Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Author: MaryBeth Cichocki (page 1 of 18)

Baby Steps & Hiding Behind Masks

Matt,   We’ve hit the three year mark.   Actually, it’s 3 years and 24 days.   That’s how life is for me now.   It’s become a count down to how long it’s been since your death.   When my brain realizes how long it’s been I find myself  breathless.   Still shocky, still unsteady.   Unlike public perception, times does not heal this wound.

January’s slap was extra harsh this year.   Not only was I trying to survive the anniversary of your death, but Ray’s father was dying.   I sat at his bedside on your anniversary holding his hand.   I told him it was ok if he needed to go on your day.   I asked him to give you a hug and tell you how much you are loved and missed.   I sat watching the life leaving his body but my heart was thinking of you.   I was thinking of what it must have been like for you.   No family at your bedside.   No one holding your hand telling you how much you were loved.   How your life was well lived and there should be no regrets.  You see Matt, that’s the hardest part for me.   Knowing that as you were taking your last breaths I was a thousand miles away totally unaware that you were gone.

Grief enveloped our home.   Me continuing to grieve you.   Ray just beginning to grieve for his dad.   I recognized that wave hitting Ray.  Seeing his face change as reality hit his heart.   Seeing him in pain filled me with shame.   I wanted to comfort him.  I wanted to be who I needed to be to support him through his loss.  I was barely surviving falling into the abyss that threatened my mind.  How could I not think of the three years since I heard your voice.

50 years separated your deaths.   Your life cut short at 37.   Rays dad living to be 87.   You see Matt, all I could think of was how many years we never had.   Your death was out of the natural order of how things are supposed to be.  Ray was experiencing death as it is supposed to be.   People grow old and then they die.   We bury our parents.   We don’t bury our children.

Planning a funeral sucks.   The ritual is too painful.   It becomes unbearable when wounds are reopened.   Watching Ray was like watching the rerun of a bad movie.   Memories of everything I crawled through being brought back to life.   Obituaries.   Pictures of happy times.   Torture.  Torture.  Torture.

I found myself reliving those first days.   The days when I survived one minute at a time.   Those first days where baby steps were the best I could do.   Dressing for this funeral brought back dressing for yours.   I dreaded the funeral scene.   I was shocked at how strong memories hit.   Closing my eyes I relived every moment.   Feelings I’d been able to suppress flooded my heart.   The profound loss.   The ugly reality of death.   I was helpless to help anyone but myself.   My mask broken beyond repair.

Rays father’s funeral remains a blur.   Memories of hugs, smells and whispers.    The cold January wind once again slapping my face with the ugly reality of loss.   Bone chilling cold reminding my heart that three years ago to the day I said goodbye to you my beautiful boy.

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Watching Ray I must admit I’m jealous.   His life returning to normal.   Back to work.   Back to life.   Oh how I wish my grief would allow my life to stabilize.   To allow me to have a day when I don’t think of you.   When I don’t think of what life could have been had you survived your addiction.

I understand our losses are different.   My heart is still shattered by your death.   It will always hold evidence of a deep, painful, unimaginable loss.   It will always dream of the what if’s, the possibilities of having you here.    Child loss is the most devastating grief known to man.   It never leaves and strikes at the most unexpected times.   Losing a child is losing yourself.   The present and future are tainted with profound confusion and denial.

I’ve heard it said that grief is not a life sentence, it’s a life passage.   I thought long and hard about that statement.   I think about this every time my phone rings and I hear an unfamiliar voice asking for me.   I hear the choking tears as another mother calls my name.   Oh this grief of child loss is a life sentence.   One with no stages or reprieve.   One we must take in slowly.   One we crawl through every day for the rest of our lives….

 

 

 

 

 

Grief, The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Matt,  today, January 3rd, marks the third year since you left me behind.   Three years have passed since I’ve heard your voice or seen your handsome face.   Three years.   It just doesn’t seem real.   How did I survive three years of carrying the unbearable weight of my grief.   I sit alone and remember the moment I learned you were gone.   Three years ago, January 3rd was a Saturday.  It was snowing here and all I could think about was how lucky you were to be spending your day at the beach.  I was working in the NICU feeling jealous of your new life in sunny Florida.   Jealous that I was freezing and you were laying in the warm sun.  Little did I know you were already lying in a morgue your body lifeless, cold and blue.

For three years I’ve lived in a fog.   Disbelief allowed me to survive.   Days I pretended you really were lying on that beach being warmed by the Florida sun.  Then there were days when reality snuck in and I had to crawl through choking quicksand.  Days the weight of my grief literally had me fighting for my own life.

