Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Author: MaryBeth Cichocki (page 1 of 19)

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…….

Heaven’s A Little Closer In A House By The Sea

Matt,

It’s Memorial Day weekend.   The weather is cloudy and grey.   You have been gone 3 years 4 months and I still find myself shocked when reality hits.   I remember when you lived at the beach.  You hated summers.   All the traffic and crowds.   I can still hear your voice complaining about how long it took to get from one place to another.

What I wouldn’t give to have you here complaining about summer tourists invading your paradise.   I can still see you standing in your boat. “ The only way to get anywhere around here is by boat”.   You still had that large grin on your handsome face.   I knew this was just an excuse to get you out on the water, your favorite place to be.

I dreamed about the house the other night.   I drove by and realized it was for sale.   I sat in my car calling the realtor.   I had to get inside.   I had to be where you were.   She was kind and listened as I told her this house once belonged to you.   I told her I desperately needed to walk through those rooms once again.   I had to touch where you touched.   She told me she had adult sons and couldn’t imagine what I was feeling.   Handing me the keys without any questions.  My tears started to fall as the lock turned opening the door. My mind flooding with memories of walking through this door hundreds of times before.

The house was vacant.   Eerily quiet.  Looking exactly as it was the last time we walked through these rooms together.   Both of us with tears in our eyes knowing your disease robbed us of our happy place.

I sat on the living room floor, the carpet showing signs of wear.   Familiar spills and puppy accidents marking years of our life were still apparent.   Each mark told a story.   I could picture our house the way it used to be.   Full of love and laughter.   Sandy dogs running through the kitchen after romping in the surf.   Both of us trying to shoo them outside.   Laughing as we became as sandy as the dogs.

I remembered every detail.   Every moment we shared together.   Ten years of wonderful memories flooded my brain.  My mind allowing me the gift of going back in time.   I could see you standing in the kitchen.   Khaki shorts, bare feet, sun kissed hair.   “Hey Mom, can I get you a drink?”   Your face handsome and tan. Your beautiful eyes always smiling.   You loved this house by the sea.   I loved your happiness.

I walked from room to room as precious memories washed over my shattered heart.   Memories of a time when life was perfect. Settlement day.   Moving in.   Hanging pictures.   Sandy floors.   The chaos of boxes everywhere.  The joy that living by the sea brought to both of us.   Oh how proud you were of the life you built.   I remember that beautiful smile.   “Mom, can you believe this is mine”.

How I wished I had the power to go back in time.   I wanted to open my eyes and see you standing there.   I wanted to undo the ugliness that took you away.   I wanted to wake up from the nightmare that is now my reality.

I felt a profound sadness wash over me.   Still in disbelief that you were gone.   Oh God, how did this happen?   How did life take this ugly turn?   I felt your loss like never before.   This once cozy, little home so full of life, love, and laughter now stood as empty as my soul.   Tears began again as I walked through that door for the last time.   This house now a symbol of profound loss.

Walking to my car, I allowed myself one last look.   My mind playing tricks on my heart as I see you coming through the door.   That smile on your face.   Your sun bleached hair hidden under your hat.   Kahlua bouncing at your heels.  For a brief moment you were there.  I wanted to yell out.  To reach toward you touching your face.  For a fleeting second everything returned to normal.   Life was as it used to be.    I felt joy.

I remember hearing of a saying,  “Heaven Is A Little Closer In A House By The Sea”.   Imagine my surprise finding that  print while visiting a seaside town.   I couldn’t wait to hang it in our little house that represented Heaven to both of us.   I remember standing on a chair trying to guide you.   A little to the right.  No just a smidge left.   Perfect.

That print became the centerpiece of the wall.   Surrounded by pictures we both loved.   The dogs running through the breaking waves.   You standing by your precious boat.   You and Mike swimming in the bay.   Both of you tanned and smiling.   Pictures of a life that now feels a lifetime ago.   Almost like a dream.

