The Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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

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.

 

 

 

 

The Second Summer (mishmash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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).