Family

THE GLASS HEART

Take me to the water when I am wounded and weary.

Let peace fill my empty spaces and let the water cleanse my wounds.

May my soul connect with the sad and lonely who live beyond my gaze.

May their sorrow become my sorrow and my pain become their pain.

May the waves become one heartache that reverberates from shore to shore.

(more…)

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HEY, VICTIM……

“You can be a victim in one situation but that doesn’t mean you are a victim in all situations. I’m just saying.”

Not positive, but I believe these words were directed toward me (in a sly way) after I expressed my hurt and disappointment in people in my life who I feel have not been there for me since Ben’s death. If they were meant for me, those words came from a person who I loved but have not spoken with in more than a year and a half. They hurt me deeply.

If I am allowed to be a “victim” in only one situation, I obviously became one on the day that Ben died. I supposedly used up my one chance then so I guess that means that I am to separate everything that has happened to me since Ben’s death, and who I now am, from the actual event as if the very essence of my being is not now or never could again be connected to the most tragic, most horrific, event of my life, the death of my child. I am who I am because of every single moment of my lifetime, so how could I possibly perform that separation? Can I flip a switch and say “all better”? And on what day in the past two years could I (should I) have made that disconnection? There you go, all better now…no more time for healing or grieving allowed. Go back retroactively to the day that your son died. Hit re-play and perform as if you are no longer and will never again be affected by his death since, by relating his death to your disappointment and hurt caused by people turning away from you after his death, you are portraying yourself as a victim. His death and your life thereafter are totally unrelated.

People need people–all of us do! I never imagined that one of my children might die before me and, when it happened, I never imagined that people whom I thought loved me would turn away from me. But that happened. If my expressing my need to be shown love leads one to believe that I am “playing victim,” so be it. I am not ashamed to say it. I am a grieving mom who needs love, and I am hurt and I react when you run away from me. Love me! Wouldn’t it be a great world if those words worked? Love me in my pain–in all of its sometimes grotesque ugliness–because maybe, just maybe, you might discover there is an even greater kindness within a broken heart, a compassion born from pain! You can choose to love me or you can judge me and condemn me as playing victim for expressing a need to be loved.

I’ve always been one tough cookie, a really tough one, but I will readily admit that I am now weak and also dependent on those around me to sometimes lift me up out of my darkness and depression. I also admit that there is now within me an innate sadness and despair that I struggle with every single day. But I fight to keep going. I fight to find joy. I fight to be strong for my two other kids and my husband and my grand-kids, even though I admit there are times that I don’t have enough strength to battle the manic voices in my own head or the ache in my own heart that wears me down to a nub. But I do it, each and every day. I believe showing our weakness and vulnerability is a sign of strength. Am I perceived as playing victim if I show that I am weak and saddened by my son’s death?

When Ben died, I told myself that I would not run away from my grief, that I could not bury it. I knew I would carry that sadness with me forever. The day I started to say these words out loud: “You will be sad every day of your life” was the day I gave myself the freedom to not pretend with myself, to not pretend that I could ever be “fixed.” Perhaps that was the day that the balance started to come back into my life. Accept you will be sad–try to balance that with joy. I have fought through some of the darkest days and darker nights just to overcome the very fierce desire to be done with the pain. Pure hell on earth, but I will not run from it, and I will not deny that the pain exists just so others don’t interpret me as playing victim. I hurt. I hurt to the very core of my being just as I am sure every other parent does who has to endure this pain. I am a victim of that. I admit it. It is what it is. I will not lie to me. I will not lie to you to pretend that I am not who I am. I laugh. I cry. I love. I hurt. I am human and who I am will always be affected by my son’s death. Everyone of us are what we have lived and what our own eyes and hearts perceive…and while I may give in to my grief, I will not give up on balancing the good in my life with my sadness.

I am not sorry for stating that I need people to love me, and I am not sorry for being genuine in my pain, even if that means I am perceived by some as playing victim.

If I have learned anything in life, I have learned that we should not judge a broken heart–for we will all have one some day, for one reason or another– and we will all need people to love us through our pain. I’m just saying.

