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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Holiday Rain

I'm glad it's raining today. It feels right that this morning while driving, I couldn't determine whether my inability to see was due to the rain on the windshield or the tears in my eyes. In an odd way it's comforting when I see that the world is crying too. It's less lonely for the moment.

Halloween hurts. All holidays hurt. I remember very early in my grief when someone said, "Well why don't we just CANCEL Christmas!!" He meant it facetiously, and in a way that said, "what a ridiculous idea", but I remember thinking (and probably saying, because let's face it, I'm not quiet), "Yes! Let's do!" And I meant it. Holidays aren't worth the ache for me anymore. I've discovered that the things that hurt the most, usually do so because they were the moments we loved so much before loss. Grief steals so many things, and the anger  and pain of stolen happiness is sometimes just too much to bear. I used to love the holidays. I remember thinking that I would NEVER miss a Christmas morning with my kids. Being a nurse, that could have proven to be difficult. But now, I'm honestly considering signing up to work extra that day. At least then maybe I could pretend it wasn't happening.

That last thought reminds me of something else I've noticed throughout this process. Obviously, I release some of this continuous pain through writing. I often describe my experiences, mostly for a way to "see", in a concrete way, what I'm feeling. This gets difficult for some people because they make assumptions that my anger or pain  is directed at a certain person or moment. While I'll admit that I've had several not-so-pleasant moments regarding others and my grief, I have to say that a huge majority of the time I don't remember who said what. I just know the ache in my heart and the burn in my chest. I would venture to guess that this is true of most grieving people. Sometimes we're just angry and we just hurt. It probably has nothing to do with you. Grief is very selfish. We won't be fair or even kind sometimes. I'm not saying that's right or even ok, but it just IS. I understand that it's difficult for some to accept this aspect of grief, and it's ok with me if it's something you just can't handle. Just know that I can't be around you. That isn't meant to hurt, it's just reality. I'm doing what I can to live in my skin right now. I can't add hurdles to a race in which I'm barely crawling.

And maybe I "should" be done with this phase by now. Or maybe that's the perception of some. I'll tell you something else about grief...time is a sonofabitch. I've noticed recently when asked "how long has it been" that I hesitate and then answer, incorrectly, that it's been two and a half years. It's actually been almost 3. But I don't want that to be true, and for me it isn't. For me, it was a million years and simultaneously just a second ago. I can't describe the hell that this time confusion creates within my body. Recently someone said, "wow, I didn't think it had been that long ago." My body immediately reacted (and not because it was "wrong" to say it or because I now "hate that person forever"... see above paragraph). Honestly, I don't even remember who said it or where I was. I just know what my heart went through after hearing it..."wait...has it been long? It was just a minute ago that I was tickling him after his bath and trying to keep him from crawling away as he giggled. It was just yesterday that I was standing in the kitchen and heard him call 'Mama' from the living room. That wasn't 'years' ago. Years are long and time is supposed to heal. But my heart still burns."  It's like if I say three years out loud, I lost him all over again. Every day that comes, is a day further from the last moment I kissed his face and my tears fell in his hair. I already feel so far from him. I can't admit to the amount of earthly time.

My grief has changed over time, but I still ache every day. I miss him with every breath. I am no longer afraid of my own death and sometimes would honestly prefer that it come quickly. That isn't weird or worrisome. It's just reality. If you have children, you typically know where they are and who they're with, right? Even if they're grown, you know where they live. You've seen their space. That's all I want. He isn't here. I want to be where he is. You would too. It's just part of loving your children. You may have to get a plane ticket to see your children, but you do it, because nothing could keep you from it. Well, my plane ticket doesn't exist, but you could bet that if I found a way to see him, I'd swim and ocean to do it. Or die trying.

My thoughts are random and haunting today, as they are for most holiday celebrations. I have no plans for the day, and I like it that way. I give myself the space to hurt, but also enjoy. And today I'll be grateful that the world cries with me.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Back to Work

I suppose I should stop being surprised by the roller coaster of emotions I go through on a daily basis, following the loss of Easton. But I'm constantly amazed at how many conflicting feelings I can have in a 24 hour period. This is especially true since I recently decided to go back to work.

I often wondered how that would work exactly. I mean, how in the hell do you fit grief into a work schedule? Since the weather is changing, and my especially difficult season is coming, I've noticed, once again, that daily life has become more tiresome and painful. I guess I kind of expected that again this year, but this time I've added another layer. I'm working. My job involves caring for others. I still wonder how that's going to work some days. I recently had one of my truly awful days in which breathing was particularly painful. As hard as I tried to push past it and ignore the burning in my chest, I just couldn't do it. It was one of those days where even my skin wasn't enough to hold me together. I felt like one wrong move and I would go everywhere at once. The pain is so intense during moments like these and I have no choice but to succumb to the feelings.

