Child Loss

Walmart

Two weekends ago sitting on the deck of my sister’s cottage in Michigan, both of us just staring out into the calm lake, my sister says to me, “I don’t know how you guys do this.” I knew without asking what this is. So we went through how I thought each of us, me, my husband and Nick and Gina were getting by and my sister saying a few times something like, “I can imagine what you are going through and just thinking about it terrifies me. I don’t know how you do it.” I don’t remember because I was in tears by then, but I probably ended the conversation with “I don’t know either.”

Just an innocuous little trip to Walmart this morning, to pick up a few things for our 4th of July cook-out, convinced me that I am skirting crazy. After putting the case of Lime-a-Rita in my cart, I was actually picturing ways that I could end this misery that I am in. My God, I thought, it’s so hard to walk the aisles of Walmart, and through this life, acting as if I’m OK while the wishing away of my life continuously swirls through my head. Walking past the men’s section, the vulnerable, broken me literally felt like I was shrinking inside myself, just so my mind did not remember Ben and me, in that section two summers ago when he was home visiting, stocking up on his socks and underwear for him to take back to Kansas with him. Vulnerable, broken me….with that vicious sword taking aim at my heart near the men’s section of Walmart. Waiting in line at the cash register, I noticed a few teenage girls joking and laughing with each other. The anger and anguish immediately surged. Why Ben? He’s missing out on so much. And checking out and me saying to the nice young man ringing me out, “Thank you. Have a nice day!” solely by rote convinced me that I don’t have a handle on this as those crazy thoughts continued in my head as I said my pleasantries. I’m convinced I don’t lead a simple double life. Every minute is filled with such deep and unrelenting pain that I’m convinced there are about 16 of me in this one little body. 16 different souls trying to survive this any way that I can. So I loaded the groceries in my car, watching the rest of the world going by without me in the parking lot, and headed home. And I put that smile on my face, cooked up the bacon for its later crumbling while talking with Nick and his girlfriend, as I continued in my head with “How are you going to do this? You can’t continue like this. You have decades of life without Ben. I can’t do this…..I don’t know how to handle this depth of pain day after day.” Or do I? Perhaps I do, because I had just walked through the aisles of Walmart acting as if I was OK. No one looked at me as though I was strange. I’m doing OK …. in their eyes. It seems I was the only one who knew I was skirting crazy as I pushed my cart through the aisles of Walmart.….trying to do this.

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Dear Husband,

I know I will never attempt to convey these thoughts and feelings to you face to face because as soon as I open my mouth, the pain will take over and the tears will fall. So, I shall put into words what my heart is feeling.

As you know, it’s never come easy to me…..that ability to lay my head upon my pillow and fall fast asleep. You’re able to, but it’s always been a challenge for me to turn it off at the end of the day. Laying in bed beside you one night last weekend evoked strong feelings in me, so strong that they are still with me nearly a week later. After more than 33 years of marriage, there is nothing novel about lying next to you as you fall asleep, but on that particular night I was given the gift of understanding, feeling the true meaning of love and compassion toward another soul.

I laid beside you that night and watched you sleep as the moon shone through the skylights, listening as your breathing fell into that relaxed rhythm. I gave myself just a few minutes to lay in the dark, the world still around me, knowing that inevitably the torment and tears would start the longer I laid there. I held them at bay as I watched you sleep. As I looked back and caught brief glimpses of our long life together, you laid there looking vulnerable, a look not seen on you during the day, and so peaceful. And I was so comforted to watch you in that state because peace is such a slippery illusion these days, isn’t it? You rarely talk about it, but I know your days are like mine. Tormented. Sad. Filled with such feelings of longing for Ben as we continue to do what we’ve always done, adding the chore of striving to appreciate the many joys in our lives while coping with the sadness we have been slapped with. We go through the same motions each day, every day as we try to live without our son. And I realized, as I watched you sleep that night, that there is a connection between us that can never be broken, an understanding, an awareness of our mutual, often unspoken feelings. Sadly, we have been pierced by the same sword. And though yours may be of different shapes and different sizes than mine, I know the pieces of our broken hearts lay scattered together, co-mingled, some of them indistinguishable one from the other, as we begin to pick them up, to piece ourselves back together the best we can.