SIDE STREETS

It was always clear cut. A straight shot to where she was going with only slight bends in the road. Be kind to others and cultivate a few deep friendships. Be a good wife so she could look back fondly at the road she had traveled, pat herself on her back and relax with her husband in the last years of her life—in that far away future that always held the promise of less stress and more comfort. And, because she knew how important it was to leave a wonderful legacy behind, and because she loved her kids so very much, she invested all of herself in her children. Her identity was connected to theirs. She was Ben’s mom, she was Nick’s mom and she was Gina’s mom. She lived her life for them because she simply loved being Their Mom!

She had grown up in a large family of eight kids in a small village of about 300. The simple life was hers. She was a small town girl who wanted that simple life for her own children. She lived by the philosophy of “Be good and life will be good to you.” And then he died, her 27-year old son Ben. And at this very moment she is acutely aware that the last time she touched her son and the last time she actually kissed his cheek, his skin born of her skin, was two years ago yesterday, the day of his funeral. Now, the reality is ever present that the straight shot to where she was going is gone. And, as she begins the third year of her life without her son, her child whom she loved more than she loved herself, she wonders, where is the simple girl now?

She opens her eyes every morning in the house that she has lived in for more than three decades. It’s her home and has been the home of her children since each of them was born, no matter where they lived as adults. Their home is filled with countless sentimental items, so many that some may wonder why she keeps them all. But those “things” portray the history of her life and the people in it and are tributes to her love for her children. Sadly, though, she’s now become familiar with the raw emotions that are often elicited by those objects. The familiar can now cause searing pain or create such a deep longing for what once was. A quick glance into a drawer holding a forgotten picture of Ben, smiling up at her, now holds the power to cut her as deeply as if she had taken a knife to her own skin. She may live among the familiar, but now the familiar is often feared.

Gone is the simple girl. She is gone. In her place stands a refugee, displaced from her “taken for granted” world and abruptly purged to a place of existence where no parent should ever be sent. Left standing alone with limited understanding from others, she is frequently handed platitudes, “You’re strong….You seem to be doing so good now….Be strong for your two other children…You will survive this.” And the small town girl listens as she is forced to exist in a converse and always complex world in a city of grief so massive that it drains her will every day. Why was this simple girl sent to wander the maze of a mammoth city, a city with streets as twisted and as gnarled as her emotions that now control her manic mind? The simple girl now thinks too deeply. She continues to grieve deeply with her every breath. How could she have been sent to this God forsaken place?

She is often reflective, totally oblivious to the bustle of life around her. She never planned for this place to be her home, but pretending to be elsewhere is not an option. She knows she cannot escape so she is resigned to enduring life in this barren concrete city whilst understanding that nothing in life is ever concrete. Sometimes she wanders listlessly through the streets of the city of grief, frightened by the concrete monsters that loom overhead. More forbidding obstacles she has never seen. Insurmountable, she tells herself. Will she ever find her way out of this cold concrete canyon? Will she ever return to even a semblance of her once simple life, where a thought was just a fleeting thought and not one with the power to become her master and control her emotions for days on end? Will there ever come a time when she can have a happy thought and not have it immediately followed with a sad thought like, look at what Ben lost when he left this world?

She walks in the valley of the concrete monsters that tower above her, all of them casting shadows on her, behind her, alongside her, no matter which direction she turns. Please just let me see the light, she begs, as she seeks a glimpse of the light beyond the formidable monsters. Let me see some light. And then the demons pounce on her, coming out of nowhere, with no warning, and attacking as she crosses the intersections of one street and one dark alley after the other as she tries to find her way out of the maze. They are vicious and unrelenting, those demons. Leave me alone, she screams, as she hurries past another dark alley that harbors the demons spewing out glimpses of her happy past.

She continues her trek down one side street after the other, dizzied from being turned this way and that in this gruesome maze of grief that has no end. She searches for what is no more. It is lost. She is lost. She struggles to gain a sense of direction. Which side street leads back toward the simple life she used to live? Somewhere in this maze, in this hopeless, hapless mess of side streets, she hopes to find peace. And she hopes beyond hope, if she ever does break free from the bottom of the canyon of concrete monsters that constantly shadow her with grief, that there will remain at least a tiny fragment of the person she used to be…..way back when.

