Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: child loss (page 1 of 2)

Two Words Changing Life Forever

Matt,

I feel like I’ve stepped back in time.  I never thought that feeling of shocked numbness would ever hit me again like it did after hearing those two words, “Matt’s Dead”.   We’ve all heard that saying how one phone call can change the course of your life.  Once again knocking you off balance and forcing you to navigate your life on shaky, unrecognizable ground.

I remember those early days after your death.  Walking around numb.  Feeling like my insides were jelly.  Constantly shaking.  Walking through the days going through the motions of living, but really not living.  I remember the feeling of nothingness.  Of denying this was my new reality.  Of feeling foolish for sweating the meaningless small stuff that life constantly throws your way.  I now knew that life was too fragile to sweat over issues that in reality really didn’t matter.  Your death was a lesson in my life.

Foolishly, I believed that after 4 long years, I was back in control of my life.  My advocacy work allowed me to channel my grief into helping others.  I finally felt a purpose.   I still grieve you everyday, but felt like as long as I had my advocacy your death would always have meaning.

I’m still trying to understand where I am today.  Whether it was a God intervention or a Matt intervention.   I remember the day perfectly.  Reliving every step I took.  Every thought I had exactly the same as I experienced upon hearing you were gone.

A beautiful day, June 22nd.  The humidity finally broke and all I wanted was to fill the house with the cleansing breeze of fresh air.   You remember how I always hated having the house closed up.  We used to laugh as I would only put the air on when the dogs were getting too hot.  I needed to hear the songs of my garden birds.  Needed to hear the soothing sounds of the waterfall in the garden beneath the kitchen window.

I lifted the window.  It stuck.  Instead of giving up, I continued to push as hard as I could.  The pain was excruciating.  I felt like my back and leg had been stripped of muscle.  I remember my nursing instincts kicking in as I hobbled to the freezer.  Ice now.  I grabbed the bottle of Motrin swallowed quickly and hobbling to the couch.   I sat in shock.  Looking at the window with such contempt.  If I could have I would have grabbed a hammer and beat the crap out of that piece of glass.

Weeks passed.  The pain remained.  Fueling my hate for that window.  In my mind it had ruined my summer.  No more biking, hiking, dog walking, yoga, gardening.  Everything I loved gone in a split second.  All my self care practices that kept me sane on those dark days now out of my physical capacity.

After two months of continued pain an MRI was ordered.  I was expecting a herniated disc.  I was fully prepared to inform which ever neurosurgeon I would see that surgery would be my last resort.  After watching how your surgery did nothing for your back except lead you to the road that finally took your life I was perfecting my speech.

Never in a million years did I see what was coming.  You always laughed at me being the health nut.  Skipping cake,  not eating red meat.  I can hear your words so clearly now..”Mom, life”s too short, eat the cake.”

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Although the two words were different, their impact on my life was the same.  Fracture.  Tumor. I remember that familiar feeling after hearing those other two words, “Matt’s Dead.”  The feeling of leaving my body as my brain went searching for that protective cocoon it once wrapped me in after I learned of your death.

Today, I am fighting another reality I never imagined.   The reality that I will now be fighting for my life as I fought for yours.  I lie awake in the dark praying for peace as I did many nights after your death.  I wake breathless and shaky.  This reality hits just as the reality of your death did.  New every morning.  Today I am once again going through the motions numb to where this journey will lead me.

Looking back, that sticking  window was a gift. A divine intervention.  My doctor calls this an incidental finding.  I have no symptoms of cancer.  I feel fine.  If not for the back injury I would be biking, gardening and living life unaware of whatever was happening inside of me.

Today, I see the light shining through that window.  I hear the birds singing and the sounds of soothing water.  I watch the dogs chase each other through the gardens.

I look at that window seeing your beautiful smile.  I know you and God worked together for whatever reason to bring this to my attention as early as possible.  Perhaps my advocacy work is not over.  I promised as long as I lived, you would continue to live.

Its almost ironic.  I’ve always told everyone that losing you was the worst, most devastating event in my life.  Surviving your death has taught me that I can survive whatever life chooses to throw my way.  Your death was my lesson in how to live.

Matt, Walk with me on this new journey.  Let me feel you by my side through the biopsies and treatments.  Give me signs that you are near.  Please thank God for me.

Believe me, I will be eating the cake.  I’ll take that burger.  I’ll remember how you lived and mimic your absolute love for life.  I remember you telling me, “Mom, I don’t have to worry, you worry enough for us both.”   Lesson learned my beautiful boy  Four years and Seven months later your death continues to teach me about life………

 

 

 

A Letter To Matt On What Should Have Been His 42nd Birthday

Matt,  Today would have been your 42nd birthday. I should be on my way to the beach to spend time with you on your special day. You and I would spent time together on the beach, taking the dogs and watching their joy as they ran through the surf while we caught up on the happenings in our lives.  We would be planning our dinner feast of crabs, shrimp and beer.   We would be heading to JD Shuckers your favorite restaurant.  Our family would be together at our happy place to celebrate you.

