Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Searching For A “New Normal”

Matt,   the definition of normal is something that conforms to a general pattern, ordinary or usual, typical, something that would be expected.   I can tell you, I’ve been searching for “normal” for 46 months.   Ever since you died nothing for me has felt “normal”.    It’s not normal for a mother to bury her child.   There is nothing normal about having to visit your child at a memorial garden.   Nothing ordinary about not being able to pick up the phone and hear your voice.   Nothing expected as I put my hands on your urn in my attempt to feel close to you.

It’s not normal to feel like your choking everyday.   Not normal to feel like your heart split in half but still remains beating in your chest.  My emotions are wild changing from moment to moment.   Memories still have the power to bring me to my knees.   Normal is not breaking down when hearing a song, seeing a young father holding hands with his child or having to choke back tears as two little brothers ring your doorbell yelling Trick or Treat.

It’s not normal to walk around on unstable ground.   Feeling anxious and foggy.  I’ve suffered through losses before.   This is worlds apart from anything I’ve ever lived through.   This normal was never expected.   What was expected was you to grow old.  To marry.   To be in my life until it was time for me to go, not you.   Normal is burying your parents, not your child.

So how do I find my “new normal?”    I’ve heard that term so much I want to scream.   How in the hell can anything be normal after your child has died.   I know people mean well.   People who have never lost a child are so quick to tell me how to adjust to this new phase in my life.   Really, people who can hug their kids, call their kids, share meals with their kids telling me that this is my “new normal.”

These well meaning strangers have never ridden my emotional rollercoaster.   They don’t experience my triggers.   They haven’t been hit by the grief bus.   The one that returns time and time again to slam me over and over.   They don’t get the fact that my future has changed.   Plans, goals and dreams are no more.   My brain gets it but my heart struggles to accept the collateral damage that I walk through everyday.

Believe me,  I have trouble believing that after all the time that has passed I’m still breathless when reality hits.   That 46 months feels like yesterday.   That there is no way that we are 2 months away from the 4 year mark.   My brain screams how, how, how have I survived this long?   How can it truly be that I have not heard your voice or seen your smile for almost 4 years?

There is nothing normal about not having your child in your life.   There is nothing normal about having to put on your mask to face a world that is terrified of the grieving.   I’ve learned that this so called “new normal” is just a polite way to tell grieving parents to get over it.   It’s just one of those new terms that’s supposed to fix our broken lives.

What I’ve learned is that life will never be normal.   Whether it be “new” or not there is nothing normal about life after losing a child.  I’ve also come to understand that grief has no timetable.   It follows no predictable course.   Nothing about grief is normal.   It is a personal journey that no one can walk for you.   Grief is heartbreaking, complicated, powerful and unbalancing.   It is anything but “Normal.”

 

As The Seasons Continue To Change My Grief Remains Unchanged

Matt,   It’s hard for me to believe that you have been gone for 45 months and 18 days.   But who’s counting?   Right.   I am.  I’ve been counting the days as they turned from weeks to months, then  from months to years.   I’ve watched as Spring brings new life to the earth. Plants burst forth in a riot of color.   Birds fly in and out of the garden houses building nests in anticipation of new life.  The summer sun warms my soul as the earth continues its beautiful transformation.   In the blink of an eye Summer becomes Fall.  Magnificent colors continue to mark the earth with incredible beauty.   Before long a cold wind blows bringing in the darkness that announces the arrival of Winter.

The changing seasons remind me of another time of counting.  I counted the months while  carrying you.   Praying we would make it past that first trimester sailing along until you decided to announce yourself to my world.   You were a Summer baby.   You became an incredible man who died on a cold winter day.   You took your first breaths on July 30th and your last on January 3rd.   I look at your stone and compare the J’s and 3’s asking myself the question that has no answer.   Why?

I started a garden to honor you.   To have a place to come and talk to you.   A place to scream and cry.  To be alone in the grief that continues to grip my heart as I see your name engraved on that cold stone.   You never wanted to be in the ground.   Some of your ashes are scattered here.   Your garden changes with the seasons.    My grief remains the same.