I cried at work. Big, awful, crocodile tears in the break room. I couldn't stop them. The pain just leaked from my eyes as I sat trying to eat lunch. But you can't eat lunch when your body hurts like that. The sight of food is exhausitng. As I sat there, I contemplated what I should do next. Would I be able to pull it together long enough to care for my patients again? Was a 30 minute "break" a sufficient amount of time to release some of this pain? Should I go home "sick"?

That last one crosses my mind a lot actually. I suppose I'm not actually "sick"  but I can't think of a time in my life where my body physically hurt more than it does now. I guess I can't call it an illness, but God does it feel like one. One without a medication. One without a cure. I think about those times when I've been ill in the past and how that first day of feeling well again was so amazing. I've wondered what happens to those of us who can't "get better." There is no magic pill. I will be broken until I die. I will hurt with each breath I take.

I don't know what the answers are in those situations. I didn't go home sick that day. Maybe some other day I will. Who knows? I've decided that having all the answers is overrated  (and impossible). Instead, I had a conversation with a compassionate co-worker. I put my uneaten lunch back into its bag, and I stood up. My heart still ached in my chest and my lungs still burned at their struggle for a less painful breath, but I put my stethoscope back around my neck and I walked back onto the floor.

It's healing in many ways, this job I do. I see happy families learning life with their newest members. I talk with scared parents as they navigate their new role. I give pain medication for a pain that can actually be relieved. I love being a nurse, and it hurts me. I adore my job and it wears me out. It brings me great pleasure and intense pain. I suppose that's just what life is now. This is how it feels to be broken.

But, in a way I'm grateful for my brokenness. I'm a different nurse because of it, and I've enjoyed discovering myself in my new/old role. It makes me appreciate the good moments so much more. I'm grateful to my patients and coworkers for the brief distractions from my pain. I'm grateful to my body (flawed as it may be) for carrying me through those hellish moments and allowing me to take that next step. And I'm grateful to my son, whose spirit I can feel with such intensity each time I clock in,  that it sometimes takes my breath away. So, I guess I'll just keep clocking in. I'll probably keep crying. I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I'll probably continue to be caught off guard by the dips and turns of the roller coaster.

I'm grateful to my co-workers for their compassion and patience. I'm grateful to my husband for his constant support (and the flowers I came home to yesterday "just because I'm proud of you"). And I'm grateful to my patients for allowing this broken mother to care for them.

Friday, September 18, 2015

#NursesUnite

Unless you live under a rock, you have most likely heard about the recent issues surrounding nurses and some comments made by co-hosts of "The View".  Apparently, some things were said in a moment of ignorance, perhaps even disinterest.  It's caused quite the uproar.  And as a nurse myself, I have a reaction to this as well.

I'm actually grateful for the moment.  I think we all have periods of ignorance and we may have even made the mistake of voicing that publicly.  However, do any of us really know what other professions do with their day?  I have no idea what goes into a day in the life of a mechanic.  I couldn't pretend to understand the day to day goings on of a schoolteacher.  In fact, it would probably be rather enlightening to sit down with others from time to time just to catch a glimpse of who they are professionally.

And admittedly, I too felt that hair-raising sensation when I heard the pageant contestants scrubs referred to as a "nurse's costume" and her equipment called a "doctor's stethoscope". But, I think we have those kinds of reactions to things when we fear that there is an element of truth to how we're perceived.  As nurses, we do a lot of the grunt work.  We're also responsible for people's lives, their well-being, their overall health. And although all of that is obviously vitally important, we neglect to give ourselves and our co-workers the credit for our work.  We can be our own worst enemy at times.  I think we owe it to ourselves and our profession to take a look at why this outrage was felt on such a deep and personal level.  I believe we can do better, as a nursing community, to remind ourselves and our fellow co-workers, just how important our work has always been.

