Here we go again…

So.

Here we go again. It’s the Saturday before the Wednesday.

Before you think I’ve completely lost it-in 2014, the 23rd of August fell on a Saturday. That was the first day that Jake asked to be taken to the hospital for severe depression and suicidal thoughts. They gave him a prescription for Ativan (which has side effects including suicidal thoughts) and a pamphlet recommending that he take a nice bath.

The worst day of our lives was four days later.  Wednesday, August 27, 2014. In my opinion, this sculpture best captures the pain we endured that day. I remembering lying on the floor, feeling like I was filled with stones.  This year-like the past two-I am continuously re-living every day between the Saturday and the Wednesday. Every conversation. Every text message. Every meal. Every event. Everything.

Here’s the thing. I honestly believed–I had myself convinced–that I was going to be okay this year. This year would be different. Haha! I know better!

At the end of last year, I registered to run a 1/2 marathon on August 27th of this year. I didn’t really think about what that meant for me. For the most part, it just meant doing something healthier than I’ve done the past two years (in case you missed it, 1st year mark–beer and whiskey shots, 2nd year mark–didn’t leave my bed). I guess in the back of my mind I also figured I would be honoring Jake (who we all know was an avid runner), by running that day.

But, recently, I’ve really been thinking about this. I don’t ever want to honor or memorialize August 27th in any way. So, why am I running this stupid race on August 27th?

Because it’s not about Jake. I’m running, jogging, walking, and possibly crawling across that finish line to honor myself. I’m running to honor the fact that my kids and I, Jake’s family, Jake’s friends, and my family lived through that awful day.  I’m honoring all the people affected by this loss–the widening concentric circles that I’ve talked about in the past. Friends, old and new, who were there to support all of us who loved him-because it has sucked for them too. It sucks to watch people you love hurting.

On August 27, 2014, the unimaginable actually happened.  There are those of us that at times thought that we might not make it through such heavy, debilitating pain. So, when I run this Sunday, I’ll be thinking of all us who somehow lived through that day…and every day after. My body and brain may feel like they are filled with stones, just like the sculpture-but I’m going to drag them both across the finish line no matter what it takes. And I’ll be taking you all with me.  XO

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So I Keep Living

“So I Kept Living”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Two Years Later

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

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

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

IMG_2885

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barely Existing

I am barely existing.

This is how my very wise friend described me.  She is right.

It is August. I hate August. I wonder if I’ll always hate August. It has almost been a year. One year. That was supposed to be the magical number. “After a year”, “in a year”, “give it a year”, “no big decisions within a year”, etc. I wonder what is supposed to happen? All of a sudden it’s almost been a year and I feel worse than ever. I wonder if up until now I’ve just been more numb or in disbelief or distracting myself in order to not feel the pain. Because it has hit me hard recently. The pain. The true understanding that I am the only parent of four young children. The emptiness. The loneliness. The despair. How did I manage to get through the last year?

The Kristen Suit is wearing very thin. It has holes and tears-exposing what lies underneath. Someone recently spoke with me about karma. If I believe in karma than I have to believe that I deserve this pain–that deep inside of me there is something very wrong and evil and pretty soon it is going to show through the Kristen Suit. I am so scared to find out what this is.

We got a fantastic offer on our house a few weeks ago, but it fell through a few days later. No movement since then–so we are living at my parent’s house and driving back and forth. I haven’t seen my dog in over a month (he’s staying at a dog ranch and from what I hear he is very happy!). Living out of suitcases and not knowing what is going to happen –doesn’t help any of us. As my father is recovering from surgery, my mother has become very sick. I feel as though this past year has really taken a toll on both of them and on their health. I hate it. I need a different plan. But I am empty. The only thing I actually can feel, the only thing I can actually think about is this pain-the hole constantly burning in the center of my body.

