Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: aftershocks and grief

The Blessings Of Incidental Findings

Matt,

I must admit when you died I was so pissed off at God.   I felt let down.  Abandoned.  Like my prayers to keep you safe fell on deaf ears.   That my prayers weren’t good enough to be answered.   God and I had many ugly conversations as I sat in the dark and said things that would have had my grade schools nuns running for the Holy Water to wash out my mouth.

I was shocked at the depth and power of my anger.   Growing up in the Catholic church attending Catholic School I knew I had better straighten out my thoughts and get control of my out of control mouth.   I dared God to appear to me and explain why he let you die when I prayed you would beat your addiction and recover to live a beautiful life.

I was a spitting mad grieving mom and nothing would ever convince me that Jesus knew what was really happening in your life when I just had my fantasies of how you were living.   All I wanted was you back.   Under any circumstances.  I really didn’t care if you were suffering from your disease, I just wanted you back.

I remember going to your garden at our church and sitting under the cross.   Seeing your name carved in stone was like another slap from God.   Seeing your name, birth date and death date was having my soul ripped from my body and shattered into a million pieces.   No mother should ever see her precious child’s name on a cold stone.

I took my anger and turned it into an advocacy against those who poisoned you with their pills.  I was relentless.   I held nothing back.   I named names and called people out for who they truly were.   I began helping those who reminded me of you.   Fighting for them as I fought for you.   Four years of advocacy work culminated in six bills that would change how Delaware treats those who suffer from your disease.  I surrounded myself with the best advocates Delaware had to offer and channeled my anger into leaving a legacy to honor your life.

Little did I know that once again my life would be turned upside down.   Looking back it’s really not surprising.   My friends kept telling me to take a much needed break.   To just enjoy the fact that summer was here and Legislative Hall was out of session.   But advocacy is in my blood.   Hard to turn it off when people are calling for help to find treatment.   No way was I not going to do everything in my power to get another mother’s son or daughter in a safe place.

Well, it seems that God had another plan for me.   Funny how God just decides to take the stubborn bull by the horns and say enough.

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I know you know.   I have this crazy uncommon cancer.   Of course why not?   You and I were always the misfits.

Except this time I have no anger against God.  I have never felt closer to Jesus in my entire life.   It seems Jesus has been beside me all this time.   I just ignored him.   My grief blocked his peace.   My anger did not allow me to feel his presence.   He was knocking all along.

Jesus has taken over my care.   He has placed me in the hands of experts.   Jesus has saved me from the wrong diagnosis.   He has saved me from an extensive surgery that might not have been the best first step in my fight.

Matt, I know you are here.   I feel you and see your smiling face.   You gave me such a gift by getting your message to me to fight.   You told a friend you still wear your ball cap backwards.   You told her about my cancer and my advocacy.   You talked about your brother by name.   So many messages I know it’s you.

So just like Jesus you never really left me.   I just needed to let my grief open to see the most amazing light shining through.   I have a peace like never before.   I feel totally confident that Jesus has both of us in the palm of his hand.

Matt,  you were always my beautiful boy.   Now I know you are my guardian angel.   I know that you will be watching from heaven.   I know you are at peace and that is the most beautiful gift I could have ever received in the middle of my storm.

Blessings continue to find me.   Ray is amazing.  My friends, those precious few who stood by me after your death are carrying me through this new journey.

Blessings totally unexpected but so welcomed.   I continue to learn from you my beautiful boy.   I now sit and remember our conversations when your wisdom shined though.   Believe me Matt, I’m going to enjoy those little things I always overlooked.   I see you in the stars,  I see you in the sunsets.   I know Heaven is your beach and you my son are enjoying a peace by your precious sea.

I will fight for you and my family.   But when my time comes meet me by the sea.   We will run through the surf together.   You wearing your ball cap backwards and me with my crazy curls.  Together forever one day.   Godspeed my boy.   Tell Jesus your mom says thanks for not giving up on her.

 

My Father’s Day Fantasies

Matt,  tomorrow is Father’s Day.   It’s the first Father’s Day since your death that we will be having what used to be our traditional family crab feast.   Except this time it’s only going to be your brother, Heather and Maddie who will be here with us.  Since your death these special days are just too painful to continue the traditions of the past.  Your absence leaves a huge void in what used to be a happy time together.   There is no avoiding the empty space your death left behind.