How do we do that?  We give credit where credit is due.  That means building each other up, and recognizing the hard work and compassion it takes to do this life-saving job.  And that means ALL of us, from the newest nursing student, to the chief nursing officer.  All of our jobs are vitally important.  I would encourage nurses to purposely engage in a conversation with a new nursing student.  They walk into a situation knowing very little about the day to day happenings, but are wide-eyed with desire to learn.  TEACH them.  Let's work hard to completely eradicate our self-inflicted "eat your young" mentality.  I don't know about you, but someday I'd like to be able to take a vacation.  And how does that happen?  Someone else is doing my job, while I take time off.  Part of being a good nurse means that we worry about our patients even when we're not clocked in for the day.  I personally want to know that if I do happen to take some time off, that my patients will be well taken care of by the new nurses coming to our units.  How do we do that?  We encourage one another.  We show them just what using a "doctor's stethoscope" means.  We ask them to be a part of our team.  We thank them for sharing our love of nursing, because let's face it, you can't do this job without passion.  The work is too hard to do simply to collect a paycheck.

Even the most cynical and negative person you work with is passionate about her job.  It may be habit for her to spout negativity, but as her co-worker, you see the compassion and care she gives to her patient at the bedside.  Remind her of that when you can.  And thank her for it.  It's also equally as important to build up the positive person.  She'll get wary after awhile, because the job is just hard.  It is. There are bad days, and we all know it.  Thank her for her contributions, for her positive attitude, and allow her a place to vent too.  And why not build up our administration?  Some of us can get awfully nit-picky about specific things happening within our workplace.  We do the "talk behind her back" grade school thing, and forget that at one time, that administrator was a new nurse.  She was wide-eyed and ignorant of the actual job, but filled with so much hope and compassion.  She has worked her way to a position that may have taken her from the bedside, but it didn't erase her compassion, or her ability to be a good nurse.  You may not always agree with the decision, but I guarantee that 99% of the time, the decision is made for the betterment of our jobs.

Conversely, administrative nurses must remember that feeling of fatigue after an extra shift.  They must remember what it's like to lose a patient and then try to work again the next day.  They must remember what it means to raise a family, while also providing excellent care to their patients while at work.  Build up your staff.  Let them know that you SEE them.  You recognize their fatigue and their hard work.  Hell, put on a pair of scrubs from time to time, and remember your roots, as they will reconnect you to your team.

So, what has a nurse done for me?  Oh, I could fill a book with that information.  When I had my first baby, it was a difficult and scary delivery.  Things were not going well at all.  It became a rather dire situation, in which a hysterectomy was possible.  I was 21 years old.  I was terrified. My family was terrified.  And do you know what I remember?  I remember Janeen.  I remember Sandy.  I remember their calm, compassionate faces.  I remember their quick thinking and excellent skill.  I remember getting to hold my baby for the first time, and because of their incredible knowledge and care, I would go on to experience that "first" three more times.  I thank Janeen and Sandy.

That delivery stunned my son, and resulted in him being quite ill for awhile.  But there were nurses there.  Nurses whose skills and knowledge eventually brought my son to my room and helped him to nurse for the first time.  A particular nurse was there to receive him and give him the necessary treatment he needed immediately after delivery.  Her name was Rose.  Thank you, Rose.

I had a miscarriage, and I was afraid and alone in the recovery room after surgery.  I remember opening my eyes and seeing a face I didn't recognize.  But it was a kind face.  Her name was Wendy, and she held my hand and with tears in her eyes, told me that she was sorry for the loss of my baby.  I thank Wendy.

And then of course there is my boy.  My sweet, precious Easton.  The nurses who made an impact on this child's life are immeasurable.  In our hometown hospital, I remember Carla, and Crystal and Libby.  We became repeat offenders to the pediatric unit, and seeing their faces always brought a sense of peace. I remember Becky.  My phone call to her would be the first of many.  Her continued excellence in the care of my son and my family is inspiring.  When we had to travel to St. Louis Children's hospital, I saw a level of nursing care that I never knew existed.  I continue to be in awe of the knowledge and skill level of these men and women.  I remember Danielle, Lindsey, and Maggie.  I remember Sarah and Ericka.  I recall countless other faces that brought such relief in the most horrific time of my life.  I watched as Lindsey administered pain medication at my request, as my son took his last breath in my arms.  How do you thank someone for that?  I'm not sure I'll ever know.  But, I thank you. All of you.

Nurses are integral parts of the healthcare system.  Without us, it would not survive.  Without our compassion, our dedication, our sore feet, our tired eyes, our constant worry for people we don't even know, it would cease to exist.  I encourage you to remind a nurse just what he/she means to you.  We love to hear that our work hasn't gone unnoticed.  And fellow nurses, instead of just anger at the ignorance, let's do what we do best.  Let's teach them.  Let's show them.  Let's strengthen our profession by empowering one another and educating the public about our work.  If that means using a "doctor's stethoscope", so be it. If it means donning our "nurse's costume", we can do that too.  But do it with the kindness and compassion that you were born to share. #NursesUnite

Saturday, August 15, 2015

One Desk Short

It's coming. God, it's coming. The first day of school. I guess I was right about one thing...that first day is going to be hard. What I didn't know was why. The first day of every school year is hard. Now with social media, that day is full of pictures of kids dressed and ready for the day. ALL of their kids. That's the part that burns. It actually causes a physical reaction. My stomach will be in knots and it will feel as if someone is holding a lit match to my chest all day long.