Last month I talked about pursuing new interests. YAY! I was all excited about these interests. However, I didn’t think about the obstacles an only parent of four children faces when trying to pursue new interests. It is easier said than done.  I did manage to go rock-climbing this past weekend (after a ton of work trying to figure out who was going to watch my kids all day). It was absolutely amazing. I went with a group of women I had never met before. They don’t know my story. They don’t know about the Kristen Suit. When I dropped down from my first climb that day, I unexpectedly burst into tears. The women I was with assumed it was because I had been scared. But I wasn’t scared-at all. I cried because while I was climbing up that rock, all of my focus was there–on the climb, on the rock. I didn’t feel the gut-wrenching pain. When I dropped back down, the pain came back full force and that is why I lost it. I had felt what it was like to not feel the pain-and I wanted that back.

One of Jake’s buddies told me about how they used to pray to the “Hawk God” during Seahawk games (I think I’ve mentioned this before).  I keep wondering-where is the “God that makes the shitty feelings go away”?  Because I need that one.  I need that one to take this pain away.

On Jake’s birthday this year, the kids were very excited to write messages on Chinese lanterns and send them up to daddy in heaven that night at the beach.  We ate Jake’s favorite foods, talked about our favorite Jake memories, and wrote messages on the lanterns.  We went to the beach and tried to send the lanterns to heaven.  The first three we tried caught on fire instead.  We didn’t try again.  The kids were devastated.  Their tears and wails were not drowned out by the ocean or the wind at the beach.  I hugged them and made shit up about how daddy heard their messages anyway.  But, THE KIDS’ MESSAGES TO THEIR DADDY IN HEAVEN CAUGHT ON FUCKING FIRE.  Where is the “God who gives little kids their daddy back”?  I need that one, too.  I’ll even take the “God who comforts little children who have lost their daddy by helping their lanterns fly out over the ocean”.

I’m at a point where I just want to move back home.  Get all our shit out of storage, bring home the dog, and go home.  I know financially it’s not the intelligent choice–but maybe at some times in life, there are intangibles worth more than money.  My realtor convinced me to drop the price on my home because this is the hardest time of year to sell.  I let her do it because I can’t make a fucking decision on my own anymore.  But I keep wondering–why?  Just go home, Kristen, and try again in the spring if you want to.  Why take less than the house is actually worth because it’s not the best time of year?  I’m not even strong enough to stand up to my realtor. What a fucking pansy I am.

My oldest son loves rollercoasters.  I have always hated them.  Jake was the designated “roller coaster” parent and I was the designated “carousel” parent.  This year, I asked my son if he wanted the extremely fun and beautiful babysitter to take him on the coasters, or if he wanted me to take him.  I let him know I was a little scared, but I would certainly face my fears and ride rollercoasters with him.  He said he wanted me.  So I went.  Guess what?  Turns out I like rollercoasters (well except for the one I almost died on…but that’s a story for another time).  I also know I showed my son that it’s okay to be scared sometimes, but having courage can help you discover that you might have been missing out on some really great things and thank goodness you had the courage because from this point on you can enjoy all the rollercoasters you want (symbolically speaking, of course).  I also try to keep this in mind for myself–having courage can bring on very cool and fun stuff.  But lately, the pain has become my standard.  Defenses are down and all the bad stuff is making its way in (or out). Courage is gone.

So, the year mark.  What happens after it? Am I supposed to snap out of it?  Does everything that life is supposed to be like all of a sudden fall back into place?  Because I am overwhelmed just thinking about the things that happened in the aftermath last year.  For example–the first day of school.  It was a very, very sad day.  After school that day a bunch of us went to the park so the kids could play.  I remember feeling like everything was so surreal.  Was I really standing there with my friends making small talk about the first day of school?  I know I will be sad on the first day of school.  I anticipate having flashbacks.  I wonder if every first day of school from here on out will be sad for me?  I vividly recall walking into preschool to pick up the little ones and seeing that only MY name was on the parent pockets–Jake’s name wasn’t up there with mine anymore.  It was literally a crushing blow.  That’s how I feel all of the time now.  Like I’ve been sucker-punched in the gut.