As darkness descends upon another day, she longs for the innocent star-filled nights of long ago when she could see the stars and she believed, as she was told, that if you were good, life would be good to you. Her mind and her body have grown weary from waking to this maze every day, tired of walking the side streets in this barren concrete city of grief from dawn until the early hours of the next day. Day after day she continues to search for her way out, for her way back home.

But for now she is lost in the side streets of life.

TIME-HOP AND BUS STOPS

I slid the ham into the oven and looked at the post-it note. I need this list to tell me the next step in preparing Easter dinner since I’m definitely not in the moment. I was remembering the mad rushes as we hurried our handsome little boys with their slicked back hair so we wouldn’t be late. They were intent upon tugging at those dreaded ties as they headed out the door and busy teasing their little sister, Gina, about her rings on each finger and the ribbons in her hair. All those Easter Sundays of painted eggs and Easter baskets and church followed by dinner at Nona’s house. Those now sacred days of long ago.

While the fresh pastels are being serenaded by others, I am blinded to them. Two years ago. Exactly 730 days ago today was the last time I hugged my son. The last time I touched my lips to his cheek, to his flesh, as I kissed him good-bye. I hugged him as he left for his early morning flight to Kansas. We were all looking forward to his next visit two months later when he would come home again. I watched as Ben and his dad crossed the yard and Ben slid into the passenger seat. He didn’t know, and neither did I, as the sun was beginning to rise in the sky on a clean fresh morning such as this, that when he got in the car and lifted his feet that last time that they would never again touch the ground that he called home. He would never come home to the only home he had known since the day of his birth. Today, while new life is rising from the same flower beds that Ben passed on his way to the car on that morning two long years ago, and the world is enjoying the promise of re-birth and new life and little ones are searching for their hidden Easter eggs, I am looking for salvation. For solace.

I miss you, Ben. I search but I can never find enough words, or words with enough depth, to describe how much I miss you, even to myself. As I set the table and think of your chair that will always be empty, I remember my dad telling me that death happens. Must have been after Grandma died. “People have to get off the bus to make room for others to get on,” he would say. Makes sense, though not in my world, in this order. I never thought you, my son, would have to give up your seat before me. Who took your seat as you got off the bus, Ben?

As Gina comes in the door with her boyfriend, I brighten up, hoping she doesn’t look in my eyes and see that I’ve been crying. “Happy Easter,” I murmur as I hug her tight. She brings light and sunshine into my world as she helps me finish the dinner preparations. After a while she shares with me. “Do you know what Time-hop is, Mom? It’s an app I downloaded. When I was at work yesterday a picture of the last time I saw Ben came up. A picture of him and Nick and me. I had to go outside, leave work, a couple of times, Mom. Two years ago, Mom!” My God, is there no end to this pain? I suffer as I watch my poor sweet daughter suffer. I hate to feel such pain in her heart. She misses her brother. We all miss you, Ben!

My mind flits between Time-hop and bus stops. Going back in time to sweet memories that now bring such deep, gut-twisting pain. Thinking of Ben and my dad and Grandma exiting the bus. On a beautiful day when I should be consumed with the treasured people in my life and new life and re-birth and my own salvation, I’m watching a bus on its repetitive route, going round and round and round, and people getting on and off. When will it stop for me? I want to give my seat to one with a wild zest for life….such a soul would be a wonderful replacement for me, me whose light is now filtered by death. New life, fresh hope. That’s what I wish for. A happy soul to replace this heart-broken mom who knows that she will be sad, from one degree to a thousandth, every day until the day it stops for her and she exits the bus. My seat to a happy soul!

It’s Easter Sunday and the wheels on the bus go round and round as I wait to see my precious son again.

It’s been two heart-wrenching long years since I’ve hugged and kissed you. I miss you with all my heart, Ben!

ONLY IN MY DREAMS

At the end of every day, I sit and wonder about them. Another day had passed and I still have not heard from those people. Those people are the ones whom I thought would never abandon me in my grief. The same questions are asked every day. What have I done? Did I say something? Did I do something? What could I possibly have said or done to become so alienated from those whom I believed shared a reciprocal love with me?