I really wanted to feel the "burden" of buying school supplies for four children this year. I wanted so badly to complain about my empty nest and how time has flown and my baby has grown up. I realize now what a gift that complaint would have been. It used to anger me when people complained about things I no longer had the privilege of experiencing. Time has changed anger to encouragement. I say to those who get to experience the gift of this "last" to complain away! Do it. It's a gift you're being given. I'm not saying I'll receive it well, but that should never deter someone from having their own unique experience. I know the stab and twist of pain associated with the first day of school will come. But that's MY gift. It's my perspective and my experience.

Easton should be entering kindergarten this year. Most mothers who have lost children at a young age will tell you that this particular missed milestone is a big one. We notice the children of those mothers whose bellies were swollen right along with us. We see them with their new haircuts, their backpacks that look too big on their little bodies. We see their hesitancy at leaving mom's side. That burns. It causes such a fire inside that we will wonder if others can actually see the flames. We'll be simultaneously happy for them and crushed for our own missed opportunity.

So, dear teacher, this year you will be one student short. He would have had loose curls and brilliant blue eyes. He likely would have been ornery and I would have to apologize for his sheepish, guilty grin. He probably would have needed some extra help and I probably would have been a permanent fixture in your classroom. He would have been kind and loving. He would have been inclusive and brave. He would have held my hand to the door, but then let go willingly to try something new. He would have been amazing. And I'm sorry that you will not have the opportunity to teach him, because he would have had plenty to teach those around him. Teacher, I will watch your class this year from afar. I won't be signed up to bring in the snacks. I won't volunteer at class parties. And you won't see me at the parent/teacher conference. But I will still feel the ups and downs of your school year. I will watch silently as the five year old babies become 6 year old children. I thank you for your willingness to include me and my son in the ways that you already have. I know this year will get very busy. You'll have plenty to do, and time will fly. But, selfishly, I beg of you not to forget that you are one backpack, one set of gym shoes, one desk short. And that my broken heart will be with you and this very special class of 2028.

Happy first day of kindergarten, my precious boy.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I'm Sorry You're Here

It's dark down here in this hole I've grown accustomed to calling "home." Its cold and dark. Sometimes it's quiet and sometimes you can hear the screaming for miles. It's crowded too. But, in some sort of sick and twisted trick of the universe, there will always be room for one more. I wish no one else ever had to come down here, but they do. And we recognize them as they join us.

For the first few days they'll be in such a bizarre tunnel of disbelief that they almost seem energized at times. This couldnt be happening. It isnt real. You can see the utter denial in their faces and body language. That denial is periodically pierced with realization and the stabbing pain it causes them is so powerful that it resonates through all of us. Our wounds are reopened at the sight of fresh agony.

It's an awful club, with forced membership and a lifetime sentence. We are the mothers whose children have left this earth before us. We recognize one another by the vacancy of our eyes. We hurt for one another on a level understood only by us. And we wish with our whole being that our numbers would never grow. But inevitably, they do...one more thing for which we have no control. We are powerless to spare another mother of this horror. So, we learn to live with our pain and lean on one another as we try to remember reasons for breathing.

And so I say to the newest members, the ones stumbling around in the dark of this place, certain that they are alone...we're here. We're here and we're hurting too. We're broken and in pain and at some point during your flailing about, you'll reach out and bump into one of us. We'll offer love and support, but never a fix. We know this can't be undone. The pain can't be removed. In fact, your pain will reignite in us, that same horrifying agony that we see in your eyes. But despite the pitch black that you see before you now, I can offer this...there will eventually be the smallest glimmer of light down here. There is a ladder that will take you out when you need to see the sun for a moment. Don't worry, you won't get there too quickly and you'll even stumble back down a few times on your way up. But there are hands to hold as you climb both ways, because if you'll notice, during your flailing, you ran into us. It's because we still need to be here sometimes. We need the feeling of solitude and the odd comfort of our new friend, grief.