The urge to flee is a very familiar feeling for me.  Whenever things got tough in my life, I would have this strong urge to flee.  I went to NJ on vacation for a month.  I thought I was fleeing.  I only realized that this pain is something I carry with me wherever I go.  It was right there with me in NJ.  I could move to the South Pole, and it would still be with me.  I just wish something could take it away.  Please just make it go away.

I’ve noticed that I have also been flooded with memories of Jake-not of the incident-but of us.  I remember he could make me laugh so hard that I had to beg him to stop because it hurt so badly.  The majority of the times that happened, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I’ve been remembering our trips to Hawaii-especially the most recent one for our 10th Anniversary.  We had so much fun.  I remember baseball games and picnics and going the movies.  I remember everything.  I miss him.  I miss his Chris Farley imitation.  I can’t stop thinking about him.  I wonder if I’m actually starting to believe that he is gone.  A year later.  Maybe that’s why the pain has gotten so much worse.

I went to a support group tonight and realized that I am not crazy.  I’m fucked up, sure-but people in my shoes are generally fucked up.  I also was reminded that grief is not a nice linear process.  It’s not a checklist you can go through–shock (check), denial (check), etc.  It is more like a spiral that winds back around and re-crosses the same places you thought you had already been through.

Another friend who always seems to know the right things to say, sent me a message to let me know the “KM (me) Fan Club” is super big.  So big, in fact, that if the “KM Fan Club” were to hold a meeting, they would have a hard time finding a venue large enough.  Her message brought lots of tears.  I know I have this enormous group of friends, family, strangers even–who love me and support me–and I am so blessed in that way.  So how is it that I feel so lonely?

Remember the stump?  On my favorite running trail?  The cosmic bus stop?  It’s empty.  Completely cleared off.  I was heartbroken during my first run back when I turned the corner and saw that it was empty.  However–when they cleared it off, they did miss one item.  A ceramic touchstone I had left for Jake.  It was all that remained.  It reminded me of my soul.  Completely empty except for this love where Jake used to be.  But now the love has turned into pain.  It feels like that’s all I have left of me.  One big, tangled knot of hurt rolling down the street.

I can’t hold together the seams of the Kristen Suit anymore.  I’m not even present.  This scares me.

 

Fire and Rain

“Just yestIMG_1099erday morning, they let me know you were gone…”

So, the nightmares have returned.

I’m unsure what triggered them, but they are violent and so disturbing. A few weeks ago, I had my first dream/nightmare where I actually got to speak to Jake.  I knew I had a really short amount of time before he was going to disappear and I kept asking him, “Why?  Please tell me why?” I never got an answer.  I woke up wondering why I didn’t tell him how much I loved him and missed him instead.

The doctor had prescribed me some medicine that was supposed to stop the nightmares when I was having them before.  I never took it because of my skepticism of prescriptiIMG_1102on drugs overall, but also because this is a medicine that was originally created to lower blood pressure.  My blood pressure is already on the low side.  The doctors and the pharmacists assure me up and down that it is perfectly safe because it is such a low dose, blah, blah, blah.  But I have little faith.  The nightmares have been so consistent and so bad lately, that I ended up taking the medicine last night.  I did not have nightmares.  I’ve convinced myself that this was a coincidence and I am not planning on taking the medicine again tonight.

A few weekIMG_1104s ago, I received a message from many people regarding the post on Facebook written by Sheryl Sandberg.  It was beautiful and heart wrenching and I felt like she was speaking my own words.  I am in complete awe that she was able to articulate her feelings so eloquently after only 30 days.  Thirty days after Jake died, I was still in a complete fog.  I had to put “take a shower” on my to-do list everyday.  I never would have been able to focus enough to write something like that.  Nine months later, I still have moments/hours/days like that.  I continue to have a hard time believing that he’s not coming back.  I’ve started to work on getting my home ready to put on the market.  I look at Jake’s clothes, his shoes…and his stupid toothbrush and wonder why–why can’t I even consider boxing his stuff up?  I wonder where he is.  I look at a picture of him and think “But you are RIGHT THERE”–it doesn’t make any sense.  Then there are times I wonder if he ever existed in the first place.  Very difficult to explain that feeling.  I mean–I obviously know he existed–but how could he have been there one minute and gone the next?  Just gone.

