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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day

Oh this day...it's supposed to be a happy day of celebration. And I suppose it is, for daughters whose mothers are still here, and for mothers who can still hold all of their children. For those of us who don't fit into those categories, it's another reminder of that empty chair...those arms we can't feel.

And of course it's beautiful today. Of course the sun is shining. It's a mocking reminder of the way the world keeps turning despite the pain of those suffering loss. And it's a life sentence, one for which we didn't ask to experience. On the one hand, I don't know know that there is a group of people who can truly appreciate this day more. On the other...my own broken heart cries out for theirs in mutual pain over the existence of this day.

This year, Mother's Day has taken on a different meaning for me. Somewhere mixed in the pain of loss of my precious son, is a sense of deep gratitude for the birth mother of my daughters. So, today I will honor him and celebrate her.

Happy Mother's Day, M. I have never met you, and yet you have have proven to be one of the most important mothers in my life. Your body carried our daughters. Your arms held them first. Your lips kissed their heads. You bravely brought them into the world in your own home. I can't imagine the fear and pain you must have endured, experiencing the birth of twins in that way. I'm eternally grateful for your grit and courage. I know you never meant to leave them so soon. A piece of my heart lives in heaven too. If you'll hold him for me, I'll gladly love our girls as my own. I'll wrap them in the love of a mother's hug, until we all meet again one day. My boy likes ice cream and "moos". Please tell him that I miss him with every breath I take. Guide me as our girls become American citizens and enter a world completely foreign to them. Help me to know their pain and joy, as any mother does. I promise to speak of you often. I will say your name, and remind them that they were loved by two mothers in this lifetime.

Happy Mother's Day to all of the beautiful souls I've been fortunate enough to know. To those whose children are being loved by them on earth, I learn from each of you and I'm grateful. To those who had to give a child back, my soul burns for you as we navigate the pain and strength it takes to mother a child we can no longer see. To those whose mothers have been lost too soon, I promise to cherish every moment I get with mine, in order to honor the pain you experience. Love and peace on this day full of mixed emotion.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Visit Dreams

It's 1am, and the tears I feel are real. It's because the dream was so real. The world I was just in was so filled with emotion and hope and laughter, and when I opened my eyes and the cruel, harsh reality slammed me in the chest, the tears were all I had left.

I had reached for you. I'd seen your sweet face and soft curls and when you reached back for me, I'd buried my face in your scent. At the time, I didn't know why I was crying. All I'd done was pick you up...something I'd done a hundred times before. But somewhere in my dream brain, it was registering that the ability to do this was special. So I snuggled you closer, and I whispered to you that I'd never let you go...

So you can imagine the burning in my chest when I opened my eyes and reality raged through my heart. I'd done exactly that, again. I'd let you go. Why did I do that? Why did I think that I could handle cutting myself in half and continuing to "live."

It's amazing to me how physical my ache for you continues to be. The triggers happen in a million different ways every day. They're present in a moment I have at work, or something someone says to me that makes me remember how very lonely this grief process is.

I wish you'd never left. Sometimes I'm mad as hell at you for leaving. Most of the time I'm mad at me. But the burn is the same either way. It's moments like these that make life seem so incredibly long, and I need that day that will bring me back to you.

So, I'd ask for you to make these days I'll have to endure, burn a little less, but then Sara's words ring in my ears..."you don't want this to go away. Not really. You want the dreams, because they connect you." I know you gave her to me, and I'm grateful. But goddammit, I hate when she's right. So maybe make that happen a little less often...ok?

I miss you, my boy. I ACHE for you. I'll feel that burn in my chest every day until I get to bury my face in your hair again. Until then, help me to find the moments that allow me to breathe. Give me the strength to want to stay...and don't stop visiting my dreams...