But today our reality is much different from my dreams for your birthday.  For you are forever 37 and this is your fifth birthday in heaven.  💔

Today I will spend the morning letting my grief pour out from my soul.  Looking through every album I own with pictures of our life.  Beautiful memories of a life with two boys who were always together.  Boys staring back at the camera with innocent, beautiful faces. You with your green eyes and Mike with his blue eyes.

Pictures of you with that smile and those beautiful eyes staring back at me through all the phases of your life.  Pictures that prove you lived. Beautiful memories 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 the 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.

Brothers laughter blending together as you tell stories of childhood antics that mom should never know. Sharing your accomplishments in life as your children listen at your feet.

Your brother, Mike  will never know the joy of being an uncle.   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 father.

Mike will never have the opportunity to take your son fishing or show your daughter treasures saved from your childhood.  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.

No more pictures of my boys with arms wrapped over each other’s shoulders.  No more memories of happy times as we celebrate you growing older.  No more handsome faces staring back at the camera telling me to stop with the pictures already.  No more blended laughter for your mother to hear.

Losing you is losing a future of love, laughter and beautiful memories.  Losing you has left an undeniable void in our lives.  Losing you is never seeing my boys together again.  Never hearing your laughter as you tell your children stories about your childhood sharing secrets that only your brother would know. Losing you is never dancing at your wedding.  Losing you is never sharing the joy of holding your newborn child for the first time. Losing you has split my life into the before and after.

Pictures of me before your death are almost unrecognizable to me.  A real smile. Similar green eyes staring back at the camera.  Happiness shining through every photo.  Today my pictures reflect an emptiness in my eyes.  A forced smile. A face broken by grief.  Pictures of before and after tell the story of how grief changed me from the inside out.  Pictures showing a shadow of who I used to be.

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 future generation to share stories of your childhood antics.  No more of you.  😢

How I wish Heaven had visiting hours just for these special days. 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 the gift to grieve. To feel the profound loss of your death.

Today I will close my eyes and remember your hugs, your voice, your smile.  I will remember two boys chasing each other through the surf  throwing wet sand as your laughter was carried by  the ocean breeze.  Today I will accept the reality of knowing that I will grieve for what should have been for the rest of my life.

Happy Birthday my beautiful boy.   May you celebrate by dancing on the stars and swinging from the moon.   May you fly free knowing you are forever in my heart.

The Collateral Beauty Of Shared Grief

Matt,

One definition of Collateral beauty is beauty that is impossible to be seen.   Perhaps a devastating tragedy has broken your life beyond repair.  This tragedy so unimaginable, so incomprehensible, has rendered you powerless to see beyond your brokenness.

This weekend I witnessed the reoccurring presence of Collateral beauty as I attended The Compassionate Friends National Conference In Philadelphia.

This conference was specifically for parents like me.   Parents who have survived the unsurvivable.   We have out lived our children.   We have received the phone call that no parent could ever imagine receiving.  We have heard those words.   Your child is dead.   We  know what it’s like to continue to breathe after our hearts have been ripped from our chests and lay shattered at our feet.  We know the pain of planning a celebration of life when we should have been planning a birthday, a family barbecue, a wedding.

I really had no idea what to expect.  I could feel my anxiety gripping my throat as I stood in line waiting to be given the conference materials.   I remember looking around and recognizing the pain etched on parents who knew my grief.  We were each given a red lanyard with our names displayed for everyone to see.  Many like me carried pictures of beautiful smiling faces.   Faces that should be here.  Faces that should be laughing and living.  Faces not memorialized but alive and well.

My heart began to race.  My twisted thoughts gripped my brain.  I wanted to scream.  Hey!  Do you really think we need to wear a lanyard?   Look at our faces.  Look at our eyes.  Grief has been etched permanently into our being.  All you need to do is look.  We are marked by unimaginable loss..

I remember walking into the Ballroom and scanning the room.   I could feel my tears beginning as I found the nearest table.  So many people gathered together.  It was as if we were one broken soul encompassing every inch of available space.  No longer strangers.  No shame, no uneasiness.  Our connection was palpable.  Pictures, names and stories were being shared without one thought of judgement or guilt.

Conversations that are taboo in society flowed like nectar from a exquisite flower.  Nothing was off limits.   The time frame of our losses were never an issue.   The cause of death was shared without the worry of judgement.  The reality that our child died overrode the how’s or the why’s.  Grieving parents understand that this life altering grief will last a lifetime.

Unlike societies perception of grief having a time table with stages that lead to the completion of mourning, parents recognize that the loss of a child is not linear or logical.   It’s layered with secondary losses.  We have not just lost a child.  We have lost the present and the future.  We have lost hopes and dreams.

During this amazing time I never felt the need to defend my grief.  I never felt the awkwardness I’ve felt among those who feel that enough time has passed and I should be over Matt’s death.  I felt connected to those who needed no explanation when my tears flowed and my sobs were heard across the crowded room.