Although it seems impossible to you now, you will find the ladder someday. Reach for those who have gone before you. They know the way. But for right now, scream. Hit things. Hurt. Be angry. Be LIVID. I am so sorry for your pain, dear sister. It's one I wish I would never have to share. I will see you in the dark, even if you can't see me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Don't Lick The Light Socket"

I've been doing some "stuff" lately. Stuff that looks an awful lot like living. That can be all-at-once, thrilling and scary, gratifying and guilt-provoking. Regardless, it's been happening...more and more "stuff".

I recently decided that grieving is a lot like being reborn. I found that thought ironic because the beginning absolutely felt like an end, my own death in many ways. I was so confused by the fact that I took another breath after my son took his last. It was a new breath, a broken one, but a breath all the same.

So, in its infancy, grief looks strikingly similar to a newborn. You spend much of your time crying out and flailing about aimlessly. You see things around you but you don't comprehend them. You babble incoherently, and do vritually nothing to ensure your own survival. Essentially, as far as functoning human beings are concerned, you're useless. It's the people around you who contribute to your successes in the quest for survival, not you.

Well, currently I feel like a toddler. I'm figuring out that if I pull up on things and let go of ledges for just a moment, I can sometimes get places on my own. But, like most toddlers, I'm falling a lot during these first steps, and I anticipate many more bruises.

I talked to a friend today on the phone and told her as such and her responose was epic. She said, "well, welcome to toddlerhood. Don't lick the light socket." I laughed out loud, as I often do when talking to her and thanked her for the encouragement. She then added, "you know, it may only look like you're licking the light socket. Maybe you're actually plugging in the vacuum cleaner. But I guess, if you do that, you'll have to vacuum. I'll let you decide if that's a win." Yes, she's a genius, this friend of mine, and I love her for it.

So, as I stumble through my toddlerhood and likely fall more times than I walk, I am trying to remember that I have at least moved past infancy. And although I imagine there will be times that I revert back, I will have at least taken a few more steps along the way.

Maybe these next steps will be great ones. Maybe they'll be the ones that lead to running.

Then again, maybe I'm just licking a light socket.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Leave It To Pixar...

Leave it to Pixar to explain my feelings better than I'm able to do myself.  If you haven't seen the new movie "Inside Out", I encourage you to see it.  It applies to everyone with its excellent description of the emotions within all of us. For me, it helped to give a voice to my own roller coaster of crazy.

I experience so many feelings throughout the course of the day, and all of them stem from my grief in one way or another.  But, that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm "sad."  In fact, I'm never just "sad."  It's true that I have really awful moments in which the pain of my grief threatens to swallow me up and propel me into some kind of dark abyss. However, it's also true that I have incredibly joyous moments.  In fact, I don't believe I had experienced true happiness in a moment until I lost my child.  That sounds very strange, and writing it even feels wrong, but then...it's true.

The thing is, I'm everything all at once.  It's exhausting, but it's also just the way that it is now.  I have incredible moments with my family in which I'm so humbled and grateful for the experience, but simultaneously angry and hurt at the piece that is missing.  One emotion does not negate the other, and I believe they're both equally important to the process. In fact, I think you NEED one to accompany the other.

I think at the beginning of this journey, I too, believed that there was only room for one emotion. For instance, anger couldn't have a partner, and I was confused when it did. It felt "wrong" to be angry and happy at the same time, and not at the hands of anyone else. That feeling of shame came from my biggest critic...me.

I have never before appreciated the happy moments in life with such depth and gratitude, but I think it is BECAUSE of the pain that accompanies the joy. Each moment I experience with my other children feels like a stolen gift, and one that will always be tainted by the loss of my son. On the other hand, his absence makes me appreciate their presence that much more.  They're such incredible little people, and I feel as though I can see that much more clearly from my new "grieving mother" perspective.

My husband and I are still navigating each day as it comes. Some days are good, and some just aren't. Sometimes we take turns, and other times we've both got nothing left. We can now recognize the moments of pain in one another and are occasionally able to attend to the needs of the other person. And sometimes, we can't. What we have seems deeper, stronger, and ironically more broken than ever before. Broken, but not shattered. And maybe we each have enough broken pieces to put them together and create something new.

I know that our lives will always carry with them, the burden of pain and loss. But I also know that though some days that burden will be more than I can bear, sometimes it will be that thing for which I am most grateful.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

One Whole Hand

I remember when your brother turned five. He was so excited to be "one whole hand." Five. It seems so much older than four. I wonder what you'd look like? Would you be excited about starting school in the fall? What bookbag would you choose? Would I fall in line with all the other mothers who are "mourning" the last days of their youngest baby being at home with them? I'm certainly mourning, but I wish with my whole heart that it were for that reason.