Friday, February 23, 2018

Palm trees, Self-doubt, and Bitchy Crabs

I'm a disaster. Let me explain. (Although that opening sentence is rather hilarious  considering where I'm going with this. So, I'm on a tropical island. As in, one of the most beautiful places on the planet and I have still managed to judge myself daily, from appearance to how I spend my time here. It's a gift,  really, this ability to degrade myself in any possible situation. 

The funny thing is that I sort of pride myself on not judging others. And, as a parent, although I know I will inevitably screw up my children, I do think my number one priority is raising them to NOT be judgemental assholes. However, in my constant quest for reserving judgement of others, I forgot someone. And that someone is arguably the most important someone...me.

The weather is beautiful here. And when I say "beautiful" I feel that I've failed to do it justice. I could say "exquisite", "superb", "magnificent" and still, all words would fall short of describing the innate beauty of this island. And yet, despite my surroundings, I'm still me, stuck in my never-ending loop of self-depreciation. So....I'm anorexic. I know what you're thinking, "well that's funny, because usually people who are anorexic aren't upwards of 50 pounds over their goal weight." (Or maybe I'm just thinking that and am putting words into your mouth. I'm apparently pretty good at that.) By saying I'm anorexic, I don't mean that it manifests in a physical way, but emotionally and mentally. I judge myself on how I look, what goes in and what physical effort I put forth at a constant rate. And maybe I'm using the word wrong, but it's my blog, so I can. I doubt it will bother the 10 or so people who are actually bored enough to read my thoughts.

But I digress. You see, I was walking along this incredible beach today and had plenty of time to ponder my life (dangerous pasttime, I know). I was thinking about how amazing it is that in everything I've ever written/complained about/discussed in my blogs, they always seem to be these external issues. Warranted, sure, but the truth is that my inner struggle existed much earlier than anything external that I can remember. And if we're talking honesty, this is as honest as I can get.

Back to being "anorexic" (There. Do the quotation marks make you feel better about a fat person claiming to be anorexic? Yes, Sara, I know...I'm my own worst critic and was probably the only one bothered by that in the first place). Anyway, I did actually try the whole "not eating" thing in high school. And admittedly, it screwed me up in ways I didn't even see at the time. It's the reason I don't own a scale, and also the reason I avoid mirrors. I didn't realize this last part until my therapist brought it up in a session recently. I thought about her statement and was shocked at how accurate it was. How sad is that? I don't even look at myself. (And this is absolutely not a plea for platitudes about my looks. Believe me, this has nothing to do with anyone but myself.) So, here, I've had to look at myself and I realized that in my quest to avoid looking in the mirror, I've somehow gotten to be this person I don't even recognize.

I'm a person who truly does love physical activity. Weird, I know. I mean everyone feels good afterward, right? But it's the true creepos who enjoy the "during" part of pushing your body past its natural limits. And yet, I don't do that anymore. I truly feel that sometimes I can't. Whether grief,  or depression, or depression brought on by grief, or survivor's guilt, whatever it is, it makes it incredibly difficult to move. So I don't. Not unless I have to, that is. I move to go to work. I move to attend my children's activities. I move for all kinds of reasons that affect the lives of other people, but I SUCK at moving for me. (See how I did that?  Judged myself for judging myself?? I'm telling you guys, if this were and Olympic sport, I'd nail it.)

So out here on this island, I just move. I can, so I do. Now why can I? Because I typically have enough energy to do only a few things each day. And those are the good days. Out here, I have no other obligations. Nothing to MAKE me move, except for me. So I move for me. It's an incredible feeling to be spending an entire day/week doing things to take care of yourself. I feel like mothers in general are particularly bad at this. But, I'm not naive enough to believe that this is real life. I know that when I return to my family (whom I love more than life), that I will use up what little life power I've got left each day on just surviving.  I spend so much of my energy on grief, ptsd, and judging myself for doing that, that I'm left exhausted at the end of each day, when some days all I've physically done is moved my arm three inches to the right.