Mothers I’ve come to know and love due to the power of social media showed me compassion and comfort.  Hugs and tears mingled as we were finally able to physically wrap our arms around each other knowing that nothing need be said.  We live it.  We get it.

I was given the gift of just being Matt’s Mom.   I was given permission to leave my mask behind.  To let my advocacy have a few days off.  To disappear into and acknowledge my son and the sorrow of the profound loss I live with everyday.   Permission to mourn is the greatest gift we can ever give to another bereaved parent.

I silently watched as Collateral Beauty surrounded me.  I witnessed it as parents who were once strangers came together and carried each other’s grief.  Just for an incredible moment our grief was lifted by another allowing our hearts to see the beauty of compassion and understanding that defies explanation.

Collateral beauty shining a light through the darkness of our brokenness.  A light I will carry with me as I continue to live my grief.  The experience of catching that  glimpse of beauty among the dark ashes of child loss will remain in my heart forever.

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…..

 

 

 

 

The Struggle Is Real

 

Matt,  I find it shocking how those waves of emotion can hit and cause me to crash back into that dark, angry place.   My mind continues to battle anxiety, grief and guilt.  I feel like a juggler.  Trying to keep those emotions high in the air, far away from my heart.   Life is different now.   Time has done nothing to lessen the reality that continues to send shock waves through my soul.

This grief is like none other.   I continue to tell myself that this is my new reality.   That you really did die.   It’s like my brain knows the truth but continues to put up that barrier protecting my sanity.   My body has taken a hit.   When the memory of hearing those painful words replay in my brain my throat starts to constrict.   My heart starts to race and my stomach turns inside out.   There are days I feel like I’m silently dying.   That little by little my body is slowly disengaging from life.   I feel like I’ve been knocked senseless.  There are days I feel like I’m losing my mind.

Memories are so bittersweet.   Flashes of your smiling face, images of you walking on the beach with the dogs continue to take my breath away.   I want so badly to reach out and touch your skin.   To see you turn around and open your arms to me.   I want to wake up from this nightmare and hug you.   I want to be transported back in time.

I struggle trying to make sense of what I never saw coming.   Why would a parent ever think they would outlive their child?   My worry was how you would fare if something happened to me.   Now I touch your urn and force my heart to accept that this is all that’s left of your beautiful face, your amazing eyes, your contagious laugh and your heartwarming smile.

I struggle with my faith.   My belief in heaven.   My hope of seeing you again.   Of never again being separated by death.   I continue to question why God allowed you to die.   Is it punishment for something I’ve said or done?   Was your death at 37 already predestined at your birth?   So many unanswered questions haunt me as I lay in bed enveloped in the darkness of my grief.

I struggle with societies perception of how long grief should last.   I question myself.   Its been 4 years and 2 months yet it continues to hurt like hell and feel like yesterday.   I feel like I’m starring in Groundhog Day.   Reliving your death every morning as I remember I can’t pick up the phone and hear your voice.  We can’t share whats been happening in our day.  I relive it every night as I drag my exhausted mind into bed realizing I haven’t wished you a peaceful night.

I search for book written by other grieving parents.   Looking for answers on how to survive this devastating loss.   I’ve found we all share the common bond of shock, numbness and despair.   That others like me share the feeling of losing their minds over the unthinkable loss of their child.  That like me their bodies and brains have taken a hit.   That life will never return to normal.   We all live in the reality of before and after.   We’ve learned that everything we thought we knew about grief was a lie.   It knows no boundaries.   It has no timeline.   It hits hard when least expected.   It moves in and never leaves.

I struggle with friends who are no longer.   Those who chose to walk away.   As if my grief was a virus they needed protection from.   Fellow nurses who’s ups and down’s I’ve shared.   Holding them up as they buried husbands.   Celebrating marriages and grandchildren.   Giving me one last hug at your funeral and disappearing into the sunset.

I struggle with the disappearance of family members.    Life is just too busy for a visit or phone call.   Those I though would have become closer have drifted away.   I’ve learned we are not promised tomorrow.   I was one of them before your death.   Always thinking there was time to make that call or plan that visit.   I struggle to lower my expectations of people.   I struggle with the reality that along with you I’ve lost many more..

I struggle with expectations of myself.   Who I am and what I must do to survive the rest of my life.  I struggle accepting that I had no say in how my life would be.   I struggle with self kindness and care.   I struggle with giving myself permission to throw my mask against the wall allowing the world to see the real me.   I struggle with cutting myself a break when I realize that tears flow at a moments notice with no warning as to why.

Then I remember.   I lost my son.   I have earned the right to scream if I need to.   I’ve earned the right to take a step back and hold onto whatever or whoever is throwing a life preserver my way.   I’ve earned the right to be pissed at the world.   To be pissed at people who complain about their lives on days when reminders of you are everywhere.

Most of all I’ve accepted that my struggle to find peace will continue for a lifetime.   As will my longing to see you again…….

 

 

 

 

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