So, Father’s Day is coming up and I am dreading it.  There are the projects the kids are making for their dads at school, the barrage of emails about the best Father’s Days gifts, and the nearly constant discussions about “daddy” in my house and in my car–everywhere.  My oldest talks about happy memories and songs that remind him of his dad.  My youngest says things like “Mommy? When you go to the hospital and you get dead, then daddy will come home”.  My little girl says “…..but daddy is really alive”.  We are going to do what we can to honor Jake on Father’s Day, but I know for me it is going to be a very sad day.  Then I wonder, did Jake think about Father’s Day on August 27, 2014?  Did he think about his kids and his family and Christmas and birthdays and fucking Tuesdays on that day?  Did he wonder how in the world we wIMG_1103ere supposed to celebrate holidays and just live our lives without him?  I vacillate wildly these days between sadness and anger.  Definitely experiencing the most anger I have felt since he has died and I’m not sure what to do with that.  I’m sure it comes out in other ways-misdirected at people who least deserve it.  What does a person do when they have so much anger towards someone who is dead?  I can’t scream or yell at him, I can’t kick his ass, punch him or kick him until he drops to the ground.  What do I do with these feelings?  The flashbacks and obsessive memories are getting stronger again.  I thought they were moving away-but I think I was just suppressing the thoughts and I have already learned that strategy doesn’t actually work.  Probably why the nightmares are back.  Wishing I had a DeLorean and a Flux Capacitor right about now.

Everything is different.  I am different.  I will never again be the BEFORE Kristen.  So, it’s time for me to take steps forward.  I feel very overwhelmed, so I need to make some decisions that will make my life less overwhelming.  Sell my house.  Be smart. Manage everything better.  Start making happy memories again.  Within eight days, I was able to cross two things off my “bucket list”–I’ve been rock climbing (which is way harder than it looks, all those people scampering up the sides of rocks like little monkeys), and I ran my first 1/2 marathon.  I’ve been wondering about what else I can achieve.  I have a lot to look forward to-I need to redirect my focus from always looking back. I keep telling myself–“you can do this, Kristen, you can totally do this”. But, it’s so fucking hard.  How do people do it?

I think (i.e. obsess) a lot about my last conversation with Jake.  I always thought I’d see him again.

 

How Do You Do It?

I get asked this question a lot. I hear comments such as “I don’t know how you do it” and “I can’t even imagine” on an almost daily basis. My typical retort is something along the lines of “I don’t do it very well”.

Here’s the thing. In a million years, I never would have pictured myself in this situation. If you had told me a year ago that I would be HERE..NOW…I would have landed in the looney bin from thinking I could never do it–never handle it. However, shit happens in life and people discover that they adapt and just keep on moving. During my last run up the HILL FROM HELL, I thought a lot about how I actually manage being a grieving, widow with four small children.

Loads and loads and loads of help.  I do not do this alone.  I am so blessed to have family, friends, neighbors, and even acquaintances that I feel comfortable calling on a moment’s notice and asking for help and knowing they do not expect me to reciprocate.  I wasn’t a person who liked to ask for help before.  Now, I have no choice.  I’ve become accustomed to it.  In answer to the question “How do you do it?” I would say–“I don’t do it.  We do it”.

Is this a big deal?  I let a lot of stuff go.  A lot.  Things that would I freak out about in the BEFORE with my kids–in the AFTER, I just let it go.  If my 3 1/2 year old son wants to go to school in a tutu and pink beach hat-fine with me.  When my 10-year-old son has started experimenting with hair gel and ends up resembling a hedgehog, but he’s happy with it–I let it go.  When I see my 5-year-old daughter’s white hiney all the way from across the baseball field as she pees on the playground–I think to myself “That’s not my kid”.  When my 7-year-old has had enough of another kid bugging him and turns around and bops him in the face–well, is that so bad?  I try to ignore as much as I can.  When my kids wrestle, scream, tantrum-I do my best to stay calm and walk away.  Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom for extra long periods of time.  My parents think I don’t “punish” my kids enough.  I don’t know if that’s the right or wrong answer.  I just know that for me–“time outs” take a lot more effort and energy than I have to give, and most of the time there are natural consequences to their actions.  So I ask myself, “Is this a big deal?” and most of the time, the answer is “no”.