Even after four years, my mind still slips into denial allowing me to fool myself and pretend you are just away.   Knowing that reality is just too painful to bear, I fantasize what life would be like today had you survived your disease.

I picture you with a little girl.  A towheaded beauty.  With the most amazing green eyes and crooked smile.   You would come bouncing in like you always did and she would be riding on your shoulders squealing with joy.   Of course a black lab would be in hot pursuit of the giggling girl.

You would greet me with a kiss wrapping me in that big bear hug while your girl wiggled away and ran to greet her Uncle Mike.   I picture my two boys, now men hitting each other on the back  and sharing your famous “Hey Bro”.

You would be grabbing a crab out of the pile and chasing the kids around the table.   You were always the prankster even as a grown man.   We would gather outside and share the happenings of our lives.   Laughter and love would envelope us like the rays of the sun as we shared the bond of  being a close nit family.

I picture the kids and dogs chasing each other through the gardens, laughter mingling with barking as we tried to regain a semblance of control.   Seeing my boys and their families together for a day to celebrate fatherhood would have been a dream come true for me.

You would have been an amazing father.   You were such a loving Uncle to Maddie.

Sadly I will never live that dream.   You are gone and there is no little towhead for me to love.     No wife, no child here for me to hold onto.   No child who has your beautiful eyes for me to gaze into and find you.   You took it all when you left.   All I have is deep unrelenting grief on what could have been and what is.

There are no words to explain how losing you is losing me.   All the hopes and dreams I once had for us shattered into pieces that will never fit together again.

Tomorrow I will think of you as I watch your brother and his beautiful daughter.  I will imagine you walking through my door.   I will close my eyes and see your smiling face.   I will always long for one more hug.  One more Hey Mom.   One more day of having my son’s together.

 

 

Grief Is Like A Jar Of Pickles

Matt,

Since your death, I’ve been living not just with complicated grief, but also with PTSD.   There are days when the slightest noise has me hanging from the ceiling.   I struggle with feelings of not knowing where I fit in anymore.   There are days I question my role here on earth.   Your addiction kept me crazy but your death left me broken and questioning life.

The old me left the day you did and the new me struggles with who I’m supposed to be now.   It feels like being transported to another place where you don’t understand the language.   You constantly get lost and find yourself looking for something familiar.

I’ve learned that very few people understand when I try to explain what it’s like to be me.   They think I should be back to my pre-grief state.   That life should just return to normal and drag me with it.   What they don’t and never will understand is that profound loss slices you in half.   You become the “before” and the “after” pieces of your tragedy.   As time passes the “before” you drifts further and further away.   Leaving you with an identity that even you can’t identify with.   You long for the old you but know the road back to finding her again has imploded.

I find it harder and harder to remember the woman I was before your death.   The girl who laughed at the stupidest of things.   Who would even laugh at herself.   I remember looking forward to little things.   I remember having happy hours and bon fires.   I remember having lots of fun.   I remember a reflection with bright eyes and a natural smile.   Now I see a silhouette in a fog slowly drifting away.

Trauma changes you.   It unravels you.  It takes you to the darkest of places.   Things you once thought would never happen have happened leaving you hanging from that mental cliff clinging to the last piece of your soul.   The “before” you has been sucked away and the “after” you lay in pieces at your feet.   You try to make sense of this “after” you, but the pieces are hard to fit together.   Like a puzzle that just doesn’t make sense when a large part of it is missing.

I was with a friend one day.   This friend totally gets where I’m coming from.   She understands when I say the “before” me has vanished and this new “after” me is still struggling to fit.   Like a pair of old jeans that once felt like home now rewoven and uncomfortable.   She has survived her own trauma.   The assault of breast cancer on her body and mind.   Like me the “before” her was totally destroyed and replaced with an “after” person she continues to try to identify with.   We both grieve the women we once were.   We often compare notes on how things continue to have a trickle down effect on both our lives.

During one of these conversations she said something that gave me an Ah ha moment putting a true perspective on what I’ve been living with since your death.   Without even knowing how profound this statement was and how it would impact me for the rest of my life she calmly looked me in the eye and said, “Once you become a pickle you can never go back to being a cucumber”.    Yes, I know it sounds like a crazy thing to say in the midst of an emotional conversation, but when you really think about it, it’s the most insightful statement I’ve ever heard about who you become after you live with grief or survive a trauma.