Sometimes it's hard not to be angry with you, to feel cheated. I know that isn't rational, but grief doesn't really care about that. I'm hurt that you left. I know you had no control over that, but I guess the pain has to go somewhere. I'm angry that instead of feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to work now that my last baby is in school, I'm trying to figure out whether I'll ever be stable enough to do so again. Lately, I've been thinking that answer is probably yes. That doesn't necessarily feel good though. But then I remember that very few things feel wholly "good" or "right". Everything brings this underlying layer of pain or in some ways even worse, ambivalence. It's difficult to be passionate about anything these days. The attempt to do so seems futile.

However, I will say to you, as your fifth birthday approaches, that although we may have no idea what to get you for your birthday, the gifts you've given us have been immeasurable. As we were all crammed in the car the other night, coming home from various activities, I was struck once again by our good fortune. We had been running around all night, chasing your brother and sisters. And why? Because we can. They're healthy. They have friends.

Without you, I would still be trying to "control" nearly every aspect of my life. I would still be obsessed with making life as easy as possible for your siblings. I would still think it was my job to protect them from everything. You changed that for me. That's a gift one can't fully accept on their own. That came from you. Because of your life, your existence, your illness, your death, I KNOW that it isn't my job to "control" anything. Instead, I just get to live. I get to watch your siblings grow and learn, and I do so without fear. I do so without the idea that I need to protect them. All I do is love them as they go along. I watch them as they learn some of the things I already have, as well as teach me the things I could have never learned without them. I thank you for that.

I realize more and more with each passing day how very lucky I am to be your mother. You've taught me strength, generosity, humility, pain, and absolute, unconditional love. I would give it all up to smell your soft curls as I wrap my arms around you one more time, but knowing that this can't be, I'm simply grateful.

Your birthday always brings with it, a new type of pain. It burns and stings and I barely make it through the day. The support of friends and family, and their understanding that this day simply has to be set aside for that pain, is what gets me through it. So tomorrow, as we try to navigate the day, as we send up your 5 lanterns, as we hug and hold one another, send us a sign that you see us and feel our pain. Let us know that you're celebrating too. Know that we miss you with every breath, that we love you with each heartbeat, and that we celebrate your gifts to us on this day that you turn, "one whole hand."


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Broken Mother's Memory

As per my usual, I've been awake for hours and it's only 5 am. My mind has my body trapped in that place where the past meets a future that will never exist. It's  a funny thing, the grieving mother's "memory". At first, all I could think about were those last hours. The sights, the smells, the sounds...post traumatic stress at its finest. Eventually, mixed with those gut gripping moments, came memories of happier times. But all of that somehow gets jumbled now with thoughts of a future that my forever baby can never have. It's as if time doesn't exist in the broken mother's memory, at least not time as we know it.

He's going to be 5 soon. Five sounds so much older than 4. That probably has something to do with the fact that a 5 year old is now a school-aged child. I've  never seen my son at 5 years old. And I never will. I won't see him try to carry a backpack that's bigger than he is. I won't see him learn to tie his shoes or read his first sentence from a book. That doesn't make any sense, so I think my mind creates those moments for me. It's like a "memory" from a future that will never exist. Just as I get flashes of the past, I see moments that have never happened as if I'm remembering them in some bizarre, reverse order.

Today is Mother's Day. I'm not a fan of this particular day, but add it to the list of days I wish I could sleep through. I need one more macaroni and fingerprint portrait to make it complete, but it won't come. I need a dandelion bouquet full of ants thrust in my face from the pudgy hand of a preschooler. Maybe today, my broken mother's memory will flash to a time when that happens. Maybe for a split second, that curse/gift of life without time, will take me to a place where I don't have to question my status as a mother of four.

My stomach turns in knots as I write. My brain races forward and backward and forward again. It's a broken mother's memory. It bends the rules of time. In an odd way, I'm grateful for this broken memory of mine. It goes well with my broken heart, and my lungs that don't quite take in enough air. It reminds me of the journey I'm taking. It reminds me that I am a mother in two worlds.

If only macaroni art and fingerpaint handprints could be delivered to both...

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Manual

Sometimes I wonder what it might have been like to have had a manual for this grief thing I'm doing, what it would be like to have one going forward. Of course, one couldn't have existed until now because no one is doing my journey but me. However, if one had existed, I wonder what that would have looked like? I assume that it would contain bullet points, simply because even short clips of information would have been too much for my brain. Maybe it would have looked something like this:

Well, you're here. I won't say "welcome" because that doesn't really suit your current situation. So, I'll just say that you're here.