Yell a lot.  Despite what I’ve written above, I yell a lot.  I need to yell in order to be heard in this house of chaos and craziness.  Anyway, it works in the military, right?  Sometimes I just imagine I’m a drill sergeant.  Shower/bath nights are when my neighbors are most likely to hear my voice up and down the street.  Shower/bath night is akin to herding and bathing cats.  I dread it.  Also, when I first walk in the door from work and am still holding all my shit and haven’t taken off my coat and I see the littlest one running around the backyard buck naked and there’s a chorus of “mom mom mom mom mom mom mom” (like the seagulls from Finding Nemo) and the dog starts barking for no apparent reason and the Mormons who think I need saving start ringing the doorbell to read me bible passages–you might hear me yell.  The scene I just described is a daily occurrence.  So yes–I yell a lot.

Electronics are my friends.  Say what you will-I don’t actually care what anyone has to say about this.  Video games, computers, TV–best things ever.  I get regular lectures from my pediatrician about how kids these days have “Nature Deficit Disorder” because of all the electronics.  I used to freak out and spend a few weeks after a well child check up banning electronics.  But you know what?  Doing that makes my life harder.  My kids play sports and spend time outdoors.  Jake and I used to take them “hiking” on the weekends, but that required two of us.  One to stay with the bigger kids who want to run through the forest and one (usually me) to stay with the littlest who stops to point out every stick and rock on the ground.  I can’t do that alone.  I have a big backyard so they can go out there and shoot hoops, ride bikes, and examine slugs.  They get exposed to nature on the walk from my car into their classrooms.  I do take away electronics when they start to cry or throw tantrums out of frustration with the game.  “If it’s not fun anymore–we don’t play it”.  But otherwise, electronics and I–BFFs.  So now when the pediatrician starts lecturing me about too much exposure to electronics, I zone out, nod, and go to a happy place in my head.

Fantasize about fleeing.  I hesitate to write about this in case I ever really give in to the urge to run away from home 😉 But I have elaborate fantasies about changing my identity and running away from home.  Where I go and what I do in my fantasies varies all the time.  Sometimes I flee to Europe and sit on patios drinking coffee and doing yoga in nature everyday (despite the fact that I hate yoga).  Sometimes I disappear into the woods to live “On Walden Pond” like Henry David Thoreau.  Sometimes I flee to L.A. where I end up running into Matt Damon and we fall madly in love and go travel Europe or live “On Walden Pond” together.  My fantasies get me through the really hard times (refer to daily occurrences in Yell a lot section).

Beating myself up.  I don’t do this anymore.  At least I try not to.  I am not the mother I always pictured I would be before I had kids. My life didn’t turn out the way I expected.  Sometimes I feed my kids Gogurt and Teddy Grahams for dinner.  I don’t force them to eat vegetables. I leave my kids in the car when I have to run into a store quickly (WHAT?!?! Gasp in shock! I’ll probably end up on the news someday).   I set my expectations for myself as a mom pretty low now, so I never beat myself up over what a failure I am as a parent.  Let other people talk.  “There go the Milnes’ kids screaming through Safeway” (or peeing on the baseball field).  I don’t care.  My kids know I love them.  That’s what matters.

Keep it simple.  As much as I would love for my kids to be involved in every activity they want to be, I just can’t do it-financially or practically.  The kids need to prioritize and I keep it as simple as I can possibly can with four different kids.  I don’t volunteer to be class mom or attend PTA meetings.  I don’t chaperone field trips.    Meals are simple.  I don’t try to conceal pureed veggies in their macaroni and cheese.   I no longer refer to Parent Map for activities for the kids to do on the weekends. I don’t plan big adventures (or even small ones). I am not a bad mom because I don’t do these things.  I personally think I am a smart mom-because I know my limits and my priorities.