The transformation from cucumber to pickle can never be reversed.   Everything used in the process leaves a permanent mark.   The same with grief, whether it’s over the loss of a child or the loss of a healthy you, it leads you through a process that can never be undone.

There are days when the world can be sweet, then without warning an unexpected trigger can turn everything dark.   Just like a jar of pickles we never know how the day will taste.   Will it leave us with an unpleasant bitterness or a fleeting moment of unexpected pleasure.  We never know how the “after” effects of grief  will play out as we navigate unfamiliar territory.

It continues to amaze and comfort me that a simple statement had the power to  validate what I feel on a daily basis.  It also brings me extreme comfort knowing that I’m not the only pickle trying to find my place in the glass jar called life…..

 

 

 

 

Surviving Those Aftershocks

Matt,   an aftershock is defined as a smaller earthquake that follows a larger earthquake.   It generally occurs in the same area as where the main shock occurred and is caused by the displacement of the earth that followed that first main shock.

Part of living through earthquakes is learning to live with aftershocks.   It’s obvious I lived through my first major quake.   January 3rd 2015 my world was hit with a quake of unmeasurable magnitude.   That day my life was knocked off it’s axis and left free spinning into an atmosphere of shock and immeasurable grief.

Since that day these unexpected aftershocks hit just when my mind is starting to feel stable once again.    I’ve read aftershocks can last for years.   I’m living proof of that truth.    Four years and ten days have passed and the ground beneath my feet remains unsteady.

Grief is a lot like aftershocks.    One never knows when that shaking, unstable feeling will strike.    Usually there is no warning.   A thought, a memory, a word can bring on the most unsteady of feelings.   Almost like the ground is moving under my feet.    It’s a feeling of being out of control.   Of wondering what is happening and why now.

I’ve come to understand that most of what has been written about grief is untrue.    Grief knows no time limit.   It doesn’t lessen as the years pass.   It doesn’t let go after you have passed all those “firsts”.    It certainly doesn’t follow any stages or steps.   It knows no boundaries.    There are no certain series of programs or steps to follow to get you through to the end.   Because there really is no end.    Grief is the journey of aftershocks that hit unexpectedly and can be as powerful as that first major shock.

I have days where I feel pretty steady.   Days where I can think of you and smile as a memory flows through the projector in my brain.   Days when I can tell your story without feeling that jolt of reality hit my piece of earth.   Days when I can enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face as I remember our talks on the beach.   Days I see your smiling face as a breeze blows my hair gently across my cheek as if a kiss is coming from heaven.  I treasure those days.   Those are the days I feel like I will survive even when the aftershocks hit.

Just when I’m feeling the illusion of joy, I feel the shift.   Some days the jolt hits as my eyes open and reality is there waiting for me.    My brain starts screaming, “He is dead”.   “Matt really died”. Its then the aftershock throws me off balance.   I see the cracks opening in the earth beneath my feet.   I catch my breath as I try to navigate through the rubble that was once my intact heart.   The immense power of the aftershock of reality put me on unstable ground and has me questioning my surviving the next one.

I want to scream.   I want to punch.   I just want not to be.    I want to disappear.   I want to run as far away as I can.   To leave this unstable ground and find a safe place to dwell.   I want my ground not to shift on a dime.   I want to walk on a steady path not this twisted, shattered piece of earth.

There are days the aftershocks leave me paralyzed as I try to navigate an escape.    Days when the grief is relentless and nothing I do helps erase the pain.    What I once thought about life has shifted.   I used to think life would go according to my plans.   Every belief has started to crack as I continue to live with your loss.   All my hopes and dreams fell through the earth and have disappeared from my life forever.

Aftershocks have been noted to be more dangerous and damaging than the original earthquake.    I once thought that had to be a falsehood.   But as I continue to live through years of aftershocks, I realize they are far more powerful than the original assault.   The aftershocks are constant reminders that my ground will never go back to what it once was.    That I will always be at risk for an aftershock to hit and knock me off my feet.   That my terrain will always be full of fault lines and my grief will find a way through.

Grief and aftershocks have a lot in common.    We are never given a warning.    They hit.   Making us unstable.   Shaking our once steady world changing the way we look at life.   Aftershocks like grief can be deep or close to our surface.   What matters most is we recognize them when they hit.   We stop and feel them.   We allow ourselves to be where we need to be as the earth shifts.   We allow ourselves the time to learn how to navigate through our fault lines.

 

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