Somedays it hits without warning.   I will be digging in the cool soil clearing out the old plants, while planning for the new.    My mind focusing on colors and smells.   A memory hits of another time when we knelt side by side planting flowers in another garden.   Both muddy and laughing as the dogs did their best to trample our new plantings.   I can hear your laughter and see your smile.   I am reduced to tears as that one poignant memory leads to another.

As the seasons change your garden follows.    Summer perennials attract butterflies and colorful birds.   Summer brings another reminder that you will be forever 37.   Summer brings birthday candles to your garden.    I light them and sing out loud.  Watching the flames flicker in the soft breeze.   I wait for them to blow out and wonder if you are there with me.  Memories of past celebrations come and join us.  Days when we thought time was on our side.   That birthdays would never end as abruptly as they did.  The peace of the garden hugs my heart allowing my grief to be present.

Fall brings a new beauty to your garden.   Mums in an array of blazing colors surround your stone.   Dead flowers are removed allowing room for a new brightness.   Bright red cardinals surround the feeder as leaves fall covering the damp grass.   An unwanted reminder that soon the ground will freeze and the season of planting will be done.

Winter brings a deep stillness to your garden.  It will surrender to sleep just as you did that cold January morning.   Do not fear.   My need to feel close leads me back to you.    I will continue to come and brush the snow off your stone.   I will continue to tend to your garden as I tend to my heart.   I will keep the feeder full giving the cardinals a reason to come.    I will sit quietly allowing my grief a place to be as the seasons change and memories find me.

Similar to the passage of time and the changing of the seasons my grief marches on………..

 

 

 

 

Wrapping Us Up With You.

Matt.   I had myself fooled.   Thinking that after 43 months I would be able to walk into your closet and not lose what was left of my mind.   A friend had offered to make a quilt out of your shirts and I so wanted this to happen.   I remember my self pep talk all morning.   I kept telling myself to be strong.   I kept saying over and over again, “You can do this.”    I kept telling myself it was time to go through your clothing and donate some to a homeless shelter, knowing you would approve.   I kept telling myself that your sweaters and coats would be useful in keeping a stranger warm this winter.   I kept thinking how wasteful it was to keep everything just as it was when you were alive.   Like you would come walking through the door looking for your favorite sweater.   Like I was expecting you to come up to the kitchen freshly showered smelling of Phoenix telling me about your work day.

Your closet was the biggest in the house.   A huge walk in fully carpeted and lined with shelves.   Before you moved home, I used it for storing winter coats and odds and ends that I couldn’t decide what to do with.    I remember putting my hand on the door.   Giving myself that last push.   Once again telling myself I could do this.

Pushing through the doors allowed light to flood the room.    I stood surrounded by you.   Your tee shirts and sweaters neatly folded on the shelves.   Jackets hanging in the order last worn.    I closed my eyes taking a deep breath as I sat on the floor and started to unfold your clothing.   I didn’t realize the power of my grief.   I started burying my face in your clothing.   Pulling things off hangers and wrapping myself up in sweaters, coats and anything I could get my hands on.    I didn’t understand the sounds coming from the depths of my soul had broken through the silence of the house.    I didn’t realize that I was no longer alone lying sobbing on your closet floor until I felt her wet nose.

Belle lay down next to me.   Trying to comfort me with her body.   She like me would bury her nose in your clothing.   Occasionally lifting her head and smelling the air.   I could see it in her eyes that her heart recognized your smell just like mine did.    Belle tilted her head when I mentioned your name.   She like me was looking for you.

We sat together for most of the afternoon.   Belle laying in the pile.   Me wrapped up in the mess I’d created.   Both of us smelling each piece trying to recover your scent.  Every shirt held a bittersweet memory.    Each one telling a story.    Some came from travels to the Caribbean.   Some bought just because you couldn’t  stop laughing after reading their message.    In my mind I could picture you wearing each one.    Some were captured in the photos lining our bookshelves.