Those memories live protected and preserved forever in my heart.  That loved print now hangs in my home.    Seeing it tugs at my heart.    Its meaning now signifies unspeakable loss.  The casualties of addiction.   My beautiful boy and a little piece of Heaven by our beloved sea. 💜💜

A Letter To My Son On Mother’s Day

Matt,  This Sunday is Mother’s Day.   My fourth without you.   I actually had to stop and count the years.  I was so shocked and breathless that I needed to count the years on my fingers like a preschooler.   May of 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018.   Four years and I’m still having trouble believing you won’t be calling or walking through my door.

Today is only Friday but I feel that familiar grief grabbing onto my chest and starting to tighten its grip on my heart.   I’ve tied hard to not go there.   To forget that this Sunday is that day.   The one that honors all Moms.   Unfortunately,  every other commercial shows kids and flowers.   Smiling mothers giving hugs and kisses to their precious children.

I’ve kept very busy today.   Cleaning out closets. Exchanging winter clothes for summer.   Cleaning like the energizer bunny.   Trying to keep my brain occupied and away from what is coming.   As fate would have it, or maybe it was you, a box of pictures fell from a shelf to my closet floor.   I found your smiling face staring back at me.   I could no longer fight.   Seeing your picture, knowing there would be no more shattered the pieces of my already broken heart.   I slid to the floor and cried out like a wounded animal.   Raw, guttural sounds flying out of my battered soul.

I tried to resist looking further.   But my hands were already searching through the scattered prints searching for more of you.   Pictures from years ago.   You and Mike standing side by side.   Two precious smiling faces.   Brothers 1 year and 20 days apart.   People called you Irish twins.   I called you double trouble.   I never remember seeing one without the other.

Memories of past Mother’s Day flooded my mind.   My two boys running into the house.   Hands full of buttercups and dandelions.   “Happy Mother’s Day”  your little voices shouted together.   When you got older, my gifts became more sophisticated.   Pieces of jewelry or a hand painted picture.

After Mike left for the Coast Guard, you realized how much he was missed.    You never failed to remember my day.   A card, flowers, or a surprise visit.   Distance never mattered.   You’d leave your precious beach and spend the day with me.   You were never too old for a hug or to say “I love you, Mom”.

Now, I’m left with precious memories.   Cards from Mother’s Day long ago.   Oh God, how precious they have become.   Treasured pieces of paper signed by you.   I’ve kept them all these years, never thinking they would become so priceless.   I run my finger along your signature remembering teaching you to write.  Never thinking that one day your unique signature would be something left behind that would bring both joy and unspeakable pain to your mothers heart.    Both my boys so precious.   One now gone forever.

Mother’s Day, once a day I looked so forward to has become a day of loss.   Memories of two boys becoming men.   Always showing up together to surprise their mom.   Both so handsome, sharing childhood antics that bonded them forever.   Stories kept secret from Mom, being shared with howls of laughter.   Mother’s Day now so different from anything I could ever have imagined.

This year I will give myself a gift.   I will allow myself the luxury of tears.   Tears I hide from the world will flow as I remember you as a young man.   Bounding through my door with flowers in your hand.   Your handsome face.   Your smile filling my heart with joy.   I will allow memories to fill my mind.   I will reaffirm that I will always be your mother and you will always be my son.   Our connection continuing through time and space.

I will pray for a sign, a feeling from you.   Your gift to me on this most painful day.   Be the rays of the sun gently kissing my face.   Be the tender breeze whispering in my ear.  Be that puffy cloud or the cardinal in my garden.    Be with me in spirit as I remember your love as both a child and as a man.   My love for you will live on forever.    A bond stronger than death.   A Mothers love transcending time and space.    Her youngest son gone.  Forever holding a piece of her heart.

 

A Broken Heart Doesn’t Show Up On EKG

Matt,  Since your Death I’ve had several episodes where it feels like my heart is actually breaking apart.  The medical community uses the term “Broken Heart Syndrome”.  Although the cause of broken heart syndrome is not completely known, it is thought to be triggered by extreme emotional stress.  Intense grief is listed as one of its causes. The heart is stunned by an unexpected, shocking event.  When stunned, the heart no longer works efficiently and causes severe pain and anxiety.