As a nurse, I read about how debilitating complicated grief could be.   I learned how destructive this type of grief could be to the body and soul.   Never quite understanding it’s incredible power until I was thrown into the fire after your untimely death.   You see Matt, my grief has been complicated by my guilt.   For three years I have blamed myself for your death.   I became my own personal punching bag.  Constantly allowing that rollercoaster of emotions to chip away at my very soul.

I blamed myself for not being the “best” mother.  For working while you were young.  Not having the luxury of being one of those incredible moms who had time to make meals from scratch.   You know those moms who never had to be responsible for anything else except their kids.   My beatings continued as I rehashed everything I should have done to save you from your addiction.   My guilt would never allow me to see everything that I did do.   Guilt is ugly.   Guilt only let me see all of the wrongs and none of the rights.

I remember watching you withdrawal from your opioids.   I watched your body shake, sweat and fall apart.  I watched in horror.  Never quite understanding how your body could withstand the assault.   Now it’s my body that’s being assaulted.   I’m the one withdrawing from you.   I was addicted to your addiction.   For seven years, I fought to save you.   Never once thinking that I had no control of our fate.   I was so foolish thinking I was in control of anything, especially your addiction.   Call it nurses mentality.   Nurses save and your mom was a nurse.   I spent my life saving people and  could not accept that this wonder woman of a nurse could not save her own son.

So now it’s me thats been shaking, sweating and falling apart.   For most of the past three years my soul has lived in a constant state of high anxiety.   Your death caused a permanent withdrawal that I now have to navigate my way through.  Panic attacks,  ER trips thinking I’m having a heart attack, and my new friend migraines.   Every crazy symptom all anxiety and guilt related.

I remember being told that one day I would get angry.   Angry at you for causing such profound grief.  For causing my world to spin off its axis.  For causing me to drown in this dark, ugly abyss.   This overwhelming ocean of heartbreak.  Constantly fighting the powerful undertow that drags me down on the bad days.

I never did get angry.   I forgave you the moment you left.   The person I need to forgive is me.   Three years is a long time to fight the most powerful of emotions.   Three years of blaming myself for something I could not control.   Three years of near drownings when the guilt pulled me far away from my safe shore.

I will grieve and miss you forever.   This isn’t how our story was supposed to end.   I now realize that when the guilt starts dragging me under I must reach for a life preserver.   I must focus on getting back to shore.   I must learn to swim again…………

So This Is Christmas

Matt,   You remember my favorite Christmas song,  John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas And What Have You Done”.    Those words always made me stop and think about what I had done with the gift of the year I’d been given.   I would examine my behavior and think about the things I did and all the other things I wanted to do but put on the back burner for another time.    Alway under the incredibly naive assumption that I was in control and there would always be more time.

I heard the song on Pandora today and I had to sit and catch my breath.   Thinking back to another year leading up to Christmas without you.   So this is Christmas and what have I done?   Another year older and a new one just begun.   This year those words hit me as I felt that now familiar wave of grief slap against my hurting heart.   This year I became older but you remained 37.   This year I lived with a grief so powerful that many times I had to force myself to breathe.   This year as I looked back my soul fills with regret.    Things I wanted to do with you and say to you left undone.  Thought that there would  always be a tomorrow dance through my brain.   There will be no new year for us.  No my sweet boy.   No happy Christmas.   No happy New Year.

So this is Christmas and what have I learned?

I’ve learned that the pain of losing a child crushes your soul.   Changing you from the very core of your being.  The loss is indescribable,  heart obliterating,  life altering.   The pain lives in every breath and step I take.   This pain is invisible to others, but excruciating to me.   This pain has become a part of who I am.  It will remain an ever present ache with every passing moment until my last breath.

I’ve learned that grief has no stages.   Grief has a mind of its own.  Hitting so powerfully at unexpected times.  There is no rhyme, reason or warning as to when and where it will strike.   I’ve learned not to fight when those waves hit.   I’ve learned to let grief wash over my soul until it recedes.   I’ve learned grief doesn’t keep track of how long it’s been…….

I’ve learned how brutal the second year truly is when the fog has lifted and reality comes home to stay.    Never believing that any pain could be worse than that heartbreak of all the firsts.   The second has been brutal.   Kicking me to the curb slicing open my broken heart with every memory of a life that used to be.  Leaving my heart battered and bloody.     I’ve learned that shock never subsides.   I’m shocked with every punch of reality.   You are really gone.   There is no pretending this year.    My heart knows you will never be home for Christmas.   As the holidays approach pieces of me shatter to the ground.