Nearly five years ago I befriended an elderly gentleman whose only child, his 44-year old son, had just died from cancer . At the time of his son’s death, he was being forced to make the decision to put his wife in a nursing home as he was no longer able to care for her at home. For weeks, I begged him to meet me for breakfast or lunch. He declined. I persisted and he finally agreed. Five years have passed and we now meet at least every other week for breakfast and email each other daily. In an email a few days ago, this 88-year old friend wrote, “You’re my very BEST, and probably the very last, treasured friend.” Had I been a fool to rush in, to show him that I cared, to sit with him in his pain, even if I was a stranger? No. The gift was in the giving of myself. To offer a glimmer of light when there was darkness. It was an honor to hold the candle so he could see.

Where are those people? Why do I focus on them? The ones who continue to hurt me every day with their silence? I am so very fortunate to have wonderful people in my life, ones who show me they love me and who allow me to be ME. I could not ask for anything more from them, nor appreciate them more. My husband and my two other kids and my three sisters and my best friend. My elderly gentleman friend who understands my pain and tells me he will sit with me as I cry, will listen to me bitch, will let me scream if I need to, whatever I need to do. My brother who has suffered the same pain as me and is dealing with the death of his son. My new friends, who also share this pain, who are being delivered into my life so that we can help each other and understand and learn how to live with our aching hearts. These people are my candle holders in my darkness.

So, why do I focus on the ones who saw my broken heart and ran from the pieces of me that were left? Because it hurts. It hurts to the core to know that I am not worthy of their caring. That everything I may have said or done to love them and care for them, to be with them in their good times and bad, was for naught. It hurts to know that I never made a difference in their lives. That my decades of sharing this life with them meant nothing to them. Did I not love them hard enough?

The death of my son changed me in ways that will never be perceptible to others. There are no words to describe the magnitude of the change or the pain. Internalization is a constant as is the continuous whirling of my brain. When Ben died, I lost my identity. I am no longer the mother of three children here on earth. I now mother two. I am no longer the eternal optimist….I struggle to find bits of joy in every day. The list goes on and on. The mind games that one plays just to stay in this world, to try to re-connect with the world, are exhausting. Devastated over Ben’s death, I never expected that I would suffer from the pain of being abandoned by those whom I thought loved me. And to realize that I am/was so insignificant in their lives, so insignificant that they give me nary a thought, makes me question it all. What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? How could I have started to dissolve into nothing the day of my son’s funeral, when they went home?

I work on these abandonment issues in my therapy. How do I combat the hurt, the further bruising of my heart? I’m working on compartmentalizing it, packaging it and putting it in a pretty little box and shoving it into a corner of the closet. How can we profess to love and put so much energy living in this world and then persist in allowing a mother whose child has died to have this same question every night as she sits in isolation….WHERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE? How do we allow a wall to be built around those in need…in order to protect those on the outside from the darkness and pain of life? A wall built simply to protect those people who sprint away with all the candles when the world has gone dark? Sad world.

I need to vent today. I woke up feeling sad this morning. I went to bed last night with another day of their silence echoing in my heart. Since sleep is the only respite I receive, I so look forward to the end of the day, to the wee hours of the morning when I am finally able to escape from the pain. I didn’t dream about Ben last night. I dreamt about them. A few of those people, the ones who so amaze me with their aloofness and callousness to the need of others to feel loved. We were standing in my front yard and I asked them what I had done to make them ignore me in my grief. No response. The end.

They always come to visit me, but only in my dreams.

I couldn’t escape from the pain.

THE SILHOUETTE

sil·hou·ette
silo͞oˈet/
noun 1. the outline of a solid figure as cast by its shadow.

The silhouette moved slowly down the hallway. If only I could slow my manic mind down to this speed, she thought, as she began another day in the life.

She headed straight to the coffee pot. Her husband was the sweetest man, always having her coffee ready when she woke up. She sat down and stared at the TV, not listening. She wasn’t tuned into the weather or the tragedies that had occurred while she slept. Just as it had been every morning since her son had died, she knew she would be fully immersed in her own tragedy before her coffee mug was empty. Life’s routine was set. Wake up. Realize. Continue the perpetual inner battle with the pain. The Pain. The constant pain that so exhausted her.

The silhouette kissed her husband good-bye. Love you, hope you have a good day, she said as she hugged him and smiled. And then she sat down at the table with her oatmeal. She ate alone. She liked to be alone. No need to pretend. She’d been working on it for nearly two years, but she hadn’t yet figured out how to fix her disconnect. The further she moved beyond That Day, the more disconnected she felt. She didn’t know how to re-baptize herself into life. How can you re-connect when you no longer walk in the world you knew? Of course there’s a disconnect when you, and your heart, are bruised beyond repair and so very few understand, she thought.