So, as I watched you sleep that night, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of at least momentary comfort knowing that you were at rest, after another long day, having successfully chased the demons away as you managed to fall asleep. Peace for you. The tenderness and protectiveness I felt toward you was indescribable. The feeling of “we’re in this together” so strong as I realized how grateful I was that you were able to sleep, to escape. I got out of bed and went to sit in front of the TV, for noise, for anything to distract me from my reality. I needed to run from the dark, still night and the prickly, desperate feelings that were descending upon me again. I let you sleep peacefully, my love, as I left our bed.

MAY MADNESS

I’m getting good at doing ordinary. So good at it that someone actually said to me a few weeks ago: “I thought you were all better.” Good job, eh? So I had an ordinary day. Worked in the morning, had my weekly lunch with Nick, doctor’s appointment with my husband, dinner, and a bit of grocery shopping to end the day. Everything was ordinary in my office today too. Business as usual. No one mentioned and I gave no indication that one year ago today my son’s funeral was held.

I knew today was going to be a bad day. I didn’t work last Wednesday, April 30. I’ll never work another April 30 in my life. That day has become Ben’s day. But I can’t take off every day that I know is going to be a rough day, so I was at work.

You know, you can talk to me and it seems as if I am there. But I’m not all there. Or always there. I can give you an appropriate response, but I bob in and out. Most of the time what you say to me registers, at least fleetingly, but then I go back into my psychic cocoon where every thought is “Ben”. It’s like a big roll of movie film that keeps playing in my head. His life. My pain. There’s always a thought of Ben playing in my head, in the background, while the rest of the world swirls around me.

I spent a good chunk of the day, when I did not have to participate, thinking about how life changes. Joys and sorrows. May has always been a special month. I met my husband on May 10 and we got married on May 16 six years later. And there’s Mother’s Day. But I was thinking about early May last year. While those around me probably assumed I was doing fine (because I’m getting good at doing ordinary), I was thinking about contrasts.

May 10, 1975 – My husband and I met on a blind date. I don’t have any pictures from that day, but I do have the shirt he wore on our first date nearly 4 decades ago. I saved that shirt, like I’ve saved so many things that have sentimental value to me.

May 7, 1995 – My son Ben was 9 and made his First Communion on this day, which date jumped out at me one day last summer when I was looking at some pictures and some of my kids’ “stuff” that I had saved. I came across the church program for Ben’s First Communion. I remember sitting on the floor–seeing the date, May 7, sent me “there”, that place that has become the crushing zone since Ben died. I have a lot of pictures from May 7, 1995, that joyous day, as well as the program, one of the invitations and a napkin from Ben’s party, the decoration from his cake top and the crafts he had made in PSR in the months leading up to his First Communion. Sentimental value.

May 7, 2013 – My son Ben was 27 and his funeral was held in the same church on the same day as his First Communion had been…. only 18 years later.  I don’t have any pictures from May 7, 2013. I don’t want any. I don’t need any. Memories from that day have been chiseled upon my heart. The funeral home. The church. The hearse leaving the church and me running out onto the sidewalk to watch my 27-year old baby being taken away, away from me, down the same street that I had driven down hundreds of times with Ben in the car with me. I don’t need any pictures from that day. I remember.

May 10, 2013 – The funeral home called to tell me Ben’s ashes had been returned, 38 years to the day that my husband and I had met on a blind date. Who would have envisioned such sorrow? Back in 1975, I was simply infatuated with the boy I had just met and ignorant of the sorrows of the world. I don’t have any pictures from May 10, 2013. I don’t want any. I will forever remember returning from the funeral home and having to be “carried” into our house as I brought Ben’s ashes home. 38 years to the day that his dad and I had met.