Selfish.  I am selfish.  I make sure I don’t miss my workouts or runs.  I try to get out on the weekends if I can.  I try to go to the grocery store by myself.  I tell my kids what I need.  When I sit down for dinner, I’m not getting up until I’m ready, so if you want anything, you either tell me now or you’ll wait. If I do get a spare few minutes in a day where there are no kids around and I am home–I do not utilize that time to get laundry done.  I climb into my bed and cuddle under the covers and treasure being in my bed alone, warm, safe, and without kids climbing all over me.  I let my kids know I need to sleep/eat/run/ etc.  I don’t know if this is teaching them to be selfish, or compassionate about the needs of others.  But I wouldn’t survive if I spent all my days and nights sacrificing everything that is Kristen for my kids.

Run, run, run.  I don’t run for vanity purposes.  At my pace and mileage logged each week, I am not going to get skinny or develop gorgeous runners’ legs like the girls have on the cover of the running magazines that I get but never read.  I run for my brain and to fight my family history of heart disease.  But mostly I run for my brain.  Running and working out are better for my brain than any drug could ever be.  Maybe it’s just because it is time away from my kids.  I don’t know–but it does something to my brain that helps me get through the rest of my day and onto my next run or workout. My playlist has songs with a lot of swear words.  That helps too.

So there it is.  I’m not the Supermom I imagined I would be.  I don’t even always put forth the best effort.  So, in case you’re wondering–that’s how I do it.

 

 

 

The Color-What Helped

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog complaining away about things people did or said that although well-intentioned, were not helpful. A friend recently sent me an article on grief and I am so glad I read it. I was surprised to notice that the author was able to come up with some positive outcomes from her very tragic loss. Given my newest attitude about seeing the world through color, I’ve been thinking a lot about possible silver linings. Although that is still too hard right now, I have been able to think about things people did or said that were and continue to be so helpful.

My parents, brother, his wife, and family from across the country.  There is no way to explain how they’ve all sacrificed to help me when I needed it most.  Help came in the form of taking care of my very basic needs, like picking my kids up from school so I wouldn’t have to see anybody to bathing my kids because the very thought of it overwhelmed me (and still does sometimes).  My parents cancelled a dream trip to Ireland so they wouldn’t leave me (the company never gave them their money back despite the fact that they had travel insurance but that’s a rant for another day). My brother left his restaurant in the care of his wife and staff who took over for him (the goodness of people extends so many degrees of separation) so that he could take care of me.  My aunts, uncle, and four cousins traveled from NJ to take care of me.  They were careful to spread out their visits because they all knew that I would have a ton of support initially–so they visited in spurts over the next few months.  One aunt was there at the very beginning of the AFTER to navigate me through my days.  Days when I couldn’t think, hold a conversation, remember small things, or even return to my home.  She was there for me step by step.  Reminding me of what I needed to get done, who I had to call, where I could stop and use a restroom (because I kind of lived out my car initially during the days while my boys were at school–not ready to go to my home yet).  My cousins separated their visits in the couple of months that followed–taking my kids to birthday parties (because I still couldn’t bring myself to do things like that), organizing my home (especially certain rooms), cooking for my kids, making sure my kids got homework done, etc.  They both literally said “I am here for you.  Tell me what to do”.  When I still couldn’t think at that point, they just took over.  I needed that.  I’m not saying this would work for everyone–but I really needed my loved ones to come in and just take over.  My uncle, aunt and other cousins came together around Christmas time.  I couldn’t even think about Christmas.  They put up my tree and decorated it while I sat in another room and sobbed.  I don’t even know if they know what a big deal that was.  It was everything at the time.