I’ve learned that normal died the day you did.   Leaving me alone to navigate life as a bereaved parent.   For the rest of my life, I have to learn how to survive the pain.   This excruciating torture cannot be described in human language.   My grief over shadows joyful moments as I realize our life is permanently divided into before and after your death.   How I think and feel have been severely altered.   I have been taught the ultimate lesson.   We are promised nothing.  Not tomorrow, not months, nothing.   I no longer sweat the small stuff.

I’ve learned to hide behind my mask and move on.   Accepting that people are uncomfortable with grief.   I carry my elephant and play the game of surviving around those who could never imagine life after child loss.   I’ve learned that expectations lead to further heartbreak.

So this is Christmas and what have I done?

Since your death,  I have lived the experience of Gods power in my life.   He closed the door of your addiction and opened a door of understanding and compassion for others.   Out of my brokenness,  A Hug From Matt was born.   Your life taught me to see past the shell of a person by being able to look into their soul.   I honor your life by ministering to those who are addicted and homeless.   I feel your presence in their smiles and hugs.   Bringing joy to those the world forgot brings peace and joy to my heart.

I have found the words to share our story with the world.   To shatter the ugly stigma that follows those who suffer from your disease.   Words that touch another parents heart.  Words that bring help and hope to those who share our story.   From my grief a new person has emerged.   I am fearless.   An advocate for change in the treatment of Addiction.

I have surrounded myself with parents who get it.   The broken ones.  Parents who were once strangers now hold a piece of my heart.   We encourage each other and cry together as we crawl through the days that many would never survive.   Knowing that until one experiences this loss it is almost impossible to express.  We have a permanent bond.   The bond that only a bereaved parent would understand.

Your death has impacted my life in ways I would have never imagined.   Time now allows me to stop and smell those roses I once ran by.   My faith is deeper.  Prayers are no longer recited from memory instead they come directly from my heart.    I appreciate every moment I spend with those I love.   I take nothing for granted  knowing that in one breath the world can be changed forever.

So this is Christmas.   Another without you.   This year I can reflect on the beauty that came out of the ugliness of your untimely death.   I can reflect on what I have done to honor your life.   This Christmas I will remember your smile.   I will feel you in the hug from your brother.   This Christmas you will live on through me forever……..

 

 

 

 

Hanging On By A Christmas Thread

Matt,   December 3rd marked the 35th month since your death.   35 months.   I still can’t believe you are really gone.   I heard the second year was tougher than the first.   Never in a million years could I ever allow my mind to believe it to be true.   It seems the protective fog has blown out to sea leaving me a clear view of the empty shoreline.

This second year has beat me to the ground.   My cocoon shredded and blown away with the wind.   My mind reminds me daily that you are dead.   I feel naked, stripped of the protection that the shock of grief provided during those first months when my mind was in complete denial.   Grief protects you from reality.   The brain builds that impenetrable wall able to withstand the assault of reality.   The second year, cracks begin to form and the wall slowly begins to crumble at your feet.   Leaving you with a clear view of life.

Last year I was numb.   Able to go through the motions of life.   My holiday mask was intact and firmly secured to my face as I navigated my way through the usual festivities.   My mind allowed me the fantasy that you were alive.   Living in Florida.  My mind allowed my heart to stay on track providing multiple distractions keeping the grief under wraps in public.  This year I’ve found the mask has dissolved from the flow of my tears.   This year my grief has gained power.   This year my grief doesn’t seem to care that this is the happiest time of the year.

Your loss continues to stun me.   I’m shocked when reality slaps me with the knowledge that you won’t be coming home for Christmas when I hear that holiday song.  Reality grabs my heart and causes me to forget to breathe.  I was told in time I would get angry.   I’M ANGRY.   I’m angry at our reality.   I’m angry at happy strangers shopping with a spring in their step and joy on their faces.   I’m angry that my grief continues to hurt so deeply.  I’m angry that I’ve just survived Thanksgiving and Christmas is being shoved down my throat.   Not everyone is merrily anticipating holiday traditions.   For some of us our holidays will never be the same.   I’m angry that the woman I see in the mirror is not who I used to be.