Contrasts. Joys and sorrows. Cruel reality playing over and over in my head. I try to convince myself that I am “getting better”….I’m not going mad……all while I am getting good at doing ordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

DEBRIS

April 30, 2014. As I sit here on this dark morning as the rain clouds hug the tree tops, I look back upon the last year of my life and realize that over the next few hours I will be living the lasts of my firsts. Ben died on April 30, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.  One year…….

We are just coming out from under a long, unusually harsh winter here in northern Ohio. As the hyacinths pass their beauty to the tulips anxiously awaiting their chance to steal the show, I realize I’ve spent the last few days thinking about how to pick up the pieces after the big storm. It was hard to motivate myself to get out into my yard as I watched winter turn toward spring, but I spent a few hours last Sunday afternoon picking up branches and twigs, raking those errant leaves from my flower beds and pruning the dead stalks from my perennials and bushes. As I went from one section of my yard to the next loading a wheelbarrow with the debris, I thought about others who were probably doing the same. Doing so serves a dual purpose. We’re left with a sense of accomplishment and also realize that our efforts are pleasing to the eyes of others. If only picking up the pieces of a broken heart were that easy. Pick up the pieces and put on your best face. But it’s not simple like that. I can put on my “best” face, at times, but there’s no way to ever totally clean up this debris, this shrapnel that has been left behind after my heart has been broken. I love and miss Ben with every ounce of my being!

 

 

ON MY WAY

You ever jump behind the wheel of your car filled with excitement?  It doesn’t matter how many miles you have to drive, it could be thousands, but you are just so excited to be on this trip. You have your destination in mind. You’ve sacrificed and you’ve plotted and you’ve put all those little “X’s” on the map where you thought you might want to stop along the way. You know where you’re headed and you’re well on your way to There. And because you’ve told yourself so many times, it has become deeply ingrained in your brain that “it’s the journey, not the destination.” So you’ve enjoyed the moments, learned from your travels even through the storms, and with every mile along the way you’ve been graced with a memory as you’ve reveled in your journey.

So what happens when you’re almost to There and you’re jolted from your comfy seat?  When your map has been shredded and it lies at your feet in scattered bits on the floor? How do you find strength to continue on your journey to There when you suspect that There may no longer exist? Tell me, which direction do you head when you drive in circles to reach a destination that has now become an illusory icon that appears always out of reach?  And, if you can still remain faithful to the idea that it’s the journey, not the destination, where do you find the strength to continue on your journey when what you see before you is one dark tunnel after another, with a tease of light here and there? How do you convince your tired soul to remain on this circuitous route while nearly every mile now exhales a memory that takes another nip at your already broken heart, as you strive to reach that phantom destination?  I know, I know, I know. I preach to my brain every minute of every day. I’m digging up some strength….. somewhere, somehow.  But some days I am just so weary as I struggle on my way to find peace  and acceptance. I miss Ben so much!

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THESE FEW WORDS SPEAK VOLUMES

On December 17, Ben’s birthday, I found this quote. Cami was here visiting. I read it to her and her response was the same as mine….”It says it all….” I typed it up and printed it on fancy paper. It hangs on the wall amongst Ben’s pictures. I could ramble, as I always do, as I try to explain my feelings to others. I do indeed have so much to be thankful for, and I really do know that with every breath of my being, but I hope these few words will help others understand the depth of my pain and the feuding that occurs within as I take each breath:  I am so very, very happy and grateful for who I have, while simultaneously so desperately sad and heart-broken because of who I don’t have with me……Ben.

………………

AND CAN IT BE, IN A WORLD SO FULL AND BUSY, THE LOSS OF ONE CREATURE MAKES A VOID SO WIDE AND DEEP THAT NOTHING BUT THE WIDTH AND DEPTH OF ETERNITY CAN FILL IT UP?         Charles Dickens

These few words speak volumes.

SAGE ADVICE?