Jake’s friends.  They took over all the things that needed to get done in the immediate AFTER.  They wrote his obituary, planned the service, and set up/cleaned up after the service (because I was just a hysterical mess–there was no way I could have folded a chair).  They even paid for all of it–which was a huge deal.  In the AFTER, money and finances became a really big concern, so any help in that area was needed.  More about that in a minute.  Despite their own grief, Jake’s friends checked in on me, sent me packages, helped me figure out things that needed to get done that I never would have thought about, made sure I had Jake’s outgoing voicemail message saved to my computer so the kids and I could still hear his voice, patiently took many, many phone calls from my kids, and one of his friends even gave me a car!

My friends.  This subject could be a book all on its own.  I’m not even sure where to start or how to organize my thoughts about my friends.  While I remained at the hospital with Jake during those four days and nights when time stood still, there were several exceptional people who made sure I was never alone.  Friends who didn’t ever ask me if they should come (because I would have said no).  They just came and stayed.  They didn’t care that I wasn’t very good company.  They just stayed with me.  One friend spoke with nurses and doctors and asked all the right questions and wrote down detailed information for me because I was unable to think about anything.  Other friends brought me toiletries and changes of clothes (desperately needed and probably not so subtle hints) and spoke with whomever necessary to find me a place to shower.  Another friend went out to my parent’s house to help my mother manage my four crazy children who had no idea where either of their parents were.  Her husband took the school supply lists and went out and got all the things my boys needed to start school in a few days.  She even ran a half marathon in Jake’s honor that weekend.  Another friend did all the work with the organ transplant people in getting Jake’s handprints made so we would have those forever.  That was not an easy task–and very messy.  I really didn’t want to have anything to do with it–but my friend knew that I would appreciate and need those handprints  later.  So, she did all the dirty work.  My friends talked with hospital staff and helped me climb into bed with Jake to sleep with him one last time–something I would have never even thought to ask.  Friends who previously didn’t know each other, exchanged contact information with each other and with my parents, in order to coordinate the “care and handling of Kristen”.  They made sure I was never alone in that hospital that became my whole entire world.

Once I was back at my parents’ house and my children had been told, friends came from all over the place.  They brought kid friendly food, they brought their own kids in order to play with and distract mine, they brought me my favorite coffee, but most of all, they came and sat with me.  I couldn’t hold a conversation.  But they came anyway.  Unbeknownst to me, they worked to pull together an online sign-up sheet to bring my family meals for the next couple of months. People contacted this group of friends to find out what I needed (because I had no idea what I needed and people sensed that). A friend had her husband make Costco trips for me for months and then deliver to my house. One friend had someone from her church come to my house several times and clean my house for free!  Once I returned home, I would sit outside and people would just show up, kids in tow.  They sat with me and fed my kids and forced me to go out to lunch.  I wasn’t ready to stay in the house by myself for a very long time.  My parents often stayed with me, but it took a toll on them.  Some friends came for sleepovers so that my parents could have a break and I wouldn’t be alone.

Close friends from high school flew from around the country to visit.  I hadn’t seen these friends in ages.  I don’t think I’d seen one of my friends since my wedding in 2003!  But they left their kids, husbands, jobs..their lives to come and be with me.  They hung out with me and slept in bed with me  and ran with me.  They took my car and went food shopping and cooked for my kids and played with my kids.  They fixed their own meals.  These types of help may seem so small to someone reading this.  But they were not small.  They were so significantly huge–I can’t even find the right words.  Although I’ve been friends with these people for many years, my friendships with them have deepened and changed because of the things they did to help me.

New friendships developed as well.  People who continue to want to spend time with me (despite the fact that I am completely self-absorbed still).  Friends who keep me running–literally.  These girls have run with me through the fall, winter and now into the spring.  They have run with me in 20 degree weather.  They have run with me during downpours.  During these runs, these ladies have become my “color” (which makes sense if you read my previous post about shades of gray).  I look forward to being with them.  They are willing to try new things with me.  We laugh….a lot.  But they’ve cried with me as well.  They also never hesitate to give me a big sweaty, smelly hug at the end of a run.  They helped me develop a “life”, when I was convinced mine was pretty much over. They are the ones who stayed.

