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 Stuff That Happens to Other People

On a rare occasion when we were able to have a conversation, my 8-year-old son asked “Mommy?  How come you never smile or laugh?”

I’m going to let that sink in a moment, the way I have most moments since he asked that question.

My second grade son who appears to be completely self-absorbed in his own little world of wrestling, video games, sports, and friends (as he should be)–has observed that I don’t smile or laugh, at least when I’m around him.  Does this break anybody else’s heart the way it does mine?

I do not want my children to think that I am never happy.  There are times when I’m very happy.  I think I’ve been happiest at times in the AFTER when I’m doing or have done something that I was afraid to do.  The times when I’ve done something that in the BEFORE would have been Jake’s job.  These times I am positively giddy.

But, my kids don’t see me at these times.  My kids typically have me spinning in circles like the Tasmanian devil himself.  I’m working really hard at trying to figure out balance, as most people are.  The scales are just a little lopsided right now.

It’s the little things I miss the most. Of course I miss the big things too–our 10th anniversary trip to the Big Island, our honeymoon in New Zealand.  But, it’s the little, everyday things I hardly even noticed before that I miss the most.  Walking in the door to a big Jake hug.  The “Oh-the funniest thing happened today…” moments that aren’t really that funny at all and definitely not funny enough to share with others the way they were with him.  I even miss how much nicer his mother’s lawn looked when he was around to take care of it.  I was at her house recently and was so distracted by the condition of her lawn and how horrified Jake would have been.  I couldn’t help myself–I searched her shed for some tools and started weeding.  Then I remembered how Jake himself taught me how to weed in the first place.  He really took good care of his mother and I miss that.  It’s not all about the responsibility, chaos, and super short fuse now, even though I talk about those things a lot.  It’s about more.  Something that can’t be defined or explained.  Stating “a big piece of me is gone forever” just doesn’t encompass all that the loss actually is- the loss is so much larger than the sum of the feelings I can put into words.

Okay–time to talk about the “L” word.  Very taboo and very sensitive and a whole bunch of stigma attached to it.  Yup.  Loneliness.  This isn’t the same thing as being alone.  As a matter of fact, I can feel lonely even when I’m actively engaged with other people.  Does that even make sense?  It doesn’t even make sense to me and I’m the one feeling it.  I have the most incredible family and amazing friends.  I live in a community that continues to support me in ways that surprise me all the time.  How could I be feeling this lonely?  This loneliness scares me because it is clearly coming from inside of me (I am rarely alone)-and I’m really afraid of feeling this way for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong- I long for and embrace the time I do get to spend alone.  But I could really stand to lose the loneliness part.

I have Jake’s ashes in our safe.  He would HATE that.  He couldn’t even stand to wear a watch most of the time because it made him feel claustrophobic.  But, I need to keep them safe.  I need to make sure they go where they need to go-where Jake wanted to be and the places he dreamed about going. His buddy has been planning  a climbing trip to Denali for a while now.  A few weeks ago, the thought popped into my head.  That is perfect!  Jake would love that. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.  Fortunately, his buddy agreed with me and is planning on taking some of his ashes to the summit if he can.  I think that’s the way it’s going to be. Things will just click with me at different times and I will know that is a perfect place to spread his ashes. (I feel very strongly that he would also love a little part of himself to be spread in CenturyLink field or the Virginia Mason Complex where the Seahawks practice so if anybody has connections–it would be a dream to hook Jake up with that!)  Back to the point(I think?)-I am really nervous about opening his ashes.  They have been sealed and I’ve never once opened the box.  I’m not really sure how I’m going to feel.  I know it’s not going to be easy.  There will probably be a blog post after that one.

Anyway, how to explain these big feelings to an 8-year-old who just notices that his mom never smiles or laughs?  I can’t even put them into words to explain to grown people.

There have been quite a few celebrity deaths recently.  I found myself getting irritated when someone said to me something like “It’s been a rough week for celebrities”.  I snapped back “It’s been a rough day for what–the millions of loved ones who lost people who aren’t celebrities, too.  We just don’t hear about those.”  The world loses great, talented, beautiful, kind people every minute.  Some are tragic and some are not.  But all are gone.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that death is not something that happens to “other people”.  It’s going to happen to every one of us and we never know when or how.  I’m on this planet once-in the blink of an eye, I won’t be.  I do not want to be remembered by my kids as a sad person who never smiled or laughed.   I don’t want to live my life that way either.  As much as I call bullshit to the Stuart Smalley school of thinking–“Look in the mirror and choose to be happy. Because you’re good enough…” blah blah blah.  I can make a promise to myself to be more mindful about it.  Pay attention to what makes me happy and do it more.  I’d like to set that example for my kids, too.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Hill from Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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