I’ve cut them down, chopped them off. Year after year, I’ve done that.  And each time, with each one I chop off at the knees, I get an overwhelming sense of sadness. But the time comes when I’m done with them….cut them off and toss them out. They no longer hold beauty for me. But as I do it, year after year, my mind is always overtaken by the memories spent amongst them, of the people and the happy times shared. Those bittersweet memories of moments I know can never be recaptured. And as I purge them, one by one, time after time, I’m always conscious that I can’t spend all my days basking in sunshine. Times goes on. I change. You change. Everything eventually withers and dies as the darkness comes early. Each day has its end. It always does. The landscape becomes barren. And then I withdraw and I hibernate with myself, looking out and looking in. My mind always darker as I ask myself how much longer I can go on, continue to live in this landscape devoid of sunshine and the evidence of life.

The past few weeks have been some of the darkest I’ve had to live through since Ben died. Don’t know why, but I believe I may be coming out of my “shock” and really having to search for strength to get out of this darkness, back in the game. I was asked the other day if I could see anything beneficial, if I had any thought that might help me, about these dark days that I am living in, as I withdraw from the people around me, shielding myself from the world, feeling alone. Ironically, that question was posed to me just a few hours after I began to think of myself as a perennial flower. No, contrary to what my kids might think, I am not narcissistic. I don’t stand in front of my mirror, looking fondly upon the person staring back at me, thinking of myself as a beautiful flower. Quite the opposite. You know me, I have this crazy mind that plays these dissociation games with “me” because I often can’t fathom or handle the depth of my pain. So I guess it seems easier to allow these visions to play out in my head, these visions of me as an “object” that can be examined and manipulated, persuaded or molded toward motivation.  Hmmmm.

So, in this crazy way, I envision myself as a perennial flower. I’ve spent many years out in my flower beds, planting, rearranging, admiring. And at the end of each summer, as the leaves start to turn and the nights fall earlier, I scurry to clean up the flower beds, pulling out the annuals, cutting back the perennials. Getting sadder as the next day becomes shorter, knowing a barren winter lies ahead. I fully anticipated being more depressed than usual this winter! No surprise – I hate winter to begin with and Ben died on April 30 last year, before all the perennials had burst forth after the long winter. Winter and the death of one of my babies. A horrific landscape to face day after day. I long to feel warmth and sunshine on my skin and more joy in my heart, as I hibernate day after day, praying that these cold dark days will soon end, both outside my house and inside me. As I walk around thinking, I realize that nearly every perennial, though cut down, chopped off at its knees time after time, does come back to life each spring. And the barren landscape that I so detest lends itself to rejuvenation, the gathering of strength, the promise of beauty returning after a long, dark winter, though just wisps of sunshine may be visible at times. Even the perennial that has spent many years tucked safely within the white picket fence, shielded from the worst of the storms, like I had been, can be abruptly uprooted, moved to a landscape totally foreign to it, buried under the suffocating darkness that gives it life, and still, at some time, in its new place on this earth, have its beauty re-emerge. It takes time…maybe a lot more time than anticipated. And maybe its beauty won’t be as prolific or as eye-catching as in the past, but hidden deep within the roots, somewhere, hibernating if you will, is a strength that brings that perennial back to life, allowing it to survive and perhaps even flourish in whatever corner of the garden it finds itself in. I hope. That’s all I can do as I dwell in this darkness of my life…..hope that I am rejuvenating, gathering strength. Holding onto the hope that I will and can move forward with the promise of spring as I emerge in my new place on this earth.