While ironing her clothes for work, she marveled at how well her thoughts stayed together in the morning. They were cohesive. Is it because the brain gets filled with so much “useless stuff” during the day? She wanted to stay home, to be alone, to sort through those coherent, connected thoughts. She wished she had time to process the feelings, to write down her thoughts, but she didn’t. Responsibility had been instilled in her from an early age. She went to work.

The tears fell from the silhouette as she watched the rain drops hit the glass and bounce upward, not downward, on the windshield. Same place my tears are directed, she thought. Up toward where I believe my son may be. And she wiped her tears as the windshield wipers continued their rhythm, mimicking the relentless rhythm of her life. So much of me became lost when Ben died. So much of me is gone, she thought. But life’s sameness remains. The rhythm.

Morning, she said as she walked into her office, conscious of the fact that she seldom said “good morning” any more. She knew by the time she arrived at her office each morning that she had already been mourning all morning. How could she possibly say “good morning” after she’d already spent hours with The Pain? I’ll have to work on that, she told herself. Program “good” into your vocabulary. Maybe then you’ll feel connected to that world out there. Work to fix that disconnect!

The silhouette went about her day as usual. She worked. She smiled. She worked. She joked. And she focused. Responsibility had been instilled in her from an early age. Do they see what I see when I look in the mirror? Do they see that dead zone within me that I see if I happen to look in my eyes when putting my make-up on each morning? Every morning,  because I am mourning? Or do they only see what they want to see? Does it hurt to look at me? I mean really look at the real me? Are you afraid you too will hurt if you look into my eyes, beyond my eyes, and connect with my pain? They pretend as I pretend, she thought. She worked. She smiled.

Home. She threw her work bag on the floor. She sat alone. She liked to be alone. No need to pretend. She connected with herself. She kissed her husband as he walked in the door. She smiled, “Hi, dear. How was your day?” They share. They joke. They laugh. His heart is broken, as is hers. He knows. He understands. They love each other even more so than before their son died. He makes her laugh. He knows me, he is me, she thinks, so I feel most alive when he makes me laugh. She feels connected to him. They kiss good-night as he heads to bed. She sorts through the crazy thoughts, trying to find the coherent ones that must still be in there somewhere among the tangled mass of useless stuff that had accumulated during the day. Hours pass as she sits alone.

The tears fell from the silhouette as she moved slowly down the hallway toward the bedroom. If only I could slow my manic mind down to this speed, she thought, as she ended another day in the life.

“I love you and miss you with all my heart, Ben.” I whisper as I mercifully drift off to sleep.

The rhythm of a silhouette’s life. After death.

923,000 MINUTES AND COUNTING…

I spend a lot of each day in hiding, having realized that there’s a time and a place to share my sorrow. But I try to be real, at least with myself, in my private time. Burying my feelings only allows them to gain power and seep out sideways at some later point in time. Today I’m struggling with bitterness, the one emotion that keeps sniveling its way in, no matter how hard I try to battle it.

Love and time are the two most important concepts that I try to keep in the forefront of my life as I go forward after Ben’s death. One of my new friends from my support group has encouraged me to share her mantra, what keeps her going to get through each day while combating her grief over the death of her son. When she begins to sink, she tells herself: “Just keep going….take this minute to do the next loving thing.” What a wonderful mantra to live by, using my love and my time to make my little circle a little bit better.

Being a numbers freak, I’ve figured out that there are 1,440 minutes in each day. That gives me lots of opportunities to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you.” Ben died a year and 9 months ago. According to my handy little calculator that I pulled out of my cupboard, the clock tick-tocked 1,440 minutes in each day, 43,800 minutes in each month, and 525,600 minutes in the first year after his death. Get your calculator out and you can compute that over 923,000 minutes (yes, that’s nearly one MILLION minutes!!) have passed since Ben’s death.