I can tell you I’ve become the poster child for Broken Heart Syndrome.  I’ve been in the ER more since your death than I have my entire life.

My first trip was the day before Christmas Eve.  It was the first Christmas after your death and I think reality gut punched me and started the shattering of my heart to begin.  I was a mess.  Breathless and in agony.  Trying to describe my pain to doctors was like trying to explain color to a blind man.  Nothing like your classic heart attack signs just an unending ache deep in my soul.

I remember the doctor coming in to tell me all the tests were normal.  Seriously, I thought.  I’m dying and you’re missing it.  Then he asked what’s been going on in my life.  That simple question opened my floodgates.  His face said it all.  Your death, then my career screeching to a halt was tough enough but when you threw in the death of a dear friend ten months later, I was drowning in grief.

Returning home I remember feeling so foolish.  I was an active, healthy person.  Why did I feel like I was dying.  Once again I put one foot in front of the other taking baby steps trying to navigate this new life.

Strike two was in April of the following year.  Year two was shaping up to be another brutal round of reality.  I made it through all those “firsts” and never expected the “seconds” to come with stronger gut punches.  I was in my garden.  Clearing out old leaves trying to remember the joy I once felt digging in the dirt.  My garden was my sanctuary.  The place I fled to trying to find peace during your addiction.

Seeing your cigarette butts was a sharp slap across my face.   Memories flooded my brain.   You sitting on the deck pitching your smoked butts into my precious gardens.   I remember yelling at your disrespect for all my hard work.   What should have been minor fix turned into a major fight as you continued to flick your butts into the garden with that look of defiance on your face.    Oh God,  that memory long since buried was dancing through my head.   I held them to my nose trying to pick up the scent of your mouth.  Oh God,  what I would give to have you sitting there again.   This time I would hold you and hug you knowing how our journey would end.

Once again that familiar pain shot across my chest.   Struggling to catch my breath.   That lump in my throat growing larger each second.   This time I’m sure something will show up.   My heart hurting so badly yet again everything was “normal”.    Sent home once again feeling foolish.   Even my nursing education wasn’t any help in controlling my thought that I must be dying.

Strike three arrived 5 days after returning home from Florida.   Even the beauty of the Keys couldn’t  lift my grief.    I felt it the second week there.   I could see you everywhere and no where.   Dear God, you died in Florida was all I could think of.   You should have been  enjoying the turquoise water.   We should be having lunch.   I should be seeing your place, meeting your friends.  You should be alive.

Returning home was another slap of reality.   My eyes finding your urn.   Seeing your smiling face staring back at me forever frozen in time.    I can’t breathe.   This time I heard my heart break.   Feeling the shards of glass tearing into my throat.  I can’t be alive and survive this pain.   I must be dying.   Once again the doctor wants to know what’s been happening in my life.   Once again I see the look of compassion for your broken mother on her face.

This time a stress test is ordered.   I’m injected with an isotope and told to start walking.   The treadmill belt is moving.   I think of you. I’m walking too fast.   Trying to run from reality.   I’m told to slow down.   The speed needs to build up.   All I want to do is run.   Pictures are taken and reviewed by the heart experts.   I’m told I have a beautiful, healthy heart.   I sit and listen as tears run down my face.   How can they not see the cracks, the shards that live where my heart used to.

The NP gives me a hug.   Tears mingling with mine.   She too knows living with a broken heart.   Losing her daughter years ago.   She tells me our mother’s hearts never forget.   Eventually the breaks won’t be as severe and gut wrenching.   Time will eventually put some pieces back where they belong.   One day my heart will remember only the love rather than the loss.

Until then I’ve learned that a heart breaking never makes noise.  It’s only felt by the soul of the one experiencing the pain.    Unseen to the human eye but  deeply felt by the griever.   And like grief, the break signifies unspeakable, unending  love…….

 

 

 

Come, Sit, Grieve…..Repeat

Matt,   I could never have imagined the impact your death would have on every aspect of my life.   Never did I ever think my grief would turn me into a leper.   It seems people are terrified of those who are grieving.   Scared to death of contact with me or have that famous opinion on how long grief should last.   I’m guessing my time is up.  Even strangers run when I bring up addiction and your death.   It’s almost that I carry a contagious disease and if they get close enough they will carry it home to their family.   Like the flu, only worse.