The isolation on this island is magnificent. I'm free to walk around in a bathing suit all day and not give it a second thought when it comes to wondering if others are judging me. That was, until today. I jumped into the ocean today to cool off and then, as always, as I made my way back to my lounge chair to lie in the sun, I made a mental note of how awful my shadow looked. Because that's helpful. I dismissed it quickly, because again, no one is around and also because constantly evaluating your body is exhausting. However, I opened my eyes for a second to make sure I was fully facing the sun, and I saw a crab standing right in front of me. She just stopped there, staring at me. I assume she was staring, because honestly it's hard to know where their eyes are. And I assume she was female because, you know,  we're best at judging our own...

Anyway, I could tell she was judging me. She knew I looked horrible in that bathing suit, and she was judging the fact that I'd been smug enough to assume that no one else was being affected by such a hideous creature, simply because no other humans were around. I also believe she was judging the few times in my life that I've attempted a "crab walk." Because as she sauntered effortlessly, from side to side, I noticed her backward glance at the large lady in the lounge chair, right before she added a bit of a graceful glide to her movements. She did this, as if to say, "not only are you overweight and out of shape, but you have also never correctly walked like a crab. And it's insulting." And with that, she scurried along the shoreline until the waves overtook her little body (skinny bitch) and she buried herself in the sand. (Come to think of it, I may have more problems than made-up, fat person anorexia...)

Anyway, all of this rambling does have something resembling a point. As I was lying there, getting tan, listening to the ocean, and getting judged by bitchy crabs, I was also thinking about how useless it is to continue putting myself down in this way. Has it ever served me? Has it ever motivated me to do more? Has it ever done anything but cut down an already fragile self-esteem? And the answer, of course, is no. So, I'm tired of diets. I'm tired of specific exercise regimens with a specific "goal date" in mind. I've decided that instead of trying to lose pounds of weight, I'm going to try to lose pounds of self-judgement (a word? Maybe not, but again, my blog). And since I've made this incredible discovery for myself and made up words to prove my point, I'm officially awarding myself with 50 pounds worth of self-judgement lost. I'm feeling lighter already.

And while this is clearly a much more healthy way to think, I know that I will have days where this whole concept is more than I can handle and I'll revert back to my old habits. But even those days are going to have the possibility of "pounds" lost, because the acknowledgement that I'm human, and allowed my ups and downs, is a pretty important step too. Don't get me wrong, I'm still gonna screw this up, because I've said, and the bitchy crab also pointed out...I am a giant disaster. :)


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

10/10

We use a pain scale in the healthcare world. Most are familiar with it. It's a scale going from 0-10. It's a way to gauge a person's pain level in order to determine whether or not your interventions are effective. People aren't always great at understanding the scale, but it can be helpful in determining efficacy of medicaton from time to time. Sometimes patients and nurses don't exactly agree on the pain rating. So, when the nurse is the patient, they tend to avoid the top of the pain scale.  I've never rated my pain a 10/10 when asked. Even when I was yelling and literally punching the back of an ER gurney because of kidney stone pain, I still couldn't do it. When asked what I rated my pain, I said "8" through clenched teeth and tears.

While there have been times that I have been in pretty intense physical pain, I could have never imagined the power of emotional pain. Even writing the words, "emotional pain" just seems too empty to describe the immense, searing agony  of child loss. It's ongoing, and forever and there is no medication, no cure. And there is certainly no scale that does it justice.

I keep learning new things about grief, and that's part of the reason the pain lingers. I reach new levels of understanding of this process with each passing year. I recently came to a realization about a certain statement that's never made much sense to me. You know how you'll always see a meme or quote related to grief that essentially says, "no one can tell you when to get over it", or "so many people just tell me to get over it"? Well, I don't think I've ever actually heard THOSE specific words. Don't get me wrong, I FEEL that sentiment, but I don't think I've ever heard it. But I think now I know what actually happens that makes grieving people feel that way. It isn't necessarily that someone SAYS we need to move on, it's the unspoken expectation that we just do so.