-First of all, you're going to feel guilty about that. Just being here. You assume you shouldn't be. And that's ok. You'll feel that way for a long time.

-People will tell you that you aren't to blame and that you don't need to feel guilty. These are the people who love you. They're right of course, but it won't matter. You'll still feel it.

-That fire burning in your chest is all you can think about at the moment. It surprises you that it's actual, physical pain that you feel. You can point to the very spot beneath your breast where the heat is so intense that you're surprised that the skin and surrounding structures can endure it. Over time, little by little, as you scream and release pieces of the pain into the atmosphere, that burn lessens. It's never completely gone though, and down the road, there will be moments where it comes back with as much fury as the first day the fire was lit.

-It will be difficult to live in the world. People will not understand you and you will no longer understand them.

-Family will be the hardest. They are the symbol of what is missing. Of all of the people you interact with, these will be the ones whose entire families are laid before you. You will never question "why me?" with more gusto than when family is present. They will or won't understand. It means little to you now because your focus is on breathing and that fire that engulfs your lungs. You will continue the family struggle later, perhaps forever, because it's as if the earth has split and although the roads you travel may run parallel, they will never connect again. You will watch them from afar, and they you. They cannot understand you...you cannot understand them. This will have to be ok.

-Your marriage will hurt you. The person closest to you, the one who walked each awful step with you, will be the one you turn away. The sight of him will make your blood boil, and for reasons you can't even fathom. You'll discover later that this is normal. It will hurt like hell while it's happening. You won't understand it. He won't understand it.  And you'll be powerless to change it.  Somewhere along the way, something will shift and you'll realize that although you thought you'd been traveling alone for some time, it was just that you couldn't see the person walking beside you. The tears had made that impossible. He'll be there. You'll be there. Different versions of both of you, but you nevertheless. And despite the changes, when you reach for his hand, yours will still fit.

-You'll be hurt by things you don't want to affect you. You'll want to be strong enough not to turn away from the woman in the grocery store who is pushing her cart full of diapers and baby food, while trying to distract the child in front of her in the seat. But there will be times when you simply cannot smile at her. The intensity of the flame will surely outlast your desire to be social, as the old you would have been. It's ok to turn away. It won't feel ok, but it will be ok.

-You'll be asked to attend things that grief doesn't allow for. Weddings, birthday parties, showers, family dinners, and gatherings in general will simply be something you can't do. That will feel foreign to you, and may evoke anger in others, but it won't change the truth. Try to give yourself some compassion when those things come along and you can't "make" yourself go.

-You'll be asked why you can't attend. That will be difficult, simply because even having to explain why will hurt. They won't understand. You won't understand how they couldn't, and it will hurt. That will have to be ok too.

-Your kids. Right now they're breathing reminders of what was lost. Your heart breaks for them, but is too focused on its own pain to do much about that. Little by little, you'll get back to them. Friends will help. They'll step in and be the mom you can't for awhile. It's ok that you don't have the words to thank them. They already know.

-Sometimes when you think you're "done" for the day, one of your children will come back in from their beds to cry and ask tough questions. "Why didn't you fight harder?! Why did you give up?! We should have done more! Why wasn't it me instead?!" You'll answer the questions you can, and love through the ones you can't. It will break you all over again. But, when you check on her later in her bed, and the tears on her face have almost dried as she sleeps, you'll softly whisper a thank you. You'll thank her for saying the thing that screams through your mind every day. You'll thank her for causing you to say out loud, the reasons that your decisions were the most loving.

-Your children. They'll be such a source of pain, but that pain is mixed with a beauty that you honestly would have missed before. They're stronger than you could have guided them to be on your own. They're more compassionate than you could have modeled for them. They're more loving than you could have hoped. Yes, they are broken, but beautifully so. Try not to miss out on that beauty. Watch for it through the flames if you have to, but don't miss it.

-There could be a hundred bullet points here. It could go on forever. Your grief will, in one way or another. Honor the process, no matter where it takes you, and realize that there IS a manual. Its pages are out of order, its contents messy, but it does exist. You are writing it as you go...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Nothing

Remember that kid's movie, circa 1984, that featured a young boy, mythical creatures, and special book that transported its reader to an alternate reality? It was called The Neverending Story, and this is what I thought the movie was about at the time. I recently watched it again with my children just to share a bit of my childhood, and I realized that I hadn't a clue what message was actually being conveyed.