I lost track of time as I allowed myself the gift of grieving you with no one to witness my brokenness.   Just the dog we both loved.   I sat talking to Belle as if she understood.    I talked about you and I walking together on the beach as Belle and Kahlua played in the surf.   I talked about all the times we shared with the dogs in our happy place.   I told her how she lived with you while I found a new home.   I told her you constantly told me she was your dog now and you weren’t giving her back with that big grin on your face.   I swear she understood as her snout continued to smell the air surrounding us.   I let myself relax into her as memories of happy times at the beach flooded my brain.   It was as if my dam broke and all the tears and memories were released together.

I don’t remember putting your things in a bin.   I think that fog settled into my brain.   The fog that protected my psyche as I was driving to my dear friends home allowing her to transform the most precious pieces left of your life.   I do remember sobbing as I placed the bin in her arms.   Almost as if I was a new mom turning over my precious child to the care of another.   She asked if I wanted to assist her in how the quilt would be put together.   Wanting me to give her guidance in how to create a piece to honor your life.

I just couldn’t do it.   As ashamed as I was of my inability to help, I was emotionally spent.   I would never survive holding those precious pieces so soon before I could begin to repair my shattered soul.

The call came days later.   Your quilt was complete.   Emotions swam through my brain.   I wasn’t ready to face the reality that your quilt would represent.   These shirts would never be worn by you again.   This reality hit over and over as I drove through blinding tears to pick you up bringing  you home again.

Walking through her door I saw her masterpiece.   The quilt was displayed on her couch.   I put my hand over my mouth to cover my sobs as she wrapped me in her hug.   She laid the quilt in my arms like a precious newborn.   I drink you in.    Holding you and burying my face into you.   Heading home I placed you on the passenger seat.  Talking to you as I did when you were alive.

I carried you upstairs and laid you across my bed.    Belle now by my side.   Her nose seeking your scent.    We sat next to each other, a grieving mother and her loyal dog sharing a loss felt deeply by both.    Wrapped up together with the memories of the boy we both loved and lost……………..

 

Life Will Never Be The Same.

Matt,   today would have been your 41st birthday.   I should be on my way to the beach to spend time with you on your special day.  We would have headed for the beach, walking the dogs letting them run through the surf while we caught up on life. We would have planned our dinner feast of crabs, shrimp and beer. But today our reality is much different from my dreams for this day.   For you are forever 37 and this is your fourth birthday in heaven.

Today I spent the morning letting my grief pour out from my soul.  Looking through every album I own with pictures of our life.  Beautiful memories flooded my broken heart as I asked myself how this nightmare became our reality.

Pictures of you with that smile and those beautiful eyes staring back at me through all the phases of your life.  From infancy through adulthood.  Looking so happy and healthy.  It is so hard for me to understand this reality.  My brain knows you are gone.  My heart struggles with this  truth.

Today there will be no family party.  No cake, no funny card.  I will never see you with your brother standing side by side laughing about how your both over the big 4 0.
Comparing how childhood dreams became a reality or remained still a dream.

Losing you is losing a future of love, laughter and future memories.  Losing you is never seeing my sons together again.  Never hearing your laughter as you tell of childhood antics that were kept secret from mom.   Losing you is never meeting the girl who stole your heart.  Losing you is never dancing at your wedding.  Losing you is never sharing your joy of holding your newborn child for the first time.  Losing you has taken its toll on me.   Losing you is losing me

Reality is that I will never see you coming through my door with your children in tow. That smile and those eyes forever gone.  No mini Matt’s for me to spoil and hug.   No babes to be rocked to sleep.  No babes to soothe my aching heart.   No future generation to share stories of your childhood antics.  No more of you.

Your brother will never know the joy of being an uncle.   He will never take your son fishing or show your daughter treasures saved from your childhood.  He will never know the joy of holding his brothers children in his arms or teaching them to run through the surf with you by his side.   He will never watch his younger brother discover the joys and heartbreaks of being a parent.   He will never be able to offer advice or share his list of do’s and don’ts of fatherhood.   There will be no more children squealing with joy as that new puppy comes running into their arms.   No more brothers sharing the secret of what makes a house a home.

