point on.

When we got home, I had to unpack and re-pack immediately to leave for a work trip the next day.  As I did, my youngest son walked into the room.  Check out this gem:IMG_0994

This is my “baby” boy.  He made me sit down and watch him while he put on a show for me in this…special outfit.  I stopped everything I was doing and watched him.  I found myself truly and genuinely smiling and laughing.  I mean, look at all those colors!  Yes.  This is the way I want to live my life.  Because one thing is exceedingly clear.  I am still living.

Confessions of the Heartless

A lifelong friend from home recently wrote to let me know he’s thinking about me.  In his very nice letter, he stated that any decisions I make, if I make them from the heart, I won’t be wrong.  I shivered when I read this.  I thought to myself “I don’t have a heart anymore. It’s gone.”  So here, clearly I am not talking about my heart, the actual organ. I’m talking about my brain heart, my inner being, my soul–whatever else you want to call it.  The things that made Kristen–Kristen (in the BEFORE).  This thought has been on my mind for a few days and I just kind of accepted it.  Okay–there’s nothing left inside of me.  I have no heart.  Now I can be a bitch whenever I feel like it.  Cool.

Then, a few days ago, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  I did some research and found these symptoms on http://www.webmd.com:

  • Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event (or a tree–not actually on webmd.com, added in by me).
  • Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.
  • Increased arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled.

Well-DUH. I guess that diagnosis was no shocker.  Now I could tell myself that I’m not actually a heartless person–its all a part of the PTSD.  Except I didn’t believe that.

My oldest son tried out for the swim team at the beginning of last August.  His dad took him for the try-out and he was offered a spot on the team.  Then, everything happened and the swim team thing just got lost in the shuffle.  Recently, I contacted the swim team coach and asked if Jake could start now.  He asked me to bring my son in to swim with the team and see if he liked it before we committed to it.  My son hadn’t been swimming since last August-but we went.  My son was the smallest and youngest kiddo there.  He didn’t understand the numbers the coaches were yelling at everybody.  He was terribly out of shape.  But, he stuck with it.  Some kid was mean to him and he wanted to cry, but he stayed in that pool and swam his little heart out.  I watched my son from the sidelines and I felt my heart break for him.  I wanted to run over, pull him out of the pool, hold him tight and kick the kid that had been mean to him in the head.  (No I didn’t do any of those things).  My heart broke as I observed his vulnerability.  My HEART broke.  In order for it to break, there had to be one there in the first place.  Phew.

I remember the first time I felt this way about my oldest son.  Jake and I were at a BBQ at a co-worker’s home.  My son was about two years old.  For the first time ever, he tried to hang with the “big kids”.  He was running around, following them, trying to play their games.  The big kids weren’t very welcome or accepting of my son.  But my son was oblivious.  Later, Jake and I talked about how we felt watching that happen.  We discussed how we wanted to take the “big kids”, shake them and scream “PAY ATTENTION TO MY AWESOME KID!”.  But most of all we agreed we had never felt anything like that before.  Like our hearts had been ripped out of our bodies and were running around trying to keep up with the “big kids”.  That’s how I felt watching my son at swim team.  That’s when it occurred to me that I do still have a heart.  It may not be completely intact, but it’s still there.  Hopefully, it’s a little piece of the BEFORE Kristen that might still be there.  Even if it’s confused, and hurting, and has no patience or energy right now to pretend to feel badly for other people’s problems.

So, the good news of the day is–I am not heartless.  But if I come across that way to you-I’m totally fine with that.