The movie is about grief. The young boy has just lost his mother. He lives with his father who is clearly hurting and is trying to raise his son without his partner. Of course I knew that grief played a role in the plot, but I'd had no idea just how intricately woven with pain it had been. I couldn't have, partly because I was a child but more importantly because I had never experienced profound grief myself.

As I was watching with my children, I began to wonder which character I was playing in our own never-ending story.  Was I the grieving father? No, I don't often hide my pain and I'm terrible at "pushing through" and ignoring it. Am I the child? No, I didn't lose a parent and the grief is different for those who have. I certainly wasn't the eccentirc book store owner, so who was I? The kids really started getting into the movie, and as children often do, they began asking questions about what was happening. That's when it hit me. I knew who I was. I am The Nothing.

In the movie, The Nothing is what every character is trying to avoid. They're trying to outrun it. What they don't know, throughout the interactive story, is that The Nothing isn't a being to be outrun. It is a force within them. It's the threat of being swallowed by grief. It is portrayed as all things devoid of color and light. It is...Nothing.

I say that I'm The Nothing, not to be melodramatic, but because it makes the most sense to me. My loss has turned me inside out and upside down. I no longer recognize myself, and no matter how hard I try to ignore it and push it down, that new part of me cannot be denied. It cannot be reversed, and it will not be quieted. What I mean to say is that many of my actions and reactions are unrecognizable to me, not only in the capacity that it's foreign to the "old me", but also in that it rarely seems human. I don't respond to situations the way that other people around me do, and I understand why, but that knowledge doesn't make it easier to feel like an outsider.

We recently got a family dog, and he ran away a few days ago. Let me tell you how this scenario goes down for The Nothing. I love my dog, and he's more "my" dog than anyone else in my family, but as I watched those around me react to his disappearance, I began to feel like something may be wrong with me. I received many condolences and offers of help to find him, and while I'm very grateful for the kindness of others, I was clearly not as distraught as even complete strangers were. Some people talked about how scary it is when your pet is lost. While I certainly understand that it would be a difficult situation for many people, I couldn't ever find that particular emotion for myself. Fear? No, I did not feel fear. At least not in the way that I've known in my life. This is not to say that someone else's emotions about a lost pet are wrong. This is not an evaluation of other people's feelings. It's simply a description of my grief process and the ways in which it has changed my life.

My youngest daughter, Morgan, was very upset about his running away, as he was actually her Christmas gift. I tried to console her, but I am incapable of telling her that everything will be fine when I couldn't possibly know the outcome. Furthermore, she's smarter than that. She's grieving too after all. She knows that she can't always have the thing she wants. She knows this at 7. And while I wish every single day that this weren't true, I cannot deny it. I knew what she was actually fearing when her dog left. She feared what I did. We felt that old familiar pang of helpless, hopeless loss. She missed her brother. She begged to have her dog back, but he wasn't who she was asking me for. I know this because only a week before we'd sat together on the couch and screamed and cried for the boy we love. She begged and pleaded with me to return her best friend. She needed him back. Couldn't she "have just one more day, Mommy? I'll be the best big sister."

And guess what? Our dog is back. He came back. Of course I'm happy that he's here, but goddammit it shouldn't have been that easy. Not when my son will never show up on my doorstep. "Praise God he's back"? No. Not here. Not in this house. I certainly hope that God didn't have anything to do with the return of my dog. We needed something much more soul-repairing in this house of The Nothing.

This may end up being the most spoiled dog on the planet. I play with him and he cuddles with me every day. But, when you are The Nothing, there isn't a single thing on the planet that can penetrate that darkness. And this is where the movie loses me. It seems as though The Nothing is deemed "bad" or as if someone were "giving up". I don't see it that way. I think The Nothing is inevitable, and that by navigating in the darkness we learn some powerful things about ourselves. It doesn't make us "better." I don't believe that word will exist for me, but it's part of the process, a part I believe should be embraced and not feared.

Regardless of whether or not I even wanted to "escape" this part of my process, it isn't possible. I can fight it (although I've got no fight left) or I can acknowledge it as part of me. I choose the latter because I'm tired, and because I've learned too many times over that I can "want" all kinds of things and even work hard to achieve them and come up empty. This is not to be confused with pessimism. I'm really not a gloom and doom person. I simply feel as though I live in a different reality. This makes living a human life with human relationships difficult of course. I'm living my own never-ending story. Not my friend's, not my family's, mine. And at this point in the film, I prefer my darkness. I prefer my process. I prefer a land devoid of judgment and outside influence. After all, I am...The Nothing.