THE PERFECT RELEASE

I woke up Monday morning, as sad as could be. My first thought, as it has been every day since April 30, was of Ben. I immediately felt such miserable, intense grief and feelings of regret, as I questioned how much longer I could keep going on the way I am going. I don’t know why that second of awakening affected me so deeply for nearly four full days. It set the tone. But I functioned. I went to work. I took Nick out for our weekly lunch on Wednesday. I cooked and did paperwork at home. I talked with my family. I laughed. But I wasn’t me. I hid myself from everyone. Though I was out in the world, functioning like I’m supposed to do, I was a recluse. Wrapped up in my own head. As each minute went by during those four days, I sank deeper and deeper into myself, into my grief, lost in such blackness that really no one could reach me if they had tried. But no one knew that. So, driving home from work yesterday, the fourth day of such utter dark despair, I found myself sitting at the stop light by our house sobbing. Uncontrollable sobbing. Talking to Ben, telling him how much I missed him. I pulled in the driveway and Nick was there getting in his car to go pick up Papa Freddie. He walked up to my car as I was trying to pull myself together, because you know, I can’t let him see me in pieces. My crying makes people sad, and I don’t want anyone to be sad seeing me sad. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. This woman’s got it all together. She’s so strong. I’ve got my grief packaged away, compartmentalized in this tiny (really it’s a massive) box, tucked away where no one can see it, because that’s the way we’re trained. It’s amazing how quickly I picked up that there are very few people who I can be myself with. We have all been programmed toward silence. Keep it in, appear strong. But picture yourself, with such overwhelming grief, living 1440 minutes each day, the majority of them awake, with your grief pacing like a rabid creature in a cage. Back and forth it paces. Never resting. Always there. Fear and isolation build up when you see that creature staring you in the face all day long. Why do I put so much pressure on myself to be the perfect griever? When all it does is tear me to pieces? With no outlet, when I can’t let it out, I can do nothing but feel that creature inside me, waiting, pacing, ready to pounce, chew me up, to take what it can of me. But I leave it caged up, because I think it’s not fair to others to expose them to such a creature. What is wrong with me? Why do I feel responsible for what others feel? Because that’s who I am. I love deeply and I care deeply, so I DO NOT WANT OTHERS TO FEEL PAIN. But at what price? So, I wrote a little bit last night. I released some of my pain. That really helps, as incoherent as the words may be. I had been uncontrollably sobbing inside every waking minute for four days, much more than usual, until I started to write a little last night, all the while thinking that no one wanted to see me, hear me, listen to me and my grief because they are “uncomfortable dealing with my pain” (so I’ve been told). So it remains caged, “stuffed” and ready to be sprung when I see my therapist tomorrow for those 60 luxurious minutes of, “It’s OK, you can talk to me about anything and I won’t cut you off or tone you down or make you feel like you can’t be you because I am uncomfortable seeing your pain!” So, I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of those 60 minutes, knowing it will then be another 20,160 minutes until I can be the real me again, in 2 weeks.       

WITHOUT A GOOD-BYE?

Did you think that she left you, without a good-bye?
That she started to leave you, the day that he died,
As she was told to be strong, taught her feelings to hide?
Bet you didn’t notice and you couldn’t tell,
That with each passing day she slipped further into hell.
And you didn’t notice and you never knew,
That what once was one woman had now become two.
One so very good at pretending as she walked and she talked,
That you weren’t aware of the pain by which the other was stalked.
By the darkness that enveloped her each waking minute,
So cruel, so crushing, she had no choice but to live in it.
And as she weakened and crumbled and the deeper she fell,
She, on her own, realized there was no escaping this hell.
So she huddled in the corner, sad and alone,
Taught to be silent, and to cry on her own.
For eyes that don’t see, one woman is faithful and strong,
But that other woman, the real me, is so sad but not gone.

IN BALANCE OR IMBALANCED

It’s a fine line I’m walking here. But it’s not really a line. It’s more like a zig-zag, helter-skelter pattern that’s got me jumping from spot to spot so I can make it through each day. Today is Day 269.  I feel deep sadness each day and I purposely acknowledge deep joy each day. So am I in balance? I know if I were to ask those around me, Am I in balance?–big smirks would hit their faces, sympathy would flash in their eyes. Because those close to me know how badly I am hurting and how my mind is always screeching around corners. And stuttering and pinging, erratic as can be. They know I’m out there.  But they just smile at me. And I am comforted by them because they know I am a mess yet they are patient with me. They know I’m working the program, trying to get it. Not just totally wallowing. Trying to live while missing my baby. So how do you do that? When do you reach the point when you feel like you are doing more living and less just biding your time to get through each day, to reach the end of your life? Does the balance just slowly shift toward living, versus clinging to survival? (more…)