Unfortunately, your disease still carries an ugly stigma.   I see the look on peoples faces when they learn how you died.   They can’t get away fast enough.   Quickly changing the subject as they scurry away.   I feel like I have that huge A branded on my forehead.  Except my A stands for Addiction.    I still find it mind boggling that even today as we continue to lose people from all walks of life  Addiction is still thought of as a dirty mans disease.

Experts on grief tell you to find a support group.   Sounds easy right.  I had a better chance of being struck by lightening.  You see Matt,  my grief comes with a ton of baggage.   All those what if’s and I should have’s cling to my heart and take turns tearing little pieces away.   Death due to overdose comes with such regret.   Things said and done dance with those things not said and not done.   Until you have lived that rollercoaster with your child one could ever understand the helplessness and hopelessness parents feel as we struggle to save our kids.   Death from overdose is unlike any other loss.   Not only do we struggle with grief but the stigma continues to rear its ugly head throwing daggers in our direction.

My attempts to find that group where I would fit in was futile.   Believe me I tried for several months.   I sat next to mothers who lost their children to cancer and felt the compassion ooze around the room.   I remember sitting there feeling that all familiar tightness grip my throat.   Then it was death by car accident.   Once again compassion.   I wanted to be Alice and slide down that rabbit hole.   I wanted to be Jeannie wiggling my nose and disappearing into thin air.   I wanted to be anywhere but in that room when I said that ugly word and felt the compassion wash away with the breaths of shock and stares.

Then it was off to another group that actually dealt with addiction.   Oh I had such high hopes.   Finally a group that got it.   Imagine my surprise when I was subjected to another parent beaming with joy.   My mind whirling as I realized this group was largely made up of parents who’s kids were either in recovery or still active in their addiction.   My mind whirling, my gut revolting as I heard her voice praising God for saving her child.   I felt like I’d been slapped.   How dare God save her child and not mine.   I remember wanting to run.   Wanting once again to disappear.   I made myself sit for an hour hearing more stories of recovery.   Stories of continued struggles that I knew too well.   I left sobbing and defeated.

I hid for months, licking my wounds feeling isolated and alone.   I scoured bookstores.   My shelves now lined with books on grief and grieving.   Reading the stories of other parents whose children also died from addiction gave me the push I needed.   I once read that when God closes one door, He opens another.   As a nurse I’ve spend many years holding hands and shedding tears with people who have lost their loved ones.   As a NICU nurse I’ve also helped grieving parents say goodbye to their child.   I remember praying asking God what my purpose was now that you were gone.   I spent the last 7 years fighting to save you.   Now I had all this time to discover my new path.

Support After Addiction Death (SAD) was born on a rainy, bitter day.   Sitting at my computer I designed a pamphlet.   Explaining how and why I was starting a support group exclusively for parents who lost a child to the misunderstood disease of addiction.   Our pastor offered our church.   The same church I said my final goodbye to you.   The same church where your ashes were scattered in the garden I tend as we celebrated your first birthday in Heaven.

Today I have a new family.   Mothers and fathers who know and live the same grief that envelopes my life.   We gather together and shed our tears.  Our eyes mirror images of unfathomable  pain.   Lifting each other on those dark days when one of us is drowning.   I look into their eyes and know no words are necessary.   We have lived the nightmare.   Our ending is not the one we dreamed of but together we find strength in the blessing of finding each other.   There is no shame, no stigma.   Sharing pieces of our broken hearts we begin to slowly heal.   Our children gone but never forgotten.   Pictures are shared.   Birthdays are remembered.   Names are spoken.   Many tears are shed.   Memories are cherished.

God did close the door for me when it came to saving you.   God also opened a new world where I can once more reach out, offer a hug and just show up.   Grief doesn’t scare this group.   Grief is a part of who we are.  Grief is the unwanted, unspeakable place that bonds us more than blood.  As long as I live I will be grateful for the people who say your name, offer a hug and stay……….

 

 

 

 

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