I really need to take a few minutes to spew the ugly bitterness within, to allow room for more loving thoughts in my head. I treasure those who have willingly come into my life since Ben’s death and those who have willingly stayed. They have made me feel loved even on my darkest of darkest days, and they have taught me that it is possible to find balance between joy and sorrow. A little bit of that mixed in with a whole lot of that. I will never, ever turn my back on any of them because they have taught me what love is. In contrast, those who haven’t taken a minute out of their month or their year to contact me have taught me what a lack of empathy is. If I haven’t heard from someone in tens of thousands (or in some cases almost a million) minutes, it might be wise if I came to the conclusion that they just don’t care about me. They’ve chosen to avoid me, to miss a lot of opportunities to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you.” I am hurt. I feel abandoned by their inaction. It makes my heart hurt….even more.

So, you who came to Ben’s funeral and then walked out of my life or those of you who said “I’m here for you” or “I’ll call you,” please know that I’ve noticed. As I listen to your silence in another day, as another 1,440 minutes float into the past, I do notice that you never send a quick “love you” or “thinking of you.” It would take less than a minute, less than a second, really. But by not doing so, you have taught me an extremely valuable lesson. You’ve taught me that words can be shallow, but you’ve also taught me how precious time is. Not the time that we have left until our last day on this earth, but the time that we spend in showing others that we love them. I’ve learned how rewarded I feel if I show kindness and compassion and empathy to those whom I love. Each and every minute giving love counts. Your silence in these tens of thousands of minutes speaks volumes about you, while encouraging me to be aware of the circumstances of those around me.

I can’t remain bitter toward you who have abandoned me. That bitterness will poison me. Let me take my pain and my hurt and turn it around. Let me send out an extra whisper of love each day to someone who needs one. Let me take one minute out of the 1,440 minutes in each day and make a difference in someone’s life. “Just keep going….take this minute and do the next loving thing.” And then perhaps I can forget that you have forgotten me at some point during the last 923,000 minutes and counting.

DEAR GOD, KEEP ME INFLATED…..

I can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but I can’t fool me. Maybe it’s because it’s coming at me from four directions today that I find myself sliding again into that big black hole.

When we dropped Nick off at law school two weeks ago, I was determined that I would head out of Boston with a smile on my face, no tears in my eyes, happy that Nick was where he is meant to be and confident that his mom would not fall to pieces upon walking through the door of our now empty nest. Since Harvard had so kindly given Nick a year’s deferral after they learned that Ben had died, we were given a reprieve, allowing us an extra year to still be “hands-on” Mom and Dad.  Now Nick’s at college, Gina’s in her apartment a half hour away, and Benny is gone. It’s officially empty…for the first time since December 16, 1985, the day before Benny was born. So, here I am, bobbing about, with my mind in a whirl and my heart all jagged.

When we decided to cut our trip to Boston short last week so that we could get home to Jack as he was dying in the nursing home, I knew the next several days would be busy ones. I’d be OK. I wouldn’t be home long enough for the empty nest idea to register. And when I went to sign Jack up for hospice the morning after our return, I assured myself and the hospice people that “This is nothing. My son died. I can handle this. Jack’s 75 and “only” a friend. Nothing can be worse than my son dying.” But Jack was like family. Divorced and estranged from his only uncaring daughter, he had spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, baptism, birthday, First Communion, Confirmation, etc. with us, celebrating every milestone of our kids’ lives with us. I spent all day last Sunday with Jack in the nursing home and he died early Monday morning…in the same nursing home that my mother-in-law also lives in.  She’s been there for 3 years with Alzheimer’s, and two days ago the RN told me it was only a matter of time for my mother-in-law too since she had stopped eating.

The “sucking in” or “sucking out”, whatever you call it, started yesterday afternoon when I looked for pictures of Jack on my computer and in the big box of Benny’s pictures. The box that holds most of his pictures. The box we have to grab if our house ever catches on fire! After about a half hour of looking through pics, I emailed the funeral guy and told him I couldn’t find a decent picture of Jack. But really I didn’t have the strength, the heart, to look at any more pictures. My heart was breaking. So, I gave it up, feeling guilty that I had no strength to continue to look for a nice picture of Jack for his obituary. When we were shopping last night and I told Ben what I had emailed the funeral guy, he said he’d look through the dozens of other boxes of pictures we have so that we could find a nice picture of Jack and also a nice one of his mom since we would soon be needing one for her. Wanting to spare him that pain, I looked through about 4 boxes this morning. But I discovered there were lots of pictures of Benny still in them! So, hiding my pain from my husband, I gave up. I couldn’t look at pictures of my baby any longer!