Friends from near and far called me, texted me, and emailed me.  For the most part, I never responded.  It wasn’t about them–I really appreciated the fact that they were reaching out to me.  I just couldn’t talk or write.  My brain did not work well enough for me to do these basic things.  Thankfully, those friends have persisted in their calls and texts–and only recently have I started responding.  I even have a friend who sent me letters–long letters–in the actual mail!  I don’t think I’ve received letters like that since college.  That takes a lot of time and effort in this day and age.

Then, there is social media.  Say what you will–but for me, its been an incredible way to stay in touch with people I’ve frequently wondered about, but thought I would never see/talk to/know about again.  People from my childhood, high school, and college, who continue to send me messages letting me know that they still think about me and pray for my family–they check in on me.  These check-ins mean so much.  The people who plainly state “I don’t have the right words to say-but I am thinking about you”.  That’s all it takes for me.  When I posted about a beer I had fallen in love with, friends from near and far (including friends’ husbands) researched high and low to try to locate this beer for me.  When I mentioned my love of cupcakes, an old friend from high school actually had a dozen delicious cupcakes delivered to my door.  Friends have reached out and because of that, I’ve made deeper connections with people and sometimes brand new connections.  It makes me feel like the whole world is my friend.

My job.  My boss is absolutely incredible.  I am fortunate enough that she is also my friend.  She taught me about the “Kristen Suit” and has had many wise words of wisdom that really have struck a chord with me.  She gave me space and never pressured me to return to work.  She made gentle suggestions that encouraged me to start back to work slowly when I was ready.  She assured me that going back to work would be the easiest thing I had done in months.  She was right.  She continues to work with me, to help me get everything I need out of my job.  I swear there are some months where I only work 50% of the hours I am supposed to work because of sick kids at my house, or other things that come up.  A lot of times, I still have problems with focus and attention and tend to forget basic things (like my timesheet).  She has been remarkably patient and understanding with me.  She bends over backwards for me–and I know I am so lucky to be working for her.

The community.  Particularly from the boys’ elementary school–the community supported us in ways I never would have imagined.  People I didn’t even know showed up at my house with meals and offers to help.  The school rallied around my boys.  Every single teacher they’ve had at that school, past and present, attended the memorial service.  I will never forget how I felt when I saw all of them walk in. It was a feeling I can’t describe.  The teachers, the nurse, the principal, the office staff..they all take care of my boys.  That school is like a second home to them.  The PTA sent in a cleaning crew.  They gave us gift baskets at Christmas.  We had “secret Santas”-and to this day I’m not really sure who they were, that left gifts on our doorstep. To this day, all I have to do is ask for help when I can’t be in four different places at one time and people eagerly assist me.   From the younger ones’ preschool, there was also some support.  Several parents got involved with bringing us meals, one of the dads took on a legal matter for me pro bono, and a staff member who is a tax accountant, did my taxes this year for free.  As much as I have the desire to run away a lot of the time, this community keeps me here.

Money.  This became very complicated and I hesitate to even write about it because it’s such a sensitive topic.  Jake and I have always had separate bank accounts.  Jake was very much the breadwinner of the family as I only worked part-time.  Jake paid all of the bills.  To be honest, I didn’t know a thing about our finances.  When he passed away, I was not allowed access to any of his accounts because his name was the only one on them.  Money was a significant cause of concern.  Almost immediately, one of his friends gave me a check to cover a few months worth of expenses.  More of his friends, sent me checks saying they “owed” Jake that money.  One of my friends also gave me money (instead of donating to one of the charities in Jake’s name).  I likely wouldn’t still be in my home if it weren’t for their generosity.  We were awarded scholarships for different activities that the boys wanted to get involved in that I couldn’t have afforded at the time.

I noticed a lot of my posts up until today have had an underlying (or outright) negativity.  For today at least, I believe I’ve turned a corner in also thinking about the positive–the color.  People always want to help–and reviewing the length of this post, it looks like they have. In so many ways-it’s all big.  It’s all significant.  It has all made a difference in how my family has dealt with this tragedy.  So…thank you.  Sincerely.