For example, grieving people are expected to keep their actual feelings quiet, at least at certain times in their lives when others are allowed to voice theirs. If we say what we actually think in certain situations, we will not be received well. I'll try to explain what I mean....

The hospital I work in has a rule set up, during this particularly bad flu season, that says that no children under the age of 16 are allowed in the hospital. It's for the protection of our patients and their babies. Of course this is difficult for some new families who want their newborn to be introduced to their other children as soon as possible. While I can understand this sentiment, my patience with those who try to find a way around the policy, only lasts so long. My response to is your typical, "I know this is a tough policy and I'm sorry your other children will have to wait to meet their sibling". At this point, I'm still ok. I can make it through that...once. But lately the conversation has continued to include, "I just CAN'T be away from my children for 3 whole days. I've never been away from them"...followed by tears. YES, I know pregnant women are hormonal. YES, I understand that this is a completely normal sentiment. But that doesn't mean that my own heart doesn't scream, "yes you CAN! Believe me. I haven't held my child in 5 years. I'm still here." Obviously that response doesn't work. This is the problem. People who don't understand this way of thinking are allowed to express their feelings, even if they hurt me. But I cannot express mine. And I discussed this  with my friend and she asked me why I can't just say it? The answer is simple. I have to live in THIS world.  I don't get to live in my grieving world all the time. I mean, I suppose I could, but I wouldn't function here in reality.

I'm not saying any of this to entice any sort of sympathy. I'm truly not. I'm not looking for someone to say, "of course you can say what you feel", mostly because it isn't true. But the feelings are real. They're present whether they're voiced or not. And I think this discrepancy between the living world and the grieving world bears mentioning.

I also don't pretend to be innocent of invoking these feelings in my fellow grievers. I lost my child. I have not lost my spouse. I do not have a life threatening illness myself. Both of my parents are still alive. And for those in my life who don't share my fortune, I welcome you to express exactly what you're feeling when you're talking to me. Make your conversations with me the ones in which you can say exactly what is in your brain in that moment. If I complain about my husband, tell me that I'm lucky to have him. If I whine about a bad hair day, show me your bald head and tell me to get the hell over it. I say this because I want the grieving to know that I don't need for you to "get over it". I don't need for you to feel any way other than the way you feel. I don't need for you to sugar coat things. I don't need for you to spare my feelings because I don't understand where you're coming from. Tell me where you stand. Tell me what your heart hears when I say something insensitive. Tell me exactly what stirs in you when you feel  I've missed your perspective.  It's ok. It's OK to hurt. It's OK to be angry. It's OK to tell me you feel forgotten and alone. It's ok...to tell me it's a 10...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Too Depressed For Therapy"

I don't remember exactly what day it happened, what moment it was that wiped away my ability for pretense. It wasn't the moment he left. That was certainly filled with more than the deafening silence I heard screeching through my brain...but the loss of pretense wasn't there. In fact, just hours after he was gone, we went to dinner. To DINNER. I remember thinking about how incredibly ridiculous that was. Do people whose children are dead go to dinner?? Probably not, I'd thought, and yet there I was with a menu in my hand, just like it was any other Saturday.

And don't get me wrong, I've never really been one to mince words, but still I could when needed. However, that part of me is gone in many situations where it used to just be as natural as breathing. What do I mean? Well, recently I was talking about my grandmother and I said, "oh. Well, she's dead." I think the way I said it seemed harsh or something.  It must have because I recognized a change in expression among the people I was talking to. But for me, dead is dead. It isn't  just "passing away" or "passing on" or "crossing over". It's dead. And I think I NEED for it to be that. Because it's real. There is nothing more real than "dead" for me. And believe me, it is the most real thing I've ever experienced. It's continuous. It's part of me. And now IT is what is as natural as breathing. Dead. My son is dead.