How i wish Heaven had visiting hours. I would throw myself into your arms and never let you go. I would tell you how much your loss has changed my life. I would tell you over and over again how much I love you. I would beg you to stay with me forever.

Today I will honor your life. I will let my grief have its way. Today I will let my tears flow no longer fighting or pretending that I am ok. Today I will remember the joy you brought to my life.   I will allow myself to  feel the profound loss of your death.
Today I will close my eyes and remember your hugs, your voice, your smile.  Today I will wrap myself up in you. ❤️

A Can Of Beefaroni and So Much More

Never in a million years did I ever think I would find myself falling apart in the pasta aisle of my local grocery store after seeing a can of Beefaroni. The gut wrenching, hit my heart hard, kind of pain left me holding onto my cart telling myself to breathe. Tears running down my face like a hose stuck in the on position with no hope of being turned off. Oh God, I think, how am I ever going to survive the rest of my life if can’t even make it through the grocery store without a major meltdown. Seeing that can and feeling those feelings has become a part of my new life. The life I never saw coming or signed up for.

Beefaroni was my youngest son, Matt’s favorite food. I would stock up at the ten for $10 sale and hurry home to stuff his weekly care package with all his favorite foods. Sending them off with a piece of my heart to the half way house he lived in a thousand miles away from home. A can of Beefaroni, a connection to my son who is no more.

Then there is the scent of Phoenix. This was his smell. I can still hear his voice, “Hey Mom, can you pick me up my deodorant, I’m running low”. I’ve found myself in this same store walking to the deodorant aisle and finding that familiar blue can. I remove the lid and spray a tiny bit. Closing my eyes taking a deep breath I let my mind drift back to happier times. This is what my life has become. Finding pieces of my son in everyday places trying to keep our connection alive.

I once felt that being the mother of a son suffering from addiction was the worst thing that ever happened to my life. That constant feeling of helplessness and anxiety ruled my mind. I compared his addiction to being trapped on a very fast, very high roller coaster with many twists and turns. Never knowing what each day would bring, what was coming or how some days would end.

Mothers of addicts learn to live with the crazy unpredictability that goes hand in hand with the disease of addiction. We learn to expect the unexpected and we relish the thought of a possible period of recovery. Matts addiction became mine as I held onto the roller coaster for dear life. Praying for things to somehow calm down and allow us both a little piece of normal. I’ve since learned that being the mother of an addict who suffered an accidental overdose is waking up and finding the nightmare you feared the most has now become your reality.

Be careful what you pray for they say. I prayed for peace, I prayed for quiet, I prayed for his addiction to go away. My prayers have been answered but never in the way I imagined. I now struggle to survive in this all too quiet, empty new world. I long for the days of chaos. Riding the uncertainty on the roller coaster known as addiction now feels like a walk in the park compared to being the one left behind.

Learning to navigate through my grief is a daily process. I’m now the lone rider on a different coaster. This one mimics the other but now the ups and downs belong solely to me. There are days I wake up, shed my tears, pray for strength and somehow get through. There are days the darkness overrides my heart and I crawl through my brokenness as if it is surrounded by shards of glass. Each piercing my heart with knifelike accuracy.

For now I take it one day at a time. I pray that someday that can of Beefaroni or the scent of Phoenix will warm my heart not break it. Reminding me of the connection between a mother and her son that neither time nor space can break. For now I pray for understanding and strength as I continue to put one foot in front of the other attempting to navigate my new unchartered life without my son.

I know I will never return to the person I once was.   Going back to that person is not an option.    She vanished when my son died. Gone with his last breath.   My grief path is my own.    It’s rocky and full of broken pieces of a life that used to be.   I tread lightly on days I can.   I crawl through the glass on days when the pain kills and I question my survival.    My grief has no finish line.   It’s one day, one breath, one scream at a time.    My grief is the best I can do.   Navigating this path is the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do.    One thing I know for sure is I’m not ok.   I will never be ok.   And for me that just has to be ok…….

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