And just now my husband, cleaning out a cupboard, came across a lunch box with Gina’s name on it and I said, “Oh, yeah, there’s one in there too with Nick’s name on it.” And then, struggling to get the words out, and debating whether or not I should do it, I told him about the two post-it notes that I had just found in the picture boxes.  Both written by me when Benny was about 2 or 3, quoting him:  “Mom, I are big now” and “Mom – did you ever hear ‘Don’t let your boys grow up to be cowboys – let them be nurses'”? So I told my husband about them and it was all over. Me as Mom and him as Dad, standing in our empty kitchen in our empty house, both of us sobbing, hugging each other, in tears, mumbling about how overwhelming this friggin’ nightmare is! “Oh, Benny! Oh, Benny!” my husband cried.

So, today the life is officially sucked out of me. I’m officially down and out. I’ve surrendered. The bravado mask I’ve kept plastered to my face has been tossed to the floor. Time to be nice to me as I sit in our empty nest….. no faking it today. So many pictures of my son!!! So many memories !!! And reading the email from my sister-in-law with a draft of my mother-in-law’s obituary… preceded in death by her grandson…..” Looking for a picture of Jack. And realizing that 9 years ago today Dad died. Dad, one of my best friends, who I could talk to about almost anything. Death surrounds me on all four sides. It envelopes me. Suffocates me. I miss my Dad and I miss Ben so much that I can’t see beyond today. What is life? What is death? How does one go on?

It’s like having a balloon, inflated, held tightly in hand, but un-knotted, air always seeping out of it. I know I have to keep going on. To search for strength when I feel I have no more. To find it somewhere, somehow. And to live my life so that, if there is a heaven, I can hug my baby again. But the air keeps seeping out of me, out of this “balloon” and it takes so much effort to keep it inflated and so much of my energy to keep puffing “life” back into it.  I’m trying so desperately to hold on tightly to “keep it inflated”, but it’s so damn hard. I can’t stay inflated all the time, I can’t keep smiling, I can’t keep fighting. Today I give in to my sadness. Death is wrapped around me today, closing in, sucking my spirit out of me, ripping my false bravado away. I am limp and lifeless and I have surrendered. I can’t fool me. I hurt!! My heart is broken, never to be the same again. Mom and Dad are home alone with the pieces of our hearts co-mingled in the wreckage of our dreams, our family. We bleed each other’s blood. Dear God, keep me inflated………..

I miss you, Ben, with every ounce of my being!

 

DEEP OR DEEPER DEPTH?

It’s been almost 9-1/2 years since my nephew Cameron died. My God!  9-1/2 years! Cameron celebrated his 5th birthday on a Saturday, became ill a few days later and died the next weekend! From innocence and happiness watching Cameron blow out 5 birthday candles to gut-wrenching sorrow for those of us who loved him…. within a week’s time. Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow….a lifetime of sorrow! My youngest brother Bill is Cameron’s dad.  Bill, of course, was devastated when Cameron died. Shattered! Being a mom, I thought I understood. I could imagine myself in Bill’s shoes…so I sympathized and felt deep, deep compassion for Bill and his wife, Karen. Utter horror! I thought I understood but I didn’t know. I barely comprehended the depth of Bill’s pain until I found myself devastated and shattered when Ben died. Two siblings out of the 8 kids in my family dealt a shitty hand!! Bill’s son died. My son died. One 5 years old. One 27 years old. Our babies.

Bill and I have been talking a lot lately. He, of course, is one of the people I feel the most comfortable around because I don’t need to put on an act with him. “Now” there’s only a handful of people in my life with whom I feel I can be myself. Bill is one of them. Few words need to be spoken between us. It’s just there. Few words…..yet understanding. I am more comfortable revealing more of my sadness to Bill than I am to my husband or Nick or Gina. They are already sad, and I fear making them sadder by forcing them to see and feel my deep, deep sorrow on a 24/7 basis. They know my sorrow is deep but I don’t show them its magnitude on a regular basis. I, of course, don’t want to make Bill feel sadder than he is, and always will be, but he is one step removed from my immediate family, making it easier for me to spit my feelings at him.