I was there when it happened, so I know. The air stopped moving through his lungs and his heart stopped beating. He no longer turned his head toward my cheat as I held him. His arm slipped from its place on his chest. And if you think this is difficult to read, I can't begin to describe what it means to watch that, to bear witness to your child's last breath. Dead.

I see a therapist pretty regularly (most people reading this are likely thinking, "well thank god!....:)). But sometimes I just can't go. Sometimes the thought of moving even one arm is too much, so getting up and making myself take time to "work through my crap" is not gonna happen. So, I don't go. I literally cancelled therapy because I was too depressed to go. That's hilarious to me. And maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. Because it's REAL. That's exactly what grief does. It kicks my ass. And it NEVER goes away. And sometimes it makes me awesome, and sometimes it makes me vomit. And sometimes it make me tired. And sometimes it makes me a crappy friend. But one thing it never does is leave. It doesn't allow me to ignore it. Not in its entirety, not enough to allow for pretense...

I don't even know why this is important enough to me to write down. Maybe someone else out there feels the same way? Maybe this is a common byproduct of grief? What I do know is that what I experienced was real, what I currently feel is real, and that the irony is that what woke me up to this very real "life" I lead....was death.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Where Are You Christmas?

Where are you, Christmas? I'm so grateful that I don't recognize you this year. Not one thing is the same, and that takes a bit of the sting out of this damn holiday.

Nothing is more effective at highlighting loneliness and pain than the holiday season. Every year since my son has been gone, this time of year has slayed me. It's like pouring alcohol on an open wound. I despise tradition. I LOATHE "whole family togetherness".

This year feels different. We're in a new home. Nothing looks the same here. And I'm so grateful. My oldest son refuses to help pick out our Christmas tree now, and I love him for it. It's so much easier for me to be "present" when Easton is not the only one missing. The fact that it's just my husband and the girls picking it out makes it possible for me to breathe.

I don't like being "all together but not really". It's only been this year that I can stand the 5 of us being in the same room at the same time, and still I notice the vacancy. That may sound horrible, but it isn't something you can judge. It's not a feeling I would have asked for, or even known it would be possible. So, you can imagine that when I buy presents for 4 children and only 3 open them up on Christmas morning that I'm probably not going to love that day.

This year I decided to kind of do my own form of immersion therapy. I bought Christmas decorations for our new house and put them up EARLY. I have TWO decorated trees. I was done buying and wrapping gifts long before today, and I even REQUESTED a cookie making day. I blasted Christmas music every chance I got. I did it in part because I believe this may be my youngest daughter's last "magic" year. And it kills me to have "missed" the previous ones. But I also did it to desensitize myself to the inevitable knives that the holidays bring.

I don't know that I'll ever enjoy Christmas as I once did. I think that maybe the loss of a child steals that part of you. Or maybe it takes time. Or maybe it's like the rest of the grief process, where each minute is a crapshoot.

What I have certainly learned about grief and holidays specifically, is that no one is in a place to judge another person for any decisions they make. I would have never guessed in a million years that I would be this person. I loved Christmas and every tradition we had. Now those very things I loved, cut me deeper than I can ever do justice with words.

This year is also different because my dad isn't here. And that sounds particularly terrible, but I don't mean that I'm glad he isn't here. I'm just glad that Easton isn't the ONLY one missing. I miss my dad like crazy, and I can't wait to see him. But that's just it. I have the option of seeing him again. That's not true of my E. And sure, "someday you'll see him in heaven." Ok, I doubt that would be sufficient for anyone, so it isn't helpful.

I'm grateful for my experiences this year. I love our new house and the comfort it provides. I was able to spend some time in Haiti with Jeff and shared my love of it with him. But there are still 4 stockings, and only three children reaching for them. That's not something that can be repaired with tinsel and carols. So I'm especially grateful that the holiday is so unrecognizable this year. Every second of my life without my son has been unrecognizable to me. Christmas finally matches...