This second year has a power I could have never anticipated.    My mind now clear vividly remembers painful events.   My guilt has returned full force.    My double whammy.   Grief and guilt have renewed their friendship bullying me every chance they get.   My mind remembers things it buried to protect my shattered heart.   Things said and done during your addiction.   The I should haves or could haves haunt me like ghosts from Christmas past.   I look at family pictures.   You and Mike on Santa’s lap.   Childhood innocence.   A time of joy and anticipation of things to come.   Never did I see this coming.   Never did I ever think my youngest son would be gone in the blink of an eye.

I hear strangers stating what they want for Christmas.   Children rattle off a list of toys.   Adults want more money, a better job or world peace.   I cringe and feel the tears start to form.   The song,  “All I Want For Christmas Is You”,  starts playing in my head.   I close my eyes squeezing as hard as I can.   Trying desperately to balance myself on the edge of my abyss.

I want a visit from the ghost of Christmas past.   I want to see my boys squeal with delight as they rip into beautifully wrapped gifts.   I want to hear the laughter of two boys as they compare super hero capes.   I want to feel the joy and completeness of having my family intact.   I want to travel back in time.   Before you  became adults.   Before your injury led you down the path of no return.  I want to fix what is broken.   I want to close my eyes and see you walk in my door.  I want to hear “Hey Mom, Merry Christmas”.   As your wife and kids wrap me in a hug.  I want to see you and Mike standing side by side belly laughing as a childhood memory cracks you up.   I want every chair at the table full.  I want to raise a glass and toast to a future full of possibilities.

Unfortunately,  A Christmas Carol is just that.   A fantasy script written long ago addressing second chances.  Our reality is a painful reminder that death doesn’t give a redo.   There will be no second chances for us.   No more watching you and Mike standing together surrounded by your  family.   No more holiday pictures full of smiles and joy.   No more hearing a Christmas song without the punch of grief taking my breath away.

This year when everyone else is dreaming of a White Christmas, I’ll be dreaming of the family we used to be…….

 

 

 

Don’t Mind The Elephant, He’s With Me

 

Matt,   I remember during your active addiction you talked about your disease as if it were a  monkey on your back.   Since your death I seem to have inherited an elephant.   The only difference is my elephant found his spot on my chest and decided to settle in.

The funny thing is, as heavy as my elephant is to carry, he seems to be invisible to everyone but me.   I first realized how easy it was to ignore my elephant when most of my so called friends seemed to disappear.   It seemed it was easier to just vanish  from my life than to acknowledge the tragedy of your loss.

My elephant for many can be a scary beast.   Representing a difficult situation or an unpleasant experience that is best left unspoken.   The mentality seems to be that if something is not said then it never really happened.  Unfortunately for me, my elephant has become a constant companion.   A constant reminder that life has taken a tragic turn and will never be reset.

The elephant is my dirty little secret.   My elephant has a name.   I call him grief.   I’ve lived with him for 35 months and 26 days.   Some days he seems to weigh a little less.   On those days I seem to be able to carry him easily.    The difficult thing is I never know how heavy or how light he will become from day to day.   After living with grief I’ve learned that until people inherit my elephant they really don’t want to know how heavy he can be.   Some give me the impression that they really don’t care.

It seems that my elephant chases people away.   While shopping alone I run into old friends from my past.   They know my story yet rather than approach me and start a conversation they go out of their way to avoid me.   My elephant isn’t ugly.   He doesn’t bite.   He isn’t threatening.  He is happy when people acknowledge him.   Confused and hurt when they avoid him.

I have learned to live with my elephant.   It seems I had no choice.   Never in a million years did I ever think my constant companion would control so much of how I think and feel.   Even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t even come close to understanding the power of one of the gentlest  creatures on earth.

Somedays my elephant makes me feel like I’m crazy.   Like we are too attached.    Like I should be giving him walking papers and sending him on his way.    My mind thinks I’ve had him far too long.  But My heart just can’t let him go.    The elephant has become emotionally protective of me.   Shielding me from those who don’t know anything about elephants.   From those who feel that elephants have no place in the human heart.

It seems this time of the year my elephant has gained some weight.    As I see families huddling together near Christmas lights or hear the songs of peace and joy I can feel his weight shift.   I feel like the loner in the room.  Like my elephant has become unruly and people must run for their safety.  People see me but don’t see me.   My elephant and I are invisible.   As if someone had the nerve to ask how I was doing the elephant would shatter to the floor.

I wait for the day my elephant is accepted.   I wait for the day people reach out and touch him.   My elephant has become a part of who I’ve become since your death.   He needs to be acknowledged.   He needs to be understood.   The elephant has no plans to move on.   I’m still grieving and probably will be the rest of my days.   My elephant and I will leave this life as one.    Until then I carry him wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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