Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: complicated grief (page 1 of 2)

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.

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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.

 

There’s Nothing Silent About The Night

Matt,   Tis the season.   Wherever I go, Christmas music always seems to be playing.   I can’t even run into the grocery story without being punched in my gut.   There is no escaping the joy of the season.   People with smiles on their glowing faces are singing along to the carols.  Hearing I’ll Be Home For Christmas left me sobbing in the cereal isle as I wanted to scream out that No, he won’t be coming home this Christmas or next.   I wanted to stand in the middle of that aisle and scream at the top of my lungs.  My son is Dead.  Everyone shut up!  There is no Merry or Happy in my holiday.

Sleep used to be my only reprieve.   The only time I could crawl under the covers and disappear.   The quiet of the night used to bring a comfort to my soul like nothing else.  Wrapping myself up in my safe cocoon I could shut out the noise of the happy world and just be.

I don’t know what the trigger was.   I don’t understand why.   Suddenly, the night became my enemy.   The silence I once craved is now full of noise.   My brain, like a newborn babe has confused day and night.   Maybe it’s the season.   Maybe it’s ugly reality.   Perhaps my grief found my safe place and decided to move in.   Quietly, with the cunning of a predator, grief found me in the silence of the night.

Now, like a child fearing the monster in the closet I dread the night.   The night awakens all those  thoughts that were safely buried in my psyche.   Those visions of your disease swirling through my head.  The what if’s and why’s come flooding into my brain ripping me from the safety of slumber.   My body instantly reacts causing my heart to pound and hot tears to form.   There will be no escape from the questions that continue to tug at my heart.

The silence.   The lack of distractions allow my eyes to focus on your picture smiling back at me in the night.   My mind goes to places I refuse to visit in the daylight.   The darkness, the stillness  has a way of surrounding me with the despair I can no longer outrun.   The darkness allows the grief a power that is nonexistent in daylight.

In my mind I have conversations with you.   I pray for your peace and mine.   I wipe my tears quietly as my mind does the delicate dance of acceptance versus disbelief.   I allow myself memories of how holidays used to be.   Holidays when I was the one singing in the aisles with a smile on my face and childlike anticipation for our gathering in my heart.

I’ve come to realize that nothing will ever be the same.  Holidays will never get easier.   I will continue to feel your loss as long as I walk the earth.   Certain Christmas carols will most certainly come with gut punches.

Sleepless nights have become a part of my present life.   Reminding me of past sleepless nights when I held you close and rocked you as a baby.   Holding your sweet body next to mine those nights bonding us forever.   Under the cover of darkness I will close my eyes and try to remember your smell.   Your laugh.   Your amazing eyes.   I will allow the darkness to hide my weeping from the world.   I will allow myself to imagine you spending the holidays in a beautiful peace.   I will lay in the darkness and allow myself to grieve……

 

 

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.”

 

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……………..

 

Imagining Heaven

Matt,   Since your death I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Heaven.   I want to know everything there is to know.   I want to know if your happy.   If your Heaven really is a beach.   I have memories of us laughing sitting side by side watching the waves crash onto the shore and both saying “Heaven is a beach”.   We were so alike.   Our love of the sea is a tie that will forever bind us.

My bookshelves are lined with books written by those who returned after a near death experience.   I read their words closing my eyes and letting my soul imagine the colors, shapes and sounds.   I see your smile in my mind.   I hear the song of the gulls and remember the salty spray in my face.   I see you as a child.  Racing your brother through the waves.   Your laughter was beautiful music to my ears.   The vastness of the sea always made me feel the wonder of God.

I wonder about the nature of life after death.   I search my bible for comfort in knowing that you arrived in Heaven and never looked back.   Looking for answers anywhere they can be found.   I scour book stores like someone dying of thirst.   I need to know.   There are days the clouds roll into my heart and I question everything I believe.   Those dark days bring such pain to my heart.   Those are the days you’ll find me talking out loud to God.    Days I beg for a sign.   My desperate heart needs proof.   Those are the days I feel the weight of my grief.   Questioning everything I’ve ever believed about God and his Heaven.

The hardest part of your death besides missing you everyday is the wonder if I will ever see your handsome face again.   So much was left unsaid and undone.   Always thinking there would be more time.   Never thinking you would leave me behind to find my new normal.   I wonder if you will be there when I leave this earth.   You were never afraid to die.   I remember our conversations.   How you amazed me with your thoughts about God and Heaven.   How many times it was you comforting me.   How ironic a child giving peace to his mother.

I’m left with unanswerable questions.   Questions that have the power to haunt my broken heart.   Questions that cause me to sit on the edge of the dark abyss of the unknown.   Questions that shake me to my core.  On those days I reach for my Bible.   This amazing book spent so much time sitting on my shelf unopened.   I talk to God asking him to speak to me.   To give me what I need to survive your loss and the emptiness that has taken up residence in my heart.    Matt, I can hear you laughing as I write this.    Your Mom reads the Bible.

I found John Verse 14.  “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.  In my fathers house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you.   I go to prepare a place for you.   And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself;  that where I am you will also be”.   Reading this verse filled my aching soul with a peace I haven’t felt since you left.

I remember begging God to keep you safe.   To take care of you until we were together again.   Never did I think my prayers would be answered the way they were.  Never did I think God would take you home before me.   Your death broke my faith and at the same time is helping to slowly rebuild it.   If you lived, my Bible probably would have remained unopened.   Now the Scriptures are where I run to on those rocky days.   Sitting alone, my bible opened looking for answers.   I can feel you surround me with your peace.   I close my eyes and see your face.   Your beautiful eyes.   Your smile.   I see you walking near the most beautiful sea.   The bluest water.   Kahlua running by your side.

Oh Matt, my beautiful boy the sea continues to connect us.  My dream is that one day when my eyes close on earth they will open again to see your beautiful eyes face to face.  Together we will run into the waves holding onto each other, never letting go.   My grief will wash away with the tide.   The gulls will sing a song of joy and Jesus will greet us saying “Yes my children, Heaven is indeed a beach”.

 

 

 

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