Bill says he is now ready to start helping others who have had to face the horror of the death of their child. He and I plan on attending our first support group meeting together in mid-August. A brother/sister team. Old pain/new pain. Young child/young adult. Different stories yet the same. He’ll help. I’ll cry.

Yesterday, while talking about attending the meeting, Bill said to me, “I was worse than you are.” But he felt the need to clarify that statement by saying he was not referring to the depth of our grief–he was referring to how we handle our grief. Bill shut down, shut out. I shut down yet haven’t totally shut out. Cameron was Bill’s only child so he didn’t have other children to maintain for. I have two other kids so I can’t allow myself to shut the world out, to sink to where I would be if I didn’t have them. I hide behind my eyes. Bill is more transparent.

So, in dwelling on his words, it’s as simple as this. There is no way to measure one’s grief or sorrow or anguish or devastation or isolation. No way to measure our pain or sense of loss or count how many pieces we have become after being shattered. It’s kinda like going to the doctor’s office and the nurse asking you to measure your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. There’s a cuff to measure your blood pressure, but there is no device to measure your pain. We throw numbers to the nurse without basis, without thought to concrete comparison. Because there really is no way to measure. And grief is like that. There is no way to compare. No need to compare.

Being in this situation, my heart breaks for myself, my family, and every other soul I know who is climbing this mountain. There is no deeper depth than where we are….or have been.  As I crawl along, I’m seeing that some function better than others. Some juggle joy with their sorrow. Others find a gift in the pain and inspire with that gift. Some seek light while others prefer the darkness. Crowd-seekers travel the same road as those that find comfort in being alone. And all of that is right.  As it should be.  As for me, I’m just now adjusting to the weight of my sorrow and learning to balance my pain on my shoulders so I don’t continue to fall on my scabbed knees. I’m learning, but this I do know…….There is no “deeper” to the depth of our despair and sorrow. It is there. It is endless. It is deep as far as we can see into the darkness. And we, the unfortunate who have lost our precious babies, carry our sorrow with us, ingrained deep within us, each day, every day. We may not feel comfortable allowing others to see our pain, or see our vulnerability….we have learned to hide our pieces, but that pain is a part of us and will always be….at least for me, until the day I die. A broken heart is a broken heart. The depth unfathomable, it cannot be measured. You hurt. I hurt. So many broken souls, missing our children and trying to find our peace, walk this earth. And my heart hurts for those I know that carry this immeasurable pain.

I continue to miss Ben with every bit of who I am.

FOUR IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER …….

My son Nick, who is 23, and I have made it a habit to have lunch together every Wednesday since shortly after Ben died, with Gina joining us whenever possible, depending on her schedule.  Last Wednesday, while eating at Sal’s and Al’s Diner, our conversation revolved around federal taxation and the nation’s infrastructure. Of course it wasn’t me that steered the conversation in that direction. Nick did. It’s his mind that’s always active with world events, politics and social and economic issues. I was complaining about the amount of taxes we pay, so Nick was pointing out the benefits of paying higher incomes taxes and how the interstate highway near our house is maintained with our tax dollars. His words – “Think about if we had to pay tolls to travel Route 2 and how much our family of 4 would have to pay since we travel that highway a lot.”

Boom! Our family of 4! It registered immediately, but I don’t think I even hinted at the impact those four little words had on me! I think my face remained “normal” as the words slapped me right upside my head and threw my gut into a twisted knot. Having had no expectation of the wind being knocked out of me, I sat there in a stunned state with my mind blank, except for “”Our family of 4. Our family of 4…..” The truth. I didn’t hear the rest of Nick’s words on the subject, and I believe he never even realized the effect his words had on me or the magnitude of the pain I felt upon hearing them. They sliced right through me–cut this Mom’s heart to the core. Innocent and harmless and ordinary words. It’s always been Mom, Dad, Ben, Nick and Gina. Not “our family of four!!” First time I had heard anyone say that. Those four little words still reverberate several days later, as that Three Dog Night tune plays over and over in my head…..

Four is the loneliest number that I’ll ever do….. Oh, it’s the saddest experience that I’ll ever know……. How I hate living with this OCD mind of mine! Quit it with the song, will ya?!!